The Happy Place

I was a little surprised how much I enjoyed Disneyland, actually. It probably was seeing it through the four year old's eyes, of course. A bitter old man like me? I'm generally cynical about those kinds of affairs, but Ben just was full of joy and wonder of the whole thing, that all of that cynicism kind of washes off.

We went down on Wednesday night, catching the "last flight in" -- well, from Oakland to John Wayne, at least. I think I've decided to never EVER catch a flight from SFO again, if there's an equivalent flight from Oakland, because Oakland is such a teeny little airport. We get to Oakland, via public transportation (of which the only kind of feh part is transferring to AirBart at the coliseum station -- pretty scummy at nighttime there), and we're outnumbered by attendants at the ticketing counter like 10 to one. This is VERY different from SFO, where there would be at least a 20 minute wait to get through the ticketing phase. Security? NO line. AT ALL. What joy, what bliss! And the plane is maybe half full, so we have the entire row to ourselves. Man, I'm a dumbass for EVER flying from SFO.

An hour later we're in Orange County at John Wayne, so we hop a cab (and to the guy who asked -- nope, I have no idea how to drive. Well, I have "an idea", but I don't do it. The last time I tried, I crashed the Capital City van into a parked car, and took that as a Sign) I tell the cabbie -- "Park Vue motel, please; they're at 1570 South Harbor, directly accross the street from the main gates of Disneyland." The driver replies, "OK. How do I get there?"


Maybe it is me, but you'd think a cab stationed at the OC airport would know where freakin' DISNEYLAND is. And maybe it is also me, but aren't most people hopping a cab from the airport people who don't drive, and, so, probably don't have a clear idea of the best routes from one place to another? He calls dispatch, and we get there, all good.

Roll into the Park Vue (not that one can actually "vue" anything other than the GATE of the park, but OK) about 10:30, check in -- it is neat and clean and fairly quiet (at least in the back where I asked to be put), and pretty much exactly what one wants from a travel motel. Especially at 1/3 of the price of the Disney Resorts. This works especially well for us because we're literally only there to sleep. Park opens at 10, check-out time is 11, so it's not like we're coming back after our 8 hours of sleep. Within half-an-hour, we both crash, but I let Ben have like 10 minutes of TV. I like the fact that when I turn on the TV, it's the Disney cable station, and not a hotel channel like you'd get at one of the national chains.

Wake up around 8 (that's way LATE for Ben, he was tired, but under his normal # of hours of sleep, since we went to bed so late [for him, WAY early for me] -- so I'm concerned how his energy level is going to be for the day), take a quick shower, then go check out, and go to IHOP for breakfast (literally next door to the Park Vue, literally across the street from Dland). I haven't eaten in an IHOP in like 20 years, but I'm STUNNED by the terrible quality of the food -- how do you make pancakes taste so awful? Are they frozen? Pancakes take SECONDS to cook, so I don't really get it, if so. I eat less than half of my breakfast, Ben eats all of the whipped cream and chocolate chips from his "funny face", and maybe two bites max of the food. Jinkies, no sleep AND no food, got to watch the kid careful all day.

There was no real indication in Anaheim that SoCal was on fire -- no wiff of smoke in the air, which I expected, just a hazy day. Actually, it was kind of cool, when we saw the morning sun it was a blood red sun, totally spectacular looking.

We buy the tickets to the park from the front desk as we check out, costing me, I think, and extra $2 per?, but I was there already, and had no idea what the line to buy would be at the park (5 minutes later I saw that I was stupid about it, there WAS no line, but you live, you learn), and what the hell?

We're on Disneyland property at 9:30, so not much for it but to get in line for the park itself. There looks to be a couple hundred people in the ten or so entry lines for Dland. Many MANY of them are adults-without-kids, which surprises me a little, I guess -- you'd think that the Hardcore Adult Disney people would have the kinds of passes that get them in for the "Early Entry" at 9, and while a lot of people are flowing through that gate there are still lots of adults around us standing in the Dilettante's line, who are covered head to toe in DisneyStuf, great gobs of it personalized, so I dunno how it all works.

Main gates shock me by opening at 9:45, but then I see they lead us into Main St., so we can stroll around there. This is fine, there's lots of stuff to see on the way there and Ben's all excited. Once you're on Main st, they cordon off the sidewalks for the "early entry" people, which is sorta despicable really. See, you're on the 1950's style-main street, with all of these cool little shops, and enticing window displays, and all of this, but you can't even get close enough to them to get a good look. Our spot in the crowd/line brought us in front of a candy-store, and they were making candy in the window, and Ben really wanted to see better, but the Early Entry Police swept in with "please don't get on the sidewalk". They were, Disney-style, very NICE about it, but it seems really awful to me to put children in a holding pen filled with enticing objects, then tell them they can't go near them!

Anyway, a minute or two before the speakers kick in with a recorded "welcome to Disneyland!" spiel, which just seems so unnecessary to me, this is DISNEYLAND after all, but there, I'm being cynical Adult. And there's a tiny countdown, and the bells strike, and Disneyland is open, and people start running (haha! Especially after they JUST told you not to) for rides, and Ben and I start off by trying to find exactly where the Haunted Mansion is, because the road to New Orleans Square isn't specifically marked, and I find a lot of the subtler details of the official map to be actually pretty confusing because the scale is so small. I really do think that some more general signage about which which part is which way would be a decent idea, at least at the front of the park.

Anyway, so yeah Haunted Mansion. Ben, as I have told you many times before, has interests that tend to run as obsessions -- first it was garbage and garbage trucks, then it became Mummies, and currently it is Halloween in general (with a sidebar of Pirates). He's going to be hating life come Novemeber 1st, poor kid. So all he has been talking about for weeks is the Haunted Mansion, and how that is what he wants to do.

We get there, and BEAUTY, there's literally no one there, we stroll right up into the front door, and the attendant is even able to banter individually with Ben a bit while he waits for enough people to start it, and he does it in this great Late Night TV Host kind of shtick, with puns and stuff, so there's a great start and all of my adult cynicism starts to wander away. The Haunted Mansion, during Halloween, is all decked out as Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, and holy freakin' cow is it an awesome little spectacle, full of life and wit and verve, and there's even the Danny Elfman soundtrack to go along with it, so it's a zipper of imagery and madness, hoorah.

We go out the exit, and Ben's eyes are like saucers, and he has this wide grin on his face and he exults "Daddy, let's do it again!!". No problem, boss, that was fun, and there ain't no lines, let's go!

We come out the second time, and again "Daddy, let's do it again!!". This becomes the common refrain for the day! I punt this time, explaining there are LOTS of rides here, so let's go do Pirates. "OK!"

Virtually no line at Pirates (under 3 minutes), and Ben gets another set of thrills. I watch Pirates and I'm somewhat amazed that this is in a DISNEY park, and is meant as a ride for Children. Murder! Pillage! Arson! Drunkenness! And the crowd goes wild! Well, Ben does at least: "Daddy, let's do it again!!" So we do, and he loves it as much the second time.

Then Ben wants to do the Haunted Mansion a THIRD time. Well hell, why not?

Its starting to get late enough (Park's been open an hour or so) that I say to Ben we should go try something else, maybe Winnie the Pooh or Splash Mountain, and someone passing by says they've just come from Splash Mountain, and they kicked everyone out of line and said it would be an hour before it reopened. Well, let's go to Pooh anyway -- it's time, I reason, for something a little slower/more innocent for the boy.

Now we hit our first line of the day -- all of 10 minutes or so long, but a line nonetheless. I start the many of "we're in line, eat some food!" exercises, and he nibbles on carrots and pretzels. Get on Winnie, and its, geez, 3 minutes long maybe? I also really see here the limitations of the "Dark Rides", and that it is actually difficult to create a coherent narrative in that kind of presentation. Scene just cuts from scene to scene, but there's nothing pushing the narrative besides the movement of your vehicle. Ben is disappointed in Pooh as well. "That's too short, and there wasn't any spooky stuff!" I would have thought the hallucinatory Hefalump scene would be pretty close, but what do I know? First ride he DOESN'T want to go on again. Actively so.

Pooh is across the street from Splash Mountain, and it sure looks open, and the line is basically nothing at all, so I ask the boy if he's ready for his first roller coaster? It might be scary, y'know, it goes really fast and there's big scary drops. "I won't be scared, Daddy!" he says, fixing me with a look that says What Kind of A Child Do You Think I am?

I'm worried because Ben just had his annual checkup, and his official height was 39.5", and most of the Rollers have a 40" minimum. But, ha ha, the soles of his sandals pull him just over the min. He gets called out of line at every ride with a min to be checked, of course, but he's good to go.

Ben LOVED Splash Mountain -- it fact, I was a super-softy and decided to splurge the nearly $20 for the 8x11 glossy of the picture of the drop because the look on Ben's face was this one of absolute joy and rapture that only a four-year old can have, and it certainly wasn't something I could ever capture on film while I was riding with him.

Here's how I know Ben had an excellent time: Sometime around now, he looked at me very solemnly and said, "Daddy, when are we going to go to Disneyland?" Uh, what, Ben? We're AT Disneyland. "No, I mean, when are we going to go AGAIN?!?"

He wants to ride Splash Mountain again, but at this point the lines look like 20-30 minutes to me, so I said lets go to the Pirate Island. "Cool!". Well, it used to be Tom Sawyer's island, but now it is pirates. Generic ones, too, not branded ones, so even better. Stuff for him to run around and explore things and play a bit, after standing in line and sitting and riding. I had thought this would be a lame idea, but its perfect for a 3-10 year old really, and we spent 45 minutes there, and I pretty much had to drag him back to the rides, he could have stayed another hour. Were we at the park for more than 1 day, I would have indulged him. One bummer: there was supposed to be a meeting with the pirate Captain to say a pirate oath and join his band and get some treasure, but the Captain was on his lunch break, and it would have been another hour.

By now its getting hot, and Ben's looking tired. We find a water fountain, and sluice ourselves. Ben says, "Oh, my clothes are getting wet!" So? They'll dry, it's warm, and, besides, your head feels all refreshed now, right? "Yeah, Daddy!" (if we HAD been there for two days, this is the point I think we would have gone back to the hotel for a break of an hour or two. But we had a plane to catch in 6 hours, and no hotel room any longer, anyway, so we'll go on. Ben's looking fine now that he's cooled down, and he wants to do as much of it we can.

We head to Tomorrowland next, and hit Star Tours first. Its one of those motion simulator things, which I generally find to be limp, but Ben loved all of the Jerking and explosions. "Daddy, let's do it again!!", but I demurred this time.

Then we did the Buzz Lightyear ride, while is a simple Dark Ride, with the twist that you have laser guns and are shooting at targets along the wall, which is pretty darn awesome. You rack up a score, and at the end of the ride the picture of you in your car shooting and your score can be emailed to any email address. Very cool! "Daddy, let's do it again!!" OK! Ben improved his score by 40% on the second go round. I only managed 10% better!

Next up we did Space Mountain, which has been VERY upgraded since I last did it 30-something years ago. Wow, it is dizzying now! My memory sez it was like a black curtain with little pinpricks in it to simulate space back then, but now it was like actually flying through space. This was the longest line we waited in -- nearly 20 minutes, but it was totally worth it. "Daddy, let's do it again!!" Well, I wouldn't have because... 20 more minutes in line? but I didn't have to make the decision because JUST as our car pulled in at the end of our first run an announcement came out that they had to stop the ride for some reason, and everyone currently riding it should be patient, and it would start again soon. Wow, that's the LAST ride I'd want to have the illusion broken by stopping in the middle, and (maybe?) having to be walked off in the dark! As we left, I noticed that they were kicking everyone out of line who had already been waiting. Sucks!

We had some horrible overpriced pizza in Tomorrowland (Disney just RAKES in the cash in the park, it's kinda scary really), then moved on to Fantasyland. Ben was starting to get a little pooped, but he didn't want to rest -- he wanted ice cream! Hah, well, sure after we do the last patch of rides, so that kept his interest up.

Did the Matterhorn, which, sorry, is WAY scarier than any of the rest of the roller coasters there, since it seems so old (seriously, there's rust everywhere), and one gets the feeling that sooner or later a car IS going to jump the tracks. Knock wood against that though. Ben did want to do it again, however, but I passed in the interest of hitting more rides.

Did the Tea Cups, which he loved (what 4 year old doesn't love spinning), but he didn't ask for again; then the flying Dumbo ride which amused him (he wanted to stay in the "up" position, however), but didn't want to ride again. Then we did a sweep of the "dark rides", Pinocchio (horrifically dull), Peter Pan (pretty astonishingly good, actually -- did they upgrade this recently? they really hid the tracks well, and there was a strong sense of flying, even without swooping or anything), and Snow White's Scary Adventure, which we saw 7 year girls coming out of in tears, but Ben just laughed and laughed about and thought was cool. Little boys, eh?

We completely missed Mickey's Toon Town (no time)

We go for the Ice Cream on Main St, and split a Hot Fudge Sundae while sitting on the sidewalk, and the hour is growing late. I decide that, if we haul ass, we have exactly enough time for one last ride, and Ben opts for Star Tours. Alright, then, we scramble back to it, get a very minor line, but still make it through quickly, and I scoop Ben in my arms and start the jog back to the entrance. We've got a car scheduled for 6:20 (yeah, we had to go early enough to miss the parade and fireworks and stuff), and I make it back to the hotel at 6:22. Car's stuck in traffic, they pull up at 6:25, we're at the airport about 6:50. Again, no one there, breeze through ticketing.

At Security, I pass through fine, but Ben sets off the machine. Ha Ha! He had too many metal studs on his clothes. Still, they had to to the whole wand procedure with him, with his arms out. Ben thinks it is all funny funny. Then, they do the whole run with me, as well, since I'm his guardian. Ben thinks THIS is funny too, I am less amused.

Then we flew back home, and dreamed happy happy dreams, and promised to make this (or maybe just a trip just the two of us somewhere, not necessarily Dland) an annual Father & Son trip.