I’ve loved Disneyland long before my first and only short visit a year ago. It’s the magical place that I associated with the classic Mickey Mouse Club episodes that I watched after school as a boy and was the original place that I connected with Disney movies that I grew up with like “Pete’s Dragon”, “The Love Bug” and “Bambi” (yes, I loved “Bambi” as a boy).
This year, as part our family road trip, the PapiBlogger clan returned to Disneyland without hurries. This is a a recap of what we found particularly charming about Disneyland Park, the original place that opened for memories in 1955.
Star Tours and the Jedi Training Academy
I’m a major Star Wars fan so it should come as no surprise that my favorite attraction at Disneyland are the Star Tours ride and the Jedi Training Academy. What makes everything especially compelling for me about them is not just that these are Star Wars-related attractions but that they are both very well done.
Star Tours is the newest ride at both Disneyland and Disney World this year and if you haven’t already heard, it’s amazing. The digital 3D ride consists of a space ship adventure with C3PO who gets accidentally pressed into saving the galaxy. Unlike most other simulator-type rides, this one comes with 54 different potential missions so it’s rare for you to see the same experience twice on the same day or even on different visits because the space flights change every time you go on this attraction. I think this approach to creating rides with so many different potential virtual experiences is innovative because it means rides like Star Tours can be updated and refreshed for years to come.
The other Star Wars highlight we experienced was the Jedi Training Academy. The academy consists of an outdoor stage where a Jedi master teaches 30 or so kids (picked from the audience) how to use the force to fight the “Dark Side.” My kids, Jonathan, Elena and, yes, even my two-year-old Briani (dressed in a Tinkerbell outfit) were selected to get the light saber training exercises at the same time so I had a hard time choosing who to focus our camera on most (Briani, of course, won out). The the two times I’ve seen the show almost every child who raised their hand got chosen to participate. The top moment of the show is when Darth Vader, Darth Maul and several storm troopers come out to battle each of the trainees. Of course, the Jedi trainees always win. Briani was the smallest one to participate in the fights so all eyes were on how she swung her Light Saber. She was a natural Jedi!
Mickey’s Soundsational Parade
Disney is known for putting together some of the most creative parades in the industry and in true form the new Mickey’s Soundsational Parade does not disappoint. The parade goes through Mainstreet, U.S.A. and features Mickey Mouse on drums (he’s really good!) as well as a repertoire of other drummers and dancers that accompany gorgeous floats from such Disney movie classics as “The Lion King”, “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”, among others. My daughters were particularly happy to see the float with all the Disney princesses. For optimal viewing and photography, be sure to sit or stand with your back to the train station terminal of Mainstreet, U.S.A. (That’s where I took the photos you see here). Get there 15 to 30 minutes before the parade starts or you will be out of luck.
The Rides We Loved Most
My kids and I truly cherished our day at Disneyland but some of the rides we enjoyed most were:
Captain EO with Michael Jackson: This 3D movie attraction ride features the late Michael Jackson in a Star Wars-like short film that was directed by George Lucas in the mid-80s. The plot line, music and dancing are not Michael’s best but the 3D effects are very good and if you are an 80′s buff or a Michel Jackson fan, this is a major must while at Disneyland. This is one of my top five favorite rides at Disneyland.
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage: This is another of our family’s favorite. The ride chronicles the story of “Finding Nemo” through the round glass “lens” of a submarine that travels through many of the main underwater scenes of the “Finding Nemo” movie. If, like me, you remember the classic, since discontinued submarine at the Magic Kingdom, you will enjoy this ride because the underwater views and special effects are very good. My son Jonathan came into the ride rather cocky that he would not be scared by what he saw and left the attraction humbled because two scenes frightened him.
It’s a Small World: We never tire of this classic, low frills ride because it never ages. The Disneyland version of “It’s a Small World” is only slightly cooler than the Orlando one because it has a gorgeous, ornate exterior. “It’s a Small World” is also the location of a new nighttime spectacle called “The Magic, The Memories and You”. The music spectacle features a stunning 3D light show projected unto the entire building of “It’s a Small World”. The lights, images and music are cool but what makes this show especially interesting is that Disney projects hundreds of photographs of its family guests that were taken throughout the day by Disneyland Park photographers. (An identical show is also available at the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella’s Castle).
Space Mountain: The roller coaster most of us remember taking our first roller coaster ride in is still one of the top three you’ll find in any theme park. Disney added more sound effects to this ride so if you haven’t been on Space Mountain for a couple of years, it will seem a lot more thrilling now than it used to.
Disney History Notes
A lot of people are so anxious to get to the rides part of the park that they often overlook Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which is located immediately upon entering Mainstreet, U.S.A., to the right. If you’re a history buff like I am you will enjoy this attraction because it not only has an impressive show spotlighting the incredible presidency of Lincoln (this one features an advanced Animatronic that actually stands and talks to the audience) but in the lobby area it also has original maps, renderings and other memorabilia that shows the history of Disneyland.
A couple cool facts about Disneyland:
- Disneyland literally took about a year to build from the time the blueprints were approved to the time the park was finished. Walt Disney personally supervised the entire project, which may explain why it was built so efficiently and quickly. Mr. Disney was so hands on that he even outlined which trees were to be cutdown to make room for the park and which were to remain.
- Critics thought the park would bomb. Instead the park opened with such high attendance that it’s overwhelming success could have killed it because of how clogged Disneyland got in its early days. Demand far exceeded supply.
- In the beginning, Disneyland tickets only let you access specific “combo” parts of the park (i.e. Tomorrowland and Adventureland). Later Disney would be the first to revolutionize the theme park industry with an unlimited pass for all rides.
- Both Disneyland Park and the Magic Kingdom are located in states with huge orange industries and in counties called Orange County.
The best place to view the famous nighttime fireworks display is directly in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. If you have an advanced consumer or professional grade digital camera I highly recommend you bring a tripod to the park because it’s the only way you are going to get these types of spectacular photos. I shot my fireworks photos with a Nikon camera. To get this photo I set my camera near the center of Mainstreet U.S.A. The camera was set to 400 ASA, F22 for 30 seconds on a tripod.