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Two Years' Worth of Disneyland Resort Updates

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  • [Review] Two Years' Worth of Disneyland Resort Updates

    After quite some time, I finally made my way back to the resort. The last time I was at Disneyland was for the first Disneyland After Dark event with Throwback Nite in January 2018. Prior to that, I had last visited the parks with their three-day SoCal Resident pass in the spring of 2017. In that time, there have been plenty of changes to the parks that I have yet to experience in person. Now, as I sit in my room watching Leslie Iwerks’ “The Imagineering Story” on Disney+, with seeing golden Imagineers cry over losing Walt in 1966, I feel compelled to offer my opinions on the park.

    Be warned, these reviews might not be what you’d expect from the Micechatter you’ve come to know. Or they’ll be exactly what you’d expect.

    Park Ops and General Experiences

    I visited DCA on Friday (11/8) and Disneyland on Saturday (11/9). The first day had such light crowds, I almost regretted only spending it at DCA. We only had about a half-day of time, so it was really a judgment call whether we would be able to spend enough time in Disneyland. All of the rides in DCA had short wait times and the light crowds were moving through efficiently. The Festival of Holiday booths had relatively short lines. Few people seemed to be aware of or take advantage of the fact that you could order for any booth from a single register and just take your receipt to pickup your food. This was a little-known-fact that we exploited. When it came time for World of Color’s second showing, Cast Members took down the Fastpass sections because it was so empty. Altogether, everything ran so smoothly that me and my whole party had among one of the most pleasant days we have ever experienced at the resort. This day was truly a highlight.

    It made the next day a bit harder to bare. We stayed off property at HoJo Anaheim and entered from Harbor Blvd. early in the morning. The crowds were at peak levels. It was my first time seeing the redone Harbor Blvd. security tents covering from end-to-end of the esplanade, and every booth was staffed with one security guard per table. It took us about 40 minutes to get through security at 9am, which is crazy to me. The second half of our party spent an hour waiting for bag check starting at 10:30am. It seems like they were doing all they could, and it was great to see that security did not skimp on checking bags just to move crowds through. When I was in line and when the rest of my party was in line, we both saw people collapse. The first time it was a child, and security handled the issue beautifully with just giving the child extra attention from a clear position of authority. The second time, it was an adult and they summoned medical staff much more quickly. Needless to say, the Cast Members handled the issue beautifully. It’s obvious they weren’t dealt the best hand, but I can’t help but wonder if Disney could check two bags at a table at a time if they just made them a little bit longer.

    Once in Disneyland, the walkways were packed to the gills. Fastpasses ran out quickly for Matterhorn. Poor Cast Members faced the wrath of moms of 10-year-old cheerleaders who had to wait longer than the 2-hour posted wait time. Clearly it wasn’t their fault that only one track was running, but guests paying $150 + upcharges feel they have to vent somewhere. I doesn’t seem reasonable to make guests wait 30 minutes in a line at City Hall just to complain about the lines. With that lone exception, most of the lines I experienced were manageable. Waits got as high as 30 minutes for the Jungle Cruise for me (wouldn’t have done it if not for hosting an out-of-town friend), but I also never waited more than an hour. To be sure, waits got as high as 85 minutes for things like Indiana Jones and Thunder Mountain, but we were able to avoid the waits by paying for MaxPass. The park would not have been bearable or even worth our time without this.

    For some reason the air-conditioned Space Mountain queue was not open while guests like myself baked in the sun on its roof. If they’re going to do this, they should at least reinstate the switchbacks to get people into the shade. Cast Members worked quickly to keep guests moving through rides to a degree I have never experienced. The high throughput was a little jarring at first, but knowing that it kept my wait short made it fine with me. The result was that there would sometimes be empty rows on major rides like Splash Mountain and Space Mountain if guests weren’t paying close enough attention. The crowds were so heavy and being pushed through so quickly that by the time I got off Splash Mountain, I had missed my picture. Other people suffered the same fate and there was a backup in the area. The same thing happened at Space Mountain a couple hours later. I went to the Main Street Photo Supply Co. at the end of the night and Cast Members were able to pinpoint by Splash Mountain photo based on the time that we went on the ride. As for Space Mountain, they told us that they installed a new camera last week and have been encountering problems with it. Despite me giving them a precise time for our ride, they could not find the photo and said it was likely they had not been uploaded yet because of the new camera. They were very helpful despite it being after midnight. Credit to all the Cast Members that faced certainly painful crowds and still did their jobs well, always being nice.

    Changes to Disneyland

    Seeing things in person after looking at so many pictures and videos does change my perspective a bit. Sleeping Beauty Castle looks absolutely beaming after her refurbishment and the French fry rocks gone from Tomorrowland’s entrance really open up the area visually. The new Matterhorn queue seemed okay, but the Fastpass touchpoint area seemed a little haphazard. I didn’t get to experience the new extended queue of it’s a small world, but I plan to return soon after upgrading to an annual pass.

    Broken effects on rides now seem to be the rule. I tend to give some leeway to Splash Mountain because I know it is hard to maintain with aging machinery and hard-to-reach animatronics, but this experience was just subpar. So many lights were off it felt worse than a dark ride, with key show animatronics either unlit, unmoving, or just missing altogether. The crazy thing is, it was not just Splash Mountain. Seemingly simple things like moving doors on the Monsters, Inc. ride or piranhas on Jungle Cruise weren’t functional. Indiana Jones was amazing (having just returned from a refurbishment), and the Matterhorn/Haunted Mansion Holiday were wonderful. Smoke effects on the rides (specifically Thunder Mountain) continue to be spotty.

    In the time that I was away, Pirates of the Caribbean saw the addition of Redd the pirate and removal of the Bridal Auction. We also had the restoration of the original cave dialogue and addition of a new skeleton/pirate effect with an octopus friend. The cave scene was wonderfully done, and eagle-eyed guests might be able to see that the section of the cave ceiling where projections were shown has a huge chunk missing. Frankly, the Redd the pirate scene change was not disruptive. I didn’t miss “We wants the redhead!” like I thought I would. Though I would prefer the rewriting of the words “A hen for ten,” and would like a voiceover that sounded less prim when playing the role of a female pirate, overall the scene was fine.

    What I was surprised to have not heard about were the other ways the ride was plussed. We got a new fight scene projection on the part of the Spanish fortress that isn’t under attack. They redid some of the cannonball effects to be louder and more realistic in that scene, timed better with the explosions in the water and to a degree that multiple people in my boat were startled by it. The burned up/collapsed building just before the gunpowder room has had its lighting brightened up and articulates much more than it did before. I’ve long felt small changes like these would do much to update the realism of the ride, and it feels like Imagineering read my mind with changes like these. I hope they realize that the changes don’t go unnoticed, and that their hard work is appreciated.

    I finally caught Fantasmic 2.0, and I’ll have to admit that I am majorly disappointed in some of the show. Some of the changes like Aladdin and the princesses were great. I miss Peter Pan, but I think the Pirates scene was still fun. The story flowed a bit better and the effects seemed more targeted for their purpose. Two (or three) things made me long for the show we used to have, though. The first was that we see Maleficent rise up from beneath the stage instead of it being a surprise. The effect of seeing her eyes appear from behind a fountain is much stronger than her slow conversion from a devil thing into a dragon. The performance I saw, she did not breathe fire from her mouth to light the Rivers of America on fire. Is this the norm? Because if it is that is a serious downgrade of the highest order and needs to be reversed immediately. Lastly, I feel like the show needs to end with Mickey on top of Tom Sawyer’s Island. Trim the trees so that people all around the Rivers of America can see him, because that finale is everything to this show. Nothing compares to seeing the crowd cheer as he appears and fireworks blast off from just behind him. I miss the old Fantasmic for those reasons.

    Changes to DCA

    I hadn’t actually been to DCA since the Guardians of the Galaxy took up their residence or since Pixar Pier debuted. Frankly, the rest of the park didn’t change that much besides those two areas. Yes, Hollywood land and the backlot area are still boring. The one exception is the new marquee that the Sunset Showcase theatre received, which looks beautiful. Mickey’s Philharmagic, unfortunately, feels dated and shows its age, even if it is new to California. I had only seen it once before in Florida, and that was enough for a lifetime. I was a bit bothered at the entertainment schedule for Frozen, since there were no performances on Saturday when the crowds were heaviest. I would have loved to have seen a sneak peak of the movie at the Sunset Showcase theatre over Mickey’s Philharmagic, but I know that not many feel the same way. As someone who saw both the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides sneak peak and live-action Beauty and the Beast sneak peak, they really tipped my hand and convinced me to see the movies in theatres when I was planning to wait for the Netflix release. But I digress.

    For Guardians of the Galaxy, the exterior of the ride was a visual monstrosity. Seeing it tower beyond the Carthay Circle Theatre only added to the discordance. Once inside, most people in line were talking, ignoring the various museum pieces Imagineering had placed for us, even if some of them were animatronic. The mood was of course different from the old hotel lobby, but it was so casual and blasé that few appeared interested or immersed—a far cry from the tone set by queues like Indiana Jones or the old Tower of Terror. Rest assured, this ride was even more fun than it was before. The drop sequences were more random and severe, and the music really added to the experience. It was just a great ride to have fun on, and for me signaled a shift in the type of ride from the Tower of Terror. Rather than be something spooky or eerie, comparing Guardians of the Galaxy to it is really apples and oranges. The result is that, of course, some people prefer apples and some prefer oranges. I don’t mind Guardians of the Galaxy as it is a new experience, so I think that is my preference for now. However, I did have one friend in my party who has never seen a Marvel movie beyond the first Ironman. After admitting he had fun, he asked me, “How well does Disney expect these characters and stories from Marvel to be beloved ten years from now?” I answered I have no idea, and that such a sentiment was many people’s argument for keeping Tower of Terror, which had a certain timelessness. But when Disney is willing to bulldoze an entire land (a bug’s land), I don’t expect them to be too attached to the timelessness of the past.

    Pixar Pier was a bit better than I expected, to be frank. I had been hypercritical of the nature of tacking on rethemes to existing rides. While still agree with that principle, hats off to WDI for doing the best with what they had. Emotional Whirlwind looked great and so did the carousel. The Pixar Pal-a-Round did feel a bit tacky, especially since they couldn’t get the real voices of Pixar characters to record ride announcements. The fresh coat of paint and the promenade area looked much better than whatever was there before. The Incredicoaster, with the exception of baby’s on sticks on the final bunny hops, was actually very well executed. Yes, the scenes did feel a bit shoe-horned in, but were in fact quite fun to fly through and look at. I will always wish for more articulation and movement in scenes (and fewer screens), but overall it enhanced the experience rather than detracted from it. Of course, the music from Michael Giacchino’s Incredibles score truly made the ride great. It’s interesting to see just how heavily some of the best rides in Disney parks rely on music (that gives me an idea for another thread).

    World of Color: Seasons of Light was beautiful. They must have spent a fortune licensing all that music, and I loved every minute of it. Such a long show with masterful effects deserves to be viewed up front. I was lucky enough to catch the second showing, when low crowds resulted in CMs opening up the entire area regardless of Fastpass status. Front row, splash zone viewing spots were perfect. I didn’t know that heart-shaped bubbles were released during the show. At first I thought they were balloons, but then seeing them float by up close revealed it to me. Sometimes they would float out over the fountains, then get hilariously obliterated by a water jet after floating so far into the fray. At one point the bubble machine did not chop the bubble up correctly, making a massive chunk of heart-shaped bubbles probably 6 feet tall. I am being 100% truthful when I say the crowd cheered as they watched it take off from the machine after the show ended. You can’t fake Disney magic like that.

    Star Wars at the Resort

    This is my first visit since Galaxy’s Edge opened. It’s important that I preface that this review is not conclusive nor only about Galaxy’s Edge. Three attractions and a shop in Tomorrowland have Star Wars in them. Star Tours is largely unchanged for me, which is good because I love The Adventures Continue. Hyperspace Mountain felt a bit boring by now, such that I’m ready for a change. I didn’t even go near Star Wars Launch Bay because why waste my time, and Path of the Jedi was closed. As a Star Wars fan, I’ve reached my saturation point outside of Galaxy’s Edge. I want Star Tours to remain, and the rest of the area to go back to Tomorrowland.

    As for Galaxy’s Edge: wow. Before I say more, let me note what I did do. I did not try the blue and green milk, but my party did (two of whom eat plant-based diets) and they were underwhelmed. I did not interact with characters as much as I would have liked to. I was just frankly too tired and it was too crowded for me to feel comfortable as a crowd of 60 people gathered around Kylo Ren harassing people. I did not try the Cantina, nor build a droid or lightsaber.

    With all of that said…

    The realism felt off the charts. It really did feel like I was in another place separate from the rest of Disneyland. That’s a testament to just how far Imagineering took it and their skill in designing the portals and transitions. I did miss some music and wished it could be playing in a bit more natural way (like from a Galactic radio or something), but the ambient sounds were great. I wished for more shade and trees. Seeing the Millennium Falcon in person was breathtaking. It’s a shame they did not put benches along the lower level of the terrace, because people were just sitting up against the wall like children in a timeout on the schoolyard just to rest and stay in shade.

    The Smugglers Run queue was… lacking. It was nice to see the way to board the Millennium Falcon simulated a jet bridge you might see at an airport, but parts of the lighting are already coming undone in a way that was clearly an error rather than some immersion tactic. Still, the Star Tours queue felt more immersive than this. Let’s not forget to mention the extended queue that goes backstage. Antsy kids were climbing on exposed steel while Cast Members selling soda had to pull double duty to police them. Meanwhile one Cast Member stood by in line playing with a puppet Porg. Don’t get me started on that putrid smell of wastewater coming from one spot in the line (if you’ve smelled it, you know what I’m talking about). I don’t know what this line will look like when Fastpass starts being offered, but I hope it’s bearable.

    I rode Smugglers Run twice, once as the pilot and again as the gunner. I feel pretty satisfied with it and would be happy to ride it many times. As the pilot, I thought the ride was on what videogamers call rails, since the ship didn’t get too damaged with my co-pilot. Then when my girlfriend (who does not play videogames) piloted it, I realized just how much you could crash. It honestly made for a more fun experience while I was gunner and got to shoot things. I’ve heard pilot is the best position, and while I believe that’s true, I think there’s a fair level of interactivity in the other jobs to make the ride worth it for everyone.

    After my second time riding it, I went to a shop where I bought some Han Solo dice. Cast Members were just being normal humans, with one offering the other an Altoid as I walked up to the register. They were just talking about life like normal people and definitely not in character. When I walked up, they told me I did a bad job of flying the Millennium Falcon (which I blamed on my significant other). They didn’t respond to me after that and I was won my way. Anyone know how this reputation tech follows you around? I’m genuinely curious. The shops were well done, but too crowded for me to browse. I wish I had more energy to interact with Cast Members as characters, and I bet they wish they had the energy too. It just felt like a lot to ask people to pull double duty on a hot, high-crowd day like Saturday.

    Final Thoughts

    This is all to say that, yes, I will be back. I’m going back next week, and hopefully again in December, before going back for the opening of Rise of the Resistance. I hope Marvel land is open at this time next year, because I plan to go back for that as well. I’m now an annual passholder. And while I have plenty of criticisms of the parks and how decisions are being made, I feel like the value to me is just about worth it. Here's hoping it lasts.

  • #2
    Nice write up!
    These are some of my favorite TRs I have posted

    DL 55th BDAY trip report
    My company had a special night at the park
    WdW trip report with WWoHP
    NYE 2011 trip report
    Mice Chat 7th anniversary
    Leap year 24 hour report
    New DCA trip report
    NYE 2012
    HKDL trip report

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by biggsworth View Post
      nice write up!
      x 2
      Soaring like an EAGLE !

      Comment


      • #4
        Great review. Thanks for taking the time to break it all down, WaltDisney's Alec. It's always great to hear from people who have been away from the park for awhile. I think they notice changes more.
        And you're set to go back! That is awesome!

        Comment

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