Despite living in Orlando, I’ve been fortunate enough to become a recent Disneyland regular, traveling to California a few times a year for a number of grand openings and other special events. From World of Color to The Little Mermaid to Cars Land and beyond, the last few years have been among the most exciting in Disneyland Resort history. But not every visit to the original Disneyland park has to be packed with experiencing new rides, shows, or other attractions. In fact, sometimes it’s best to make a trip for an “ordinary” day at the park.
I did just that last week, in town for Disney Interactive’s unveiling of Disney Infinity. I preceded that special event with a couple days of “normal” time at Disneyland. During that time, I had no particular schedule, able to wander the park freely and take in a few sights I’d never seen before.
January begins the “off season” for most theme parks, following heavy Christmastime crowds. Disney often takes the opportunity to freshen up parts of its parks, this year including the Main Street Train Station, hiding work behind a picture-perfect tarp. It’s something I’d never seen before as my Disneyland trips are usually during busier times.
Getting into Disneyland has become a bit of a hassle lately, as a result of ticket scams going around the area. Because discounted multi-day tickets have been unofficially rented out on a daily basis (against Disneyland policy), Disney has answered by checking the ticket of each and every person who approaches the turnstiles to see if they have single or multi-day tickets, sending them in different directions. Those with multi-day tickets are being photographed to match their faces with the tickets to ensure only one person uses each for admission. Cast members standing in front of the turnstiles are rather in-your-face about asking to see tickets, not the usual Disney friendliness and not the best way to start a day.
Once inside, Disneyland is as magical as ever. And this year, Christmas seemed to stick around longer than usual, with Sleeping Beauty Castle still covered in “snow” a couple weeks into January, a sight I didn’t expect to still see. Christmas is a particularly enjoyable time in the park so it was nice to have a chance to experience a little bit of it, even nearly a month after the holiday.
Nearby Fantasy Faire is getting closer to completion with vibrant tents springing up. This will surely be a new experience for me next time I visit.
Over in New Orleans Square, Christmas decorations still adorned its streets, keeping with the Mardi Gras motif.
But being the “off season,” combined with record cold weather, I’d never seen New Orleans Square this empty. It’s quite photogenic without hundreds of tourists cluttering up the place!
I seized the schedule-free morning opportunity to enjoy my first Mint Julep, served at Cafe Orleans. It definitely packs quite the minty punch! But it was crisp and refreshing.
I also enjoyed my first Mickey Mouse beignets, a perfect warm treat to start off the day.
Sadly, The Haunted Mansion was still closed, just a few days short of reopening after Jack Skellington moved out from the annual Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay. I never visit Disneyland when my favorite ride is closed, so this was indeed a sad sight.
But it did afford me the opportunity to photograph my favorite attraction with no one around, camera held high over the front gates.
At night the same sight looks even better. A closed ride can still provide some enjoyment.
I was looking forward to chowing down on some of the limited time menu items too.
I passed on getting a Monte Cristo at Cafe Orleans earlier in the day because I wanted to give the Golden Cristo Nuggets a shot – and that was an excellent decision. The regular Monte Cristo sandwich is always HUGE, enough to feed 2 or 3 people. But these nuggets were just the right amount for one person, still retaining that classic and delicious Monte Cristo taste, but in a much more appropriate serving size. I wish they’d serve these year-round.
The Wranglin’ Fanta orange float was a perfect pair for the Golden Cristo Nuggets, somewhere between a drink and a dessert, with a crispy and sweet can can girl cookie on top. It was even better after swirling the whipped cream into the soda, giving it a Creamsicle flavor.
My front of the line spot allowed me to grab a front-and-center table for the show, right behind the band. I always love Disneyland’s live music.
The Golden Horseshoe Revue salute was fantastic, with talented performers leaving me laughing and tapping my foot along with the tunes.
The can can girls are definitely a show highlight and something you certainly don’t see every day at Disneyland.
But Miss Lilly truly stole the show with her audience improv, thankfully choosing the guy next to me to pick on instead of me!
Out by the park’s entrance, I was surprised to hear beautiful singing in Town Square. It was the Voices of Liberty, performing a song for everyone to entice them into their upcoming show. They’re an incredibly talented group of a capella singers and it was lovely to hear them just out and about, something I didn’t know they did.
Next door, the Disney Gallery is showing off artwork from Fantasylands worldwide. Being from Orlando, my attention was fixed on concept art for New Fantasyland for an Alice in Wonderland-themed area that was never built.
We don’t have much Alice in Wonderland in Florida, other than the Mad Tea Party, so this would have been a welcome addition to the Magic Kingdom.
I was also excited to see a print of the mural from Snow White’s Scary Adventures, now permanently closed at Walt Disney World. In fact, I even purchased a print of it from Disneyland’s Art On Demand system.
Out in the park, it’s always a wonderful surprise to see characters roaming around. I fear the upcoming Fantasy Faire indoor meet-and-greet will prevent random Cinderella sightings like this from happening in the future. It really helps make Disneyland’s fantasy feel real, something lacking at Walt Disney World as characters continue to be tucked away inside meet-and-greets with long lines, rather than simply being out in the streets as they often are in California.
A real first-time surprise for me was walking the queue of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. Apparently in all the times I’ve been at Disneyland, I have always used Fastpass for this attraction, never once realizing there was an elaborate walk through the streets of one of my all-time favorite movies. Passing by the Ink and Paint club, this silhouette of Jessica Rabbit appears inside.
Knocking on the Ink and Paint Club door, the grimacing bouncer slides open the little window to see who’s trying to get in. I told him “Walt sent me,” but he didn’t open up.
Baby Herman is around the corner, grouchy as usual. But at least he has his stogie.
Weasels pass by in silhouette overhead. They weren’t in the mood to laugh.
I briefly feared for my life when I saw large the dip manufacturing area, but then I realized I’m not a toon. This was all a wonderful treat for me. I’ll definitely be skipping Fastpass in the future to walk through this highly detailed queue.
Though Toontown no longer exists at Walt Disney World, replaced by Storybook Circus, the Disneyland version has always been far better.
It’s great to see characters like Goofy just hanging around in front of their houses – again, not tucked away, out of sight, behind a 30-60 minute line.
Continuing the theme of trying new things, this trip gave me a chance to finally ride the Casey Jr Circus Train for the very first time.
Like the Roger Rabbit queue, I didn’t realize what I’d been missing all these years by not riding Casey Jr! I figured it would be a quick out-and-back, 30-second ride but it ended up being quite the little tour of Fantasyland, circling over the Storybook Land Canal Boats and beyond. This has become a must-do for future visits and something that even locals should enjoy once in a while.
I also rode the Storybook Land Canal Boats for the first time in many, many years, discovering that dusk is a wonderful time on this slow-moving ride.
The biggest surprise of all during this mid-January trip was the fact that It’s a Small World was still in holiday mode, complete with Christmas music blaring throughout the area.
It’s been far too many years since I’d been at Disneyland at Christmas time and even halfway into January, the thousands of colored lights adorning the elaborate It’s a Small World Holiday facade are breathtaking.
Inside, I felt like Santa had just left our house, but he was clearly already planning for his 2013 visit. I’ve been nice, so far!
Capping off the weekend of new and overlooked experiences was a viewing of the Remember… Dreams Come True fireworks show on Main Street USA, something I hadn’t actually stopped to watch in years. It’s still an amazing fireworks show, one of Disney’s best, paying tribute to decades of Disneyland history. And when it debuted for the park’s 50th anniversary, the original Star Tours segment featuring pilot Rex felt current – now it joins Adventure Thru Inner Space as a thing of the past!
Not every Disneyland visit has to be about rushing to see a brand new ride. Whether visiting as a California local or traveler from across the country or around the world, it pays to take a step back, even look at the map, and notice a few classic experiences that perhaps have been bypassed over the years in favor of focusing on only what’s new.
Disneyland is a part of American history and the oldest traditions have stuck around because for a reason: They’re timeless. I definitely encourage all who visit this happy place to break from the park-going regular routine and try something new. It may very well become a favorite part of the routine next time around.
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