I’m telling you this not because I’m showing off, but because every one of those visits is burned into my memory and I can recall almost to the day what we saw, where we went and what we did.
However, when it comes to Disneyland – I can barely remember anything. I know I’ve been before but other than vague memories about being there as a small child (one or two years old) maybe once more when I was a teen (or twice?) and a visit to Disney’s California Adventure around 12 years ago, I can barely recall details. Even for my latest visit I can’t even remember what hotel we were in, how long we stayed in Anaheim or anything! I do remember the park though, but the visit itself is pretty fuzzy in my mind.
So when I arrived in LAX last September and got on the bus that took me to Disneyland, it was pretty much a brand-new visit for me. I knew that the likelihood of returning to the Disneyland resort was pretty slim, so I wanted to make sure that I made the most of the time I had and planned to spend all my downtime (when not racing or with friends) inside a park. I spent 5 days visiting the parks and it was a wise decision.
Disneyland is an interesting park for me – not so much for the attractions themselves (as almost all of them exist in a slightly better version in another Disney park somewhere) but for the history it has. Disneyland is after all the world’s first theme park, the first Disney Park and the only one that Walt actually visited. So as much as I think Disneyland Paris is beautiful, Tokyo Disneyland is unique and Walt Disney World is amazing – Disneyland is like no other.
But when I had visited Disneyland in the past, I was totally unaware of any of this and merely walked around it like it was any other Disney park, merrily ignoring the layer of historical significance I was to find so amazing a few decades later. It is fair to say that in my last visit I fell in love with Disneyland and all that it means.
When Disneyland was being built, there was no template to draw from and the Imagineers wrote the rule book as they went along. They didn’t know the huge numbers of guests that would need to be accommodated so the walkways are narrow, twisty and very charming. Disneyland is full of nooks and crannies, every one with its own personality and a joy to discover. Main St is almost my favourite place, because it just feels like a real place, somehow, because these shops have been here for such a long time and they have that slightly cramped feeling that is very ‘real’.
Disneyland also gave to the world some classic attractions that aren’t really based on anything the studio was working on at the time, which is a drastic difference from what happens now. There was no Haunted Mansion movie, no Jungle Cruise show, no It’s a Small World tie-in. The attractions are all great, and not because they included characters that people already knew (hint, hint). Going into the Disneyland Tiki Room, for example, is a totally different experience than it would be in WDW, simply because these Tiki Birds were the First Ones. I got chills down my spine with the thought that Walt possibly sat in this very same room and sang “like the birdies do”. These Tiki Birds are the originals – all the others are copies.
I could say the same for so many other attractions, especially Pirates of the Caribbean. This ride has gained in popularity thanks to the movies but when the ride opened in Disneyland, no one knew these pirates and loved the ride nevertheless. I love the fact that all subsequent Pirates rides in other parks also include the drops: but in Disneyland, the drops are an essential part of the ride layout, as it allows for the boats to drop below the berm and onto the enormous show building on the other side.
I had the luxury of time (and being on my own) so I spent a lot of time just wandering the park, absorbing its atmosphere and history, taking hundreds of photos and taking it all in. I saw every show I could, saw every parade, cried at the fireworks show (complete with pirouetting Tinker Bell!), was amazed by Fantasmic (even sans Dragon) and generally spent time committing every square meter of the park to memory. I tried to eat in different places every time (although the Mahi Mahi wrap in Tomorrowland Terrace was hard to beat!) and I just enjoyed being there.
Disneyland’s Tomorrowland feels smaller than it’s twins in other parks, but somehow this creates a sort of kinetic energy that works very well. Everywhere you look in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland you see something moving: rockets, boats, cars and the occasional monorail (HOW I loved those monorails!!) If the TTA was re-instated it would be even better as it would be yet another thing that is moving around this land. I also love the retro-futuristic architecture and the knowledge that on Opening Day in 1955, Tomorrowland was barely there and yet now it is more than complete. This is probably the place that has changed the most since then but it still retains that air of history.
But by far my favourite place was The Disney Gallery, which was FULL of amazing drawings, sketches, paintings and images by various artists, all interpreting the classic Disneyland attractions in their own style. I literally spent hours looking at all the art, the models, and the displays, reading every single word and wishing I had more money so that I could buy some of these works of art. I felt like this place truly encompassed what Disneyland is for me – a living museum full of treasure.
After spending all this time in Disneyland it was almost like rediscovering an old friend that you’d sort of forgotten and taken for granted. Disneyland is a quaint and charming place holding some of the most valuable Disneyana artifacts around, including what are in my opinion the coolest of the Disney monorails. It is a living museum of pop art, a literal monument to what happens when people work hard to make their dreams come true, and a place no true Disney fan should miss. It really does feel like a place where Walt walked and 'plussed' constantly and I think his spirit is still felt in this park more than any of the others.
I hope to return someday and, when I do, I will definitely remember what I did the last time and how fantastic the experience was.