How you feel about Disney — the corporation, their movies, their parks — is a litmus test for something, but damned if I know what. One thing it’s surely a litmus test for is how close you’re paying attention. The parks and the feature-length animations have gone through dramatic ups and downs over the years, under Walt Disney himself, during the Jeffrey Katzenberg renaissance, under later budget-cutting management and now under the creative auspices of Pixar founder John Lassetter, who has at least for the present stabilized the company’s heart and soul and put them in a very good place.
In the Lassetter era, Amy and I have come to love most things Disney. Three years ago, we had SoCal annual passes to Disneyland, which is about 40 minutes away from us in Anaheim. I wrote a blog about it when it was over and promised to write more, but I never got around to it. I want to keep that promise now and write about some of our most interesting experiences at the park as they happen, before they fade into the vasty nothingness of my memory and become all bibbledy. (That was a paraphrase from Kaylee in Serenity, in case you’re trying to remember where you’ve heard it before.) We activated the passes on December 5, 2014, which means they’ll be active through December 5, 2015 (they throw in the 366th day as a bonus), and will get to see two Christmas seasons at Disneyland. And if you can’t get into the Christmas spirit at Disneyland, you’re due to be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Prepare accordingly.
(My apologies to those who don’t celebrate Christmas. I’m an atheist and I’m already planning how to decorate the tree. I consider it an open season for happiness, love and lots of pretty lights. Then again, I don’t even mind when they start playing Christmas songs before Halloween.)
Our friends George and Greg were visiting from out of town, so we had a busy day planned. I expected to conk out somewhere during what became nearly a 12-hour visit, but at some point the Christmas spirit, the Disney spirit and sheer adrenaline kicked in. I haven’t had a better time in years.
To get an annual pass, you first have to register for one, then get it validated at the park. I’ve had the registration on my bulletin board for months:
Disneyland is nothing if not efficient. After a short bus ride from the Toy Story parking lot (the easiest-to-use parking lot on Earth), you go to a booth and swap the voucher for a card:
What I’m calling Disneyland is technically Disneyland Resort, which consists of two parks (Disneyland and California Adventure), plus the Downtown Disney restaurant and shopping district, as well as several hotels. We headed for Disneyland first:
where they waste no time in letting you know that this entrance is to Disneyland what the wardrobe was to Narnia:
It being our first time back at Disneyland in a while, we took it easy on hitting the rides, just walking around looking at the sights. (It was also a Friday, when we usually don’t tend to go because of the line lengths.) We did, however, go on a few, the first of which was the Jingle Cruise, which is normally the Jungle Cruise but decorated with what the park calls a holiday overlay. It’s a far less elaborate holiday overlay than the ones for It’s a Small World and The Haunted Mansion:
The overlay also meant that we got some new holiday jokes from the aspiring stand-up comics that Disney hires to serve as tour guides on the jungle, er, jingle boats. (To see what the Jungle Cruise looks like during the non-holiday season, check out my YouTube video from 2012. You’re welcome.)
I had plenty of time to make myself sick on the irresistible pastries sold in store after store on Main Street USA:
We also checked out several gift shops for potential Christmas presents. The gift shops, actually, are a wonder in themselves. There are dozens of them and every one seems to have a completely different line of t-shirts, plush animals and trinkets, obviously providing enough work for half the population of China, where most of them seem to be made. This includes the department-store-sized gift shop in Downtown Disney:
The World of Disney gift shop is vast and practically a park in itself:
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We met George and Greg at the Carthay Circle Restaurant in the relatively new Carthay Circle theater in California Adventure, a replica of the theater where Disney’s first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, opened in 1937, thus launching an era of movie animation that continues till this day. The restaurant itself is an elegant and old-fashioned luxury establishment where we had our own private dining nook:
Afterwards we went back to Disneyland and took the Disneyland Railroad around to It’s a Small World, a much-derided attraction that becomes spectacular at Christmas:
Here’s my video of the 2011 Christmas overlay for It’s a Small World:
From It’s a Small World it was just a few feet to the viewing area for the Disneyland Christmas Fantasy Parade.
Here’s my video of the 2011 Christmas Fantasy Parade:
It’s had 145,000 hits so far, making it far and away my best-viewed video. Apologies for the blurriness at the beginning, but it goes away quickly.) Here are some shots of this year’s parade:
We had a break before our next big event — more about that in a minute — so we caught the Disneyland Railroad into the prehistoric past, where the dinosaurs from the 1964 New York World’s Fair still roam:
At the end of the line (and back in the 21st Century), we cut through Downtown Disney to the Grand Californian hotel, where George and Greg were staying. We collapsed for a while in the lobby and looked at the Christmas decor:
which included a giant gingerbread house, recipe included:
We weren’t the only ones who needed a break. Santa headed for the Grand Californian lobby too, but those darned kids kept bothering him:
Finally, we added the pièce de résistance (yes, that was a direct cut-and-paste from Wikipedia) to the evening by watching what I consider Disneyland’s single greatest attraction: the World of Color. Named for the Disney television show from the early 1960s, the World of Color is to other water shows what the Starship Enterprise is to a frisbee. Somehow the Disney imagineers make colored fountains of water dance in choreographed patterns as they project animated images onto them. Combined with sounds, projections on the roller coaster in the background and occasional gouts of fire, this results in one of those experiences that can only be fully appreciated in person, but I’ll do my best to convey it to you in words and images.
Since this was the holiday version of World of Color and Frozen has been such a monster hit for Disney, it was hosted by Olaf the Snowman, who I fully expect to replace Mickey Mouse as the iconic symbol for the entire corporation. (Maybe then they’ll stop fighting to get copyright extensions on old cartoons.) The character images have a kind of three-dimensional appearance when projected on water and they photograph rather blurrily, but here’s Olaf in all his fuzzy wet glory:
And here are his friends Anna and Elsa plotting to build him:
One of the reasons it’s difficult to represent World of Color in pictures is that it’s hard to convey the sheer, soaring magnitude of it, but look at this photo:
See that image of Mickey Mouse in the background? That’s on a ferris wheel — and it’s HUGE. Yet the World of Color fountains dwarf it. And this isn’t even as high as they go.
By the way, the World of Color holiday show doesn’t just honor Christians (and Christmas-loving atheists like me):
All amazing things must end. World of Color plays the crowd out with bowing fountains and a holiday farewell:
Here’s my video of the 2011 version:
The images were quite different then, though it’s not hard to find a video of the current World of Color on YouTube:
And that’s it. It was nearly 11 p.m. and the first day of our new annual pass had come to an end. We said goodbye to George and Greg, drove home listening to Christmas playlists on Spotify, greeted our two cats and collapsed.
But our second Year of Living Disney is just beginning. More to come.