Why I’m Not Grumpy at Disneyland

Grumpy

So Ryan and I are off to Disneyland Resort again, to celebrate my 44th birthday in early August. Originally we were going to explore potential Los Angeles neighborhoods on this trip, too. (Though if Ryan has his druthers, we’ll live in Pasadena when we finally move because that’s where Bob Barker co-hosted the Rose Parade in the wayback days–true story.)

However, we’ll probably just stick close to Disneyland because this trip includes a heavily pixie-dusted complimentary stay at the Grand Californian Hotel, the mouse’s flagship West Coast hotel. Interesting backstory there. Last year in March, when the longtime Disneyland Resort vet that I am dragged Ryan to Anaheim for the first time (which he loved!) for his 40th birthday, I got us alarmingly expensive Premier annual passes allowing us to visit Disneyland Resort on the west coast and Walt Disney World on the east coast.

On our subsequent Disney visit two months later in May, we used our Premier passes to visit WDW, instead. Regular readers know how much we disliked the Orlando parks on that visit, but finding little west coast-style Disney magic in Orlando wasn’t the only rotten thing. WDW also made us trade in our Disneyland-purchased Premier passes for new-technology passes currently used on the east coast. Guest Services in Orlando promised that the new passes would still work at Disneyland Resort (or DLR, in Disney vet shorthand).

Except, when went back to our “home” resort, DLR, in October for HalloweenTime festivities, our Premier passes were dead in the water. As it turned out, WDW never coordinated with DLR to make sure the new-technology passes really would work as promised on the west coast. Disney fan blogs bear out the experience that we and dozens of other Premier holders shared the next time we visited DLR–long and repeated waits throughout our visits for main gate, restaurant, and shop leads (i.e. managers) to override the ticketing system and actually a.) let us into the parks, and b.) get our dining and merchandise discounts. In October of last year, we probably wasted three hours over four days waiting, all because WDW had short-circuited our alarmingly expensive bi-coastal passes for use in Anaheim.

When we got home, I emailed DLR Guest Services and thanked them for the way Cast Members (i.e. employees) in the parks went out of their way to help make those waits manageable for us, and made it clear we knew the problem was caused by the completely separate park management structure in Florida. Basically, we sang DLR’s praises and talked about how this was just the last straw in sealing the deal that the Orlando parks would never get our money again. Only Disneyland would.

After that love letter got passed around Guest Services (as we were told by Guest Services, themselves), they thanked us for loving so much on DLR–and of course to keep us buying annual passes–by comping us three days at the west coast Disney hotel of our choice. And that’s how three of our upcoming four days at the Grand Californian ended up being free. When I did the math and realized that works out to $1,800 of pixie dust (yes, the hotel really is that expensive), our plans quickly changed from neighborhood tours to remaining on-site and enjoying as much of the hotel and nearby Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure, and Downtown Disney as possible.

(This probably makes no sense to people who only know WDW–so it would probably help for me to tell you that everything at DLR–the parks, the hotels, and Downtown Disney–are immediately adjacent to each other, at most a few hundred yards apart from each other, and connected by foot power. So no half-hour Disney bus rides required–or even possible!)

People often ask me  why Disney? Any especially, why Disneyland and not WDW? I have no more need to defend our repeated Disney vacations than a beach lover has to defend their repeated beach vacations. But as for why Disneyland instead of WDW? Setting aside all the things we found unmagical in the Orlando parks discussed in the post linked above, I just can’t imagine Team Disney Orlando apologizing for problems caused by the Anaheim parks, yet that’s just what Team Disney Anaheim’s Guest Services crew did for us here. (Did I mention the complimentary stay includes access to VIP reserved viewing areas for fireworks, parades, and Fantasmic!, and VIP dining reservations, for the length of our stay?)

There’s more, though. Consider this the buried lede. There are two types of Disney Parks fan in this world, and you never know which one you are until you’ve visited both DLR and WDW. (Yes, that means WDW fans who’ve never done Disney on the West Coast don’t have a personal answer to this question, although often they think they do.) Many people love the feeling of WDW’s gigantic “Disney bubble”. Forget that the vast place is set in the middle of far larger, semi-rural, largely backwater Central Florida. With so much to do, who wants to leave WDW anyway?

But many other people–Ryan and me included–feel trapped by the WDW experience. If anything isn’t as magical as it should be, there’s really no alternative, no way out. You’re stuck in a place surrounded by swamp, so really, what could the alternatives possibly be? It’s not as if you can cross a street and magically be in downtown Orlando–that’s miles away.

WDW vets who haven’t ever visited DLR get so caught up in the relatively diminutive size of the place (one square miles vs. WDW’s fifty), and yes there are fewer hotels and restaurants, no golf courses, no water parks. But what there is at DLR is magic unbroken by bus and boat commutes, a lack of enormous tracts of forest and swampland, extraordinarily densely packed, richly themed parks (you did know DLR’s two parks have the same number of rides as WDW’s four parks put together, right?), and a smaller but seamless bubble.

And one thing more. DLR also has the amazingness of Southern California surrounding it. That’s the tradeoff for the smaller bubble. All those things WDW vets think DLR doesn’t have are all right there, in one of the greatest, most urbane World City regions on the planet. They just all don’t necessarily have a Disney label on them.

Some people want to turn off the world and have a one-stop-shopping vacation–WDW is made for those people. But lots of other people, like us, like choice to still be part of the equation. Even when it comes to Disney vacations.

Of course, I began this post noting how I rarely ever leave the bubble at DLR anyway, since Ryan and I find what’s inside to be as worthy as WDW vets consider the things inside their east coast Disney bubble to be. But if we ever do step outside of DLR, we are happy to know that what’s outside the resort is easily as spectacular as what’s in it. To each your own, I guess. For me though, I’ll take my Disney Parks with a side order of big city.

And churros, too.

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