An earlier version of this post with discussion is cross-published on the DISboards here.
In February, I blogged that I was taking Ryan to celebrate his 40th birthday to Disneyland Resort in early March. Our trip was originally planned to be a four-day weekend–with an entire Shabbat spent in Anaheim. In the end, things turned out better than I anticipated–and there were some lessons about my own Jewishness for me to learn, as well…
Our trip involved a big surprise, which I ended up telling Ryan before we left. He knew there was something I wasn’t telling him and hates surprises anyway, so I eventually let him play 20 Questions until he figured it out. It took a lot of choruses of “everything’s on me!” for him to be OK with learning that we were going to get Premier (dual California & Florida) Annual Passports. But when he did, he really perked up about the upcoming trip.
I used to fly pretty regularly in the mid-2000s, but hadn’t flown in seven years-so I was nervous about the four hours in the air between Chicago and LAX. A week before our trip, though, I read a lot (A LOT!) of blog posts from flight attendants and pilots about the normal parts of flying which really helped. (Especially flight attendant Heather Poole’s life drama in the air, Cruising Attitude.) I ended up spending the flight reminding myself that turbulence is perfectly normal and had a great time getting there (and coming back, too.) So that was a nice way to start things.
Day One | Friday: “There’s a Marching Band? There’s a Marching Band!”
After an easy if early 6 a.m. flight and a quick smoke for Ryan outside the terminal at LAX, we hopped aboard our Disneyland Resort Express coach and the Disney magic began. Ryan had never been to Los Angeles before and was fascinated with the mountains and downtown skyline and freeway traffic, and pretty much smiled the whole way to the Disneyland inner-circle favorite Howard Johnson on Harbor Boulevard across the street from (the berm surrounding) Tomorrowland. On our bus was a first-time Disneyland couple, and when we got near DLR (west coast Disney fan short-hand for Disneyland Resort) as I started pointing things out the window to Ryan (the upcoming I-5 exit, Matterhorn, the gigantic Mickey and Friends parking structure), the couple kept peering out the windows to see, too, which was kind of cute.
I had forgotten about L.A. weather–how even temps in the 60s can seem very hot in the California sun–and it happened to be in the 80s when we got to the HoJo. So we quick changed into shorts the bathroom before stowing our luggage and then walking down Harbor Blvd. to DLR’s pedestrian entrance. (I’m sure sentences like this are completely confusing to Walt Disney World veterans who have never been to Anaheim, but walking across a heavily trafficked public intersection into the Disney bubble is easily possible when your entire resort is 500 happy acres and not 40 square and rambling miles.)
So. We’re both in our forties now, and I’m heavier than the last time I was at DLR (when I was 35.) Boy, the walk down Harbor used to seem shorter. But who cares? The moment we got to the ped crossing to the resort entrance, nothing mattered. I had forgotten how the moment you cross the threshold, the stands of trees and Disney music instantly make the “bubble” begin. It was awesome to remember. Even for being less in shape than the last time I visited, I had to remember to slow down to not make Ryan feel like I was dragging him down the walkway!
It was 9:30 a.m. and there was a short line at the ticket booths, but it grew once we got to a ticket window. I didn’t expect it to take 20 minutes to upgrade our park hoppers into Premier APs, but it did. The CM (Disney calls their park employees “Cast Members”) at the window needed to get two supervisors to help make the upgrade happen, but it was great fun because apparently, very few Premiers are purchased overall. So even the CMs shared in our joy at getting them.
I told the window CM that it was for Ryan’s birthday, and much to his chagrin out came birthday and 1st Timer buttons, which I made him put on right there. And then it was off to the main gate. Ryan wanted to stop at the first long line we encountered. I new better and kept walking and we were in DL 60 seconds later–with Ryan smiling in spite of himself at his inaugural “Happy Birthday, Ryan!” from the CM at the main gate.
I thought I’d cry going under the berm, but I didn’t. I was surprised that Ryan and I had some immediate friction, though, once inside the park. He was instantly afraid to feel embarrassed about seeing characters or doing things that a child might enjoy.
It turned out–and this is the point of the whole trip report–he dearly wanted to do those things because he never go to do things like that when he was a kid. So our whole trip to DLR was about Ryan rediscovering his inner child and letting him out to play. The friction aside (and his fear brought up more in the following days) it was SO AWESOME to watch it happen.
Especially because Ryan hadn’t done his homework about the trip. He wanted to be surprised, he said. The minute we set foot on Main Street, we ran into Mickey leading the Marching Band down the street. Ryan’s jaw dropped, and we stopped to watch. Between the band, the Emporium, and the Penny Arcade, I don’t know how we made it to the Hub. But by the time we did, it was really obvious Ryan was in a whole new and totally unexpected world–er–land.
We stopped at the Main Street Photo Supply shop for our too-good-to-be-true PhotoPass Plus cards (so I could spend the next few days beating Ryan’s declaration that “I don’t want any photos of Tinkerbell on my palm” into submission!), and then I led us counter-clockwise around the park.
Ryan was nervous before every ride because he was used to Six Flags-style thrill rides. Laughing like a 10-year-old throughout Space Mountain should have been a tip-off that he didn’t have anything to fear from DLR. Least of all fitting in any rides–thank you, DLR, for remaining friendly to larger-sized guests! (Although, not for nothing, the really need to replace all the burned out lights in the station and the blue-light tunnel. Ryan didn’t notice, but as someone familiar with the ride when it reopened in 2005, it really dampens the show.)
Next up was Star Tours, and there I learned another big Disney lesson about Ryan–he absolutely loves the motion-simulator attractions! ST (we Disney fans love our abbreviations, don’t we?) instantly became his favorite ride in DL. We rode it several more times during our visit, and both really loved the new random storyline elements. Our favorite–Jar Jar’s undersea world. The second time we got it, we kind of (yes, and not ashamed to say) squealed with delight.
Fantasyland was crowded as always by Noon, but I did manage to drag Ryan on my (and almost no one else’s co-favorite ride), Pinocchio. Again, in spite of himself, Ryan’s inner kid just jumped right out and smiled. Mister Toad was next, and it was the same story. By this point, I knew DLR was a great idea for Ryan’s 40th birthday trip, though it took him a little while longer to figure out how much fun he was having.
Eventually we made it to Blue Bayou for our birthday lunch reservation. We waited for and got waterside, and the ambience erased all the years I had been away. We each had our own world-famous Monte Cristo (half of which we ended up eating as breakfast the following morning). I have to say, the food at BB–and across DL in general–is way, way better than it ever was when I was visiting in the early 2000s. It made the dining expense seem much more palatable. (Pun intended.)
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to relax, both of us quickly realizing that we were covering a lot more ground–and feeling a lot more beaten up from it–than we had expected (or than I had remembered.) So we tried to go more slowly after our break, heading back into Disneyland for our Fantasmic! dessert seating. (Yes, WDWers, the original Fantasmic! takes place in the mother park, on the Rivers of America.)
But before we left the hotel room the sun went down. And considering that we are both regular synagogue worshippers, what exactly were we going to do about Shabbat? As it turned out, stand on our balcony next to the pine trees in the cool California evening and softly sing Kabbalat Shabbat psalms, using the light spilling over from Disneyland for our candle blessing. I wasn’t sure I’d be okay with it. (After all, witness our Shabbat experiences back home in Illinois at Six Flags Great America.) But I was. There’s something about Disneyland, something unintentionally…Jewish. Disneyland was created as a place of separation from the workaday world, a place to share wonder, and imagination, and joy with family and friends. A place where all are welcome. Heading back into Disneyland to watch Mickey Mouse and the power of imagination prevail over the forces of evil on a Friday night seemed just right.
Our view of the magical mist screens that bear the projection of numerous classic Disney scenes–not to mention of the towering mechanical dragon getting vanquished at the end–was awesome. It was a bit difficult to balance a beverage cup and the dessert box with its loose lid without a table, but we managed. Though he deals with cold much better than I do, Ryan was chilly after sundown, and from this point on I tried to convince him to bring sweater in the evenings because SoCal gets chilly after sundown. (He eventually listened later in the trip.)
Even so, and even with the Mark Twain being in drydock for refurb, after the show was over, Ryan told me it made him cry. That was my jaw-on-knee moment. Like the moment in the WDW commercial where the husband, who didn’t want to be there in the first place now doesn’t want to leave? Like that. Boom. Welcome to Disneyland!
Day Two | Saturday: “I’m not getting on Tower of Terror!”
We didn’t even try to make it into Disney California Adventure–Disneyland’s ten-year-old sister park, finally and immensely successful after a billion-dollar rehab completed last summer– for a special passholder Early Entry promotion to which we had access. Though I did unfairly harangue Ryan about it. (Seriously, I do not deserve the amazing partner I have in this life and am grateful for him being in my life every day of it.)
I also began my second Disney park day with my kippah (yarmulke) on my head. It’s my practice to wear one at all times, and I’m pretty used to doing the on-again/off-again yid lid shuffle riding rides at Six Flags. But my previous Disney parks custom was always to wear a Disney baseball cap–or, really, an Ear Hat! I made it through half of day two as an “obvious Jew.” And then I got off my religious high horse, wrapped myself in the halacha (Jewish law) that says any pate-covering hat works equally well to denote respect under God (witness every photo you’ve ever seen of Steven Spielberg with a cap on his head–it’s usually what Jews wear who don’t want to seem “too Jewish”)–and put on my favorite Disney cap. It would take another 24 hours for that Disney cap to morph into a new set of mouse ears, but I digress.
The moment we made it through the beautiful new main gate, I wanted to jump for joy. The change in DCA was astonishing from what I remembered in the bad old days. Buena Vista Street instantly hugs, welcomes, and delights you now, the same way Main Street USA at Disneyland does, immediately getting the point across that the new theme of DLR’s second gate is the Los Angeles era of Walt Disney’s arrival there in the 1920s. We could have spent all day right there exploring.
Except, you know, for DCA’s brand-new, super convenient, L.A. transit history-evoking–and most importantly rest-giving–Red Trolley. So up Buena Vista Street, around the fountain, and through the newly renamed Hollywood Land we rode–straight to Ryan’s most feared ride in DCA. Before the trip, he had been adamant about not wanting to set foot on Tower of Terror. Now we were standing next to it–and there was only a 20-minute line. So he sucked it up and we got in the standby line and rode. And, no surprise, it became his co-favorite ride in DCA which we did several more times during our trip! (“I felt myself coming out of the seat!” “I know, honey. That’s the point!”)
We continued clockwise through DCA, marching through A Bug’s Land and temporarily passing up It’s Tough to Be a Bug (the movie’s “gotcha” effects would terrorize Ryan later) to get a look at Cars Land. There’s not much I can say that other reviewers haven’t said already–about Cars Land or the amazingly revamped DCA. (For example, see in the L.A. Times: Disney’s Cars Land feels like walking into a movie | Radiator Springs Racers redefines the Disney E-ticket | Buena Vista Street lets visitors walk in Walt Disney’s shoes.)We. Thought. It. Was. Awesome.
A bit crowded, but hey, it’s still brand new! We choose Flo’s V8 for lunch, and yet again I had the feeling that the food at DLR is just notches better than before. We loved the sides and ugly crust pies, especially. Not to mention the view of RSR (I know you can figure out these abbreviations by now!) from the south seating area. The RSR line was too long for a sunny day, though, so we ended up circling DCA, with Ryan pretty much loving the whole experience (California Screamin’, Little Mermaid, ahem–the smoking area where Maliboomer used to be.)
We eventually made it around to Soarin’ Over California–they transcendent, omnimax hang-glider ride over west coast scenery that Epcot fans know as the Soarin’. I remember years ago when people used to applaud when the ride ended back when it was new. I did my usual SOC schtick–giving the little kid a thumbs up back along with Patrick in the pre-ride move. I wish the same old dirt wasn’t still there in the film image, but I was happy that the spontaneous applause is still there, too, at every ride’s end.
When our glider landed, Ryan was wiping tears from his eyes. He told me he just couldn’t describe how the ride made him feel–so free, so magical. I remember the first time I rode, too, in 2002. I totally get that feeling. It turned out to be his favorite ride in the entire resort–especially when I asked the CMs to let us wait for Row 1 on a few later rides. (We’re looking forward to experiencing the Florida version when we make to WDW on our Premiers!)
Days Three & Four | Sunday & Monday: “…And the rest.”
And that’s pretty much how the rest of our time at DLR went. Ryan discovering how much fun it is to let himself let go and lean into the magic, and me remembering how much I love DLR. The balance of the details kind of melt together in my mind, but there were definite highlights:
- The new single-rider line on the Matterhorn is transcendental. The most amazing improvement in my Disneyland day ever. Ever. Ever. Yay!!!
- The new, obnoxiously tight Matterhorn sleds are…not.
- We are a mixed-family when it comes to it’s a small world. I could ride it all day. Ryan…couldn’t. He’s a once-per-trip guy in this department. I can live with that. (I’m not so crazy, however, about the knees-in-your-chin 2007-era boats.)
- We are also a mixed-family when it comes to French Market. Ryan thought it was dumpy and didn’t like his food. I love the whole experience.
- Ryan was a little freaked out by the talking tikis in the Enchanted Tiki Room. They’re my favorite part!
- We both discovered eating at River Belle Terrace together (I had never been!) Loved the seating along the Rivers of America–and for the first time ever, I finally had a pancake breakfast in DL, and loved it!
- We both need more practice on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, but it’s just as much fun as I remember it being. (And in Anaheim, you can actually lift the laser blasters.)
- So was Peter Pan’s Flight. And I taught Ryan how to get in line right before park closing so you’re guaranteed to get it as your last ride of the day–an always magical final ride.
- An after-sundown 90-minute standby wait for the amazing, E-ticket Radiator Springs Racers was worth is–as was the fact that our ride ended 45 minutes before DCA closed and Luigi’s Flying Tires and sleeper-hit whip ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (can I just take this ride home with me?) were walk-ons!
- Two large men should not sit in the first two seats on Splash Mountain. Ryan wanted to kill me after he got soaked from head to toe in the middle of the mountain–and he was sitting behind me! I loved it. Soak me, I don’t care. I love Splash!
- The current classic ear hats are so much better than a decade ago! Wider/rounder, with a sturdier, classier Mickey decal. The sunburn was worth it to wear it all day.
- Ryan hates snakes. Next time we ride Indiana Jones Adventure, I have to (ahem) sit on the right-hand side.
- I was surprised to dislike the Jack Sparrow overlay on Pirates of the Caribbean. Took away some of the classic feel for me. Ryan liked it, though, and that’s what mattered to me.
- No matter how you try to convince someone that Haunted Mansion isn’t scary, they won’t believe you. (Especially when they’re secretly hoping it will be scary.)
- More churros, please.
- Donna the Dog Lady on BVS putting Lady on Ryan’s shoulder for a birthday picture and referring to me as, “I see your name is on your cap. Can I call you Since?” (Because my cap said, “Disneyland Since 1955”.)
- The crazy dad on Tower of Terror who tried to start an argument with me when I made him move down to the end of the row (because you’re *supposed to*.) P.S. I’m from NYC. I won.
- Beer and margaritas in DCA. I used to be a purist about it. Then I learned how well it takes the edge off having spent the first half of the day with other people’s strollers smacking into your heels!
- Ryan loved the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas on the railroad. Naturally!
- Anaheim Resort Transit. Take it. Your feet will thank you. ‘Nuff said.
- Autopia–for the first time ever at the age of 42 (and considering the fact that I don’t even know how to drive a real car) was a lot of fun!
- The 24-hour McDonald’s on Harbor closing early two days in a row (“What?!”) to install a video menu board…and the wonderful Papa John’s delivery pizza as a replacement.
- Mimi’s Cafe…really? After all the hype we’d heard, our stomachs served us with orders of protection after eating there. Never again.
Day Five | Tuesday: “Honey, it’s snowing in Chicago…”
There wasn’t supposed to be a Day Five. But a massive snowstorm in Chicago caused United to let us rebook our flight for free for one day later. Who wants to take the chance to be forced to land in a city they don’t live in due to weather? We didn’t, so… One. More. Day. In. Disneyland! Both of our jobs are flexible enough to deal with it, and the HoJo even gave us an AP discount for the extra night.
On that extra day, it finally got through to me two things that Ryan had been trying to tell me:
- He needed me to take a morning on my own to run around like a madman in the parks alone, to give his feet a break, (DONE!) and
- He really loved all the scheduled and pop-up live entertainment (which has never really been my thing at DLR.)
So after my whirlwind morning, we devoted the rest of Day Five to Voices of Liberty/Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, pop-up bands in New Orleans Square, more of Ryan’s favorite rides (Star Tours, Tower of Terror, and Soarin’ Over California), and for the first time ever for me (I swear!), the entire parade from beginning to end (currently Mickey’s Soundsational Parade.)
We staked out an evening spot along the continuous stone bench next to the castle between Tomorrowland and Matterhorn, buttoned up from the evening chill, sipped our Dole Whipe floats, and waited. I should have done this sooner. Ryan…well, Ryan cried.
When it was over, we followed the last float down Main Street and loaded up with candy and popcorn from Penny Arcade and some souvenirs from Emporium, as well as a DL history book from 20th Century Music Co. Then Ryan had to almost literally drag me out of the park. I have this thing where I just stand and stare longingly up Main Street at Sleeping Beauty Castle on my last exit of a DL trip. I guess maybe we all do that…
Being new passholders, we knew we’d be back. So we left Dumbo (which I know Ryan will love), the newly returned submarines, and World of Color on the table this time. Our hour and 45 minute, two-bus trip to LAX on Disneyland Resort Express stole a little magic on our way home. And Ryan was silent about the experience for a couple of days.
And then I realized that the Youtube movie he kept watching over and over again for the rest of the week was Mickey’s Soundsational Parade.
“When are we going back?” he asked me.
“Don’t you want to use our Premier APs to go to Walt Disney World next to see how the Florida parks are?”
“No, I’m afraid it won’t be as magical as Disneyland. Besides, I didn’t get to hug Mickey. I admit it, I really wanted to hug Mickey. When are we going back?”
So in summary, I learned how to relax into my Jewishness and my Disneyland at the same time. And Ryan learned to let his inner child out and enjoy “Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom”.
And that, my friends, in the newly minted Disney fan department, is what they call a job well done.
Feel free to browse our Disneyland trip photos on my Facebook page.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.