I was in California and went on some rides. It was cool. Really.

This post is about a month and a half overdue. Longtime readers know that’s actually incredibly timely for me.

As you all have no doubt heard by now, I have been back in the glorious state of Connecticut for a while (save one night in Pennsylvania, camping with the Brenner family and company, and an excursion to Jersey for the wedding of one Michael Ortiz and one Vikki Kieffer). As I reflect on my fantastic summer in California, I think back over all of the things I’ve accomplished, from working on one of the most popular web shows around, to apparently shopping at the same supermarket as Steve Carell, to the touristy things I’ve been doing every time I’ve been to the state since my first time, shortly after birth. And what is the quintessential California tourist experience? Why, theme parks, of course!

At the beginning of this summer, I was afraid I wouldn’t have a chance to visit any of the local theme parks, because, let’s face it, theme parks are expensive, and I currently have no income while owing three small fortunes and a kidney before my student loans are squared away. Fortunately, it worked out in my favor that, within a two-day span, I got to visit two of my favorite parks. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have already gotten the even-worse-grammar versions of these stories, but for the slightly less obsessive of my stalkers, here we have “The Story of David Ganssle’s Summer 2009 Trips to Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland: Revenge of the Incredibly Non-Succinct Title”.

Part One: Universal Studios, July 1, 2009

It seemed like it would be a waste to go the whole summer without attending Universal, as the park was within walking distance of our apartment. Fortunately, we came across coupons for $20 off park admission, a relative steal. Unfortunately, the fine print said “For Southern California Residents”, and as a temporary guest in the fair state, I had no proof of residency. I did have a postcard addressed to me at the Oakwood that I hoped might suffice, so I grabbed it, had lunch, and dashed off to the park, armed with only my “Back to the Future: The Ride” T-shirt (NEVER FORGET), my wallet, the coupon, the postcard, a water bottle, my iPod playing old Webcomics Weekly episodes, and whatever else was in my pockets.

Now, when I say Universal Studios is within walking distance, what I mean is that I enjoy walking long distances. Most people probably wouldn’t see the five or so blocks just to get to the Universal parking lot as a reasonable distance, especially when you just have to walk around more once you get inside the park. But I’m a man who enjoys walking more than he enjoys paying ten bucks to park, so I made the trek happily. Throughout the summer, I routinely took walks to the end of CityWalk and back; this would just be a longer walk with a few breaks for rides. I had debated waiting for the weekend, when I might have had a free roommate or two willing to come, but ultimately decided that even by myself, a Wednesday crowd would be preferable to a Fourth of July Weekend crowd.

Arriving at the outskirts of Universal City, you notice the sign welcoming you to “The Entertainment Capital of LA”. This seems kinda odd to me. Isn’t LA already the Entertainment Capital of California? Does it really need its own Entertainment Sub-Capital?

I don’t have time for semantics. I have a theme park to go to. I stroll through the CityWalk, and make my way to the park entrance.

Being a Wednesday afternoon, admissions wasn’t too crowded, but there was another couple in front of me who noticed my coupon, observed that it was for up to six people, and asked if they could go in on it. So we ended up using the young lady’s driver’s license as proof of residency. I made it in, and I didn’t even need the postcard. (But I still appreciate the postcard, Kat! It was a lovely surprise in and of itself BEFORE I considered using it for selfish, manipulative purposes!)

My first stop at the park was the Studio Backlot Tour, because it’s the one aspect of Universal Studios I won’t have access to in Orlando. (Stupid non-LA Orlando.) The only other time I did this tour we had driven past soundstages where they were shooting the first “Hulk” movie, so I hoped my presence on the tram wasn’t box-office poison as I waited in line. I cringed a bit at seeing frames from “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” juxtaposed with frames from Eddie Murphy’s “Nutty Professor” on the so-called “Comedy” collage in line, and then proceeded to board the tram. Early on, we drove down a street named for one of my heroes, the man who pioneered well-written, poorly-drawn TV animation.

Those who have done the backlot tour remember that the first “gimmick” you come across is the Collapsing Bridge, driving over as explosions fire and things rock. This effect was quite a bit lamer than I remembered, but they showed us a clip from a “Quantum Leap” episode the bridge appeared in, and watching Sam Beckett Put Right What Once Went Wrong is always fun.

We then took a turn down the lane where a bunch of notable cars were parked, including the Bluesmobile and several BTTF cars (which I remembered from last time), plus a more recent geeky addition, the hovercraft from the chase a the beginning of “Serenity”. Yay, Browncoatism!

The tour drew absolutely no attention to the Lyon Estate signs from BTTF, but I had to take a picture anyway.

If you’ve been to the Universal parks in both Orlando and Los Angeles, you know that some of the little gimmicks on the studio backlot tour our expanded to full, self-contained rides in the Orlando park. Most of these gimmicks, of course, are fine on the backlot tour, but not nearly entertaining enough to be worth a line in a ride. One of the better ones, however, is the earthquake simulator, set in an LA subway station. This is a cool combination of hydraulics, pyrotechnics, and water effects, and describing it doesn’t do it justice. It does often cross my mind, however, to wonder what would happen if a real earthquake occurred during the portion of the ride. The tour guide would probably feel pretty awful, ESPECIALLY if anybody got injured.

But enough about hypothetical critically injured theme park guests. Undoubtedly the most famous of the gimmicks on the backlot tour is the Jaws portion, immortalized in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “Your Studio and You” with a fantastic Steven Spielberg cameo. There’s not much to say about this portion that hasn’t already been said, so we’ll move on to later in the tour, when we pass Wisteria Lane (which USED to label the houses from LOTS of TV shows we don’t care about, instead of just one) (plus The Munsters’ house, which we do kinda care about), Whoville, and the Bates Motel.

Last time I did this tour, there was no Norman Bates coming at us. It was a fun little addition, but I felt sorry for the poor actor. (Poor meaning “unfortunate that he has to do this all day”, not poor meaning “subpar Anthony Perkins impersonator.) I had this image of four or five guys dressed as Norman Bates at any one time, all sitting in the motel playing poker, and drawing straws to see whose turn it is to go outside when a tram comes by.

All in all, the tour was every bit as cheesy, and every bit as fun, as I had remembered. At the conclusion, I decided to head down to the lower level of the theme park, where, after a bit of browsing, I saw that the “Revenge of the Mummy” ride had JUST OPENED for the day. This didn’t exist last time I was in Universal Hollywood, but it WAS in Orlando during our senior trip, and I recall loving it. The ride is, for the most part, just an ordinary (and very short) roller coaster, and I generally prefer rides that have more of a theme or story to them, but the atmosphere is quite fantastic. The fact that there was no line when I got there was just icing on the cake. Clearly, I picked the right day to show up.

After facing the wrath of whatever ancient curse was mentioned in the backstory, I was off to the Jurassic Park ride. For those of you who have never been on it, it’s your typical Splash Mountainesque water plunge ride, but steeper than most. And with dinosaurs and John Williams music. Really, what else needs to be said? You get wet on a hot day, and it’s Jurassic Freaking Park. The perfect theme park experience, right there.

Well, one imperfection. Some of the skin seemed to be peeling off of the final T-Rex head, and at least one of the times I rode it the timing was a little off on both the head’s action and the countdown sounds before the drop. Looks like repairs are in order. But that glitch was excused by a revelation of a new aspect of theme park enjoyment. For, you see, in the past I had only come to theme parks in groups, and had never experienced the fantastic glory of the Single Rider Only Line.

Ah, the SROL (which I like to pronounce like “scroll” without the “c”), ensuring that those of us who are lonely don’t have to be surrounded by strangers for any longer than we have to. Rewarding those of us who have no companions, and letting us rub it in the faces of all those happy couples or families who have to wait for fifty minutes surrounded by loved ones. It’s basically the most transparent and pathetic sympathetic gesture imaginable…and it is one of the most marvelous things anybody could ever hope to take advantage of. I zipped through the line in less than three minutes, and was on that raft before you could say “Dodgson! We got Dodgson here!”

After getting wet and seeing dinosaurs, I decided to finally bite the bullet and face down The Simpsons Ride. Now, it’s no secret I was going into this ride with a touch of animosity, as it had replaced my beloved “Back to the Future”. However, I love a classic Simpsons episode as much as anybody, and I decided to try and keep an open mind and hope to be entertained.

I waited in line. The very first thing I saw on the video screens was a Troy McClure clip. Now that’s just not fair, appealing to my unconditional love for the late, great Phil Hartman!

Other entertaining clips were played, both from the show and original for the ride (including a brilliant bit with Professor Frink and Doc Brown). The “Krustyland” themed decorations were entertaining enough on their own. And then the plot of the ride began…and it revolved around Sideshow Bob.

A ride that combines Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, and archive recordings of Phil Hartman? I can’t stay mad at you.

The ride itself was very entertaining…the same basic simulator experience as BTTF, but a bit funnier. Sure, Springfield isn’t as cool as Hill Valley 2015, and I’ll always miss Back to the Future…but it’s still fun. Heck, the LINE itself is more fun than a lot of park attractions I’ve seen over the years. Maybe not worth replacing BTTF, but still worth a few visits.

That said, a Futurama ride would be REALLY awesome.

At least BTTF is not forgotten!

I paused to take this picture for the Notting Hill geeks out there. All three of us.

I then stopped by Terminator 2: 3D. In Kevin Murphy’s fantastic book “A Year at the Movies”, he derides, among other things, the “fakeness” of this particular theme park experience, and of “movie rides” in general. While I love Mr. Murphy and his book, I must respectfully disagree with almost everything he said in that particular chapter. First off, the experience of the movie ride is no more artificial than the experience of a movie itself. Perhaps some people can suspend their disbelief better while watching a movie, but either way, it’s a fake experience hoping to impose its own story and atmosphere upon an audience, and to complain about it in a movie ride as opposed to in an actual film came off as a slight double standard.

Of course, having grown up visiting theme parks, I may be biased. But I don’t care. My point is, I love T2: 3D, even more than I love any of the movies in the Terminator Series. Probably more than the TV Show, although the inclusion of Summer Glau always messes with the score tally.

The T2: 3D experience manages to artfully combine a 3D movie, animatronics/pyrotechnics, and live actors in an experience that includes some of the best aspects of action movies, thrill rides, and stiff middle school theater performances. Arnold lookalikes lipsyinc (mostly) convincingly (depending on the day) to Arnold dialogue, and act out the “live” version of the “security camera” version of the real Arnold. While the illusion was shattered this time by Fake Arnold’s short hair, when it’s pulled off correctly, it’s a remarkable effect.

After the glory of T2, I decided to sit through a decidedly LESS remarkable show, namely, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” musical. Last time I was here, the theater was used for the Spider-Man Rock Show, so it was nice to see they replaced it with something about as stupid. The singing was good, some cool special effects, and there may have been one or two amusing jokes (though damned if I can remember what they were), but overall, the highlight of the show was that the “jerk” character looked like Michael Bay.

Now, a REVENGE of the Creature live show (with Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, of course) would be AWESOME.

My next stop was the “Universal House of Horrors”, a walk-through attraction featuring mannequins, animatronics, and human employees dressed as every movie monster Universal has the rights to…which is just about all of them. This is another instance of me feeling sorry for actors, who have to hide in corners under these masks until someone walks by, and then take swings and grab at people without actually touching or hurting them. My sympathy for the employees, however, was overshadowed by the ENDLESS entertainment I received from walking close behind a family with easily-startled children.

After escaping with my soul, I waited around for the Blues Brothers Live Show, which is every bit as fun and high-energy as the movie. Except, you know, with fewer car chases. There’s singing, dancing, audience interaction (I recall Lizzy being pulled up to dance on stage last time we were here)…basically, everything a theme park live show should have. This time, the dude playing Elwood was okay, but the guy playing Jake was pitch-perfect. I swore I was watching Belushi reincarnated. After the show I talked to the actors and told them how much I always enjoy it. Elwood thanked me, and told me that the show is actually one of the attractions that the park always considers shutting down. This was disappointing to hear, although not ENTIRELY surprising–it’s not like the Blues Brothers brand really brings in the youth crowd. On the other hand, the show probably is the cheapest attraction the park has, so I don’t see how shutting it down will help unless they replaced it with something REALLY popular.

Final Universal Tally:
Rode/Watched/Walked Once Each: Backlot Tour, T2:3D, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the House of Horrors
Watched 1.5 Times: The Blues Brothers
Rode Twice: The Simpsons Ride and Revenge of the Mummy
Rode Three Times: Jurassic Park, including being either the last or second-to-last (it was hard to tell) boat of the day.

I then walked home and decided to rest up for turning 22 and driving to Anaheim.

Part Two: Disneyland California, July 2, 2009

In the morning, I continued my long drawn-out fight against growing up by arriving at Disneyland, and finding a space in the Whimsical Labyrinth of Parking. I then ran to my very favorite Disneyland ride, the shuttle from the parking structure to the theme park! Yay!

Approaching the ticket booth, I took note that Disneyland on a Thursday morning is MUCH more crowded than Universal Studios on a Wednesday Afternoon. Hoping that most of the people in front of me were actually buying tickets for California Adventure (unlikely, I know, but a guy can dream), I waited until I got to the front, said I signed up for the free-birthday-ticket online, and showed my drivers license. In return, I got my ticket, and a pin that said “Happy Birthday David”, thus triggering the underpaid minions of the Disney Empire to smile at me and give me birthday greetings, lest they be forced to walk Captain Hook’s plank.

I then made careful aim to walk to the Disneyland gates instead of the California Adventure gates (maybe I shouldn’t mock California Adventure so much; I hear it’s actually expanded and gotten a lot of cool stuff since I visited in its first year), and approached the famous park.

I proceeded to walk right down the middle of Main Street, USA, and soak in the meticulously calculated Americana as I walked toward the familiar sight of Sleeping Beauty Castle, reveling in the corporate wonder.

Okay, you know what? It’s fun to be cynical about the Evil Disney Empire, but the truth is, I love Disneyland. Whole-heartedly. Every step I took brought back another childhood memory. Sure, it may be the artificial happy face of a huge media conglomerate, but I think it’s impossible not to have fun at Disneyland. Walt Disney was not only a brilliant businessman; he was a brilliant artist, and Disneyland was his crowning achievement–a combination of his artistic vision (and his talent for hiring people with great artistic vision) and his producing and business skills. As much as I love making fun of…well, everything…my love for Disneyland is completely sincere. So sincere, that I spent my first hour at the park just walking around, soaking up the atmosphere, happy to be in what the advertisers may be right in insisting is the happiest place on earth.

After having difficulty narrowing down what my first ride should be, I ultimately decided on one of their more recent classics, which I only rode for the first time on my previous visit (which was…eight or nine years ago? Whoa), but loved so much that I rode it three times then: the Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye: Attempt To See How Many Colons I Can Fit In One Sentence.

If T2:3D and the Blues Brothers epitomize everything that’s great about theme park movie and live shows, the Indiana Jones Adventure epitomizes everything that’s great about theme park rides. It’s dark, scary, brimming with atmosphere, and actually tells a story. A rudimentary one, but a story nonetheless. The journal entries and video clips in line tell about the discovery of the temple, and its conversion into a tourist attraction. The newsreel clip also tells how another tourist jeep was trapped in the Temple, and Indy went in to try and save them while Sallah waited outside.

On the obligatory cynical note, I love the clip of Indy and Sallah outside the temple before Indy enters, because while the role of Sallah actually is reprised by a pre-Gimli John Rhys-Davies, Indy is clearly played by just some dude with a fedora pulled over his face. You make the best of what you can afford, I suppose. That said, if “Crystal Skull” had Sallah in it, MAYBE it would have been as cool as the line for the ride.

The ride itself is brilliant…you move through the temple, but the nature of the hydraulics on your jeep give the illusion of rougher movement than you actually experience. You pass an animatronic Indy or two, which cycle through different randomly-triggered dialogue snippets prerecorded by a bad Harrison Ford impersonator, thus adding the fun of wondering what he’ll say each time you ride. At one instance, your jeep feels like it’s backing up, but in reality the room in front of you is moving backward, revealing a “trap door”. The effects are all very impressive, and it all adds up to an incredibly fun ride experience, especially if you’re an Indy fan.

I decided to return to the Indy ride many times throughout the day, so I got the Fastpass for the next hour. In the meantime, however, I decided to hit up Splash Mountain, which was the greatest use of SROL in history. Splash Mountain always has around an hour long line on a hot summer day, for obvious reasons, so being able to zip to the front in less than three minutes felt nothing short of godlike. It strikes me that as long as Splash Mountain is this popular, Disney will never be able to completely sweep “Song of the South” under the rug (unless they change ALL the animatronics in the ride, but that seems like it would be more trouble than worth).

Long story short, I got in the log, got really wet, and, according to the picture at the end of the ride, apparently did some Lamaze breathing.

With quite a bit of time left before my Indy Fastpass was activated, I decided to go to the other Lucasfilm ride, Star Tours. In light of the fact that it may or may not be closing soon, I wanted to make sure I heard Paul Reubens shriek about comets and Star Destroyers at least one last time.

I got in the long line, and noted that Admiral Ackbar (or whichever cousin of his works at the intergalactic tourism spaceport) wass turning his head left, then straight, in a rhythmic fashion. Apparently, he had a very precise and routine crick in his neck.

It’s a trap!

Star Tours, nothing but Star Tours!

Sure, the ride is dated, but it’s still a lot of fun and brings back many childhood memories. And, while maybe the movie could use some updates, does anyone really think a prequel version would be more fun than running the freaking Death Star trench?

As long as I was in Tomorrowland, I decided to check out the Buzz Lightyear ride, which didn’t exist last time I was here. I was hoping for something at least as fun as that Buzz Saturday morning cartoon show, as obviously no ride could ever be as much fun as a real, genuine, Pixar Toy Story movie. I waited in line, and came across a rather unique animatronic Buzz Lightyear. Unlike most Disneyland animatronics, his face was a projection screen, not mechanical, which allowed for actual, you know, expressiveness.

Pretty ingenious. But then again, I’m a theme park effects geek. (I know, you’re losing track of all my geekeries.)

The ride itself was cheesy but fun, one of those interactive shoot-em-ups where the things you shoot at don’t actually react but you have a score anyway. But man, that animatronic Buzz was awesome.

As I walked away from Tomorrowland, I snapped a picture of the lonely track above me. Long before my time this was the People Mover track, and then last time I was here it was Rocket Rods, a fast-paced version which I think only existed that one year. Now, it’s just a lonely, empty track, its purpose lost to the annals of Disneyhistory. This neighborhood changes so fast.

After hitting up Indy again, I decided to head over to Toontown for lunch. The first time I ever came to Disneyland, Toontown was still under construction and there was a sign announcing it was coming soon. I remember asking Dad what the word “toon” meant, having never heard the abbreviation. Wow, ALL sorts of memories rush back around here.

Sitting under the Town Hall as music started playing announcing Goofy bursting through the doors to cheering and applause from children raised an interesting question: doesn’t Goofy LIVE in Toontown? Why is it such a huge deal when he shows up in his own neighborhood? Does he get this kind of reception when he shows up to pump gas at that station of his?

Walking around the town some more gave me no answers. In fact, it only gave me more questions. Why do only six of Toontown’s residents have Post Office Boxes? Why does trying to open these boxes trigger the sound of them talking? Why does Jessica Rabbit sound like she’s trying to seduce any children who open her mailbox? And why is the dog pound easier to escape than Mayberry’s jail?

Finding no answers anywhere, I decided to do something that I knew for a fact wouldn’t make any sense: the Roger Rabbit ride. which I somehow managed to go my entire childhood without riding. Evidently as a kid, I just didn’t care that much about Roger Rabbit.

The ride itself wasn’t spectacular, but there are a lot of wacky goings-on and set decorations that it might be worth a second visit to catch. I had other plans, though, as I had to finish digesting lunch before riding Indiana Jones again, so I took a leisurely ride on the Disneyland Train. Which, in a move that I recall very well, takes you through the back of Splash Mountain, and in a move I don’t recall in the least, takes you through a Fake Grand Canyon and a bunch of dinosaurs.

Wikipedia tells me that those have been there longer than I have. So I don’t know why I don’t remember them. I guess not EVERY memory came back to me. What other secrets from the past do you hold, Disneyland?

After my third visit to Indy, I decided to meander toward Fantasyland and visit all the rides I remember from early childhood. The Snow White ride was closed for the day, which was a bit disappointing as there was one particular special effect I remembered from childhood–when the witch turns around at the magic mirror–and figured out much later on my own how it was done, and I wanted to see if I could catch it this time. Instead, I started with the Pinocchio ride, as it had the shortest line. After zipping through that, I headed over to the ride that defined the childhoods of my brother and me, Peter Pan’s Flight.

As some of you know, Nick was obsessed with Peter Pan as a child, so this was the first ride we ever did the very first time we went to Disneyland. We rode it several more times that day, and have done it at least once each time we’ve been since. So, to go an entire day at Disneyland without getting in that magic pirate ship at least once would have been a criminal act of horrendous proportions. Besides, a bit of great nostalgia is always well worth a forty-minute line.

Having gone on the ride so many times through my life, I basically had the ride memorized. And sure enough, every little detail of the ride was exactly as I remembered it. Some people might take that as an excuse not to go on the ride anymore, but not me. For those two and a half minutes, I was six years old instead of 22, and it was fantastic.

I then went just up the street to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which is another ride I somehow avoided as a child, despite its status as a beloved Disneyland classic. Waiting in line behind a girl who looked remarkably like Miracle Laurie, I entered Toad Hall and entered my vehicle. There were sharp turns, flashing lights, scary images…and then the ride literally took us to the DEPTHS OF HELL, with flames and demons, before depositing us back at Toad Hall.

Why didn’t anybody tell me this unassuming children’s ride ended with eternal damnation? That’s pretty hilarious! Maybe that’s why our parents never had us ride it as children.

I walked around the corner over to the Alice in Wonderland ride (not the teacups, the dark ride next to it), which I had ridden once during my first trip to Disneyland but remembered very little of. Figuring that, if nothing else, I could pretend it was an Isle of Wonders ride from “King’s Quest VI”, I rode in the hollowed-out caterpillar. Nothing much to say, except that the lighting was incredibly dim for a ride where they sing about the “golden afternoon”. After that my path took me to the classic Matterhorn Bobsled, because in the Southern California summer heat, what we all want to see is an Abominable Snowman.

Next, I made my way over to New Orleans Square, for one of the most famous rides in theme park history, Pirates of the Caribbean. This was my first time on the ride since the infamous rennovations made to promote the movies, but of course I loved the ride growing up, so I waited in line and simply hoped that the alleged rampant Deppification didn’t piss me off too much.

Here’s an important disclaimer: I like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And I like Johnny Depp. They’re fun flicks, and he’s a fun actor. But the whole reason the movies exist is that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is perhaps the most classic theme park experience of all time. It deserves historical landmark status. It does NOT need to be tampered with in any way. Even the earlier “political correct” changes to the “wenching” scene should never have happened. So I went in, hoping that they didn’t destroy my beloved ride with their short-sighted commercial intentions.

And all in all, it wasn’t TOO bad, but still pretty obnoxious…a couple of Jack Sparrows and a Davy Jones, some Klaus Badelt, and nearly worst of all, the replacement of Paul Frees’ immortal pirate captain with Barbossa. (I like Geoffery Rush, don’t get me wrong, but Paul Frees is a bloody legend.) Okay, so the last Sparrow actually gives the ending of the ride more closure, which is a SLIGHT upside.

But the ABSOLUTE worst of all is the changing of most of the dialogue to be ABOUT Jack Sparrow. In the classic ride, scenes were unrelated snippets with the unifying atmosphere of piracy, allowing our imagination to wander and put the characters and stories together. This very cultivation of imagination was one of the things that inspired Ron Gilbert to wonder what exploring these settings would be like, leading him to create “The Secret of Monkey Island”…so, basically, without the original POTC ride, we would never have one of the greatest adventure game franchises of all time. We could weave these scenes into whatever stories we dreamed up, and part of the fun of the first POTC movie was seeing the story that Elliott/Rossio/Verbinski weaved.

Now, by placing a cheap Jack Sparrow plot thread in the original ride, it undoes a lot of that. While the movies just gave us an alternate interpretation, retconning the events of the rides basically de-canonizes our imagination, which is the geekiest complaint a human being could ever make, but I stand by it. Why mess with a classic, Disney? Who do you think you are, Lucas or something?

Ah, well. It’s a disappointment, and not as great as its former glory, but the ride is still a necessary stop on any Disneyland excursion. The atmosphere is still there. And the fact that I was wearing my Monkey Island Special Edition T-shirt on the ride just felt right.

I then returned to Adventureland for the Jungle Cruise, which I hadn’t been on since my very first, maybe second trip to Disneyland. Unlike my memories of the ride, however, the girl who was our skipper was actually pretty hilarious. She was having a lot of fun with it, and I began to seriously consider Jungle Cruise Skipper as a career path. (Of course, that was before a certain comedy/music idol of mine told us a story of a not-so-happy skipper.) After that, I made my way through Indy for the fourth time (which is the best part…the awesome ride, or the cute girls in fedoras saying happy birthday?), and then to the Haunted Mansion, which spawned a movie I did NOT see.

Haunted Mansion is another all-time classic that I missed as a kid, because it seemed too scary when we were little, and we just had other priorities when we were older. But this was MY day at Disneyland, and I could do whatever I wanted!

What amazed me about the Haunted Mansion is how well the effects hold up, given how old the ride is. Even when I could tell how they were done, I had to marvel at the ingenuity. Especially the carved-in statue heads walking to the ride. That was freaking brilliant. All in all, it’s a fun ride, and I’d also like to see it in the winter when they Tim-Burtonize it.

I then hit up to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Even though I generally prefer theme rides to more generic roller coasters, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Thunder Mountain. Maybe partially because the ride is slightly longer than most roller coasters, partially because there IS a theme, even if there’s no animatronics or video screens. I’m actually surprised that they HAVEN’T turned this ride into a movie yet…it would be easy to take a generic
runaway train disaster film and just add elements from the Frontierland backstory. I guess it just doesn’t have the same name brand recognition as Pirates or Haunted Mansion (although I refuse to believe that they actually thought more people would see a movie based on Country Bear Jamboree, which apparently no longer exists in California) (also, really? Peter Hastings directed the Country Bears movie? Pinky and the Brain’s Peter Hastings? Really?).

I rode on Splash Mountain again, which this time turned me into a creepy clown.

That family I was in the log with was very nice, and I felt a little bad about ruining their picture.

Around this time is when my phone started dying, leaving me Twitterless, so anything that I mention from here on out is just from hazy memory, and I don’t remember the exact order of the rest of the day. But I do know that right after this time on Splash Mountain, I walked right on over to the Winnie the Pooh ride. This didn’t exist last time I was here, and I had time to kill before my next Indy fastpass, so why not?

I gotta say, for a kids ride, there are some pretty cool effects, especially in the Heffalumps and Woozles scene. But, being nothing more than a collection of generically recognizable Pooh scenes, the narrative structure of the ride felt less coherent than “The Room”. There was a Blustery Day, a Heffalump Nightmare…and the whole thing ended with a birthday party that apparently made everything okay. At least the Peter Pan ride shows pieces of the coherent story.

I traveled the park, repeating a ride or two, and approached Space Mountain, the final All-Time Classic that I had never done before, because in the early days I was too short, and last time it was closed for repairs. Fastpass was closed at this point, so I had to wait in the full long line. This is when that iPod came in handy.

Gradually, I got to the front of the line, and entered the Space Mountain car. Now, this was after dark, at which point I understand Space Mountain changes to a more “Rockin'” soundtrack, with a different light show and whatnot. But having never experienced ANY version of Space Mountain, I had nothing to gauge it off. So I waited for the ride to begin…and two minutes and forty-five seconds later, I was getting off the ride in awe of what had just happened.

Holy crap, Space Mountain is THAT?

The ride everybody always talks about…the ride that’s as much a part of Disneyland culture as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle…it’s THAT?

And I’m only just riding it NOW?

My word. The last 22 years have been a waste.

From here on out, whenever I’m at Disneyland, I’ll likely be alternating fastpass tickets between Indy and Space Mountain. But that’s not an issue now.

I then went to “Honey, I Shrunk The Audience”, and heard the fireworks going off while waiting for it to begin. I’ve seen Disneyland fireworks before, and sure, they’re cool and all, but I didn’t care that much about missing them. Besides, a few days later I could see them while driving back from a “Guild” shoot in Anaheim.

The world needs more Rick Moranis.

Honey, I Shrunk the Python

He invented Flubber 36 years after Fred MacMurray did!

HISTA is not the greatest 3D show ever, but it’s fun, and it has Rick Moranis and Eric Idle, which is more than YOUR 3D show has. Amusingly, the illusion is sorta ruined at this point at night, when there are only about thrity or so people in the massive auditorium, and the “camera” “shows” us the “audience” crammed with people.

I then went on Star Tours again, leading to my favorite moment of the day: right before the ride began, a little kid somewhere in the back said something like, “Maybe this time it’ll be a pilot who knows what he’s doing!” Immediately, Rex popped up on the viewscreen, leading to a nervous “Oh, no” from the kid, and much laughter from the crowd.

I walked across the park to do Indy and POTC each one last time (the changes to POTC annoy me, but the ride is still too classic not to do a few times), and then back to Tomorrowland for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Now, this may be a double standard, but I actually LIKE the changes made to the submarine ride. I only have vague memories from the generic submarine ride of old, but I remember it not being nearly as interesting as Pirates. The addition of the Finding Nemo story arc gave it more of a purpose, and the combination of animatronics and projected CGI clips was fun. On a surreal note, there was a guy on our sub who looked like a cross between my classmate Christian and “Weird Al” Yankovic. Seriously, he had the long hair, the Hawaiian shirt…but he had Christian’s face. It was bizarre.

After Nemo, it was just about midnight, so I took the monorail back to Downtown Disney and walked over to the parking lot, ready to make the long drive back to LA. That’s the REALLY scary ride.

Final Disneyland Tallies:
Rode Once: Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Many Adventures of Winnie-The-Pooh, Space Mountain, “Honey, I Shrunk The Audience”, Finding Nemo’s Submarine Voyage, Railroad and Monorail
Rode Twice: Splash Mountain, Star Tours, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion
Rode SIX TIMES, baby: Indiana Freaking Jones
Rode This Year For The First Time EVER: Buzz Lightyear, Winnie the Pooh, Roger Rabbit, Mr. Toad, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain. Those last three are FREAKING DISNEYLAND CLASSICS that I regret waiting so long to ride.

All in all, it was a fun two days. It makes me wish we had actual THEME parks in CT, not just “amusement” parks like Lake Compounce and Quassy.

I did other fun stuff this summer, but those posts would be even more boring than this one, and take even longer for me to get around to posting. From now on I will do my best to bore you in a more timely fashion, although I can’t make any promises, because I don’t really like you.

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