Disneyland 2021: The non-COVID Stuff

Welcome back to part three of my Disney recap. Last time I wrote about the changes most likely inspired by COVID. Today I’m focusing on the random Disney observations, regardless of origin.

New Lands and Rides

I was skeptical about Rise of the Resistance. I was skeptical about Star Wars Land as a whole. Sorry, we’re supposed to call it “Galaxy’s Edge.” Screw that, it’s Star Wars Land. 

To be fair, the land was a ho-hum. Both new ones were. Marvel Land (sorry, “Avengers Campus”) has more potential, as it’s not tied to any one movie or era. Star Wars Land is modeled after Episode VII (I think). The stores and stuff were cool. You can buy the blue milk from A New Hope and the green milk from The Last Jedi, although you can’t squeeze them out of an alien alpaca’s teat like Luke did. You gotta buy them from the Milk Bar, which totally sounds like the name of a topless club. Now served in jugs.

If you’re expecting Galaxy’s Edge to look like a space station, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t look like Tatooine, per se, but it’s that typical run-down, dirty, depressing kinda place. The dominant color is brown. They could’ve called this Casablanca Land and not changed a thing. Except making the Milk Bar into Rick’s. I know a lot of the spaceports in the movies had that look, and the theme tends to run along “broken down technology,” but c’mon. You could’ve gone with Endor. There’s the casino planet. It was over 90 degrees the day I was there, so I would’ve loved a Hoth theme.

The Rise of the Resistance, on the other hand, was fucking awesome. To call it a ride is demeaning. It’s a fully fleshed-out experience. You move from place to place, vehicle to vehicle, with the story emerging as you go. Only after ten minutes of “transports” and “detention cells,” you get the typical whirl-around ride.

It starts out like Star Tours. They put us all into a “transport ship” that magically lands in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. Clearly Star Wars transport companies need to work on their routing options. Why is every damn commercial liner another Lusitania?

During this part of the ride, my skepticism only grew. Really? I had to wake up at 7:00 am to go on Star Tours 2.0? I can ride the original with only a five-minute wait. Even worse, this ride didn’t move much. It shimmied and grumbled, but we were standing the whole time, and you can only see the battle footage through a little window at the front, with fifty other passengers in the way. Boring.

Until the doors open. Holy crap! I didn’t even realize we had moved locations, but when the door opens, you’re on a fucking space ship. With rows of Storm Troopers and that giant window looking into space. This picture doesn’t do it justice because my camera was collecting blur from all the lights, but holy shit. Those Stormtroopers are human-sized, to give you an idea of the scope.

The Disney employees at this point are acting like First Order assholes, so they get to be rude. They still do the same rigmarole, how many are in your party, stand in this line, but they get to command it instead of request it. Instead of “follow me,” it’s “get out.” I’d wager that every employee wants to work this ride.

After being “forcefully” removed from the “captured” transport, we’re put into detention cells to be tortured until we reveal the location of the resistance base. Then someone with a lightsaber cuts a door in the side of the detention cell, at which we FINALLY get on the “ride.” It’s part Indiana Jones ride, part Star Tours now, where we and one other car are moving around on a magnetic track, swerving in and out of each other’s way. I took the ride twice and the path changed each time.

The set pieces our car went though were fucking awesome, with the same grandiosity of that spaceship hangar. You go through the feet of fucking AT-ATs! You also drive underneath cannons shooting lasers and the battle going on out the window correlates with their firing. The cohesion is absolutely phenomenal. At another point, an off-course space ship runs into ours, causing the hull to rupture and gusts of wind feeling like we’re being sucked out into space. I don’t know if the physics of it work, but allegedly lightsabers wouldn’t work either, so I guess I shouldn’t be relying on Star Wars for my hardcore sci-fi.

And remember that I’m a curmudgeon, y’all! Rise of the Resistance wasn’t a ride, it was an all-encompassing experience. It probably lasted a good fifteen to twenty minutes.

Webslingers, by comparison, is… also a new ride.

As I predicted when I heard about it, it’s basically the Ninjago ride at Legoland. Rise of the Resistance and a few other outliers aside, the trend in amusement park rides over the past few decades has been to make us shoot at things and give us a score at the end. If I wanted to play video games, I’d stay home.

Even worse, Webslingers is a workout! Instead of pulling a trigger, you have to shoot your arms out like Spiderman firing his webs. And there’s a lot of shit to shoot your webs at. Early on, they talked about how you could web an object, then whip your hand to pull the object across. I did that once or twice, but for the most part there are, like, fifty little spider bots on the screen at any time and you’re just flailing both arms out like you’re training on a boxing speed ball. If I wanted a workout… well, I didn’t want a fucking workout, okay?

Old Rides, New Experiences

We took Daughter to Disneyland once before when she was on the cusp of turning five. This time she was seven and, more importantly, over forty-eight inches, which is the last barrier to entry. 

Disney’s actually better than most amusement parks about rides for short stacks. The only two rides that were off limits last time were Incredi-coaster and Indiana Jones. 

If you haven’t been to Disneyland in the last three or four years, the Incredi-coaster used to be known as California Screamin’. It’s the giant wooden roller coaster in California Adventure with a Mickey Mouse face on it. But that wasn’t cross-promoting enough Disney properties (they don’t, technically, own California yet, although it’s only a matter of time), so they painted it red to coincide with the release of “Incredibles 2.”

Daughter loved it. She’s a daredevil. The faster the ride, the more curves and loop-de-loops, the happier she is. She also loves Big Thunder and Space Mountain, the latter of which was closed for remodeling last time we were there, so she finally got to experience her dad’s favorite ride. Not sure how they refurbish a ride that’s all in the dark, but whatever.

Indiana Jones, she wasn’t such a fan of. The motion, she was fine with. The visuals, on the other hand, forced her to put her head down in her lap, hands over ears, for the majority of the ride. I remembered and prepared her for the “arrows” flying past you at the, I remembered the famous bolder rolling toward you. Kinda forgot about all the skulls and demon tribes and whatnot. Oops. Bad dad. 

She’s less enamored with scary storylines. She wasn’t a fan of the revamped yeti on Matterhorn, nor most of Rise of the Resistance. Pirates of the Caribbean freaked her out a little this time. Even Haunted Mansion was one and done this time.

The last one surprised me. When she was four, Haunted Mansion was a hoot. Stretching photos, cartoonish ghosts, singing gravestones, what’s not to love? And you get to take home a hitchhiker! We rode it four times over two days last time.

This time, she was quiet when we left the ride. Same as at Pirates. It was only when we asked if she wanted to ride again later in the day, with less than a 15 minute wait, that she revealed her less-than-enamoration with the ride. 

“Do the ghosts scare you?” I asked.

“No, it’s not really the ghosts,” she answered. “It’s just that they want us to die.”

You see, when she was four years old, the “story” didn’t resonate with her. Now she has an imagination. And the ghosts were the same as Kylo Ren cutting into our escape pod. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy ride, meanwhile, she’s fine with. Because the monsters are fighting the Guardians, not going after us, I guess. And Rocket Raccoon is helping us escape. 

She wants to hurtle through a loop-de-loop at 60 mph., as long as nobody’s chasing after her. Thrills are fine, storylines and visuals are a no.

This might play into my long-term plans. I was never a big Disneyland guy. My favorite amusement park was Magic Mountain. All thrill rides, no plot. Might be right up her alley. I just need to wait until she hits 54 inches.

The App

Everything’s on the app now. Disneyland was trending that way before the closure and it’s only been exacerbated. Food, ride photos, virtual queues. There’s an app for that.

There’s also an app to play games in line. Not the same app, mind you. You’ve got to download two apps if you want to enjoy your experience. No surcharge to yell at your kids for being annoying in line.

In the line for Space Mountain, for example, it’s a bunch of “pass the phone” games, like Guess the Character or “hold the phone in between you” games, like Pong. But they’re made to seem like you’re in space cadet training, and after each game, you “upgrade” your ship. Then every 15 minutes or so, everybody in line who is playing races their upgraded ship against each other. Kinda fun.

There are “hidden” codes written on the walls throughout the line, also used to upgrade your ship. The problem was sometimes we walked past them while playing pong. The Indiana Jones line moved so fast, I only saw one set of runes and couldn’t stand there long enough to copy it down. But I guess they’re there for when the park returns to full capacity with no FastPass.

The problem is you have to give the app access to your location. Fine, whatever, I set the app to access my location only while the app is open.

Then I saw they have badges. Badges are my great weakness. Gamify my life and I am putty in your hands. Have I mentioned this multi-part, 10,000+ word blog series was written on 4thewords, where I defeated monsters by writing? Damn you, Disney, how can I get more badges?

You get badges by, of course, riding the rides. Not sure how it triggers. When we stood in line, got on the Matterhorn, were released to the edge of the mountain, then taken off, I didn’t get the badge. You also don’t get the badge if you close down the app. 

Unless… Go ahead, the app tells you, give me access to your location ALL THE TIME!!!

So my options are to leave the app open throughout every line and ride or have it access my GPS constantly. Both of which suck battery like you wouldn’t believe. And I need my battery if I want to make it to my virtual queue. Or, you know, eat some time over the next twelve hours.

Not a problem, my app tells me. When my phone dropped below 30%, the app popped up to inform me of, I shit you not, where I could go in the park to purchase a recharge.

At least you can use the Play App to get your fortune from Esmerelda. In fact, you must use the app to get your fortune from Esmerelda. She doesn’t take quarters anymore. Disney doesn’t waste time with chump change when they can get the essence of your existence.

So let me see if I’ve got this right. Use the app, give them access to your entire life, waste your battery and then give Disney more money to keep your phone working. Well ha ha, Disney, I brought my own portable battery! You don’t get my money. You only get all my micro-data. My credit card number, location, sperm sample. I wonder if Bill Gates gave Disney access to the 5G in my COVID vaccine.

Booze

Odds and Ends

The last thing they said when we got off the raft onto Tom Sayer Island was “Stay on the trail, no climbing.” Isn’t climbing the entire point of going to Tom Sawyer Island? Daughter loved it, by the way. Amazing, huh? No computerized graphics, no thrills, just scrambling through rock caves and across rope bridges. As if it was 1955. Unfortunately, she wanted us to follow all of her tunnels but, man, them weren’t made for 21st century adults. 

The line for Rise of the Resistance featured three types of people. Those wearing Star Wars merch, staring around in wide-eyed wonder. Others, like me, wearing regular gear and doing our best to enjoy the scenery, hoping for the best. Then there are the little girls dressed up like princesses, every one of which had a look of abject torture on their face. And no, I don’t think they were reenacting Princess Leia’s time upon the destroyer. Or Amidala’s exile. Or Rey’s time in the cave. Man, marginally royal ladies have it rough in the Star Wars universe. Maybe they ought to stop having democratically-elected monarchies.

If you’re interested in keeping your teeth, don’t order any ice cream from the carts. Holy crap, that shit’s kept close to absolute zero. Takes about ten minutes to thaw enough to chisel away with your canines. Unfortunately, by then the chocolate chip cookie “sandwich bread” is soggy. And it all tastes vaguely of dry ice. 

Most places I go, I’m the dorky one. Shocking, I know! So imagine how out of place I felt in California Adventure when I was, like, the only guy not wearing some sort of Marvel gear. I felt like I needed to walk up to strangers and share my thoughts comparing and contrasting the negatives of Spiderman’s “Clone Saga” versus “One More Day.” Can I gain back some credibility if I remember the original Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring 31st century Vance Astro instead of Rocket and Groot? Seriously, y’all, I know I’m repping a brewery on my t-shirt, but I have the entire Mr. Fixit run in Incredible Hulk, bags and backboards, back home.

Speaking of Marvel, they had some great cup holders in the shape of Iron Man’s forearm, complete with Infinity Stones in the knuckles. On the plus side, the holder literally goes up to your elbow, so it’s his whole forearm. On the negative side, the hand portion can’t be flexed or tightened. There was a plastic cup in the hand that worked like a koozie. Another major drawback was the price. Thirty bucks! That included a drink, but to quote Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, they don’t put bourbon in that or nothin’.

I spent most of the day seeing them on people’s arms, the angel on my shoulder saying it’s a lousy deal for some cheap plastic that probably won’t last the plane ride home. The devil on my shoulder opined it would be fun to take camping, before doing a spit-take. “Holy shit, thirty bucks? I’m with the angel on this one.” So I decided to skip it. Then, right before closing, I saw that the motherfucking Infinity Stones light up. So shut the fuck up, devil and angel, I’m pulling out my plastic and running back to the… closed down drink cart. Well, shit. Maybe eBay has some? Eighty bucks? All of a sudden, that thirty doesn’t sound so bad.

Story of my life. I shoulda bought Bitcoin at $5, too.

Finally, booze.

I think I mentioned this last time I went, but they serve alcohol in California Adventure, but not in (the public areas of) Disneyland. I feel like they might be missing out on a goldmine. The first time I saw booze at an amusement park was Universal Studios in Florida. They sold beer in the fucking lines. Brilliant! So I figured it was a state law thing, since the nanny state I live in loves nothing more than protecting us from ourselves. In my state’s defense, if that Iron Man cup holder had been $30 with soda or $40 with beer, I wouldn’t have spent the day equivocating. But I don’t think my wallet is the part of me that California is concerned I might damage. California does plenty of damage to my wallet.

And honestly, whether it’s Disneyland or the state of California that’s trying to limit the sale of alcohol to maintain a “family-friendly” environment, the prices they were charging should be enough. Anybody who’s likely to abuse their alcohol ain’t gonna do it at $15 a pop in addition to the $150 it took to get into the park. I didn’t see people sloshing all over the place at Universal in Florida. If you buy one in line, you’re still waiting an hour before your next one. If you wanna buy three watered-down light beers to the tune of $45, be my guest. But are you going to double-down for $90 in the next line? You know there are bars outside the park, right?

And the Disney quandary makes even less sense when you consider they serve booze in one park but not the other. It isn’t just beer and wine, either. They’ve got legit booze, leading to this exchange between my wife and I when ordering coffee from the app.

Her : “Do you want Bailey’s in your coffee?”

Me, blinking… processing… “What the fuck kind of question is that?”

Way better than the Starbucks I had in Disneyland. Is California Adventure less family friendly? I didn’t see a PG-13 rating as I entered the park. And I didn’t see any fewer kids. Nor did I see any lushes. So add booze to Disneyland. Preferably in an Iron Man holder.

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