Saturday, November 3, 2012

California Coasters, Etc.

Food, drinks, shopping, characters, weather, Hollywood; there are lots of reasons to visit Southern California, but the principal motivation for me will always be the rides.

Thankfully I had looked ahead and was prepared for the ride I was most looking forward to (Indiana Jones and The Temple of the Forbidden Eye) being closed for repairs, so I could moderate my immense disappointment prior to arrival.  Having been two decades since Audrey and I last visited the Magic Kingdom, there was plenty of new stuff to see, including an entirely different park, Disney's California Adventure.

We rode all the old favourites, like Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Some of the rides had been seasonally adapted, like Space Mountain's Ghost Galaxy, which had a spectral figure chasing you through the stars, and Haunted Mansion, which now included Jack Skellington.
I'm obviously a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, seeing as it is the closest I will ever get to an Oingo Boingo musical, but a part of me missed the creepiness of the original attraction.
My favourite thing about Disney is how they do nothing by half-measures.  The attention to detail in the set dressing is always amazing, even when you are just lining up for the rides, like Star Tours.  Looking at the maps and curios while you are waiting your turn to board a venerable attraction like the Jungle Cruise can really help to set the mood.  Given how few children are exposed to genres like jungle exploration movies and such, it has to be difficult to establish the tone, but props to the House of Mouse for making the effort.

California Adventure is an intriguing premise; rather than simply link an expanded park to the newer Disney and Pixar movies, they have endeavoured to create a Southern California as it was when Walt Disney arrived there early in his career.  Where Main Street USA is a reflection of Marceline, Missouri, where Disney grew up (and which you can also glimpse in Lady and the Tramp), Buena Vista Street reflects the exotic sophistication of 1923 Los Angeles, complete with the Red Car trolley I only know from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Condor Flats is dressed like the hangars and airfields of the 1930s, and Paradise Pier is presented as a classic roaring '20s boardwalk, with a giant ferris wheel,  various games, a carousel, and a fantastic roller coaster, California Screamin', which we rode multiple times.  Even Glory, who isn't necessarily the biggest coaster fan.

The newest area in California Adventure is Cars Land, and while I am not a huge fan of this particular Pixar franchise, the quality of the designs and clever execution of the conceit cannot be overlooked.  On our third day we ran straight to the newest and most popular ride, Radiator Springs Racing, in order to avoid the 90 minute plus lineups it generates later in the day.  The ride got shutdown just before we boarded, and took about an hour to get running again, but sitting down in the shade and taking the strain off the 2" blister on my foot made that a lot easier to take.  Another well executed ride, it combines a spectator experience of driving through Radiator Springs and encountering the various automotive characters with a full-on race against against another car into banked corners and chicanes. 

There is also wilderness themed area, Grizzly Peak, with a fantastic obstacle/exploration zone for younger fans, and the Grizzly River Rapids run, a raft ride which was extremely enjoyable given how hot it was outside. It was only the second wettest ride we encountered, though.

My favourite ride though, had to be the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  

As a pure thrill ride, I have been on longer and scarier drops, even the Mega Drop at the Conklin Midway is more intimidating in that regard.  But the presentation for the Tower of Terror is probably the best of all rides we went on, beginning with the line up, which leads you through the lobby of a decrepit hotel, with cobweb encrusted statuary and faded draperies, past the front desk and into a library.  The door closes, and you watch the introduction of a 'lost' episode of the classic Twilight Zone, complete with Rod Serling, and as lightning flashes in the library windows, he dutifully explains how decades ago, on a night just like this, a bolt struck the Hollywood Tower Hotel, sending 5 guests on a one-way trip to...well, you can probably guess.

You are then led through the 'basement' of the hotel, past gray-green pipes, the laundry machines, the maintenance man's workbench, and so on, and board a maintenance elevator similar to the one from the original tragedy, only equipped with seats and belts.  I don't want to give away the ride, but the story continues, as the elevator doors open on a couple of tableaux, all accompanied by the ominous tones of Rod Serling, who concludes with 
One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare.
That door is opening once again, but this time it's opening for you.


At Universal Studios, we enjoyed the Transformers 3D ride, and Audrey and Fenya tried the Mummy ride, which they said was all right, but the two best things there were the 360/3D Kong portion of the tram ride, and the wettest ride in California, Jurassic Park.  Despite having a couple of elements that weren't working (the falling truck gag and one of the raptors), the animatronics that were up and running were top notch, especially the T. Rex, and the final descent is completely saturating.

While the line-ups could sometimes be a bit tedious, and criss-crossing the parks to take advantage of the various FastPass opportunities could be murderous on the feet, the rides are still my favourite part of the Disneyland experience.  They appeal to my inner child in a way that few other things do, and re-experiencing them with my wife while introducing them to my children was absolutely joyous.

I hope it isn't another 20 years before I make it back.  For one thing, I really need to go on the Indiana Jones ride.  For another, the bus driver who took us to Universal Studios pointed out a couple of patches of undeveloped land in Anaheim that Disney has purportedly purchased for their next venture: Marvel Land.  They hope to have it open in 8-10 years, which means I might be asking to return for my 55th birthday. Who's with me?

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