I had to split this post in two because we physically shifted from Los Angeles to Anaheim and mentally shifted from Hollywood to Disney. Shocking as it may be this was only my second visit to Disneyland. I don’t even count the first because it was so brief and miserable due to outside factors that I barely remember it. So, welcome to my first-ish trip to Disneyland! What better way to visit such a gorgeous park than with VIP tour guide.
Picking up where I left off our bus had pulled up to the Grand Californian Resort and Spa and our tour guides had already gone through the check in process for us. That gave up just enough time to settle into our rooms and freshen up before dinner. I mentioned earlier the challenge of giving over control and trusting that it will be OK, but the hidden challenge is dressing and packing for those outings. The rain continued on and off and a chill had set it, giving a numbing London winter dampness to the air. Escaping winter to sunny Southern California we had not. We piled on the clothes and repacked our ever-present backpack to rejoin the group for the next adventure, of which we knew nothing about other than it would involve dinner.
Let’s just stop for a moment to talk about the beauty of the Grand Californian. One of my favorite places in Walt Disney World is Fort Wilderness Lodge, so it is no surprise that I feel the same about a hotel by the same designer. I remember reading about the building of the resort back in the days of Disney Magazine, and fell for the romance of the Arts and Crafts movement. For those wondering, the rooms for the tour group are not in a block, only slightly in the same wing, so it is luck of the draw for the view and we lucked out. Much of Adventures by Disney aims toward a higher class of service than my average vacation, accounting for the price of their tours, so of course there would be extra touches like turn down service and chocolates. I only wish I had more time to explore the grounds.
Our guides walked us through the Downtown Disney and brought us to Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria for a rooftop dinner of self-made pizza. Unfortunately, a few of our compatriots had just had pizza for lunch at the Studio, but everyone still wanted to take part in the activity. The print materials previously stated the dinner would be at Steakhouse 55 in the Disneyland Hotel, and since my visit they have revised the location again to the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Disneyland. You remember how I said earlier that I don’t care for “forced get-together” activities, well this didn’t even feel like a “Kumbaya” moment despite being exactly that. After an emotionally overwhelming day we had a family dinner with our new, temporary family. The beautifully laid out table on the upper terrace above the din of Downtown Disney was only damped by the settling cold air. They brought heaters out to ease our discomforts, and soon we were up wearing fake mustaches and building our own pizzas while a young man did tricks and twirls tossing dough.
Finally the time had come to enter Walt’s Magic Kingdom. It was chilly and misting, people were streaming out, but I only saw the twinkling popcorn lights beckoning me down Main Street. We were a people on a mission with no time to linger and soak in Disneyland After Dark, remember – time for that trust in our guides.
Question mark because I don’t really know if what comes after is under wraps.
We marched straight down Main Street and through Adventureland (where I instantly placed Rolly Crump’s Bazaar from It’s Kind of a Cute Story). As one who favors the East Coast I am easily disoriented by the topography of Disneyland and shortly had no idea where we went. Suddenly, on this dark and stormy night the looming facade of the Haunted Mansion arose in front of us. We went off to the side and up into the even darker foyer, our group then went on a private ride through the mansion making it a swinging time for a bunch of first time visitors (no kids reciting the Ghost Host or talking back to the phantoms). It was really nice to soak in a new ride as popular as the Haunted Manson without distractions and to return to the pitch darkness of the graveyard afterwards.
Now being in the park our guides huddled us like sheep to ensure no one got left behind, and we didn’t pick anyone extra up. We also had a third guide, Adrienne, join us to help with the logistics of the large group. Yes, we did feel like a big deal.
Quickly our shepherds led us again through the crowds to another darkened corner, and to Pirates of the Caribbean we went. Do I lament that I did not experience the beautiful queue past the bayou or do I rejoice that we got right on the boats through the backdoor? Rejoice. One more attraction to go and across the park we scurried, this time with the chill settling in even further and rain drizzling down. With the longest wait of nearly five minutes we soon boarded a submarine, my first ride in a sub in maybe ten years and my first time with the Nemo overlay.
The guides bid us adieu but not before one last treat of a pack of instant Fastpasses, six each. Nearly every person ran to get on the Matterhorn only to find the Fastpasses excluded it, but we rode anyway. Apparently we couldn’t get out of the group mode because we ran into our new friends again on Indian Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, twice. The low weeknight crowds and the cold weather kept most everyone away. The Fastpasses made little difference and felt a bit silly to use, yet we used them anyway because we had them and felt special. Even though we knew we had an early morning, once again, nothing could stop our childlike glee at having Disneyland nearly to ourselves. After one last spin on Space Mountain, our favorite “different” ride from the Magic Kingdom, the rain really started falling harder and even turned to hail as the temps dropped to near freezing. Thank goodness some time in Florida taught me to pack your shoes with newspaper to dry them out and that we had a second set of warm cloths to wear the next morning, not everyone in our group was so lucky. On days like this the walk of the few yards to the Grand California couldn’t be short enough, and we had a full day ahead tomorrow.