Disneyland by Myself

Last month I went to a work conference in Orange County in southern California. While I was there, I went to Disneyland. By myself.

When I told Matt several months ago that I’d be going to Orange County, he said, “You should totally go to Disneyland!” I said that I’d feel weird going there without him. We just took our first trip there last October, and I thought I’d feel sad and lonely being there by myself with nobody to share it with. I also thought I would feel weird being a man in my late 30s walking around Disneyland and going on rides by myself.

He responded that if the roles were reversed, he would have no qualms going without me. Gee, thanks, I said.

About a week before my trip, I started to regret that I hadn’t added an extra day before or after the conference to make a visit. I started to feel that it would be sad to be so close to Disneyland and not go. But it was too late to add an extra night at a hotel and to change my flight without paying an exorbitant fee. I thought maybe I could go on Friday after the conference ended for the day, but the regular price of a one-day/one-park ticket was $87, and Disneyland doesn’t sell half-day tickets. Since I wouldn’t be able to get to the park until late afternoon or early evening, $87 seemed way too much.

But then, while looking through my conference brochure, I saw a URL for discounted Disneyland tickets for conference attendees. It included a special , including a special rate for entrance to the Disneyland parks after 4 pm: $45 for one park, or $60 for both parks (Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure). That was much more reasonable. So I bought myself a $60 park-hopper ticket using the special website.

And on Friday evening in California, after my conference ended, I went to Disneyland by myself.

One of the perks of visiting Disneyland by yourself is that you can take advantage of Single Rider lines at many attractions. They don’t really advertise this; you have to know about it. Basically, if you’re going on a ride alone, you can get on a special line with a much shorter wait, which they use to fill in gaps in the vehicles. I planned to use this as much as I could.

As I arrived at the main plaza between the two parks, I felt giddy. I couldn’t believe I was back here at Disneyland, unexpectedly, just nine months after my first visit.

I definitely planned to check out Cars Land, which was still under construction last fall, as well as the main entrance and plaza at California Adventure, which was totally chopped up last fall and covered with plywood walls due to major renovations.

But first, the main park.

As soon as I entered the Disneyland park, I rushed over to Space Mountain and got a FastPass. Then I rushed back to the other side of the park for my first priority: Pirates of the Caribbean.

The biggest disappointment of our trip to Disneyland last fall was that Pirates of the Caribbean was closed for renovation. I’d really been looking forward to riding it, because the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions are quite different; the Disneyland version is the original, and it’s nearly twice as long as the WDW version.

Fortunately, I knew it was back open this time, so I rode it first. I felt weird holding up one finger when the ride attendant asked how many were in my party, but the feeling quickly passed. I got placed in the back row of one of the boats with the whole seat to myself. The ride was fun — although it almost felt too long. But that might be because the boats stopped moving halfway through the ride, due to some malfunction. For two minutes I was stuck in the ocean between two pirate ships shooting cannons at each other.

After Pirates of the Caribbean I went over and rode the Haunted Mansion, which is a classic.

I should note: one of the advantages of being at Disneyland by myself was that I could maneuver around crowds much more easily. I could spot gaps in the crowds and suddenly dart around groups of people without having to make sure Matt was behind me, so I could get from place to place comparatively quickly. Comparatively.

After the Haunted Mansion I went to Splash Mountain, where I used the Single Rider option for the first time. It was hard to find; I had to ask a few different attendants. The wait was about 20 minutes, but that was OK, because the main line had a wait of more than an hour.

I didn’t feel as weird as I thought I would riding by myself. Nobody really noticed. Nobody thought I was the creepy lonely guy.

Next was Indiana Jones, also via Single Rider.

Then I went over to the Matterhorn, which has Single Rider as well. I was really looking forward to this, because they’d made some changes since last fall, including new cars. The wait was so short that I got right back on line after my first go-round and rode it again, this time on the other track. So much fun.

Next was dinner, and then I used my Space Mountain FastPass. I had forgotten how much fun this ride was. I had a blast, as you can see:

Me on Space Mountain

After I rode Space Mountain, the sun began to set, so I left Disneyland and headed over to Disney’s California Adventure in time to walk through Cars Land as dusk set in. I don’t know the Cars movies at all, but Cars Land is pretty cool — all lit up at night in neon.

Unfortunately, the headline attraction at Cars Land, the most popular ride, the ride everyone wants to go on — Radiator Springs Racers — was closed due to a technical malfunction. Had I got there earlier in the evening, I would have been able to ride it. But when I got there it had been shut down for an hour and they were saying it would probably be at least another hour before it was fixed. I was disappointed, because there wasn’t anything else in all of California Adventure that I felt like riding. And I wasn’t going to waste my time waiting for a ride that might or might not re-open. So I took a few photos and then went right back to Disneyland Park.

I went over to Fantasyland to try and ride Peter Pan’s Flight, which we’d missed last time, but all the Fantasyland rides were closed because they were getting ready for the fireworks. So instead I went over to Tomorrowland and rode Star Tours — where, for the third time in a row, including two rides on our previous visit, one of the two randomly-generated scenarios was the pod race.

Then I saw the fireworks, and then I was exhausted — still jet-lagged, plus I had to get up before 7 the next morning. So I left the parks, went to Downtown Disney, and took a cab back to my hotel. As I was in the cab, I went online and saw that Radiator Springs Racers had reopened. Dammit. But that was OK, because I would have been too tired to go back and wait on a 45-minutes-plus line anyway.

Other than some minor disappointments and snags, I had a great time at Disneyland by myself. It didn’t feel as weird as I thought it would. It’s definitely more fun with Matt, but going there by yourself isn’t too bad.

The Walt Disney Family Museum

We visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco earlier this month, and weeks later, I still keep thinking about it. Not only was it a moving experience, but it also gave me a new metaphor for thinking about a life. About anyone’s life.

The Walt Disney Family Museum was created by Walt’s family as a place to tell the story of Walt, as distinct from Disney the company, and it’s owned by a private non-profit, not by the Disney Corporation. In order to maintain that distinction, it’s located in San Francisco, rather than in Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, didn’t want people to rush through the museum between theme park visits; she wanted people to take the time to explore Walt’s life. In fact, the museum seems much more oriented to adults than to children.

The museum is located in the Presidio, an enormous, beautiful park, and as you walk toward the museum, the Golden Gate Bridge looms in the background.

The two-story building is divided into 10 galleries. Unlike most museums, where you can wander around and see things in any order you wish, there is only one way through this museum, as it tells the story of Walt’s life chronologically, gallery by gallery — sort of like a theme park ride. Each room is filled with fascinating historic objects — the first drawing of Mickey Mouse; colorful paint jars used by Disney animators; a two-story multiplane camera — and there are also plenty of sound recordings and video installations along the way. The museum starts with Walt’s birth and childhood, and then you follow the story as he reaches greater and greater heights: the creation of Mickey Mouse, the Silly Symphonies, the first full-length animated film in history (Snow White). After the lows of World War II – culminating, for the Walt Disney studio, in a labor strike against Walt — he regroups, taking his first steps into live-action films. You learn about his newfound love for miniatures and model railroads.

And then you enter the centerpiece of the museum: an amazing, two-story gallery covering Walt’s greatest decade, the 1950s, when he opened Disneyland and began his groundbreaking weekly TV show. The highlight of this gallery is a stunning scale model of Disneyland, known as “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination.” It’s not historically accurate; it doesn’t depict Disneyland at any one particular time, but is more of a composite Disneyland as Walt wanted it to be. Matt and I probably spent 10 to 15 minutes just looking at this model — we’d been to Disneyland itself just two days earlier, so it was especially cool to examine the model.

After the model, you can see clips of Disney’s TV show and the later live-action movies, and explore exhibits on Mary Poppins and Disney’s contributions to the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. And then… in 1966, Walt dies, way too early, at age 65. There’s a TV clip of an obituary, and a wall of newspaper cartoons expressing sadness over his death.

I had no idea what to expect from this museum, other than that it was a must-see for Disney fans. It was a very profound experience. We wound up spending four hours there, and I didn’t even listen to all the audio or watch every video clip. In fact, somewhere around 1938, in the middle of the Snow White exhibit — not even halfway through the museum — my eyes began to glaze over. But then I got a second wind, and I was riveted again.

I’ve read two biographies of Walt Disney, so it was a weird experience to travel through a physical representation of his life. I felt like I was exploring a book brought to life. It also made me think of a recent article in the New York Times about how to memorize things: one trick is to conjure up a 3D model of a house in your mind and then mentally place the things you want to remember in specific locations throughout the house. Walking through the museum, I felt like I was in someone’s mental map of Walt’s life. I can remember things about his life much more clearly now.

And it makes me wonder what my life would look like if it were laid out as a building. I’m 37, the same age Walt was when Snow White came out. How far through the exhibit of my life would I be right now? How much is behind me and how much more looms ahead? Is there a fantastic two-story gallery in my future — filled not with fame, but with wonderful experiences?

I loved the Walt Disney Family Museum. I hope I can visit it again sometime.

Sick, and Catching Up

Blogging has been light lately. As I wrote previously, I started to feel sick shortly after we landed at LaGuardia at the end of our vacation. Over the past week I’ve nursed a pretty terrible cold: scratchy throat, then laryngitis, then congestion and coughing. Plus a low fever that lasted two or three days. Friday seemed to be the peak; I’ve slowly been getting better since then. I’m sure I caught it from Matt, since he got sick a couple of days before we left for Disney World and was coughing almost the entire time we were there, and we shared a water bottle the whole week (there was some kissing, too). I worked mostly from home last week and barely left the apartment, except for two nights when I dragged myself out because we had theater tickets (Middletown at the Vineyard, and A Free Man of Color at Lincoln Center). And yesterday our building’s fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate for about 90 minutes because they couldn’t figure out how to turn off the alarm.

Except for the fire alarm, this weekend was all about chilling out: exploring the new Back to the Future trilogy Blu-Ray set, reading a Walt Disney biography, reading the paper, doing crosswords, and watching TV. Last night we caught up on the last four weeks of Brothers & Sisters. Oh, Kevin and Scotty: such drama, you two.

Anyway, I look forward to getting better soon and not coughing anymore.

Disney World

Our trip to Disney World was, honestly, one of the most enjoyable vacations I’ve ever taken. True to the cliché, it really did feel magical in lots of ways. It wasn’t perfect — Matt was sick and coughing much of the time and kept both of us awake for a few nights, and I had stomach trouble once or twice — but it was a great opportunity to escape from the real world, get in touch with our inner children, enjoy ourselves, have a couple of great meals, and most importantly, spend some quality time together.

We were totally immersed in the Disney experience from beginning to end. From the moment we boarded a Disney Magical Express bus at the Orlando airport on Sunday morning to the moment we got off the bus and stepped back into the airport the following Saturday evening, we were in Disney’s hands. We were on Disney property the entire time. We slept on Disney property, we ate on Disney property, we shopped on Disney property, we traveled by bus, monorail, choo-choo train, riverboat, and raft on Disney property. We spent time in all four major parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We went on some rides two or even three times; mid-October is one of the less crowded times of year at Disney World. Not that there weren’t a lot of people; there were. But compared to the holiday season or summertime, it was mostly fine. I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s really crowded.

I’ll probably write more about the details of our trip, but for now, here are some tangential things I’ve been thinking about:

(1) I kind of wish I were a dad. Whenever I saw a dad with a little kid — on the bus, in one of the parks, in a hotel lobby — I felt a huge amount of respect for the dad and for what he was doing. I thought to myself: that guy is doing something I might never have a chance to do. I’ve been thinking about fatherhood a lot during the last year — maybe because my brother is now a dad — and it makes me kind of sad that I might never one. I’m missing out on that whole stage of life, that whole experience of personal growth and of contributing to the world’s future. I might leave nothing and nobody behind when I’m gone.

(2) I’m a news junkie — particularly when it comes to politics — but I avoided the news almost entirely while we were away, by choice. And when we came back, I realized that I hadn’t really missed anything. You know what? Politics and political news today is totally juvenile and unnecessary: who said what to whom, who got fired by whom, who blogged about what, and so on. Whatever. It’s such a waste of time.

I also didn’t check my RSS feed once. Except for email and posting to Twitter via Foursquare, I pretty much stayed entirely off the internet. It was great.

* * *

And… now that we’re back, I’m sick. I literally got sick as soon as our vacation ended: we were sitting in the cab on the way home from LaGuardia and my throat started to feel scratchy. I must have caught whatever Matt has. I guess my body was holding out via sheer willpower. Yesterday we spent most of the day sitting at home catching up on a week’s worth of backlogged TiVo recordings and nursing our illnesses.

I bought a biography of Walt Disney while we were at Disney World and I started reading it on the plane ride home. I’ve already read a biography of him before, but I wanted to somehow continue the experience. I wish it didn’t have to end.

Going to Disney World

Matt and I don’t go on very many vacations. We’re just not good at planning things too far in advance. But a couple of months ago we decided it had been long enough, so we planned a trip, and on Sunday we’re leaving for a week at Disney World.

We’re really looking forward to it. Neither of us has been there in years. The last time I went was in 1988, before Disney MGM Studios (now Disney Hollywood Studios) and the Animal Kingdom were even built. I still have a stuffed Uncle Scrooge doll from that trip.

We’re going to stay on-site at the Port Orleans Riverside, which has an Old South architectural theme (minus the slavery, I presume). We’ll be using the Disney World bus system to get everywhere, which hopefully won’t be too bad. We bought seven-day Park Hopper passes, which lets us visit more than one park each day — helpful if we decide to spend the day in one park but have dinner in a different park. I bought them at a discount via Undercover Tourist.

Last month I bought a copy of The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2011, which seems to take a rather Type-A attitude to the place but apparently helps you minimize the amount of time you wait on lines. (The key, apparently, is getting up early, but it also has some suggested touring plans for each park.) Of course, we’re going in October, which is already one of the less crowded times of year, but it should be useful anyway.

I’m looking forward to this trip. It should be a nice opportunity for us to spend time alone together, just the two of us, and enjoy ourselves. We leave Sunday — can’t wait.