A First Timers Review of Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure

Thrills, Chills, and the Legend of Gold Tooth.
A Disneyland review

By Jeffrey Lange

I am not a Disney fan.

Now please don’t misinterpret that statement. I’m not anti-Disney. I don’t hate cartoons and animated films. I don’t loathe the mouse. On the contrary, I think he’s pretty swell. What I mean to say is when I was young, my parents weren’t ushering me to the theater every time a new Disney movie came out. In fact, the last Disney animated film I saw upon its release was The Lion King in 1994. So as you can tell, it’s been quite some time since I’ve gotten excited over something Disney related. However, I believe this lack of familiarity with the intricacies and nuances of the Disney franchise gives me quite the unique perspective when it comes to taking a look at Disneyland and its “Magic Kingdom”. I’m 27 years old. I have no children. I wasn’t raised on Disney. I’m just a guy looking to go have some fun. Can you have fun at Disneyland as an adult without being Disney crazy? How does it compare to other amusement parks? And what’s the deal with all these magical times I’ve been hearing about?

Okay, Walt, I’m game. Let’s see what you’ve got. Bring on the magic.

The first thing that struck me as I entered the park as the gates opened was the attitudes and outfits of the people around me. We’re talking hundreds of kids dressed in Mickey Mouse ears. Heck, even their grandmothers were wearing Mickey ears. I guess all that business about the Mickey Mouse Club isn’t just lip service. People seem genuinely united in their love of these characters. After a quick moving security line, I hadn’t taken more than ten steps into the park when I heard a gentleman yell out, “It’s Mary Poppins! Oh my god!” And there she was, just as you’d picture a living Mary Poppins in the flesh. Seeing that man’s reaction put me in the right frame of mind for this day. Time to be a kid again. Throughout the day, I saw all sorts of character actors frequently taking time to interact with the patrons and I was impressed with their level of enthusiasm and kindness.

I especially enjoyed seeing a girl in her early twenties practically dragging Aladdin away from Jasmine while gushing professing her undying love for him and his movie. All the while Jasmine stood by patiently with a big smile on her face. Looks like there’s definitely some competition for his attention! Overall, the character actors added to the experience without being overly in your face if you just wanted to sit back and observe.

They struck a nice balance. Want to snap a photo with Jack Sparrow? No problem. Want Tigger to leave you alone? He won’t bother you. Although I didn’t personally interact much with the actors, I really enjoyed watching the reactions of others who loved to get a snapshot and talk with their favorites.

Okay, enough beating around the bush. Let’s talk about rides. That’s why I go to a park. Show me the rides. You can have the best environment, but if the rides are no good then you aren’t worth much in my book. I’ll say this about Disney; they sure do have variety. Slow rides, fast rides, nostalgic rides, gaming rides, trains, submarines, you name it. They really do have something for everyone.

I went on nearly every ride possible and I enjoyed just about every one regardless of what age group the ride was targeting. I really got into the idea of letting go, being a kid, and having fun. My favorite ride without a doubt though was Indiana Jones Adventure. This is a ride that has the total package. It’s a crazy jeep ride from hell with an absolutely killer environment enhanced with music, visuals, and even an animatronic Indy.

My blood really got pumping hearing the Raiders March theme while narrowly avoiding being crushed by a huge boulder. I went on the Indy ride a few times and I enjoyed it more each time. I don’t think I’d ever get tired of that ride. Best theme park ride I’ve ever been on without a doubt. Also of special note was the new Toy Story Midway Mania ride set up in California Adventure.

The rider dons 3D glasses and uses a sort of target shooting gun to play a series of shoot-‘em-up carnival style games. This ride is more than just shooting at targets, as spins, blasts of air, and water sprays accent the player’s shots and really jazz up the experience. I found it fun comparing my score at the end with others who were on the ride, thinking about how I could improve my tactics for the next go around. Waiting in line for this ride was a pleasant experience due to the large animatronic Mr. Potato Head dressed up like a carnival barker.

It seems this friendly character is equipped with visual recognition allowing him to tell jokes tailored to those waiting in line. To a woman wearing a visor in front of me, he called out, “Hey Lady! Yes, you there in the yellow shirt. I think you’re missing the top of your hat. Has anyone found the top of this lady’s hat?”

I’ll admit it. I was impressed. One point of note about this new Toy Story ride is that later when I went on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (also a shooting style ride), it felt very outdated and clunky by comparison. It hasn’t aged well over its ten-year lifespan. Toy Story Midway Mania is the ride that Astro Blasters wishes it could be. I wish I would have gone on the Buzz Lightyear ride first, and then the Toy Story ride. After Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear was kind of a downer. Toy Story was just that good.

The best darn straight up roller coaster award goes to California Screamin’, also located in California Adventure. I wish all roller coasters were like this one. It has a fast takeoff (which I love), nice drops, and the ride lasts quite a while. No one likes a 30 minute wait only to ride for a 20 seconds. This wasn’t a problem here as I had plenty of opportunities to scream my head off at high speeds. California Screamin’ is a ride that is definitely worth the wait. All in all, the rides at Disney compare favorably with any other theme park you can name. They’ve got everything you could want, and the level of quality is a notch above your average park.

I couldn’t call the trip to Disney a complete success without an episode of this “Disney magic” I’ve heard so much about. Well fortune smiled upon me, because I experienced not one but two special moments that I think qualified. So it’s late in the evening, the sun has set, and I’m on the Alice in Wonderland ride.

It’s a nostalgic ride that plays out the tale like a storybook. So I’m relaxing enjoying the scenery, and as my ride car exits an enclosure on the top of a slope I am immediately surrounded by lights, music, and…a parade? That’s right, I’m on a classic ride watching possibly the most famous of Disneyland events, a parade, or to be more specific, “Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams”. And just whom do I lock eyes with but none other than the big kahuna himself, Mr. Mickey Mouse, standing atop on a float with Minnie. Holy cow, it’s the mouse, and he’s staring right at me! Suddenly I was 6 years old again. I waved. He waved back, a special Mickey Mouse wave just for me. I must have smiled for about 5 minutes straight. Magic.

Finally as the night is coming to a close, I set my sights on the last ride of the evening. The King Arthur Carrousel. Nothing says amusement park like a well-made carousel. I’m near the front of the line and in front of me are two gentlemen in their mid-30s speaking in excited, hushed tones to the ride operator. The gate to the carousel swung open and these two stocky men start sprinting towards a horse. The first one there quickly mounted his new steed. “Gold tooth!” he bellowed. “Gold tooth!” Gold what? Tooth? Say what now? I get up on a horse behind these two enthusiasts and try to figure out exactly what was going on.

Soon I get the full story out of them, one they were quite eager to share. Apparently out of the seventy or so horses on the King Arthur Carrousel there is one horse that has a single golden tooth in his horsy smile. That very horse, the story goes, was the favorite carrousel horse of Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian. *Now* I get it. I stare on in envy as the ride goes on, with the gentleman on the special horse calling out to his friends watching from the sidelines every time the carousel spun by them, displaying his prize horse. As the ride came to its inevitable conclusion, everyone hopped off his or her mount and headed for the exit. I didn’t want to leave. I quickly asked the ride operator if I could stay on for just one more ride, to which he agreed without question. Without delay I climbed aboard proudly. “Gold tooth!” I yelled out with arms extended over my head. “Gooooooold tooth!”

Well I didn’t know it until now. I’m a Disney fan!