California Disneyland revisited: A staff member’s personal look at the newest attractions

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A life-sized Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars saga is displayed inside the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge land in Disneyland. Shane Gibson photo

Disneyland California opened July 17, 1955, and was built on 85 acres for $17 million in downtown Anaheim. Now, with Disney’s California Adventure and the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the popular theme park has grown to 500 acres hosting millions of visitors a year.

I had not been to visit Disneyland and its relatively new California Adventure since 2007 until this past week when my wife and I, who are now well into our senior years, had the opportunity to visit the park once more. That adventure proved to be amazing and admittedly a little overwhelming. The changes have been incredible, yet there are a few things that remain very much the same.

A trip to the customer relations’ window was delightfully informative with the two Donnas there who spent quite a bit of time explaining the Disneyland and California Adventure parks’ layouts, The Fast Pass, the season’s just opened Festival of the Holidays, Mickey’s Happy Holidays and where the most popular rides were to be found. It had undoubtedly changed since 2007 and was incredibly different since my first visit to what I might call the old Disneyland, when I was a teen in 1957 or 1958.

I was a senior high school counselor for group of YMCA day campers then. The parents paid only $10 to $15 each for them, which is a far cry from the $97 average daily entrance cost and the $25 parking fee today.

Each of the campers and I got a book of A, B. C and D ride tickets for the Casey Jr. Circus Train, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, a ride in the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoe and the big ride of time, the Sailing Ship Columbia.

It was a treat to see the Columbia still proudly sailing around Adventureland, the Pirates Lair and Tom Sawyer Island and the Dumbo ride still in the park. There were other things like Main Street U.S.A. the horse-drawn street cars, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and other mini-theaters still welcoming guests at Disneyland. One thing we particularly enjoyed were the movie clips of the old animated Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie cartoons, all created by Walt Disney himself.

In Disney’s memory, I must digress a moment to remember when I was a teen. There were three people I really wanted to meet in my lifetime: Walt Disney, Henry Kissinger and Billy Graham. I never had the pleasure of meeting Disney, but I dearly hope he is now with God in heaven, drawing angelic cartoons. Much of his legacy still remains at Disneyland Resort in California, Disney World in Florida, and I hope at the other Disney Parks in the world.

I was reminded of his dream of creating a place where adults and their children could have fun that is still coming true. It was obvious in the happy smiles of thousands of children and their parents, laughing and smiling throughout the park. Additionally supporting this evidence of Disney’s dream come true were the hundreds of baby strollers parked in roped off spaces in front of the rides. Then, there were the continuous attempts we made to get out of their way as their equally excited parents looked for the next adventure in the Wonderful World of Disney.

My first adult experience in California Adventure was also quite different as the park has continued to expand. The initial visit boasted of many rides including a giant rocking chair Ferris wheel, the Bugs Land, the Golden Zephyr and the Jumpin’ Jellyfish but now the park has many more rides.

While I remember taking those rides, this trip we experienced the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout and the newest Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. We survived the breakout and enjoyed shooting down Imperial star destroyers and Republic darts.

One of the most impressive things in the new Star Wars site was the huge replica of a starship and the wandering Emperor Palpatine’s Stormtroopers who asked visitors for their “proof of identification” in the Star Wars’ city where R2D2 and other droids lay around rusting away. Still under construction is another Star Wars’ ride that will open in January, according to signs at the park.

Our visit included a few high fives with Goofy and Pluto and a glimpse of Mickey and Minnie dressed up in their fine holiday attire. A ride around the park on the Disney Railroad saved us a little energy traveling from land to land with a stop at New Orleans Square where we enjoyed delicious chicken and jambalaya at the French Market Restaurant while listening to the Swamp Talk Dixieland Band.

A couple and their two teenage daughters invited us to sit down with them at the restaurant’s outdoor tables and began a delightful conversation about their annual trips to Disneyland from Seattle.

Making our rounds we stopped in the many stores and outlets, and my wife found many holiday gifts for family members on their shelves and with the street vendors. There are so many specialty stores and Disney gift retailers at the two parks.

We enjoyed an earlier taste of Winter Wonderland food in California Adventure’s Festival of Holidays. It included a fried turkey slider and a beef pot roast sandwich topped off with two soft drinks. We marked it down in our Tasting Passport that is good through Jan. 6, 2020. The foods offered in the Festival of Holidays’ 14 restaurants were the favorites of many guests holding annual Disneyland and California Adventure Hopper passes with dining offerings.

Helping keep our energy up in the late afternoon at the park, we shared a Ghirardelli chocolate chip waffle cone in California Adventure at Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. A live showing of “Frozen” was staged for the guests and children at the Hyperion Theater that afternoon.

Unfortunately, we missed much of the day’s festivities in our travels including the new holiday Festival of Lights parade on Main Street, many of the newer rides we had not enjoyed in the past and some of the continuous stage shows in the different lands. We left as the nightly fireworks lit up the night sky above the brightly lit Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. We could have spent a week at the resort and not seen everything.

I hope to make a return trip to this fantastic park with many thanks to those who helped us. There are many changes to see with many more to come. Disneyland Parks are indeed a must-visit destination for all the family, young and old.

Learn more about Disneyland and California Adventure online at https://disneyland.disney.go.com or on their Google Play app.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.