I’d been to Tokyo Disneyland (in the mid 1980s) and Florida’s DisneyWorld (in the mid 2000s) but until recently I’d never been to the real deal Californian original; DISNEYLAND. Our trip was on 3 weekdays just after the Labour Day long weekend, in hopes of avoiding crowds (which I’m allergic to nowadays). The park was surprisingly busy, but thankfully the lines for rides were’t too long and Julia & I had a lovely time, despite Anaheim being hotter than Malificent’s cauldron.
Our flight landed at 10AM and it was already 96 °F, setting the trend for a sweaty three days. At the convenient (and oh so pricey) GRAND CALIFORNIAN HOTEL, the checkin clerk initially confused me with a Greg Baker, who was staying for 9 nights, not 3 (Greg has deeper pockets than James). The clerk typed furiously on their computer for a few minutes, called someone, asked questions, frowned, hung up & stared at their screen again – doing a fine impression of someone who’d lost my (recently reconfirmed) reservation – when suddenly, we were IN!
Our room wasn’t ready though, so leaving our bags, we eagerly hustled over to the park, scarfing a churro on our way to the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN ride, which was blissfully air-conditioned (alleluia). After entering our little boat, we were treated to a Disney celebration of public drunkenness, as animatronic pirates brawled over gunpowder, women, or rum. Departing a refreshingly cool Caribbean and reentered a sweltering Anaheim, we cooled off with a DOLE WHIP (soft serve sorbet) before THE ENCHANTED TIKI ROOM, where birds had a nutty singalong (apparently DISNEYLAND’S first audio-animatronics, debuting in 1963). Then PING; a text message informed us that our room was ready, and we scuttled back to the hotel. The view from our room was spectacular, but they’d given us two double beds instead of the California King I’d booked, (and verbally reconfirmed at checkin). Too tired now to move rooms, we opted to stay in the 2-bed room, like a 1950s TV couple. Then ‘Lucy & Ricky‘ had dinner at the NAPA ROSE restaurant, followed by an after-dinner stroll, and canoe-sized cocktails at TRADER SAM’S ENCHANTED TIKI BAR in the nearby Disneyland Hotel.
Day 2 was spent at Disneyland’s sister theme-park on the other side of our hotel; CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE, where the highlight was SOARING AROUND THE WORLD, a sort of IMAX motion-ride that gives a pretty decent illusion of flying over the world’s landmarks. Lunch at CARTHAY CIRCLE restaurant was probably the best meal of our trip. Next was some Pixar flava; TALK WITH CRUSH and the MONSTERS INC. ride. We finished that day by meeting our good friends Rhode & Sylvia for a pleasant dinner at RALPH BRENNAN’S JAZZ KITCHEN outside the parks, in the DOWNTOWN DISNEY shopping area. Then back to our room to sit on our balcony and enjoy our spectacular nighttime view of the lights of PIXAR PIER.
Day 3 was spent back in Disneyland, where there were many more people, even though it wasn’t the weekend yet. After being fortified with a corn dog, we rode the classic IT’S A SMALL WORLD ride, for the retro-optimistic view that humans might actually get along despite their differences.. followed by two circuits of the entire park on the lovely DISNEYLAND RAILROAD. Alighting in a very busy New Orleans Square, we went to the HAUNTED MANSION, which was decorated in “Nightmare Before Christmas” seasonal Halloween regalia, and had time for a relaxing voyage on the MARK TWAIN RIVERBOAT before our lunch reservation.
I remember enjoying The BLUE BAYOU RESTAURANT in the Tokyo version of Disneyland in the 1980s, and Julia & I had a late lunch (of Monte Christo sandwiches) at the Anaheim original. The illusion of sitting outside and dining by a nighttime bayou is very well done, and we had a great table right by the water.
In Tokyo and Florida I’d seen variations of everything on our trip so far, Julia too has done many Disney trips before and had seen it all. However, henceforth everything was new to both of us, as we plunged into GALAXY’S EDGE, the new STAR WARS part of Disneyland, which manages to be a satisfying experience, despite having only one ride. The attention to set-dressing detail is outstanding, and the illusion that you’re on an alien world is almost perfect.. only spoiled by throngs of suburban American slobs in the foreground (typical Disneyland punters are a pretty misshapen bunch, but not quite hideous enough to pass as outer space aliens).
GALAXY’S EDGE is a representation of a world unseen in STAR WARS movies thus far, BATUU; a planet in the galactic Outer Rim where smugglers & scoundrels hide from prying eyes of the powers that be. Parked at the centre of a town called BLACK SPIRE OUTPOST is the MILLENNIUM FALCON, the star of SMUGGLER’S RUN, the only ride/attraction at present (more are due in 2020). Seeing Han & Chewie’s iconic spaceship was pretty breathtaking, and we lined up to ‘ride’ it as soon as we arrived, seeing stormtroopers & Kylo Ren, which was fun. Later, Julia saw a Wookiee and a Rey, but all in all the number of CHARACTERS was sparse. Maybe elsewhere in DISNEYLAND you can get away with Mickey & co. only appearing very infrequently, but in an area that is supposed to be an alien world you need.. well, ALIENS.
I’d learned earlier that day that Disney won’t let you have booze in a sit-down restaurant in their version of New Orleans (which would start a riot in the real Big Easy) but here in STAR WARS land, Mum & Dad get rewarded for pushing their bawling kids in a stroller across the blazing Outer Rim of the galaxy, with a well earned cocktail at OGA’S CANTINA. As evening fell, Julia & I eagerly took our seats in this bar, for our Disney-approved allotment of booze (2 drink maximum; no pub fights in Batuu!) The cocktails we tried were a “JET JUICE”, a “DAGOBAH SLUG SLINGER” and an “OUTER RIM”. There were alien themed food platter/bar snacks to be had too, but we were still too full (of our New Orleans lunch) to try them.
Cantinas full of motley alien creatures are some of the most iconic moments in the STAR WARS films, but sadly, this particular outer space cantina contains only humans. Disney really needs to add some theatre here; an alien barman? Twilik go-go dancers in a cage? Storm troopers checking ID? A blaster brawl between alien gun-slingers? The droid DJ was a nice touch, but this cantina, and GALAXY’S EDGE in general, needs a lot more STAR WARS ‘wildlife‘ to complete the illusion of being offworld. Disney could get all kinds of colourful characters for free if they’d simply allow fans to dress as STAR WARS characters, but cosplay anywhere at Disneyland is verboten for anyone other than little kids. Fine, but that means that Disney will have to use ‘cast members‘ to bring this place to life. At the moment, the setting is fantastic, but the theatre of the space is almost absent.
As we left the bar, night had fallen over BLACK SPIRE OUTPOST and its distinctive topography was coloured by floodlights, making the place even more spectacular than it had been in daylight. Though tempted to soak in more of this ambience, we’d already set our hearts on watching the ELECTRIC PARADE, and scurried over to Main Street as fast as our tired bodies would allow. Typically, it was too crowded to sit, so we stood, and by the time the (spectacular) parade was ended I was pretty tired, so we went back to the hotel for a nightcap. The next morning was a Saturday, and we checked out of the hotel just as a weekend horde checked in. I’d had a very good time, but was relieved to be avoiding the incoming weekend crush. We flew out, arriving home with a whole weekend left to do our sketches.
These days I’m rarely able to complete a detailed watercolour on site. I get the line drawing done, and first few washes, doing the rest from photos later. Even that process presupposes that I have a comfortable place to sit, but DISNEYLAND was either too dark (in the bars) or too hot/crowded with no place to SIT (outside) to get any drawing done (I cannot physically draw standing up these days). So these all these sketches were done when we arrived back in San Francisco, from memories and several photos of each site.