I WILL ONLY SAY THIS ONCE: until about a year ago, I didn’t really have any interest in visiting a Disney Park that wasn’t Paris. Alright? I admit it.
This wasn’t because I didn’t like the sound of ’em – more because I felt INCREDIBLY protective and defensive of Disneyland Paris (my French baby!), and I worried that visiting another Disney Resort would make it cry. Whatever, I’m weird.
If you’re a DLP fan you’ll know what I mean: it’s a regular occurence that Brenda from down the road who has never stepped foot in our beloved Parisian resort will tell you it’s “NOT A PATCH ON FLORIDA!!” and you will seethe silently while trying really hard not to burst into tears.
So that sums it up for you, really. Defensive Sophie. Sad Paris. Stfu Brenda. etc etc. But the more I thought about it, the more I was like “Sophie, Disney Parks don’t have feelings,” and the less I felt like I needed to stick to just the one. After all, there is a lot of world to see, which means there are also a lot of Disney Resorts to see, and I decided that top of my list was the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
I mean, Disneyland is WALT’S PARK. He walked in it. He spent years dreaming of it and planning for it and building it. He had a little apartment above its fire station. There are photos of him exploring it, all of which make me sob very loudly. How can you be a Disney fan and NOT want to see that? (This is what I asked Past Sophie. She said she wasn’t sure and then felt a bit silly).
SO WE BOUGHT OUR TICKETS! One day, two Parks (you have to cap up the ‘P’ because Disney caps up the ‘P’ okay, please let it be known that I am nothing if not a stickler for Disney accuracy despite my usual lack of interest in capital letters). In an ideal world we would have opted for a 273-day/two-Park ticket but beggars can’t be choosers and we had a lot of elsewhere-California to peruse.
The car park in Disneyland is called the ‘Mickey and Friends parking structure’. Is that not the cutest thing you ever heard? I know that it is. We don’t call them ‘parking structures’ in England, we’re just like “OI MATE WHERE’S YER CAR PARK??” so the concept of a parking structure was all very new and exciting. AND the best thing is that this one LITERALLY MEANS MICKEY AND FRIENDS, because we parked in the Donald area and then we took a photo of it and I cried a bit:
Well who wouldn’t. Did you ever see a more pastel-candy-perfect-aesthetically-pleasing parking sign, because I sure as hell did not.
It turned out we needed to get on a cute little tram to take us from the parking structure to Downtown Disney, which I was only too pleased to do. A TRAM! A MAGICAL TRAM! It sounds dull and practical but the elderly lady in me was very impressed by said tram: barely any wait time and very friendly Cast Members. A+++ re: the trams.
BUT WE DIGRESS, because the real excitement OBVIOUSLY starts as soon as you exit the tram and realise you are standing in Downtown Disney, staring at things that you have lowkey (read: HIGHKEY) obsessed over since the halcyon days of 2012 Tumblr.
Was it emotional? Yes it was. But I was also very conscious that we had BUT ONE DAY in Disneyland and that I wanted to stuff as many activities into it as humanly possible, so we scurried along to the front gates of Disneyland.
Seeing the railroad and flowerbed Mickey and ACTUAL DISNEYLAND kind of took me aback. It was surreal: you know when you have a dream and it’s very vivid and as you wake up you need a few moments to realise it didn’t actually happen? It was a bit like that, except I kept having to tell myself that it WAS happening. As soon as I saw the main entrance I instantly thought of Saving Mr. Banks, and then I thought of Walt, and then I felt like my heart was going to set alight, but in the kind of way where I wouldn’t need a fire engine or anything else.
(I cried again at this point. I know right, quelle surprise. I probably cried some more on Main Street. I AM NOW EMPLOYED AS DISNEYLAND’S TOWN CRIER! They bring me out on the hour, every hour, and I bawl uncontrollably while regaling guests with tales of That Time Mickey Mouse Remembered Me.)
(I know a town crier doesn’t actually cry. Imagine if they did. A new career path for Sophi— OH, WE DIGRESS AGAIN!)
In my eyes, you have to begin your Disney trip with a favourite attraction. Mine is Pirates of the Caribbean – I always say “Oh! I don’t know! How could I possibly choose?!” but like, if someone told me that I had to select a favourite or they’d kick me in the shin or something then I would just say “PIRATES,” no questions asked. (Phantom Manor and “it’s a small world” are my joint second, in case you were wondering.)
Seeing Pirates from the outside was CRAZY. So, so crazy. Its facade is v. different to Paris’s so that was another “wow” moment for me – in Paris, Pirates is kind of nestled towards the back of Adventureland and genuinely looks like somewhere Jack Sparrow would hang out on a Friday night, whereas the Disneyland Pirates is very… smart and beautiful and grand.
The ride itself is wonderful, which is nothing less than I expected. The best way I can think to describe it is LIKE PARIS BUT BACKWARDS, but obviously that’s not a very good description because Paris came after Anaheim, anyway. What I mean is, the village-y scenes come second to the skeleton-y scenes (SKELETON-Y! I AM SO ELOQUENT) in Anaheim, which is the opposite of Paris, and I found that very interesting.
I said “I can feel Walt” a lot as we made our way around Disneyland, which would no doubt sound dumb to some people, but I really could feel him. He was there in Pirates and everywhere else. While I was sitting on the ride I thought about the piece I wrote for the Walt Disney Family Museum, about how PotC was created, and I had this little SWELL of pride. Walt made this, he thought about this for years, and now I am here.
The Haunted Mansion has always been one of those attractions-I-feel-like-I’ve-been-on-even-though-I-haven’t, probably because I have listened to the ride spiel more times than I have ordered Domino’s pizza. I know it by heart. I love it. I want to hug the Ghost Host and tell him to CALM DOWN BECAUSE I WON’T TOUCH HIS DAMN SAFETY BAR IT’S ALRIGHT JUST BREATHE. You know? Anyway, despite feeling this way I have in fact NOT been on a Haunted Mansion ride IRL, and I was kinda disappointed to realise that when we were due to visit there’d be no ‘classic’ attraction to go on, due to the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.
You know what, though? Haunted Mansion Holiday is a HOOT. Russ and I had so much fun on it, AND it wasn’t like I didn’t get to see what the original mansion looked like – we had a good ol’ stare at the tombstones in the queue (which anyone who’s read my Disney poems will know I am obsessed with) and I did a lot of “LOOK! TOMB SWEET TOMB! THE WALLPAPER!” gasps as we swung around in our doom buggy. In short, it was amazing. I would’ve loved to see the stretching room in its full glory and experience the whole ride as it was originally intended, but I guess not being able to just means I WILL HAVE TO RETURN SOMEDAY.
After the Haunted Mansion I felt like I was really getting into the swing of things. I had a packet of tissues to hand in case of crying emergencies, I had eaten a Disneyland chocolate muffin (MAGICAL and much better than a standard chocolate muffin I will have you know) and I realised I was walking around like I knew where stuff WAS. That was because I kinda did – I’d studied the Park map in slightly obsessive detail ahead of our trip and that meant I knew (albeit roughly) where Fantasyland was, how we could get to Big Thunder Mountain, and so on. I’d expected that Disneyland would feel like this unfamiliar-yet-wonderful place, but after being there for an hour or so I genuinely felt as ‘at home’ as I do in Paris. Isn’t that nice?
(Sidenote: if you thought of Jungle Cruise skipper Albert Awol when I said “Isn’t that nice?”, pls CALL ME NOW AND BE MY BEST FRIEND.)
This is where stuff starts to get hazy. Do you ever find that? You’re on the holiday of a lifetime and you’re like “I WILL NEVER FORGET THIS. NEVER. I WILL REMEMBER EVERY SECOND UNTIL THE LAST BIT OF BREATH LEAVES MY COLD DEAD BODY!!” but then three days later you realise you are in fact struggling to recall Quite A Lot Of It and you wish you’d written it all down in a little notepad or something.
I know we walked past Splash Mountain. I say “walked past” because YES I am one of those boring people who doesn’t really like getting drenched on water rides. I wish I was different and that I LAUGHED IN THE FACE OF DANGER and CARED NOT ABOUT DAMP JEANS but I am afraid that this is just me and has been since a chilly school trip to Alton Towers in 1998.
No reason why we couldn’t have a look at Splash Mountain, though. Isn’t it pretty?! ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH.
As I said earlier, “it’s a small world” is another all-time favourite of mine. It’s also an attraction I’ve written about for the Walt Disney Family Museum, despite never having actually experienced the original ride in person, so it was very high on the Disneyland to-do list.
Being on IASW in person was pretty overwhelming – I felt as if I had to cherish every single moment and see/hear/smell EVERYTHING. It was so much fun to see real-life-Mary-Blair-flair, and I also loved spotting the Disney characters along the way because we don’t have ’em in Paris. I know opinion on these are kind of divided, and I get why, but as a one-off Guest I didn’t feel that the addition of Lilo and co detracted from the attraction in any way for me, if that makes sense. I had a blast.
Crying uses up a lot of energy, so we decided it was time for lunch. We went to the Red Rose Taverne in Fantasyland, which is Beauty and the Beast-themed and LITERALLY IDENTICAL INSIDE to Au Chalet de la Marionnette in Disneyland Paris, except that Au Chalet is Pinocchio-inspired. It was bizarre and slightly surreal, but in a nice way.
After we ate, we carried on with some attractions:
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (ADORABLE, and we met both Pooh and Eeyore after which was wonderful)
- Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (they really did continue. I enjoyed myself a lot, cried in the queue line and spent too much in the gift shop)
- Big Thunder Mountain (SO GOOD SO GOOD. Also really cool to see the queue area and how different it is to Paris. ALSO x2: COULD NOT BELIEVE THE QUEUE WAS 15 MINUTES AT 3PM. A SEPTEMBER MIRACLE)
- Mickey’s Toontown (beyond cute. I bought a proper mouse ear hat which I have ALWAYS WANTED and then we met Mickey in his house)
- The parade (I won’t lie to you, we kinda stumbled across the parade, but I was really glad we did. Mickey PLAYS THE DRUMS in California and very good at them he was too)
- The castle (rude not to. Genuinely. I don’t ever use this word but it was EXQUISITE)
- Jungle Cruise (a classic in every sense of the word. I laughed too loud at the skipper’s jokes cos I got overexcited)
- Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room (the best ever. Walt was in this room, and I know you think I’m odd for saying it but he WAS. He was singing with us and laughing along. I had a photo taken with José afterwards and it felt like I had taken a pilgrimage to the US purely for that. He looked at me while he was singing and I burst into tears. Colette! Suzette! Mimi! Gigi! Fifi! Sophie!)
I know I rushed those last few summaries a bit, but that is because we are 2,000 words in and not everyone has as keen an interest in reading lengthy blog posts as I do. My apologies.
BUT I HAVE TO MENTION THIS NEXT PART, because it’s the part where I met my internet pal Katie! I can’t even remember when Katie and I first started chatting online – I think it was via Instagram a few years ago! – but she is an absolute gem and when she heard I was coming to Disneyland we decided to meet up. She’s a CM, so she had some super-useful tips for us as we planned our visit – then when we actually arrived in Disneyland, we met her and her fiancé Mitch and they were the sweetest.
This photo makes me so happy! I can’t wait until I go back to Disneyland or Katie comes to Paris (or England, though we don’t have a Disney Park so I mean…) and we can meet again. Sort-of-sidenote, but one of my favourite things about this whole holiday was being able to hang out with people I’ve made friends with online – when we went to the Walt Disney Family Museum I met Bri, the museum’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, who I’ve been emailing and working with for over a year, and I was also lucky enough to visit the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where my lovely and super-talented friend Rachel works. CAN YOU BELIEVE how cool the internet is? Cos I can’t. I wouldn’t know any of these amazing women without the wonders of social media – I know it has its drawbacks in other ways, but I’m beyond grateful for it.
OH LOOK, I’ve just added another 400 words without trying. STOP TALKING, SOPHIE. I kinda can’t, though. Not without telling you about the end of our day, which took place in DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE! We didn’t get over there until about 7pm, which at the time I was all “Oh it’ll be fine” about, but then I realised:
a) we had missed Oswald’s meet ‘n’ greet (Oswald! ANOTHER REJECTION FOR HIM oh my god)
b) World of Color started at 8.15pm which only gave us an hour to see everything else
c) I had made a grave error and should have planned DCA into our day a LOT earlier on.
But hey, you live, you learn. We made a beeline for Oswald’s store – YES HE HAS A STORE AND IT IS DELIGHTFUL – and I bought a couple of pins and the most adorable sweater. Real talk I am SO HAPPY Oswald is getting the recognition he deserves – I was sad I hadn’t been able to meet him but I felt a weird surge of pride in knowing that he had his own little place in Walt’s original resort.
Walking around DCA was super-exciting – it was all geared up for Halloween and the decorations were beautiful. The whole Park just felt CLASSY and it was so much bigger than I’d expected – we could have spent at least two full days exploring it, I’m sure.
I know everyone says it but CARS LAND IS INCREDIBLE. I am not the biggest Cars fan by any stretch of the imagination but like… it is impossible to walk around that area and not leave with 528 new Instagram photos to edit and a Mater plush. It just is.
We ended our visit with World of Color – I wasn’t sure what to expect (for some reason I’ve never watched the whole thing on YouTube, which is very off-brand for me) but I LOVED it. The way the water is used honestly took my breath away, and I may or may not have shed another few tears. There is something about being in a Disney Park at night with all those other people and feeling all that anticipation… I don’t know, it always makes me get shivers.
I should probably stop now, because we’re heading towards 3,000 words and I KNOW WE CAN GET THERE if I don’t abandon this laptop asap. But if ya made it this far, thank you for joining me in my reminiscing. If you’re going to Disneyland in the near-ish future and you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them as best I can! In the meantime, I will be thinking ’bout José and wondering How Soon Is Too Soon when it comes to a return visit. HAPPY DISNEYLAND BLOG DAY EVERYONE, I’m sorry this took almost three months! xoxo