A Meditation on Disneyland

“Disney World incorporates some lessons learned in the original gold mine called Disneyland that opened 16 years ago at Anaheim, California. Some changes are minor. At Orlando the vinyl leaves on the Swiss Family Robinson Tree are draped with live Spanish moss. No such decoration at Anaheim. Disney World’s 18-story Cinderella Castle is more than twice as high as its Anaheim counterpart and houses a lavish restaurant. Anaheim has only one President, an animated Mr. Lincoln, but Disney World’s Hall of Presidents offers all 36 of them- in costume, in motion, and getting along famously.”

This quote is from Life magazine’s cover story of Walt Disney World’s opening, published October 15, 1971. The article makes Disney World out to be the vacation kingdom of the world- and it is! But as I read this, I thought of old Disneyland. No spanish moss, no castle restaurant, no presidents besides Honest Abe… But somehow, during my recent trip out west, Disneyland stole my heart from Walt Disney World, and I don’t know if it will ever get it back.

An essential part of the Magic Kingdom experience on both coasts is Main Street U.S.A. It’s the first part of the theme park you experience, and it sets up your expectations for the rest of the park. Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. understands its objective. It doesn’t try to be the place for Disney merchandise because that’s what the neighboring World of Disney store in Downtown Disney strives for. Instead, Main Street U.S.A. features smaller stores with unique identities that keep crowds flowing up the street towards the main attraction. Main Street U.S.A. also takes advantage of its theming to incorporate Disney stories that otherwise couldn’t fit in the park, but rightfully belong, such as Mary Poppins and The Happiest Millionaire. In the evening, Main Street U.S.A.’s objective changes slightly from a warm welcome to a tender goodbye. At Walt Disney World, leaving the Magic Kingdom is often a nightmare caused by the evening parade and the chaotic stores, but at Disneyland, it is calm and charming; the Disneyland guest can relax on the curb to castle-gaze, a luxurious freedom granted nowhere else within American borders. You’re given a true choice of staying for a float and some shopping or leaving to dream about a surreal day now passed.

Special freedoms are not only for the guests of Disneyland. The characters seem to actually live there. They are citizens of Disneyland instead of distant celebrities constantly guarded by self-important character watchmen. Alice and the Mad Hatter can play with guests, Br’er Bear can frolic around Critter Country, and Hans and Otto can climb to the Matterhorn’s peak. Because the characters here are granted more freedom, guests can liberate themselves to a higher level where they, too, begin to see Disneyland as their imagination’s playground. When everyone else is able to act on this same level, Disney’s main objective of authenticity is brought to the outermost rim of reality.

Authenticity is achieved when any contradictory elements are removed or hidden. Disneyland’s execution of the Rivers of America illustrates this precisely. The river is a part of New Orleans Square, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Critter Country, and integrates elements of each land without contradicting any guest’s view. There are so many types of boats on the river: a sailing ship, a steam-powered riverboat, rafts, and canoes. They make this river feel real, important, and natural. Each boat offers a different perspective of the river. It’s more than landscape, more than an effective transition; it has multiple attractions that each hold value.

Along the Rivers of America sits a land Walt Disney World has never known: New Orleans Square. This land is imaginative and colorful. The feeling of magic and fantasy here is on a whole other level compared to Walt Disney World’s counterpart, Liberty Square. New Orleans Square is full of high energy from its winding streets to its live entertainment. It’s a place you want to explore, and it features two of the greatest attractions of all time: Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.

In addition to the variety of attractions, Disneyland has longer rides than Walt Disney World does. When an attraction is longer (or even if it just seems longer), it is more immersive. The deeper you’re immersed, the greater affect the ride has on you. That is a vital part of how memorable an attraction is. Naturally, if you love an attraction, you will probably come back to experience it again. A direct comparison between Disneyland and Walt Disney World is found in Pirates of the Caribbean. Disneyland’s version is 16-minutes long, with more stories, imagery, and drops that make it the hands-down winner when compared to Walt Disney World’s version. Another example that parallels length and quality is Indiana Jones Adventure. This attraction’s queue extends deep into Adventureland, and the ride itself has enough suspense and thrill to drive an entire film.

Although the entire park is a gem, Disneyland’s crowning jewel is Fantasyland. It has a perfect balance of charm and whimsy. Its approach to fantasy is a classic one, focusing on original, timeless Disney stories. Guests of all ages can thoroughly enjoy it because everyone knows the stories of Snow White, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio. Disneyland’s Fantasyland is pure and immersive; it encompasses enough space so that when you’re there, it feels like Fantasyland is the only place in the world. Although every attraction here is golden, there is one that stands out, visually and emotionally: the Matterhorn. In this attraction, instead of witnessing your favorite stories come alive, you create your very own story. As you board your bobsled and Hans and Otto climb the mountain’s peak, you feel wholeheartedly that the fantasies of your wildest imagination are finally reality.

There is a unique feeling you get when you enter Disneyland. A little voice tells you,  “Walt was here,” and when you leave, that voice says, “He’s still here.” This is something only Disneyland can do. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are so different, and even if they tried, one could never be exactly like the other. But that’s okay. They don’t have to be the same, and they shouldn’t strive to be. Disneyland doesn’t have Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom, just as Walt Disney World doesn’t have Storybookland Canal Boats or the Matterhorn. Neither resort is better, only different, and it all comes down to personal preference. For now, I prefer Disneyland, but nothing is for certain in our ever-changing world. The only thing I do know for certain is where my mind goes when it wanders, and I wrote this essay with only one objective: to find out why.


Real Snow on Main Street- Almost..

Each issue, my friends at Celebrations Press do a fantastic job of bringing the magic right to subscribers’ doorsteps. One of my favorite sections of the magazine is the letters from the editors. Tim Foster‘s message really happened to stick out in my mind in this issue.

Titled “Brrr…!,” the letter discussed the unbearably cold weather most of the United States experienced this winter. He mentioned a fact that “during one week in January, there was snow in 49 of the 50 states, with the exception being, you guessed it, Florida.” Florida is the place where my family escapes to when we can’t handle another snow day. However, this year was a little different. Although Florida didn’t have snow, it presented us with a below freezing day on December 26.

I started off the day with jeans, a Grand Floridian t-shirt, and a Mickey Mouse sweater. With one foot out the door of our room, I quickly realized there was no way that was going to cut it. I quickly put on my winter coat, as did the rest of my group, and we hit the road to Magic Kingdom for some early morning magic. For Christmas week, it was strangely uncrowded, and we encountered many short lines for attractions and even a few characters (possibly because half of the park was in line to meet Rapunzel).

By mid-afternoon, we added gloves and scarves to our wardrobes, but kept on going with our day. The cold was definitely not going to slow us down.Unfortunately, we didn’t consider what would happen when the minuscule amount of sun we had disappeared for the evening.

As the moon rose high above Cinderella Castle, the temperature declined. Although Weather by Day claims that the record low for the month of December is 20 degrees, I believe it had to have been colder. Despite the fact that we had three layers on, the cold was tearing us down. We huddled into the Emporium and investigated its stock of sweaters, hoodies, and sweatshirts. My friend, Emily, and I journeyed over to the little girl’s section and grabbed two extra-large light pink “value sweatshirts,” which certainly lived up to their name. They were only $20 a piece, and mine has become one of my favorite items of clothing to lounge in.

We added our fourth layers and decided to brave the cold once more. Wishes was going to begin soon, so my family chose a prime viewing spot in the middle of Main Street USA. Even with a fourth layer, the heat we discovered indoors stayed there when we left. There was only one obvious thing we hadn’t tried: hot chocolate! We sent my dad on a hot chocolate run and anxiously awaited his return. I must add that my dad is absolutely passionate about his Disney hot chocolate. As I was writing this article, I asked him what made him so obsessed with it. He replied, “The taste is so natural and delicious and unlike any other hot chocolate I’ve ever had.” The moment I sipped my hot chocolate on that frosty December night, I wholeheartedly agreed with him. There was never anything so warm and tasty as that. It gave us a slight energy boost, enough to keep us in the parks until 1 am.

When we got home, and I showed the pictures to my friends, I always pointed out what we were wearing. My friends and family had a really hard time believing me. This is why I was so excited to see Tim’s letter. Someone else had experienced this prime example of Mother Nature’s indecisive mind! However, he described it from a perspective I had never even thought of. Tim wrote, “it’s a wonderfully unique experience to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate in the Magic Kingdom.” That statement couldn’t hold more truth. In the blazing summer, or really the majority of the year, one wouldn’t dream of getting a hot beverage instead of a refreshing Dole Whip.

Months later, as I write this on a sunny beach in South Florida, I realize that our cold day in the Kingdom wasn’t so bad after all. It was quite magical, a gift, really. It’s not like we let the cold get in the way of our fun, and at least it didn’t rain! Then again, had it rained, instead of soapy snowflakes on Main Street, there would’ve been some of the pure, natural, catch-on-your-tongue variety. To that I say, bring it on, Jack Frost! The more, the magical!

Faith, Trust, & Pixie Dust,