Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)
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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Of Mice and Men

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."
—Walter E. Disney, July 17, 1955 4:43pm

When I was young every child I knew wanted to go to Disneyland.

In the United Kingdom of the 70's however that privilege was reserved for a very select few since it was so far away and so incredibly expensive to get to that only the children you loathed ever got to go. Now of course there is a park just a hop and skip from Paris, and visiting Disneyland is rivalled by all sorts of other amusement parks based on other themes and filled with rides more dramatic and daring than anything it offers.

However, Disneyland California was the second most visited themepark on earth in 2009, second only to Disneyworld in Florida, and nearly 16 million people went. So it still has a bit of cache and I was still VERY excited at the prospect of going when we stopped cycling.

I had been once before to the Californian park with my parents and brother during my university years. We had such a fun time, despite all being old enough to know better, and I was really looking foward to going there with Phil who had never been.

Because, for whatever reason, the idea of going has a magical feel. One maybe an super-cool, ironic, hip late-30-something (and I'm not saying that I am any of those things) but there is something appealing about suspending all your cynicism, popping your brain in a jar, handing over your life for a day and being swept along in a sunny, ever-smiling world of make believe.

That prospect is even more exciting when you don't have to pay. Guille and Jano, who had us to stay so generously in their lovely Orange County home, swept to the top of the 'most amazing hosts of the year' competition by lending us their two 'Annual Passes' to the California site. This allowed us free entry all day to Disneyland, the sister 'California Adventure' park and to the car parks.

And so having woken up early with the tingling feeling of Christmas morning or a birthday we leapt out of bed, rushed through some breakfast, jumped in our hire car and headed off.

Getting there was ridiculously easy. Guille and Jano live about 25 minutes away. All we had to do was drive to the I-5, join it northbound and then follow the signs to Disneyland. Our car, appropriately named a Ford 'Escape', practically guided itself there and before we knew it we were pulling up at the entrance to an enormous car park.

There must have been space for something in the region of thirty thousand cars. I imagine it´s a car park you could in fact see from space. It is the largest single tarmac car holding area I have ever seen. It presented our first challenge. Would the attendent look closely at the Annual Pass and spot that I only bear a passing resemblance to Guillermina de Leonardis or would we sail effortlessly in?

The answer was the latter of course. With a beeeeeep,a smile and a hearty 'have a nice day' we were admitted to the car park and followed the arm waving attendents to our parking spot.

And 'ridiculously easy' was the tone for the rest of the day. We were guided to a bus transit to the park. As we approached the stop a bus glided up. We boarded along with other excited people, some already sporting mouse ears, and moments later were driven about half a mile to the entrance. From there we were only seconds away from the large row of admission gates where a bank of cheery octagenarians wielded ticket zappers. We strode confidently up, popped our thumbs over the pictures on our Annual Passes, were zapped efficiently, handed a map and allowed inside.

And there we were. Disneyland. A flowerbed in the shape of Mickey's head confirmed it. The sun was shining, ten hours of visiting time lay before us, we had a glossy map in our hands and a welcome sign told us 'Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy'!

Wow. Could it really live up to all this portentous sentiment?

Well, the answer is yes. Definitely yes - if you go on a Monday in November. Because then you will have the place relatively to yourselves. You will only have to share Disneyland and the California Adventure park with twenty two thousand others, not the seventy plus thousand who come on peak days. No queue for a ride will be longer than ten minutes and most rides will have no real queue at all. It will also not be as achingly hot as it is in the height of summer and you will not fall over anything like as many squealing four year olds as the park has the capacity to entertain.

And they really plan to entertain you. No moment is allowed to be dull. If you should have to wait for a ride then they will have someone chatting to you and telling you things, or stuff to look at on the walls or videos playing or music pumping out. It is as if the park has been designed by a frantic parent desperate that you should never cry or be unhappy or bored.

We were none of those things. We looked at our map, formed a plan of attack, and got going. The park has a central point from which all the 'lands', Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland etc. radiate out. At this central point stands a statue of Walt and Mickey, Man and Mouse locked together for eternity at the heart of the whole enterprise. We decided to head for that point and then visit the attractions in a clockwise direction one 'land' after another.

It worked like a charm. We spun our way round the park enjoying one ride after another and going on over twenty during the course of the day. This, considering the occasional queue, the fact that the rides last anything from three minutes to seventeen, that one has to navigate between them, have the occasional rest and a bit of food really meant we got a lot of bang for our utterly unspent buck.

We went on water rides where we got soaked, we went on thrill rides where we were thrown about, we went on theme rides where we were scared or immersed into an imaginary world. There were fast ones and slow ones, outside rides and indoor rides, laughs and screams and oohs and ahhs.

One thing we were struck by was that they know how to tell a jolly good story. Most rides were really were a journey through a tale that we were already familiar with from its Disney film. There was pleasure in reliving those stories and the delight of recognition of characters we loved as children. There was a clear trajectory in everything and you the visitor were always treated as an audience.

We loved the Haunted House, the Splash Mountain ride, the Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Winnie the Pooh ride and the Adventures of Mr Toad. We flew with Peter Pan, we shared a jeep with Indiana Jones, we went to Sleeping Beauty's Castle and we saw Mary Poppins dancing in the street.

Each part of the park was a mini film set, moving you from one place to another. There was Main street, a super shiny version of the central street of any small American town and which for all the world looked like Florence in Oregon or Anacortes in Washington or one of so many others where I had declared, 'It looks just like Disneyland'. There was a recreation of New Orleans, there was an area that was like the Wild West in the Gold Rush era and in the California Adventure there was an Alpine village. All beautifully landscaped with mature trees and lovely plants and with paths and roadways that were meticulously kept.

It was preternaturally clean. We could only imagine in the end that there was a twenty four hour staff beavering about constantly making sure that there was no rubbish on the ground, that no litter bin ever got full and that no surface was allowed to be messy or corner filled with dust. Every ride looked as if it had been refurbished yesterday. There were none that felt old or outdated or where you laughed at creaking machinery or wax figures that looked worn and tired.

Every staff member was pleasant, every cast member was professional, they had the whole thing down to an art. I needed some lip salve halfway through the day but was sure that no Disney shop stuffed to the hilt with cuddly toys and bejewelled tops would have it. I asked however and was told that every store stocks 'essentials' whereupon someone open a cupboard for me that was filled with basic medicines, tissues, batteries and all sorts of other practicalities and handed me the lip salve I was looking for.

In a word it was perfect! A proper Fantasyland. Fantasyland being my favourite part of all. For this area lies behind the famous Sleeping Beauty Castle, the one at the start of every Disney film, and contains sweet gentle rides and really magical air. Here carousels drift lazily round, tea cups spin wildly and the air is filled with music. The characters here are all from the classic Disney films like Snow White, Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland. It is like an out of body reimmersion into innocence where baddies are defeated and goodies win the day, where cats can speak and elephants can fly and where all your dreams come true.

I thought this part of the park would be completely dominated by children, patient parents at the side. Whilst there were lots, we quickly realised that there were a lot of people like us. Grown ups out alone. There were couples, groups of friends, gaggles of golf buddies, bunches of business associates, mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, retirees, honeymooners, people alone, all pointing and saying 'oh look it's Pinocchio's daring adventure...let's go!' or 'shall we visit Cinderella's house next'.

I was particularly amazed in the queue to meet...THE MOUSE! We had wandered into Toon Town where everything looks as though the world has lurched into a permanent cartoon state and even the sky doesn't look real. Here we could visit Mickey. I was a bit dubious about it, wondering if we would be sharing the experience with only small people and a bit awkward that we didn't usefully have some with us. I need not have worried. Most of the people in the queue had left childhood behind a lot longer ago than Phil and I and were utterly ruthless in their pursuit of an audience with a minature performer in a mouse suit (almost certainly a girl but don't say I said so) and ready to spend several minutes being photographed with them. And even though I knew all that, it was still fun and we had our photos taken too!

We grew up rather at five thirty when we went across to the other park, California Adventure. Less visually appealing than Disneyland, it is still rather under development and is being designed to compete with other parks that offer more spectacular 'thrills'. Here we went on our most adrenlin fuelled ride of the day, the California Screamin' rollercoaster. Hurtling you into the start like a bullet out of a gun, it then proceeds to throw you about with steep descents, sharp curves and upside down parts and is so much fun that we did it twice and made sure we were right at the front the second time. It was the best rollercoaster that I have ever been on and proved, if proof were needed, that unmitigated silliness is very good for the soul.

We were bouncing as the day drew to a close, the sun went down and the whole of Disneyland turned into an array of glittering lights and sparkling corners. We spent the last couple of hours of our visit watching a slick parade of singing and dancing characters and enjoying a final few rides. As the park began to empty we enjoyed the most magical bit of the day wandering around it in the quiet and reflecting on the fun we'd had.

We sat in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle which was all lit up and like a floating pink vision and watched the world go by. The castle looked so like the drawing at the start of the Disney films that I kept expecting the shooting star that goes in an arc across it to appear and recreate that moment.

We talked of how possible it would be to pick holes in the whole enterprise. Clearly Disneyland is a massive money making enterprise. Everything is so marketed that even the sprinkles on top of the cup cakes are in the shape of Mickey's head. There is plenty of merchandise to be bought and a rather odd insistence on 'Celebration' that makes one worried for the residents of Disney's town in Florida that bears that name. How on earth are the staff that nice all day? Surely they must start to go a bit mad. Perhaps that madness is just below the surface. It feels possible that some people like the suspended reality of a Disney world with its simple rules of good and bad, right and wrong, light and shade rather too much and forget that a infinitely more complex world with real problems exists and that the kind of perfection created there has a marginally fascistic quality that doesn't allow for any refusal.

However, we had had a wonderful day. We loved it and we left feeling that criticism would be utterly churlish.

We did as Walt had wished. We stepped outside of reality for one whole day and went to the happy place he envisioned.

And like all the best things in life. It had been free!

1 comment:

  1. I want to go now! Never had the slightest inkling to go before and now you have made me want to go! Grrrrr x

    ReplyDelete