For those of us, like my wife and me, who hold annual passes to a Disney theme park, repeated trips to the park/s can bring about a sort of malaise about Disney. We ride the same attractions, eat the same food, and see the same shows. This routine can devolve into complacency created by rote behavior and lack of awareness. We can find ourselves losing the magic that drew us to Disney in the first place. It is at times like these when we need to reignite the magic inside us by altering our perspective or changing our paradigm. There is much research on the topic of change. Some change involves making small changes in a known paradigm. This would be akin to going to Disneyland but riding rides you typically don’t ride or perhaps eating food at a locale you normally would not frequent. Deeper change involves changing the paradigm itself. How does this apply to the topic at hand? It is easy for us to make superficial changes to our visit to Disneyland but these small changes may not alter the outcome or our perspective. To help keep your love of Disney alive, I am suggesting you change your paradigm.
In a recent episode of the DisUnplugged, Pete Werner said, “You need to get outside the bubble.” At the time he was discussing how to keep the “magic” alive when clouds seem to be engulfing your Disney sunshine. This was so timely, as a couple of weeks ago I was watching a video where the individual was suggesting things every Disney diehard fan should experience at least once. The one that caught my attention, and the one that relates to what I want to share today was as follows. Every Disney fan should go to the park without getting on a single ride for the entire day at least once in their life time. After some thought, my wife and I decided to take this challenge. We would visit the park without riding any attractions. Before starting we set one major ground rule for ourselves. We decided that shows were not considered rides and were acceptable forms of entertainment for the day. With this in mind, let me share our day with you.
We arrived early enough to allow time to grab breakfast at Downtown Disney and still make it to Disneyland before it officially opened for the day. We found a bench at the end of Main Street, which was easy to do since most guests were standing at one of the roped off areas waiting to be released as so many hounds to the hunt. We people-watched as the crowd grew larger until the announcement came over the loud speaker that the park was open. We remained seated until the initial throng had vacated the entrance to each of the lands. We decided our first stop would be the Westward Ho Trading Company in Frontierland. We like to trade and collect pins and this store specializes in pins. At this time of day we essentially had the store to ourselves. We were able to leisurely examine the latest offerings and check the pin trading board without anyone behind us, anxiously waiting for us to move aside.
We then walked over to the little Green Men Command Store to check their pins and pin board. Again, without having to dodge other people or strollers at this time of day. We like the Gag Factory store located in Toon Town as it has some merchandise the other stores do not always carry, so that was our next destination. After this brief excursion, we took the route leading behind Big Thunder Mountain. As we walked we noticed the prior barricades for the entrance to Galaxy’s Edge were removed and placed much farther back along the paths, allowing us to see more of the entrance tunnels.
We then did something we had not done in years—we took a raft to Tom Sawyers Island.
Because it was so early in the day, we were the only ones on the raft ride over to the island. Once there, we only encountered two other couples. Again, when you are in no hurry to make your next FASTPASS, you can allow yourself to take in all that is around you. As we walked up the steps behind the main cabin facing New Orleans Square I noticed flat dark objects that I first thought were dead leaves but the outlines were to uniform to be leaves. Upon closer inspection I could see they were the tops of firework shells and they littered the entire back side of the roof line. No doubt these were the result of the new Fantasmic show. I wondered to myself whose job it was to collect these or if they were left to the wind and gravity to bring them descending to the ground where they could be gathered.
As we walked around the island we had fantastic views of the River of America refurbishments. The new trestle bridge for the railroad and the landscaping surrounding it was especially pleasing to the senses. As we further circumnavigated the island we came to a shady spot in a clearing that overlooked the river. We stopped to watch the Mark Twain slowly motor past us. We waived back enthusiastically to anyone who waved in our direction. We then watched the canoes being loaded and launched from across where we stood. It was good to see them back in action, making the river bustling with traffic, shouts, and laughter.
As we waited for the raft to take us back we enjoyed watching the antics of the canoe ride cast members trying to enlist would be crew members out by New Orleans Square. We also noticed Jack Sparrow had walked down the stairs by the Haunted Mansion to wait in the raft loading area. As we boarded our raft back to the mainland, it became obvious Jack would be hoping on the raft we were on to ride back to Tom Sawyers Island. We walked right by him and he made a gesture to acknowledge our passing.
From here we walked over to the Pandora store, which can quickly become a costly experience. Luckily, my wife only needed to pick up a cleaning kit. On the short walk over we heard the train whistle in the distance, something that had been missing for months. From here we walked through all the little shops in this area. There are some very unique shops if one takes the time to explore then.
The other thing we did with purpose on this trip was to look up.
By this I mean we intentionally scanned the ceiling of the shops we visited, as well as the rafters and upper reaches of the walls. If you keep in mind everything visible to the eye was placed with purpose in any Disney park, it becomes a game of what can I next discover. The detail and story telling that are revealed in the artifacts and architecture of each shop is extraordinary.
We enjoyed window shopping at Glass D’Orleans and Le Bat en Rouge. As we wandered through the narrow passageways in this area we paused to hear foreign voices coming out of a second story window.
Although we are aware of other places where you can hear voices if you listen intently, I do not recall ever hearing these voices before in this spot. Goes to show that in all the many previous trips through this section, we never allowed ourselves to be in the moment. It also helped that at this time most people were on the attractions and not in the thoroughfares between the shops. This small, mostly missed detail, added an air of authenticity and added to our growing appreciation of the Disney Imagineers.
We also happened across the Royal Street Bachelors tucked into a corner of one of the narrow passageways in New Orleans Square.
We listened mesmerized as they played a long piece that involved each member getting to be highlighted in a solo jazz rift. During the performance, band members would throw strands of beads to the children in the audience. We applauded their efforts before continuing our journey of exploration.
We checked the times guide to learn the singing pirates, better known as the Bootstrappers, would be performing soon. So we waited a few minutes before seeing them walk out in front of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. We stood and watched the entire, at times, interactive performance. It should be noted that one of the oft underappreciated forms of entertainment at a Disney park are the street performers. I find all the musicians, performers, and singers to be well worth the time to watch. They are polished performers with much talent.
We grabbed a relaxing lunch at the Plaza Inn where we had a table next to the window facing Astro Orbiter, allowing us to once again people watch in the comfort of an air conditioned room. After satiating our hunger we grabbed a seat to watch the Mickey and the Magical Map performance.
No matter how many times I see this show, it always brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart. It is a really well done production with high energy and foot tapping, head bobbing music. I especially appreciate the talented trumpet player.
At two different times during this day, we had extended conversations with cast members. Most cast members, given an opportunity and having the luxury of being in a role that allows them to interact, will gladly converse with guests. I have found they especially like to talk about Disney related topics. In our past visits, some of the most cherished memories are random encounters with cast members who took the time to really engage us in conversation.
We caught part of the performance of the Disneyland Band.
Again, great music with a bit of performance thrown in for your viewing pleasure. They, like the rest of the entertainment crew, perform several times throughout the day. They appear to make music effortlessly.
One of the more emotional activities to witness has to be the flag retreat. It happens daily at Disneyland in the Town Square. It is a patriotic, respectful flag lowing ceremony in honor of those who have served, or are serving in any branch of the armed forces. Individuals from any branch are invited to stand next to the outer ring of the flagpole. A precisely marching color guard approaches and salutes those who gathered. The Disneyland band accompanies the Dapper Dans, who lend their voices to patriotic songs that the audience is invited to sing as well. The color guard methodically lowers and folds the flag. This is a tradition that dates back to park open, more than 60 years ago. We always find it a moving experience.
Funny thing is, we intended to make it over to California Adventure but as you can see, we never made it out of Disneyland. Not only did we not get to California Adventure, we were not even able to see other performers like the Pearly Band in New Orleans Square, the piano man on Main Street, and the Straw Hatters. Each of these have serenaded us with their sweet melodies in previous trips. We also were purposeful in skipping Fantasmic–still too much of a melee surrounding finding seating, the Main Street Electrical Parade–we have seen this countless times at the Magic Kingdom and were not willing to commit two hours to guarantee a good viewing spot. Lastly, we did not wait for the fireworks show as we both had to work the next day.
For years people have asked me why I keep going back to Disney. The first time I was asked, I had to pause and process my thoughts before I answered. Although my answer may have become more polished, the answer is essentially the same. It’s not about the rides per se, it’s about the experiences and shared memories we create with each visit. This visit allowed us to concentrate on the non-attraction stuff for a change, to appreciate the often overlooked things and experiences that fill a Disney park. Our day was not measured in how many attractions we rode but how all the things Disney does so well coalesced into another uniquely memorable experience. An experience that pulled from long forgotten memories and blended them seamlessly with newly discovered treasures. For the time being, we have found the “magic” again.