Seems like just yesterday my family and I were running around Disneyland taking pictures of all the gold “50”s in the park. Seems like yesterday — but it wasn’t! It was ten years ago already, and that means it’s time for Disneyland to get decked out for another anniversary — this time, diamonds! We knew it was coming, so we saved up and made reservations for early June. The official anniversary, of course, is July 17th; however, Disneyland’s marketing department decided that it was wise to kick everything off in May to encourage all the spring and summer crowds to make a trek to the west coast. So we did!
As a fairly frequent visitor and an unapologetic Disneyland fan, I was looking forward to seeing what was new and just how much diamond bling would be sparkling. I wasn’t disappointed! In fact this trip reinforced a few things I love about Disneyland and taught me a few more. So here goes — five things I learned at Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration!
1. Disney hasn’t forgotten how to do great merchandise. It was getting bleak around the parks — same ol’ same ol’. And even though I have to admit that the merch situation has seemingly gotten better in recent years — more specific items and more variety — they seem to have pulled out all the stops this year! Hundreds of anniversary items were available, from $5 antenna toppers to $5000 (and up) jewelry. One specific thing that made me happy was the travel mug — this is one souvenir we actually use on a regular basis, and we’d stopped buying them after they went generic and said “Disney Parks” no matter where you were. So imagine my surprise when I was able to get my drink in a “Disneyland 60” mug. Yay!
2. (a) Planning matters, and simultaneously (b) planning has spoiled my children. The parks were pretty crowded, but we didn’t wait for anything longer than 30 minutes. How? Planning! With early entry (we stayed at the Paradise Pier and could get into one park at 7 am each day), FastPass use, and an online app called “Lines” from Touringplans.com, we were able to make the absolute most of our time. The downside was getting the teenagers out of bed at the crack of dawn, but once we were moving it was pretty obvious that the first couple of hours were the best for getting things done. All three days we saw everything we wanted by noon; then we went back to the hotel to eat, rest, shop, and swim. After that we had dinner at Downtown Disney and headed back to one of the parks for nighttime activities. Lots of people were there, but with proper planning we didn’t waste much time. Now for part B — my planning has ruined my children. They now turn their noses up at a 30 minute wait like it’s five days. This of course led to my stories of waiting 90 minutes for Splash Mountain back in the old days (before FastPass or apps). They weren’t sympathetic.
3. Music matters! OK I knew this one, but it was reinforced in a big way this trip. First, the music of the new fireworks, parades, and World of Color were amazing. Whether it was the theme from the Lion King that caused a collective “Ahhhh,” everyone singing along with “Let it Go…” or the very catchy parade tune, music brought it all home. But my biggest ‘a-ha’ moment came when we rode California Screamin’. I have ridden it plenty of times and I love it, but this time was different. It took me a few seconds to realize what was wrong, but then it was clear. The music wasn’t working! We rode and we screamed, but without the synchronized soundtrack it really wasn’t the same. Music–or its absence–makes a huge difference.
4. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Even after lots of visits, there are still things we haven’t done. This trip we decided that in addition to the anniversary stuff and the updated attractions (Soarin’ Over California, Alice in Wonderland, Matterhorn and more), we would again try to find brand new things to experience. Our first was staying in the Paradise Pier Hotel. We were trying to shrink the expenses a little while still staying on property, so this was the best option. Turns out it was awesome! Not as posh as the Grand Californian or as nostalgic as the Disneyland Hotel, but the room was nice, the CMs were super friendly, and the walk to the parks was short. We would do it again in a heartbeat. Next new thing we tried was the Davy Crockett Canoe ride. It’s pretty basic – with the guidance of a cast member, a canoe full of tourists paddles around Tom Sawyer Island. Simple, but great fun! There’s not a track, so you actually do have to paddle and steer. Your coonskin-capped guide tells jokes and stories while trying to synchronize everyone — a few splashes, and lots of laughs. Another new thing we tried was the Flag Retreat Ceremony. I had seen it but my family hadn’t, and it was truly inspirational. There was a marching band, a tribute to troops, and some very patriotic moments. Finally, we also tried a few new food items, like take-out pizza from Napolini and 60th anniversary cupcakes from Marceline’s Confectionary. All good reasons to step away from the familiar sometimes.
5. Finally, I learned that Disney can still go back to basics and do things right. As I’ve gotten older and a little more cynical, my complaints about Disneyland have grown as well. It’s expensive, it’s usually crowded, there aren’t as many cheerful CM’s as there used to be, there hasn’t been a new ride in years, and on it goes. But this trip reminded me of all the things about Disneyland that I love and how I sometimes don’t appreciate how great they do things on a huge scale. The castle looks gorgeous, the new decorations (flowers, bunting, etc.) are inspired, the blinged-out characters are out in force, and there was still no sign of trash or even a rogue popcorn kernel on Main Street. The new parade was a stunning fusion of nostalgia and technology, and the new World of Color had plenty of tributes to the man who started it all. But the thing that astounded me the most was the new Fireworks show, “Disneyland Forever.” I have always thought that no one does fireworks like Disney, but this was a whole new level. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.) I mean how many man/woman hours did it take to conceive and implement just the three-minute sequence of sea creatures that rise out of the buildings? And the projections? and the flying Nemo? and the volcano? and the SNOW?! And I didn’t even mention the actual fireworks. And they do it EVERY NIGHT! We had to see it twice from two different locations because there was no way to take it all in. To say my small town’s Fourth of July fireworks didn’t measure up would be the understatement of the century.
So there you have it – my superlative-filled recap of my voyage to Disneyland’s most recent anniversary celebration. May my own 60th be anywhere near as sparkly and fun!