Monday, May 22, 2006

Costs and Benefits: Disneyland

Late as usual, the sole time to write without distraction. The computer hums, the refrigerator kicks on, the husband is snoring and so does the dog who’s buried herself among our couch pillows. When I’m done here, I’ll carry her to A’s bed where she’ll burrow under his blanket and cuddle next to his feet. J’s finally asleep having suffered with insomnia this evening – I can always tell when he’s finally dropped off because only then does his vocal tic (a squeak he makes in his throat) subside. What’s M dreaming about, I wonder. She sleeps so peacefully with her arms straight above her head, too warm to be under anything. No covers. She kicks them off every night – the total opposite of how J used to sleep when he was her age. He used to mummify himself, wrapping the sheet and blanket in such a way that the only thing showing was his little face. I used to read about that method in text books. I’d sometimes stand there and just look at him, the oddest sight, all bundled up. I don’t remember when he gave it up, when he changed.

But then one such change is hard to keep track of when he’s changing so much these days…

…which leads me to our Disneyland trip on Friday.

What does change have to do with an amusement park you might ask? Well, let me start by saying that in calculating the costs of the one-day pass, D and I decided we’d get more out of the annual passes. Relatively speaking, Disney-speaking. The only snap decision we made was at the parking entrance – no parking pass. We’re just going to pay the ten bucks whenever we go. It would take seven trips to make up for the up-front cost of $48 for a parking pass. Realistically speaking we're probably going to come only four or five times on the park passes.

We passed on that particular pass.

Anyway, in printing out our shiny new passes, the cashier at the booth out front used the same pictures from the last time we had passes, nearly three years ago. J’s picture showed the most dramatic change. Back then, he wore glasses for his strabismus and his hair was spiky short. He looked very much like the fourth-grader he was. Fast forward to today…with his shoulder-length hair, no glasses, and maturing face…we HAD to redo his picture. The poor thing would definitely be stopped by the Guards had they tried to compare the old picture with the current child.

Once we had our passes in hand, we were off and running into California Adventures. First the Tower of Terror (a rare “thrill” ride because of the sense of humor. The repeated up and down of the “elevator” and the opening and closing of the “elevator doors” to show the expanse of Disneyland shows unique character of the attraction that one doesn't often see in traditional roller coasters), then the water ride (which totally soaked me and A, but left the M and J dry as well as the lady right across from me with her beautiful outfit! The unfairness of that!).

Next, we headed into Disneyland itself, meeting up with my sister and her family, in-laws in tow. We celebrated my nephew’s birthday with a cake-decorating event in one of several cafés on Main Street. Basically, my sister reserved several tables to have the privilege of getting sung to by a character with a cake hat on and getting visited by Minnie and Mickey themselves. It was cute – the cake tasted awful, but the kids didn’t notice. All the kids, J included, seemed to really enjoy the cake decorating. Of course, J had even more fun once I noticed and pointed out two new chin hairs! Yes! Two little black hairs to go along with his peach-fuzzy moustache!

“Is it really there, Mom?”

“Yes, there are two.”

“It wasn’t there yesterday, I looked!”

“They’re there now.”

“Wow! Mom, take a picture!”

He was so funny. The baby of the group, Sister’s twenty-month-old IH, loved the icing, getting it all over herself. M loved the sprinkles. A and AH ran around doing the Birthday Conga with the six-year-old birthday boy, TH.

Despite the joy, Sister later relayed, “Not worth the cost.” I never asked the details, she never told. Just pursed her lips and shook her head.

So on to the rides. And the lines. When we’d first arrived at 1:00, lines were tolerable. Once school let out the place became quite the proverbial zoo. However, it was still less than on the busiest of days. The weather helped – cool at about 80 degrees. We managed to get through Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Autopia, Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion, the Matterhorn, and Star Tours. That pretty much wiped out our day.

In between a couple of the attractions we ate in Tomorrowland. Needless to say, the cost was ridiculous ($60 for five) for what qualifies as basically less-than-mediocre fast food. In McDonald’s-speak, we paid that obscene amount for one Premium Chicken Salad, two Chicken Sandwiches, one Big and Tasties, one Chicken Nuggets, one bottled water, three regular soft drinks, and one small drink. No deserts included. Condiments were free. Bless them for straws and napkins. On the upside, we were serenaded by a very good disco band. We all bobbed and danced at the tables (not ON the tables…after all this IS an alcohol-free zone), Baby IH included. She was the best dancer of all, raising her little shoulders in time to “She’s a Brick House” and “Fire.”

Slipping into teacher mode, I'll give Disneyland's dining experience a “D” grade for food and an “A” for ambiance.

As far as security goes, I’m giving it a “C”. Let me explain. My darling M thought it would be funny to knock over a left-over soft drink that had been left on the railing as we wound our way in the line for Space Mountain and nobody came to investigate. Maybe my description isn’t clear for you. Picture this. We’re upstairs and there is railing all around, railing that is wide enough for someone to place a regular drink. The railing, of course, is to prevent people like us, in line, from falling onto the concrete below. The concrete below serves as a throughway for exiting Space Mountain folk. So there are people beneath the ledge, leaving Space Mountain, the Arcade, and a café. The balcony is built in such a way that we cannot SEE the people beneath though. And neither could M (which could account for her being unable to think through the consequences of her action).

So as we were in line, M runs up to the regular-sized soft drink on the railing, laughs maniacally, and pushes the drink over the ledge, down many feet, onto unsuspecting tourists. Much to our horror. We never heard screams or shouts, and nobody ever came looking for us. By the time we got downstairs (after the ride of course…we’d never break out of line), there was no evidence of the calamity which must have ensued. My only thought was, what with the lousy “security” inspection (the inspectors never looked in my camera case) after the tram from the parking garage, I could have thrown a grenade down there with my anonymity fully protected.

M, the soda-dropper, got away clean. As could my imaginary terrorists. I’d hope not, but I wasn’t impressed.

The night ended in a dramatic manner, with the fireworks show. Very good – lots of computerized timing there on the explosives, the Castle engulfed in a computerized light show with lots of changing colors to reflect the changing music. The music was Disney-pure featuring sound bites from their attractions, such as the currently-being-refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, and an homage to the famous Electric Light Parade. Tinkerbell flew from the top of the Matterhorn to the Castle, evoking lots of ooohs and aaahs from the crowd (a very polite crowd by the way). There was fire and lasers and fireworks from several places in the park, not just from the Castle.

So…the show got an “A” for presentation, a “C” for over-the-top advertising.

All in all, we enjoyed ourselves. The company was great, the park was welcoming, the park had a little bit of soul despite the expense and…corporate frenzy that surrounded us at all times. The kids even had an “unsafe” moment (much like my own at their age) when my niece, AH, turned around in her seat on Thunder Mountain as we sped through the town, screaming to me, “We’re so unsafe, Tia!!” She was referring to the safety bar not being set firmly against her and A’s little bodies, to there being too much space between themselves and the bar, to why she and her cousin had to grip the front of the car for their dear lives.

I wasn’t worried even though Thunder Mountain had experienced the death of a passenger. I took their dilemma as a life lesson, offering the only possible advice for such situations, advice that hopefully she’ll retain long into her future, “Hold on tight, honey!”

Southern California Passes for five: $750

Fast Food Dinner for five: $60

Cotton Candy for three on the way out: $9
Snacks: $15

Philosophical Challenges: Priceless


Danny said...

The price of the mediocre dinner doesn't faze me (my orthodox relatives have the right idea by dragging all of their meals with them to Disneyland in coolers) but I'm woozy at the price of those annual passes. OY! But I guess they'll "pay for themselves" if you go several more times this year, right? At least Disney came to its senses and allows you to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure without separate passes.

Doesn't sound like there are many new rides there these days. Isn't it time for a Star Tours upgrade? It was cool 20 years ago but time for a change. At least they mercifully killed Michael Jackson's "Captain EO."

Fromage de Merde said...

I can’t remember what year it was but I do remember the front page photo that was plastered across the LA Times of the National Guard standing in riot formation out front of Disneyland with the turrets of sleeping beauty’s castle hovering behind them. There was suppose to be some sort of demonstration against Disney or America or who knows and the powers that be musta thought that Disneyland needed protecting. It was quite an image, one that I’ll never forget.

I guess that they were protecting our future rights to buy 60 dollar fast food lunches!

Dale said...

Ay. Better you than me, Adriana. The mere thought of Disneyland gives me the cold horrors.

David N. Scott said...

$60 for 5 ain't bad in Tomorrow Land...

This makes me want to go to Disneyland, which, at 5 household members, makes me want to not want to go, you know?