I'm Uncle Skippy, a new kid on the block and Jim's west coast mole. I thought I'd start my brilliant and illustrious career as a JHM guest writer with a short review of the "Walking in Walt's Footsteps" that I took at Disneyland this past Sunday afternoon. But -- in the "make a short story long" tradition of our fearless leader (Sorry, boss) -- I'm going to tell you a story before I tell you about this somewhat infamous tour.
I'm cheap. Incredibly cheap. Miserly cheap. I'd like to call it frugal but I'd be lying. (Remember this when we're having lunch together. You've been warned.) It is in my miserly spirit that my wife and I took our first trip to New York. It was a working vacation; a few days of business and one day for sightseeing. The trip turned into a mini vacation because work paid for one ticket and accumulated airline points paid for the other (Told you I was cheap).
Because we only had one day for touristy stuff and a car in Manhattan seemed like a bad idea, we decided to try our first bus tour. The bus tour is a fairly common concept. A group of out-of-town suckers board a bus with non-working TV monitors designed only to fracture the skull of the preoccupied and the tall. This rolling luxury palace will take you on a round trip tour of all the major tourist attractions. At each major sight, you have the option of getting off and spending money on fake Gucci bags and knock-off Ray Bans or continuing on in a seat not wide enough for Barbie. Each bus has its own tour guide and if they're too wordy or not wordy enough, you can step off the bus and wait for the next one. Your tour, your speed, your pace. As we're about to buy our tickets and board the bus, my brilliant wife suggests we upgrade and add the nighttime tour of New York. In a jet-lag moment and, giddy from taxi exhaust, I said yes.
In spite of cramming my double wide girth in a single wide seat over and over, the tour was a great experience. (Ha! And you thought I was going to say it sucked!) We boarded and departed buses all day. Every tour guide knew their stuff and we didn't have to get lost in Manhattan. As for the night tour, it was even better. (Double ha!) The guide had the bus driver stop on the edge of Little Italy and as a group we schlepped four blocks to eat authentic Cannoli.
Now what's the purpose of this story you ask? Well boys and girls, Uncle Skippy learned that cheaper isn't always better. I haven't completely changed my miserly ways (you're still paying for lunch if we go). But it opened my eyes to trying a few things on vacation. While I think the MasterCard ad guys are the spawn of Satan for using a campaign that makes you ashamed of not spending little Johnny's college tuition on hot dogs and souvenirs at a baseball game, I do admit that, once in a while, a few extra bucks can make some MasterCard memories. This brings me to the guided tours at Disneyland.
The tours at Disneyland are like bus tours. If you don't know your way around the park or know any of its history, a Disneyland tour with knowledgeable and perky tour guides can be a great help. Besides the basic tour package that will get you to the front of the line at a few high attendance rides, Disneyland also offers specialized tours like "Walt's Footsteps."
"A Walk In Walt's Footsteps" is a 3 1/2 hour tour designed to show you a clean, shiny authorized Disney version of Disneyland in its golden age from opening day in 1955 to Walt's death in 1966. A highlight of the tour is a visit to the downstairs entrance to Club 33, Disneyland's exclusive membership only restaurant in New Orleans Square. The Tour concludes with lunch at the Golden Horseshoe Revue and an exclusive tour pin.
A historical tour of Disneyland always sounded interesting to me. But my inner Scrooge couldn't get past the $49 dollar price tag. I've lived in Southern California much of my life and I go to the park frequently. What could they show me that I hadn't already heard or seen? A history tour seemed like a waste, unless, of course, I could get a tour for free. Little did I know I was going to get my wish the hard way.
I was on Jim Hill's last Disneyland tour for the weekend when -- 20 minutes into the tour -- Mouse House security suddenly shuts down Jim's tour and offers everyone the official Disney sanctioned "A Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour at no charge. Ooookay. A weird move on Disney's part ... But who am I to pass up free stuff? The following is my highly subjective observations of Sunday's tour.
In the tour group were seven regulars from this very site, obviously brilliant folks of impeccable taste already interested in the parks history. We were all on Jim's tour when Mickey decided we needed an "upgrade." The hostess for our Disney sanctioned tour was Lera R., a three year tour veteran from Ontario, California with a vast knowledge of company lore. Lera was all the good stuff you expect from a Disney cast member: bright, personable, sincere and witty. She gets big points for witty.
A sampling of some of the things on the tour included:
Not surprisingly, the tour began on Main Street, moved to Plaza Gardens, bounced to the hub, zipped into Fantasyland, sauntered to Tomorrowland and ... Well, you get the picture. We moved to many new locations. At the Tiki Room, we were brought in between shows to see one of the audio-animatronic flowers up close and personal. This was followed by a trip to the first floor of Club 33 and then more bouncing and zipping before ending with lunch at the Golden Horseshoe.
Now, would I recommend the tour to JHM regulars? Yes and no. If four or more of the bulleted activities I've mentioned above are topics you don't know about ... Then sure. Why not? Those in my group had a cross section of Disney knowledge and everyone enjoyed themselves. Since they feed you a piece of cheesecake as big as your head, it could have been the sugar talking ... But I think a good time was had by all. Even an ubergeek, know-it-all like me learned a few new things. The tour does cover the high points of authorized Disney Company History 101.
If you've read "Walt Disney: An American Original," "Disneyland: the Nickel Tour," or "Disneyland: Inside Story," ... Well, you've heard most of it before and you're spending $49 bucks for a croissant sandwich and a pin. That's a bit much even by Disney event standards.
If you decide to take the tour or are sweet talked into going by out-of-town relatives, I have a couple tips to enhance your experience:
While the whole 'Security-rolling-up-its-newspaper-and-swatting-Jim-on-the-nose' thing was uncalled for, the "Footsteps" tour wasn't bad. I would have been mildly disappointed if I had paid for it. But -- to be honest -- it wasn't designed for me. It was for those with lots of discretionary income who are looking for a high tone experience but only have rudimentary knowledge of the park.
One thing I can say with some assurance about that I probably enjoyed my Sunday-in-the-park more than Jim did. That and -- given the number of chins that Hill's beard hides -- I'm betting that we would have enjoyed that cheesecake.
The comments and opinions listed above do not reflect those of the management of JimHillMedia.com. Unless -- of course -- you violently disagree with them. In that case ... Well ... Jim made me say this. This whole thing is Hill's fault.
For further information on Disneyland's "A Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour, JHM suggests that you follow this link.