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Ruminations: Meanwhile, back in Anaheim

Ruminations: Meanwhile, back in Anaheim

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The last time I was in Anaheim was for the big 50th anniversary weekend in July. Since then, a lot has happened outside the berm. Hurricanes Katrina and Ruth came and went. Gas prices went up across the nation along with airfares. Various experts predicted that the traveling public would be staying closer to home for a while to come.

Well, guess what? From what I saw at the airports I traveled through, it's no secret that those experts were wrong. Heck, even I prognosticated that the Labor Day weekend was the last big travel hurrah for a while. I'm enjoying that big piece of humble pie right now...

The Jet Blue flight from Oakland to Long Beach was almost full, and that was departing about six on a Saturday morning. The rest of the terminal was busy too, with plenty of people heading for other destinations. Arriving at Long Beach, rental cars were available only for those lucky enough to have made advanced reservations. And it didn't stop there either. The Grand Californian was completely full for that night. As far as I could tell, there was not anything special going on that weekend. True, it was a three-day weekend (Columbus Day). But no special merchandise event, no cheerleaders. Just a great time. The weather was outstanding and even Disney's California Adventure had a healthy crowd inside the gates.

So what was the cause of all this? Outside of the Disneyland Resort, I don't have a clue. But if I were to hazard a guess about inside, it would be a safe bet that all of the efforts invested in the magic of Disney marketing seem to be paying dividends.

Now that is "Grumpy"!
New shirts and hats at Disneyland with this artwork

For example, my mailbox produced a surprise shortly after Labor Day in the form of a mass mailing that was designed to specifically attract the Hispanic market. It was the first time I had seen such a piece here in Northern California. And even though I'm on various Disney mailing lists, this item came addressed to Resident from Disney Data Processing in San Ysidro. (That's right on the California - Mexico border, south of San Diego.) Along with the slew of television commercials I've seen here in the San Francisco Bay Area, mailings like this to specific demographic groups must be producing results.

The mass mailing targeted to Hispanic guests

This trip to Disneyland was the big one. For the first time, all of the Colton clan descended on Anaheim. During our four-day adventure, for the most part we had a great time. The waits for attractions were reasonable and we made liberal use of Fast Passes for the more popular choices. Out and about in the parks, we tried to plan our choices to take advantage of opportunities. For one example, our first attraction that Saturday took advantage of our Disney hotel guest status to ride "Soarin' Over California." Thanks to the Early Entry, we were exiting the attraction as the rush arrived from the Main Gate to get in line or score a Fast Pass. I have to admit it was interesting when the Cast Member asked how many in our group and the answer was "18".

It seems that we were not alone in making that particular choice. A good number of guests from all of the Disney hotels took advantage of it. That morning there were more people in California Adventure than I've seen in the middle of an afternoon on some weekdays. I suspect that more travel agents have shared the magic of the Early Entry with their clients as that extra incentive to book that Disneyland trip.

Out and about in California Adventure, it seemed that there was plenty of action. Getting a much-needed coffee and munchies at the Baker's Field Bakery, there was a healthy line even before we joined it. We noted a full show for "Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage" as well as "Turtle Talk With Crush," and even something of a rush by guests to ride the "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror." In other words, something for interests of all ages. And as it was a warm weekend, even the "Grizzly River Run" was doing a brisk business later in the day.

A good crowd in California Adventure on a Saturday was a good indicator of what lay ahead in Disneyland. Although not as packed as it was in May or July, there were still plenty of people having a great time all around the Park. One good example was the Fast Passes for "Space Mountain," our first one of the day. We made it to the machines a little before noon and wouldn't be able to return until almost 7 that evening. With a stand-by wait of 70 minutes for most of the rest of the day, that proved to be a good choice. Amazing as "Space Mountain" has now been reopened for almost 3 months and it is back to being as popular as ever before.

Looking about the Park, there are plenty of changes still going on. Around the Hub, walkways have been widened to make for better crowd control and flow during both the "Parade of Dreams" and the "Remember... Dreams Come True" fireworks. We managed to watch both from different locations in the area. I think that the Cast Members have a bit of a better idea what to expect now for these guest favorites. The use of ropes and benches to organize viewing areas while creating clearly defined walkways and emergency access lanes is great improvement over the confusion experienced here earlier in the year.

The new and improved walkways in front of the Plaza Inn

With the fireworks reduced to weekends only, it was nice to see a performance of "Fantasmic!" on the Monday night. However, that led to more than the usual crowd waiting in advance of the show. If you had decided to dine at the River Belle Terrace that night, it was more than a challenge to find a table to enjoy your meal. Too many people had gathered up chairs and tables more than two hours in advance to save a place for family and friends to watch the show. Let's hope that there is some truth to the rumors of improvements to this area.

In other areas: Pin trading seems to have taken to its new home at the Plaza Pavilion rather well. I saw plenty of guests enjoying trading with each other and the Cast Members stationed there. Don't know if I'll ever be able to accept how pins have taken over the former Pendleton shop in Frontierland, however. But I am glad to see that new pins continue to come along now and then. This new open edition Stitch Halloween pin with his costume as a little devil seems very popular.

Such a cute little devil!

Same goes for the Haunted Mansion. Things were so busy that the Fast Pass machines were back in operation on both weekend days of our visit. As popular as this overlay is with guests, it is hard to imagine it coming to an end.

Character dining at the Plaza Inn has changed themes again. Where earlier this year it was a chance to meet the various Disney Princesses, now it is dining with Minnie and friends. If regal visits during your meal is the choice, then head on over to California Adventure and Ariel's Grotto. Captain Mickey and crew have set sail for other adventures and the Princesses have dropped anchor. Appropriately enough, Ariel has joined the other royalty greeting guests here.

The Virtual Magic Kingdom seems to be continuing in popularity as well. The three in-park quests (Adventureland, Fantasyland and Frontierland-Critter Country - available from the VMK booth in Tomorrowland in front of Innoventions) offer the chance to step out from the virtual park and into the real thing while winning prizes to be used online. (Don't forget the special Tomorrowland quest available only online!) There were even opportunities to add virtual merchandise at several location including pins and t-shirts. I also noted the special VMK Insider Tour out and about. Seems that there were plenty of family groups taking the tour and the quests.

The Virtual Magic Kingdom Quests of Disneyland

The major entertainment has been scaled back during the slower weekdays. No fireworks or Fantasmic, but with a closing of 8 pm that is to be expected. The Parade of Dreams makes one trip at 7 pm from Small World Plaza down to Main Street. One thing I missed during this visit was the 50th Anniversary Rededication Ceremony. During the week, it is scheduled for 11:30 am and features various characters and the Opening Day Dedication speech by Walt Disney. As impressed as I was by this on July 17th, I am very glad to see this shared with guests on a daily basis.

Still a guest favorite! The Parade of Dreams...

October also features the Honda "Coolest Ride in the Galaxy" daily give-away of a 2006 Honda Civic. At 4:30 pm every afternoon in the Esplanade the festivities begin. Guests get an entry into the contest every day when they enter the parks. And by using their passes or tickets to check, Cast Members make sure that everyone only gets one entry per day. While there are only a small number of guests actually chosen each day to participate in the actual contest (depending on how many entries are handed out), everyone can participate in a second chance entry online.

Sunday's winner in front of the Space Mountain display

With the lack of major entertainment performances, such as the Snow White show on hiatus, the smaller groups are doing a great job around the parks. Billy Hill and the Hillbillies continue to pack them in for their shows at the Golden Horseshoe. Musical groups such as the Royal Street Bachelors, the Dapper Dans and the Disneyland Band all are out and about. Alan Thompson was doing his usual high-energy best at the pianos at both the Plaza Pavilion and the Coca Cola Refreshment Corner. His version of a "Haunted Mansion Boogie" was great fun and a real surprise.

Back at the Grand Californian, the list of activities for hotel guests has expanded with some great choices to tempt everyone. The favorite "Art of the Craft" tour is still being offered. One new (at least to me) activity is "Wonderful Washcloth Creations". Experts from the hotel's Housekeeping staff share the secrets of how to turn a simple washcloth in to a rabbit or other creation. And you get to keep it after the clinic. Now that is an interesting Disney collectible!

A new "Grand Quest" offers something for the younger guests (between the ages of 3 and 12) in a chance to hunt for clues and find secret answers during a one-hour journey through the hotel. A special treat awaits those who take up this challenge. One activity I couldn't quite take advantage of is a "Get Up and Go!" Fitness Walk through California Adventure. It is described as a "heart-pumping" 45- minute walk through the park. All four events remain free of charge to hotel guests.

Downtown Disney was busy as well with plenty to tempt everyone in our group. Electronic violinist Drew Tretick was back performing again in front of Naples. From our rooms overlooking this area it was a great treat to enjoy his music. He has several new albums available either online or during his performances. Drew has an upcoming live performance with the Masters of Harmony for their annual Christmas show in Long Beach on November 26th. If you are in the area, this one seems well worth enjoying.

Work is ongoing on the Anne Geddes flagship store scheduled to open sometime next year. And pin trading has stepped up from a simple cart. The former ticket booth adjacent to the Monorail station has been transformed into a nice little shop that was doing a brisk business. The same continues to be true for the World of Disney. We noted more than a fair number of people waiting for the store to open each day as well as doing their final shopping late into the night.

Would you believe this is a "quiet" Tuesday morning?

All in all, what we thought might have been a quiet weekend at Disneyland was instead a good solid time with plenty going on all around. And there's nothing wrong with that!

Earlier this year, you all generously helped out by supporting the efforts toward relief of the victims of the Tsunami. If you can see your way to doing so again, the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita now face many of the same daily challenges for basic necessities. The need is every bit as real and as serious. Consider a donation to the American Red Cross if you can. Every bit helps, even more now...

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