The Experience of Disneyland™ Resort

Yesterday, Stacy and I went to Disneyland™ Resort. Her first time ever, my first time since, I think, Grad Night in 1989.

Since I last went, I’ve become a bit of a design geek. And now work for an “experience strategy and design” company. And Disneyland is definitely a standard-bearer when it comes to experience design. At least, one form of experience design, quite literally an experience-on-rails design, where the point is to direct the audience to very specific experiential outcomes. (As opposed to, say, user experience design, which expects the user’s motivations and behaviors to significantly effect the experience.)

My biggest fear was that the park would be totally crowded — as you head into the holidays, people on vacation fill the place up. Happily, going on a Tuesday 6 days before Christmas proved wise — we never waited more than 25 minutes for any ride, and many rides had only 10-15 minute waits. (I remember hour-plus waits from my childhood.)

Grades and thoughts on the rides we went on

  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Grade: B-. I didn’t know this ride existed until we went in the park. As fans of the Toy Story movies, we decided to give it a shock. It’s essentially a slow-moving immersion ride combined with a shooting gallery, where you try to save the universe (or something) from Zurg. It didn’t suck, but I did feel that the “interactive” aspect deterred from the experience — I was so focused on zapping little Z’s with my ray gun that I didn’t really engage with the ride’s narrative.

  • Disneyland Railroad
  • Grade: B. Walt had a fascination with transit, demonstrated by the multiple ways you can get around the park. For what it is, the Disneyland Railroad is a perfectly fine respite from the clamor of the rest of the park. The “Grand Canyon” bit is a bit bizarre (it’s so poorly rendered), though the dinosaurs were kinda cool. This is the only ride that really exposed the seams behind the park — shortly after we got on (in Toon Town) we passed a service area, with stuff stacked in plain sight that should have been hidden.

  • Enchanted Tiki Room
  • Grade: B. “In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room…” For sheer goofy pleasure, this attraction (not a ride — you just sit in a room) is quite charming. Audioanimatronic birds and statues sing a medley of songs. My only disappointment — at the start of the show, the Cast Member introduces it with what was essentially an apology about how dated the audioanimatronics are, but without them, we wouldn’t have great rides like Pirates of the Caribbean. You don’t start an experience with an apology. Just like the Room be the Room.

  • Haunted Mansion Holiday
  • Grade: C. In my memory, the Haunted Mansion is among my favorite rides at Disneyland. It had a delightfully fun and moderately macabre sense of humor. I didn’t know about this “Haunted Mansion Holiday” until we approached the ride. It seems that for the last three months of the year, the Mansion is taken over by a “The Nightmare Before Christmas” theme, with Jack Skellington, Zero, Sandy Claws, and all. Well, I don’t like it. And I don’t think I don’t like it just ’cause it’s a change. I think I don’t like it because it’s just so out of place. “Nightmare” is not a house-centered concept, and wedging that world into this one leaves both wanting.

  • Indiana Jones Adventure
    Grade: C. This was totally new to me, and I had no idea what to expect. It’s a moderately thrilling ride, where you’re in a Jeep, careening through sets inspired by the Indiana Jones movies. It suffers from the same maladies as so many Hollywood blockbusters–charm and emotion is replaced by crass spectacle and special effects.

  • It’s A Small World Holiday
  • Grade: B. This endures the “holiday” makeover far better than Haunted Mansion, if only because the music is altered to include Christmas carols, so you don’t have that one melody relentlessly drilled into your head. It’s heard to impugn It’s A Small World — you get what you come for — but I was surprised at how no attempt was made to hide the ceiling. Disneyland is typically so good at making their rides all encompassing, but here, you see the boring tiled ceiling plain as day.

  • Jungle Cruise
  • Grade: B. One of the originals. It’s notoriously flaky from a technical standpoint, and was inoperable when we first went by. So we didn’t ride on it until night time, which requires the use of lights on either side of the boat to see everything (and I suspect you miss many details). Still, a silly little ride down a river, with some expertly rendered audioanimatronic animals, and bad bad bad puns from your boat guide.

  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Grade: C. A lame roller coaster. Does provide a nice view of the park, though.

  • Mr Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Grade: B-. This was the only storybook kiddie ride we went on. It’s okay.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Grade: A-. Still my favorite park experience. It’s so rich, through and through. Some of the sanitizing that’s happened since I last rode it is a shame, but is also made up for by the addition of an audioanimatronic Jack Sparrow that is *crazy* lifelike.

  • Space Mountain
  • Grade: B+. Stacy’s favorite ride. It’s a roller-coaster. In the dark. With lights acting as stars and comets and galaxies. It’s a pretty tame roller-coaster, as such things go, but fun all the same.

  • Splash Mountain
  • Grade: B. I ended up liking this more than I thought. Loosely based on “Song of the South,” which I’ve never seen, the whole ride is an excuse for the final plunge where, most definitely, you will get wet.

  • Star Tours
  • Grade: B+. Star Tours has probably the best queue of any attraction in the park. Knowing that people could be stuck a while, they filled it with things to look at. I love the space tourist travel conceit, see the robots at work is fun, and they even did a good job with the pre-boarding announcement. The ride itself still works well, though it definitely is starting to show its age (expected after 20 years).

  • Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Grade: B-. A roller-coaster type ride.

    Some Other Thoughts

    So, you know how Disneyland doesn’t serve alcohol? (Well, except at 33, and I wasn’t getting in there…) I wouldn’t have minded if they didn’t feature alcohol so prominently on so many rides… Pirates is obvious, but there are jugs with “XXX” on it on both Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain, and, perhaps most oddly, booze plays a prominent role in “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.” After all that display, you can’t help but want a drink.

    So clean! I know it’s one of Walt’s founding tenets for the park, but still, it’s remarkable. Not only are there trashcans everywhere, there are folks with brooms everywhere, too. Stacy thought another contributing factor was one of social pressure — it’s so clean, don’t you want to keep it that way?

    So small! Disneyland covers surprisingly few acres for all that it packs in there.

    Arriving at around 9am, we had planned to spend the entire day there, well into the evening. But, because the lines were so short, we found ourselves pretty much done by around 5pm. We stuck around a bit to see what the park looks like at night (It’s A Small World is pretty awesome), and then headed out around 6.

    Downtown Disney, just outside the park, was disappointing. We were two thirsty and hungry people in search of a drink and maybe a meal, but no restaurant appealed. We got a drink at Uva, a pleasant outdoor bar, and left.

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