A California diary… Bob and Tigg on tour in 2005
10 days in southern California… day seven


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on April 3, 2006. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

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Day seven, Friday, April 22, 2005


Tigg and I went on a family trip to Florida in November of 2005 that included Disney World. I wrote this article after that trip. If I had written about this stop to visit the Mouse and his friends in Anaheim before that trip to see the Mouse and his friends in Orlando, it just may have been a dark and bitter entry.

Ok… “dark and bitter” is a bit harsh. But it certainly wouldn’t have had a smiley and fun swirl of enthusiasm running through the center.

Instead I’m beginning to think this may be the state of affairs at Disney lately. But I never would have guessed it, because many of the incidents and examples never occurred before. And yet… I had only been to Orlando before, and I never saw the Orlando on previous visits that I saw in November of 2005. In short, I’m willing to look at this day the same way I am holding on to most of southern California…

It was good… it was quite often very good… it was at times brilliant… it was never consistently great.

Next time it could be better.

When all is said and done, probably the most important thing to note is that I intend for there to be a next time. At this Disney location.

Let’s head to the park…

As a huge Disney fan, I have wanted to see Disneyland as long as I can remember. For Tigg, the opinion has been much the same. So although Jay and Justin aren’t exactly crazy about the Disney parks, we pretty much knew all along there would be a stop at this park during this trip. With a choice between Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, nostalgia and history won over new.

We figured the boys were old enough to get lost on their own and entertain themselves. Umm… we were wrong.

Not because they couldn’t handle being on their own. Turned out they were bored and kept wondering what we were doing… creating some frustrating moments for us. But other things got in the way too, and it started with the Indiana Jones ride and a massive power failure that we never got the whole story on.

I had decided we should head over to the Indiana Jones Adventure to start the day for two reasons. First, as one of the premiere attractions at the park, I thought it might get busier as the day moved along. Second, from what I do know of it, the ride has a history of shutting down every so often.

And our day begins… with the ride being closed.

We move a bit further along the path, heading over near New Orleans Square, trying to decide whether to split up or continue to another ride as a group to start the day. And it is while we are doing this that things begin getting a bit tricky. People just kept streaming past us. People… and more people… and more people. Umm… wasn’t Disney having attendance issues? Isn’t there such a thing as school? (I had heard most California schools had been out on vacation a week before this.)

This brings us to one of the most, if not the most, amazing things from our day.

If you have ever visited Disney World but not Disneyland… be prepared for a shock.

In the movie Roxanne, there’s a great line where Chris sees Charlie’s nose and says something close to: “It’s huge! It’s enormous! It’s gigantic! I mean, they said it was big, but I didn’t expect it to be… big!”

And that is exactly how I felt about Disneyland…

…only in reverse.

I always knew it was small. But I didn’t expect it to be… small! Snow White’s castle… the walk from one area of a park to another… small. Much smaller than you would ever think.

When I say the park was absolutely packed, I mean at times you literally could not move. It… was… packed. But as the day went on, it was becoming apparent that we weren’t waiting in many of the ride lines nearly as long as we expected we would when we first got in them. Oh, we waited several times for a half an hour to an hour. But for how busy it felt… for how hard it was to move… it wasn’t that busy overall. Yes, the lines were long at times. But when the day was over, there really wasn’t much we wanted to see that we missed.

We head over to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It’s the first ride we check off our list, and it took us just about a half an hour to accomplish that. It’s a good ride... and all of us are feeling ok when we get off of it. We look at the map, and I’m very tempted to start hitting rides in the order we get to them. With Indiana Jones down for the foreseeable future, and my impulse being to head in the direction of Fantasyland, the boys decide to leave us for a while because they don’t see a single ride of any interest near us on the map.

It takes a bit of time, but Tigg and I manage to get on Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Alice in Wonderland. No real surprises from Pinocchio or Snow White. But Tigg had never been on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Florida (by the time she made her first trip to the Magic Kingdom, it was closed and being converted into what eventually became the Orlando version of the Winnie the Pooh ride). I don’t recall ever seeing an Alice in Wonderland ride in the Magic Kingdom, and that was actually a pretty neat experience.

While in line at Alice, the boys call. They’re wasting time, seeing nothing, and want to know if we are making any plans to eat. We call them back after getting off the ride, and it turns out they are near New Orleans Square. After seeing the tiny castle, it finally hits me just how small the entire park is when we walk for what seems to be only two or three minutes… starting in Fantasyland on the other side of the castle from where the boys are… and we can already see them waiting for us. (And we weren’t walking particularly fast.)

We meet up with them and start looking around. And the crowds are… well... the crowds are ticking us off.

We move back and forth between some places in a completely disorganized fashion. And I could be convinced to chalk the whole lunch decision fiasco up to us and simply being out of sorts if we didn’t go even nuttier once we decided on the Stage Door Café. Get ready… because I never knew Disney made mistakes like this.

Tigg and I (and the boys) have been to Disney World several times. For the most part, we usually know what we are planning for meals before we even get in the car in the morning. Will it be snacking during the day in the different countries, and then dinner while we are in Epcot? How about a quick lunch inside the park and then a larger meal at a restaurant once we leave the Disney property? Whatever… we have a good idea of where and when we will be looking for meals or snacks. We might not be familiar with all the specific foods offered, because locations and menus do change as the parks are renovated. But in general, during a day at Disney World, based on our personal favorites and musts, we can tell you the basics of what paths we will be moving along and what food we want to eat.

None of us had ever been to Disneyland before. We weren’t sure what we wanted to eat or when. We thought we’d figure it out as we walked around the park. And that proved to be a mistake.

About a decade ago I was in Epcot with a friend of mine. (Hi Chris!) He was still relatively new to this Disney stuff, having never been as a kid. And he was telling me about something he had read… I believe it was some article about “the art of the Disney line.” The general idea was that, whether at a ride or a food outlet, Disney was famous for setting up their waiting areas and all traffic flow with a purpose. Not haphazard. Not messy. They were functional. They had an intentional design. Traffic control… improving sales of concessions… a sense of comfort created by misdirection… and all sorts of neat tricks and things.

Consider for instance how so many of the rides and attractions exit directly into a themed retail store selling merchandise geared to the just concluded experience. You get the idea.

Back to California.

We moved around to a few places and more or less shuffled our feet. We didn’t want an expensive, sit down, table service meal. Another place was too crowded. The next place was… no… closed?

Tigg says “Disneyland sucks.” (Then she looks at me and apologizes, but she really felt the need to get it out of her system. I’m trying to stay positive and have fun, but completely unable to find a place to eat lunch… I couldn’t disagree at that moment.)

We wound up at the Stage Door Café.

The park map lists the location as “chicken, fish, and mozzarella strips, soft drinks, desserts and more.”

What I found was that the “more” reflected the far reaching, unexplored, outer limits of “the art of the Disney line.”

The Stage Door Café consisted of people trying to enter through one of three doors that led to ordering stations and cash registers. But unlike most Disney food outlets (at least the ones I’ve experienced in Florida), there was no “order” location followed by a separate and distinct “pick up” location. And what I mean is, my Florida Disney experience involves a line for cashier/order, give order and pay, step forward to line for food pick-up, pick-up food, turn and discharge through a distinct exit-only space, enjoy the meal. Here… you ordered, paid, and then stood right there.

Ahh… but the person assembling the order and taking the cash was also trying to move on to the next customer while waiting for some elements of yours to be finished. So, as another person was processed and guided into your personal space, you basically tried to be nice and step a few inches to the side… enough to give some room, but still be within reach for when your order was done.

(You may see what’s developing. If not, then consider I said it was crowded. Becoming more visual to you now? Because we’ve ordered, don’t have our food, and the cashier is now taking the third or fourth order beyond ours and we’re starting to get on each other’s shoulders.)

The problem was… there were three lines. Three ways in. Three cash registers. Three. And one exit… one… a grand total of one exit that was way way off to the side. And there seemed to be no logical way for moving to it other than to bump into some people, step on the feet of other people, and then… ok… deep breath…

There were three doors in. (Might have been more… my notes and memory say three though.) There was only one door out, and it was on the side of the building. So all three doors basically became lines and went straight to the counter. The only place you had available to move once the next person from behind you went to order was into one of the other lines next to you of people ordering their food and waiting. The ordering was going faster than the preparing of trays, so the room kept a constant flow of more people coming in than going out. And we’re standing in this line and that line, trying to stay within reach of a counter to pick up the food we ordered. And everyone left through a door off to the right.

In short, a mass of chaos and confusion. No organization at all. In fact… I know…

Remember that scene at the end of Animal House where the guy steals the baton and leads the parade down a dead-end alley? And then with no place to turn, and nowhere to go, everyone coming down the alley crashes into all of the band members that had been in the front? And then it just keeps packing in tighter and tighter, with no one leaving, and the next line of the marching band steps forward anyway?

Yeah… that was happening. That was the Stage Door Café.

There I stood, with lots of people, with all of us not wanting to move too far away from the counter, for fear that someone else might grab our order or that the cashier might totally forget about us. And once I got my order, I couldn’t leave.

By the time I sat down at the table with Tigg and the boys, Disney had worn my positive frame of mind down. I had literally been waiting to visit this place as far back as my memories go, and within five rides, a couple of hours, and a brutal lunch line, I wasn’t so sure about the “happiest place on earth.”

Eating a quiet lunch, all of us seem a bit frustrated. Fortunately… things were going to get better.

The food wasn’t that great, but by the time we had sat there for a short time, it seemed like everyone had decided things couldn’t get any worse, so they might as well get better. (That and a bit of venting always seems to help.)

At the table next to us a little girl was dressed up as Cinderella. She was about the fourth or fifth kid we had seen dressed up that day. She seemed to be enjoying her fries.

I led Tigg over to the Pirates of the Caribbean, which was good. One really fun thing about the day had been seeing how different the rides are from their twin in Florida. The way the lines run up to the entrance… the setting and structure of the attraction… and lots of other details. Very familiar, and yet incredibly different.

From there we walked past the Haunted Mansion… where we learned about a power outage that was affecting this side of the park (another show I wanted to see… the Enchanted Tiki Room… was never open on any of the times we passed it)… and moved on to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

We met Emma in that line. She was sweet little girl dressed up like Minnie Mouse. We talked with her while we were in line, laughed at the cars for the ride (and the elephants on the back), and just had a good time. There was another girl that was adorable in her Snow White costume.

It started to rain a bit, and Tigg and I grabbed a little snack in a store… sorry, no notes, I think it was a chocolate covered pretzel… and we talked about the rest of the day. I wanted to go on the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones… rides I had never been on in any fashion. I also wanted to try and see It’s a Small World and the Haunted Mansion… which I have been on, but were totally different in California.

As we were walking, we met up with the boys. The Matterhorn was having some problems of its own, and the line stood at about thirty minutes, but wasn’t moving. We went over to the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters… which has a similar ride in the Magic Kingdom and was great.

A brief pause to go back to 1999. In February of that year, Tigg, the boys and I made our second group trip to Florida. One day, we were wandering around Epcot, and we came to this section (was it at Innovations?… yeah… I think so…) where they had a camera set up with a computer and a sign saying you could send a picture to an e-mail account. So, Tigg and I stood there, and I sent a picture to my Dad’s e-mail address. Thinking this was pretty cool, we grabbed the boys, went back, and took another picture that we sent to our e-mail address.

None of the e-mails ever arrived.

As many of you no doubt know, theme parks have gone nuts in recent years selling pictures on several rides. Disney is no exception to this. But that e-mail experience from 1999 always bothered me a bit. I went to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, took a picture with my Dad at their version of this type of set-up, e-mailed it, and that arrived fine.

What was Disney up to?

Getting off the Buzz Lightyear ride today, they had a display of pictures and terminals set up so you could… yes, go figure… e-mail the picture of you on the ride.

So we did.

Guess what?

Never arrived.

Back to the park…

Tigg and I decide to wait in line for the Matterhorn. Disneyland is simply not turning out to be Tigg’s thing. She’s keeping up a brave front on my behalf and defending things to the boys… but I can tell… mentally she’s checking off completed items in her head from the list I rattled off to her earlier, and she’s hoping we can get through the last rides as quickly as possible.

Once again… they’ve provided smiles all day… some young kids come through.

Ladies and gentlemen… a huge thank you to five young kids from Rancho Santa Margarita School… I believe they were involved in an instrumental music program at the school. They were a pleasure to talk to… had some great hints about a candy store in San Clemente (which we unfortunately never found)… and in general, were just a credit to their school and their parents.

Jay and Justin joined us near the front of the line to ride the Matterhorn. I’m not sure what year it was built… but I always find it amazing how Disney rides seem to withstand time. This is not a new roller coaster. It has had its problems staying operational on the day of our visit. But it is a cool ride.

Tigg and I leave the boys to meander over to It’s a Small World. Yes… absolutely a classic, regardless of how corny it may be. And knowing how much my Mom loves the Florida version, I had some extra incentive to get on. I’m a bit dizzy looking at the outside of the attraction and how incredible it is. Amazing. The boats run from the outside (they board inside in Florida and never go outside) and the front of the building is adorned with topiary gardens and other decorations (the Florida one is pretty plain on the outside).

While in line we look back at the Matterhorn and someone… in costume… is climbing it.

After getting off It’s a Small World, something happens that can only happen thanks to Disney. I wandered over to an ATM location near a stage where Snow White – An Enchanting Musical was being presented. As I waited for my receipt, a door opened and the Seven Dwarfs marched past me.

We meet up with the boys and Tigg encourages us to make one last run through the park. She’s basically decided that if there is anything we want to do, now is the time. We are passing Autopia at that moment, and more or less ignoring her important rides only theory because this wasn’t one of the big rides left, we all agree we want to get on and get in line.

From there we hit Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and Star Tours.

We decide to make one last attempt at the Indiana Jones ride, and this is one reason why I have questions about the Fast Pass system. They were giving out tickets for about 90 minutes after the time we were there. But, amazingly, at different times they had been issuing fast passes during the day, only people couldn’t use them because of the intermittent status of the ride operation. We got in line and waited thirty minutes to get on. Sure… we had to wait. We also got on the ride.

As far as the ride is concerned…


Awesome ride… and it’s ten years old. Jay and I decided that there was absolutely no way the ride designers from Universal did their homework, because now compared to the Indiana Jones ride, The Mummy was even worse than what we thought when we rode it days earlier. Every detail… every small detail… was great here at Indiana Jones, and the ride itself was just fantastic.

I make a plea to go to the Haunted Mansion, and we make it on. The entrance and overall feeling is significantly different from the house in Orlando (like I’ve been saying about almost all of the common rides all day).

Two great rides… back to back. It ended the day on a very high note.

We get out of the park and decide to head over to the Rainforest Café.

In the end, truth be told, yes… I’m going to tell you to go to Disneyland. And I will be back to visit this park again, as well as the California Adventure park. But folks, if you have to make a choice… there isn’t a choice to make… head to Orlando.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com