Only took two months, so why not?
|All photos and videos are mine, taken from my December trip. |
Above, photo from the awesome The Local in the Philly airport. You order with iPads!
DISNEYLAND TOP TEN MOMENTS SINCE I SAW THE RESORT LAST IN 2011
10.) Haunted Mansion Holiday
Nothing better exemplifies the differences of culture and guests between the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World more than seasonal attraction overlays. The most prominent overlay, and the one I've looked forward to the most for this trip, is Haunted Mansion Holiday. All my previous trip to DLR were during the early spring or late summer, so I have never seen the overlays featured. Combine that with the 13 years of HYPE TRAIN, I was excited to see what these attractions are like.
Disneyland's Haunted Mansion is a rough draft of the WDW version, similar to present you with feeling comfortable with the familiar, yet different enough to keep you off guard and disoriented. This plays up haunted and morphing aspects the attraction uses with great success. Adding the Nightmare Before Christmas elements keeps things fresh and new (now your eye is directed up at the monster wreath in the endless hallway, not at the doors) but also nearly destroys the attraction. The portrait hallway and the black void load area are ruined. The somber, eerie, dark, and infinite is removed, replaced with cardboard cut outs and black light that better fits with Fantasyland than New Orleans Square. So it's quite a disappointment to expect one experience and instead be handed a significantly lesser one.
HMH is a disappointment for me due to my own damn expectations, but is a unique anomaly of an experience in the Disney theme park space. HMH embraces the discomfort that comes when you alter the familiar enough to keep you on edge, and that is one victory in design. The rest is quote disappointing.
9.) World of Color Winter Dreams
World of Color is my favorite nighttime spectacular, because fountains. I've always loved fountains as a kid, and this show plays right into my love. The show is essentially a clip show, one that had more connective tissue in the development stage than what we saw on opening day. While I typically don't care for clip shows, they're accentuated enough with unique uses for fountains and effects that I don't mind.
Unlike other nighttime shows, WoC is modular and incredibly cheap to update and change. There are no pyro shells to test and purchase, no actors to train, no props or sets to change. All it takes is a small team to add new choreography, video, effects, and music to get a new show.
Winter Dreams is hosted by Olaf as he narrates and explores the holiday traditions of our cultures. The show is cute, sugary sweet, sing along with the crowd, and so devoid of conflict that the only instance of tension is from the irony of having a snow man sing about dancing through summer, cheekily avoiding the thought he would melt. Compare this to the normal World of Color show that shoots flames into the sky, red fountains invade the viewing area, and Mufasa is killed at 100 dB.
I enjoy Winter Dreams, but do not like it as much as plan vanilla World of Color. It's just void of any texture, it's just a bunch of Frozen songs, some Toy Story, a sing a long, and kids throwing in a blender for 30 minutes; it all ends up being the same, brown, semi-sweet goop that could come from a bad milkshake recipe or a McDonalds chicken nugget hash. But isn't that what holiday entertainment is? No, not chicken nuggets, the sugar plums, garland, red, and green lights. The ultimate villainy of the season is a guy who is cheap and in the end makes it rain all up in England.
Winter Dreams is conflict free fun suitable for the whole family. Also, there are awesome bubbles shaped like snow flakes that float all over the audience for the finally.
8.) Buena Vista Street
Buena Vista Street is the best entry way since Main Street USA. While less ambitious (and confusing) than Animal Kingdom, it changes enough of the formula to work on its own while still being beautiful and functional.
Main Street USA's train station acts as The Magic Circle; the curtain rising, letting you suspend disbelief. Buena Vista Street starts with another theater, the Pan Pacific Auditorium turnstile entrance, and uses this California landmark as this period specific curtain.
Buena Vista Street's main entrance basin (the turnstiles to the bridge) is the buffer from the modern day to the 1920s. As you progress through the land to the bridge, time flows from Walt's arrival in California to the opening of Snow White. Once you pass under the bridge, you have the grand reveal of Carthay Circle.
I should mention the awesome entertainment in BVS, the Citizens, Five & Dime, and Newsboys are catchy, fun period specific shows. Compare this to California Adventure's prior entertainment of skateboard ramps and Mickey dressed like John Lasseter, the turn around has been staggering.
I had some ice cream, got a coffee, perused some shops, and rode the Red Car around. I love everything this area offers and works as a great soul for DCA.
7.) It's a Small World Holiday
Between Haunted Mansion Holiday and Jingle Cruise, Small World Holiday got lost in the noise to the point where I forgot it was a thing. And boy was I wrong, this overlay is everything a holiday overlay should be: understated, fitting with the mood and emotions of the holiday, without being contrived.
What surprised me the most was probably the music. I've never had an issue with the main song for It's A Small World, and I love the attraction normally, so it shouldn't have surprised me to see the new recordings were very good. Inter-spliced with the main theme are traditional holiday songs sung in various languages that provide a nice pallet cleanser from hearing about this is a world of laughter and a world of tears.
The additional set decorations were good, but seemed to segment the rooms too much, breaking up pacing and visual cues that normal would have driven the attraction. Archways, clutter, and new sets were added so much that the bold, defined Mary Blair art and design was minimized which is
6.) Jingle Cruise
This is on my list for one reason: Skipper Brice. Yes, he's my friend, deal with it. So i'm totally biased when I say he's one of the best skippers I've ever had, but he is.
The Jungle Cruise experience is sold on the skipper's delivery and style so much it makes Monsters Inc Laugh Floor look like The Backlot Tour. When the Jingle Cruise was announced it was worried this was another round of WDI imposed script choices masked in some tinsel and red hats. When the actual attraction showed up, it was thankfully understated and not forced.
Sure, we had jokes like Piranhacha, the festival of bites, but the skippers also provided us jokes from all sorts of holiday specials and movies. I hope the trend towards the end of the season to add more and more props and costumes to the attraction is reversed (does Trader Sam really need a fucking santa suit?) this overlay turned out better than I could have imagined.
5.) Carsland Flat Rides (Luigi's and Mater's)
If there's one surprise on this list, it's this. There is no reason Mater's Junkyard Jamboree or Luigi's Flying Tires to be bad, but they are way more than the sum of their parts.
Luigi's has been much discussed and belittled due to it's "Oh the flying sauces actually kinda SUCKED" factor. My co-conspirator for the weekend rode this attraction during CM previews and commented on the improvements to the attraction. When in the design phase, heavy, large searing mechanisms were added to the tires, weighing them down and not actually working. Ok, that's fine, LETS ADD BEACH BALLS. And thus, we had beach balls. Thankfully, the steering mechanisms and beach balls were removed and simpler "lean" instructions were given. Luigi's ends up being a more active, less violent bumper cars with Tony Shalhoub on a PA system.
I've always been optimistic about Luigi's, but Mater's is one I thought I'd hate. Daniel Whitney, nee, 'Larry the Cable Guy', is not for my tastes. While I might be an ass, I still strive for authenticity, and Larry the Cable Guy is about as authentic as a bootleg movie recording on a NYC sidewalk.
But that's besides the point, this ride is fun, frantic, and Mater's signing (and hilarious his spanish safety spiel) seal the deal. The ride system still confounds me, as it's a modern figure 8 version of a typical whip the whip carnival ride.
And this attraction is magical at night, as the lighting of the jukebox comes to life and the string lighting offers just enough light to see where you're at, but not where you're going.
These two attractions are massive hits in my book, and I wish some version of these ride systems come over to Orlando.
4.) Radiator Springs Racers
The Crown Jewel of the Carsland expansion, Radiator Springs Racers (RSR I'll shorten it to like all the hip cool kidz) is pretty great. Is it better than Indiana Jones Adventure? No, not in my book. My biggest issue with IJA, the old school dark ride segments, are largely absent in this attraction, which is great. But the tropes resemble that of Autopia and Test Track more than old school Fantasyland dark rides, which is a shame.
I have four parts of the attraction I like the most.
The queue line is fantastic, wonderfully rustic with lots of touches and a water feature! A fountain! Yes! Thankfully the line is almost always shaded by the mountain range and there's always new buildings and places you pass by.
The load/unload and holding areas are all wonderful. The caverns created for this segment are massive, expansive, and colorful, really heightening your expectations for the attraction.
While I do not like the character myself, the first time you meet Mater it's quite amazing. An expressive character that somehow manages to travel with you through part of the attraction (hint: there's two) is an amazing feat of design from all angles.
Finally, the end race segment is like nothing else at a Disney park. Sure, you have coasters that simulate a similar experience, but the racing so close to massive amounts of asphalt adds to the thrill.
I really enjoyed RSR but clearly this attraction would never work in WDW, not because of the lame Test Track reasoning, but because rain.
3.) Carthay Circle Restaurant & Lounge
Carthay Circle is my vote for the best in theme park restaurant.
Come at me Them Park Insider Awards.
On my first day in DCA I took the great 10:15am tour of the restaurant, and with the phrase "ice sphere martinis"I knew this is a place I had to come back to sample. The next day I had free time from group touring to saddle up to the Lounge bar. I was disappointed to learn of the limited menu downstairs, but stayed anyway.
The martinis offered were the typical gin based ones, similar to a vesper. The ice ball was novel, even if it was hard to drink with once you get down to the last drops. The blue cheese stuffed olives are fresh, with the olives having enough bite to counteract the blue cheese interior. As a fan of gin, olives, and blue cheese, this was a hit. I also tried out the mojito option, and found it semi sweet, minty, and refreshing (sorry about the lack of description here, this was my last drink and at that point my memory gets hazy).
For food I got the small plate of duck confit sliders on pretzel rolls. If there's anything I like more than gin, olives, and blue cheese it's duck and pretzels. The plate was tasty, the duck was juicy and well seasoned, and the rolls were soft and tasted like pretzel, which can be hard to pull off in large quantities. My only qualm with the dish is it's outrageous price of $14 for two sliders. *hits one percenter bell*
The next day I went to the lunch seating upstairs as there was two things I MUST TRY according to my twitter followers: the duck wings (again, duck) and the cheddar biscuit balls.
After another martini order, the biscuits came, and oh my god. This biscuit was soft light, unlike the typical biscuit batter I'm used to. The cheddar inside added a a nice contrast that prevents the dish from becoming hush puppy like. On the side the apricot butter added a nice bit of sweetness that countered the biscuits and highlighted the the cheddar and herbs in the biscuit. The duck wings lived up to the hype, wow. Like the sliders, the duck was juicy and fell off the bone, which is an accomplishment since chicken wings can sometimes end up being tough. The wings were dark meat, which probably helped. The siracha based wing sauce was sweet and slightly tangy, with a steady build up of heat over time. For those worried about spiciness, one wing could be easily consumed without fear, but as someone eating one whole bowl, it got quite spicy (which I'm very happy about).
Carthay Circle is part of a small subset of restaurants at Disney properties I look forward to eating at next trip.
2.) Trader Sams
Big secret: I enjoy my alcohol.
Big secret, part two: I enjoy my 50s kitsch.
Trader Sams has been written to the nth degree by people with better pictures, better writing, and a more refined palate. What I can add is my experience at Trader Sams.
The night I got in at Trader Sams I've been up for over 12 hours already, experiencing hours of flight delays and the stress of running around the Philadelphia Airport, sitting, waiting for the flight attendants to call me for stand-by. So needless to say, a drink was needed.
I was recommended the Shipwreck by my Parkscope brethren, but I found I preferred the Krakatoa myself. I sat at the bar and was showered by the bar tender who looks like the late Ryan Davis (pour one out for the Disneyland loving bastard) and kept yelling "IT FEELS SO REAL!" I saw people sink down to the floor while sitting on their barstools, heard amazing tropical covers of Christmas songs, and had great food. Only complaint is the outside seating is under staffed, and the perky female waitress tried her damnedest in the 40 degree weather to keep us happy; I left a good tip.
For my two cents, the Krakatoa is my favorite drink, I prefer the tropical when it comes to mixed tropical drinks, but the Shipwreck is worth is just for the special effect (I'm also a bourbon fan, so that helps). I still have quite a few drinks to have there, so I GUESS I HAVE TO GO BACK OUT TO DISNEYLAND OH WELL.
1.) Napa Rose
The first experience I had on property this trip was our visit to the Napa Rose, and boy what a start. This could have started poorly, as I had to make a last minute time change due to flight delays that didn't show up in the database. Luckily the staff were quick and made the adjustments to serve us. I wished to do the Chef's Counter, but I think that'll have to wait till next trip. Oh well.
We were seated near the kitchen, which is run incredibly professionally. Our waiter was fantastic, not over the top, attentive, and very knowledgeable, the kind of waiter I like. I got a glass of red wine (Cab, very smooth, dry) and waited for our appetizers.
My guest and I got the buffalo three ways plate and the rabbit dumplings with gravy. I was not a fan of the buffalo as it was prepared tartar, braised, and another preparation I don't remember. The rabbit was amazing in a very nice gravy with vegetables. The biscuit was placed on top and then slid into the oven to develop a nice almost cobbler-esque crust. Very rustic, California style biscuit and gravy.
For dinner my guest got the lamb shoulder and chop and I got the duck (see above, and told you I love duck). There are times in your life when you see God, and having a sample of the lamb shoulder, which is slow cooked like a brisket, is one of them. The fat was rendered down to no grizzle that tasted caramelized and slightly buttery. The meat was kept juicy and medium rare, which can be hard when rendering down fat. The duck, too, was fantastic. Unlike the wing or confit servings from Carthay Circle, this was served as a seared breast over a bed of winter vegetables, fruits, and lentils.
Napa Rose is tied as my favorite restaurant on Disney property, tied with the one and only Jiko in Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Final Thoughts, Additional Comments, & Runners Up
|Lobster Nachos at The Cove Bar. This bar is so good it has a queue to sit at the bar.|
Also, I made a short trip to Las Vegas where I gambled, drank at Todd English's PUB and Ri Ra, and saw Blue Man Group in the Monte Carlo. If you've seen the old Vegas shows or even the new Orlando show, this one is totally different.
If you have any questions or comments, leave some in the comments below or you can at reply me on twitter as ParkscopeJoe.