Thursday, August 5, 2010

A newbies guide to Disneyland and Legoland

The week before last, we travelled across ten time zones and over 17000km from Hobart to Boston. To break up the journey we decided to spend a few days in each of Disneyland and Legoland. We wanted to start and finish relatively close to the Los Angelese airport, so we spent two full days at Disneyland, two at Legoland, and then finished with another full day back at Disneyland.

This is my summary of our experiences at each theme park, the highs, the lows, and some tip & tricks for other visitors....

Something that stood out immediately was just how clean everything is at Disneyland. There must be a small army of people picking up rubbish and cleaning up spills, etc. Another very impressive feature is just how much attention to detail goes on throughout the park. The park is divided into themed "lands", each cleverly filled with appropriate decorations and music and separated by well crafted "liminal" spaces. It was also amazing how quickly they unloaded the people from each ride, and set the next group going, either by exiting to the opposite side, or loading/unloading on conveyor belts. Very slick.

The highlights of Disneyland included...
  • Autopia - steer cars around an enclosed track. This was the boys' favourite and a great ride for their age group (they are 7 and 9). We rode this three times.
  • Space Tours - a dated, but still pretty neat, Star Wars-inspired space simulator ride. Mitch loved this one, and was a bit disappointed that we didn't get to go again.
  • Astro Blasters - A Buzz Lightyear-themed ride where you get to shoot at targets and earn points. Anita got hooked on this one and we did it twice.
  • Jedi Training Academy - Participants become a Jedi padawan and learn the ways of the force, and then get to battle Darth Maul or Darth Vader. It took a couple of attempts for Mitch and Rohan to be selected, but in the end they were. They looked a bit overawed, but they had a ball.
  • Tomorrowland - Overall, this seemed to be our favourite area within Disneyland, and we kept finding ourselves back here.
  • Aladdin - Excellent stage show with flying carpets and a show-stealing genie. At 45 minutes, it was much tighter and more entertaining than what I remember of the Disney movie.
  • Fantasmic! - an amazing nighttime show featuring water projection screens, flames on the water's surface, and much more.
  • Splash Mountain - a fun "flume" ride, with some leisurely winding around and through a mountain and one somewhat scary (at least it was for me!) drop at the end. We got a little wet, but not too wet.
  • Captain EO 3D - It was great to see this classic piece of Michael Jackson but it's very dated, and not the best piece of work by any of the otherwise very talented people who were involved (Francis Ford Coppola, James Horner, oh and that George Lucas bloke). Presumably it was cutting edge for the 80s, but I think it might be stuck there. There were some nice surprises, but it's a good thing we saw this before Muppetvision...
  • Muppet*Vision 3D - Jim Henson at his brilliant best. It's 20 years old but for the most part looks like it was made yesterday. Walking into the Muppet Theatre was a delight, and all the gimmics worked because they were underpinned by a great script that captures Henson's sense of fun. My favourite attraction of the week!
Here are my tips & tricks for other Disneyland newbies...
  • Arrive early, take a break in the middle of the day to avoid the biggest crowds, and then return refreshed in the evening.
  • Be strategic about the order in which you do the attractions to minimise wait times.
  • Make clever use of the fast pass system to bypass the "standby" lines of the most popular attractions, which leads to...
  • Use the Ridemax to plan you itinerary - This is my new favourite piece of software, and worth much more than the $15 it cost. The first day we didn't use it (even though I had already installed it), because I didn't want to be dogmatic about where to go and when we had to be there, but in the end it was just too frustrating deciding when to queue and when to try another attraction. (A 30 to 60 minute wait for a 5-minute ride is very common at Disneyland.) Once we started using the software, however, we were able to avoid all the worst lines and plan our days with so much less stress. The software comes with a bunch of other invaluable tips that also helped make a big difference.
  • If you're there with a 7- and/or a 9-year old, skip the Indiana Jones ride. The set dessings as we walked through the incredibly long tunnels into the ride (past what looked like thousands of people in the "standby" line) were excellent, but our boys spent most of the actual ride with their eyes closed, and I just found the whole thing overblown and kind of annoying. It was more "Temple of Doom" than "Raiders of the Lost Ark", if you know what I mean.
  • Food - Bring food with you, or leave the park to eat. One exception to this is The French Market Restaurant in the New Orleans Square. It's still too expensive, but if you have to pay over-inflated "captive audience" prices for food, it doesn't hurt to have an option that tastes good and, shock horror!, acutally includes some veggies.
  • Accommodation - We stayed at the Anaheim Islander Inn & Suites. It was a great price for comfortable accommodation, and was walking distance from Disneyland. It was also one of the only places we could find within our price range that could easily accomodate a family of four. Their "breakfast" was more of a snack (a pastry and an apple), but we were expecting this, so it was okay. We just bought cereal and milk from a corner store and took the provided "breakfast" with us to eat during the day. They also had a pool that the boys seemed to enjoy just as much as any of the Disneyland attractions!
For our first day in Legoland, we caught a train to Carlsbad, dropped off our gear at the hotel where we would be staying the night and made our way to the theme park. We arrived two hours after opening, wandered around from the front of the park to the left and quickly found ourselves in a line for the "Sky Cruiser". We waited for over an hour for a very ordinary three minute ride, where we were encouraged to pedal, to make the vehicle go faster, and therefore make the ride finish quicker!! Not happy! It did not help at all that the ride was loaded sssooooo slooooowwwwlllyyy.... The whole time we were thinking, "This ain't Disney!". We spent most of the afternoon at the water park, and in the evening came up with a better strategy for tackling the other attractions on day two... We did this partly by asking ourselves, "What would RideMax do?".

We intended to start day two right on opening time, but after allowing ourselves to be distracted by the hotel pool (and two geocaches near the hotel... ahem...), we arrived 30 minutes after opening (so much for that plan...). We raced directly to the Knight's Tournament expecting a small line to have already formed. There was none (phew!). We enjoyed the ride and then went to Captain Cranky - We were the first to ride! The next two activites on our itinerary had small lines, and suddenly we found ourselves 30+ minutes ahead of schedule. The moral of this story... arrive early, head straight to the most popular rides at the back of the park, then work your way to the front of the park.

Highlights of Legoland...
  • Water park - I loved building (well, decorating really) our own raft and then gently floating around the "flume" (yes, this is my new favourite word). In another attraction, going down a waterslide in a raft big enough for our whole family was also very cool.
  • Miniland - LEGO buildings, vehicles, people, etc. representing places and people from all over the world. Cool! (My long-standing desire to build a LEGO model of a Hobart building or two continues to grow...)
  • Knight's Tournament - Now this was cool. It's unlike any other ride I've seen. You're in a harness at the end of robotic arm that can move and spin you in any direction. You get to choose what level you want to do from 1 (gentle) to 5 (vomit inducing). We chose level 2, but that was enough for the rest of the family. I was keen to go again, on level 3, and even though there was no line, we stuck to our itinerary... )-:
  • Clutch Powers 4D (Yes 4D!! Isn't the 4th dimension time? Or is that 4D as opposed to a static 3D hologram?) - The story was simple but made more sense than most fiction published by LEGO. Overtly gimmicky, but fun.
  • Skipper School & Driving School - These were great for children our boys' age. In both cases, children are able to steer their own vehicles at gentle speeds. Unlike anything at Disneyland (except Autopia to some extent), these rides give the punters much more autonomy.
  • Aqua zone - a mock jet ski-type of ride that looked cool, with jets of water controlled by onlookers threatening to give the riders a soaking. Unfortunately, most of the jets weren't working properly... )-: And there I was, worrying that I was going to get wet...
Tips & tricks...
  • As I said already, start at the back of the park. I guess this is a good strategy for any theme park. Shows what a newbie I am.
  • Accommodation - We stayed at Inns of America. It was a bit more up market than we needed, but it was close to Legoland and they provided a complimentary shuttle service to the theme park. And they had a pool that the boys made great use of while we waited for the Legoland to open.
Comparing Legoland with Disneyland is not particularly flattering for Legoland, at least from an adult's point of view. The staff are generally less enthused (although there were a couple of notable exceptions), the place is dirtier, and overall it looks a bit run down, BUT.... Mitch wrote in his class blog that he enjoyed Disneyland but that he preferred Legoland, so I guess something is working. I think that this is partly because LEGO means more to them than Mickey & co., but mainly I think the boys might've been getting a bit tired of rides at Disneyland being "done" to them. With activities like Skipper School, Driving School, and Build-A-Raft at Legoland, the opportunities to "create" were apparent and appreciated.

Overall both parks were lots of fun, and I would enjoy revisiting either of them.

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