There are times in your life where you are in a place and it is good and you recognize that this moment you are having in this place could never, ever, ever be duplicated under any conditions or any circumstances, and that even though you were enjoying it to begin with, recognizing this makes it all the more wonderful.
We arrived in Disneyland just after the morning rope drop and, as expected, everybody dashed to the new Finding Nemo submarine ride, which meant everything else was practically a walk-on: the Matterhorn? Come right on in. Indiana Jones? It took longer to walk through the line than it did to eventually wait where we ended up. Haunted Mansion (with the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay which turns the wonderfully creepy gothic masterpiece into a blacklit neon insanitarium, lovable and amazingly well-done but thankfully only temporary)? Simple wait. Pirates of the Caribbean (which really does incorporate Davy Jones, Barbossa and that rogue Jack Sparrow quite well without "ruining" the classic ride)? Walk-on, but then again, I have never been to Disneyland when Pirates had a line extending out of its building. It's a high-capacity ride, plain and simple. Splash Mountain? Quick wait, but, uh, they haven't toned down the splashes for autumn yet. We were Slightly Damp for most of the day after that. Big Thunder Mountain? Hop aboard, pardner! Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin? A fast-moving line and then the opportunity to really crank up the score when our vehicles were stopped several times inside to accommodate boarding passengers with disabilities (thanks, guys! I just about broke a half million on my first try!) We even rode in the cockpit of the Monorail since all you have to do to get that is simply ask nicely.
We'd pretty much done all the major rides in under two hours. The day was ours and the rest of it lay before us with incredible promises.
We did have longer waits after lunch and people started pouring in, so Space Mountain was a wait but so worth it. I hadn't ridden since I think 1989, as all my subsequent trips were in January for my birthday and Space Mountain is usually down for its yearly maintenance then. Now I was able to see it after its refurbishment and oh my gooses, they've done a wonderful job. Remember when the gimmick of Space Mountain was that it was a roller coaster almost completely in the dark so you had no idea what was happening? Well, they found some wonderful ways to actually give you beautiful visuals without letting you see most of the track. Space, as it turns out, is the inside of a disco ball with astro-house music blaring all around.
Sure, I can make humorously cynical comments, I can grin and laugh a bit, I can appreciate some unintended irony, but the cynic in me refuses to venture under the berm with me at the park entrance, so it stays outside making smart-aleck comments at the ticket booths and pet kennel. No, I cannot be totally cranky at Disneyland. It just makes me so happy that I simply cannot get pissed, even though I dropped a very loud F-bomb in It's A Small World with kids in our boat -- though Mr. Dad, sir, there's a reason why you don't take flash pictures on these rides and that is because one of your fellow passengers is invariably going to turn to look at something only to get a bright flash right in the eyes, and instinctively react in the Anglo-Saxon.
I couldn't even be cranky at California Adventure, the little park that all the Internet Know-It-Alls like to slag on for many reasons (some are valid, but some are just because Know-It-Alls like to show off their jaded slagging skills.) However, quite a few of the valid complaints have been and are being addressed (lack of attractions is one; lack of decent attractions apparently another) so the park I saw really does seem to want to live up to its potential now and as long as the Imagineers get the budget they should've had in the first place, they'll do a right fine job with it eventually.
A lot of the stuff they got is a real treat. Soarin' Over California has incredible ride technology and a lovely if disjointed flight film which creates an amazing bunch of sensations. The newer Monsters Inc. ride shows what can be done to overhaul an absolute dog of a dark ride: the original "Superstar Limo" ride was, by all accounts, probably the ghastliest dark ride Disney's ever done (no, seriously, it's horrendous and that's some serious understatement) but the Monsters Inc. conversion which uses the same track layout and the same ride vehicles is charming, involves well-known characters, no smarmy in-jokes, and a simple storyline which nearly echoes the film and includes bits from some of the best scenes (including Boo singing her version of "Beauty and the Beast" in the bathroom as well as whomping Randal into different patterns near the end -- an awesome effect to see "live", as it were.)
I quite enjoyed California Screamin', the launched Intamin roller coaster. It wasn't the launch that got me, though, but the actual ride itself. I wasn't expecting as much airtime as I received -- heck, I really wasn't expecting much but by gum, I had fun. Even the minimally-themed Wild Mouse ("Mulholland Madness") was a fun romp, and the Sun Wheel, their version of Coney Island's Wonder Wheel, actually beats Deno's in the amazingly sickening swinging department. The swinging was vicious, moreso than I've ever felt on the Wonder Wheel, and the gondolas come with barf bags, honest to Fudd. I have photographic proof.
While the Tower of Terror wasn't as complex as Florida's version, it still provided an amazingly surprising drop-lift-n-surprise-drop ride sequence and the beautiful abandoned hotel lobby. Our ride host provided some lovely schtick as well, including manually counting off all the passengers at unload just to make sure we all made it back.
(We didn't ride the Grizzly River Rapids. We learned our lessons back at Splash Mountain.)
But the moment I mentioned earlier came near the end of the night back in good ol' DL proper. We'd waited in an hour's line for the new Finding Nemo submarine ride. It was a great idea to bring back the submarines, as they were much loved and the unused lagoon was sad to see, but the ride is always going to have a long line which can't really be alleviated by the FastPass option. See, there's only so many subs but so much ride, so you will be waiting no matter when you arrive. However we were entertained by a Celtic prog-esque group which had named itself Bad Haggis, honest to Tirebiter, and gave us a bizarrely rock cover of Summer Breeze.
The hour's wait for Nemo, by the way, was the shortest it had been all day. The ride itself was quite fun and the technology is mind-boggling. Let's just say Nemo and friends are not half-moving animatronics. They are indeed animated and underwater, even. The ride did rely a lot on the vocals, however, since the subs are so long and the show sets so short. This means each scene is sustained to show a lot of people going by rather slowly so once you in the front have seen Dory jumping on the jellyfish and have passed on, you get a view of coral while Dory keeps bouncing on the jellyfish for the people on the other end of the sub. But still, it's Dory, for crying out loud, it's enjoyable! (And the t-shirt I saw that had Dory and the slogan "I can't remember where I got this shirt" was adorable too. But I didn't buy one.)
Fireworks were going off as we climbed out of the submarine ("Oh, for us?" I asked the attendant. "You shouldn't have!" Caught in the moment it was the right thing to say, though honestly it was the dumbest thing I said all day.)
Disney spends zillions on their fireworks shows -- they have to repeat them night after night -- and this show took place in several spots around the park, surrounding you with blooms on one side and Roman Candle pops on another and then this giant bloom which must have been magnesium-based just hits in between.
Not being near a speaker to hear the soundtrack, we kind of missed the overall theme of the show (Noah mentioned it has something to do with recreating the various rides and experiences at the park) but that didn't matter. The pyro was brilliant and to me, that's what counts. There was one moment where the entire sky was filled, and continuously filled, with the largest cloud of sparkling golden stardust I've ever seen in a show, as the mortars kept firing and exploding... but subtly so as to not disturb the cloud. I was amazed at how long they sustained it. It was probably one of the best pyrotechnic effects I've ever seen, and that includes the not-quite-round shapes I've seen Atlas attempt.
Finally we ended up, post-show, at It's A Small World. The special gobos were still projecting golden firework sparkles on the ride's classic Mary Blair designed facade. It was right there, waiting in line, exhausted but still completely enchanted and smiling, that I realized right here, right now could not be duplicated anywhere else. I admit I get a little bit teary-eyed when I first enter for the day, realizing while walking under the berm just where I am, but this time the real moment of it all hit me. There's only one place that this can happen and that's right here at Disneyland, no place else, and that's what is so special about the place and why I hold it so dear to my heart, and all the over-merchandising and brand-shoving and cash cow-milking in the world can't take that away from me.
Then I rode It's A Small World and cussed in front of a young child.
No matter. A little pixie dust will clean that right up.