September 13, 2005

High Adventure in Disney’s Tomorrowland

What would a contemporary family vacation be without a visit to a theme park. How about three theme parks? Yes, on our recent sojourn to Southern California we hit Sea World, Legoland, and the jewel in the theme park crown: Disneyland.

Jeff and family on Buzz Lightyear ride

The Gates family scores while Jeff photographs the whole incident.

After Sea World and Legoland, my wife and I weren’t looking forward to our trip to the Magic Kingdom. It was the day before our return home and we were already starting to segue to our previous lives on the East Coast. To say nothing of the cost: a family of four cannot get into these parks for under $150 and that’s just for admission.

But we had a magic bullet for this kingdom in the guise of my best friend Donna. She is a Disneyland aficionado, attending the park multiple times each year. She knows the ins and outs of Disneyland, scours their online forums for tips, and is a most wonderful and efficient strategist when it comes to developing our itinerary.

“What do you really want to see? What are the important rides you all want to go on? she queried a few days ahead of our appointment with Mickey and his team. We began to make our list: Autopia was our girls’ number one choice. Driving a car when you are 7 and 9 holds a special mystique I remembered from my youth.

Two years ago, my oldest declared after her first Autopia drive that she was ready for the big time. She couldn’t wait to get home and start driving our family car. Ha, ha, ha. All in due time (all in my time, my dear).

And Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House. “Don’t forget the newest ride, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin,” Donna reminded us. Yes, can’t forget Buzz.

“Ok, this is what we should do: When we get into the park we’ll first go to Buzz and get a Fastpass.” For the uninitiated a Fastpass is a timed ticket. You pick one up for an important ride and it allows you to return at an appointed time, going directly to the head of the line. But, you can only get one Fastpass at a time. So it’s vital to prioritize carefully.

Ok, Fastpass for Buzz Lightyear first. “Then we’ll go over to Pirates and see how long the line is.” We walked over and it was only a ten-minute wait. We got in line. And once that was over we moved on to the Haunted House, which was close by. Pay dirt! We walked right on.

Donna, you’re a genius!

It didn’t hurt that we had moved our Disneyland trip to the end of our vacation. Originally, we had scheduled it at the beginning but Donna was called for jury duty and we certainly couldn’t go without her. By the end of August the summer crowd was flying home for the beginning of school. While the park was far from empty, we didn’t wait very long for rides. Donna had predicted this after talking with her Disneyland friends online. Good work!

By the time we were done with the Haunted House it was time to return to Buzz. You enter a little “car” equipped with two laser shooters. Not only do you get to ride around Lightyear’s world but you get to shoot’em up as you go. Your score is shown on the car’s dashboard and at the end you are presented a digital photo of your adventure. My wife and I got on with our 9 year old while Donna went with our youngest in the next car.

The dashboard is out of the way when you enter the car but comes down as a safety belt to lock you in during the ride. Unfortunately this mechanism knocked my prescription (and way too expensive) sunglasses off my neckholder. I didn’t know if they had fallen in or out the car. But we were locked in and off to fight the aliens so I had to wait until the end of the ride.

As we were getting out I looked down. But no glasses. I immediately contacted a cast member (all employees of Disneyland are called cast members) and explained my dire situation. Losing my glasses would certainly put a damper over all of our well-thought out plans for the day. And I so wanted to leave with fond memories. I’m sure Walt would have wanted me to too.

“No problem,” Mr. Cast Member replied. I’ll send someone on the ride right away. Obviously, I wasn’t the first to lose something. Immediately, another cast member got on with flashlight and a device for picking up objects. My fingers were crossed as she disappeared into Evil Emperor Zurg’s dark world.

All of a sudden we heard the announcement: “There is a major malfunction on the ride. Everyone will have to evacuate immediately.” They released the dashboard safety belts. Cast members scattered throughout the darkness to help stranded riders exit safely. My troupe looked at each other with the same thought: Jeff comes to Disneyland and single handedly destroys the Buzz Lightyear ride. “Boy, what a story that will make,” I thought (providing this fairy tale park can deliver with a good ending to my own sad story).

We watched as the last riders left. Donna, held my children close to her while Susie and I pondered my visual future. If Zurg had destroyed my sunglasses all the Magic Kingdom colors would appear totally washed out in the bright August sun (to say nothing of being a bit blurry). We waited: tense with anticipation to how this cartoonish story would end.

No one but us and the cast members remained. Special Buzz mechanics entered the ride and conferred in hushed tones with the cast member in charge. I watched for my special envoy to reappear, space booty, I mean sunglasses in hand. We waited.

Suddenly out of the Zurg-infested fog I spied her. Did she have my specs? I couldn’t tell as she nonchalantly —and in filmatic slow motion— moseyed towards us. Yes! There they were. And not a scratch on them. A happy ending is indeed the Disneyland way.

The power to stop aliens with laser guns or sunglasses —that’s what little boys’ dreams are made of. And now I could see it all with perfect clarity.

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Great story, well told. We’ll have to get you all into Club 33 someday.

Posted by: Donna on September 13, 2005 8:09 PM

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