ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was not a pretty sight. Staggering through the exit turnstiles of California Adventure, I was stricken with the sort of randomly anxious thoughts I have not experienced since my hardest drinking days.
If cotton candy is green and slightly tangy does that make it a fruit? Was the music I kept hearing real or just in my head? Were my feet and hands swollen because I had been upright for so long or was I actually turning into a cartoon character? The girl walking beside me claimed to be my daughter, but that seemed unlikely; to have a teenage daughter, surely I would be too old to have just spent 20 hours and change at Disneyland?
As with so many seasonal turnings (Christmas, Halloween, the return of the Fairies to Capistrano, er, Pixie Hollow), it isn’t summer until the Disney Resort says so. And on the Friday before Memorial Day it did just that, hosting a big, possibly annual, Rock Your Disney Side event in which Disneyland and California Adventure were both open from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Oh, there were other “highlights” as well, music in both parks, meet ‘n’ greets with characters and ongoing presentations of “Frozen” and assorted Marvel films, but the big draw was the dawn-to-dawn operating day; what would 24 hours of Disney look like?
Gentle Reader, I will never know. At 1:30 a.m., when the wait-time for any ride worth going on passed the two-hour mark, I clocked out.
Still, lessons were learned, including and especially this: While Disney clearly has to figure out how to deal with its own popularity, as detailed by my colleague Hugo Martin after Disney recently hiked single-day tickets to $96, making the 24-hour day a regular thing is not the answer.
Oh, there were people who survived all 24 hours. I suspect those post-midnight 111-minute lines for California Screamin’ and Space Mountain consisted mainly of late-comers — my own teenager didn’t join us until after 9 — but there were plenty of guests who opened the parks and then closed them, after showing up at midnight on Thursday to snag a free lanyard and then camping out to be first in line.
But they were the die-hards, the Mouskephiles, the long-term annual pass-holders armed with multiple apps and cellphone chargers, the frequent visitors who have actually seen the famous family of cats that has lived in Disneyland since the beginning, fans who can point out all the hidden Mickeys without the aid of the book, who are not afraid to demand that the cast member funneling the crowd through the Indiana Jones ride pause long enough to shine a flashlight onto the ceiling to expose the Dumbo sign left over from when the space was a parking lot.
For years, I thought I loved Disneyland; on Friday I learned I don’t even know what love is. Love is knowing where all the electrical outlets lie in both parks.
We arrived just after 5 a.m., my 7-year-old daughter and I, feeling proud of our ability to meet any challenge, until we caught sight of the plaza between the two parks, which looked like St. Peter’s Square on Christmas Eve. If Catholics were required to wear Maleficent horns.
“Maleficent,” as you may know, debuted last weekend, and if the many horns and costumes (personal shout-out to all those in drag — you looked fabulous, guys!) were any indication, anticipation was high. At 5:30 a.m., however, star Angelina Jolie was nowhere in sight; instead Disney provided Josh Gad, the voice of “Frozen’s” Olaf and clearly the gamest new member of the Disney team, to count down the final seconds before the park’s opening.
There were also fireworks, because of course there would be fireworks. Even at 6 a.m.
And so it began, a blur of lines and rides and arguments about food. No matter how numerous, assorted or usually forbidden the snacks in your backpack, your children will inevitably want a churro. Or chicken nuggets. Or, heaven help us, chili in a bread bowl.
Why on earth is anyone still serving anything in a bread bowl? And why, as long as we’re discussing bread, are there so few sandwich options in the Disney parks? Yes, yes, we appreciate the apple slices and baby carrots now thrown in with every entree (memo to Moms: pack single-serve peanut butter), but what we really need is a place we can grab a fresh but pre-made sandwich.
By the time my husband arrived at 9 p.m. with my older daughter and fresh snacks, I had been reduced to conceding that popcorn was, technically, a vegetable. Twenty hours in Disney also gives one a new perspective on the rides. Perhaps it’s my age (which seemed to accelerate, like Lincoln’s during the Civil War), but where once I sought speed and beauty, now I just want to rest, preferably in the dark.
Which means the best rides are now the ones with the highest sitting down to standing up ratio. The Little Mermaid ride hands down, but high marks also go to Grizzly River Run (though you will get wet), Mickey’s Fun Wheel (the non-swinging carts often have the shortest line and have the added benefit of being, obviously, non-swinging) and the Disneyland Railroad, especially if you can persuade the kids to go ‘round twice.
Strangely, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion also rank high; if the lines are long, the ride is sure to stop at least once or twice while you’re on it, giving you time to close your eyes, collect your thoughts and quietly mainline the chocolate-covered espresso beans you keep hidden from the kids.
Several previous 24-hour event survivors recommended the film events, but even the 7-year-old could not bear another viewing of “Frozen.” Until she called it quits at 11:30, when her father led her back to the hotel, she found respite watching various parades and chilling out in the Disney Animation building, talking to the turtles, taking a sketch class at the Animation Academy and just, yes, lying down on the main floor watching various film clips float across the screen.
It does look a bit like an airport during a flight-delaying blizzard, but it’s air-conditioned, there are electrical outlets and it’s the only place in both parks where you can lie down and not attract the attention of a Disney medic.
Which is strange, considering that one of the most famous hypersomniacs in literary history is part of the Disney canon. How have the good folks at Disney not capitalized on this? Especially if they’re going to push the 24-hour thing.
Perhaps they could take a step back from all those Maleficent horns and concentrate on a solution to two problems: A real Sleeping Beauty experience. Now that’s a ride that would be worth the wait.