Categories : Theme Park Reviews

 

Disneyland Birthday ButtonWhen it was announced in 2008 that the Disney Resorts would be offering free admission to one park for people to celebrate their birthday in 2009, I knew I was going to make plans to enjoy Disneyland for my birthday. It’s not the first time I’ve spent my birthday at Disneyland. The last time was in 2004 back when I last had an annual pass to the parks. I was excited to come to Disneyland for my birthday as I haven’t been to the park since right around the time Space Mountain was re-opening following two years of being closed to completely replace the tracks.

I posted a note on my Twitter account to see if any of my friends would be free and available to join me at Disneyland, and I suppose the one thing as you get older is that the responsibilities of the real world doesn’t always allow your friends to come play with you in an amusement park on a “work” day during the week. So aside from several notes of regret of not being able to come from local friends and notes from international friends where the travel distances were prohibitive of being able to come, it was looking like I’d be doing the park on my own. No big deal as far as I’m concerned, I’ve never been the type of person to allow the fact others couldn’t come to stop me from enjoying the things I want to do. Besides, I’ve done the Disney parks several times on my own when I last had annual passes, sometimes I’d end up at the parks on a whim and would have no time to invite others anyway.

Since it looked like I’d be doing Disneyland on my own, I just opted to book a hotel room in Anaheim for the night before that way I could get to the park early and not waste anytime on the road early in the morning. I booked the hotel room in Anaheim through Priceline. I got an amazingly good deal of $30 for the room which ended up being $40 by the time all the taxes and Priceline fees were added. In any case, it was a pretty good deal and since I was heading up the night before, I decided to add an afternoon at Knott’s Berry Farm to my agenda. I wouldn’t have done that if I had a friend joining me for my birthday at Disneyland.

As I got to the Disneyland Resort and got parked, it was still about an hour before the park was open to the general public. So there weren’t yet a lot of people there. I had no wait at all for the tram to the entrance plaza, and no wait at all at the ticket booth. I presented the printout of the certificate I had gotten online for my birthday admission and as I mentioned I was planning to upgrade the ticket to an annual pass, the cashier in the booth said he could take care of that for me right there, which I thought was handy. I thought I’d have to take care of that at the Annual Pass pavilion inside the park. The only rather silly thing I had to do at the window was because the free admission is a promotional offering, I would have to take the ticket to another window physically as there’s some kind of legal stipulation that prevents them from issuing a promotion and then redeeming it for credit to upgrade in one transaction. No worries. They just had the guy at the window on the other side of the booth expect me and I walked around the ticket building to that window.

So it ended up being a quick and painless process once at the new window. They took my free one-day, one park ticket as well as my parking receipt and applied both to the cost of the annual pass I selected. And since Disneyland is now offering Southern California residents the opportunity to make monthly payments on the annual passes instead of having to front the whole cost immediately, I selected a Deluxe pass and added on the parking option. If I was having to pay for it up front I would have just gone with the Southern California resident pass with the fewest blackout dates. So now for the next year I’ll be paying $20 a month. All I need to do is visit the park once every three months for it to be a deal. I think I can handle that.

So it was great to take care of the Annual Pass right at the ticket booth outside the park, now all I had to do was just go inside and visit the Annual Pass pavilion so I could get my photo taken and trade the ticket in for my permanent pass. All taken care of before the park even opened. One last order of business they had for me at the ticket booth was that they gave me a “Happy Birthday” button and asked me to write my name on it with a Sharpie marker. I felt a little silly putting it on, but hey, why not? Maybe it would have some perks inside the park besides the feeling like a dork wearing it.

Since it was still about a half hour before Disneyland was opening, I went over to the main gates and got in one of the lines in front of the gates that were already forming. I had some time to kill so I took a picture of my birthday button and uploaded it to TwitterPics, which took forever on my iPhone. I guess having one of the older models only capable of Edge speeds outside of a Wi-Fi network is a disadvantage. It took over 10 minutes for the picture to upload and pretty much drained the battery by half, but it helped kill some time waiting for the gates to open. So with that kind of battery drain I wasn’t doing that again during the day.

The lines outside the park proceeded to get longer and longer. I was the fifth person in the line I had picked so once the gates opened I wasn’t going to be waiting too long. I saw several different other kinds of buttons people had on while waiting in the line. There were some that indicated “1st Visit” for the folks who were visiting Disneyland for the first time. There were others that said “Anniversary” on it for those celebrating anniversaries, and some that just said “Celebrating” which seemed to be for the people accompanying others with more specific celebration type buttons. I saw lots of other birthday buttons too. It seems the theme of the park this year is celebrating so all you needed was a reason to celebrate and there was a button for you to highlight the type of celebration. So with all the people with various kinds of celebrating buttons going on, I didn’t feel quite so much like a dork anymore, lots of others were celebrating too.

Once the gates opened about five minutes before the park officially opened and I was wished a Happy Birthday by the woman manning the gate, I made my way to the end of Main Street where they were holding people back for the last few minutes before they unleashed the crowd on the park. I waited on the side of the street closest to Tomorrowland because the first ride I was going to head to was Space Mountain. And soon enough the minutes passed and on the way to Space Mountain.

I make a quick stop in the Fast Pass area for Space Mountain so I could collect a ticket that would let me bypass a large part of the line later in the day. Then I made my way onto Space Mountain in the standby line and pretty much just walked on as the line didn’t start slowing down to have people wait until the final ramp just before you get on the ride. I waited less than two minutes in line and was on my first ride of Space Mountain of the day. And as soon as the ride was done, I went right back in line and walked back on Space Mountain in about the same amount of time. I’d been on the ride twice in less than twenty minutes in the park. Not bad. I didn’t end up needing the Fast Pass ticket I had gotten earlier. I was happy with the two trips on the ride and then moved on to other rides in the park.

 Finding Nemo Ride OperatorThe next ride I chose to ride was the Finding Nemo submarine ride. That ride was still under construction the last time I had been in the park so it was cool to try it out. I was definitely interested to see what they had done to modernize and add Finding Nemo elements to the old submarine ride which had been closed for a very long time. The ride operator here was one of the first ones in the park to wish me a Happy Birthday once he saw the button I had on. He even wished me a Happy Birthday by name. I didn’t think I wrote my name on the button that legibly for people to actually read it. That was really cool.

I then proceeded to make my way over to the Matterhorn ride and picked my usual favorite side. When I had annual passes before I tried both sides of ride and determined the side that boards closest to Tomorrowland has the smoother riding track of the two tracks. Granted that doesn’t say much as this side is still quite jerky and rough but I like this side much better than the other one.

Then I made my back into Tomorrowland and hoped on a ride of Star Tours. I was a little disappointed the ride was no longer sponsored by Energizer batteries as I always found the sign they had at the end of the ride highly amusing. It used to say above the exit to the ride “May all your adventures be long lasting. — Energizer.” Sure that’s rather innocent, but if you then pose the question, “What adventures need batteries?” the sign became quite amusing. As the ride finished and dumped the riders into the Star Tours gift shop, I saw a t-shirt I decided I was going to need to buy later on in the day. In Yoda speak, the front side of the shirt says, “Judge me by my size, do you?” which I loved on the basis that I’ve lost so much weight recently, I thought it would be a good one to have in that context. But since I didn’t want to be lugging a t-shirt around all day, I’d just come back later to buy the shirt.

I then decided to ride the Astro Orbiter ride at the front of the Tomorrowland entrance. It’s basically a fancy carousel with rockets that can be raised and lowered by a control in the vehicle. The ride used to be on top of base of the People Mover ride closer to the central courtyard area of Tomorrowland and I think was a little bit scarier as it was much higher up. I’d never been on the ride since it moved to the entrance of Tomorrowland, so I thought I might as well give it a whirl. It was quite amusing for me as I had my own rocket but since I was seated to the rear of the rocket, the only way I could reach the control to handle the lift for the ride was to stick my foot behind the control and pull the control towards me to lift the rocket and then position my foot to the front of it and push it to lower the rocket. It was funny to me. I kept trying to snap a picture of the People Mover track as each time the ride circled around so I was facing the track.

I miss the People Mover. I wonder if they’ll resurrect the ride when it gets a little closer to the new Tron movie coming out. I always liked the projected film room the People Mover went through that had the Tron speeder bikes from the first movie zooming by to give the impression we were a part of that world. And it was a nice overall tour of Tomorrowland. It always makes me nostalgic for that ride when the see the abandoned track for the ride still there.

Since I was pretty much done with Tomorrow land by this point, I decided to head to the Plaza Pavilion to take care of getting the photo for my Annual Pass as it’s right next to the entrance to Adventureland where the Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones ride are. There was no line and a couple of really nice Disney employees who also wished me a Happy Birthday. I was in and out of there in just a couple of minutes, it couldn’t have been quicker.

As I walked by the Enchanted Tiki Room, I heard some of the idols from the courtyard talking in the pre-show for the attraction which signals that they’re about ready to let the next group of people into the show. I thought about going in, but thought it might be appropriate to wait until later when it was going to be a lot warmer. Granted this early in the day it was still quite hot from the heat wave we’ve been experiencing the last couple of weeks in Southern California and I probably could have used the break. I decided to hit the Jungle Cruise instead. Where I ended up boarding the boat called the “Congo Queen” with a very sassy woman giving the cruise tour who even picked on me a little bit for it being my birthday.

Next up was a run through the Indiana Jones ride which was fun to be on again after so many years away from the park. I still remember the first time I went on the ride, there was an insanely long line just getting to the attraction, and then once you got in you thought it was going to be a short wait only to discover the line continues on for an insanely long way before you even get to where the ride boards. Fortunately today’s wait in the line wasn’t remotely as long, but at the same time, the Indiana Jones ride is definitely one of the better lines to have to wait in as it offers a lot of things to check out and play with to keep the waiting folks entertained before they even get on the ride.

As I finished with the ride, I saw I had received a phone call from my father. He called to let me know that he and my mom were on their way to meet up with me for lunch. And they also had my grandfather from Canada with them to come join me. It was a bit of a surprise he was coming initially because he got a last minute deal from Air Canada on a direct flight from Calgary to San Diego, so he was flying in for just a few days but since the weather was too hot they didn’t want to do the parks with me, but planned on coming up to see me for lunch. This call was just to let me know they were about an hour away still. So since I got the message about twenty minutes following the call, I had enough time to hop on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Club 33 EntranceAgain not much of a line here. It was a quick hop on the ride and this too would be my first time on the ride since they upgraded it to include characters and plot from the feature film. Sure it’s kind of tampering with a classic ride, but now that the films have been so successful they’ll be forever linked with the ride so they might as well tie in a little more closely. I didn’t mind the addition of the animatronics of Captains Jack Sparrow and Barbossa and a really cool way of adding Davy Jones as a projection on a screen made on a curtain of fog the boat passes through. Essentially the ride is 95% the same as it always has been just with some new elements.

After exiting the ride I walked down the themed street of shops in the New Orleans Square section and saw the sign marking the 33 to entrance to the famed exlcusive Club 33. Who knows if I’ll ever get the chance to see the inside of this club but I thought it was cool to see where it is. And as soon as I snapped a photo of the entrance I got a call from my father to indicate he was just getting parked in the Downtown Disney parking lot so I suggested I meet my lunch party outside the entrance to the Rainforest Cafe since I knew where that was. And I proceeded to make my way out of the park to meet up with my parents and my grandfather for lunch.

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