Date: 19 June.
Location: room 2213, Disneyland Hotel.
Notable sightings: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Sulley the monster, Chip, Dale and Captain Hook.
I measured my time at Disneyland in snacks and meals and drinks. (And, sometimes, I wonder if I measure my whole life that way.)
- Gritty, translucent hotel coffee at 6:25am precedes a sleepy scramble to the bonus ‘Magic Hour’ at Disney’s California Adventure world (a tribute to California in theme park form, opened in 2001).
- Plastic eggs and buttery, bacony breakfast potatoes on equally plastic plates at Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars World, after our turn on the new Cars-themed ride (awesome) and before the California Screamin’ roller coaster (more awesome). This is the mother’s first roller coaster and, with several jolting drops and a full loop-the-loop, it’s one hell of an introduction.
- Recharge snack at a skilfully disguised and Disneyified Starbucks: guilty pleasure espresso frappicino for me and one skim cappuccino for the more virtuous half of our duo. Now posses the energy to blackmail the mother into going on the Twilight Tower of Terror ride with me, easily the second scariest ride I’ve ever had the pleasure of screaming my way through. (This sinister looking ‘Hollywood Hotel’ looms in the sky above the park and the ‘hotel’ ‘elevator’ periodically plunges from the top floor, its doors opening to the world periodically to allow the screams of its ‘guests’ to terrify all. It’s the awesomest of all.)
- Lunch on the ‘Pacific Wharf’ — an unsettlingly good replica of Santa Monica pier wholly within the theme park, complete from ferris wheel to fairy lights to corn dog stands — clam chowder for me, salad for the mother, both served in surprisingly great sourdough bread bowls. When I look up from devouring the entirety of my meal (chowder, bowl, almost the napkin), note that the mother has used her bread bowl as an actual bowl and was eyeing my completely empty tray with concern.
- Immediately after the much-anticipated Splash Mountain (and three ‘logjams’ later), it’s cheesy Mexican and margheritas for dinner, up on the deck of the alluringly named Tequila Jo’s in Downtown Disney. Day closes with the spectacular World Of Colour display over the water: fountains that not only rival but fully eclipse those at the Bellagio, tear-jerking Disney music and colours enough to make a pack of skittles feel the need to update their summer wardrobe.
- Another round of gritty, oily-surfaced hotel coffee fuels Magic Hour, this time at Disneyland. The mother and I furiously carouse through the park doing as much as we can before the crowds attack. At nine, collapse at the closest Disney cafe and binge on American style breakfasts: pancakes, bacon, tragic coffee and all. Mine is the ‘Marlk Twain’ and I’m relatively confident the great man never saw a breakfast like it as, by all accounts, he did not suffer from obesity.
- Lunch: one of those meals you begin to regret even as you eat it, but cannot physically stop yourself pigging out on, with a giant smile on your sauce-smeared face: a New Orleans style steak po-boy with Parmesan garlic fries. Not a vegetable in sight.
- Dinner is equally gruesomely delicious. It’s a whole, giant turkey-leg. I have the sole photo evidence of what I did to that turkey-leg — of the Discovery Channel style massacre — and not a soul will ever see it.
What possibly fails to come across above is how much I enjoyed the entire unreal and slightly-bad-for-you experience. As an adult you can see that Disneyland’s magic is as manufactured as its food. But, as with the food, you’re happy to indulge.
I recently listened to an episode of NPR’s TED Radio Hour on ‘brand over brain’ and one section discussed why we ‘fall for’ brands, hypothesising that we, as humans, are programmed to care about the origin, rarity and history of an item. This partly explains why we value a French 2001 Burgundy over a $3 cleanskin from Dan Murphy’s (but of otherwise uncertain origin), and why that chipped seashell you collected from the beach on your first trip to Hawaii moves from house to house with you as a treasured possession though it has no ‘real’ value.
However, when we place so much value on scarcity and history, we can be fooled. We crave authenticity but how do we know which wine is really from Champagne, which cocktail dress is genuine silk, which mp3 player will last? We trust certain brands to deliver what they promise; we trust Dom Perignon to give us real champagne, we trust Willow to make dresses from the finest and we trust Apple with all our tech needs.
To TED, Joseph Pine speaks at length about Disneyland, about how it succeeds because the experience of Disneyland is precisely what it proposes to be: no, not the Magic Kingdom, but a cheerful technicolor rainbow explosion of an experience evocative of childhood. It promises escapism and delivers escapism and, in that, it’s authentic and so enjoyable.
This is a roundabout way of justifying why, as a tertiary-educated young woman of twenty-eight, I loved spending a weekend at Disneyland.
There were a dozen magic, escapism moments: as the fireworks exploded over Sleeping a Beauty’s castle; during the first water drop in the creaky Pirates Of The Caribbean ride (the one that inspired the movie franchise); when the ‘bellhop’ in the darkened Twilight Tower of Terror asks all first time guests to raise their hands — then grimaces and says ‘good luck’ as the elevator doors slam closed; as you make small talk with Cinderella (“and from which kingdom do you hail, Princess Alex?”) or when Minnie gives you a hug.
That said, constant grubby reminders of the real world abound as always. There are the morbidly obese mums sucking down vente sized, cream-topped chocolate Starbucks confections as they slam miserably into crowds in their motorised chairs dragging three kids, overtired four year old Elsas, Annas and Woodys clutching balloons and wailing in the line for Indiana Jones, and, oh, the lines. So I did what every good escapism artist would do and ignored them and focused on the beautiful fantasy.
Edit: a tip for anyone visiting Disneyland. Study, use and abuse the FastPass system. It’ll be the Buzz Lightyear to your Woody, the Pluto to your Micky, the Mile to your Sulley.