50th Anniversary Tour
Disneyland's newest guided tour is either "From Imagination to Celebration" or the "50th Anniversary Tour" or "What tour?" depending on who in the park you ask. It is a lengthy affair, covering the whole history of the park in microscopic detail, and is intended for park guests who want to know all they can about Disneyland and are willing to put their money where their mouse is.
Ironicly, the tour begins at the guided tour building on Main Street. Guests are checked in and given tour badges (necessary because the normal maximum number of people on a tour has been increased to 50 in honor of the park's anniversary). Each guest taking the tour also receives two special gifts:
At the time of our tour these special gifts were not available. Cast members took down our addresses and we were promised that the gifts would be mailed to us at a later date.
Before the tour officially started, everyone in the tour was given a special listening device that would make it easy to hear the tour guide even though we had a large group and would be doing a lot of walking. The listening devices were 50th-anniversary-themed waxed paper truncated cones, open on one end almost like a cup. They were attached to each other by lengths of gold-colored twine. When the twine was pulled taught, the tour guide could speak into her listening device and guests holding their devices to their ears could hear every word perfectly. Ingenious!
Later on the tour we learned that Disneyland is also testing portable radio-broadcast devices that guests can wear as headsets, so that they don't have to worry about becoming separated from the tour guide, who will be broadcasting the tour from the comfort of a back-stage cubicle. This system should save a lot of tour-guide shoe leather, will potentially allow tour groups to include hundreds of guests, and may at some future date allow the outsourcing of tour guide services to inexpensive off-shore facilities.
The tour officially started with our tour guide producing a Sorcerer Mickey hat on which were five discs representing Disneyland's five "eras". One guests was asked to select the two eras she was most interested in. We were then told that, because the afternoon tours only include three eras (the first tour of the day includes all five, the second tour includes four plus a larger snack, the next includes three plus reserved seating for the parade, the one after that also has three and reserved seating for the fireworks, and the last includes two, but you do one of them twice and the other one three times), so we wouldn't be discussing the two that the guest had chosen as her favorite. At first, this seemed horribly cruel, but after the guest stopped crying we realized that it sort of made sense -- why not learn more about the areas you know least about?
As we walked to our first stop on the tour, the guide asked each of us what our strongest Disneyland memories were. One man said he remembered attending the park right after his parents' divorce and asking his mom if Peter Pan could be his new daddy. His friend talked about how his family used to come to the park every day for weeks, and that his mother was always encouraging him to fall off something because they needed the money. A woman described how, under hypnosis, his psychotherapist had helped him recover memories of being abducted by from the Peoplemover by aliens. A middle-aged man had to be cut off half way through his story about Adventure Thru Inner Space and a hot date. One woman complained that if we were the ones who were going to be giving all the information then why the heck had she shelled out $55 in the first place? My memory was about the time I "accidentally" squirted my water bottle square in Cynthia Harris' face. That was my best Disneyland trip ever.
Our first stop was at the large photomosaic of Mickey Mouse on Main Street. Those of use who had submitted photographs for the mosaic project used a computer to find out in which of dozens of inaccessible locations our photos were located (my printout showed the exact grid location of my photo, so that I can locate it easily if I happen upon the abominable snow man mosaic located near the top of the Matterhorn). Taking a close look a the black-and-white "Steamboat Willie" mosaic, I noticed that some of the photos were not of Disneyland. Our tour guide explained that there was not great response to the request for photos, so some filler had to be used. Even so, I was surprised to see pictures from other Disney parks, stills from Disney movies, and Michael Jackson's mug shots.
Near the mural, our guide pointed out a door on the side of a store that says "Employees only" on the glass. Disney fans know that Disneyland employees are always referred to as cast members, not employees, so the door is a bit out of place. In fact, the door was placed at this spot at the suggestion of Walt Disney himself as a test of cast members' knowledge of Disney magic. To this day, any cast member who forgets their place and walks through the door as an "employee" is immediately fired (or in Disneyland terms, "has their magic removed"). Along similar lines, we learned that the cars of cast members who park in designated employee parking spaces are towed.
Normally at this point in the tour an official Disneyland photographer would take the group's photo. At the end of the tour, each guest is supposed to receive a copy of the photo. However, at the time of our tour no photographer was available. They took down our addresses and we were promised that they would send a photographer to our homes at a later date.
On the way to our next stop, our guide mentioned that even though this tour was supposed to contain a great deal of behind-the-scenes and historical information about the park, she had not always been a Disneyland expert. In fact, her training for this tour had been completed in only three days, during which she had been restrained with her eyes propped open and forced to watch Disneyland historical footage at a speed so high that it was just barely humanly comprehensible. After 72 straight hours of this, she was a veritable Disneyland encyclopedia, albeit a dehydrated one who for some bizarre reason can no longer stand listening to Beethoven.
The tour next moved to the new Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years exhibit. I won't go into it in too much detail, because we'll be reporting on the exhibit on its own page. One thing that was interesting about being on a tour within the exhibit is that Disneyland policy prevents the tour guide from speaking when the official exhibit host is speaking. So when the host picked up a microphone to give guests instructions for entering the theater, our tour guide became suddenly silent. This made perfect sense until I noticed that whenever someone asked the exhibit host a question, our guide would refuse to speak, even if the host was at the other end of the hall. The situation quickly became weird, so exiting the exhibit was a blessing.
After the 50th exhibit, the tour goes chronologically through the five Disneyland "eras" selected earlier. What tour guests experience depends on the eras selected and how well the tour guide is treated.
1954 to 1965: Humble beginnings
Heading into Fantasyland, the tour guide talks about the park's origin. Amazingly, there was some information in this part of the tour that even die-hard Disneyland fans in the group had not heard before. For example:
Each era of the tour has a ride associated with it. The ride for 1954 to 1965 is the Storybook Land Canal Boats, and our group cut to the front of the line, displacing lesser guests and making little children who thought they would be next to go on the magical boat ride cry. There were too many of us to fit in one boat, but we all got in anyway.
Before the ride started, our guide told us that for the first year of the Canal Boats' operation all of the tour guides were men. It was thought that women would be too weak to operate a gasoline-powered boat with a simple-to-use tiller that hardly made a difference because everything was on rails. Those in charge were quickly proven wrong, and beginning in 1956 all of the Canal Boat guides were women. It seems that the male guides had a habit of getting lost during the trip and would sometimes be gone for an hour or more before annoyed guests finally forced them to ask for directions.
1966 to 1984: Without Walt
The next attraction on the tour is Pirates of the Caribbean. This was the first attraction opened after Walt Disney's death, and the fact that it is a classic is largely attributed to his vision, much of which was ignored. For example, Walt Disney had originally envisioned Pirates as a walkthrough attraction, but during tests just before opening, Imagineers discovered that guests walking through Pirates kept falling in the water. It was decided at the last minute to let guests ride in the boats going through the attraction -- and the rest is history.
1985 to 1996: Danger signs
Splash Mountain was the ride chosen as the icon for Disneyland's third era. This is a difficult part of Disneyland's history, encompassing as it does the period of time after which all of Walt Disney's unused ideas had been mined for any last vestige of usability and company executives found that they were pretty much on their own. Their simultaneous decisions to create a new ride based on Song of the South and to never let anyone see that movie again epitomize the corporation's divided state of mind.
During the Splash Mountain ride, the tour guide was careful to hang on to her attractive bucket-shaped hat. One of the guests had offered to put it into his backpack for her for the duration of the attraction, but she told us that company policy does not allow tour guides to remove their headwear, no matter what, even if it is on fire.
1997 to 2003: The dark ages
This particular Disneyland era, the height of the reign of "certain executives" (as the tour guide called them), was a low point in the park's history. During this period, the park's daytime repair crew was cut from 90 technicians with around-the-clock shifts down to two who only worked Wednesday and Friday, the budget for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was cut by 97% so that more could be spent on retail expansion, ticket prices were raised to cover the cost of expensive ride closures, and Disney California Adventure was opened, among other disasters.
During our discussion of this era, we visited the "gold" spike that once represented the center of Disneyland and under which Walt Disney is buried. Our guide showed us how we can put our ear to the ground and, by saying "Eisner," hear Walt Disney turn over.
The ride symbolizing this era was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but instead of going on it, the tour guide just looked at it and shook her head with kind of a sorrowful, disappointed look as a symbol of those sad days. Then, with a shudder, we walked on.
After Big Thunder, the tour moved to the New Orleans train station and boarded the train to Tomorrowland. Our listening devices came in very handy during the noisy train ride, allowing us to hear the guide clearly as she answered our questions, but the cords did cause some difficulty for other passengers, at one point completely entangling an elderly woman to the point that she had to stand for the ride's duration.
2003 to now: Renaissance
Tomorrowland symbolizes the new Disneyland, going back to its roots to move into the future. Here our guide filled us in on all the changes being prepared for the land, including the new Space Mountain (with its nighttime hardcore German punk rock "Rockit Mountain" feature), additions to Innoventions (interactive corporate advertising, more new products for impressionable children to try, Asimo robots replacing cast members), the new submarine ride (a cross between Finding Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, and Das Boot), the none-too-soon removal of the Orbitron and its replacement by some kind of "rocket jets," the blessed destruction and scrapping of the Astro Orbitor, the opening of the second level of the Starcade as a retro air-hockey-and-pinball lounge, a new 3-D film for the Magic Eye Theater (based on a film that people still remember), a new attraction on the Peoplemover track (even though the announcement may send millions of devoted Disneyland überfans into joyful cardiac arrest), the conversion of all trash cans into the new "Push" models, a new film for Star Tours (involving the speeder plunging into lava and guests being transformed into black-armored cyborgs), and, of course, the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.
Our group rode Buzz Lightyear all together, after skipping to the head of the line per usual using our guide's magic pass (available on eBay). When the ride was over, we compared scores. Our guide's score was highest, which makes sense because she rides the attraction daily. My score was the lowest of the group (some 1,200 points) because I kept aiming at Zerg's head and yelling "Die, Eisner, die!" even though you can't get any points that way. It was really satisfying, though.
When the walking tour is done exploring the park, the group moves to its reserved seating (if your tour has that option, otherwise you're just cast adrift).
The reserved seating for the parade is both excellent and inspired. It is located in Fantasyland, between the Alice in Wonderland ride and the Matterhorn, right in the middle of the parade route. I don't mean at the curb in the middle of the route, but actually, literally right in the middle of the street. As the parade progresses, dancers are all around you, floats have to veer out of the way, and less privileged guests look on with "oh, if only I could by like them" puppydog eyes. It's truly an experience to remember.
If you have reserved seating for the nighttime fireworks, you'll find that it isn't quite as good as that for the parade. Your seats are located in the central hub, precisely positioned so that the Partner's statue blocks your view of the castle and trees obscure the Matterhorn and everything overhead. You can hear the sound just fine, and flashes of brightness are all around, but the only way to tell that anything truly wonderful is going on is by listening to the oohs and aahs of the people around you. It's sad, really.
Depending on your tour configuration, you will either receive a snack in-between going on rides and walking about the park, to keep you happy as you wait for the parade to start, or as a distraction from the poor quality of your fireworks seating. The snack comes in a delightful blue box made of real cardboard and includes four Disney-themed foods: a Snow White apple, "Toy Story's Mr. Potatohead" chips, a bottle of Rivers of America water, and some flavorful Bambi jerky.
The snack sounds great, but we can't report on it because at the time of our tour the snacks were not available. They took down our addresses and we were promised that snacks would be mailed to us at a later date.
A few odds and ends we haven't mentioned yet:
Get a book!
Get another book!