Thursday, August 10, 2017

Top Ten Disneyland Memories: Memory 4: Tripping the Night Fantasmic

Disneyland 2017 Memory #4
Tripping the Night Fantasmic

The day we arrived at Disneyland (Monday, July 18th) just happened to be the night of the highly anticipated premiere of the new and improved Fantasmic, Disneyland's wildly popular night time spectacular set on the Rivers of the Americas in New Orleans Square. The show has always drawn huge crowds, but now it was coming back after a really long hiatus (like two years or something). So when my family kept looking around Cars Land and wondering, "Where are all the crowds?" I knew exactly where to look for them.

For some reason, though I'd been talking about this for weeks in advance, most of the family reacted as if they were totally surprised by the ridiculous night time crowds in Disneyland (proving that no one but Derrick listens to me).

I had been so delighted to hear about the convenient timing of Fantasmic's return. My plan was to have dinner in Cars Land and then park hop to Disneyland where I expected no lines for all the rides in New Orleans Square (because everybody over there would be crowded forward watching Fantasmic).

I mean, yes, it's a pain to get over there and navigate all the crowds (which you don't understand until you see them), but as I predicted, we were able to sail right onto Pirates and ride Splash Mountain standby with just a five minute wait. (It was like the airport scene from Home Alone running through the line.) We also easily rode Winnie the Pooh (though that's never more than a five minute wait) and would have done the same thing with Haunted Mansion except it had broken down.

The thing is, navigating the crowds is like an attraction itself. (I seriously think of it as a game and get a rush from winning, though I'm sure that's at least partially an endorphin rush from all the darting around.)

Fantasmic always draws a crowd, but that wasn't even the start of it. Whoever calls the shots at Disneyland decided to go crazy and run two separate (semi-simultaneous) night shows this summer. I think they brought in the Mainstreet Electrical Parade because Fantasmic was on hiatus and then extended the parade's run because getting the Rivers reopened was taking longer than anticipated.

So when we entered Disneyland, everyone was crowded along Main Street taking in the tail end of the Electrical Parade. As the parade ended, cast members opened up a pathway that used to be a service tunnel and diverted crowds trying to enter the park through that way.

Leading the way (as I was told to do), I found this all extremely exciting. We were mortals got to enter the walkway I once saw Goofy use to evade hopeful autograph hunters. To me, this was all crazy but exhilarating. From one point of view (mine), crowded nights at Disneyland are secretly much easier to navigate than they initially appear.  The secret is, there are cast members all over the place with light sticks telling you EXACTLY where and when to go. There's no room for error because there's absolutely no choice. If you fail to follow their instructions, I have to assume they kill you because the crowds are massive but you hardly ever see anyone in the wrong place. Pedestrian traffic is always flowing efficiently (unless we've been told to stop).

I do have to admit that while Disneyland is always crowded (at least in the height of summer when we always go), this was the largest crowd I have ever personally seen there. Not only was Fantasmic premiering that night, but the D23 conference (for hardcore Disney fans) had just been held at the Anaheim convention center (five minutes from the park) on the Saturday and Sunday before the Monday we arrived.

 (We knew all this going in, but Derrick has a busy work schedule, and Grayson had two separate band camps, so we didn't have much choice.)

So I power-walked through the flowing mob in the tunnel, wondering gleefully where in the world it would come out. Meanwhile, Grayson pushed the stroller behind me, following my scrunchy, and Derrick held on to Nellie.  My parents and Merry brought up the rear.

We came out near the castle and had to walk around in front of it just as the fireworks were starting which seemed like an unexpected boon to me. I marched us into Frontier Land (because they would only let people come out through Adventureland, my preferred route).

Then just past Thunder Mountain across from where the Mark Twain docks, a cast member forced everyone to stop. I felt momentarily thwarted since I could see New Orleans Square but literally could not get there. Then the cast member explained that we would be allowed to go momentarily when some of the crowds thinned to prevent congestion.

It's really better to listen to the cast members. The crowds are immense. If cast members did not tell everyone exactly where to go, it would turn into a big, glowing mosh pit of gridlock and rage. People could literally be trampled. They're very good at managing the flow of traffic.
So we stopped a minute, and I lifted Giddy out of the stroller to show him where to look to see the fireworks that were now behind us.
Then abruptly we were allowed to go forward. The thing is, it's never like, "Okay folks, stroll on by at your leisure..." No, it's like, "Go go go go go go go!" with a bunch of lighted baton waving.
So I didn't have time to put Giddy back in the stroller. I just held him and bolted toward the stroller parking near Pirates of the Caribbean.

"That was exciting!" I gushed as we crowded into the very short line.

My mom replied, "Well your sister is having a panic attack."

I was like, "Oooohh..." It had never occurred to me that everyone else would not be enjoying the mystery challenge as much as I was.

Fantasmic was about to start, so like I said, everyone was crowded along the waterfront and no one was in the lines.
We left the stroller at Pirates and just carried Giddy from ride to ride after that since you have to turn around at the end of Critter Country (for now. The opening of Star Wars Land will change all that).

I don't know why I consider that madness so fun. It's just really stimulating. You get to run around like a crazy person, but you never have to worry because someone is always telling you EXACTLY what to do. And the night is full of glow and fireworks and unpredictable controlled explosions--exciting sounds and colors everywhere.

After that first night, the Fantasmic crowds were not quite as big (though they were still pretty massive). As the week wore on, they began to wane. But I really think that first night is the reason my parents left the park in the early evening on like every night after that. It worked out well because they were also early risers.

On subsequent nights, I made a point of holding my sister's hand and keeping her next to me as we dodged through parade and show crowds, which was actually kind of nice.
Now once (on Thursday night) Derrick and I did get briefly separated by the Electrical Parade on our way from Adventureland to the Plaza Inn. It happened because someone told me to cross the street, and Derrick and the kids were just far enough behind me to be given opposite orders. He managed to yell, "Sarah! Sarah!" and call me back. He was actually rather annoyed, but the cast member did apologize to us. I didn't mind much because we were told to cross during the parade break after the Tinkerbelle float. That meant that I got to stand there right on the edge of the sidewalk and take a bunch of pictures of the Electrical Parade even though we hadn't waited to see it. I also got a few decent pictures of Fantasmic Wednesday night after I had walked into Adventureland where it was permissible to slow down.

 Probably the highlight of all these adventures came one night as we raced from Pirates to Haunted Mansion. To our surprise, we walked past this woman who was standing on top of a trash can. (They're smooth metal and kind of curved on top, so this struck me immediately as a horrible idea.)

Her hands were cupped around her mouth, and she was yelling out her daughter's name over and over again.

A bunch of cast members had circled around her and were trying to talk her down.  "Ma'am? Ma'am?  Let us help you..."

She snapped back, "No! You canNOT help me, so I am gonna help myself!"

Finally (after she'd called her daughter's name like ten thousand times) her other daughter called back looking embarrassed, "Mom, we're fine." (I don't know for sure she was her other daughter. That was Gray's take.)

Later Derrick was like, "Why did she not answer her sooner?" The girl was standing about ten feet away, and the mom had called her like a thousand times.  Sheer mortification must have kept her silent so long.

We all wonder what ultimately happened to the lady on the trash can. She disobeyed orders, after all. Did she get thrown out of the park? Did she fall on her butt? Did she continue calling until the right daughter answered?  Did she somehow use her off-the-charts moxie to make them apologize to her?

We don't know because we had to keep walking.

To this day I can't decide if that woman is my hero or the dumbest person I've ever seen.  Either way, I'll probably never forget her.

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