Saturday, 11 July 2015

Disney Dreams

Today we went to Disneyland! I won't lie. I wasn't expecting much. In fact, if anything, I assumed I was going to be engulfed by a somewhat hideous all-American, somewhat evangelising, plastic dream-world. In reality, I've had an astonishing day. A day of magical escapism. A day of hysterical laughter. I felt like an eight year-old child again, and as a result I refuse to be jaded or too cool for school about the experience.

We were there as special guests, and were shown around the site by a fabulous, generous and interesting woman called Vanessa, who made sure we went to the front of all the queues for rides which made the experience an extraordinary one.

We went on a total of 18 rides. The first highlight was the Small World experience. I'd wanted to go on it ever since hearing that Fiona's sister, Vic, had got so terrified by all the little dolls there that she'd burst into tears and had to be carried out. It's the ride which is often cited as the most likely Disney experience to break down. I think one of the characters on the Big Bang Theory was traumatised for life by getting stuck on the ride as a child. Apparently it used to break down regularly because the population of the U.S. became heavier and heavier in the decades following the opening of the theme park, which, incidentally, is sixty years old this year. 

I think Disneyland's age is one of the reasons why the place feels authentic and not as tacky as other theme parks. It maintains a sense of its 1950s, post-war, confident American roots. It's an immersive experience. There's not a single shop, ride, street or corner which hasn't been themed or considered. This all adds to the magic.

We met Mickey Mouse. We were taken into a back room in a ritual which felt a little dodgy, if I'm honest, like we were doing some kind of secret arms deal with Russian terrorists, except we were shaking hands with a cartoon character. It felt rather un-American to do anything other than uphold the myth that Mickey was there in front of us. I now know exactly how people feel when they go into a church and listen to a vicar preaching. It's about comfortable myths, I suppose, which make us feel good about the world. 

We went across from Disneyland to its sister and neighbouring park, California Adventure, where some of the more adult rides can be found. The most terrifying is definitely the Tower of Terror, which is a ride in an imaginary lift, which rapidly climbs to the top of a pretend hotel building before plummeting like an absolute stone to the extent that your stomach ends up in your mouth. It was one of the most terrifying things I've ever experienced which was only made bearable by Matt's hysterical laughter and the fact that it was mercifully short. I didn't stop swearing.

We went on the Grisly Mountain ride and met a ten year-old, rather sparky girl called Jordan. Heaven knows where her family had got to, but she seemed to be riding the rapids on a loop on her own. She told us all about what to expect on the ride and was so engaging that we went on a second time with her and got soaking wet for our troubles.

The theme parks are stuffed full of people on mobility scooters. I've seldom seen the like. People were taking their scooters all the way down the ramps to the rides and then hopping out with seemingly no mobility issues. Lazy fat gits!

We had tea in one of the fancy restaurants on the site. And it was possibly the best food I've ever eaten. Perhaps it was the company. Perhaps it was the fact that eighteen rides had helped us to build up an enormous appetite, but everything that went on my plate was absolutely delicious.

We watched an amazing presentation after tea. A spectacular display of music, coloured lights, fiery explosions and Disney film clips projected onto fountains. It ought to have been tacky and messy, but it was utterly transporting.

The theme park continues to throb late into the night. I think the rides close officially at midnight.

We crossed back to Disneyland to watch the late-night parade, which is essentially a glorious carnival of flashing coloured lights with huge floats carrying Disney princesses down the Main Street. Again, it ought to have been a disastrous cliche, but it was magical. I stared. Transfixed.

The laughter started at about 11pm. All five of us went to the loo for a quick wee before going on a final ride. Whilst we were in there, we could hear some poor bloke having the most awful time in a cubical. The farting sounds were so ear-shatteringly loud that they brought our entire conversation to a stand still and left us incapable of doing anything but laugh uncontrollably.

The laughter continued outside the loo, where a small child managed to trip over my foot. That was funny because it shouldn't have been!

The final ride of the night was the wonderful Splash Mountain, which is essentially a glorified log flume. It was fabulous to ride it in the dark. I was right at the front and got a proper soaking. Hurtling down a steep slope in a wooden raft in pitch darkness is a terrifying experience. You hit water at the bottom, hear the splash, but only know where the wave's heading when it hits your body! Cue more hysterical laughter which hasn't really stopped! 

Thank you Disneyland! I'm a true convert!

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