Friday, March 25, 2011

Dear Getaway...

I've been a big fan of the Disney Parks for many years, and I took my wife to Disneyland for her first visit on our honeymoon, so obviously it holds a special place in our hearts.

That said, I was very disappointed by your coverage of Disneyland in the March 24 show.

The two incredibly brief segments on the park did nothing to sell the magic of this particular park. Sure, you had the presenters getting their photos with Mickey and spinning the tea cups, but so have the other thousand travel pieces done about Disneyland over the years.

Indeed, a viewer in Australia who has never been to Disneyland would simply think, "It's just walking-around characters and kiddy rides and junk food. Just like Movie World, or Dreamworld, except a lot further away."

I doubt that's what the California Travel and Tourism Commission would want to hear.

The intrinsic magic of Disneyland is the thought that has gone into the minor details, as well as the major set pieces. For every awesomely themed ride (like the Indiana Jones ride), there are small touches that a lot of people don't notice, but add to the experience of being at The Happiest Place on Earth (for example, gum isn't sold at Disneyland, so little chance of getting a shoe-full of sticky stuff).

For example, here's a quick list of ten points that would have made a bigger impression on someone who has never been, or never taken their family, to Disneyland.

1. On first entering the park, the entrance is designed like a movie premiere. You enter the park through one of two tunnels, walking on red concrete (ie, the red carpet), past billboards for rides (ie, coming attractions), before arriving in Main Street USA. And what's the first thing you smell when you arrive? Popcorn.

From there, the windows along Main Street display the names of people who were instrumental in the creation of Disneyland, like the credits of a movie.

And who has the last credit? Walt Disney, of course.

2. If it's your first visit, go to the Town Hall and receive your "First Visit" sticker. Then for the rest of the day, you can receive special treats and treatments from the Cast Members, the occasional free item or escorting to the front of the line.

This is also the same if it's your birthday, anniversary and honeymoon.

3. A great way to get a view of the whole park is to take the train, which circles the park. Walt Disney loved trains, to the point of having his own train setup in his backyard. The train leaves the Main Street station and travels through all the lands, stopping in New Orleans Square, Toon Town and Tomorrowland, so you can get on and off as you please.

Another effect of having the train running around the park on a raised berm is that once you're in the park, you no longer see the outside world, adding to the immersive experience.

4. While a day at Disneyland can be chaotic, loud and frenetically colourful, there's the occasional spot of peace and quiet. For example, the Court of Angels in New Orleans Square, or the Wishing Well and fountain in front of the Castle. But more importantly, there's a spot of peace and quiet for babies. The Baby Care room is available for parents to feed, change and comfort their smallest children, an oasis from the noise and bustling activity.

5. You will see a lot of Mickey Mouse heads during your visit to Disneyland, but some aren't as easy to spot as others. Known as "Hidden Mickeys", these are little flourishes added by the park's designers and creators. And they can be anywhere: on the rides or in the queues, in the shops, or even just out on the street.

6. If you have a multi-day ticket, or stay at the Disney hotels, you will get an Extra Magic Hour, which means you can get in an hour earlier than the general public on certain days, which means you can get an hour of rides in, then sit down for a leisurely breakfast while other people are still coming through the turnstiles.

7. If you've seen the fireworks over the castle from Main Street, surely it doesn't get any better than that? Well maybe not, but for a different experience, try getting a possie in front of it's a small world. Along with the fireworks, you'll also get to watch an accompanying visual presentation displayed across the front of the ride's facade.

8. A lot of work goes into making each of the lands inside Disneyland its own closed environment, but of course, there's gonna be the need to link each land to its neighbours. The designers of the park put a lot of time and effort into making these transitions as smooth as possible, so next time you move from, for example Frontierland to Fantasyland, notice how the environment changes, from the footpath surfacing, building designs, trees and shrubs, and even the background music.

9. Sure, there's a plethora of junk food: popcorn, fairy floss, turkey legs the size of your head. That's great for the kids, but sometimes, you need something a bit classier. Why not go on a ride and grab some food? OK, maybe not quite, but The Blue Bayou offers the next best thing. Once you enter the restaurant, you've arrived at a southern style plantation from the turn of the century (or possibly earlier). Anytime of the day, it's just after dusk in here, and your seat on the patio overlooks the swamps of Louisiana. And who is that floating past on a regular basis? Boatfuls of people just about to drop down a waterfall and experience Pirates of the Caribbean. You've become a part of their ride experience, so watch your manners at the table.

10. The Jungle Cruise is a favourite for a lot of people, and it's one of the original rides from Opening Day 1955. A ride during the day is a lot of fun, but for a different experience, try jumping aboard after dark. The same applies for other outdoor rides, such as Big Thunder Mountain.

That's just ten points of interest that differentiate Disneyland from other theme parks. I think these aspects would be a much better selling point for Disneyland than the standard "let's get a photograph of us gurning with Disney characters" and "look, we're going to vomit in the tea cups" footage.

We enjoy watching Getaway and having a bit of a dream about the places we could go, but on this occasion, I think you dropped the ball. It was much like having a five minute segment on Paris saying "Look, we're up on the Eiffel Tower. Now, we're eating baguettes and wearing striped shirts. Eww snails!"

Rant over.

(posted here because the Getaway site doesn't like feedback over 1000 characters, or containing links. And I just had to get it off my chest.)