Room Key to Magic Kingdom

Los Angeles Times Travel
November 26, 1995

Tomorrowland is a lonely place at 7:30 on a Monday morning, but it's a good lonely. No soaring rockets, no loud upbeat singing, no booming voices promising an amazing and happy techno-future.

And, blissfully, no lines anywhere. For anything. Could this really be Disneyland?

Millions -- no, make that zillions -- of feet have scuffed across this same blacktop, but this morning it's just us and several dozen other special Guests turned loose inside the closed gates of the world's most famous amusement park. We had stayed the night before at the Disneyland Hotel, on a room package that gave us admission 90 minutes early to the park.

Trust me, if you are ever in this position it can be hard to decide what to do first. Should we go for a spin on the usually crowded Matterhorn? Ever-popular Space Mountain was wide open too, but might be a bit much on an empty stomach. We considered a hike over to Adventureland to sample the new Indiana Jones ride, but dismissed it as probably too daring for Sean, our newly 6-year-old daughter.

Second-string characters that not even Sean could name -- a wolf, a duck (no, not that one) and a creature whose genus was hard to discern -- mugged for photos and hugs while we fortified ourselves with French toast sticks and fruit plates at Tomorrowland Terrace. (It's that place Disneyland veterans know below the monorail station, where a music show blares all day and fast food is dispensed slowly from more than a dozen windows.)

Even after breakfast we still had a good hour before the gates swung open to the public. As much as the adults liked the quiet, Sean seemed a little disappointed, uncertain that this sedate empty place was really Disneyland. So I steered her to the nearby Star Tours port for her first high-speed tour of the universe.

We walked right in and sat down in a cabin we had almost to ourselves and snapped on our seat belts. I didn't tell Sean that the ride's sensations of speed and gravity are what I imagine a prolonged plane crash to feel like. When the ride was over, she pronounced it a good trip. But no, she didn't want to take full advantage of our special status and get immediately back on. "It's a Small World!" she demanded, and off we went across Fantasyland to find her favorite ride.

All the food outlets and shops we passed were closed, and not every ride was open for business. But many of the most popular rides were operating -- the lineup for early admission varies, the hotel concierge had warned us -- and just being able to stroll past Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and through the vacant gates of Sleeping Beauty's Castle while workmen polished statues and readied for the public was a thrill in itself.

Unfortunately, a rope blocked our way to It's a Small World and Toontown -- they wouldn't open until after the public was admitted at 9 a.m. So it was back to Fantasyland for a flight on Dumbo and a spin on the King Arthur Carousel.

In Adventureland, a short line had already started to form at Indiana Jones, Disneyland's newest thrill ride, and with Sean's jitters we opted to wait for another trip to explore the George Lucas-inspired ride, also called the Temple of the Forbidden Eye.

After a leisurely climb up the Swiss Family Treehouse we drifted out to the Central Plaza to watch the public rush up Main Street as the rope was dropped at 9 a.m., and to link up with Sean's best friend Rachel and her family, who came in just behind the first wave.

This Monday-morning-at-large inside Disneyland was an unexpected perk of our one-night Adventure Package at the Disneyland Hotel, along with the convenience of cheap valet parking and access to the park via the famous monorail, which runs all day between Tomorrowland and the hotel. But it also fit our desire to mark Sean's birthday by doing Disneyland as tourists for once, rather than locals. She was in diapers and a back carrier for her first visit, and has been back every year at least once, sometimes more.

This was the first two-day visit for any of us, and our first stay at the landmark hotel that opened shortly after Disneyland did in 1955. For $261 we got a tasteful, immaculate room with a pair of queen beds and two-day passes to Disneyland for two adults and Sean. The passes alone would have cost $158 at standard prices (though admission discounts are often available through employers and to local residents in off-season) and of course we also got the early admission, which is available most mornings but not always.

We had checked in just after noon on Sunday, pleasantly surprised by the ease of it all. A friendly valet took our car and bags and directed us to the check-in counter in a lobby decorated with sculptures of Disney characters.

Our room on the sixth floor of the Marina tower lacked a view of the park -- more expensive rooms are available -- but it came with complimentary toiletries decorated with Mickey and Minnie and the Disney Channel on TV.

The hotel's three high-rise towers and convention complex surround a 60-acre resort with gardens, swimming pools, a small marina with pedal boats, a faux sandy beach and theme restaurants. There are also shops galore, a coffee store and a wine shop, plus -- from now until Jan. 7 -- an outdoor ice-skating rink.

Trying to avoid the park's fast food as long as possible we checked out the lunch offerings at Goofy's Kitchen, a buffet where selected Disney characters schmooze with the kids at every meal. But the tab ($13.50 for adults, $8.25 for kids) was too steep for us and we opted instead for a quick lunch at the diner-motif Monorail Cafe, then boarded for the short trip across the parking lot to the park.

The monorail's dramatic entry into Tomorrowland is a terrific example of Disney spectacle, worthy of a special trip for first-time visitors. The train glides quietly just above the crowds, around the Matterhorn and over the submarine pool and other attractions. With the cool but unreliable Skyway buckets lamentably retired from service, the monorail offers the best aerial tour of the park, if a limited one.

In a pure sense, I'm not sure we needed a second day at Disneyland. It was good to do once, we concluded on the drive home, and the Disneyland Hotel was very pleasant, though there are cheaper accommodations in the colony of motels that surrounds the park.

But it was worth the cost to see the look on Sean's face as she popped up fully awake on Monday morning and realized she was still at Disneyland.

© Los Angeles Times 1995