November 20, 2015

The Cult of the Happiest Place on Earth

I've caught the bug.

The Disneyland bug, that is.

When I went for my birthday, we only visited Disneyland proper and not its neighboring California Adventure amusement park, which is a whole other thing.

Sure, it has its sections dedicated to classic and contemporary Disney characters, but it's a theme park inspired by California itself—its landscape and landmarks, its towers and terrors.

The big draw for me was The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The Hollywood Tower Hotel is modeled after several historic LA area hotels, from the Biltmore to the Mission Inn. But when you check into the HTH, the bellhops usher you into the bowels of the hotel, straight to the service elevator.

There, you're taken on a wild elevator ride that seems like it can't quite be legal. Once again, I found the production value just spectacular—beyond compare. And while you can visit the hotels that inspired the Tower of Terror, none of them will give you an elevator ride like that. (Or will they?!)

This is a California of another era—of noir and nostalgia, riding the Red Car distances that are close enough to walk.

Somehow, California Adventure has managed to recreate and preserve a version of California I never got to experience first-hand, but it feels more authentic than other "thematic" re-creations of other places, say, at Epcot or in Vegas.

It made me wonder what a "New York Adventure" theme park would be like. Would you roll through the neon-lit Times Square in a yellow checker cab, turning down offers of sexual solicitation? Would you tiptoe your way through the Meatpacking District, trying to avoid the blood and guts that pool in the cobblestone streets?

Here, in this idyllic version of California, there's a lot of glitz and glam... at the Carthay Circle, a beautiful restaurant and lounge whose exterior was modeled after the Carthay Circle Theatre on San Vicente in LA, where Snow White saw its premiere screening.

Every detail has been carefully planned. And even though California Adventure opened long after Walt Disney's passing, there is the sense that everyone involved in its design and construction has asked themselves, "What would Walt do?"

California Adventure is not just one theme park, but many different smaller themed amusements clustered together—much like how LA isn't just one city, but a conglomeration of 80+ different municipalities. You have a different experience in each one.

In CarsLand, you get to mosey through Radiator Springs, the Route 66-inspired town from the movie Cars, including its Wigwam-inspired Cozy Cone Hotel, tire shop, gas station, diner, and "body art" shop...

...before getting on the track and racing through the winding desert landscape, the mesas of sandstone looming above. It goes so fast.

This time of year, everything is decked out for Christmas. There seems to be a parade at least once an hour. But the celebration doesn't seem overreaching—I mean, it's Disneyland. What would you expect?

You could probably entertain yourself for a whole day without riding one ride, but I always insist on getting on every tiny train and ferris wheel I can.

From the top of Mickey's Fun Wheel, you can see the entire compound sprawled out before you.

I just kept saying, "Look how beautiful it is!"

And I didn't want to leave. I was like a little kid, declaring, "I would like to live here."

Maybe it's a cult. But I'm in. I've got my mouse ears, embroidered with my name in hot pink thread.

California is known for its openness to alternative spiritualities. But why would anyone choose Scientology, when you could have Disneyland?

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