July is always a challenging time to visit the park. It’s when camp field trips and family vacations dominate the people-scape, and yet, two reasons compel our visit: 1) By July, we’ll have gone three months since our last visit and we need to touch home; and 2) we need to renew our Premium passports, which can only be renewed at the park’s entrance (a pet peeve that renewing the highest priced passports is as non-luxury an experience as it gets, and all because the WDW ticketing system can’t talk to the DLR ticketing system).
At least we were prepared for waiting in line under the hot summer sun: Start the day with breakfast and Bloody Marys (extra spicy!) at the Disneyland Hotel’s Steakhouse 55, then leisurely stroll Downtown Disney to the entrance.
In fact, it was a beautiful day to be driving to the park, and upon arrival, inspiration struck: Instead of taking the tram from the parking structure to Downtown Disney, which was still a pretty good distance from the hotel, we walked directly to the hotel via “Magic Way,” a quiet tree-lined street that felt more like a footpath in a resort community than a city street in a business district. We’d never done this before and were surprised by just how pleasant a walk it was. As we took our selfie in front of the sprawling Disneyland Hotel sign signaling the official entrance to the hotel, we felt like vacationers ready to start our adventure.
Steakhouse 55, here we come!
There’s something about entering a hotel through the front entrance that makes you feel like you’re about to check in. Even though we weren’t, we got that vicarious thrill. At the same time, we were glad we weren’t given that there were as many people checking in as checking out, and the hotel’s event calendar needed at least two screens to show the entire listing.
We hadn’t bothered to make a reservation for Steakhouse, because the breakfast service has never been packed—not when Goofy’s Kitchen is right next door. In the past we’d always made a reservation, and all that ever did was make for a tense drive as we’d gauge whether the traffic was heavy enough to make us late or just the usual heavy we had factored into our travel time. It was nice to not have that added pressure for a change. Upon arrival we were shown immediately to what we now refer to as “our booth,” because this was the fourth time we were seated there. And a perfect booth it is, with a view of the entrance, the many vintage Hollywood celebrity photos that decorate the walls, and the service entry from which the luxury carts carrying premium steaks and luxury breakfasts are delivered table-side.
Two Sunrise Burritos—with Steakhouse 55’s special homemade salsa on the side—and four extra-spicy Bloody Marys later, we were headed to the park entrance via Downtown Disney, ready to face the ticket queue, however long and sweltering, with a happy attitude.
Timing is everything.
We got lucky. We were able to walk right up to an open ticket window and within minutes we had our renewed passports. We could get on with our day having sacrificed no time to the business of purchase and acquisition.
Despite there being no line at the ticket counter, however the parks were as crowded as predicted. We didn’t expect to get on any rides, which is why we brought our cameras. Still, if we could get only one FastPass, which is all we had time for if we were going to be on the freeway before rush hour, what would it be?
There was only one answer: Soarin’. Soarin’ Around the World had just premiered in three of its theme parks, replacing the existing Soarin’ Over California in Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney World’s Epcot. The visuals were all new, as were the musical arrangements and orchestrations [For all you film music aficionados, the new arrangements to composer Jerry Goldsmith’s original themes can be credited to composer Bruce Broughton (of Silverado fame), who’s music can be enjoyed in numerous Disney shows and attractions in Disney theme parks around the world, including “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” and “Seasons of the Vine” in Disney California Adventure,” “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” and “Spaceship Earth” in Epcot, and “Cinémagique” in Euro Disney.]
Around the world in a single day
Our FastPass gave us about an hour and a half to tool around, so we took a scenic stroll around Grizzly Peak, taking photos, enjoying a summer day, and wishing we could have also gotten a FastPass for Grizzly River Run whose queue was predictably one of the longest.
There wasn’t one ounce of regret, however, for our one FastPass commitment. Soarin’ was the perfect choice, and for all the right reasons: it was brand new, not exposed to direct sunlight, and we know Bruce Broughton well enough to bore him with how much we love his Disney work. No surprise, his music didn’t disappoint, and neither did the breathtaking experience of soaring among some of the world’s most magnificent sights as if in a lucid dream.
We exited along with our “fellow travelers” in a collective sense of awe. It was a perfect finale to an unexpected day: a day born of the requisite renewal of our bi-coastal passports so we could make our WDW FastPass+ reservations as much in advance of our trip as possible. The purpose of the visit may not have been romantic, but when we stopped short of the tram and hung a right to the footpath that would become the street that would take us to the Disneyland Hotel, our purposeful day became a vacation.