Visiting Disneyland All Grown Up

Visiting Disneyland All Grown Up
Did visiting Disneyland all grown up meet my childhood expectations?

When I was little, Disneyland seemed like a magical place. To my eight year old mind it was the home of all of my favourite characters from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, and to actually visit it would be like stepping through the cinema screen into the world of Disney, just like Mary Poppins and the Banks children stepping into the chalk paintings on the footpath and finding themselves in a world of fantasy.

Now that I’m all grown up, I was worried about how different my experience of Disneyland would be compared to the idea of Disneyland that I had as a child. Would it still be exciting? Would I still have the wonder of my childhood, and the ability to accept anything at face value? Or would it all have been edged out by the rational thoughts of the adult that I’ve become?

My nostalgic side had one thing in its favour – I was visiting Disneyland with my brother, the person with whom I had spent my childhood engrossed in hours of Disney movies, who had participated in the endless sing-alongs of each movie soundtrack, and who knew the importance of pretending to be a mermaid whenever we found ourselves in water.

We bought a two day Park Hopper pass, which allowed us to go between Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure Park as many times as we wanted, and both days we were at the gates when they opened at 8AM, and only finished exploring when the final parade had finished for the night, revelling in the fact that we were at Disneyland.

However, when you hold on to a dream from childhood to adulthood, you develop very particular expectations around what it’s going to be like when it actually happens. Visiting Disneyland was no different. There were things that surprised me, things that I loved, and things that didn’t measure up to the experience I had imagined as a child.

What I loved:

The fact that we were at Disneyland

Being able to walk through the gates of Disneyland, to walk down Main Street USA, to ride in the spinning tea cups of the Mad Tea Party, to journey into the depths of Tortuga on the Pirates of Caribbean ride, and experience The Matterhorn and Splash Mountain for ourselves after a lifetime of reading about them in books was surreal. As we figured out our way around all of the lands, searched out the rides we most wanted to go on, and sat on the side of the path waiting for the parades and the fireworks to begin, we had to pinch ourselves to believe we were actually in Disneyland!

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at night

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, with its blue turrets rising high into the sky, was the one thing I most wanted to see at Disneyland. Not only was it the most iconic sight of Disney, being part of the production company logo that began each one of its movies, but its design has parallels with Neuschwanstein, the Bavarian castle which ignited my dream of travelling the world and starting Castlephile Travels.

Hyperspace Mountain

Rollercoasters are my favourite type of ride, and we experienced the adrenalin rush of California Screamin’, with its giant loop-the-loop, five times over the two days.

HyperSpace Mountain eclipsed it though. The wait for it was long – we decided against a FastPass and found ourselves in a queue that seemed to hardly move – but once we got on the ride, it was one of my favourite experiences that we had at Disneyland. It was essentially a rollercoaster in the dark, so there was no way of telling which way you would be sent next. It was awesome and unpredictable and I loved it!

The FastPass system

It took us a while to figure out how and when to use the FastPass system at Disneyland – where you pre-book a time slot to go on one of the more popular rides, allowing you to go off and continue exploring, and then skip the majority of the queue when you show up during your time slot. Once we had worked it out, we timed it to work to our advantage, especially when going on the California Screamin’ rollercoaster at Disneyland California Adventure Park. We managed to go on the ride three times within the space of an hour using FastPasses, thanks to the kindness of a stranger who gave us their unwanted FastPasses to go on the ride again (we were helping him as much as he was helping us – you are only allowed to have one Fast Pass booked on your ticket at any one time, and he obviously wanted his to be used up as soon as possible).

What I wanted more of:

I wanted more behind the scenes

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become fascinated by how things work. I love watching the special features of my Disney DVDs and learning more about their story and character development process. I didn’t find much of that in the park. What I found instead was an overwhelming amount of merchandise stores lining the streets (though it was impressive that most of them stocked different items), but I wasn’t there to buy a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. I wanted to learn more about Disney and his vision for his company and theme park. That’s the grown-up in me talking, my inner child wouldn’t have cared so long as I could go on the rides and feel like I was inside a Disney movie!

I wanted the complete stories

There were a few rides we went on which were re-tellings of the most iconic Disney movies. The one that frustrated me the most was Snow White’s Scary Adventure. The ride started off well, focusing on the terror of the Evil Queen demanding Snow White’s death. The singing of the dwarves echoed in the cavern as they mined for precious jewels, the queen cackled as she transformed herself into an ugly hag and kept tabs on Snow White via her magical mirror, and the sinister trees reached out towards us with their branches as they threatened to seize us from our ride capsule, making me squirm with trepidation. Then came the climactic scene of the dwarves stalking the queen to the top of a craggy rock. I waited to see her fall, wanting to see good triumph over evil. But suddenly, we’re passing a sign proclaiming ‘and they all lived Happily Ever After’ and being pushed out into the real world. Did the Queen tumble to her demise? Did Snow White wake up? This is never answered during the ride, and the sudden change from the darkness of the story to the brightness of the happy ending left me feeling a bit disappointed that the entire story wasn’t told.

I wanted more character encounters

Even though I wasn’t looking to actually meet any of the characters, I assumed there would be a lot more of them around the park. On the two days we spent at Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure Park, aside from the planned parades and shows, we spotted only Goofy, Pluto, and Cruella de Vil. Maybe we were in the wrong place at the wrong time (after all, we never looked to see if there were specific times to go and meet the characters), but in my head I had imagined we’d be running in to characters around every corner!

I wanted to go on a ship that sailed

It looked glorious docked at Frontierland. The white steam-powered Mark Twain Riverboat reminded me of the paddleboats that cruised down the Murray River at home. I dragged my brother over to it, determined to sail around the Rivers of America.

After a full day of trying to pack everything that both Disneyland California Adventure Park and Disneyland had to offer, it was nice to have a moment of calm. Being ferried around on a riverboat sounded like just what we needed. We climbed on, made our way to the top deck, and then waited, looking over the lines of people waiting to go on the Pirates of the Carribbean which seemed to have increased exponentially since we last walked through there, making the small New Orleans Square even more congested.

After ten minutes had passed, I turned my attention to the gangway. A trio of jazz musicians boarded, and five minutes later, they started playing. Soon the paddle steamer would leave, I kept telling myself. A man with a captain’s hat came on board, which bolstered my spirits and gave me the ammunition I needed to convince my brother that we needed to stay on the boat – our voyage was surely about to begin.

We moved around the boat as we waited. Every now and then, more people would board, and then a few moments later, some others would disembark. I gazed off into the park, wondering whether we too should leave. I decided to remain resolute, and stay.

In the end, our stomachs won out, and thirty minutes after we had first boarded the Mark Twain Riverboat, we left in search of food. The next day, I kept my eye on it whenever we passed through Frontierland, wondering whether it ever did leave the dock. As far as I could tell, it was always docked right where we had left it.

I wanted to be a child again

Disneyland makes you nostalgic for your childhood. No matter how much of a big kid you are, no matter how much you give in to the wonder and the make-believe, you still feel like you are lacking something in comparison with the children who were there experiencing Disneyland during their childhood. Their enthusiasm as they lined the parade route was infectious. They excitedly waited for their favourite characters to wave to them. They were ecstatic about seeing Belle, Ariel, Elsa and Anna. That’s what I really wanted from my Disneyland experience – for the line between reality and make-believe to remain blurred, and for the feeling of being a child again.


Tell Me A Fable: Fairytales, Fortresses and Forests in Göttingen

You’re a character in your favourite fairytale. You trip through the powdery snow, passing glassy lakes where swans glide and witches cackle as they fly overhead. You dart through snow-capped pine trees, past gingerbread houses, old mills and fortresses, to your home – your very own castle. For a fairytale setting like this, you could use your imagination. Or you could live it for real.

A statue of a lion
A statue of a lion bearing the Göttingen coat of arms outside of the town hall

The city of Göttingen is located in Lower Saxony, a short detour from the tourist trail Germans know as the Fairy Tale Road. Populated by numerous students, who flock to the renowned Georg August University of Göttingen in the school months, Göttingen was once the residence of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Brothers Grimm worked at the university during the 1830s – Wilhelm as a librarian and Jacob as a lecturer on literary history. During their stay, they collected many local folk tales from the villagers in the mountains that surround Göttingen for their Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Inside Göttingen's town hall
Inside Göttingen’s town hall

The mountains surrounding Göttingen hide many settings perfect for scenes out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Burg Hanstein, a gothic fortress built in the eleventh century and owned by the same family for most of its life, was destroyed by Swedish troops in 1632, during the Thirty Years War, and lies in that same state today. Wandering among the stone ruins, traipsing through the narrows corridors with low ceilings, into courtyards paved with cobblestones, up and down spiral stairwells, and past dungeons, you cannot help but think you’ve been transported back in time. After the self-guided tour of the fortress, the Knight’s Hall allows you to partake in a banquet atmosphere. Have some rich fruitcake and apple cider as you sit next to a crackling fire. The North Tower’s panoramic view of the lush green valley below Hanstein and the Harz mountains as they rise above the city of Göttingen is beautiful.

St Johannis Church
The spires of St Johannis Church

The Harz mountains are famed for witches. The Harz region was the last in Germany to cling to its pagan heritage, and thus a number of legends made famous in German literature have originated from this area. In winter, the green forests and colourful flowers of the summer months become a winter wonderland dusted with snow. A recreational playground for locals, there are lakes for swimming and slopes for skiing, as well as numerous walking trails. A favourite is to hike up the highest mountain in the Harz – the Brocken. The reward is a spectacular view of Lower Saxony, with brilliant blue skies and green fields in the summer, and sultry greyness during the winter where blocks of ice cling to poles and mining vehicles on display are frozen stiff. A stroll through the Brocken museum not only describes more about the flora and fauna of the Harz mountains and the strong mining industry which is found there, but also introduces tourists to its myths and tales, some of which were included by the Brothers Grimm in their collection.

The Little Goose Girl
The Little Goose Girl, or Gänseliesl, stands in the square in front of the town hall

The city of Göttingen itself contains its very own link to the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. In the city centre, in front of the Göttingen Town Hall, the statue of the Little Goose Girl (Gänseliesl) stands upon a fountain accompanied by her goose and a basket of flowers.

Some shoppers in Göttingen may be lucky to witness the tradition which has earned the Gänseliesl the title of the most-kissed girl in the world: every postgraduate scholar gives the statue a kiss upon receiving their doctorate. At Christmas time, the Gänseliesl is surrounded by the stalls of the Christmas markets. Here, fruit, nuts, sweets, cake, crepes and gingerbread are for sale along with with traditional German Christmas decorations and toys. Music and revelry are the order of the day, with locals snuggling up with a mug of hot Glühwein, retaining the glass it came in to add to their collections. Fairy lights twinkle from every stand, choirs sing carols and the jovialty of the festive season shines over the Christmas markets and the Gänseliesl, making it that bit more magical.

The Wartburg
The entrance to the Wartburg, where Martin Luther translated the Bible

Most girls dream of being a princess in a fairytale, living in her very own castle. The Wartburg, a castle fifteen minutes away by train from Göttingen, has had many influential residents pass through its doors. It has housed Saint Elizabeth and been a sanctuary for Martin Luther to translate the New Testament from Greek to German. Its magnificent views and ornate architecture has inspired the minds of Goethe and Wagner to construct stories and operas about it. The very manner of its existence, built upon soil brought from far away, so that count could legally claim someone else’s land for the castle of his dreams, is legend.

Come to Germany, come to Göttingen and come discover these stories for yourself.