ANAHEIM, CALIF.: I'm strapped and cinched into the California Screamin' roller coaster car, ripping 100 kilometres an hour up a steep incline that will inevitably plunge me down even faster. My stomach is back at the start of the ride, my pulse rocketing. Beside me, a step-daughter screams like she's being attacked by rabid zombies.
My world shrinks to a mantra: "Disney doesn't kill people, Disney doesn't kill people."
California Adventure, the companion park to Disneyland, is more than just tea cups and flying elephants -- it's home to some of the park's best thrill rides. The 183-foot Twilight Zone Tower of Terror plummets riders down an elevator shaft. Two little girls assure me it's their favourite ride, just in case I'm scared.
Mickey’s Fun Wheel takes guests 150 feet in the air for an eagle’s eye view of the park. It’s tame if you ride a traditional gondola. The 16 free-mounted gondolas swing back and forth on their own momentum. That’s where the screams (and motion sickness) come from.
Radiator Spring Racers is located in Cars Land, a new park attraction. Expect long lineups to hop into a car and race around a desert track. Cars Land is great for little kids who loved the movie and fun for big people who just like to go fast. There are a couple of tamer rides for small children or scaredy cat parents.
Paradise Pier, where California Screamin’ and the way fun Toy Story Midway Mania rides are found, is done up to resemble an old carnival. Because this is Disney, no one is trying to scam you and the tattoos are on the visitors, not the employees. Wee ones will beg to eat at Ariel’s Grotto or the Corn Dog Castle.
Finding your way around California Adventure requires the map you grab when you pass the entry gates. Buena Vista Street (the equivalent to Disneyland’s Main St. U.S.A.) is vintage Los Angeles, circa 1923. Disney’s obsessive eye for detail is everywhere, from the hand-lettered shop windows to Starbucks, decorated to resemble an old-time ice cream shop. The prices are not old-fashioned, either at Starbucks or anywhere else on Disney property.
The Carthay Circle Restaurant is an elegant sit-down establishment. It’s an expensive meal, but the food and service are exceptional. You’d never know you were in the middle of a theme park.
Grizzly Peak is a man-made 100-foot mountain shaped like a grizzly bear. Yes, you just accept that when you’re looking at Disney. It houses the Grizzly River Run, a ride that guarantees you’ll get wet. Don’t try this until it’s full summer.
Hollywood Land hosts the Tower of Terror, Muppet Vision 3D, the Mad T Party and Disney’s Aladdin, a live performance on par with most professional travelling shows.
A Bug’s Land is a hit with little kids and my big ones. It’s Tough To Be A Bug is a 3D movie with a warning to seat young ones by an exit. Once the bugs start dive-bombing and the bees "sting" there will be screams.
Of course, Disneyland (included in your ticket price and a short stroll away) has the classics. Space Mountain and Splash Mountain attract traditionalists in search of an adrenaline rush. Pirates of the Caribbean draws a long line, as does the Indiana Jones Adventure. It’s A Small World is hugely popular, a mystery because it features the world’s most annoying song.
You’ll see throngs of weary children in Fantasyland, accompanied by parents determined to give them a lifetime of magic in a couple of days. Before the crying starts, everyone is thrilled by the frequent parades and appearances by Disney characters.
If you think Disney is magic (and I do) four days at the park will exhaust you physically and possibly financially, give you thrills and get you weepy. It truly is the happiest place on earth, at least until nap time.