Learn some new jokes on the Jungle Cruise

I remember being an 11-year-old riding the Magic Kingdom’s “world famous” Jungle Cruise for the first time: was the skipper for real? What possessed him to spout off corny jokes the entire trip down the great rivers of the world? By age 17 I’d wizened up. No way was it coincidental that all the Jungle Cruise guides had a penchant for comedy. And, by the time I was a honeymooner, finally had a soft spot for the witty spiels and classic commentary. Indeed, the jokes and puns are likely why we ride it.

It’s not the for animals, for sure. Don’t jump on the “Amazon Annie” or the “Irrawadddy Irma” expecting to see exotic species populating the jungles you cruise through. At least, not live species. These are of the Animatronic variety, but they manage to entertain and lend themselves to the skipper’s spiel. (And yes, I took the above photo myself back on my very first cruise in the early ’90s.)

Have you heard the latest about “Dr. Albert Falls” and the backside of water? Have you had the chance to attend the “Republican National Convention” (aka the elephant herd)? Did you get to meet the “uninvited guests” (monkeys) trashing the safari camp? Oh, and don’t miss all the jokes about the zebra at the “Hard Rock Cafe”! With each new ride comes new souvenir punch lines.

Location: Jungle Cruise is located in the Adventureland sections of both Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Touring tip: If you visit during the holiday season, be sure to ride the “Jingle Cruise” for new jokes, gags and scenery!

Hitch a ride on the Main Street Vehicles

Cruising down the Magic Kingdom’s main drag in one of the Main Street Vehicles  requires some departure from our usual traffic patterns. Like many families, when we enter the park in the morning we’re on a mission. Usually it’s to seek out a favorite attraction to avoid waiting in a long queue later. The vintage vehicles that tool along Main Street have always been more of a part of the backdrop for us than a mode of transportation. More like colorful props that lend authenticity to a turn-of-the-century scene.

However, if you’ve got some time to spare and are in the nostalgic mood to take in the details of Main Street USA in either the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World or at Disney, there is no better way to travel than by one of four vehicles:

  • horse-drawn trolley (as pictured above)
  • jitney
  • early fire engine (also above)
  • open-air, double-decker omnibus (pictured below)

 Hop on board for your trip down memory lane!

Location: Find the Main Street Vehicles on their-one way trip down Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Head back in time with the Disneyland Railroad Dioramas

Attention all those who have yet to experience this time warp! Please disregard any web references you may have seen to the Disneyland Railroad Dioramas as being “dated”. In my book, “unheralded treasure” would be more a more appropriate term for them. Allow me to explain.

For one thing, both dioramas on the Disneyland Railroad circle tour were pet projects of Walt Disney – as was the Railroad itself. Walt had a famous passion for steam trains. He also had a deep appreciation for stunning landscapes. Creating the dioramas along the railway in Disneyland was an ideal way for Disney to fuse his hobbies.

As you’re puffing along, keep your eyes peeled for Primeval World. This diorama, featuring 46 Audio-Animatronic dinos, originated from a 1964 World’s Fair attraction. Do not, under any circumstances, let the kids miss the baby Triceratops emerging from its shell. The attraction made a big splash when it opened in 1958 and again in 1966 when it was joined by a second exhibit.

Disney’s short documentary “Grand Canyon”, set to Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite“, was the inspiration for the second diorama. A selection of the Suite is piped in as the steam locomotives chug past seasonal vistas of the canyon with its taxidermic fauna and critters.

Location: Find the Disneyland Railroad Dioramas as you take the circle tour of Disneyland Park. Make sure not to hop off the train too soon; the dioramas are located in a tunnel between the Tomorrowland and Main Street stations.


All Aboard the Casey Jr Circus Train

“All aboard!”

I didn’t question the three-year-old for her rabid enthusiasm over this ride: the bright colors pop, the train cars resemble ornate zoo cages, and the Casey Jr theme song is a catchy one. The fact that Casey Jr is about the only cheerful part of the 1941 animated film Dumbo – apart from the scene where the tormented elephant finally takes flight – is irrelevant. Your littles will want to ride this, so embrace it. Check out my family in the monkey cage, for support.

For an alternate mode of transportation, try the Storybook Land Canal Boats to view the miniature villages and castles nestled along the train’s route.

And just keep in mind Casey’s mantra: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”

Location: Find Casey Jr Circus Train in the Storybook Land section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Catch Mickey’s and Minnie’s 1928 debut in Steamboat Willie

disneyland main street cinema

We finally ended up popping into this rather obscure little attraction this past fall in order to escape throngs of families lining the streets for the evening parade. All we were searching for was a bare patch of ground to get off our feet for a few and this fit the bill perfectly. The cinema was nearly empty, had a viewing platform just for shorties, and screened classic cartoons that kept the kids entertained while we recharged.

I was happy to spare a few minutes to show the kids the 1928 cartoon that launched Mickey Mouse’s career. It’s pretty incredible that Walt Disney, buoyed by the popularity of this character, would go on to create an entertainment empire. A great lesson in dreaming big and having the gumption to go after your goals. The kids appreciated that Steamboat Willie is the lone one of six shorts shown at the Main Street Cinema to have sound. This is significant as the cartoon was the very first to feature an entirely post-produced synchronized soundtrack.

Location: Find the Main Street Cinema in the Main Street U.S.A. section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Disney Classic: Matterhorn Bobsleds

Ah, how refreshing it is to slide down, around and through this landmark Disney coaster. Pocked with caves, ice crystals and Yetis to give it that Alpine feel you can almost forget you’re in a sunny Southern California theme park.

The classic bobsled ride — it opened in the 1950s and was inspired by Walt’s travels in Switzerland — is a great favorite of my children. It ranks somewhere between a kiddie starter coaster and the galactic race through Space Mountain. Appearances by the Abominable Snowman and a splash down finish add some mild thrills.

Location: Find the Matterhorn Bobsleds between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland in Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland Park

When the holidays descend upon the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park, something very bizarre happens inside those gates. Jack Skellington and his crew of comrades from Halloween Town have taken up temporary residence in the classic attraction and given it a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover. From the jack-o-lanterns and candelabras trimming the exterior of the mansion to the pumpkin-bedecked Christmas tree, gingerbready ballroom, and ghostly white snow in the graveyard beyond, it’s a darkly enchanting collision of the two holidays.

PicMonkey Collage HM holiday - Copy

Dare I say our kids enjoy the holiday rendition even more than the original house of happy haunts. Though they hadn’t yet seen Nightmare Before Christmas the first time they took that black sleighride through the Mansion, they were riveted by the eerie new characters, and were humming the infectious soundtrack the duration of that trip.

The annual overlay is tricks and treats only for visitors to Disneyland Park (in the United States) and vanishes after a three-month run. Due to its popularity, the FastPass machines are in use during this period; take advantage of them or it’ll be ghastly long lines for you and yours.

Location: Haunted Mansion Holiday is found late September through early January only in the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

“it’s a small world holiday” at Disneyland Park

Need a bit of a reprieve from one of the most infectious, yet overplayed songs in the world? Note to self, schedule your next trip to Disneyland Park during the holiday season when the famous peace-promoting theme song is interspersed with a perky version of “Jingle Bells” (sung, of course, in a perky variety of languages and beats). Bonus: “Deck the Halls” is also thrown in for good measure.

PicMonkey Collage small world holiday - Copy

Your feelings about the titular tune aside, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the annual “it’s a small world holiday” overlay. First of all, the stunning light display that makes up the exterior of the attraction would melt even the most stubborn scrooge’s heart.

MH it's a small world holidayInside, the whimsical, merry decorations continue with candles, carolers, garlands and holiday lights plus a peek at the various ways each culture celebrates.

And any time of the year we think it’s great fun to watch the clock tower procession at the top of each hour. The kids also love picking out the Disney characters frolicking among the other dolls inside the ride – see if you can spot more than 30 of them!

Location: “it’s a small world holiday” is found exclusively (in the United States) in the Fantasyland section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort. It runs annually mid-November through early January.

Avoid motion sickness on Mad Tea Party

My stomach just isn’t what it used to be. I stopped deliberately spinning those teacups half a lifetime ago. When the kids were toddlers they were pretty content to ride without the extra rotations but each year they get a little bolder and want to move a little faster.

Thus, my two main Mad Tea Party rules are as follows: Make sure to ride before lunch. And please, go easy on Mom.

If I’m not spinning, I like to hang out on the sidelines and find the leaf-shaped plaque that honors Randy Pausch, a late Imagineer, Carnegie Mellon professor and author of the inspirational The Last Lecture.

Location: Find the Mad Tea Party attraction in the Fantasyland sections of both Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort, and Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Uncover secrets at Smugglers’ Cove on Tom Sawyer Island

MH tom sawyer island dlpOne thing I clearly remember thinking about Disney when I was a child: they sure did love themselves some skeletons. There seemed to be bones lying around all over the place – Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and Big Thunder Mountain to name a few. Well, the relatively-new Smuggler’s Cove on Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island definitely doesn’t buck the trend. Before touring, I had a hunch my kids would be both intrigued and wary of what they might find should they give that capstan wheel a spin.

If my little ones were wary, it wore off quickly. Indeed, they lingered the longest over the capstan wheel and the bilge pumps that drain the burdened shipwreck. The toddler felt right at home in the bone cage! Make sure to also check out Dead Man’s Cove, Tom’s and Huck’s Tree House, and Castle Rock. I can’t stress enough how much I appreciated the hour we spent on Tom Sawyer Island. It’s not thrilling or elaborate but it gave the kids a chance to run freely. In particular, it was one of the few places our toddler could be rid of our arms or the stroller.

Location: Find Smuggler’s Cove and other surprises at Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island in the Frontierland section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort. A similar version of this attraction, called simply Tom Sawyer Island, can be found in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.