"From Imagination to Celebration" - Disneyland guided tour - May 6, 2005

On May 5, 2005, Disneyland debuted a new guided tour, one in celebration of Disneyland's 50th birthday. We booked the 4pm tour on Friday, May 6 and checked in for our tour at the recently opened tour building adjacent to City Hall. We checked in about 15 minutes prior to the tour start time, were given our tour tags and were told to wait in the little garden next door.

The 3 1/2 hour guided walking tour is called "From Imagination to Celebration", costs $55 (no discounts are available at this time) and currently runs 7 days a week. Monday through Thursday, tour times are 10am, 3:15pm and 5pm. Friday, tour times are 9am, 12:15pm, 4pm and 5:40pm. Saturday and Sunday, tour times are 8am, 12:15pm, 4pm and 5:40pm. Each guided tour includes priority boarding on several attractions (3 for the later tours, up to 5 for the first tour). The middle tour(s) also includes reserved seating for the parade, and the last tour of the day includes reserved viewing for the fireworks when fireworks are scheduled. Tour times may change depending on park hours. Each person on the tour also receives a special tour pin that looks like Walt's lamp, the one that remains lit in Walt's apartment above the fire station on Main Street, and the lamp pin actually lights up. In addition, each person receives a special replica of the old A-E ticket books with information about the history and development of the park, and each person also receives a souvenir photo and a snack. Neither the pin nor the ticket book was available when we took our tour, so we were asked to fill out cards with our names and addresses and were told that both would be mailed to us. Each tour can accommodate a maximum of 16 guests, and reservations can be made by calling Disneyland's guided tour line at (714) 781-4400.

Shortly before the tour started, another guided tour cast member came out to give us listening devices, each of which included the main rectangular base with a volume control and an earpiece headphone that loops over one ear. Our tour guide would be equipped with the microphone, so this would make hearing the tour guide much easier. I really liked the listening device as it did make the tour much more fun, especially since our tour was booked with the full 16 people. When we had taken the "Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour last year, we only had 8 people on our tour, but it was still difficult to hear him at times if the group was walking or we were in a place with a lot of other people. At the time, I remember thinking that being on a tour with the full complement of 16 people would make it virtually impossible for all the guests to hear the tour guide. With the listening device, you didn't need to be standing right next to the tour guide to hear what she was saying, and it also meant that if the group was walking, the tour guide could still give out information that could be heard by the entire group. I especially liked that there was a volume control so that each person could set the volume at their own comfort level. During the course of the tour, our tour guide had to use a celphone to communicate with other people to coordinate parts of our tour, and she was very good at turning off her microphone before using the celphone and at other times when she needed to communicate with other cast members. Our tour guide mentioned that the devices were used at Walt Disney World, and with how well they worked on our tour, I hope they are used for all the tours that Disneyland offers.

After we were all given our listening devices, our tour guide came out and introduced herself to us. She asked for the person whose birthday was closest to July 17, Disneyland's birthday, and it turned out that my husband was the closest in our group. Another CM had a Sorcerer Mickey hat, and my husband was told that there were 5 discs in the hat, representing one of each of the decades that Disneyland had been open, and my husband was to pull out three discs, which would determine which attractions we would visit during our tour. He ended up picking out discs for 1955-1965, 1965-1975 and 1985-1995, so we would be riding one attraction from each decade chosen, in chronological order. Our tour guide then had each of us tell our names and our favorite memory of a Disneyland visit. After that, we were off on our tour, with the first stop being the opera house exhibit. Once inside, our tour guide pointed out the early sketches of Disneyland as well as the ticket media display and talked about a few other things before we headed in to see the film. After the film, we stayed in the exit area for a while as the crowds were still outside from the just-ending parade. With a tour that starts at the same time as the parade, I would have expected that there would be better planning to make sure we didn't get stuck in the parade crowds, so I figure that's something that will have to be worked out. She then took us to see a nearby sign that had a rare quality in Disneyland history. We then went down Main Street, and she mentioned a few other things during that walk. Prior to the listening devices being utilized, it would have been impossible to hear what she had to say given the crowds, but with their use, it made for a much easier time. She then took us to the castle, where we had a group picture taken. We were given the picture at the end of our tour, and the picture was included in a nice cover with the new castle artwork. I'm not sure if the group picture is always in front of the castle. When we had first left the tour garden, we had made a brief stop in front of the Mickey floral at the main gate, but when she couldn't find a photographer around, we continued with our tour, so the group picture might normally have been taken there.

We then headed to Fantasyland but because the walkway through the castle was blocked off, we went around the castle instead. This was another instance where I thought the tour guide should have been told about the castle walkway closure. It was obvious that it was a planned closure and not a spur-of-the-moment thing, so knowing that the tour guide might need to go that way, it would seem to me they should be given that information prior to the commencement of their tour so they'd be prepared. We gathered in an area of Fantasyland where the tour guide told us some more information, and then we headed to Storybook for our ride of an attraction from 1955-1965. Before boarding, she took out a photo album and showed us a picture of what the attraction looked like when it first opened. She would show us various pictures from the photo album during the course of the tour. She would also ask questions periodically, and whomever gave the correct answer, she would give that person a sticker, and the reward stickers became a running joke for the duration of the tour. The tour guide had a beautiful canvas bag in which she carried all the items that she needed for the tour.


The guide's tour bag.


We entered Storybook through the exit queue, and we managed to fit all 18 of us (16 guests plus the tour guide and the Storybook CM) on a boat. At the beginning of the ride, our tour guide gave us some information about the attraction, and then later, the regular Storybook CM gave us her regular spiel. Afterward, we took a break to let people use the facilities, and then we headed off to New Orleans Square, where the tour guide gave us some information about Pirates of the Caribbean before we headed to ride that as the attraction from 1965-1975. Again, we used the exit queue to get on the ride. After that, we headed to Critter Country to our 1985-1995 attraction - Splash Mountain. Along the way, she again was talking to us and telling us various things. She told us a few things about Splash Mountain but then said she'd have more to say after we had ridden it. She didn't end up going on the ride, as she was holding listening devices for those who wanted to make sure theirs didn't get wet on the ride. A few other people also chose to skip the ride. When we were done, she gathered us again and gave us a bit more information about the attraction. Afterward, we headed back to New Orleans Square and we rode the train to Tomorrowland. From there, we eventually made our way to the hub and then to our reserved parade seating. The reserved parade seating is located right in front of the restrooms at the side of the castle, in between the castle and the Matterhorn, almost directly under Tinkerbell's guide wires. Folding chairs were set up in a roped-off section, and having the restrooms nearby was very convenient as well. On each chair was a box that contained our snack, consisting of bottled water, chips, a cookie and a Snow White apple, which we enjoyed as we waited for the parade. We were also each given our group picture in front of the castle as well as told about the pin and ticket book that we would be receiving.


A nice after-tour snack.


The seating area is the same for both of the tours that include reserved parade seating. The view is probably better for the first parade because the first parade travels from Small World to Main Street, and since there is no parade viewing space north of the reserved seating, you would get an unobstructed view of the floats as they made their way toward Main Street. With the second parade, the floats are traveling from Main Street to Small World, but with the regular parade viewing area (with most of the people standing) south of the reserved seating area, you can only see the float that is directly in front of you or that has passed towards Small World. The advantage of the second parade, though, is that you get to see the night version of the parade. In the case of both parades, the location of the reserved seating means that you get two show stops, one when the parade is in the Small World area and one when the parade is in the hub area. For the hub show stop of the second parade, flatware and saucer dancers were directly in front of us, with the Beauty and the Beast float just to the right of us. For the Small World show stop of the second parade, the Lion King float was in front of us, with the rope gymnasts directly in front of us. I thought it was amusing that with the float stopped there, anyone riding Alice in Wonderland at that time would see Simba staring at them when they got to the outdoor section of the ride.

With regard to the attractions visited during the tour, the choices are always the same. For the 1955-1965 attraction, it's Storybook land boats. For the 1965-1975 attraction, it's Pirates of the Caribbean. For the 1975-1985 attraction, it's Big Thunder Railroad. For the 1985-1995 attraction, it's Splash Mountain. For the 1995-2005 attraction, it's Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters. The first tour of the day would visit all five attractions. Subsequent tours would visit three of the five, depending on which decade discs were pulled.

All in all, I enjoyed the tour. Our tour guide was very upbeat and enthusiastic, and her love of Disneyland was very evident. She had previously worked as an attraction CM on two of the park's attractions prior to becoming a tour guide. She told jokes and interacted with the tour guests in other ways during the course of the tour. You do not visit any backstage areas during the course of the tour. Any individual's enjoyment of the tour will vary, depending on their interest and knowledge of Disneyland history and trivia. An aficionado will probably not hear anything that they didn't already know. I found that I knew about half of the stories that she told, but I still thought it was interesting to hear her talk about the things that I already knew about. We took the "Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour and the "Mysteries, Myths and Legends" tour last year, and I'm not sure I would have taken any of the three tours if I was just visiting the park for the day, but as an annual passholder, I didn't have to pay for the day's admission price in addition to the tour price. One thing I was very happy about on this tour was that for the attractions, we did not have to wait in the regular lines, though we did not have immediate boarding on any of the attractions. One thing that I really disliked about the "Mysteries" tour was that we ended up spending quite a bit of the tour waiting in attraction lines, to the point where we ended up being late on our tour time-table. I would expect that as part of a tour, one of the perqs would be a shorter wait time on the attractions. I certainly would not intend to pay the money for a tour only to spend much of the tour time in line for an attraction.

The reserved seating for the parade is definitely a strong selling point for taking the tour. The last tour of the day includes a reserved area from which to view the fireworks. After the fireworks were over, we decided to go over and look at the space that we'd been told was the reserved area, which is the space in front of the railing just to the east of the partner's statue in the hub, on the Tomorrowland side. Standing in that area, it was very obvious that it was a less than optimum location. There were three people still in that area who had taken the last tour, and we had a chance to talk to them. They were very upset that the reserved fireworks viewing location gave such a poor view of the fireworks themselves. While you're fairly close to the castle, about half of the castle itself is obscured by trees, so you miss quite a few of the castle effects, and many of the fireworks themselves were also obscured by either trees or a light tower. I certainly understood their frustration and disappointment that one of the main selling points of the tour included such a poor fireworks viewing spot. I can certainly understand that tour participants wouldn't be offered the premium viewing spot, but even moving the reserved location to some place like the Minnie statue in the hub would be a better location with a much less obstructed view, and you don't need a lot of space since it's only a reserved area for 16 people. The three people also expressed frustration that even though the reserved area was roped off, other guests were climbing over the ropes, and there was no CM around for crowd control. When we were at our reserved parade viewing, both our tour guide and a regular guest control CM were on hand, so I would have expected that the tour guide CM would at least stay in the area to ensure that the reserved area was utilized only by tour guests. Both the obstructed viewing and the lack of integrity of the reserved area are issues that need to be addressed immediately by Disney if they want to avoid complaints from any guests who take the last tour of the day.


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