When Disneyland announced they would be holding a special Annual Passholder event to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the opening of their Indiana Jones attraction, I immediately got in touch with my coworker Nicki and told her we had to go.
“After all,” I reasoned, “We’re both underemployed and can take the Wednesday of the event off of work.”
“I have three kids,” she pointed out.
“Foist them on a grandparent.” A few days later, she had confirmed their father and grandmother would care for the kids, and we were ready to go.
At 5:00 this morning, Nicki knocked on my door. We hopped in the car and started the long drive down to Los Angeles. Traffic wasn’t too bad for most of the trip, so we made the trip in just under six hours, pulling into the Disneyland parking garage at 10:55am. Great driving, Nicki!
We met up with her friend Isaac, who lives in Anaheim, and started exploring the park. We rode on It’s a Small World, the façade of which is still under refurbishment following a fire and plans to spruce it up for the 60th anniversary. I dragged them onto Storybookland Canal Boats because Nicki hadn’t yet seen the Frozen addition. We climbed aboard Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and rode The Haunted Mansion a couple of times. We also ate lunch at Carnation Café on Main Street, finishing up just in time to watch the parade. Crossing over into California Adventure after picking up our Indiana Jones wristbands – along with a paper map and a card that had the secret code to read the walls of Mara’s temple - we watched the Pixar Play Parade twice. First we caught it in Hollywoodland, and then when it finished in that section of the park we raced over to the area in front of the Little Mermaid ride to catch the parade a second time. Since we were there, we also rode Little Mermaid, then moseyed over to the Paradise Pier area to get free chocolate and bread samples at Ghiradelli and Boudin.
Then we were back in Disneyland for the Indiana Jones Experience. Park employees closed off Adventureland, Frontierland, and New Orleans Square so that only Annual Passholders could enjoy the area. We rode every ride that was available, except two: Jungle Cruise was down every time we walked by, and we kept putting off Indiana Jones because the line was always very, very long. But there were little extra things to enjoy. A cast member dressed as Indiana Jones balanced on a large rolling ball in front of his attraction’s entrance, moving the ball in little circles as he stayed on top of it. A band wearing little red fez hats played big band-era music, and they were quite entertaining. Every few minutes, there was a show in Tarzan’s Treehouse as Indiana Jones fought with…pirates?...over a treasure. I heard that the Jungle Cruise was giving away hats, but every time we went over there the ride was still closed so we never saw anything.
The real attraction of the evening was a talk being given by Tony Baxter, a former Imagineer (now retired) who worked on the development of the Indiana Jones ride. It was really interesting to listen to him. He described the beginning stages of creating the ride, when the entire realm of Adventureland was meant to be incorporated. There would have been two Indy rides: a roller coaster as well as the transport vehicle version that is now in the parks. The Jungle Cruise and the Disneyland Railroad would both crossover into the ride’s world. Luckily, at some point management told the Imagineers to dial back their ideas, because the budget wouldn’t allow such a massive project. I’m glad. While the concept drawings looked cool, Adventureland wouldn’t be the same if it had been taken over by a single franchise.
As he talked, Baxter would show clips of video from the Disney archives. We “rode” through the small mock-up model of the ride, saw some of the test videos of the then-new J—p transit system (since ‘Jeep’ isn’t the sponsor of the ride, you can’t use the company’s name to describe the ride vehicles, a fact Baxter kept conveniently forgetting) and laughed at short interviews cast members did with guests back in the early 90s to find out what they wanted in an Indiana Jones ride. “Big balls” and “snakes” were the most common answers, but one man cheerfully piped, “CHILD SLAVES!” …okay. It was really fun, almost an hour of Imagineering geeking with of the most influential men on today’s version of Disneyland.
The talk ended just before a special 11:30 showing of Fantasmic, so that’s how we ended the night. We settled into a spot to the far left of the stage, which was interesting because we could see cast members preparing to go ‘on’ and ‘off’ stage on the boats. We could also see the back of many of the special effects –if you’re a theme park nerd and curious about how everything works, it’s pretty neat.
Nicki and I were fading fast, though, since we’d had such an early morning. We stumbled back to the car and found the house I’d booked via Airbnb so that we could pass out. After all, we had a very early morning departure time so that I could get back to San Jose before work started.
(I know, we have issues.)