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The other Disney.

LIVING ON THE EAST COAST, my family has made Walt Disney World Resort in Florida one of its top choices for vacation getaways. This year, however, we chose Disneyland Resort in California, which was celebrating its golden anniversary. I thought it finally was time for the kids to see where it all began some 50 years ago. Sure, traveling to California meant a couple of extra hours on the plane and, admittedly, the Disney magic may not have fallen upon us right away--at least until we turned onto the road leading to the park.

After checking into the Disneyland Hotel, we were directed out the door and pointed to follow the path towards Downtown Disney. Almost instantly, the entertainment had begun. We were staying fight in the heart of it all. There was no bus to wait for, car to park, tram to catch, or transportation center to negotiate. After a short walk through the Downtown Disney District, we were there. In fact, as we went past the bag check point, we were faced with a choice: Turn left into Disneyland or turn right into California Adventure Park. I could not help but think about the times we had schlepped the stroller (at one point, a double-stroller) through the various transports necessary to reach the entrance gates at the parks in Florida, folding and unfolding, lifting and hefting, all the while disturbing tired children when all we wanted to do was go from one place to another. Being able to keep on the move from the hotel room right to the attractions undoubtedly was worth the extra flying time. Moreover, the close proximity of the hotels to the attractions makes leaving the park for an afternoon swim or a suddenly-needed rest a real possibility.

We opted to begin at California Adventure. Inside, we found a condensed combination of Disney's MGM Studios and Epcot Center, and a California version of Animal Kingdom. New to the park was Monsters Inc., Mike and Sully to the Rescue, a child-friendly adventure through Monstroserous. Imagineer Kevin Raferty takes pride in the immersive experience as the ride sweeps its guests through the adventures of Boo, the human child, as Mike and Sully work to help her return to the human world without being detected.

Across the plaza lies Disneyland's original Magic Kingdom--which, we must mention again, requires no special transportation to reach--where we found the familiar landscape of Main Street, along with a few unique highlights of this founding park. For instance, windows are imprinted with the names of those who helped create this magical place. Then, of course, there is the famed Firehouse where, in an upstairs apartment, Walt Disney himself stayed while the park was under construction. A sense of history prevailed as we rode some of the classic Disneyland attractions, like the Matterhorn, Autopia, and Mad Hatter's Tea Cups. It also was enjoyable to see--as well as experience for ourselves--families embracing the historic aspects of the park. Not only were parents returning for a second, third, or fourth time, recounting prior visits (some when they themselves were children), but grandparents were retelling their tales as well, with hope that the youngsters in their charge someday would be able to do the same. No one seems to outgrow the Disney experience. Our kids were entertained--even awed at times--by their many and different encounters here, just as they were as pie-eyed toddlers in Disney--World. While it's obvious their tastes have changed as they've grown older, they certainly haven't moved beyond the wonders of Disney--nor, apparently, have the numerous teenagers we spied patrolling the park during our visit.

While the quaintness of Disneyland remains, it nevertheless has to stay current, and does so by adding novel attractions and redeveloping old favorites. For instance, coming to the park early in 2007 is a revised submarine attraction reminiscent of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The adventure returns with an all-new Nemo story line, with Nemo's father trying to find his son as he prepares to set off for school.

Actually, all of the Disney theme parks have new adventures waiting to be discovered, which is one reason we were so willing to travel coast-to-coast. We found history and nostalgia, comfort and convenience, relaxation and peacefulness--as well as just the right amount of chaos. Admittedly, the convenience was most welcome. Families traveling with small children will find a world of difference here. Even for those staying off-site, maneuvering among venues remains simple. We especially looked forward to strolling through town each evening, listening to music, as we returned to our hotel.

Of course, for those living in California, flying East presents its own set of opportunities--the discovery of a place where the magic lives beyond the gates of the theme park. In fact, it can be felt as soon as you disembark at Orlando International Airport, and certainly as you enter the massive acreage that makes up Walt Disney World, which is home to a vast selection of hotels, tour theme parks, and two water parks. There are miniature golf courses, Disney Quest, Downtown Disney, and day and evening entertainment at Pleasure island. The Disney touch is everywhere--from monorail to tram to bus. Yes, you will need to use transportation. Walking in this massive wonderland will not provide access to the vast and various opportunities that Walt Disney World in Florida provides: boardwalk to downtown, camping to fishing, scuba diving to shopping ... the list goes on and on. Keep in mind, too, that there are Disney theme parks in three other countries for those still wanting more new experiences. Even so far from home, there's no place like Disney.

Stacey Eager Leavitt is a freelance writer residing in Baldwin, N.Y.
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Title Annotation:family vacations
Author:Leavitt, Stacey Eager
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:953
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