ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Disneyland is not just for sugar-soaked kids. Consider, all you grown-up women out there, going for a gals' day out.
That's exactly what my childhood friend Joanna and I, both of us in our 30s, recently did instead of heading to the beach or shopping. Did we channel our inner princesses? Nope. Did we regress to a state of childlike delight and strategically map out rides to conquer? Oh yes. That included diva posing in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle and trying on, not buying, Minnie Mouse ears.
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As girls growing up in Los Angeles, Joanna Sondheim and I regularly spent birthdays and field trips with friends at Disneyland, in nearby Anaheim. Gaptoothed, dimpled and short, I loved the rides, treats and general theme park mayhem. As years went by, though, Disneyland's appeal for me faded, along with my patience for long lines and pricey mementos.
When Joanna, visiting from New York, at first suggested -- insisted, really -- that we visit Disneyland, I balked. What? No! I eventually relented, and those five hours we spent at the park turned out to be just as fun as my childhood memories, albeit with a self-aware edge.
A day at Disneyland as grown women means being prepared, but also not spending too much money, besides the entrance fee.
We packed our own sandwiches and granola bars, resisting the temptation to devour loads of amusement park food, except for a container of mango slices, bottles of water and the obligatory sugary churro, which we split in half. That Disneyland sugar fix, for me, at least, defies age.
Necessary prep included wearing a wide-rimmed sun hat and sunglasses, carrying a cross-body bag complete with hand sanitizer and tissues, plus literally drenching my body in sunscreen. The days of frolicking freely for hours on Main Street, U.S.A., just beyond the park's entrance gates, as a little girl, under the blazing hot sun, were long over.
Instead, Joanna and I stuck to shady spots and marveled at the street's quaint store signs and clusters of barber shop quartets singing in unison. There's something comforting, as Joanna said, about Main Street's turn-of-the-20th-century inspired shops, from ice cream parlors to the Victorian-themed Plaza Inn, that predate our tech-heavy, cellphone and social media savvy era. The park itself, created by director, animator and entrepreneur Walt Disney, opened in 1955, and Main Street was modeled after his childhood hometown, Marceline, Mo. It all still resembles a real-life animated movie. Unfortunately, we couldn't track down staffers dressed in Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck or Goofy costumes to take photos with us.
Despite Joanna and I being there on a non-holiday Wednesday, families, tweens in coordinated Disney-centric outfits and sparkly-eyed kids packed the park in droves.
We first hit favorites Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean in New Orleans Square, west of Adventureland. It turns out lines for those rides are much shorter in the morning. We lucked out, zipping through to experience Haunted Mansion's creepy shimmering ghosts and Pirates of the Caribbean's smoke-filled pirate fights, now with a Johnny Depp-as-Jack Sparrow robot look-alike, from the movie franchise of the same name, har-dee-har-har-ing throughout. The rides, though they felt shorter than during childhood, were just as thrilling.
Even the onset of adulthood can't mute the excitement of screaming one's lungs out on a roller coaster. We rode the rickety wooden Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland, and Tomorrowland's dark, sleek Space Mountain, with its zippy turns, while making faces and yelling like teenage horror movie fans. It helped to use the park's complimentary FASTPASS service, which allows guests to get a free timed ticket for certain rides and avoid the lines when you return at the designated hour. Joanna downloaded to her iPhone the mobile app MouseWait to keep track of real-time wait times. The high-speed roller coaster Matterhorn Bobsleds was closed for renovation and reopened over the summer.
By the time of our last stop in the afternoon at pink, princess-y Fantasyland, we started to feel the pull of theme park exhaustion. Lines stretched into longer waits. The sun felt stronger, and children's cries seemed to increase. Surprisingly, neither of us became dehydrated or cranky.
I still felt a sweet pang of nostalgia going on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Peter Pan's Flight, both quick rides generally geared to those 10 and under. The glittering lights and London tableau spread out below our pirate galleon during Peter Pan's Flight reminded me of Disneyland's creativity, still artfully maintained.
When Joanna and I left the park at 4 p.m., just the right time to avoid a nighttime exodus of folks, we were a bit tired, but happy and grateful, no matter our age, to be young at heart.