**Disclaimer: This is going to be a long post! Please indulge me while I recount my first day back in a Disney park since the pandemic began!**
After a year-long closure, Disney finally decided to follow its SoCal theme park counterparts and open its California Adventure doors for "A Touch of Disney," a food-driven event that would allow guests to enter one of the parks and enjoy fun bites, classic Disney fare, photo ops and more.
I'll admit, I was anything but thrilled by the oddly steep ticket price, but I had been saving money during the pandemic, specifically for fun Disney spending. I personally use Digit, a service that automatically withdraws money from designated accounts based on account balance and algorithms. If you want to sign up, you can use my referral link for an automatic $5 bonus. I just wanted to mention the way I afford my Disney spending, as it can be quite expensive. I try to plan as best I can, and rely on what I have saved up using Digit. It's an easy way to build up an account with very little effort.
On a very sunny April Saturday, I drove down the 5 South and exited Disney Way for the first time in over a year. The familiar "Disney Parks Only" lane was a welcome sight, and my heart skipped a beat just from pulling into the Mickey and Friends parking lot.
At 11:25, I joined the mass of cars eagerly awaiting the parking structure opening. When the clock struck 11:30AM, a chorus of car horns echoed through the hollow concrete structure. The excitement was palpable - Disney fans were once again coming home. I parked, and with plenty of pep in my step, made it through security. I was greeted by so many smiling cast members complimenting my outfit and wishing me a wonderful day. I was already intoxicated by the Disney magic I had so desperately missed.
The sun was already blazing, which was unfortunate considering guests parked at Mickey and Friends had to walk the entire tram route. I was already on a Disney high and was walking at record speed - I walked the entire route in less than 10 minutes.
Sweating and ever so slightly out of breath, I finally arrived at the gates. Inexplicable joy filled my little Disney heart as music from Fantasmic played over the speakers and a cast member scanned my ticket and my gaze was filled with the view of Buena Vista Street that I had missed so much.
I met up with my friend Mariah and we discussed our game plan for the day. We decided to jump right into mobile ordering a snack and taking advantage of some fun photo ops.
Our first bite of the day was the Carbonara Mac n' Cheese with Nueske's Bacon, from one of the temporary booths called "Golden Dreams." For A Touch of Disney, several permanent dining locations reopened, but there were also pop-up locations like this one, offering specialty items and unique dishes.
Because it was so hot, I also grabbed the Strawberry Rose Lemonade. The mac n' cheese was delicious, but the lemonade left me wanting way more rose flavor.
As we made our way around the park, we spotted several Disney characters interacting with guests and taking socially-distanced pictures. It was so wonderful to see them again!
As the temperature continued to rise, we opted for some cold mimosas from Uncork California, while we soaked in the scenery. Mariah grabbed the tantalizingly blue Pacific Mimosa (Sparkling Wine, Coconut, Blue Curaçao and Pineapple Juice) and I predictably could not resist the Sierra Mimosa (Sparkling Wine, Lavender and fresh Lemon Juice).
This mimosa gave me the floral punch I was looking for in my Strawberry Rose Lemonade, with an added refreshing fizz. Soon after we enjoyed our mimosas, it was time for our reservation at Carthay Circle Restaurant.
Although the Pixar-themed Lamplight Lounge is probably the more popular spot nowadays, Carthay Circle Restaurant has always tickled my fancy and I try to take every opportunity to eat there. We were lucky enough to get a reservation for 1:40PM (not the day of - this reservation was made back in March), which ended up being not only a wonderful meal but a welcome respite from the afternoon heat.
We were guided to a lovely outdoor table and spent far too much time deciding on drinks. Carthay Circle has a well-rounded, extensive cocktail menu. And for my non-alcoholic drinkers, I highly recommend the rose petal soda that is offered here.
Eventually we ordered: I departed from my usual drink and went for the Double Pear Martini (Double Cross and Absolut Pears Vodka, Pear Nectar, and fresh Lime Juice complemented with a marinated Baby Pear), which we affectionately named the "Electric Pear Martini." Mariah chose my usual drink of choice but if I am being honest, it did not taste right, so she exchanged it for what I had.
For lunch, Mariah ordered the Strozzapreti Pasta (San Marzano Tomatoes, Basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano), and I ordered the Baked Bay Scallops with Creamy Potato Chowder, plus the Carthay Shrimp Spring Roll (Thai Basil, Mint, Spicy Aïoli). Because I had mentioned my tomato allergy, the staff took care of me and made sure my food was prepared with no tomatoes and was clearly marked. If you have allergies, be sure to let the cast members know!
Part of the Touch of Disney ticket included a $25 dining card. While most guests chose to use them with their mobile orders, we used ours for this meal. Those cards took quite a large chunk off our bill, and along with my legacy passholder discount, we paid a reasonable price.
After such a savory meal, we decided to grab the Carrot Cake Funnel Fries from Award Wieners. I have to admit, these were mildly disappointing. They weren't bad, but I think calling them Carrot Cake flavored would be a vast overstatement. More cake crumbles, more cream cheese icing and less whipped cream would have catered more to their namesake flavor.
We had spent quite a bit of time in the front of the park, so we headed to Cars Land and beyond for more photo ops and other surprises.
One item I simply could not pass up was the Bengal Beef Skewer with sweet Zulu sauce, transplanted from the beloved Bengal Barbecue in Disneyland. A few skewer options were offered at Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, in a place I dont' often visit when I am in the park. The mobile order line was the longest we had seen all day, but it was worth the wait. While it may not look like much, the tender beef and sweet, tangy sauce brought me back to all those fun times in Adventureland.
Since we were pretty full, we continued taking advantage of the heat dissipating as well as some other photo ops in the Pixar Pier area. We also picked up our legacy passholder freebies in Paradise Gardens Park.
One of the highlights of the day for me was playing Heimlich's Candy Corn Toss at Pixar Pier. I don't normally spend money on carnival-type games, but for this event, all games were free and winners won a 65th Anniversary button.
We got in line under the star-shaped lights and bright pink blossoms, and the entire time I was saying it would be impossible to win the game we were in line for! I'm not good at these types of games, and every person before us lost. Well guess what? I scored on my first throw!
It was time, yet again, for a snack. I cooled off with an ice-cold Coke - is it just me, or is there something particularly satisfying about having an ice-cold bottle of Coke at Disneyland? Anyway, Mariah enjoyed a chimichanga and placed a mobile order for the very popular It's Lemon and Pineapple Swirl from the Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats.
Time was passing rapidly, and golden hour was falling upon us. We knew our remaining time was limited, and we did our best to soak up as much magic as we could.
We placed our last mobile orders for the Milk and Cookies Churro from The Cozy Cone, and the most important bite of the day: the legendary, fan favorite Monte Cristo all the way from Cafe Orleans in Disneyland. We darted through the crowd that was already making its way to the exit - many left the event early, for reasons beyond me. On our way to pick up the churro, we were able to catch the lighting of Cars Land. Especially having just rewatched Cars, hearing "Life could be a dream" play across Cars Land while the sun set and the whimsical neon lights came alive, I was very emotional. I can't wait to come back and get on my favorite rides.
We stopped at our last destination, spending our last 30 minutes in the park enjoying one of my all-time favorite Disney foods. Although we missed some photo ops and did not get to see Pixar Pier lit up, I was happy to rest my weary feet and enjoy one last bite.
Mariah had never tried a Monte Cristo, so it was fun to share this experience with her. Filled with ham, turkey and cheese, then deep-fried and eaten with berry compote, the Monte Cristo is the perfect indulgent, sweet and savory meal.
Eventually, I was all photo'd out, my feet were throbbing, and we were surrounded by twinkling lights. The Mickey Mouse Club goodbye song began to play, and that was our cue to say our goodbyes to the House of Mouse for the time being. We drew out our day by heading over to Downtown Disney for some late night shopping before bidding each other adieu and heading home.
Was A Touch of Disney worth it? It was for me. The ticket price was steep and overpriced compared to other similar theme park events, but for a Disney addict like me, this event brought me some needed joy during a Disney drought. I loved seeing the rides being tested, hearing familiar Disney tunes and admiring some of my favorite views once again.
While we are far from going back to the normal we used to know, events like these give me hope for the future. Cast members were bold and vigilant to enforce face coverings and social distancing. This may not be the most comfortable or convenient way to enjoy Disney, but these are changes that I am willing to make to enjoy some of my favorite attractions again.
Will you be visiting Disneyland when it opens?
Until next time,