DISNEYLAND — It is dark inside the Collector’s towering citadel. Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” blasts through the gantry lift, as I brace myself to drop to my doom. Suddenly, the steel doors separate. Rocket Raccoon from Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” appears wearing a devilish grin. He has just escaped Taneleer Tivan’s glass cage, high atop the fortress. Now he needs my help to rescue the other members of his ragtag crew. Rocket loosens the cables. I squeeze my eyes shut. Whoosh!
Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT, a re-imagining of Disneyland’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, opened on May 27 inside California Adventure’s Hollywood Land. And whether or not you like that free-fall sensation — it is 130 feet of accelerated, sequenced drops — there’s no denying the ride’s epic mechanics, from the fortress tour through Tivan’s collection of stolen Knowhere fauna to the stunning visual surprises and awesome vintage pop.
Of course, the new ride was at the top of my to-do list. But it isn’t the only irresistible attraction here. All sorts of things are changing at Disneyland, where construction is underway on a new Star Wars Land that will open in 2019. Rivers of America is reopening this summer, beginning with Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. There’s a new Summer of Heroes attraction, perfect for my 6-year-old son’s first trip to the land of the mouse. And the Main Street Electrical Parade has returned to the park for the first time since 2010, when it crossed the country to begin its run at Walt Disney World Resort. I haven’t seen it since I was a kid.
The first morning, I left my backpack of water, snacks and sunscreen with my family and sprinted to Guardians first thing when the park opened at 8 a.m. to avoid long lines (yes, even with FastPass you can expect to wait at least 30 minutes on weekends). After that, we made the most of our locale and headed straight to Summer of Heroes.
Summer of Heroes is hard to explain. It’s essentially a mix of all-new experiences for the superhero buff, and it runs through Sept. 10. We caught a sneak peek of Marvel Studios’ “Thor: Ragnarok,” in which Thor finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest with another major superhero. It doesn’t come out until November on IMAX, so let’s just say fans in the audience were going nuts. Outside, we found Spider-Man and Captain America roaming Hollywood Land signing autographs and snapping selfies.
But the coolest thing for aspiring superheroes is the Avengers Training Initiative. Hawkeye and Black Widow share their secret ninja moves with kids ages 6 to 12 in the training arena on the Hollywood Backlot Stage. Tutorials are performed every hour starting at 1 p.m. and you need to sign up in advance at the kiosk in the Hollywood Backlot near Stage 17 and the Sunset Showcase Theater. It’s well worth the time.
That night, after several trips around It’s A Small World — my son’s favorite attraction, excluding motion-simulator rides Soarin’ Around the World and Star Tours, The Adventures Continue — we got to Main Street and grabbed our curbside seats for the electrical parade.
As soon as the lights went out, I was transported back to 1982, when I was 6 and experienced Main Street aglow for the first time. My son was so mesmerized by Pinocchio and Pete’s Dragon, he dropped his fidget spinner for the entire twinkly procession.
It was even better than a free fall.
Also new this summer
The nighttime show Fantasmic! returns July 17 on the 62nd anniversary of Disneyland’s opening day and features new magical effects, including new mist screens and new scenes inspired by Disney animated classics. One new scene finds Aladdin and Jasmine floating on a flying carpet cushioned by fog during “A Whole New World.”
While many attractions remain closed due to construction of Star Wars Land, Tom Sawyer Island has re-opened and the Disneyland Railroad and river traffic — Mark Twain Riverboat, Columbia Sailing Ship and Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes — return to Frontierland July 29. The Main Street Electrical Parade will continue lighting up the park through Aug. 20.
If you go
The Disneyland Resort is typically open from 8 a.m. to midnight during the summer. Tickets range from $97-$124 for a one-day, one-park pass. Multiday and park hopper passes are also available. Find details for the Anaheim park at disneyland.disney.go.com.
Parents should know: It usually takes at least two days to cover a resort so large. Good walking shoes are a must, and exhaustion a high probability. If you are traveling with small children, build an afternoon break into your day, so the kids (or you) can rest or nap. Strollers are available for rent. Parents should familiarize themselves with the FastPass system to minimize long waits for rides. Disneyland also allows parents to wait in line, then pass children over barriers when they get to the front.
Need a playground? California Adventure’s Grizzly Peak offers the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail which has tire-swing zip lines, enclosed slides, rope bridges and a small climbing wall perfect for those 6 and older.
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