Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of 2 parts.
Honestly, I can’t remember if I started out wanting to write a story about my personal relationship with Disneyland and ended up with a foodie focus, or if my idea was to focus on the foodie fun of Disneyland and it morphed into why I became a Disneyphile.
As my nearest and dearest know, I’m addicted to Disneyland. I’ve accepted it, embraced it and actually cherish it.
What is a Disneyphile? It’s not your average Disney fan, it’s so much more. The word represents a person who is dedicated to the extreme sport of Disney.
Out of high school and still get wildly excited when a new Disney movie comes out? Disneyphile.
One of your treasured possessions is a book of paper tickets A-E? Disneyphile.
Your residence boasts a collection of Disney memorabilia, which increases during major holiday periods? Disneyphile.
You remember that Tomorrowland used to have a midget autopia for kids not quite tall enough to reach the sign yet? Probably a Disneyphile.
You can re-create scenes from Disney movies and sing all the words to “Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin”? Disneyphile.
You remember how it felt the first time you walked through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and heard Jiminy Cricket singing “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and to this day you have that same 8-year-old’s feeling when you step across the drawbridge? Disneyphile.
When you hear a recording of Walt’s voice telling listeners why he created Disneyland and you tear up? Disneyphile.
Heading straight to your Disneyland happy food place? Definitely Disneyphile.
I was lucky enough to grow up in Southern California, with annual family visits to Disneyland. In those days, there was no freeway, and the drive took you past acres of orange groves. Horseless carriages clicked along on Main Street, delivering the family to the gates of the Castle. On the other side, it was waiting. That Carousel, Peter, Tink, magical music and fantasies coming to life before my very eyes.
So many memories lay within the boundaries of the Lands. The memories live in my head and my heart, but they come to life when I return to the place where they began.
My 78-year-old immigrant great-grandmother is still with us and laughing so hard that she is afraid she will lose her dentures as she exits Snow White’s Adventures, and then I watch with amazement as she makes her way across the bobbing barrel bridge of Tom Sawyer’s Island. I always knew she was a strong lady, but as my feet throbbed recently as I made my way through the park, I suddenly realized how strong a lady she was. She never lost a step keeping up with me and my sister so many years ago.
I can see my “man’s man” Dad wearing his mouse ears while riding the Pack Mules in Frontierland, with one hand tucked inside his shirt like Napoleon crossing the Alps. The Pack Mules are long gone, and the painted desert we rode through is now part of the landscape of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Gone also are the Conestoga Wagons, Stage Coach Ride and the burning settlers cabin, but when I walk through Frontierland I still see them. So do my kids.
Why do I always crave Fritos when I am in Frontierland? Simple.
Frito-Lay founder Elmer Doolin persuaded Walt Disney to let him open Casa de Fritos, a Mexican restaurant, in Frontierland. The menu was uncomplicated. Combo plates with tamales, chilies, Frito pie, enchiladas and something called a “Ta-Cup.” This Frito shell was the precursor to the modern taco salad. Fritos were complimentary with each meal. Also included, guitar players strolling the dining area playing ranchera music. Casa de Frito closed in 1982.
One of my favorite memories was having my lunch on Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship Restaurant near Skull Rock in Fantasyland.
Long gone, this “Chicken of the Sea” quick-service eatery was located behind the Dumbo ride. I looked forward to my tuna sandwich on white bread, while I imagined sailing off into the sky with the lost boys and dueling with Captain Hook. As a child, this was my go-to foodie spot. Was it the sandwich or the chance to imagine that this pirate ship restaurant could really fly?
I can remember the summer we returned for our annual visit and the ship was gone, tuna sandwiches and all. Devastating. If there was a place now where I could get a real old-fashioned tuna sandwich at Disneyland, I’d have one because I know it would be the best tuna sandwich ever.
In later years, the Blue Bayou restaurant became my foodie destination, introducing my children and grand-people to the Monte Cristo sandwich. Are we sensing a theme here? Food enjoyed in close proximity of boats, water and pirates. I connected the dots on this only as I began to write this story.
When a group of Disneyphiles gather, you’ll hear discussions about how they look forward to their favorite Disneyland food. For some, it’s a treat. For others, it’s a specific dinner. I have yet to hear anybody reminisce about the tuna sandwich, but the excitement about revisiting a tasty favorite is a typical topic.
In preparation for my recent visit and this story, I began to create a list of favorite Disneyland foods. I surveyed friends, family, Facebook cohorts and websites dedicated to the favorite foods at Walt’s place. As the list grew and the “must have” suggestions came flowing in, I did begin to wonder how I had managed to miss so many foods people were raving about. I do consider myself a true “foodie” so how could these well-known favorites have escaped me? I think I have figured it out and promise to explain my theory.
List in hand and only three days to research, my daughter, Danielle, and I decided that the only way we could make our way through the top 10 items on the list was to purchase one of each item and share for all meals and snacks. Just an FYI, when taking on this type of challenge it’s advised to invite another Disneyphile to take part in your experiment.
Corn dogs are not just corn dogs. Those who have this hand-dipped, batter-blanketed frankfurter at the top of their list will tell you that you must purchase your corn dog from the Little Red Wagon located on Main Street as you head toward the passage to Tomorrowland. The line at the Wagon spoke volumes. I don’t know what magic dust is in the recipe, but this corn dog was memorable.
Speaking of hot dogs, we discovered one that was not on any of the lists, but turned out to be pretty darn good. A mac-and-cheese dog at the Coca Cola Refreshment corner. Your basic hot dog on a bun, but topped with creamy mac and cheese.
My oldest daughter will not forgive me if I don’t include the giant dill pickle available near the souvenir stand adjacent to the Jungle Cruise.
Speaking of pickles, the fried pickles at Carnation Café on Main Street were my favorite find. Thick juicy dill spears, lightly herb breaded. Crunchy and served with a spicy dipping sauce. This one goes to the top of the list for my next visit.
Another savory offering at Carnation Café was the baked potato soup. Close your eyes, baked potato in a bowl. Baked potato chunks abundant and topped with shredded cheddar, chives and a dollop of sour cream. I’d definitely order this again.
While sitting at Carnation Café, snapping photos of food and discussing our checklist, we drew the attention of two ladies from Florida, enjoying Disneyland for the first time. Their Disney park experience thus far had been at Disney World. As foodies will, we began to chat about our menu choices and what we were up to. Making sure I didn’t miss their favorite Disney food, they asked me about the Dole Whip.
The ladies were taken aback when I admitted I have never enjoyed a Dole Whip before. Shocked is more the reaction. I gave them my promise that I would not leave the park without trying this delight. They boasted with pride that at Disney World there is a six-window stand because this item is so popular. The Dole stand at Disneyland is next to the Enchanted Tiki Room. I had noted over the years that this stand always had a line you needed a Fast Pass for, especially during the summer month.
One of the ladies shared that she selected her hotel in Disney World because of its close proximity to the Dole stand. Now this is what I call a dedicated Disney Foodie. They then bragged that at Disney World they also had a Dole Swirl, which is the Whip blended with soft-serve vanilla ice cream. Not on the Disneyland menu yet, but sounds good to me.
The Dole Whip was the No. 1 choice for many of those who shared with me. For me, a little pineapple goes a long way, so I was not sure I’d love it as much as its dedicated fans did. I would be wrong. This pineapple-flavored soft-serve frozen dessert was refreshing, flavorful and just plain felt good in your mouth.
Here’s a trick to avoid the long Dole line. Go through the turnstile as though preparing to enter the Tiki Room. There is a second side to the stand in here, little or no waiting. Have a seat, enjoy your Whip and then enjoy the show in the Tiki room. You’ll be glad you did.