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Vistors to Disneyland this winter have a unique treat. With the Rivers of America closed until next summer for construction on Star Wars Land, the west side of the park projects a whole different vibe for now. The boats don’t move, the path behind Big Thunder Mountain to Fantasyland remains closed, and Fantasmic went dark. These all seem like losses, but there is one big gain: This area of the park feels quieter and more laid-back than I’ve ever known it.
Tomorrowland has the glitz and glow of neon, but the west half of the park has a more natural feel in the evenings. Frontierland looks rustic and softened as sunset hits. Without Fantasmic crowds packing the riverfront, New Orleans Square exudes a casual charm, the kind of place you’d want to sit with a cup of coffee or a beignet to people-watch.
Oh, there will still be plenty of people, and lines. But the rides in New Orleans Square are people-eaters — the Haunted Mansion and Pirate of the Caribbean soak up thousands of guests per hour. It takes quite a crowd to feel overstuffed here.
Critter Country slows to a drawl and crawl, because who really, really wants to get wet on Splash Mountain at night in the winter? That means you can take your time shopping in Pooh Corner and riding the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
By contrast, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad gets more exhilarating at night. The turns seem sharper, and the wind in your face seems stronger. It somehow feels more real in the dark. But the secret for any Disneylander is that FastPasses for Big Thunder are almost always available less than an hour in advance, even toward the end of the day! Grab a FastPass around sunset, then sail and sing along with the Pirates of the Caribbean and have a snack, and it’s time to ride already.
Caricatures in New Orleans Square
Like any little secret, this one won’t last long. By next summer the slightly-shortened Rivers of America will re-open. Word on the street is that a refreshed Fantasmic will debut. Crowds will again throng this area of the park after dark, and the energy will change. I’m excited to see updates to the show and for the riverboats’ return. But I will miss having a peaceful evening at Disneyland, strolling through this placid place and enjoying the Disney details.
Where have you found a peaceful evening at Disneyland?