My eyes popped open at the crack of dawn on Aug. 30 when I heard the iconic, celestial sounds of John Williams' "Star Wars" score coming from my phone alarm.
I was on the second leg of my vacation. The day before, I had traveled (via Delta Airlines) from my parents' house in the outskirts of Salt Lake City to my aunt and uncle's apartment off of Pico Boulevard just underneath Beverly Hills in Los Angeles. I fly standby, as my mother used to work for the airline, and I was lucky enough to get bumped to First Class for this flight (meaning free Woodford Reserve bourbon and a comfortable flight).
After being awakened by my favorite movie score, a smile came to my face...I knew that after hopping into my uncle's white Lincoln Navigator, it would just be a 33-mile drive starting by going east on the 10 freeway, then south to Anaheim on the 5. My destination was Disneyland (for the first time since I was 6). The ultimate plan was to check out the brand-spanking-new "Star Wars" land development, "Galaxy's Edge."
I didn't become a true "Star Wars" fan until adulthood, but when I fell for the movies, I fell hard. Since Disney announced this park expansion, I have been looking forward to it, and now was an amazing opportunity to take advantage of my vacation and time in Los Angeles to visit this new park.
After the stresses of the 33-mile freeway drive with five packed lanes making their way south, I arrived at the Disneyland parking structure. Looking at the amount of cars surrounding me in line, I knew the park would be busy. I parked in the Donald Duck level, then made my way to the tram that subsequently took me to the ticketing booth where I knew I'd need to get a MaxPass to get quick access to the rides.
From the point I entered the park, I had a mission: find "Galaxy's Edge." I walked up Main Street, then took a left into Frontierland and from there, made my way to the top of the park where the "Star Wars" holy land was located. After walking under a bridge and coming out on the other side, the scenery went from the normal Disney fare to a place from "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."
The Imagineers at Disney know how to do their jobs. They painstakingly create environments in the utmost detail to provide park-goers a truly immersive experience. The elaborate environments are true to the movies, even down to everything being labeled with the Galactic Basic language. Have you ever felt like you wanted to be in a "Star Wars" movie? Well, now you have your chance.
Not only did they get the setting and scenery so on-point that you feel like you are part of that universe...there are also "Star Wars" characters in full costume interacting with the park guests. There are storm troopers searching the crowds for rebel scum. I can't imagine what these actors feel like while working in the hot sun (especially the tall guy in the Chewbacca costume), but the effect the characters have upon the ultimate experience of this land expansion is epic.
There are animatronic droids in many areas, as well as animatronic aliens tending shop in the shopping bazaar. The employees working in the area are dressed like common folk and extras in the "Star Wars" franchise.
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When Disney first opened this park expansion a couple months ago, guests needed reservations to get in. Now the only reservations you need before you go are for certain restaurants in the area (and the cantina, unfortunately). This being said, I did get to the park early and was easily able to go through this land expansion with ease.
I speed-walked past the giant Millennium Falcon and hopped into the Single Rider line for the one open ride in "Galaxy's Edge," "Smuggler's Run." Making my way through the queue, I felt like I was on Han Solo's famed ship. The details were intricate right down to the Dejarik (holo-chess) board on the bridge.
Entering the ride, each guest is given a card before hopping in the cockpit of the Falcon. The cards give the guests job assignments. On each ride, there are two pilots controlling the flight, two gunners shooting down enemy fighters and two engineers trying to secure valuable cargo. The ride is a simulation, but it is extremely interactive for everyone involved. Riders are instructed by the park staff to push the flashing buttons whenever you see them flash.
The ride was exhilarating, and as a gunner it felt awesome to explode First Order tie-fighters while soaring through space, the pilots dodging obstacles and engineers trying to secure the cargo for a successful mission.
After the ride was over I stopped by Ronto Roasters for a Ronto Wrap cooked by a droid that was turning a rotisserie packed with roasting Rontos from Tatooine. I then washed the wrap down with some of this galaxy's famous blue milk, as seen in "A New Hope." The milk had a sweet, mystery fruit taste and was thick, creamy and icy.
Although so far there is only one ride in this area, another will be coming later this year. Also, there are two other "Star Wars" rides in Tomorrowland, as well as a "Star Wars" museum and meet and greet area. "Star Tours" is like a non-interactive version of "Smuggler's Run," but was no less fun. The other ride that surprised me was "Space Mountain," which was re-named "Hyperspace Mountain" after getting a new "Star Wars" makeover. "Hyperspace Mountain" was so much better than the "Space Mountain" of yesteryear now that air combat is incorporated. Disney has successfully taken the excitement level and turned it up to 11.
I can't wait to see what other "Star Wars"-themed things Disney will add to its parks in the future. If you are a fan of the franchise, this is a must-see park.