This was our second Adventures by Disney trip and although we had a good time, I don’t think this trip can even begin to compare to the Southwest Splendor trip that we took in 2007.

Part of that was our own fault, because of our past experiences…we’re Disney fans and (speaking more for myself – Joey may or may not have other feelings) used to be BIG Disney fans. So we’ve done lots of behind-the-scenes tours. And I mean LOTS. Innovations in Action. Architheming. Epcot East and West. The 8-hour tour (twice). A watered-down version of Traditions. Some that don’t exist anymore and some that I don’t even remember. I mean, at WDW I’ve been to Central Shops and Costuming and the Christmas warehouse and Company D more than once, been in the Utilidors on several occasions and, when I worked at The Disney Store, went backstage as often as I could, simply because I could. I’ve also gone backstage in other areas thanks to some kind-hearted, helpful friends. So the concept of “going backstage” is not a big deal to me. Not that seeing how they made the Indy cars move, or watching Soaring Over California from “the back” wasn’t cool, because it was. But, well, I’ve seen many other “backstage” things in my time that were cooler.

Another issue was what the trip WAS. Hollywood and Disneyland Resort. We’ve been to both. More than once. Hell, we’ve both been to Disneyland at least a half-dozen times. So whereas Southwest Splendor, with visits to Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Moab UT were generally new and exciting, both locations on this trip always had a “ho hum, been there, done that” sort of feeling, be it being on the set of a TV show or seeing them take fake snow off a parade float.

Although we were 12 couples, we never got really close to anyone this time around. Granted, neither Joe nor I are very comfortable when it comes to socializing with strangers – it takes a while to size people up and them decide if you’re going to warm up to them. And it’s not like we had 5-hour stretches of riding in a bus where you almost HAD to make friends, like with Southwest Splendors. There was also quite a lot of “on your own time” incorporated into this tour so you could go to the parks, at which time people tended to split up or, when we tried to go together in  small group, some people wanted to go here and some there, or you’d get the group where no one could make decisions so we’d wind up splitting up anyway. But whereas we got along well with nearly all of the 7 other couples last year, there was no one who we felt any strong ties with this time around. Moderate ties, yes – but not until maybe the next-to-last day of the tour. Part of that was the Disney Geek thing…some of the people on the tour were, for lack of a better word, Foamers (the Disney equivalent of militant Fanboys or Fangirls – people who foam at the mouth for All Things Disney), and they’re not the kind of people we tend to hang out with (lord knows we spent enough years isolating ourselves from the AdvClub freaks, we certainly weren’t going to start becoming buddy buddy with someone who acted as if going into Walt’s train barn was some sort of religious experience). Some others were obviously making an effort to keep to themselves, some were loud know-it-alls, and others turned out to be whiners…and that latter group was the most annoying to me.

This tour had been going on for months and, because it was based around Disneyland, which is in a constant state of flux, there was no way that everything on one tour could be duplicated in another. Case in point, some of the Backstage Magic tours in the not-so-distant past apparently got to go backstage at the Haunted Mansion. Well, that sure would be fun to do (OK yeah, I’ve already done it at WDW once or twice, but even so…), except HM was down for refurbishment and wasn’t available while we were there. Same thing went for the reserved seating for Fantasmic…but Fantasmic was not running that 3rd week of September. And some of the people who had read about past tours on DIS Boards and WDW Magic and whatever else, made it a point to complain to anyone who would listen about how we “weren’t doing this” or how “the tour in early August got to do that, but we don’t” and then half-wondered, half-demanded to Quinn & Julie how they were going to “make up” for what we weren’t getting. Q&J handled the situation beautifully but really, give me a break! I made it a point to mention to one of the whiners that I purposely hadn’t read about past trips because, because of the nature of the destination, I knew everything was subject to change, based on availability…that I came on the tour without expectations and was glad I did, so I would be grateful for everything we DID get to do, instead of being upset about what we didn’t get to do. Of course, that went in one ear and out the other, but I felt better for saying it.

I also couldn’t help but compare Quinn & Julie to Chris & Mike (our guides from last year). Adventures by Disney originally hired people who were “tour guides” for a living…obviously ones who could fit the Disney mold, but still and all, they were tour guides first, Disney CMs second. For Backstage Magic though, they hired Disneyland Cast Members (Quinn came from Cast Communications, Julie is a lead at Toy Story Mania) who they could train to act like tour guides, because it would be easier to teach them that than to teach tour guides the ins and outs and rules of all the hush-hush backstage park stuff and how to handle last-minute-changes and emergencies at The Disneyland Resort. Makes perfect sense. But Mike & Chris had, for lack of better words, “tour guide mentality”. They had a better idea of group dynamics and knew how to get people to talk to each other, instead of just interacting with the people who happened to approach them. They got us the best rooms possible at our hotels (for this trip, in Hollywood we were on the 8th floor of an 18-story hotel – they couldn’t have gotten us a higher floor? And at the Grand Californian, we were on the 3rd floor and had a view of gravel, trees, other rooms and a bit of the monorail – I’m not saying we should have gotten Concierge level – although, funny, the last time we stayed at the GC with DVC points, we DID…and we paid for this trip with DVC points as well), but they didn’t have pull at Disneyland to give us better rooms?). And in general, Chris & Mike seemed more…”polished” as tour guides? I’m not sure if those are the exact word I’m searching for. Julie was young. She was very Disney friendly but acted a little inexperienced here and there. Quinn was better and more of a leader and problem solver (and was also a good 10 years older than Julie) but he was still a CM first. And CMs often seem to have a “I know what’s going on but I’m not allowed to tell you because my company is all about image and they’d probably fire me if I told you something I shouldn’t” mentality. So I always felt a “I wonder what they know but can’t tell us” undercurrent that I didn’t feel with Mike & Chris. But that, I think, was more from me and my expectations of and interactions with CMs in general, plus the fact that we were at Disneyland, which has a bezillion “secrets” they feel the need to maintain, as opposed to the Grand Canyon or the Colorado River, which aren’t under their jurisdiction, if that makes any sense.

Of course, the other issue was the fact that we (well, I think moreso I) had other places I wanted to be. This wasn’t our first choice for an Adventures by Disney vacation. Ireland was. Germany/Austria was our second choice. But we wanted to go on an Adults Only tour and because of the weird way Joe’s vacation requests work, we were already locked into that “3rd week of September” time frame…so when the Ireland and Germany trips turned out to already be sold out, we didn’t have very many choices of where we could go that was Adults Only and still be home in plenty of time for Rob & Scott’s wedding on the 28th. On top of that, the Adventurers Club was closing on the 27th and being THERE was my Number One Priority. So although the vacation was nice and we had a good time, I really wanted to be HOME more than anything else.

Next year we’re not doing any Adventures by Disney trips. We’re already locked in to 2 weeks in Japan in late January/early February (love that country, plus we want to see the Tokyo Disneyland 25th Anniversary stuff before it’s done), plus I’m looking at a cruise to Alaska with Sing Live in August (most likely Joe-less) and to England with Sing Live (hello, Royal Albert Hall!) in September (Joe will meet us for part of that trip). Who knows what will happen in 2010, but I’d like to think that we’re going to look at Ireland or South Africa.

Don’t get me wrong…I still think that Adventures by Disney rocks. However in the future, I think it would be wiser to use them for locations we’ve never visited, rather than as a different way to re-visit places we’ve seen before.