Hi all! I'm generally only writing in the WDW forums, but this past winter I was able to travel to the west coast for the third time. As a senior in high school, the school band (in Raleigh, North Carolina), was chosen to participate in the 2012 Tournament of Roses Parade. We only spent 1 full day in Disneyland, and it was between Christmas and New Year's (VERY crowded), but it was still magical!
Travel dates: 12/28/11-1/4/12
Travel method: Plane from Charlotte, NC to LAX
Resort: Hilton Costa Mesa
Ages Represented in Group: mostly high school teenagers, and parents
Disney Resort Experience Represented in Group: pretty much everyone except me had never been to Disneyland before (I have family in CA)
Note: I hope you don't mind my including the entirety of our trip here. I think many people might really enjoy reading the full experience of our trip from this perspective, but Day 2 is the Disneyland day (if you'd like to skip the rest).
Day 1: I'm Emma, a senior in high school who does color guard (in the parade I was flag-twirling) in North Carolina. The school sent us out to California in waves. As you can probably imagine, transporting over 300 people across the country is a big feat. I happened to be in the "first group" with the other girls who stayed in my hotel room. We met at the high school gym in Raleigh at about 2:30AM, then drove 3 hours to Charlotte, NC. We have a Raleigh airport, but apparently it was less expensive to fly out of Charlotte. I slept basically the entire way from Raleigh to Charlotte, as did my friends. We were all totally excited but also trying to store up our energy.
When we got to Charlotte, my Mom (who was one of the MANY chaperons on the trip) bought us both a Cinnabon roll at the gate. Luckily we didn't have any troubles getting through security. Our flight group had about 50 people in it. We boarded our plane and soon we were on our way to Atlanta. I slept the entire way, trying to ignore the annoying freshmen girls behind me :P
When we got to Atlanta it was still pretty early morning, and I was able to get in touch with friends who were taking other flights out to California. The last group didn't even meet at the school (3 hours from the airport) until 12:30 PM. Soooo totally unfair! At last we were on our flight to Los Angeles, with about a five-hour flight ahead of us. I slept a long way, and read on my Kindle some as well. The flight didn't feel very long at all to me.
When we did arrive in California, we still had about an hour to go to our hotel. You can see that our trip, though planned meticulously, was by no means perfect. We spent a great deal of time en route to various places, often spending more time on the charter buses than at the destination. Some of the later flight groups had arrived earlier than us, since they had direct flights from NC to CA. My friends and I were disappointed to learn that our room at the Hilton Costa Mesa were not yet ready, and we had to store our luggage in another room for now. We changed into shorts (the weather here on December 28 was beautiful compared to freezing NC), and then headed across the street for lunch. I am quite embarrassed to admit that we ate at McDonald's...I guess we were just so exhausted from traveling that we didn't have the energy to walk farther to somewhere more exciting.
After lunch we returned to the hotel, hoping to take a swim in the great hotel pool. The hotel itself was awesome. Two other bands in the Rose Parade were staying there as well, and we all shared one of the ballrooms for meals. One band was from Sweden and the other was from Arkansas. Eventually, all the flight groups arrived except the very last one, which was only alumni members of the band who were returning only for the parade. Our band director insisted that we go out to the hotel parking deck to practice our field show (this is basically what bands play during their school's halftime). If you didn't know, the bands that participate in the Rose Parade also join in "BandFest," an event that takes place on Dec. 31 each year where every band performs their field show. Practice was exhausting for us due to the time change. Finally we got dinner and went to bed. I don't even remember that night vividly, because I'm pretty sure I was so tired I fell asleep at dinner.
Day 2: December 29, 2011 (Disneyland)
We woke up while it was still dark outside and showered, before dressing and meeting downstairs for the hotel breakfast. My friends and I wore shorts and tank tops, but brought jackets, too. It was cold in CA during the dark parts of the day, but perfect during the daytime.
When we got to Disneyland, I felt so excited! I hadn't been since 2007, and so much had changed. Unfortunately, we only had one day here, and couldn't park-hop. But still, we were at Disneyland!!! Please forgive me if I get our day out of order or confused - I never did take good notes on what all we did, but I'll do my very best!
We got our tickets, then took a tram from the parking lot to the main gates. The Christmas decorations were still up, and Main Street looked gorgeous! First we got Fastpasses for Indiana Jones, then we went to Pirates of the Caribbean (I love the New Orleans Square section - we do not have this at WDW!). The line was quoted to be very long, over an hour, but once we jumped in line it moved very quickly and we were boarding by 15 minutes after we got into line. I love the CA version of Pirates! I love the extended length and the drops and the Blue Bayou.
After departing, we rode Haunted Mansion. It is quite different on the exterior from FL, but similar inside. I love this ride
Next we went to Fantasyland for lunch at the Village Haus Restaurant. After lunch, my boyfriend tried to pull the sword from the stone!
Since our band was scheduled to participate in the afternoon parade, we lost a good chunk of our day getting ready for this. We went to get dressed (being in color guard means doing your hair and make-up, which takes time, too). I will post photos if I can figure out how to! The Disneyland parade is one of my best memories from the entire 8-day trip. The children seemed so completely charmed by the band, and the parade was not nearly so long as the Pasadena one!
Finally the parade ended and we were freed to go back and enjoy the rest of our day. I can't remember the exact order of events, but I'll do my best to at least tell you what all we did.
We grabbed Space Mountain Fastpasses (although we may have done this before the parade, I don't remember)...We used our FPs for Indiana Jones sometime after it began to get dark. This was SOOOO fun! I had been enlisted by a group of very close guy friends (like brothers) to help them find their way around DL, and one of them screamed like a little kid when the animatronic snake in Indy lunged at him. It was, I'm sure, pretty embarrassing for him. What a great ride!
We met up with my mom and my boyfriend's mom and dad. They were relaxing in New Orleans Square. Mom joined us for a ride on the railroad, which was a really nice way to see a good deal of the park, since we weren't going to be able to do everything we wanted to.
Eventually we got around to using our Space Mtn FPs. It was just as I remembered it, with the music and smooth track! I really do wish they'd done this in WDW when they updated Space Mtn there a couple years back...oh well.
We ate dinner at Rancho del Zocalo. It was good, but I wasn't able to eat much after such a long day. We finished the day watching the nighttime parade, including a band from Japan that was so fun to watch! They played all Disney music! We weren't allowed to stay late enough to really enjoy most of the nighttime entertainment, but I was able to do some good shopping on Main Street before returning to the bus. By the time we got back to the resort I was ready to sleep.
Day 3: December 30, 2011
We woke bright and early again. Today we made our first trip down to Pasadena to see the floats being built. I have about a million pictures of this on Flickr - I'll post a link at the bottom of this post.
The float-building was great to see! It really got me excited about actually being IN the parade. We were left to wander around the Rose Bowl area for a while, until early afternoon. Boyfriend bought a huge bag of kettle corn for us to share while we enjoyed looking at all the buildings. Some float-building areas were more like historical displays of the years of the Rose Parade. Wisconsin and Oregon played the year we were in the parade, and they had all these really cool roses that they'd merged to have both colors of the teams. The Wisconsin flowers were much prettier, but Oregon was the team it seemed everyone I saw was rooting for...
A small group of friends and I spent some time in a little park there next to the Rose Bowl, and we laid out on the grass to relax some at last.
When we left Pasadena, we went to Hollywood. Here I hung out with some girlfriends and did some fun shopping! We enjoyed looking at the people dressed up like famous characters! I bought some nail polishes and a cute bandeau at American Apparel. Hollywood, on the whole, was a lot seedier than I'd expected. I'd been once before as a little girl, but I didn't remember well how overwhelmingly crowded and kind of dirty the whole thing felt. I enjoyed the theme parks a lot more, to be honest. Hollywood felt like it was trying so hard to be a theme park, but just wasn't clean and fun the way Disney was.
After Hollywood, we went to the Farmer's Market. I guess this is a famous place in CA, and it was pretty fun! My bf and I grabbed lunch at Johnny Rocket's and enjoyed a milkshake. Then we walked around the shopping area. There was a HUGE Christmas tree set up - so pretty! Then back to the hotel for dinner and off to bed.
Day 4 - December 31, 2011
Today was BandFest. We got up pretty early and dressed in our uniforms to go to Pasadena again. This meant a long morning of warm-ups in the hot California sun. One thing we aren't used to in band is performing in the heat of the day in our long-sleeves! We usually perform at night! And parades are much less strenuous than the field show, despite being in the daytime.
Our show was very fun (photos on the Flickr link posted at the end of this post). Our music was "the Beatles" and our uniforms are our school colors, purple and gold. Once the show was over, the Tournament of Roses organization provides In n Out burgers for all the participants. YUMMY! This is something I miss on the east coast!!!! The whole system was very efficient: we walked through a line where one person handed you a burger, the next a bag of chips or candy, and the next an apple. Finally someone handed you a napkin and a drink, and you're done!
When we'd eaten and changed, we headed back to the hotel. Like I said, the length of the trip does get a bit confusing, but I'm hopeful that my chronology is correct. We may have actually gone to the Farmers Market on New Year's Eve (today), but I can't remember. At the hotel, we chilled for a while, and I think swam in the pool. The pool was sooo great. There are pics on Flickr of us in the hot tub (I'm in the middle, and the other two girls are good friends!). After swimming, we got dressed cute to go to Medieval Times for New Year's Eve, a nighttime dinner show with horses and knights.
Funny side story: I had planned to sit with my girlfriends tonight, but somehow my seating card got messed up and I got seated with a bunch of the class clown band guys. They convinced me to cheer insanely with them, screaming at the Green Knight (our section) and banging our plates and silverware together to cheer him on. He seemed fairly surprised that his entire section was so enthusiastic (my row of guys was the group that got the entire green section up and hollering for him). It was so fun! A really special thing to do for New Year's Eve.
At the hotel we hung out in our rooms until around 11:30. Then we went down to the hotel lobby and danced with the Swedish band around the Christmas tree (I guess this is a tradition for the New Year in Sweden?) Then bed.
Day 5 - January 1, 2012
New Year's Day!
We went to Santa Monica today. I was really wearing out by now, and I spent this day pretty low-key, just eating at Bubba Gump's and enjoying some casual shopping in Santa Monica. I don't remember the details of this day clearly... I remember walking through the pep rally for Oregon fans, which was a whole lot of green and yellow. It was very exciting in preparation for the big next day! I think we went back to the hotel and sunbathed and swam again. I remember us all joking about tanning in our swimsuits in January. The beauty of the west coast!
We were sent to bed VERY early tonight - the next day was parade day!
Day 6 - January 2, 2012
Tournament of Roses Parade
Today we had to be up at some ungodly hour, like 4:30 AM or something. I passed on the shower, since I had to spray my hair with loads of hairspray anyway. I did my makeup in the hotel room and we put our uniforms on after breakfast. Everyone was completely exhausted. On the charter bus to Pasadena, I slept on the girl beside me's shoulder. Ooops.
When I woke up from the sunlight, we were stuck in severe traffic. I mean awful. Like we didn't move for an hour further than a few inches at a time. Somehow we got there eventually and set up and before I knew it we were walking to the start of the parade in our formation and it was time to go out in front of 1 million people live, and millions of others on television. Yikes.
It was a LONG walk. I was shocked that people handed us water throughout, though, and even though it meant I was going against what we'd always been taught, we all accepted water bottles when we got hot and thirsty enough. Aahhhh, the water felt good in my dry throat.
When the parade finally ended six long miles later, we got In n Out burgers again! Then back to the bus, back to the hotel, back to the SHOWER!!!!!! After showering, I threw my hair up and took a long dip with my friends in the pool. After swimming, my girlfriends and I decided we wanted to go to the mall across from the hotel. We went shopping for a while and picked out some cute inexpensive things to wear that night at dinner. I still wear the dress I got from H&M at the CA mall all the time! While we were at the mall, all the boys stayed at the hotel to watch the Rose Bowl game on TV! Oregon won!
After dinner my boyfriend and I took another swim in the pool/hot tub, since we knew it might be our last chance. Tomorrow would be our last night
Day 7 - Jan. 3, 2012
Universal Studios today! After checking out the floats again (this time, they were outdoors instead of in a warehouse), we would be on our way to Universal. I've never been to Univ. in FL, so going here was a pretty cool experience! I liked it a lot.
First we rode the Studio Tour with my family and the bf and his. We enjoyed this ride a lot. I especially enjoyed the King Kong Experience, the Desperate Housewives Street, the mock disaster in a subway station (which they said would be unavailable later on in the day for actual filming), and the Psycho house.
After this ride (which lasted a long time), we ate lunch with our moms at a counter-service Italian restaurant. It was surprisingly good! Then down a long string of escalators to the main "thrill section" of the park. We rode the Mummy. I thought it was interesting how you didn't really have the option of bringing your bags with you on the rides here - you are expected to put them in a free locker while you ride. Although it wasn't a great hassle (most people were back in school/work by now so that parks weren't extremely crowded), it was certainly more work than you do on Disney rides. Anyhow, Mummy was great fun!
Then Jurassic Park, which was a whole lot of fun as well, but of the wet variety! I thought the animatronic dinos were a bit scarier than those you'd see at WDW or DLR, but I guess Universal caters more to older children and adults, so this makes sense. My boyfriend tricked me into walking through the House of Horrors. I've been on my fair share of scary roller coasters, but this attraction, a walk through, topped them all in terms of scariness. There are real actors jumping out at you and it's just awful. Don't do it, especially if you have a heart condition. Ugh.
We also did Shrek 4D sometime in there. It was nice to be in a non-crowded park today. I wish we had gone to Universal when it was busy, and done Disney after the new year. Anyhow, once we'd seen pretty much everything in the park that we were interested, the bf and I went over to CityWalk to do some shopping and browsing. CityWalk might have been the best part of my whole day. We had had some petty arguments through the past week, but getting a milkshake together in CityWalk and walking through some fun souvenir shops really cleared the air between us and helped us to end the trip on a positive note.
Back at the hotel that night, we packed up our things. In retrospect, the trip passed very quickly!
Day 8 - Jan. 4, 2012
On the return trip, I happened to be in the lucky group that got home first, since we had a direct flight back to Raleigh, instead of having to ride back from Charlotte to Raleigh. I don't remember the return flight at all...I was probably sleeping or crying over the end of my trip!! We got back to Raleigh around 4:30 EST, and then we went out to dinner and came home to rest before heading back to school and work the very next day!!
I hope you enjoyed. I know it wasn't the most detailed trip report ever written, but it's an experience a fractional percentage of the population gets to experience, marching in the Rose Parade and visiting a place as magical as this on a high school field trip. I'm lucky enough to have traveled to BOTH US Disney theme parks through the Band/Color Guard (2 years ago we went to WDW for 3 days).
In the fall, I start my freshman year at the University of South Carolina for pre-pharmacy. I enjoyed seeing the USC t-shirts while on the west coast...if only I was going to THAT USC in the fall much closer to Disney! But hopefully, after I graduate, I can move somewhere close enough to a beach and a Disney park for my liking!!
Thanks for reading! Here is the link to Flickr of my trip photos (sorry for the quality of some of them, some were cell phone photos). They're not in perfect order, but you'll know easily which are in DLR and which are of the floats, etc. Also, there are some in the photostream from a WDW trip from 2008, just disregard!