Travel dates: May 25 and 26
Travel method: Drive from San Diego
Accommodations: Hyatt Place, Anaheim
Ages Represented in Group: 3 to 50 (nine total in party)
Disney Resort Experience Represented in Group: Experienced to moderate experience
Comments: May 25 was a Grad Day/Night Event
Party of Nine?
Our family of four (Jack, Mrs. Jack, two teen girls) makes three or four trips to the DLR annually we live in San Diego so its a short drive and makes for a fun family getaway. We know our way around both parks and generally do pretty well avoiding crowds. However, for this trip we were connecting with five family members including a young couple, their 3-year old son, and a pair of twin, 11-year old boys. I wasnt really sure how much wed be able to see and do with such a large group. Add to that our trip coincided with Grad Night on the first evening (lucky us).
A Hyatt Place
Except for a rare splurge, we typically stay offsite at a hotel in the immediate vicinity of the resort. Redeeming credit card points, I was able to get a free night at the Hyatt Place on South Harbor Boulevard near the Anaheim Convention Center. As with most of the other hotels in the area, the only shuttle service is via the Anaheim Resort Transit, which is not free. The Hyatt Place is about a 10 minute walk from the resort but a 3 minute walk from the resorts Toy Story lot - with its free shuttles running continuously. Unlike some of the larger hotels near the resort, the Hyatt Place is easy to get in and out of which is important for those anxious to spend their time in the resort and not in large parking garages or navigating massive hotel lobbies, hallways, etc. The rooms are large and comfortable. The best thing about the Hyatt Place is the complementary breakfast, which is a great value and time-saver. Unlike other continental style breakfasts, Hyatt Place serves omelets, pancakes, fresh fruit, and other items in a large, comfortable dining room. You leave feeling full and ready for your day in the parks!
Grads, Grads, and More Grads
After meeting up with everyone from our group at Napolini for pizza dinner, we opted to take the Monorail from Downtown Disney into Disneyland. Since the Grad Night activities end up in DCA, I figured DL might empty out as the night progressed. That didnt really happen. If anything, it seemed that the park stayed pretty crowded all evening probably due to park-hoppers coming over from DCA. On the positive side, we didnt really see any examples of unruly teenage behavior that one might expect to see at one of these events. I dont know what others have experienced but for the most part, Grad Night was crowded but not too different from most busy nights weve visited. Of course, I cant say how things were at DCA.
More People, More Fun
Much to my pleasant surprise, visiting the parks with a large group was actually a lot of fun. Yes, there was a little back-tracking at times and we occasionally separated (such as when our little guy decided he wanted to go on Autopia three times in a row) but we made the best of it and laughed a lot. Having realistic expectations and a positive attitude is also helpful. Highlights included meeting Kylo Ren as a group and when eight of us rode Grizzly River all together in one boat. Riding the Monorail into the park at sunset was also a wonderful group experience. You could see the kids eyes get huge with anticipation as it circled Tomorrowland before arrival definitely something to try if you havent done it in a while.
These tips arent specific to Grad Night but are ones that have served our family well over the years to make the best of crowded days.
1. Consider making it a stayover. When possible, we like to wrap our trip over two days arriving at the parks the night before to hit a few rides and maybe see the parade or fireworks. Not only is this a lot of fun but it takes pressure off trying to do everything in one day. Of course, this is much easier if you have an annual pass or multi-day pass and dont have to pay full price for a few hours in the parks. You also have to factor in the cost of a hotel and additional meals so it really becomes a mini-vacation.
2. Get an early start. If theres one piece of advice I give, its to get there when the parks open. Those first few hours are the perfect time to hit the most popular attractions. Later, as the parks fill, you can come back around the park and ride some of the non E-ticket attractions with reasonable wait times.
3. Use an app to monitor wait times and closures - and be flexible with your schedule. Our family will rarely wait more than 45 minutes for a ride, even at prime time. Instead, we find another ride and try to return later if the line has gone down. Conversely, if we see an attraction with a shorter-than-expected wait time we jump on it. Maybe you didnt plan on riding the Grizzly River Rapids today but the wait time is 15 minutes take that as a sign from the Mouse to get a little wet! You wont regret it.
4. Make smart use of Single-rider lines and Fastpass. On crowded days, our family makes extensive use of single-rider lines and Fastpass. Its surprising how many quality attractions offer single-rider lines at DLR although this may not be an option for families with small children. FP is of course a huge advantage. For larger parties like ours, designate someone to go ahead and grab those passes so you arent dragging everyone across the park.
5. Go against traffic. Take advantage of predictable traffic patterns in the parks. For example, during parades and fireworks you can walk on many rides even on some of the busiest nights. Also, for whatever reason, many people tend to start their day at Tomorrowland and move through DL in a counter-clockwise manner. If you head to Frontierland or Adventureland first thing in the morning, you might find much lighter crowds.
6. Bring your own lunch. Not only is it cheaper but you dont spend time waiting in line for food. It also makes splurging on dinner a little easier.
7. Politeness counts. Castmembers are amazingly helpful and know that small gestures go a long way. For example, I inadvertently got nine Fastpasses for Buzz Lightyear, instead of Star Tours (the kiosks are located right next to each other). No problem, the Castmember at Star Tours allowed us go in anyway and even let us keep the Buzz FPs.