* Time of Year: Summer
* Travel Method: Plane
* Resort: Friend's Home
* Ages Represented in Group: Elementary, Adult
* Disneyland Experience Represented in Group: Veteran
* Comments: This report covers alot about visiting DL with kids. As former Passholders, the Kerr family certainly qualifies as veterans, but this trip was a return after not visiting the park in about a year. The visit was limited to one day in the park (they did ALOT of stuff in that single day) and an evening at the Disneyland Hotel later in the week.
This is a trip report for Disneyland on June 26, 1997.
* Author (husband/father 36)
* Susan (wife/mother 35)
* Lindsey (daughter 6)
* Brooke (daughter 4)
We are a Disney family. I grew up in northern Alabama and dreamt of what the happiest place on earth must be like not actually sampling any Disney magic until college when I visited WDW for the first time. Susan grew up just a few miles from DL (she could see the fireworks from her front yard) and later moved to Orlando where she worked for the Mouse at WDW during high school. We both eventually found ourselves living in Atlanta and met and got married and had the girls. In 1994, the major defense contractor that I worked for was offering short term assignments to Orange County (the division HQ is in Anaheim) and the four of us moved to Irvine, CA. Susan and I had been to southern California (and DL) together before, but this was the girls' first trip to the west coast. Naturally, we quickly became annual passholders and visited DL quite frequently (in the non-summer months we would go almost every Sunday. When the park was open late during the busy times of the year, we would meet there after I got off work for a few hours. Overall, we averaged about a visit per week so we became DL veterans). In the Summer of 1996, our short term assignment was over and we returned to Atlanta. When one of our friends from Irvine asked us to house sit for them for a few weeks while they vacationed in Europe we cashed in some frequent flyer points and booked our flights.
So naturally, we would visit DL but when? We were to arrive on Wednesday, June 25. Although we were going to be in CA until July 3, we had plans booked from the 30th until the end of our visit so that left Wednesday through Sunday. Since this was summer, I didn't want to go near the place on a weekend so this left Thursday or Friday. Friday would be the more busy day and it would be the premiere of the Hercules Parade; Thursday had no parade at all. Also, the Festival of Fools was on weekends and Pocahontas was on weekdays. We had not seen FoF but the girls wanted to see Pocahontas, so we decided to go on Thursday. Also, good news, no magic morning on this particular Thursday.
This would be an unusual trip for us because: 1. We were no longer annual passholders so we would be visiting for one day. This meant, instead of visiting for a few hours and going home, we had to do everything in one day. 2. We would not be using a stroller since our girls were older now. 3. We were visiting on a very busy time of year.
Here's how things went:
We arrived at DL at 7:30 which was thirty minutes before the scheduled opening time. As usual, they didn't open early (like the Florida parks) but actually 5 minutes late. RARELY have I ever seen the place open early. Anyway, we had purchased the tickets the night before at a Disney Store so it was just a matter of picking a turnstile and waiting for the gates to open.
Now bear in mind that our girls are pretty young. Fantasyland and Adventureland are their stomping grounds. They don't do the mountain ranges (Brooke is too short and Lindsey is afraid of the dark. She liked BTM when she tried it a few years ago until it went into a tunnel. Hasn't ridden it since.). No Indy. They don't even care for the dark rides. So we don't have to do the Splash Mountain Dash when the ropes drop.
When they did open the park, we made our beeline for Dumbo. We walked right on and rode it twice. Then we headed for the Storybook Boats (which I was pleased to see it was already open. Alot of times it will open an hour after the park opens and it is a SLOW loader. But it was open and we walked right on.) We saw that Toad Hall et all had returned since our last visit. Also the windmills looked more elaborate then I remembered but it could have been just me. After storybook, we decided to try a dark ride to see if the girls' tastes had changed. We picked Peter Pan since it is the mildest. Brooke loved it but Lindsey said it was too dark. Neither one was interested in trying another dark ride but Brooke wanted to ride Pan again so we did while Susan rode the carousel with Lindsey. Afterwards, Casey Jr. had just opened, so we walked on it. Casey and Storybook are such charming rides; it's a shame that WDW doesn't have these as well (in fact, DL's Fantasyland is the best argument that "Disneyland is better than the Magic Kingdom". With the Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio dark rides, Casey Jr., Storybook Boats, the more elaborate "It's a small world" and Jungle Cruise, the dinosaurs, the submarine voyage and Toontown, DL is THE place for the pre-school set - the MK just doesn't compare).
We then decided to head to Toontown before the lines got bad. We rode Gadget's Go Coaster twice (this is a great coaster to introduce thrill rides to youngsters. It's over before they have a chance to be scared. The lines can get ugly though). We then went to Mickey's house and got our first character encounter of the day. There was a loud group in line behind us with three kids around 9 or 10. When it came our time to be admitted to see Mickey, they took off with us even though the CM called for them to wait. Their parents just followed them, laughing and then they sped past us and barged in on Mickey. The CM's were cool about it and let them have their pictures and autographs and when they left the room the CM apologized and we got our "Quality Time" with Mickey. We got some good pictures and video. Then we went to Minnie's house. Today they were controlling access to the house. They would let in a family to visit with Minnie at the entrance and then they could visit the rest of the house. This worked well, traffic flowed well. We then visited Donald's Boat (which is rather lame) and Goofy's Bounce House (which was a walk on). By now, it was approaching 10:30 and the girls were getting a little tired so we decided to grab a coke and a chair for a break. While we were in line for the refreshments, Daisy and Donald appeared and went to the character greeting area (Toontown park). This seemed to be how character greetings were handled all day everywhere in the park. Instead of kids and parents clamoring all over the hapless characters they hung out in roped-off areas where guests had to wait in line to be admitted. This was sort of a pain (the lines moved slow. As a matter of fact, this was our longest wait of the day) but I can see where controlling things is better in the long run. One woman ahead of us had some very bratty kids about 4 and 10. The older boy kept climbing the walls even though the CM asked him to get down several times (Mom never said a word). Finally the kid knocked over and broke one of the glass globes that covers the lights. Mom finally told him to come down but did anyone apologize for the damage? Of course not. Later when her kids were in the greeting area we noticed how they kept hitting Donald and bending his beak as well as trying to pull his feathers. The CM had to keep getting on to them but all the Mom did was laugh. Our kids kept looking at the brats and then at us with horrific expressions on their faces. They didn't have to say anything.
After meeting Daisy and Donald, it was time for lunch so we hopped the train at the Toontown station and rode to New Orleans Square. We ate at the French Market whose food was decent but of very limited selection. About $25 for the four of us. BTW, they have free iced tea refills (the spigot is in the outside dining area) which is rare in a theme park. It was nice to be able to sit outside in June and enjoy your lunch (can't do that in Atlanta - if the humidity doesn't get you, the bugs will). We then did our first shopping of the day browsing around the nearby shops but didn't find anything we really wanted.
We then decided it was a good time to do something indoors so we went and saw the Country Bears. The girls have always liked this show, they know it by heart. It felt good to sit down. We left the bears and passed a Pooh and Tigger greeting area with a HUGE line. Skipped it. We made our way to Adventureland and climbed the Treehouse. It amazes me that this little attraction has survived all these years. I really thought it would disappear during the Indy construction. We then went to the Jungle Cruise for about a 15 minute wait. I don't really know why we all like this ride; the effects are bad and we know all the jokes. But for some reason it has a certain low-tech charm to it. We then visited the Tikki Birds and noticed that they had eliminated one of the songs. That seemed to help the presentation; the place was almost _ full and no one left early (both rare occurrences in our experiences). We then went to Aladdin's Oasis for the new storytime. This was new to us and we expected Aladdin to simply read a book to a crowd of kids. Boy were we surpassed!! This is easily the most underrated attraction at the park. What happens is there is a host (Kazu, I believe) who with the help of Aladdin, Jasmine and a couple of audience members tells the familiar Aladdin story with just some props, self-satire and good humor. A very good show!! If the Oasis restaurant had lowered its prices and done this type of show it may have survived. Anyway, a good example of well executed Disney Magic. After this show (it was now approaching 3:00) we decided to let the girls do a Princess greeting and then leave to swim for a while and come back after dinner.
The Princess Greetings were also new to us and the guidebook wasn't clear as to where it was. Neither were the CM's ("I think its in Fantasyland somewhere around the castle", "... in front of the whale..", "... the Hub maybe?"). It turned out to be actually part of the queue for Snow White -- I guess patronage of this dark ride must really be down. Anyway, it works like this. The Princesses (Snow, Cindy, Belle and Aurora) alternate every half-hour throughout the scheduled times (mid-morning to mid-afternoon). You only get to see one princess unless you come back a half-hour later. You wait in line, winding around part of the Snow White queue and then you get your turn. They take a picture and give you a card to redeem later. You then can look at the picture and see if you want to purchase it (I believe it was around $20 for an 8x10). Our princess was Aurora, which was not a big thrill for the girls since Sleeping Beauty is the one tape they don't own. That was OK with us because they had never had their picture taken with her before so it worked out well. This area didn't handle crowds too well; I think an area on Main Street like the former Dalmatian Celebration would have worked better.
The girls were dragging at this time, so we left and thought the they might take a nap. Wrong!! They swam instead. We needed to return to the park before 7:00 so we could catch the last Pocahontas performance. So we returned, all refreshed from our respite. We got there in plenty of time for LoP and the girls really enjoyed it. We then hit It's a Small World before the Light Magic mess started.
We had decided to skip Fantasmic (having seen it several times in the past) and just do rides and catch the 11:00 Light Magic. The plan was for me to scope out where to view it during the early performance and then secure a seat for the 11:00. On the subject of Light Magic, the new projection/seating areas were done pretty well and didn't really detract from Fantasyland. Main Street looked a little weird with the lights on the roofs, however.
After "small world" we grabbed a quick bite at the Village Haus - same old microwaved pizza. We then rode the teacups, the submarine and the autopia. I snuck away and watched a little of "Light Magic" by using the walkway from Toontown to Fantasyland. A word of warning: Make sure you are where you want to be prior to the performances; getting from land to land during these messes takes forever!! Anyway, I saw about 5-10 minutes of the show and it seemed pretty lame - very few good viewing spots and pretty lackluster presentation.
I hooked back up with Susan and the girls and it was now about 10:40. The girls were pretty beat and we started to make a beeline to find a place to sit for the 11:00 show. There were plenty of places to sit!! But the girls just weren't interested. They were ready to go. So we did. On the way out, we swung by the emporium since we hadn't bought anything yet. We usually spend quite a bit on shopping but we had been disappointed with the wares to date. Susan and the girls were able to find T-shirts they liked and he girls each picked out a plush. The rest of the stuff was mostly Disney Store vintage so we didn't buy anything else. So we left, tired and happy.
Later in the week, we went to the DL Hotel one night, mainly to shop. Again we were disappointed. It has really gotten hard to find any decent DL-unique merchandise anymore; most of the stuff is straight from the Disney Store. I was really impressed with the World of Disney at WDW; they had so much quality stuff that I had not seen elsewhere it was a matter of budget overruling selection.
Since the shops were a bust and we had already eaten, we decided to check out the "fantasy waters" show (we had never seen the non-Xmas version). This is hardly a major attraction; just some fountains and lights in sync with some Disney tunes. Its ok if you're in the area but not worth any trouble to see it. Afterwards we got a cone at the very crowded ice cream shop and listened to the live music at the pier (very nice). We also got to see the DL fireworks from the hotel. Afterwards we left; it was a cheap evening (the ice cream shop validated our parking ticket so all we paid for was ice cream).
Some overall thoughts/hints from this and other visits:
* Weekdays are definitely less crowded than Fri-Sat-Sun.
* Getting there when the park opens (with pre-purchased tickets) is probably the smartest thing you will do all day. It's amazing how much you can do before 11:00.
* Don't try to travel cross-park during the night time entertainment. Even though CM's do their best to keep it moving, the park just wasn't designed for this type of localized people jamming and you get stuck. Allot.
* If you can only do one night time event (i.e. fireworks, Fantasmic, or light magic) spend your time/efforts on Fantasmic. You won't be disappointed. You can see fireworks anytime (the DL ones aren't that great) and Light Magic is light on the magic from what I saw.
* If your kids are grammar school or younger, plan on spending alot of time in fantasyland. Also, spend the time and let them meet/greet the characters and pose for pictures and get autographs. With the controlled access system this might take longer but you get more "quality time" with the characters. After all, the reason you're bringing the little ones there in the first place is to experience things through their eyes, right?
* Don't fool with queuing up for Indy until late afternoon. The line is always longest early in the morning (especially on magic mornings) and almost a walk-on later in the day. If you walk pass the entrance on your way to the jungle cruise and don't see anyone in line then that means a 20 minute wait, max.
* Catch the Aladdin-what-evers-it's-called at the Oasis between the Cruise and the Tikki Room; times are posted outside.
* Personally, I wouldn't bother with the DL Hotel; it's extremely expensive (you could almost stay at the Grand Floridian in WDW for the same price). Despite what the brochures say, it's basically an old hotel. The monorail is kinda handy but it's a slow way to get to the park (long lines). And on top of the 200+ a night fee they charge you an additional $10/day parking!! Used to be, you got the advantage of magic mornings but now that's available to anyone (you don't even have to be in a hotel - you can now buy the magic morning package with your tickets). There are tons of mom and pop motels all around the park within walking distance. Some of the chains are also nearby. There's a nice Holiday Inn which is technically adjacent to the park (but not the entrance) right at I5 and Harbor Blvd. If you're interested, you can visit the DL hotel and it's shops and restaurants without staying at the hotel (you'll have to pay for parking unless you buy something). If you do choose to walk to DL from a hotel bear in mind that you will be going in the same turnstiles that the cars go in and once you enter the parking lot there isn't any designated pathways for pedestrians, so watch for cars. The parking lot is pretty big (remember it's big enough to be the future home of a new theme park) but not terrible (young kids would need strollers. If you plan on renting them in the park be forewarned that you can't until you're at Main Street. IOW, if you're planning on walking through the parking lot with a small one bring your own stroller).
* The character meals at Goofy's kitchen aren't up to snuff (it doesn't compare to the ones at WDW). The food is buffet style and it really is bad (even by theme park standards). The characters can take forever to get to your table; the ratio of characters to patrons seems pretty low. And it's very expensive (almost the price of theme park admission). A better deal is to head over to the Plaza Restaurant on Main Street in the early mornings; they have better food (breakfast type which is harder to screw up) and the place is smaller so you get more characters/table/hour. It isn't a fixed price so you can wander in, order as little or as much as you like, grab a table and break out the camera and autograph book. Sometimes the breakfast is done at the Tommorowland Terrace instead so you may want to call ahead.
* If you're doing the mountain ranges (which we didn't on this trip) the plan that always worked best for me was to arrive before opening. When the park opens head to Splash Mountain. Then do Big Thunder. Then the Matterhorn and then Space Mountain. Usually you can do all of this in the first hour or less (maybe even throw in a repeat or two if the lines are really short). Then I do Pirates, the Mansion followed by the jungle cruise. By now, the only majors left are Indy and Star Tours. Both of these are easier later in the day; Indy just eats crowds and Star Tours just doesn't pack people in so much these days. So it would be conceivable that if the park opened at 8 or 9, you could have all of this stuff (except star tours and Indy) behind you before lunch. One thing that can really throw a monkey wrench into this plan is if there happens to be a magic morning that day. If so, usually it only effects Splash and Indy or maybe Space Mountain ("why are we getting there at 6:30? Oh yeah, to beat everybody to Indy and Splash Mountain..."). If Splash already has a line right after normal opening, I'd curse your luck and queue up anyway: it ain't gonna get any shorter.
M. R. Kerr