The title should give the topic of this article away immediately. I am talking, no less, about Disneyland! What a wonderful trip our first visit to the park was. Of course there are things we learned not to do, but I’ll get to that later. For anyone who wants to visit the park, read this first.
Okay, I live in San Antonio, Texas now, but we were in Seattle, Washington when we departed for our first vacation ever as a family. And what better location, we thought, with three little ones than Disneyland. Some people may say Walt Disney World, but traveling across country was just not financially feasible at the time. My sister was graduating from college in December of 2004 from BIOLA (Bible Institute of Los Angeles). In my family it is a sin to go to southern California without going to Disneyland. So we planned the trip.
First off, let me say, driving is fun, but taking the train can be much cheaper and, most of the time, more relaxing than driving. We left on day one from the downtown Seattle Amtrak train station. The whole trip on the train cost us a little under $500. And that was a roundtrip ticket for two adults and two children. The little one sat on our lap. The train left around 10 in the morning and made it just past northern California by the next morning. We sat in coach, which isn’t too comfortable to sleep in, unless you’re a child. But, if you can stand the slight discomfort for one night, then it’s totally worth it. One tip here is to try and request a first floor train seat if you have children or in anyway get claustrophobic, which I am. Being on the top is great for the view, but it’s very crowded, loud and confining. The people they place on the first floor of the train are mostly handicapped and elderly people. It’s very quiet and for the most part the elderly love the kids being around. You may get the occasional person onboard who doesn’t like kids, but it’s the train, not a luxury way of traveling. One tip here: pack your own non perishable food in a cooler. The train food is not cheap, except maybe the taste. To really enjoy the train experience, though, I would suggest for a family of four to set aside about $50-$70 to eat at the restaurant aboard the train. It really is nice and you meet all sorts of people from all over the country. It’s a great way to travel.
Amtrak is notorious, from my experience anyway, for never being on time. Fortunately, we were on time this trip coming into LA. We paid another $60 for a shuttle to take us to our hotel, the Jolly Roger, in Anaheim that night. We ordered pizza and had adequate space for a roll away crib and two beds. There was decent cable and the closets were great. Although I have read bad reviews of the Jolly Roger, we never had a problem with the hotel. The pool was extremely cold, not heated in anyway whatsoever. People were quiet and no one ever tried to break in. The restaurant near the hotel is very good food and very good price for the family on a budget.
Now for those of you who feel the park won’t be crowded during the holiday season … think again! That was our thinking too when planning this first trip. The next morning we got up bright and early and headed to the park. On a personal note, when my kids saw the park for the first time, it was very touching. A vacation filled with magic is something not every parent can afford to give their kids. So, let it mean a lot to you the first time you take your children there. We got in line around 7:45 am and it was already a long line. But, don’t be discouraged if you are in the back of the long line, because once it gets moving it doesn’t take too long to get into the park.
For everyone planning on taking their kids for the first time, let me warn you now. If you have an early entrance, use it for Fantasyland. We did not do that. We didn’t even notice we had an early entrance, even though it’s printed right on the ticket. We went on the train all the way around the park first, because it’s been a tradition in my family for years. Then we went to Adventureland and New Orleans Square. We took a break and had lunch after visiting the Pooh Bear ride in Critter Country. After lunch we hit Fantasyland. Oh sweet mother of cheddar cheese! It took us one hour to go on Dumbo two times in a row. And forget about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. If you don’t use that early entry, you could spend one whole day just trying to get fantasyland done. The second vacation we took, we used our early entry, and although we were very tired, it was worth it! We got every ride in fantasyland done, with the exception of the Small World, in less than one hour (just as everyone else was entering the park).
At the time, our two oldest kids were 4 and almost 4 years old. They were willing to try anything and did. Including, but not limited to, the Tower of Terror in California Adventure. After that first vacation, they weren’t so willing anymore to take fast rides, but the third vacation to the park and a few years older, made them more adventurous. Some people will tell you don’t let your young children ride the scary rides even if they want to and are tall enough. I say, let them do it with you. Don’t explain anything to them, just let them see. Because, let’s face it, explaining things like, “You’re going to be dropped in an elevator” usually can’t be put much more delicately and frightens them more than what they need to be. After my kids rode the Tower of Terror, they loved it, but weren’t willing to go on it again until they were about 6 years old.
Meeting the characters back in the day was fun. It was easy. They were everywhere and very accessible. Now you have to try and pry information out of a cast member to see when and where these magical beings will appear (sometimes as if from nowhere). Ha, ha, ha. It’s best to not spend anytime searching for them, unless a specific time is listed for them to appear at a certain location. Here’s an example. We were in line to eat at the Golden Horseshoe. Around the corner comes Woody and his “bodyguard” (a cast member to keep the kids from suffocating the character). I pulled my kids out of line and ran after Woody. Woody wouldn’t sign autographs until after he did a little dance with the kids. When it was time for autographs and pictures, people just horded in. You would not believe how pushy parents can be when they are trying to please their children. I just stood back in awe for a moment. I asked the cast member to please let my kids get it over with. She said wait in line. I looked around and just saw a massive crowd where no line could ever exist. So, I spoke to her again and told her we were here first and on top of that we were waiting in line at the Golden Horseshoe. That did it for her. She was nice though. Just trying to be fair. So if you ever find yourself in a situation like that, just make sure you claim your place in line without pushing, but by just talking with the cast member.
Now about the elusive Toon Town. If you don’t have the time to visit, don’t worry. It’s really not that great. Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin is alright, but stay away, I’m begging you, from Gadget’s Go Coaster. Totally not worth the time in line. It is a 45 min wait during the busy season and the ride only lasts for about 1 min. Go and see the shows in both parks. The muppets are great and Fantasmic is to die for! The best seat, if you don’t want to stand up for over an hour, is the white tables and chairs near a snack bar. We showed up there an hour early and got our dinner and dessert. By the time we were done, the show was just starting. Keep in mind though that people down by the river are allowed to stand and you are not. So, it can be very difficult to see absolutely everything. The parade during the holiday season is not to be missed. You kids will love it. The best seat, in my opinion, is by the Small World Toy Store. There is a bench you can let your kids stand on and then they are able to see everything and everyone in the parade.
Speaking of the Small World, it’s best during the holidays to not go at night. The ride is one of a few that Disney makes over during the holiday season. And the Small World, at night, is brilliantly lit up and looks wonderful. So do the lines … wonderfully long! It’s best to try and squeeze that in during the early morning hours.
And for the adults who enjoy the park as much as their kids: Fantasyland is fun, but let’s face it, Indiana Jones is much better. So is Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and the Tower of Terror. California Screamin’ is a, well, scream. Never fear! They have baby swap for most rides. You and your significant other go to the cast member at the entrance to the ride and request a baby swap. One person goes and when they get off, the other person hands the baby swap card to the cast member and flies past everyone else by going through the fast pass line. What is the fast pass line? Oh ye of little knowledge. Let me educate you. And listen well, for fast passes may save you an hour or two from standing in lines. Fast passes are available on most rides that tend to have long lines. Just ask a cast member where they are. You insert your ticket and out pops this other ticket with the ride and when to come back. You arrive back at the ride at the time designated on your ticket. You present your ticket and fly past about half of the stand by line. It’s wonderful. It’s incredible. And it saves your feet from feeling like a semi truck has been resting on it. It’s best, for the parents out there, to use your fast pass for rides that have no baby swap available. Have the first person stand in the stand by line and the next use the fast pass.
Cost wise, it was under $400 for two adults and two children to buy a three day park hopper ticket. Our hotel for 6 nights was about $600. I’m sure the prices have changed since then. But it’s still a great deal on a great vacation. If you book through the Disneyland website you can add all sorts of things too. We added Universal Studios. They picked us up on a bus and drove us out there with a whole bunch of other people. We stayed the whole day and on the way back everyone on the bus sang Christmas Carols. Those are memories you can’t buy.
So that’s Disneyland in a nutshell. But, for the kids it’s the most magical thing to feel like they can fly in Peter Pan, escape the whale in Pinnochio and see what life is like all over the world in a Small World. So, next time you get your tax return, don’t worry about things you want around the house that you feel you have to buy just to keep up with the Jones’s. Think about how those little faces will just light up when they meet their favorite princess or character. How much fun you’ll have watching them experience things you did as a child. It is truly memorable and worth the money you’ll dish out in mickey ears and the such. And remember ….. Dreams really do come true for your kids at the happiest place on earth.