With the holidays coming coming to a close, and having seen my fair share of days at the Happiest Place on Earth, (with more of these lists replacing what used to be called journalism online or on the printed page) I thought I would share some points that have helped make visits more magical for me and mine over the years.
My first visit goes back to the summer of 1965, with family making the trek south to Anaheim. After that, there were visits every other summer, until I got one of the first Magic Kingdom Club Annual Passes to the Park in 1984. Since then, I have had AP’s at various times. In one year, I counted that I was in the Park 31 days; the shortest visit was 90 seconds, the longest was from open to close on a summer day with no break. For the record, I don’t currently have an Annual Passport, but that may change…
Here we go. Keep your hands and feet inside this list at all times. Remain seated, please. Thank you.
1) You will never see or do everything possible at Disneyland in a single day. Repeat that – You will never see or do everything possible at Disneyland in a single day. Especially if you try to include Disney California Adventure into that. Save yourself the headaches, hurt feet and hurt feelings of those who might attempt this with you. Slow down, enjoy a Dole Whip and take things at a leisurely pace. Go for quality versus quantity.
2) Go early, stay late. With a mid-day break, even just getting off your feet for a few hours can work wonders. On my most recent visit over the summer, I was there at park opening at 8 am on a Friday. It was a glorious sunny morning with temperatures in the mid 60’s with a light ocean breeze. I grabbed a nice cup of Joffrey’s Coffee from the cart at the Hub in front of Frontierland and enjoyed it seated by the riverside next to the Frontier Landing. It was as peaceful and quiet as I remember the Park from visits in the late 1960’s. As the morning passed to afternoon, the crowds did come and things were a bit hectic at times. Yet, by 2 pm, I was ready to head back to my hotel for a rest. Okay, a nap and some other domestic chores. If you are staying nearby, maybe a dip in the pool may be just the thing to help you relax. In this case, by 5 pm, I was back at the resort, enjoying a couple of smart cocktails with friends at Trader Sam’s. By 7:30, I was back in the Park and enjoyed myself immensely. Including watching the “Paint The Night Parade” and fireworks. I closed out my evening with late night rides on Pirates, the Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours, before hearing the announcement of the Park closing for the night. And by staying late, the crowds were lighter and attraction waits were shorter as the time passed.
3) Yes, you can do Disneyland on a budget. Don’t be afraid to try something you have not enjoyed before! Check out the menus and prices online before you go. Here’s an idea of what I bought that recent day. Coffee ($2.99) to start the morning (but not from Starbucks, I think that Joffrey’s Coffee is a better product and have grown to enjoy it at home as well as the Park. And you spend less time getting coffee elsewhere than waiting at any of the Starbucks locations.) Lunch was a Chili Cheese Dog ($7.49) and a soft drink ($3.29) at the Coca Cola Corner, which included a bag of potato chips. (How I wish it could have been a bag of Frito’s, with the throwback to Klondike and the Casa de Fritos! The world’s largest nickels worth.) Afternoon snack of Dole Whip ($4.19) enjoyed in the air conditioned comfort of the Enchanted Tiki Room. Dinner was a pulled pork sandwich ($11.99) from the Tangaroa Terrace to go along with that Tall Dark and Stormy from Trader Sam’s. And then the Maple Apple and Bacon Bundt Cake ($8.00) and more Joffrey’s Coffee ($2.99) at the River Belle Terrace. Yes, the last bit was indulgent, but worth every penny! A little more than $40 for the day, not including the cocktails. I could easily spend about the same out on day in San Francisco, with lunch, a snack and dinner.
4) Disneyland does still have hidden gems you can enjoy. Despite rumors to the contrary, there are plenty of small things that can give you a little bit of magic along the way. You may have to look a bit for them, but they are there. A good example is Fortune Red in New Orleans Square. He’s been passing along words of wisdom to guests since his days in the Pirate Arcade. And still for only a quarter, you can get your own bit of pirate advice from him. He’s on duty at the entrance to the Royal Courtyard at 21 Royal Street, between Pieces of Eight and Port Royal. Red has cousins scattered about the Park including Shrunken Ned over in the Adventureland Bazaar. Can’t go wrong with sound jungle medical advice dispensed by a talking shrunken head, can you? Both dispense that advice on cards that make dandy (and inexpensive) souvenirs of any Park visit.
5) Not everything has to be rush, rush, rush. Take time to enjoy things. Like traveling down Main Street on one of the vintage vehicles (Gurrmobiles?) that make their way between Town Square and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Ride the Fire Truck that Walt used to drive about the Park on his early morning tours; travel aboard the Omnibus, especially from the upper deck (who can forget the Osmond Brothers rendition of “Down On The Corner” riding there, from an episode of The Wonderful World of Color); ride of the Horseless Carriages at a blazing speed of seven miles per hour racing down the street; or take in the attraction that remains unchanged back to opening day at the Park – the Horse-Drawn Streetcars – complete with their passing track, just as it was in 1955!
6) Low technology souvenirs! While the Photo Pass may offer a great way to document a visit to the Park, there is one souvenir available that dates back to before photography. That is Main Street’s Sihlouette Studio. In less than a minute, the cast members here can cut out a paper silhouette. For many families, this is a tradition dating back to January of 1956, documenting children of all ages. Another low tech item that guests enjoy is pressed pennies. At locations throughout the Park, there are plenty to choose from. You can even find an album to keep them all safe for sale in the Park as well.
7) Pin trading. This is another fun opportunity that guests of all ages can enjoy. It does not have to be expensive as you can start small with one of the lanyard kits and trade with Cast Members and other guests all around the Park. Some Cast Members have special lanyards for trading only with children. Or they may have special hidden pins to trade for. Lots of goodies out there! A few rules of courtesy to remember. Always ask if you can see someone’s pins before asking for a trade. Collect what you enjoy. And don’t be offended if someone does not wish to trade with you. It may be that they don’t collect the type of pin you are offering or they may already have one. And you can check online for good trading material before your visit. You can find plenty of pins for a good deal. Just be sure that you see a picture of what you are buying before you close a transaction. I have had good luck on eBay over the years with purchases from sellers with good feedback.
8) Sit down, relax and enjoy the music. Seriously, just listen and enjoy. There are musical opportunities just waiting to be enjoyed every day in the Park. Right now, the chance to take in some fine jazz aboard the Mark Twain, docked at the Frontier Landing, has to be one of the best places to just listen. Don’t forget the French Market, either. A variety of groups have played here over the years with melodies that can range from sweet to toe tapping and popular with all ages. Check out the daily entertainment schedules to see who you can find about the Park at various times. Another favorite will always be the Coca Cola Corner and the Ragtime Piano Players at work there. As someone who had his own share of piano lessons over the years, I have nothing but admiration for those folks!
9) Embrace changes. Disneyland was never meant to be static, preserved in amber. You may find that magical moment from years gone by simply does not exist today. But that should not stop you for looking for something new that you and your family will enjoy. Yes, with construction underway on various projects, it may be a challenge at times, but there are still things worth exploring. The best way to find them is to be ready for something new, no matter how small or how large a change.
10) Go with the flow. If things don’t go exactly as you planned, don’t worry about it. A good friend reminded me once that “We are at Disneyland.” There are plenty of people who wish they were here, but aren’t. The best you can do is to enjoy the day as it happens. You really don’t know what bit of Disney magic may be waiting for you to find it. If you are looking for burned out light bulbs and peeling paint, it is a pretty good bet you may be missing something else. Spend those moments at the Park well but wisely. After all, Walt wanted a place that could be enjoyed by all members of the family. Take those words to heed and make memories with the folks who are there with you. For those are the souvenirs you will treasure for years to come.
I wish I could say that every day at Disneyland is the same for everyone. Yet, that’s rather unrealistic. Disneyland has never been a homogenized experience. Your visit does not run by clockwork, stamped out of a mold. We all have different reasons why we may be there or who we may be there with, and who make those moments. The best piece of advice I can offer is to “seize the day”. Enjoy the magic that you find along the way.