After months of dreading (and a little complaining about) the new changes to this year’s Grad Nite, I thought I should update the Micechat community on what happened on Grad Nite 2012 from a chaperone’s perspective. This is my first TR ever, and I can see it has gotten quite long, so I hope you can slog through it!
We had our event on a Thursday in May. We left school at about 3:30pm; arriving at Mickey and Friends at about 4:30. Unlike previous years, parking was a breeze. In fact, our bus driver, who has been doing Grad Nites for years was elated by the ease with which we found parking. However, no one greeted us or did a security check as has been done in previous years. Without any form of security checkpoint at the parking lot, we boarded trams and left for the parks. The only security was the one that is there on a daily basis, which can be little to no security depending on who you get. In past years, the security was much tighter with students separated by sex and given a full security pat down. I felt that there should have been more done. Do I trust my kids? Some more than others. The idea of Disney offering the extra security has always been a big draw for our school. Did I do my job and make sure they were properly dressed and not carrying big bags and other contraband? Yes, but did everyone else? I know they didn’t, since later in the night I saw kids smoking in DL.
After distributing tickets and wristbands, students were free to choose either park. All opted for DCA since it would be closing sooner. As chaperones, we headed to DCA too (one of our group had never been there before!). The park was packed. It was pretty easy to single out the grads with their special wristbands and youthful exuberance. But there were also a lot of other 17-19 year old looking kids there too, so it was hard to be sure exactly who was there for the event. After eating dinner, we headed over to Soaring. The posted 45 minute wait was well over an hour, and by the time we got out it was 7:45. The park would be closing in a few minutes, and there wasn’t really time to do another ride. We met my husband who came down after work at the exit to Soaring, and headed to DL.
There was a pretty steady stream exiting DCA and the gate for DL felt like a Friday or Saturday night. I split off from the rest of the group who went to Star Tours, so that I could watch my husband have dinner. We sat at “Jolliday” and commented on how crowded it felt for a Thursday night. He has chaperoned before with me, and we watched the various groups of teens and families with young children. He told me about the parking situation at the structure that he encountered. Coming after work, meant arriving at the M&F at about 6:30ish, and he said it was packed. There were tons of busses waiting to get in. Once he parked, there were tons of teens waiting to get on trams. He waited at the tram plaza (they were loading on both sides) for two trams before he could get on. He said he contemplated walking, but decided it might be about the same time no matter what. Once they got to the DTD unloading area, it took his tram two trips around the landscaped islands to park so they could get off the trams.
We sat on the porch until about 9:15. We walked over to the Plaza Inn to see what was happening at good old chaperone headquarters. The CM said come back at 10 and we’ll let you in. I asked about the check-in, because the paperwork said there wasn’t one this year, and well, frankly, I was (and still am) having trouble with this too. She confirmed there was no need to check-in. Just to go and enjoy the park. So we did some strolling through the shops, a favorite past-time of ours. We decided we don’t care for the new layout of the Candy Palace. Although it does feel more open, the queues seem confusing, and the one counter with the two large cases does not seem to be directed well with the one register being fairly orderly and the other just a free-for-all of people cutting in front of the orderly queue to the side. By 9:45, we were on the other side of the berm, but still inside the park, because I had a 10 pm check-in with the kids to make sure everyone was in the park and following the rules. (We actually had set up a schedule of text check-ins and face to face meet ups to try to maintain a bit of control since this year we wouldn’t be locked in the park.) At this point there was a fairly steady stream of people leaving, and my husband took off too; he had to work the next morning. Later, he told me a tale of woe which occurred as he tried to leave. The tram boarding area was packed! He walked back, and he said in the 10+ minutes it took, not a single tram passed him headed back to the structure. He said when he left DTD there were four trams boarding filled with people, and that when he arrived at M&F, the plaza was filled with trams full of people just sitting and waiting to go to DL.
After all the children checked in, we headed to the Plaza Inn. They checked to be sure we had wristbands as we walked up Main Street and at the entrance to the PI. Chaperones had the same bands as the kids, but a second one marking them as a chaperone. Inside the restaurant, there were cookies, brownies, cheese and crackers, muffins, fruits and vegetables to be had, as well as sodas, coffee and cocoa. These offering have always been given, but, in the past, chaperones were also given vouchers for either dinner or breakfast. You could get a full chicken dinner until about 3am, at which time they switched to the usual breakfast menu. Personally, I could care less about a full meal at midnight. Usually the interior was packed with groups hoarding tables and chairs for their school, and late arrivals were forced outside into the cold. This year, since no one had to remain at the headquarters, there were empty tables and an ebb and flow throughout the night. No one felt like they had to reserve spots and people seemed less possessive about space. We had a light snack, gave a CM with a touch screen survey tablet our emails (she gave us popcorn vouchers), and then headed out to do a ride at about 10:45ish.
At this point, they were still checking wristbands at the entrances to the lands, but this only lasted until midnight. After midnight, no one asked us again, except to go into the PI. It was in Adventureland that I discovered the greatest change ever. Nearly every ride was a walk on. We walked on to the Jungle Cruise. Our boat was half full. Delightful! Indy was marked at 55 minutes, which wasn’t surprising. Pirates: Walk-on. Haunted Mansion: Walk-on. We headed to BTMRR. 30 minutes. Not bad for a regular evening, unheard of on Grad Nite. We encountered one problem with line jumping there, which the CM said there was nothing they could do about, which was disappointing to me. Even on a regular day, they post a CM at the merge of the regular and fast pass line to maintain order, and there needed to be one there that night too. At the exit of BTMRR, CMs were blocking the pass to fantasyland. They had a lit up Mickey head similar to the ones they put out for the Halloween parties illuminating up what could be a generally dark area. We then headed to TL. Crossing the hub was madness. The benches were moved to block people from moving straight across. There was no straight line through. The “club” in front of the castle was packed with dancing kids. There were raised platforms for security to stand on and survey the crowds, which was good, and I don’t recall these in the past, but usually I avoid the dancing areas. Also, I am not sure how much help these were since the kids were packed in tight and it would have been hard to get to a problem fast.
Over in TL, Buzz was closed. Star Tours was 20 minutes. Space Mountain was 70 minutes, the longest wait I saw all night. Autopia and Nemo were both closed. TLT was packed with kids, and there was a line and waiting area to get in. Walking towards the Matterhorn, there were CMs and ropes stopping us from cutting back towards Fantasyland. So we took the route behind the Matterhorn. There we met more CMs and ropes blocking us from Fantasyland. It was 1:45am. I asked if we could go back, and we were told that Fantasyland was closed to prepare for the pyrotechnics show at 2:30. This was disappointing. We headed back to the PI, had some drinks and snacks, and hung out. There were only a few people outside, and they seemed to be there by choice. At 2:30, we headed outside and watched the 15 minute show. It was a montage of popular music and fireworks. Eh, just ok. Then the kids started heading to the gates, and so did we.
We met our group at our designated location, and headed toward the trams. They were sending everyone to the right. So everyone went right. This backed everyone at the deadend that occurs when you reach the end of the tram loading area on this side. It was packed. After a quick group vote to walk, we headed out of the crush. As we moved to the left, security was blocking DTD, so we headed up the ramp and past the first loading area. To our surprise the second load area was empty and a ¾ filled tram was waiting to go. We looked at each other, and hopped on quickly. Hurrah! As we passed the load side on the right, it was clear that there were too many people over there. CMs were yelling at kids to get off of each other’s laps, and to step behind the yellow line so another tram could come. I was scared for a few of those CMs. Our tram ride back was fairly uneventful, although we did get stopped just before the plaza for a few minutes. In the past, there have been no trams running and we walked back to the buses on the tramway. While a huge annoyance and source of complaints from the kids, I can see that this is truly the way to go. The shoving and mayhem could have been prevented at the tram loading, and once we unloaded, we wouldn’t have been backed up at the crosswalk waiting to go to the Pinocchio lot. This will need some re-working. Now that everyone was leaving at once, the easy bus arrival turned into a mad rush to leave as in previous years.
- · Easy arrival via bus. At least arriving by 4:30pm, put our group into the park quickly and with ease.
- · Walk-on rides! It was less crowded than I have seen it in the off-season.
- · CMs seemed less harried. Everyone seemed really friendly and happy to be working that night. Some years it seems like the CMs would rather be anywhere but DL, and that no amount of hazard pay would suffice.
- · Shops, like the bazaar in Adventureland, were strategically blocked to prohibit hooliganism. It was probably a stop loss measure, but I noticed it and it made a difference.
- · Free popcorn! Used my voucher the next weekend when I went back with the husband.
- · No security check points. Kids could get away with carrying contraband as a result. I didn’t allow any bottles in, which meant no alcohol from my kids, but I saw other kids with drink bottles not sold in the park. Did they contain alcohol? Maybe not, but Disney didn’t control it this year. Who knows what was brought in.
- · The mixing of the kids with the regular population. Too hard to control. As another chaperone from a different school noted, they caught some of their banned kids there because they were able to come in during regular hours. There was no fool-proof way of keeping them out this year. In fact, if someone was sneaky enough, they could be there for the Grad Nite portion.
- · Kids were disappointed that they weren’t there until sunrise (a sight I missed too). They felt it was too short, although, we probably got just about the same amount of time as we would have if we had arrived at 11pm.
- · Some said it wasn’t as special because it wasn’t just for them.
- · Not everything was opened, or attractions closed too early to be enjoyed.
- · There were only two dance areas and they both played the same kind of music, and according to the kids, they played some of the same songs more than twice. The kids said they would have liked to have the different dance areas which were less crowded in previous years (last year’s junior rep was adamant about this point in our debrief), and more variety in music styles.
- · Tram ride at the close. There were too few tram CMs to deal with the crush. Make ‘em walk, I say!
THE I’M STILL NOT SURE ABOUT:
- · For practical reasons, I still think there needs to be a check-in. How do you know that the chaperones are really there Disney? We never checked in, you have no idea if we were even there. This bothers me from a supervision standpoint.
Alright. That’s it for now! I gotta get back to work here! Will we go next year? We’ll have to think about it some more before we put in our request for next year’s date.