A Return to Disneyland

Yesterday, Larry & I went to Disneyland!  We went to Disneyland from opening to close!  We are now utterly exhausted!

There was so much to see and do, especially now that there is a second theme park to explore in addition to Disneyland, called Disney California Adventure.  I say that like it’s a brand new park, but it’s just that I haven’t been there for at least 16 years (when I got free tickets to go there one night while in college).  Anyway, we had toyed with a couple scenarios, including going for two days, but we settled on just a supersized day of hitting both parks using a Park Hopper ticket.  We were certainly weary about the fact this time is one of the busiest for Disneyland, but we both felt the time was right.

In order to avoid spending a ridiculous amount of time waiting in long lines, I ended up searching online for strategies on tackling Disneyland and found an amazing site, ridemax.com.  For a subscription fee, you plug in the attractions you want to see as well as start and stop times and you get a customized itinerary based on known traffic and waiting patterns.  These itineraries proved immensely valuable and saved us a great deal of time waiting in lines, as it also includes strategic pick-ups of FastPasses for those rides that have INSANE lines.

We ended up going on pretty much every ride we had definitely wanted to go on and I must say that I’m a HUGE fan of Disney’s California Adventure.   The rides there are fantastic, the theming of the various areas is top notch, and at night, it’s just magical when all the lights come on.   And seriously, the rides like Tower of Terror, California Screamin’, and Radiator Springs Racers are simply fantastic.  Plus, we found a bar!  Much needed after a long day of schlepping and massive crowds and whiny children!

Here are my many many pics from the day – I’m also listing out the itineraries we ended up using based on the Ridemax plans as well as indicating when we deviated – it’s like a play-by-play for tackling both Disneyland and DCA!  Play along at home!

Dec 30, 2013: Our Trip Through Both Disney’s California Adventure and Disneyland

Okay, this part is absolutely not necessary unless you are me or possibly interested in a strategy in tackling both Disneyland and DCA in one day. I must say, that while it is a do-able task, it is fucking exhausting.  My feet still hurt.  I never slept so good as I did last night.  It’s quite a task – it might be easier to a do a 2-day 1-park-a-day thing.  But if you’re inclined towards a massive Disney overload here’s what we did.

Start Time:  We arrived at the Parking Lot just after 7:15am or so, and got to the main gate area right around 7:30.  This is pretty much on-track for our goal which was to be at the gates about a half hour before opening at 8am.

The advice from RideMax on doing both parks in one day is to take on DCA (Disney’s California Adventure for short – I’ll use that from now on) first, then go to Disneyland in the afternoon.  So we did.

  • RideMax: Get Tower of Terror FastPass at 8:05am.  Well, were we ever surprised when the park was already letting people in BEFORE 8.  We got to Tower of Terror and the FastPass area wasn’t open, but the ride was!  So we made our first deviation from the plan and just rode it as there was absolutely no line.  Still not sure if that’s a regular thing, but it was awesome to hit this ride first and not be stuck in the Radiator Springs Racers line that nearly everyone else is heading to do.  BTW, Tower of Terror is an extremely fun and well-done ride.  It is a RIDE too, and manages to also fill the creepy experience hole vacated by The Haunted Mansion.  You’re in a haunted hotel elevator and get the ever-lovin’ beejesus scared out of you by the ways your elevator throws you around.  AWESOME.
  • RideMax: Ride the California Screamin’ Coaster at 8:18am.  Great advice to hit this ride so early.  We were actually ahead of schedule and managed to get on this AMAZING rollercoaster after waiting at most 5 minutes.  Disney outdid themselves on this ultra-smooth rollercoaster which never lets up from its launched beginning.  Very well done, Disney.  Very well done.
  • RideMax:  Pick up Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass at 8:41am.  Well, this ride has a Fastpass line that is as long, if not longer, than most other actual ride lines.  It’s insane when you think about it.  What helps put it in perspective is if you didn’t run to get in line for RSR at the opening of the park, you WILL wait 150 minutes for the ride.  So the 25-30 minutes we spent in the Fastpass line is preferable.  Fastpass is great as basically you now have an appointment for the rollercoaster and skip the main line.  You usually have to wait a little bit still, but remember, 150 minutes.  NO GRACIAS.  We ended up getting a time range of 3:40-4:40, which was much earlier than what RideMax had predicted (sometime around 7).
  • RideMax: Get a Soarin’ Over California Fastpass at 9:08am.  Easy enough (got a 10:05-11:05 window) and well worth it as this is a ride that looks to get a 60 minute wait line in the main part of the day.  A very convenient Fastpass feature is that the RSR Fastpass is independent of all the other Fastpasses, so you can get an RSR Fastpass and any other Fastpass without restriction.  Normally, you can’t just load up on Fastpasses and be done with it;  Disney keeps it more close to a fair First-in, First-Out system.  You can get more Fastpasses though once 2 hours have passed since you last got a Fastpass OR if your other Fastpass window has started.  It’s not really that complicated once you use it, but it does require some proper timing.  Thanks, RideMax!
  • RideMax: Ride Tower of Terror using Fastpass at 9:16am.  Well, second deviation as we never ended up getting a Fastpass first thing this morning.
  • RideMax: Ride Tower of Terror at 9:40am.  We did actually do this though, as we wanted to go on the ride again – it IS that good.  Waited about 25 minutes, which was just fine and totally worth it.  You may know what to expect in this ride after having ridden it once, but that is irrelevant.  That damn elevator gets you every time.
  • Starbucks break!  We had time to kill (and feet to relieve) until the Soarin’ Over California Fastpass window started.  Of course there’s a line there and as is typical, people have NO FUCKING IDEA how to interact with someone taking their order and take all fucking day to make an order.  IT’S NOT THAT HARD, PEOPLE.
  • RideMax: Ride Soarin’ Over California at 10:40am.  We actually seemed to be right on schedule at this point after the Starbucks break.  The Fastpass helped us cut out a lot of the wait, but there was still some waiting to do even inside.  Gotta say, this was a cool ride, but it’s a tad cheesy.  You sit in a row of seats that are attached to a track above – when the ride starts, your row of seats are lifted up in the air so your feet are dangling.  Then a giant GIANT curved movie screen plays huge and invigorating scenes of flying over different areas of California.  It’s very immersive from certain smells being piped in to your seat moving in sync with the motion on screen to give a sense of flying.  Cool.  But would I wait 60+ minutes as I would have without a Fastpass….doubtful.
  • Disneyland Time!!!  RideMax gave my DCA trip a huge amount of “break time” which is what is advised to then use for your Disneyland trip.  So you then plan in RideMax per the break time given here.  Very useful and accurate.  Unfortunately, it was just one hell of a crowded day and there was nothing you could really do about that fact except hope that the plan helped you avoid the biggest messes.  It was very odd and strange to walk from DCA to Disneyland though, as memories from my frequent Disneyland trips with my Dad started flooding my head.  Knowing that before you got to park where DCA now sits is sometimes hard to reconcile.  How can things change?!?  Then there’s so much that hasn’t changed once you hit Disneyland; Main Street USA looks pretty much the same as it ever did.   Tomorrowland has a great new paintjob on it that’s impressive to look at, but there’s a gaping hole in my heart when I see the unused PeopleMover track and loading station. Why hasn’t anything been done there?  Put the PeopleMover back!  I demand it!
  • RideMax: Pick up a Space Mountain Fastpass at 11:30am.  HOLY CRAP was Disneyland crowded.  Unbelievably crowded.  Highly irritating.  Just even getting to where the Space Mountain Fastpass distribution point was decimated my patience.  But what can you do?  This crowd was a known entity when Larry & I decided to do this trip on one of the busiest days of the year rather than waiting till later.  The timing really worked out for both of us and once it’s past the holidays, the park’s hours are dramatically reduced.  Today the parks were open from 8am – Midnight.  SWEET.
  • RideMax:  Go to Small World (Holiday) at 11:47am.  Another diversion.  After we picked up our Space Mountain Fastpass (valid from 9:55-10:55 – RideMax predicted it would be for sometime around 3:30pm – HA!) we were heading towards Small World in Fantasyland when we walked by the ol’ America Sings building which is now the Innoventions Hall.  There was no line and there were interesting posters advertising the inside contents, like “Become Iron Man”, “Meet Thor”, “Dream Home” and more.  It was fairly interesting and a nice break from the crowds. We liked the Dream Home exhibit especially, as there was some really creative uses of technology displayed.  The kitchen exhibit was particularly cool. We spent about 15-20 minutes inside, and I admit I was still wishing the America Sings roundtable ride was still there.  We re-emerged into the crazy crazy chaos that is the Tomorrowland-to-Fantasyland corridor.   You can take a few steps before you encounter a traffic jam of strollers and tourists.  Rinse and repeat.  Endlessly.  We got to the Small World line which was all outside and the line marker said it was 90 fucking minutes from where we were standing.  I admit I wanted to see it for nostalgia’s sake, but there’s no fucking way I’m waiting 90 minutes in the sun for “It’s a Goddamn Small World.”  It’s just not fucking happening.  That realization came to me about 3 minutes in while waiting in that line.  I looked to Larry, asked if he minded if we bounced, he said no, and we were off!
  • RideMax:  Ride Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin at 12:48pm.  We were a bit ahead of schedule yet we ended up having to wait at least 60 minutes for this ride.  It was an inside wait though, so I’ll forgive it that.  I also really enjoyed the theming of the waiting area as Roger Rabbit is a great movie to pull from.  But yeah, that felt like a loooong wait.  My feet were starting to ache a lot and my back was getting tired and I REALLY just wanted to sit down for a long time.  I also couldn’t wait to eat.  But that was not going to happen for a little bit longer.  Car Toon Spin is an enjoyable ride and if you are able, you can spin the wheel on the car and thus spin your car around and around.  It was something to do.  Enjoyable scenery in the ride and very immersive, but a 60+ minute wait….?
  • RideMax: Get Indiana Jones Fastpass at 2:20pm.  I think it was only around 1:00pm or so when we got out of Car Toon Spin?  We left the ToonTown area where that ride is housed as soon as humanly possible as it’s a damn cul de sac area FILLED with children, strollers and parents.  In other words, a nightmare.  It was time to grab some food and Larry had mentioned burgers and that sounded awesome.  The end goal was Tomorrowland Terrace, but we went the roundabout way in order to wander by Indiana Jones to get the Fastpass.  We first strolled through Fantasyland but not before watching Michigan State University’s marching band (and HOT male cheerleaders) parade though, which of course crowds up the walkways something fierce.  Then it was time to walk through Frontierland and pour one out for my old friend, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  It was CLOSED.  Closed for track renovations.  So sad.  Larry wasn’t broken up about it but as it’s clear here, I was.  THAT’S MY RIDE.  It reopens in early 2014, and that alone might be worth going back for, as well as maybe getting to visit the park when it isn’t mobbed with people.  Once you hit the southern part of Frontierland where it hits New Orleans Square, the mob scene begins yet again.  IT WAS UNFUCKINGREAL.   The crowd was so thick and people were going every direction.  Unfortunately we had to go through that area in order to get to the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Adventureland.  Of course we got there minutes before 1:34pm, which was when our two-hour embargo on Fastpasses would end, as we got our Space Mountain Fastpass at 11:33am.  So, it was good timing but also, COME ON, THESE ARE THE SLOWEST 3 MINUTES IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.  Ended up getting a window for 9:35-10:35.  I guess we were going to be busy from 9 to 11!
  • Lunchtime at Tomorrowland Terrace!  As you may have seen in my earlier rant about the morning Starbucks, I can get quite annoyed when people seem determined to show me that they have absolutely no social skills.   Once again, my rage meter built as the people ahead of us in line proved to be the most incompetent ones in the entire park.  Literally the other lines around us were just blazing by but seemingly everyone ahead of us just had to ask every question that could come to mind before actually placing their fucking order.  It’s a cheeseburger or chicken fingers.  THAT’S NOT HARD TO UNDERSTAND.  I did get to order finally and even the clerk had to laugh as she asked me if I had any questions and I rolled my eyes and snarkily commented that it did seem everybody in front of me was highly confused. I hope my moment of levity cheered her.
  • RideMax: Ride Star Tours at 2:28pm.  I think that we actually were back to being on schedule.  We did have to plan around the fact that we needed to go back to DCA by around 3:40pm as that’s when our Fastpass for Radiator Springs Racers kicked in.  I had been hearing that Star Tours was redesigned since either Larry or I had been on it previously and that is no lie.  It’s a thrilling 3D ride now and it’s got some fantastic set pieces, such as flying through the trees of Kashyyk, the Emperor’s death chamber in the Death Star, or getting attacked by Boba Fett’s sonic bombs.  You’re really getting tossed around and without being buckled in, you’d likely get thrown off your seat.  And going light speed is quite a highlight!
  • At this point, the RideMax plans were more suggestions to us than something precise, as our Fastpass times dictated things a lot more than the initial plans.  So it came down to getting one last session of DCA in the evening and then coming back to Disneyland in the 9pm+ timeframe for our Fastpass’d rides as well as any others, as RideMax made it clear that you pretty much need to wait till the night for lines to become somewhat bearable.  That proved to be very true.
  • RideMax:  Back at DCA, ride Little Mermaid Undersea Adventure at 6:21pm and RSR at 7:00pm.   So yeah, we’re no longer on this schedule.   We were going to spend the time up until about 9pm here at DCA, which meant about 5-6 hours.  Turns out that it’s quite easy to kill that time in DCA.
  • Ride Radiator Springs Racers using our Fastpass, around 3:45pm.  This ride is the newest thing going in either of the parks and quite possibly the most expensive ride ever built, as of this date.  It’s got an enormous footprint (and takes up much of Cars Land, the latest expansion to DCA) as it recreates the American West as seen in the movie Cars, notably the scene where Owen Wilson’s car drives through the country with Bonnie Hunt’s car.  You may see the end of the ride while waiting in line, but that’s not even half the ride.  It really is a fantastic and immersive experience.  Thank God for Fastpass as the wait time otherwise was 150 minutes.  Is the ride worth that?  Perhaps, but I’d rather not find that out.  I won’t give away the whole thing, but a leisurely drive through the outdoor valley turns into an indoor night scene with wild careenings through some unbelievable animatronic technology.  You end up finally getting slotted next to another car filled with guests at which point you race.  And it’s glorious.  It really is a next-generation ride experience – just get the Fastpass.  You’ll appreciate the beauty and artistry of the ride that much more because I bet after 2.5 hours, I wouldn’t give a rats ass.  But maybe that’s just me.
  • After that, we wandered through the beautiful Cars Town area.  It’s an almost perfect rendering of the town from Cars and is a pleasure to experience.  We picked up some soft serve, watched the sorta-lame Luigi’s Flying Tires “ride” a little, then meandered back towards the Hollywood Land area where the Tower of Terror lives amongst other things.  The wait time was now 55 minutes for that and we both agreed we’d had two great rides on it and a third wasn’t totally necessary, especially with that wait.  We then decided to explore Grizzly Peak which we had missed up till that point on our way towards Paradise Pier, which is where the Little Mermaid attraction is.  It’s interesting to see that the Grand Californian Hotel is literally attached to DCA at Grizzly Peak, and it’s easy to just walk between the two.  Something to think about
  • At Paradise Pier (where California Screamin’ lives), we first went to the Little Mermaid Undersea Adventure ride.  What was particularly of interest for us was that we had recently watched The Little Mermaid on blu-ray and a feature on it was an Imagineering proposal for a Little Mermaid ride.  It was only a dream though, per the doc.  Well, not any longer. They built it.  It’s much like the Haunted Mansion in terms of ride mechanics, but it’s a joy to experience as you see a lot of the movie’s environments and of course hear the songs and music from it throughout. A nice relaxing ride to enjoy.
  • By this point, the sunset was pretty much done so the lights in the Paradise Pier were all on and glowing magically.  Disney has done it right and you get immersed completely in the feeling that you’re at some seaside amusement park. Bravo!  We saw two of the bright rides on the shore and were intrigued by them – first up was the Golden Zephyr, a suspended swing ride that has you riding in large Zephyrs.  A lot of fun and jaw-dropping scenery as the lights kept getting more dramatic as the sky got darker.  Just up the shore from that was what turned out to be Larry’s most feared ride, Silly Symphony Swings.  No lie.  It’s the typical swing ride where a large central column spins individual swings around in a circle.  A lot of fun, but when that thing is going full speed and suddenly lifts your section up, the Gs can be a little intimidating.   Larry started to get that paranoid feeling of “will this ride break?”  We all made it though.
  • The inescapable draw of California Screamin’ was too much and we just had to go on it again.  At night it was a special treat.  The wait was just under an hour, but so worth it.  That rollercoaster really is perfectly designed.
  • It was time to take a dinner break and rest our feet and backs.  By this point I think it was close to around 7:15pm or so.  A few false starts in trying to find some restaurants (there’s not many full-service restaurants and they like if you have reservations – Boo!) led to us parking ourselves at The Cove Bar.  We weren’t especially hungry but they have great bar food (Tri-Tip sliders rule) and most importantly, they have alcohol.  Yay!!!! Additional benefit:  very few kids around.  Yay!!!!!  I had three glasses of Riesling and let’s say that does help a lot.  For everything.  Around 8:30, after having a wonderful rest and chatting with our barmates and bartenders a little (one of the bartenders was on our team), we headed out back to Disneyland.  Went by Cars Land to see it all lit up and it was glorious as well.  Also saw the Tower of Terror and Bugs Land at night – so great.  But it was time to write the last chapter on this trip, and the paper and ink were to be found in Disneyland at night.
  • Back in Disneyland, the crowds were getting all settled in for the various shows that happen at night.  At the centerpoint in front of the Fantasyland Castle, everyone was staked out to get the best seat for the Fireworks show.   Thanks to Disneyland’s efficiency though, they keep the thoroughfares very organized and if you’re trying to go somewhere, you’ll have no problem.  We were headed to Splash Mountain this evening, so after getting through the Fireworks crowd, we hit the crowd waiting at Rivers of America for that water and light show.  This was good for us, as while most of these folks were waiting for shows, the rides were empty.  Empty, I tell ya.  So around 9:15pm, we found our way to a nearly empty Splash Mountain.
  • RideMax wanted us to get a Fastpass at this point for Splash Mountain, but it wasn’t needed, at all.  I was actually uncertain it was open as the line was that empty.  But after winding through the very long queue, we got right to the loading station and maybe waited 10 minutes to get on.  Awesome. Splash Mountain is Larry’s favorite ride (or at least was, as some of the new rides we went on were fairly amazing) so it was a must-do, even if at night.  I ended up in the very front and got promptly soaked.  Luckily I have no hair and what I have left is shaved to a 2 length.  I just had to rub my hands in my hair and I was good.  The clothes would dry, eventually.  Great ride, and it’s probably the one place in the world of Disney where you’ll get any acknowledgement of Song of the South.
  • It was time to use our Fastpass for Indiana Jones Adventure!!!  I went on this ride the last time I was here, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you if it was any different.  It FELT different, and I seem to remember that the ride could be different.  I’m not certain that’s the case anymore.  Regardless, what an adventure!  Lots of good scares and sudden turns and drops, and those sets!  Brilliantly done.  Felt like you were in an Indiana Jones movie, and that ending boulder bit is perfect.  Thank God for the Fastpass as we pretty much walked on with about a 15-minute wait once inside.  The outside wait was over an hour.  UGH.
  • Did someone say Space Mountain?   Because we had a Fastpass for that ride next and again, Thank God for Fastpass.  The wait there was 90 minutes, and it was after 10pm!  Holy crap.  But not for us. We walked right in and got into the loading bay immediately, with the wait there about 10 minutes.   Space Mountain has definitely changed, for the better.  We read that it’s been redesigned since 2005 (when apparently it was closed for like 3 years!?) and man, what a difference.  The theming is great but really, they made this ride aggressive.  At the top, it felt similar, but when you hit the mid- to late-stages of the ride, you are FLYING.  It’s a stellar ride and well worth the love and adoration it gets.  There were even cheers from people in line when they first entered the loading bay.
  • Now it was “play it by ear” time.  I wanted to get in the last three “major” rides and dammit, we did.  First on the list was Pirates of the Caribbean, an oldie but still a goodie.  The line was only about 5-10 minutes around 10:30 or so, as another show was about to go on at the Rivers of America.  Yay!  This ride definitely has personal history especially with my dad, so it felt like I was going on it for him.  It’s interesting how different things seem when you’re a child compared to as an adult.  Pirates is pretty charming, but as a kid, it can seem frightening.  The slight water drops seem epic.  I still love the ride and appreciate the slight tweaks made to tie it to the movies.  Ah, memories.
  • Just north of Pirates is the Haunted Mansion, which has been re-done in a “holiday” theme.  It was impressive to see what they’d managed to do in the redecoration, as it’s a Tim Burton dream machine, but I guess I was hoping for something a little more scary.  Tower of Terror fills that need now.
  • The last ride of the epic journey?  The Matterhorn Bobsleds.  Had to get that one in before leaving, and while I was hoping the line would be short, unfortunately I think others thought to go on the Matterhorn too.  RideMax predicted a 7-minute line at this time, but alas, it was closer to 20-30 minutes.  Whatever.   It was fun to ride it but DAMN that ride is violent.  If any ride calls for some track “enhancement” that is it.  GEEZ.  I think they’ve amped up some of the thrill parts as there is some good speed to be found and some proper fakeouts – but the violent shaking was a bit much.  Almost couldn’t figure out how to sit in the bobsled – the “feet holes” are barely visible near midnight.
  • After that, it was time to head out.  On the way back, we stopped by the front of the Fairytale Castle and took some pics.  Man, that castle is smaller than I remembered it.  It is gorgeous though lit up in its holiday lights.  Magical, indeed.  One last line had to be endured though, which was the parking shuttle line.  Ah well.  By that time of night, my car was all by itself and it was no big thing to leave and head for our super-close hotel.  No way did we want to drive all the way back home after spending 16 HOURS at the park.

All in all, it was an amazing trip.  Would I recommend this kind of itinerary to everyone?  Nope.  But if you’re up for it, the above certainly worked well.  Just get ready for some sore sore feet and a back that is crying out for relief!

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