Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disney Parks Part 1

Recently, I’ve had a couple of co-workers and family members plan a trip to Disneyland, and they’ve turned to me with their questions. I don’t know if they really know what they’re getting into when they do that. In fact, I’ve started warning people when the subject first comes up that they’re going to have to tell me to shut up when they’re done listening to me, because I never get tired of talking about Disney.

So, I decided to blog about it. This way, no one can tell me to shut up. You can just stop reading when you get bored (if you’ve even made it this far).

Having grown up with four brothers and a sister, Disneyland was never a financial possibility for my family. Therefore, the first time I went, I was 22 years old. The second time I was 23. I’ve tried counting the number of times I’ve been to a Disney park since then, and while my memory isn’t all that great, I’m pretty sure I’ve been between 15 and 20 times.

Of course, there are people out there who have been many more times than I have, and I’m not claiming to be an expert. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned and noticed through my many visits.
I’ve been to Disneyland/Disney World with kids of all ages (well, most ages – from 4 months to 16 years old), and I’ve been with just adults. I love doing both, but it’s true that the two experiences are very different.

I often get asked if it’s worth taking little children to the parks. I’d say that if they’re at least three years old, they’ll love it. I’ve been with a two-year old who loved it and talked about it constantly for two years (until she went again), but I’d say three is about the threshold. Disney apparently agrees with me, because that’s when they start charging for the child’s ticket. (Children two and under who are in the park without a ticket can still ride.)

In my opinion, there are different “experiences” to be had in the Disney parks. There’s the Young Child Experience, when you’re taking children from about three to about nine years old. There’s the Pre-Teen Experience, when you have kids with you who are about nine to about twelve years old. There’s the Teenager Experience, the Young Adult Experience and the Adult Experience, which have only subtle differences between them. I’m guessing there’s a Senior Experience as well, but I can’t really speak to that one…

The Young Child Experience:

I’ve spent most Young Child Experiences in Disneyland, and only a couple in Disney World, so I’m talking mostly about California on this one…

From it’s a Small World to meeting characters, young kids have a BLAST at Disney parks. There’s so much for them to do. Unlike many amusement parks that have very few rides that young children can go on, Disney has very few rides that young children CAN’T go on. Of course, there are certain rides that tend to be favorites. And most of those are in Fantasyland, which tends to be one of the busiest areas of the Park.

(Disclaimer: I have spent very little time in Mickey's Toon Town. Even when we go with small children, we’ve only gone to Toon Town to see Mickey and Minnie. There are relatively few rides there, and some of them are only for kids (you can’t ride with them). The rides throughout the rest of the park are ones that kids and adults can enjoy together.)

A few of the rides that I’ve noticed kids really enjoy in Disneyland: it’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party, King Arthur’s Carousel, Buzz Lightyear, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Winnie the Pooh. In Disney’s California Adventure: Little Mermaid, Francis’ Ladybug Boogie, Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, King Triton’s Carousel, Toy Story Mania. That’s not to say that there aren’t other great rides that kids love, but those are the ones that have come up as “favorites” or that we’ve ridden more than once because someone wanted to go on it again.

I recommend meeting at least a few characters during the Young Child Experience. You can go to Mickey’s house to see him in Toon Town. The lines are generally the shortest when he first starts greeting guests (usually at 10:00am). If you can get there right around 10:00, you shouldn’t have to wait more than twenty minutes. Minnie’s house is just next door, and the same concept applies. If you’re going to both, definitely do Mickey’s house first, since his lines back up faster than Minnie’s. If you can’t get there at 10:00 and don’t want to stand in a long line, I recommend trying to catch him in Disney’s California Adventure. He has a spot where he often greets guests in on Paradise Pier, not far from Ariel’s Grotto.

If you have little princesses in your group, you’ll probably want to meet at least a couple of the Disney princesses. If you can afford it, I’d highly recommend getting a reservation at Ariel’s Grotto for lunch. It’s expensive – about $35-40/plate, but while you’re eating, four princesses come out and mingle with the diners. Each one will come to your table and talk with your kids, sign autographs and pose for pictures. While I wouldn’t say the food is worth that much money (it’s good, but not that good), the whole experience definitely is worth it. The other options for seeing princesses involve standing in some pretty long lines, unless you’re lucky enough to get there at the right time. If you don’t want to do either, the girls in your party can still see the princesses in the parades, and they won’t even know that they’re missing anything (unless you tell them).

While the little ones can go on most of the rides with you, there are a few that they’re not going to be able to ride. The height restrictions are anywhere from 32 to 48 inches, depending on the ride.

If you’d like to go on some/all of those rides, and if it’s possible, I recommend taking more than two adults on your trip (the favorite aunt is always an option…). Disney has what’s called a “Rider Switch Pass” for many of the rides that have a height requirement. This allows your group to go on, say, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad while one adult stays back with the kiddies. When the first group is done, the person who stayed back can then get into the Fast Pass line (which is significantly shorter than the standby line). The Switch Pass allows up to three people onto the ride, so if you have more than two adults, the one who stayed back doesn’t have to ride alone (it also gives one or two people the chance to ride twice).

NOTE: the Switch pass needs to be obtained before the main group gets on the ride. You need to talk to the Cast Member at the front of the line, and they’ll usually need to see the child that’s staying behind.

If you have really young children, I recommend taking a stroller to the park. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, and if you wear out the kids too much, they just get ornery. You can rent a stroller at the park, but they’re $15.00 a day, so it’ll save a lot of money if you can take your own. There are “Stroller Parking” areas all around the park, where you can leave your stroller when you go on rides. While I wouldn’t leave anything valuable on the stroller, it’s always nice to have a place to leave behind sweatshirts, water bottles, etc. so that you don’t have to carry them on the ride. In fact, when I go without children, I always miss having a place to stash the stuff I always end up carrying around.

The Disney parks are always the busiest in the afternoons. I recommend getting to the gates before the park even opens (even as early as 30 minutes before opening) and spending the first part of your morning in Fantasyland (though, if you’re going on some of the ‘bigger’ rides, you’ll want to send someone out to get Fast Passes for later). You'll be able to ride many more rides and stand in a lot fewer lines if you can do that.

If you do make it to the Park right around the time it opens and you want to take in the evening entertainment (which I’ll talk about later), I’d recommend heading back to your hotel for the afternoon to rest, nap, etc, and then coming back to the park around 5:00 or 6:00pm. That way, you’ll be refreshed when other families are flagging and heading home because they can’t handle any more. If you decide to stay in the Park during the afternoon, you may want to take that time to shop or get some ice cream and find a relatively quiet place to sit for a while. Otherwise, you'll be standing in some pretty horrendous lines

Anyone still reading at this point? Cause I'm just getting started!