Saturday, August 21, 2010

Doing Disneyland (part 2)

In my last post I wrote briefly about our trip to Disneyland. I’m going to include a few tips and hints that might be helpful to others considering a Disneyland trip.

From what I understand, the middle of the week is a better time to visit a Disney theme park if you want to skip huge crowds. Still, the press of the crowds at Disneyland on Wednesday was pretty intense. It increased as the day progressed. Our family was separated when the Main Street Parade started. We discovered that it was nearly impossible to get us all together again until the parade was finished due to the press of the crowd. (I could not even traverse 10 feet to another family member.)

While Disneyland is constantly being upgraded (for example, Star Tours is closed for renovations until 2011), the basic framework offers some challenges that simply can’t be overcome. The park is an international icon. Disney can’t significantly change certain features without violating the basis of the iconography. The number of people operating in this structure makes efficient management of foot traffic difficult.

It was a lot easier for us this trip because this is the first Disney trip we have made in two decades without using at least one stroller. Moving strollers around Disneyland can be challenging. I did carry my daughter piggy-back several times during the day — sometimes for very long hauls. That kind of thing could be problematic if you’re not in decent shape.

We also discovered that having older children with their own cell phones was very helpful.  We could split up and still keep in contact.  When we weren’t sure if someone was on a ride or not, we’d send text messages.  This worked quite well.

The days we spent at Disneyland and California Adventure were unseasonably warm. We tried to keep our crew well hydrated, but that’s a challenge too. I hauled water bottles in a backpack, but they warm quickly in hot weather. I refilled bottles from restroom taps and water fountains, but most of these fixtures in Disneyland have relatively low flow. The fixtures tend to be newer and better at California Adventure. I think my Mom-in-Law became dehydrated the first day.

One of the big questions when going to a Disney theme park, of course, is how to deal with long lines at attractions. Disney tries to manage this somewhat by raising park pass prices, as was recently done. Higher prices tend to bring fewer customers, but I’m not sure that’s a problem for Disney. Demand seems to remain very strong despite higher prices.

Notwithstanding the huge crowds, we hit all of the attractions we wanted to visit, while spending minimal time waiting in lines. This was possible thanks to a private service called RideMax. We paid $15 for a 90-day subscription to the service. It significantly enhanced the value of our Disney park experience. I will cover our experience with RideMax in a separate post.

We felt that California Adventure offered a more laid back and less harried experience than our visit to Disneyland. When my wife said as much to a park worker, the worker responded that Disney employees definitely notice this difference.

We enjoyed California Adventure, but two huge sections of the park are currently under construction with new attractions to open next year. It seems like there are fewer attractions than at Disneyland. The general consensus was that the Soarin’ Over California ride was our family’s favorite attraction. There were many other attractions that were highly enjoyed as well. Different family members ranked different rides higher. But that’s to be expected.

We helped our vacation budget by informing the kids months in advance that we would not be buying any souvenirs out of the family budget. Each child was encouraged to save to buy their own souvenirs. Thanks to our family discussions on the matter, nobody pestered us for trinkets. Only two children bought souvenirs, and these were modestly priced. It’s amazing how frugal people become when they have to spend their own money.

Food is expensive at any theme park. There are many nearby offerings if you want to leave the park to eat. If you want convenience, you either pack lunches and keep them in a locker or you pay the exorbitant park rates. We made this work for us.

Our drive home on Friday was much less stressful than our drive to Los Angeles. We ran into very few traffic slowdowns. Traffic flow seemed better all around than when we drove down.

All in all, we’re pretty pleased with our Disneyland vacation. Everyone tolerated it. Nobody got lost or was injured. We had a few hectic moments, but we had some time to relax as well. I will be putting video clips and photos together in a home movie DVD over the next week or so. We’ll have some memories for years to come.

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