This year, my youngest turned three December 30th. As a big fan of Mickey Mouse and all things Disney, I thought what better gift than a trip to Disneyland on New Year’s Eve? I’d heard from co-workers and other friends that Disneyland at Christmastime was one of the most beautiful places on earth and that the fireworks show was probably one of the best in the nation. Add that with the “Frozen” themed displays and this would be a magical visit to commemorate her third birthday! I was sold.
What I didn’t realize when I began planning the trip was that Christmas and New Years are Disneyland’s busiest times of the year. By the time I had realized this fact, “MisManners,” as we call my youngest, had already been talking for months about meeting Mickey and seeing “her” fireworks at Disneyland…. so I couldn’t possibly change my plans. Instead, I had to research, find all the tips I could and prepare for two days of nonstop action filled with tons and tons of CROWDS.
I am so thankful, I did do my research because we actually had a great time despite the number of people and the cold weather. Even though we didn’t hit all the items on my to-do list, we were able to navigate the crowds, enjoy minimal wait times (considering the time of year) and were prepared to make adjustments as we went along.
This was an eye-opening experience and here are a few takeaways I learned from this trip:
1. PLAN EARLY!
So yes, I decided in January/February to take MisManners to Disneyland for New Year’s Eve. When I initially looked at the package prices, they were reasonable and the payment plan made sense. I should have booked then. But believe it or not, I didn’t take my own travel agent advice, book now or pay more later! I let me skill at procrastination take over and waited until September to book. By that time, the reasonably price properties, DisneyIand Hotel and Paradise Pier were sold out and the Grand Californian Hotel was out of my budget, so I had to opt for a “Good Neighbor” hotel and purchase tickets through the military. But as I discovered, you are really only saving less than $10 a ticket with the military discount, so having paid for a package through a payment plan would have been a better option than paying outright for all of the tickets the week before our trip. Especially since it was Christmas time and it was difficult not to spend the birthday trip money on Christmas expenses. Had I done the payment plan everything would have been paid for a month before Christmas and I would have had less budget worries. Anywho, we got a decent rate at the Staybridge Suites for 4 days and 3 nights. It was a great option because of the free breakfast and daily evening receptions, as well as the full fridge, stove and sink to make our own meals. It also was easily accessible to the ART transit. What I didn’t realize until we actually started planning our itinerary, was that we didn’t need the stove at all because we ate the free breakfast each day and would be spending the entire day in the park because we didn’t want to risk not being able to get back in the park if it reached capacity. So there was no time to cook or even enjoy the evening receptions.
2. WEIGH THE COST OF STAYING OFF THE PROPERTY, VERSUS THE CONVENIENCE
If you absolutely must save money, then staying at a Good Neighbor hotel or even a condo rental may be a good option. But if you are going during one of the busy times, then staying on the property may be worth the extra money. You can purchase a 3 day ticket so you can get the hour of Magic Morning, but being extremely close to the park gives you the option of actually leaving and returning. You don’t have to worry about the extra time of waiting for the shuttle, and then navigating to your room only to have to do it all over again and wait for your shuttle to get you back to the park.
I did read a tip that if we arrived at the park 30 minutes prior to opening, we may be able to get in early because they often open the gates. Despite our plans to leave the hotel by 7 to get to the park at 7:30, both days this was a FAIL. Traveling with 2 little ones (3 & 11) they were never able to get up and actually move around prior to 6:30 am (especially after the first late night in the park). Then they had to get dressed, eat breakfast, argue like siblings do, and do whatever they can find to waste time and delay us from actually leaving. Couple that with going through the buffet line at breakfast, collecting all our things, waiting on the ART bus and finally arriving at the park, we were lucky to get there each day by 8:30 am. Which actually wasn’t the worst time because we still had about 3 hours before the park actually got packed. But I figured if we stayed on the property, we could cut down the commute time 30 minutes and maybe, just maybe risk going to our room mid-day to return in the evening refreshed and ready for part 2 of the day, instead of having to roam around the park for 12 hours because we didn’t want to run the risk of not being able to get back in.
3. STAYING OFF PROPERTY? STAY ON HARBOR DRIVE! YOU’LL THANK ME LATER.
So while the Staybridge was a great option and the clerk at the front desk was very friendly and helpful, 12 hours at Disney three days in a row can take a toll on even the most patient person’s patience. So when you are leaving the park, the very last thing you want to do is wait 45 minutes for the shuttle back to your hotel. You’ve spent probably a total of 5 hours or more in lines that day and the last line you want to wait in is the shuttle line. It was cold and rainy the first day we left the park and people were pushing trying to clamor onto the bus for fear they’d have to wait another 45 minutes for the next shuttle. Your kids will be trampled and you’ll be packed onto the bus like sardines. It appeared the Manchester route, which is the route for Staybridge runs less frequently and we had a much longer wait. While there always seemed to be buses ready to depart for Harbor Road properties. Our last day there, I was OVER it all! Despite the great service and convenience at Staybridge, this shuttle thing convinced me never to return to the Staybridge.
4. LEARN AND STUDY THE FASTPASS PROCESS
What a great idea to institute the Fastpass for attractions that usually garner a long wait. Although, I must say the lines really weren’t that bad for the rides we got on (45 minutes or less). Yes they were long, but they were constantly moving which at least made the time go by more quickly. And I have to admit, if the wait said more than 45 minutes we opted to save that ride for next time. While the Fastpass process is not perfect, and not all the rides had Fastpass options, we learned the first day that you have to strategize in order to get the best use of the passes.
We arrived at Disneyland and decided to go straight to Mickey’s Toontown so we can get the Mickey and Minnie Meet & Greet out of the way. That was a very good decision because the wait to see each of them was less than 10 minutes. Most of the tip sites said to wait until near closing time, which I’m sure was a great time too, but going early enabled us to get that out of the way and enjoy the rest of our day.
After we visited Mickey and Minnie, we grabbed Fastpasses for Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and walked around Toontown while we waited the 30 minutes to return to get on the ride. That was great! Next we decided to go visit Tomorrowland to get Fastpasses for Autopia. However when we walked through we saw a huge line for Star Tours, so we grabbed those Fastpasses instead. This was a little after noon, Our return time for that ride was 8:25 that evening. Because we had those passes, we couldn’t pull another Fastpass until 3:20 pm!! Which meant we had to either find short lines for the next 3 hours or waste time in long lines for the next 3 hours. Add that to the fact, we bought the Fantasmic Dining Plan to get the Fastpass for the 8:45 Fantasmic Show, so chances were we couldn’t use the Fastpass for Star Tours anyway. That was a lesson learned. Don’t just willy nilly grab Fastpasses. We should have done the shorter lines first or gone and got Star Tours as soon as we entered the park to get an earlier return time.
5. THE FANTASMIC FASTPASS DINING OPTION IS TOTALLY WORTH IT
Although, we didn’t get to see Fantasmic because it was cancelled due to the rain and wind, the convenience of it all was worth it. We made reservations at Aladdin’s Oasis for the On-the-Go meal. When we arrived, we were given about 3 adult meal options and 2 kids meal options. For $19.99 for the adult and $13.99 for the kids, you get your meal, dessert and a drink. For Disneyland food prices, it really was a great value. I think the On-the-Go meal option was new because there wasn’t a line when we arrived and it seemed that everyone there was trying to figure it out like us.Although it was a to-go-meal, we ate it in the restaurant that was nearly empty, so we didn’t have to fight for a table. We got the baked chicken with green beans and salad. It was surprisingly tasty. The chicken was grilled and not dried out and actually seasoned. Now, this was by no means a 5 star cuisine, but for theme park meals and the cost, it was a tasty option. (Please note the girls thought the cookie was disgusting though… I guess it was the purple icing. lol) Had we been able to enjoy our Fastpasses, it would have been even better.
6. PACK SNACKS TO ENJOY WHILE AT THE PARK
This was probably one of the best tips I found. I was not aware that you could take food and drink into the park until I read it on one of the tips sites I found. So we decided to eat dinner in the park each day and to pack snacks and sandwiches for lunch. The original plan was to get a locker so we wouldn’t have to drag the food through the park. But I’m glad we opted to pack our backpacks with food. We were able to eat our snacks and sandwiches in line while we waited. This was great for MisManners because she was able to enjoy a snack and have some juice which distracted her from the torture of waiting our turn.
7. LINE UP AT LEAST 30 MINUTES PRIOR TO YOUR FASTPASS RETURN TIME FOR FANTASMIC AND WORLD OF COLOR!
With the rain and wind during our Disneyland day, we heard rumblings of Fantasmic being cancelled. We asked several cast members who said they knew for sure the fireworks show was cancelled, bummer, but hadn’t gotten word definitely regarding Fantasmic. So we decided to roam around until we were absolutely sure. We had passes for the 8:45 show that said return between 7:45 and 8:45 for the show. We ended up riding some rides that took a little longer, but since we had Fastpasses, I wasn’t really concerned about arriving exactly at 7:45. In fact I thought we could let the line die down a little and arrive by 8 and be okay. WRONG! At 8, we got in line that snaked, twisted and turned a million times and was extremely long. We stood in line about 15 minutes and then they informed us the show had indeed been cancelled.
The next day at California Adventure Park, we get Fastpasses for the 8:45 World of Color show. Again, I decided we could loosely return at 8:00 instead of 7:45 for the show since we had the Fastpasses, WRONG. While we didn’t have to wait in line, the area was so crowded and we ended up behind a bunch of people making it nearly impossible for the little ones to see anything. The images are projected low, so if you’re not going to be in front, don’t even waste your time trying to get a spot to see anything. Of what we were able to see, it was a great show, but highly disappointing for the little ones who couldn’t see a thing. Lesson learned, start lining up at 7.
So after 3 days at Disneyland Resort, we actually survived. No one got lost, we all did something fun and most importantly we created great memories for MisManner’s third birthday! What will I do differently? I will opt to stay at a property hotel, I will definitely get the 3 day passes, probably not the hopper passes, but we can do one park each day and then decide which park we want to revisit for the third day. We will strategize to make sure we can get in all the rides we don’t want to miss and we will get in line EARLY for the Fantasmic and World of Color shows. We got the Made with Magic ears for the girls that sync with the light shows and that was exciting to see them enjoy the “Magic.”
We all had a ball and are already planning our next trip in the Spring!!!