February 16, 2015

Disneyland for Beginners

Planning that Spring Break or Summer vacation to Disneyland to celebrate its 60th year Anniversary? It's a great choice- as long as you do a bit of thinking and some planning ahead of time. Especially if you are a first time guest, these tips will be well worth reading and following.

I grew up by Disneyland, and I have been there at the busiest times of the year as well as the least crowded. I know all the best ways to get around the crowds, with and without Fast Pass. So, here are my recommendations: Disneyland for Beginners- Summertime Version.

Research in advance. It's an ugly truth now at the Disney parks, a must-do if you want to experience as much as possible. Use the official Disneyland Resort website to check out park operating hours, special events, and particularly the attraction refurbishment list. Disneyland looks terrific for her age! There's a reason though. Park attractions are updated and maintained on a regular basis. You've probably heard of the most famous attractions and want to make sure you see them. Depending on the timing of your visit, one or more could be down for enhancements. It's likely the earlier in the year you visit, as the park leaders want to make sure she looks her best by the time of the big Summer crowds.

Once you're settled on the timing of your visit and have done a bit of research on what is happening at the park, these are your next steps: The best and most important piece of advice I can give you is  1- Buy your tickets the night before, making sure you pick up a park map. Know where you are headed in advance. 2- Get there before the park officially opens. If you accept these ideas as necessary truths, you'll be able to visit most of the popular attractions without waiting in the line for too long. If you don't, you can still see a handful of major attractions, but you will spend a good portion of your time waiting in line for the privilege of doing so.

The most impressive attractions to experience. These are the ones that are "classic" Disneyland; the ones you've heard about:

Indiana Jones Adventure*

Peter Pan's Flight*
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Haunted Mansion
It's a Small World
Space Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain
Splash Mountain

* Choose one of these as your first adventure of the day. The one you don't choose will be worth your wait later in the day.

If you are going in mid-summer, and the crowds will be heavy, the opening time is 8:00am, but get to the front gate by about 7:15am.

Let me suggest this pattern to follow so that you see the most you can. C'mon everybody, here we go!

If you choose Indiana Jones Adventure, walk right down Main Street and take an immediate left into Adventureland. Keep walking until you reach the Indiana Jones Adventure, just around the bend from the world famous Jungle Cruise. This is Disneyland's last "E ticket" attraction and one of my favorites. If you like the movies, you'll love this.  An out of control runaway jeep ride through an ancient cursed temple. Regardless of the line length, if you go first thing in the morning, go here first. If you can, do take the time to go through the queue and do not bypass it. The Disney Imagineers created lots to see along the way, including a couple of rooms that have been booby-trapped.

Special note: if you have an infant, ask to do the "Baby Swap". One parent rides while the other waits and then reverses the procedure. This method is also in use at other attractions, particularly the Disney Mountains (roller coasters).

Once you get off Indy's adventure, you should go straight to Peter Pan's Flight in Fantasyland through the Castle, but instead can do one of a couple of things if you want to ride Indy again: 1- Go to the entrance and find the attendant. Tell them you are "single riders". You'll get to go to the front of the line but you will not be able to ride together. They will use you to fill in jeeps with empty seats. 2- Or go to the "Fastpass" Machine. Fastpass lets you put in your admission ticket, and the machine spits out a special ticket with a time stamped on it. (Make sure you take out your admission ticket and keep it with you.) When your designated time arrives, take your ticket to the Fastpass line. You'll get to walk by most of the crowd. This is important. You need one Fastpass ticket for each person. You have a one hour timeframe to return or your Fastpass is not valid. (By the way, after your return time begins, you can get another Fastpass for any other ride that offers it.)

If you do not go to Disneyland early, go ride to this ride anyway and use one of the two ideas above to make sure you get a ride on Indiana Jones Adventure.

Adventure has a name!

You may choose to ride Peter Pan's Flight instead as your first attraction. A good choice especially of you are with young kids. If so, walk straight through the Castle and look to your right for the clock tower. In Fantasyland, it's the most popular "dark ride" ever. Journey in a pirate ship over the rooftops of London to Neverland. Absolutely irresistible! Then head straight to Adventureland and ride Indiana Jones or wait until later in the day, splitting up your party using the Single Rider option.

After your first attraction, walking towards Indiana Jones, turn left and walk past Pirates of The Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion right to Critter Country and go to Splash Mountain. This long flume attraction like none other will have very long lines all day as well. You will get wet, but it is so much fun!

After riding Splash Mountain, go back the way you came in and ride The Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square. It's not scary but suspenseful and the special effects are simple yet amazing.

From there, go back to Pirates of the Caribbean. If you walk to the Treehouse, you've gone too far. This is my favorite Disney ride and one of the park's best. The Captain Jack Sparrow robots, Audio-Animatronics in Disney speak, are very lifelike- and he makes an appearance three times in the ride. Pirates is a ride where the line moves pretty fast, so even on the very busy days, the wait should be no more than 30-40 minutes.

Let me say that at this point, the crowds will start coming in. Depending on how early you are there, you may get on more rides than this before the crowds. Also, make sure you walk around and explore the shops and restaurants as well. But rides are the most important and the main reason why Disneyland is famous!

Walk out of Pirates, make a right turn and head across the park to Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland. This is a Disney roller coaster. It's not the biggest or scariest one ever, but it is very fun. If you can, ride it at nighttime, too. It's like a totally different ride. This is also a ride that uses Fastpass, by the way.

Probably by now, I am sure the crowds are there, so be prepared to wait in line. It's even a good choice to take an early lunch or a light snack. Wait to shop until late afternoon when the rights are thick with people. Or bite the bullet and get in line for the "1st attraction to see" that you did not choose.

Leave Big Thunder by taking a left and walk through the Frontierland fort across the park to Tomorrowland. You are headed to the famous Space Mountain
This is a roller coaster ride through outer space. It is also a Fastpass ride. It will have a very long line, so if you can get a Fastpass, it might be smart to do it. If you do, from there I would go to Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters at the entrance to Tomorrowland. It is a video game ride where you shoot targets as you ride along a track. (It has Fastpass as well.)

If neither of these options sound good, then head toward Fantasyland past the Matterhorn Mountain all the way back to It's a Small World. This is a very sweet musical boat ride around the world. People love it or hate it (we love it!), but it has the feel and "stamp" of Walt Disney all over it.

OK- If you've done these, you have now ridden the best in the park, but there are many more little gems to be found all over.
And make sure to check out when the fireworks show is!

Here are my suggestions for other Disneyland rides worth a look:

Matterhorn Bobsleds: the first Disneyland mountain coaster, a bobsled ride through the Swiss Mountain.

Tom Sawyer Island: an outdoor island accessed by raft. Explore caves, rock formations and more. Walt Disney designed this one himself, knowing exactly how he wanted it. 

Mark Twain Riverboat: a relaxing boat ride around the river. A classic and relaxing experience that gives you a great overview of half of the park.

Jungle Cruise: In Adventureland, a silly boat ride through tropical rivers with (fake, not real like Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida,) animals. One of the original rides from opening day in 1955. Great for little kids and full of atmosphere.

Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin: Think "tea cups and a dark ride hybrid" through the zany, toon-filled world of the movie. The lines are long, so use Fastpass if you can. See it soon as its on the chopping block as part of a massive Star Wars Land expansion to be announced later this year.

Disneyland Railroad: A train ride all around the park. Ride it all the way back to where you started. You can get on it at Main Street, New Orleans Square, Toontown or Tomorrowland. One of the best ways to really see it all.

For an extra dose of Walt Disney's influence, you've got to see the Enchanted Tiki Room and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

A thought to consider: Make your meals relaxing. Sit down, rest, and enjoy the world around you. Talk with your friends and family about what you've enjoyed. Savor the experience. There really is nothing quite like the original Disneyland. 

Stay for the fireworks! Stay for the parades! There's usually more than one parade and both are different. But most importantly, stay until its dark. That's when "Walt's park" takes on some of its most beautiful scenery. Half the fun of Disneyland is walking around and exploring.

Wish I could meet you there to personally give you the tour!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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