I highly recommend having friends in California. We road-trip to LA in the winter so we can hang out with awesome friends, escape the cold weather, and take advantage of the many natural resources this western state offers. That’s right, I’m talking about theme parks.
It’s a long drive but my kids are great on the road and it’s cheaper than four airplane tickets and a rental car; and I’ve never met a pull-out sofa I didn’t like. My friends are Disney pros, living less than an hour away and having held season’s passes for three years. Because I have a friend who insisted on knowing the blow-by-blow, I am inflicting my Disney-daze on you. And I’m driving through Nevada and have nothing better to do. You can stop reading now.
Virgil (not her real name) approaches Disney like the invasion of Normandy. Everything had to be prepped the night before: Snacks – check. Phone – charged. Mousewait line tracker – loaded on iPhone. Stroller – in the trunk. Clothes laid out, sunscreen, jackets, hats, passes – check, check, check. FYI, even if you don’t have a young child, it’s worth bringing a stroller anyway. You can load all your bulky crap into it and park it anywhere. It’s like bringing a minivan.
We were out of the house by 6:30am and arrived just as the gates opened. Our first stop was Tomorrowland. We picked up a FastPass for Space Mountain and breezed into Star Tours, my favorite ride from last year and notorious for a long wait. To calm the savages, Disney issues FastPasses which assigns you a time when you can bypass the regular line and zip to the front. If you play your cards right, you’ll work FastPass rides into your schedule, saving the line waiting for shorter lines or rides that don’t offer them.
Casey was identified on Star Tours (1) as a rebel in disguise and his image was projected onto the screen. I have never seen him smile so big. It’s one of those rides where the chairs shift in tandem with a 3-D movie. You barely move but the overall effect is spectacular. We unloaded and got on Buzz Lightyear (2) to assuage the younger riders and because there was a short line. Space Mountain (3) was next, my nemesis. It scared the shit out of me when I was eleven but it’s growing on me. We booked over to Matterhorn (4 – no FastPasses for this ride) and endured the 40 minute wait.
To Disney’s credit they make sure you are always moving, so even if you are in an interminable line, you have the sensation of forward progress even if you are just doubling back on yourself. I kept waiting to load into a cattle squeezing device a la Temple Grandin’s slaughterhouse soother. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (5) was next, because it was there, and then It’s A Small World (6). Who knew you could make it even more irritating by adding Christmas music? FYI, we went on January 2nd. Why are we still listening to Christmas music?
Pirates of the Caribbean (7) came next. Virgil pointed out the restaurant inside the ride, the suite you could rent out for a billion dollars, and the super exclusive Club 33. What I want to know is how much does it cost to fuck Snow White? You know that kind of shit happens.
We FastPassed Big Thunder (8, and Virgil’s favorite ride) and stopped for lunch. If you have to buy food at Disney, stay in the French Quarter. The gumbo/chili/baked potatoes are passable and much better than the fare in Tomorrowland. V’s husband joined us for lunch and informed us that the Indiana Jones ride’s FastPasses are pushed all the way to 6:30. It has been closed for six months and was in high demand. Micah wasn’t tall enough to ride last year and Casey made sure he knew exactly what he was missing. There was no way we could leave without doing it. Virgil grabbed our tickets to get FastPasses (8:45! Ohmygodthat’sfivehoursaway) while the boys explored Tom Sawyer’s Island (9) and some pirate thing (10).
I lucked out and stayed dry on Splash Mountain (11). Virgil swallowed her pride and wore a hefty bag because she wouldn’t chance freezing to death in wet jeans. Micah was deeply troubled by the lack of safety restraints. Disney makes no sense. Some rides have bars that lower automatically over your lap. The Matterhorn has seat belts that don’t release until the ride stops. I got used to putting my hands above my head so an employee could made sure I was buckled up. But Splash Mountain, a ride that has in my opinion, an almost free-fall drop, has no restraints whatsoever.
Since we missed the boat on the Indiana Jones FastPass, we had A LOT of time to kill. We checked out Tarzan’s Treehouse (12, I totally want one in my back yard) and rode the Jungle Safari Cruise (13). The line was unbelievable. We snaked around, went in a building, went up the stairs, doubled back and went back down the stairs. The only people more dispirited than us were the folks waiting for Indiana Jones, a 100 minute wait. Jesus. Why did I hype that ride to Micah?
There was a Lincoln show (14) in the big theater on Main Street. Lincoln? It can’t be as boring as it sounds, but it was. It was a bizarre “show” where a life-size animatronic Abraham Lincoln mouthed excerpts from famous speeches while a pitcher of water languished uselessly on a table next to him. The upside was that Casey fell asleep. If the seats reclined and the “show” had been longer, it would have been a great place for everyone to nap.
We left the ride portion of the park and entered into Collect-Them-All-Land. The Virgils recommended a pizza place and since we had time on our hands, why not get off our aching dogs? If you are even considering wearing anything but the most comfortable sneakers you own, think again. I’d love to know how many miles I walked that day. We enjoyed a bottle of wine and pizza while the kids were entertained by a balloon tying lady. I would have done anything to go home then but we had to do Indiana.
Back in the park we waited in a very long line for Peter Pan (15) which Casey and Micah both exclaimed, “Was that it?!” upon disembarking. I even talked the boys into checking out Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (16) because it was inside and I didn’t dress warmly enough. The boys didn’t mind the cold but I was freezing. SB was pretty lame. It was little more than a series of dioramas.
We rode the Merry-Go-Round (17) because we had time to kill and then took a load off at the Enchanted Tiki Room (18). The pineapple fluff has to be one of my favorite things about Disney. The singing bird/flower/totem show was extra delightful this time around, perhaps because I was grateful that I wasn’t standing in line. And because it was 8:00 and we were about to be released from our torment.
The ticket taker took mercy and let us in the FastPass line even though we were 30 minutes early. We zipped up to the head of the Indiana Jones (19) line giddy with anticipation. The ride was worth the wait and we left feeling like we had done it all. So big note to the neophyte, don’t save the best for last. Do the big rides first, save the little ones for after it’s late and many people have cleared out. Anyone who is there after dark is going to be older and wanting to do the fun rides.
We didn’t get home until 10:30 and had to prop the kids up to brush their teeth. I did the math and it worked out to less than $5 an attraction. Disney is an expensive day but we didn’t buy one piece of collectible crap and brought our own snacks. $5 a ride is cheaper than the rinky-dink carnival that comes to Boulder which charges $8 for four minutes on the bungie trampoline and $1 to go down a stupid blow-up slide.
Disney wasn’t as exciting for me the second time around, we had done it all before. Next year we’ll try something different, like Yosemite.