March 8, 2010

Disney: Day One (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the FastPass)...

Today was our first day in Disneyland. Today was the culmination of years of dreaming and months of planning. Today was perfect. Except for the part where we were almost arrested by the Disney cops and thrown out on our ears. Before the park even opened. Let me explain...

We woke up extremely early today because, well, let's get real, WE WERE GOING TO FREAKIN' DISNEYLAND! It's hard to describe the excitement you feel as you walk toward the gates of Disneyland, the music piping in from hidden speakers along the walkway. It was pretty overwhelming, all of us walking along, hand-in-hand, all vibrating at more-or-less the same frequency of exhilaration. The kids were so excited I thought they weren't going to actually make it to the park, but rather they'd just explode all over the various hotel shuttle buses parked along our route.

The gates opened at 8:30 a.m. and we knew we wanted to be at the gates by 7:45 because that's what RideMax recommended for optimal line placement. (Click on the link for RideMax and read about it, it really works!) We ended-up first in line at our particular gate and once we were allowed in, we hung around and took a few pictures in front of the Mickey flower mural. Unfortunately, this put us way back from the front of the roped-off area at the head of Main Street where they hold everyone until the park officially opens at 9:00. This was bad because we needed to get to the Peter Pan ride before the rest of the crowd as it is one of about a half-dozen or so attractions that fill up at opening, each maintaining massive lines until closing. Missing it by mere moments can mean an hour or more in line if you want to see it.

To remedy our poor starting position, we relied on a tip gleaned from RideMax which stated that you can enter a store during this time and walk all the way down to the end of Main Street because all the stores are connected to one another. The part I apparently didn't read was that you are supposed to wait at the last door until opening. Instead, we just walked through the door, blissfully unaware that the only people who should be where we stood were those who had reservations for birthday breakfasts at the near-by restaurant. As a result, we ended-up in the park abouty twenty minutes before the official opening and about 100 yards ahead of the crowd. (The picture to the left of this paragraph was taken from our vantage point as Disney lawbreakers.)

It was obvious right away that this was not something that should be happening, so, like any good Mouse-fearing citizens would do, we pretended to be waiting in line with the birthday goers and we just kept letting any legit customers into the line ahead of us. The only trouble was all the customers who were supposed to be there had on special badges that identified them as being legit. Really big, obvious badges, but we continued to mingle, even as the line of breakfast-goers dwindled away to almost none. We kept our heads and managed to avoid the Disney PD right up until about two minutes before the official opening. At that point a grizzled Disney smokey came along and decided to ask if we were going into the breakfast festivities. We could tell he wasn't happy when we said, "No, sir," but, to his credit, he simply told us we would need to stay put until the official opening rather than roughing us up and tossing us out. We replied that we had been planning on doing just that and he let us off with a steely-eyed gaze and a no-nonsense, "Have a nice day." A very close call, indeed!

So, the park opened and we headed for the Peter Pan Ride. We weren't the first, but we were pretty close! The ride was even more amazing than I remember from my first trip as a kid...the Disney designers and artists are unbelievable. The trip through Peter Pan took about three minutes and, when we emerged back into the sunlight, there were easily 300 people in the line-up...and it stayed that way until closing. Thanks RideMax!

One thing that became quite clear very early on was that utilizing the FastPass system is the only way to really get the most out of the park. Another thing that became quite clear very early on was the fact that hardly anyone else in the park seemed to understand the benefits of the FastPass system. How it works is you don't simply go stand-in line and wait with all the unwashed masses, instead, you pick up a FastPass ticket which gives you a window of time in which to return, present your FastPass, and thereby by-pass the entire line-up. The real secret, however, is that even if your FastPass ticket's window of opportunity has come and gone, they will still be accepted no questions asked. For those rides that offer FastPasses, essentially, it's a golden ticket allowing you to walk passed all the sweating, angry slobs waiting in line practically anytime you feel like it. You can only get so many at a time, but if you plan your day out properly, you'll never have to stand in a line for more than a few minutes all day. Our RideMax itinerary even told us the ideal times to pick-up our FastPasses. Fool proof!

FastPass availability or no, we hit all the big, classic attractions the place has to offer: Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan, Star Tours and more...most more than once. The kids loved them all and we all thought things couldn't get any better...until we went on The Indiana Jones ride. The Indiana Jones ride, my friends is, quite simply, the best amusement park attraction ever made. Ev-er. We rode it three times, which was as many as our FastPasses would let us get away with, and I'm sure we would have ridden it another three if the park stayed open later than 8:00 p.m. It perfectly captures the balance between thrills and humour that Raiders of the Lost Ark did so well. We liked it, it was better than Cats!

We closed down the park with a trip down Splash Mountain and we walked back to the HoJo's in an exhausted daze. A daze under the influence of which, I might add, I am currently writing this post, so errors be damned! I have to go to bed now because it's either that or I pass out on the laptop. Just one last comment about how amazing it is to be experiencing these fantastic sights I enjoyed as a kid, only now seeing them through the eyes of my own children. I found myself tearing up every now and then during the day as the emotion of it all kept creeping up behind me and smacking me in the back of the head. I couldn't have asked for a better day than today. The Happiest Place on Earth? Well, right now that just happens to be this hotel room.

Tomorrow: The Mouse 2: Electric Boogaloo!

Posted by Sean at 11:55 PM
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