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DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)


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  • Trip Report DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)

    After years of trying to fit in a DL trip, we finally made it happen. Turns out my Dad wanted to take my sister's kids to Disneyland, and he invited my wife and I along. I tried to talk them into picking a different time of year other than Christmas, but my kid sister is a teacher and only had Christmas Break available this year...

    As a bit of background - I haven't been to the DL resort in over 10 years, and my wife hasn't been for nearly 15. School, careers, other vacation desires, etc., have kept us away, and we really needed a compelling reason to head down there. I've always been a big DL fan and have stayed up to date on the news, etc., in the interim, but this trip was my first real chance to get feet on the ground and check out all the new stuff for myself. It was also my first trip as an adult... changes things a bit too!

    Anyhoo, with the expectation of busy crowds in mind, and the hope of a few quiet days, we made our travel plans to head south. From our island in Alaska this is a bit of an endeavor - 3500 miles, 3 planes and 20 hours of travel in total for us to get there. My Dad and sister live in Washington State, thankfully they only had one flight and a little bit of a drive.

    We left for the airport at about 3:30pm on Christmas Eve and found that they had moved us onto the 4:30pm flight, which was quite a bit earlier than anticipated and we had to rush around to finish a few last minute details. We made it back to the airport just in time for boarding and started the first leg of our trip to Anchorage, grabbed dinner, then boarded a flight to Portland, grabbed breakfast, and continued on to Orange County. We had hoped to sleep on the flights, but that didn't happen. There was a medical emergency on our first flight, and a very annoying guy on the other that kept heckling our flight attendant.

    We hit the Santa Ana / John Wayne / Orange County / Whateverthehellyoucallit airport at about 9:30am on Christmas Day, a few minutes earlier than scheduled and collected our luggage. A quick taxi ride brought us to the Anaheim Hilton, where the kind front desk staff let us check in early at about 10am. I had some energy reserves somewhere and felt like heading over to DL, and my wonderful wife agreed, provided we took a minute to change clothes and get settled in.

    After getting unpacked, we took the ART shuttle over to DL and started our first day at 11:30am on Christmas Day. Given the lack of rest and long travel times, we planned to only stay for a few hours then head back to the hotel and get some sleep. We grabbed fast passes for Indy right away, then walked over to Splash Mountain and had about a 15 minute wait. My wife hadn't been on Splash in 15+ years, and it had been at least 10 for me - still one of our favorite rides, and we thought it was an awesome way to start our first day. Every bit as fun as I remembered.

    After Splash we hit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, and then used our Indy fastpasses. The fastpass line was a mess - stretching back to the entrance for Tarzan's Treehouse. It was a definite sign of things to come.

    We called it quits right around 3pm, then headed back to the hotel. I called my dad and sister to make sure that they made it in and made plans to meet them at 7:30am the following morning, then fell soundly asleep. Slept good for at least a few hours, but after a bit of rest I started getting excited for the next day and kept waking up every 30-45 minutes to look at the clock. Sigh.

    My lovely wife was sleeping much better than I and elected to sleep in late, while I woke up at 6:30am and headed over to the park. I met up with my sister, niece, nephew and dad at 7:30am, and then we hit Disneyland at opening in what would become a massive tour-de-force. By 6pm or so, we managed to work through every major attraction at least twice (Indy, PoC, Space, Splash, ToT, HMH), caught the 3D shows (HISTA and MV3D), and tacked on a few random rides for good measure (Pooh, Monsters Inc, Autopia, Star Tours). Sister, Dad and kids left at around 6pm and my wife and I rode a few more rides (Indy, and Pirates) then caught the 10:30pm Fantasmic. After Fantasmic we rode the DLRR over to Fantasyland and walked onto Matterhorn for an awesome nighttime ride. Called it a night at 11pm after 15 hours in DL and DCA.

    Crowds were heavy the entire time, but a lot of flexibility and efficient use of Fastpass let us do more than I've ever managed to do in a single Disney day. It was exhausting, but a blast. I don't think we waited more than 15-20 minutes for anything.

    Managed to forget about eating dinner and ended up ordering pizza at the hotel at 1am. Oops.


    I was pretty burnt out from the night before, but was still having trouble sleeping and woke up around 7:30am again. Walked back to the park at about 8:30am or so, and knocked out Mr. Toad's wild ride and Teacups solo before meeting up with my Dad, Sister and the kiddos to hammer out a few more rides. Astro Blasters still had a short line and we were in the area grabbing Space Mountain fast passes, so we made sure to take a spin through. This was my second time and I managed to score 915k and the #2 spot on the leader board for the day, and was pretty stoked (at least until later in the afternoon when I had been kicked down a few notches!). I know I can break 1million next time, easy =) Nephew had something like 27k... we need to work on his aim.

    My wife met us again for our noon Rainforest Cafe reservation and we had a nice lunch before the girls split to go to Sephora for some make-up shopping. We had foolishly ditched the stroller at the TL monorail station and had to go back to pick it up, much to the dismay of my nephew who's feet had started to bug him considerably. Lines inside of DL were ridiculous, and we ended up walking back to the entry plaza to meet up with the girls and give the kiddos feet a rest.

    My exhaustion from the previous day finally caught up with me, and by 2:30pm or so I was ready to call it quits. My wife and I said goodbye for the day to the kiddos, Dad and Sister, and headed back to the hotel for a nap. Wife ended up grabbing a massage over at Gardenwalk while I slept, and then we had a rockin dinner at the Ruth Chris Steakhouse. Cowboy Ribeye FTW.

    Wife had been begging me to sleep in for a day, and we finally accomplished that on the 28th. We rolled out of bed around 10:00am or so to get ready, and made it into the park by 11:00am or so to catch our PS reservation for Blue Bayou. We passed Pirates on our way, and the line was stretched all the way out to the HM and doubled back on itself. Insane.

    After lunch we used fastpasses to catch BTMRR, Splash and Space again with the family, then my wife headed back to the hotel while I went over to DCA again with the rest of the group. We hit the Golden Zephyr and SS Rustworthy, and found a great spot in the entry plaza to watch the Pixar Play! Parade. Kids loved it - now that's a parade!

    Afterwards it was approaching 6:00pm or so and we headed back into Disneyland to see what was going on. Lines were terrifying again, and the place was wall to wall people. Tiki Room was uncrowded, so we ducked in there and caught the show. We had intended on checking on BTMRR/Splash or HM fastpasses, but the Rivers of America area was jam packed to the hilt. Dad had mentioned that they wanted to stay for the fireworks, and it was clear that large numbers of people were already camping the area for the 9pm Fantasmic!. After a little bit of hemming and hawing, we parked ourselves on the rail behind the French Market light tower and decided to wait it out - kids were tired anyway and it gave them a chance to rest. Not much of a chance to ride anything in the area anyway - Fastpasses were either on 3 hour + return times (if available at all), and standby times were 1 hour + for everything but Pooh in that area. And forget about moving anywhere - it took me 15 minutes to make it to the Pirates bridge from the French Market, even cutting through the NOS

    Wife and I stayed with the family until about 8:15pm, then bugged out before the Fantasmic! crowds really started settling in. I left Dad and Sister with instructions to hit the train as soon as the fireworks ended for the easiest way out of the park, which turned out to be an excellent plan. Can we say gridlock?

    Checked in with Dad and Sister the next day - they all loved Fantasmic! and the fireworks, and the spot we picked for them gave everyone (including the 7 year old nephew) an excellent view. My 4 year old niece managed to sleep through both Fantasmic! and the fireworks... she must have been exhausted.

    My wife and I had set this day aside as an "us" day, and spent most of our time relaxing at the hotel and not worrying about a whole lot. Prior to the trip, we had made a reservation at the Napa Rose for the Chef's Counter, and had a wonderful meal. By this time I had caught a bit of a cold and my taste buds weren't as active as I would have liked, but it was still great. Sat next to a great older couple and had pleasant conversation throughout the meal.

    After our 2.5 hour + meal, we headed into DCA in an attempt to take advantage of shorter line times prior to park closing. I guessed correctly - by 8:30pm the parade route was packed and very few people were standing in line. In the last hour and a half DCA was open we hit California Screamin, Mickey's Fun Wheel, the Maliboomer, and Soarin' Over California. Had a great trip on the Fun Wheel - just my wife and I in one of the swinging gondolas, and the fireworks started just as we boarded. Was fun watching the fireworks from the wheel!


    This was our day to check out of the hotel and start our trip back home, so we had only planned on heading to the park for an hour or two. We ran inside DCA around 12:30pm to try to find fastpasses for either ToT or California Screamin, but the ToT Fastpass was already for 5pm. Screamin had a 2:00pm return time, so we grabbed that and headed into DL to do some shopping and have ice cream. We also checked on Alice, but the (laughably) light "rain" closed the ride. My wife and I checked out the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk through, which was very enjoyable and not crowded at all. Afterwards we headed back into DCA and used our fastpasses for California Screamin'. What a great coaster.

    Crowds were much lighter in both parks then they had been in the previous days, but everyone looked miserable. What was obviously a nasty winter day in SoCal = a decent summer day for us.

    Whew... k... next post with a few thoughts from the trip.
    ** Oldschool A.D.D. Brigade **
    -- Keeper of the Main Street Corn Dogs -

  • #2
    Re: DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)

    Anaheim Hilton:
    We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Anaheim Hilton. We were originally booked at the BW Park Place Inn, and Dad/Sister and the Kids were booked at the Park Vue next door. They ended up changing to a different hotel, and we decided to look at what else was out there. Ended up booking a suite at the Hilton for $50 less a night than the PPI, and it's a much nicer hotel. Room was huge, comfortable, modern, and well-kept. Service was excellent. Good food options at the hotel, and friendly front desk staff was able to make suggestions in the wee hours of the morning when the hotel options were closed.

    A couple very minor gripes:
    • Towel rack is inside the shower, so you need to pull the towels out before you hop in.
    • Water temperature is kid-safe, so if you're a fan of scalding hot 120 degree showers, you'll be disappointed. If you don't like medium-rare poached children, I suppose this is a plus =)
    • ART shuttle sucks, but the walk is nice and only takes about 15 minutes. It can be shortened if you head directly north to the Lion King lot (?) and take the DL tram the rest of the way. Even with the construction in the area they were keeping that tram area open.

    Only real negative for us (and it wasn't a big deal) was that the pool area closes at 11pm, and there's no late-night option for a hot tub soak, which the leg muscles and back would have appreciated. I totally understand why they're doing this - the pool area is surrounded by rooms and the noise would be disturbing. It would be nice to have an adult-only area for later in the night, or an indoor adult area. Lots of parents using the hot-tubs as mini-super heated swimming pools for the 3 and 4 year olds. I'll take mine without urine, thanks.

    DL / DCA Thoughts:

    • Haunted Mansion Holiday - Wife and I both hated it, and we're big NBC fans. It's not that the ride itself sucks; but it's an overlay on an excellent attraction that succeeds on its own merits. I think we both just really wanted to ride the original HM, and this doesn't come anywhere close to filling that desire. Black lights and fluorescent paint don't really do it for me...
    • Space Mountain - last time I rode it was with the Dick Dale soundtrack. I love the new Space Mountain. It's darker inside and you can't see the track anymore. My nephew was perplexed on how the ride was possible; he's pretty down to earth, but without being able to see the tracks he was convinced that we were flying through space until he was told otherwise.
    • DCA - Construction walls are annoying as heck, but overall I thought DCA was enjoyable. First trip to DCA for both my wife and I, and we thought it made a nice addition to Disneyland.
    • Tower of Terror - Awesome ride. 4 year old niece loved it, 7 year old nephew had mixed feelings about it. Was terrified after we rode it the first time, but wanted to go again the next day. Such a nice overall package: good theming, nice story, excellent effects, and thrilling as all heck!
    • Monsters Inc - the smell of pickled ginger in the sushi bar is such a nice touch. Took me by surprise and really added an awesome extra element to the ride.
    • California Screamin - Awesome!
    • Maliboomer - We walked on; I wouldn't wait in line for it though. Too short.
    • Fantasmic! Holy poopschnizzle, the dragon is awesome! I had little tears throughout almost the entire show, Fantasmic has always been my favorite entertainment offering and will continue to be for a very long time. Incredible.
    • Every CM we encountered was very friendly and helpful. Massive kudos to you guys for maintaining the spirit during such a busy week!

    So I was hoping that the Holiday season wouldn't bring in massive crowds to DL, and I was dead wrong. It was insane nearly every day we were there (the 28th and 29th were definetly the worst.) IMHO, they need to cut back a bit on the number of people they're allowing into the park. When Indy is at a 2.5 hour wait time and the fastpass return is stretched out to Tarzan's treehouse, there's a problem. When CMs are having to pull crowd control in Adventureland 12 hours a day, there's a problem. When the Pirates queue wraps around to HMH and isn't discernible from the HMH queue (which is wrapped to the French Market), there's a problem. When you can't move between Critter Country and Frontierland because of Tiana's Showboat Jubilee, there's a problem. When traffic comes to a standstill multiple times a day on Main Street / NOS due to Christmas Fantasy Parade / Fireworks / Fantasmic!/ Whatever, there's a problem.

    The savvy can figure out how to navigate insane crowds and still hit a big pile of rides, but it's a tremendous amount of work, and it's just not all that pleasant to be in crowds of that size. There's a certain portion of the guest population that isn't helping matters at all either...

    Line Cutters / Crowd Plowers:
    Okay, seriously. If you're standing in a lengthy line, it is NOT ACCEPTABLE for you to call your extended family on your cell phone and tell them you're about to enter the show building and to come join you in line. This happened in nearly every long line we were in (Space, Splash, Pirates, Soarin', Screamin'), often multiple times. It wasn't someone simply ducking out because they needed to use the restroom - this was a concerted effort to send one person into the line to hold a place while the other members of the group did something else, and this was confirmed through the cell phone chatter.

    And what's with plowing through a massive group of people? At least 3 times when we were in a bottle necked area, we saw a group of several teens that thought it was a brilliant idea to just start shoving their way forward, linked together arm in arm, snaking through the entire mess and parting the crowd a la Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments. Little buggers were literally digging their way through with their elbows, oblivious to everyone around them and not even noticing that they were making the situation far worse.

    Grrrr... and in the Disney Spirit no one said anything and allowed the behavior to continue . I don't blame the CMs one bit (realistically, there was nothing they could do anyway in most cases) - but man, if you ever want to see people behaving badly, just toss them into a crowd.

    Merchandise / Food:
    When I was younger, I never had enough money when we went to DL. There was always something I wanted to buy, and I spent a ton of money on food. I was usually broke by time I left. This trip we had the financial resources where we didn't need to worry about what we were spending, but we certainly didn't spend much while inside the park, and there are a few reasons why:
    • Merchandise options suck. I bought a Sorcerer Mickey antenna ball and $20 worth of Lego sets for my desk at work. There wasn't anything else I was interested in. We looked at various clothing - a lot of it was either in a design we didn't like, or it was obviously of cheap manufacture. My wife specifically wanted a v-neck disneyland shirt of some sort, but couldn't find one in any of the park shops. I was after coffee-table quality books about Disneyland, Imagineering, or the various Disney Parks, similar to the first Imagineering book I picked up 10 years ago. I would have settled for a nice recipe book, foods from the park book... something along those lines. What I found were cheap paper bound copies that I had very little interest in. Disneyana's book selection has gone to crap. Wife of course had a blast at Sephora... but that doesn't really count. None of the stores in DTD really captured my interest.
    • I'm not going to wait in line 20 minutes for a hot dog. Sorry, just not going to happen. I would rather go hungry for a couple hours than stand around waiting. On several of the days we'd find ourselves wanting to eat, but weren't hungry enough to want to deal with the hassle of waiting in line. We'd do other things while keeping an eye out on the food options we wanted, but in most cases the lines didn't thin out before we left the park. And once we were out of the park, there were lots of other options that didn't have long lines.

    For all the armchair speculation that Disney is seeing reduced revenue inside of the parks, you'd think they'd be working a bit harder to encourage spending. It seems like what's happening is that they have a very large amount of people spending small amounts of money, which certainly works and is a successful business model, and probably the right one in this economy.

    But if I can't spend enough time inside of the Disney Gallery to get attached to that $1000 collectible and want to purchase it, it's not going to be sold. I don't like being elbowed and plowed into with strollers while I'm contemplating a purchase, and I don't make large purchases on a whim.

    I hope I haven't come across as disgruntled - these are merely my observations as an infrequent visitor. I don't like crowds, never have, and I realize we went at the most crowded time of the year. If I had a say in the dates, I would have picked different ones =) I do believe that Disney needs to do a bit more to limit the crowds during peak times. They're obviously making money hand over fist when it's busy like this, but the guest experience is taking a savage beating.

    Bottom line: it was a fun trip, we had a blast, rode every ride we wanted (most 4-5 times) and had a great time doing so. We knew the crowds were going to be a nightmare going into this and mitigated things as much as we could to ensure that we still had a good time and didn't get stuck in any crazy lines. In the 6 days we spent in DL/DCA, my wife and I waited in one 45 minute line (for Space without a FP), and the rest of the time had 15-20 minute waits. I consider that a success for such a busy period of the year, at least in terms of the attractions we experienced and the shows we were able to catch. Most of the tricks I learned from visits as an AP in 1998/1999 still worked, and I kept our group bouncing from one attraction to the next.

    My only real complaint is that with so many people in the parks, staying out of lines becomes a battle of time-management and planning, so much so that I think it really detracts from the overall experience. I suppose that's the trade-off; you can take it easy and spend huge amounts of time waiting in line, or you can keep a massive amount of info in your head, manage multiple fastpass windows, average ride wait times, show planning, traffic flow problems, etc, and minimize the time you spend waiting around.

    For the smiles on the niece and nephew's faces, it was worth it.
    Last edited by adowarf; 12-31-2009, 10:36 PM.
    ** Oldschool A.D.D. Brigade **
    -- Keeper of the Main Street Corn Dogs -


    • #3
      Re: DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)

      Thanks a whole bunch for a great report. Seeing a good detailed review from a non-frequent visitor is especially good.


      • #4
        Re: DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)

        Thank you for sharing your trip report! I'm sorry that you had to go when it was so busy though
        sigpic...After a YEAR I finally was able to figure out my password again! I'm baaack! Woohoo!(:
        Disney is my life <3
        Thank Walt for all he did! <3
        Future Imagineer <3
        Keep Disney the way Walt intended it!!


        • #5
          Re: DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)

          Thanks for a great trip report and truly spot on observations!!
          Good morning, son
          In twenty years from now
          Maybe we'll both sit down and have a few beers
          And I can tell you 'bout today
          And how I picked you up and everything changed
          It was pain
          Sunny days and rain
          I knew you'd feel the same things...



          • #6
            Re: DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)

            Good info and details. Great TR!


            • #7
              Re: DL/DCA Trip Report 12/25 - 12/30 (Long)

              Agreed with others great report! I will say though that you couldnt be TOO suprised DLR would be busy during Christmas since I heard its always been that way. But of course I know you didnt have a choice eitherway.

              End of the day though, it sounds like you guys willing to do everything, so I'm happy for that!


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