One of the greatest acts of parenting that I have ever witnessed happened outside of Disneyland awhile back.
A family was preparing to enter the park, looked to be grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a handful of little kids. There was a slight drizzle in the air and rain was a possibility so the family geared up with ponchos. Everyone was ready to go except for one little boy. His father lifted the poncho over the boy’s head, and a horrible scream let out of the boy. He ducked his head, stomped his feet. After a mess of violent kicks, tears, and cries from his son, the father gave up with the poncho and sat the boy down and very quietly told him, “Everyone else is ready to go to the park and I’ve been to Disneyland before. Your cousins are going to go inside and have fun but I’ll sit here with you until you calm down.”
The boy calmed down. The poncho went on. The family, reunited.
My wife and I repeat this little tale quite often when friends bring up kids and the general pain of trotting them into public places. It’s one of those human truths that make the claim of Disneyland being “the best form of birth control” seem pretty accurate.
Kids will cry. Kids will scream and fight against you, for seemingly no reason. I don’t have kids but I still know this to be true. Every restaurant with a table full of kids or an airplane loaded with a toddler or two has taught me this.
Kids are a pain in the ass.
Still, we want one. Or two. A few more names to add to our Disneyland family brick.
Do you need kids to enjoy Disneyland? Not at all. It’s a good argument that kids ruin the trip, but it could also be said that children make a visit to the Happiest Place On Earth a richer experience. I’d rather not choose a side. Not my thing. But for those heading to Anaheim sans children, here’s a few tips to make the most of the trip.
When to go?
March through May. September is good, and of course October through January if you want to get the holiday feeling that Disney does so well.
Summer? Nope. Too many kids. Rides are packed and it’s hot.
Heat + insane crowds + long lines = crying kids and upset parents.
The advantage of going kid free is that your schedule is bit looser. You’re not tied to school schedules or grandparents wanting to tag along and figuring out what ride the kids can go on or when nap time is or any that. There will be plenty of time for family trips, and those will be awesome, but to have a great time at the parks go in the off season.
How to get there?
We fly into John Wayne Airport from San Jose. Opt to rent a car rather than take a taxi. A rental from Budget will run you about $20 a day plus their random surcharges and a one way cab ride to the park is about $50 including tip.
Where to stay?
We’ve been staying at the Best Western Park Place Inn. It’s right across the street from the park. Now, most hotel websites will make that same claim, but the Park Place Inn has the advantage of the crosswalk into the park out their front door.
I have never stayed at the Grand Californian but I have heard both good and bad.
The good – you have easy access to California Adventure and if you get a room with a window overlooking the park, you get an incredible view and sneak peek at the park in the off hours.
The bad – the rooms are no different than any other hotel and if you don’t really care for the view and access, it’s not worth the few extra hundreds on the price tag.
Disneyland or California Adventure first?
We go Disneyland, straight to Indiana Jones. It’s a good loop from Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Splash Mountain. If any of these rides have huge waits (Indiana Jones will, Haunted Mansion will during the holidays, Splash Mountain will during the summer, but why are you going during the summer?*) grab a Fast Pass and do the Jungle Cruise.
Better yet, keep walking and you’ll hit the Winnie the Pooh ride. It’s right there at the exit for Splash Mountain, and an amazing ride that never has much of a wait. Plus, once you’re done, it’s probably time to grab a bottle of water and a pickle (the stand is right there!) and head back to use your Fast Pass!
Usually after this run we’ll grab a Fast Pass for Space Mountain or the Matterhorn and head to California Adventure for Tower of Terror, and if that has a long wait – grab a Fast Pass for it.
BONUS TIP! You can’t have two Fast Passes for the same park, but you can have one for each park. Take advantage of your child-free ability to bounce around willy nilly!
Is it Lunch Time or Beer O’Clock?
Well, look at that. You’re a bit hungry. That pickle hit the spot awhile ago but time for something more substantial. And possibly a beer. Good luck! You’re in California Adventure, where the booze (beer and wine, folks) runs free! (Not free, but not baseball park prices either. $9 for a Budweiser? Screw you, AT&T Park!)
In the wharf area there’s a nice food court with a variety of stuff that periodically seems to change. Also, this is where the beer cart is. Karl Strauss only, a local San Diego brewery. The other spot to buy beer is in the Hollywood Back Lot where you can get yourself a hefeweisen at Award Wieners and for the wine fans in the crowd there’s Wine Country, but that’s a bit over priced for my wallet and the food options are cheese and crackers.
Better yet? In front of the new Little Mermaid ride is Ariel’s Grotto, and above is The Cove Bar. A full bar with some pretty amazing food. The barbecue chicken pizza is as good as it gets. Lobster nachos. Sliders. Bonus if you get Kurt from Colorado as your waiter. That is one cool kid.
California Adventure has an evening show called World of Color. Usually there are two performances, one at 7PM and another at 9PM. You can get Fast Passes for this like any other ride, but the passes you get from the booths will put you in side sections, meaning, you won’t see the show straight on.
Oh, right. What is the show?
A water and light extravaganza!
The sections are cordoned off and you can either sit on the concrete or stand. But, once everyone stands guess what you’ll be doing? Either looking at a lot of butts or standing as well.
You can get a Fast Pass for the center sections by reserving a dinner package. You make reservations at either Ariel’s Grotto (very, very kid friendly – this is the place where the princesses walk around while you dine on chicken fingers) or the Wine Country Trattoria (more upscale with a prix fixe dinner of $45 a person). There might be other restaurants available, but when we did our reservations those were our choices.
We ate at the trattoria. Good meal. Good wine, of course at an extra charge, but not over priced. We had to eat dinner at 4:30PM to get tickets to the 7PM show. It was a bit too early to eat, but that’s what they had available in order for us to see that show at 7PM. They have an odd teeter totter way of booking the dinner reservations to the show reservations, so make sure you ask a lot of questions if there is a specific time you want to see the show.
Those are the main options for viewing World of Color. Another option is find a spot to stand in the park off in the distance and hope nobody gets in your way or asks you to move along.
Or…go to The Cove Bar. For $10 a person you can have your own table and watch the show from the balcony. They stop serving at around 7PM, so order up and sit back and watch the show.
Okay. There is a down side. You are viewing the show from the side, so most of the images they project on the water, you won’t see. Bummer, but you will be in the closest seat possible and best of all, you will have an actual seat and won’t be crowded in a standing room only mob.
At Disneyland they do a show called Fantasmic! which I’ve never fully seen. They don’t give Fast Passes for this show and there’s usually people camping out for spots on the sidewalk hours before the show. It’s in front of Tom Sawyer’s Island, and they cordon off the walkways so there are sections for watching the show and a piece of sidewalk for passing by, so I’ve passed by in time to see the dragon do something and Mickey Mouse do something back. I’d love to watch the whole show, but I’m not prepared for the time commitment it requires to get a decent viewing spot. The same thing goes for the parades.
We usually go for a day and a half, and at this point we don’t stress about seeing everything, riding everything, and doing everything. It took a few visits to realize that what’s going to aid you the most is to remember that you can only do so much. Find your favorites. Do the rides with the least amount of wait time. And since you’re hopefully going during the time of year when the kids are in school, explore Fantasyland. Go on Mr.Toad’s Wild Ride. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. The Alice in Wonderland ride always has a line that looks longer than it is. Do it. Force whoever you’re with to go on the Teacups.
Since you are there without your own children, this time the kid gets to be you. Go on the Storybookland train and marvel and gape at the gorgeous models and wonderful history of the Disney stories. Get a bucket of popcorn and stand in front of It’s a Small World, notice how all of the shapes and colors fit together, the clock tower smiles, and then you smile.
And Of Course…
There’s more. I didn’t mention any of the galleries, Downtown Disney, A Bug’s Land, or the upcoming Cars Land. There’s an incredible amount of attractions and things to do at the park and each one I’m a sucker for. I always leave a little sad for the thing we missed, but I’ve learned to remember that there’s always next trip.
*Don’t go during the summer!