Many years ago, our kids asked us if, instead of buying them gifts for Christmas, we could instead buy them a trip. Santa and our families already lavish them with gifts, so they realized that a family trip that revolved around their preferences would be better than any package they may open.
We have been to DisneyWorld several times, Disneyland Hong Kong, and DisneySea with the boys. Jeff and I have also been to Disneyland Paris. I set a goal to visit all of the Disney theme parks before my 50th birthday and Jeff couldn’t wait to see the new Star Wars attractions, so Disneyland was a natural choice.
We knew going President’s Day weekend meant that we would be battling crowds. We did our homework, bought our tickets with MaxPass ahead of time, and I laid out an itinerary for each day. We arrived at California Adventure on Sunday about 45 minutes before opening time. There were extra magic hours that morning, but we weren’t staying at a resort hotel. There are no nearby concessions so we waited hungrily for the gates to open. They let us through about 15 minutes before opening time to head to rope drop. As we got our bearings, we decided to head for Soarin’ first. While the attraction is the same at Disneyworld, it’s been a long time family favorite. We were able to walk right on the ride, enjoyed our center vantage point, and headed for our second attraction, but were surprised to get stopped at rope drop. We had mistakenly “snuck” onto a ride during the magic hours without realizing. A happy bit of morning magic that I’m hoping others can duplicate.
We stuck to our preplanned itinerary for the rest of the day. While some vacations call for waking up and seeing where the day takes you, a Disney trip is NOT one of them. We enjoyed both visiting different versions of our Disney Park favorites and exploring new attractions. Disney MaxPass was new, but we quickly mastered it, setting alarms for ourselves when we were eligible for the next reservation and never waiting more than 20 minutes for any attraction, despite it being President’s Day weekend. Here was our itinerary for the day:
- Get Mission Breakout! Fastpass
- Get Fastpass for World of Color. If there are two showings, choose the later one
- Toy Story Midway- same as Hollywood Studios. Bit of a letdown.
- Get Fastpass for Radiator Springs Racers
- Ride Mission Breakout- we loved this! Most fun drop version of the Tower of Terror we’ve ridden. Story integration made it even better.
- Goofy’s Flight School- the single rider line saved us a lot of time.
- Lunch: sourdough bread bowl deliciousness
- Little Mermaid- wait should be less than 20 min.
- Get Fastpass for Incredicoaster
- Ride Radiator Springs Racers- impressive theming and scenery
- Luigi’s Rockin’ Racers- way more fun than expected. We adored the music and were dancing both in line and on the ride.
- Pixar Pier for Incredicoaster- longest coaster in US
- Grizzly River Run- we were thankful that we brought plastic lawn bags to protect our bags and shoes. People were soaked!
- Monster’s Inc
- Disney Animation Academy- we really enjoyed learning to draw Tigger, though waiting to get in was one of our longest waits of the day. If you love this attraction, you can also find the tutorials on YouTube.
- Sunset: return to Cars Land for “Life Could Be a Dream” performance- Missed out on this but wish we could have timed it right. We were so impressed by the theming of Cars Land, which was even better after dark.
- Frozen- this Broadway caliber show is about an hour long and you should plan to arrive 30 min ahead to queue. The first and last shows of the day are the least busy. The auditorium loads oddly, lacking Disney’s typical organization. Once you enter the theater, you can sit wherever you’d like, which leads to a sense of rushing and chaos. Decide and commit on your way in.
- 10pm World of Color- arrive an hour ahead to stake out a good seat. Keep in mind that people will stand for this show, so it’s better to be in front of higher section, even if it’s a bit farther away. We tried to download PierGames and do the Color Wheel Challenge, but never got the connection to work.
- Stroll leisurely out of the park. You know everyone else is leaving at the same time, and you’re going to have to wait for transportation anyway, so soak up the Disney atmosphere as you depart.
Disney continues to wow us with their immersive theming, customer experience, and that little bit of magic.
Wondering how you can squeeze the highlights of this park into a single day? It takes a lot of planning and research. Some suggestions:
- Pay extra for MaxPass, and learn how to use it before you arrive. As frequent DisneyWorld guests, we thought we understood the FastPass system, and that MaxPass was just another name for the system we knew and loved. Not so. No wristbands, no advance booking, included PhotoPass, and a completely different strategy for getting FastPasses to the attractions with long waits. Here’s a good explanation from Undercover Tourist. This will save you time, give you great photo memories, and allow you to maximize your magic.
- Have a plan. There are several guidebooks and websites with ready made itineraries for different audiences. I especially liked The Unofficial Guide and The Disney Tourist Blog. I read these and several other blogs to craft an itinerary that would fit my family’s tastes. With only one day, you can’t see everything, but you can be sure to plan a day where everyone leaves feeling a little more magical.
- Wake up early and arrive at least 45 minutes before rope drop. I know it’s vacation, but there’s A LOT of magic to squeeze in, and being one of the first people in the park is one of the best ways to fit it all in.
- Take advantage of the PhotoPass. We never pay for this at DisneyWorld, so weren’t that excited to have it included in MaxPass, but found that posing for pictures and with characters was a lot of fun. Now that our boys are teenagers it’s harder to get a family photo where everyone is willingly smiling. Like most things, Disney does a great job of it.
- Be sure to notice and appreciate the small joys in your day. We giggled through taking pictures of Cole copying the character statues from Inside Out, followed Mater and Lightning McQueen as they drove down the streets of Cars Land, and traded pins with staff (check out Cole’s sweatshirt pocket “pinboard” in the top pic). These little moments make for a magical day.