Thursday, May 30, 2013

Surviving the Disneyland (Almost) All-Nighter: Things I Learned Last Weekend

I've got my eye on you!
Now that I've sufficiently recovered from the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter at the Disneyland Resort last weekend, it's time to reflect on another crazy 24-hour event that, despite all the concerns, never materialized into the carnage everyone feared it would become--even with a Grad Nite gathering added to the mix. People who survived last year's One More Disney Day on February 29th will recall mass overcrowding, excessively long lines, insufficient staffing, unnecessary restaurant closures, and Anaheim traffic gridlock. In my experience on Friday/Saturday, none of these were an issue. Certainly, the parks were busy, but it felt more like a busier than usual summertime crowd--and it really thinned out after midnight. To its credit, Disney learned a lot from last year's debacle and pulled off one hell of a fun event.

The Monstrous Summer kickoff was an educational (and exhausting) experience for me as well. Here's what I learned from marathoning it at Disneyland on Memorial Day weekend:

1. Two Parks are Better Than One
For One More Disney Day last year, only Disneyland remained open the full 24 hours from 6:00 a.m. Wednesday to 6:00 a.m. Thursday. Disney California Adventure closed at 8:00 p.m. and a massive migration ensued as guests flocked across the esplanade to Disneyland. Capacity was reached by 10:00 p.m. and the park stayed insanely busy well into the early morning hours. No such problem this year. DCA remained open for the duration, giving the large summer crowd more room to roam. These were the lines to get into the parks around 5:30 a.m.:

Busy, but not out of control by any means.

2. It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint--Pace Yourself
First stop after entering DCA, the Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass queue. Second stop, breakfast.

Next to Frontierland's River Belle Terrace, my favorite place to grab breakfast inside the parks is at the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe (i.e., Starbucks). On a day when I had no intention of bolting from ride to ride to ride, a nosh on Buena Vista Street was a great way to start the day. I sat at an outside table, watching the Red Cars roll by and Five and Dime perform in front of Carthay Circle. My day went mostly like this, enjoying the sights and sounds without pressuring myself to hit every attraction. I picked up the pace a little bit in the evening, but only as part of a mission dictated by my Facebook followers (see below). Sometimes it's fun to just BE in the parks.

3. No Matter When They Tell You the E-Tickets are Opening, Check Back Early
While waiting in line outside the DCA entrance prior to 6:00 a.m., cast members advised us that the E-ticket attractions, particularly Radiator Springs Racers, would not be open until 9:00. At 7:40, I walked onto the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. At 8:05, I waited about ten minutes for RSR (and I still had a Fastpass for later). Early morning wait times rock!

4. On High-Traffic Days, Plan for the Worst, but Hope for the Best
A lot of people stayed away from the All-Nighter, fearing it would be another One More Disney Day, with far too many of the great unwashed crowding the parks. I made up my mind weeks before the event that I would take on whatever was thrown at me. That's really the only way to survive this kind of event. And sometimes you get a surprise. Here was the early morning traffic on Hollywood Boulevard:

Meanwhile, on Route 66:

Okay, it didn't stay like this all day, but the crowds still never reached the overwhelming mess we all expected. 

5. Never Pass Up an Opportunity to Ride the Fire Engine Up Main Street

On a really long day at Disneyland, riding is always better than walking. Plus, Walt drove the fire engine himself on more than one occasion. Why wouldn't you ring the bell and go for a spin?

6. Whether You Have a Two-Year Old With You or Not, It's Always Fun to Hop Aboard Casey Jr.

In this case, I did. My friend Erik joined me with his (nearly) two-year old son Lucas. We rode in the Wild Animal cage because that's what you're supposed to do when you ride Casey Jr. Unless the Monkey cage is available. Always ride in the Monkey cage.

7. Never Pass Up an AP Preview

I caught the 2:00 preview of Mickey and the Magical Map, the new musical show in the newly restored Fantasyland Theater, and I really enjoyed it. It's a greatest hits show with most of the tunes taken from Disney's more recent animated films (TangledThe Princess and the FrogMulanPocahontas). The story line is a Sorcerer's Apprentice tale right out of the Epic Mickey video game. Substitute a kinder, gentler Map and Spot for Wasteland and the Blot and the stories are strangely similar. Apprentice Mickey misbehaves when the sorcerer Yensid isn't looking and gets sucked into the Magical Map, which transports him to a series of imaginative worlds. I was amused how Yensid (shown only on the show's cleverly rendered video screens) looks almost exactly as he does in Epic Mickey. Also entertaining is how on-stage live action Mickey seamlessly blends with on-screen Mickey via some pretty snazzy transition effects. Throw in energetic singers and dancers and you have a very fun afternoon show for all ages. Go see it.

8. Nothing Beats an Afternoon at the Cove Bar

If you know me, then you know I'm stating the obvious here. But really, whether you're a drinker or not, it's hard to top a relaxed hour or two at the Cove in DCA, especially on a busy afternoon. And that's exactly what I did on Friday (and yeah, well, Thursday too). A dirty Grey Goose martini with an order of fish tacos is my usual, but I'm also partial to the Buffalo wings which were my choice on Friday. Of course, the lobster nachos are to die for, but they're best enjoyed when you have a few friends to help. And, of course, if you're partial to non-alcoholic libations, the Cove Bar can accommodate you there as well with a number of tasty choices.

This all comes back to pacing, taking a break from the action without drifting too far from the hustle and bustle of Paradise Pier. Plus, when the sun's shining just right, the seat backs cast really cool shadows on the seat cushions.

9. Let Your Followers Be Your Guides
After a couple of martinis at the Cove, I was feeling brave, so I let you decide via Facebook and Twitter where I should go next. This led to some very fun, if somewhat mixed, results. A visit to Goofy's Sky School was brief (it went 101 and was closed) while the wait for the Indiana Jones Adventure was verrrrrrrryyy loonnnnnnnnng (an hour and 40 minutes in the standby line), but I did it along with the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion (as well as a side trip to Space Mountain to use my Fastpass).

And here was the most gratifying part of the entire day: taking you with me on my Disney adventure. It's amazing how many people you can fit in an iPhone, and how fun it is to see all your comments, likes and encouraging words. Twenty-four hour Disneyland days are frivolous events--we're not saving the world here--but through social media, we're reminded what a kick it is to share our experiences in real time.

Knowing you were all there rooting for me kept me going well past midnight, but...

10. A Man's Got to Know His Limitations
At 2:00, I hit the wall. After leaving Mansion, I was beat. Exhaustion was setting in from being up since 4:00 a.m. the previous day. It was the kind of tired where I felt physically hurt. Plus, looming ahead of me was a four-hour drive home in the afternoon. Should I push through to 6:00 a.m., or just grab a bite to eat in hopes that it perks me up?

I got some chicken nuggets at the Stage Door Cafe in Frontierland. Nothing.

At 2:30, I left the park and dragged myself back to my room at the Anabella. I was asleep by 3:00.

Moon Over Mansion, 2:00 a.m.
This was my second 24-hour party and the second time I came up a few hours short. Still, 20 1/2 hours straight at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is pretty impressive for an old dude like me.

On Sunday, I messaged a couple of friends who were unable to make the Monstrous Summer weekend. They're already talking about taking on the next 24-hour party, whenever that may be. I told them they better. There's strength in numbers and maybe we just might be able to push ourselves through to 6:00 a.m. Even better then carrying friends around in your phone is having them there in person to cheer you on.

So, when do we do this again?

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