Sunday, February 23, 2014

What I Learned On Vacation

We spent the last week at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. It was a fantastic trip, and I'm sad it's over. I found the vacation very educational, so I thought I would share with you some of the things I learned.

  • Driving from Utah to California is more interesting without a map, especially if you take an unfamiliar route. It also takes longer. We live in Tooele County, and there is a "back way" from Tooele to Cedar City. It was dark; it was early; and we did not have a map. (I didn't pack one for Utah--I assumed my husband would drive down I-15 and we wouldn't need a map until at least Vegas. I was wrong.) Our detour only took about 20 extra minutes, but none of us enjoyed it.
  • California is packed with people. Cars everywhere, and U-turns are just about the only way to get anywhere. 
  • I don't like crowds. (I didn't just learn this, but it was heartily reinforced on vacation.)
  • When you are warned that President's Day will be a busy one at Disneyland, you should heed that warning and change your vacation to another week. My brother, who used to live there, warned me that it would likely be packed all week, though probably not as bad as if we went in mid-summer or at Christmas. It's February. I thought, "Oh, it can't be that bad!" ......It was. Our first morning there, we got right onto some rides that are normally very busy, but by that afternoon, the streets of Disneyland were so crowded we could hardly move. And it didn't let up ALL WEEK. It was like swimming through people. 
    • We laughed at how we waited in line to have our bags checked, then waited to get our tickets (on day 1), then waited in line to go through the gates, then waited in line for rides, the bathroom, food, water fountains, and to get out of the park again. Lots of standing in lines!
  • Disneyland is still magical, even when it's packed. Nostalgia, culture, the smells of popcorn and fresh-made candy (and churros!), the colors and lights-- it's all magical. And the changes in California Adventure are amazing-- I loved the old Hollywood stuff. It's so much better than when we were there in 2008.
    Cars Land was very crowded. So was nearly everywhere else...
  • Disneyland is VERY good at what they do. The attention to detail on every attraction and in every land is unparalleled; and the number of cast members on hand to answer questions and help visitors is remarkable. No where else can you wander a few hundred feet and go from the mountains to the desert southwest and actually feel like you are there! Cars land is awesome (and I'm not a huge "Cars" fan), but so is everything else. 
    • I must say, though, that Tomorrowland is looking a little... well, not shabby- you don't see that at Disneyland, but a little tired. I hope an overall update is coming for that area. The colors are old-fashioned futuristic (copper and silver? Boring!) and the decor could use an update. 
  • New Orleans Square in Adventureland remains my favorite spot. Maybe because two of the best rides in Disneyland are there: Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. Or maybe it's the music. Or the atmosphere. 
    From Pirates of the Caribbean- Disneyland
  • Use Fastpasses-- they work!!
    • We used Fastpasses to get on Space Mountain, Star Tours, Indiana Jones (multiple times), The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Grizzly River Run, California Screamin', Soarin' over California, and the water-and-light show World of Color
    • There are some limits with Fastpasses, but once you get the hang of how to use them, they are a wonderful resource. Sometimes, if the wait was short, we would grab a Fastpass, then get in line and ride the ride right then. Later, we would return and use our Fastpasses for another go-round. Awesome!! 
    • If you don't understand them (and I didn't, because on our last trip we ended up not needing them), the best advice is to jump in and try them out. Here is Disney's explanation about how to use them, but I didn't really get it until we used them. 
    • The most popular new attraction in Disneyland is the
      "Radiator Springs Racers" ride, and you will wait at least an hour to ride it without Fastpasses-- most of the time last week the wait was at least 90 minutes. So, following my brother Danny's advice, one morning, we went straight to the lines for California Adventure and waited for about 45 minutes until they opened the gates, then ran to get in line for the Fastpasses for that ride, waited another 20 minutes or so to get our tickets, and then when it was time to ride, we still had a short wait (about 15 minutes) to get on the ride. Yep. We waited so we wouldn't have to wait. Kind of ironic. But worth it. It was a fun ride. 
      Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland

  • On our third day in California, we went to Knott's Berry Farm. I have heard my whole life about how amazing Knott's is and how they have some of California's BEST roller coasters, etc. and I expected that there would be some fun historical stuff there, too. What I learned from Knotts:
    • No one but Disneyland is Disneyland. I was struck by the extreme contrasts. Disney is VERY good at getting guests on and off the rides quickly, smoothly and with little disruption. At Knott's, we stood in line for a full hour for the big wooden roller coaster, "Ghost Rider", right when we got to the park. A long, full hour. There were few employees, and those seemed a bit annoyed at working there. Finally, we rode it, and the ride was exciting, frightening and fun. When we went walking through the park, however, we were struck by how few visitors there were. We didn't have a wait on any other rides-- just a few minutes here and there. We decided the problem at Ghost Rider was that they had a full line of people, but were only running one train. They also didn't measure little kids until they got to the very END of the line (disgruntled parents galore). 
    • Disney's rides are packed with entertainment for people standing in line (mostly). Knott's? Not so much. Just boring. It reminded me of Lagoon (our local Utah amusement park). Which is fine-- we enjoy Lagoon, and we enjoyed Knott's, but I was totally surprised by the contrast between the two California parks.
    • I am not a thrill ride rider (I get nauseous and dizzy easily). I spent a lot of time that day wandering the old western village stuff, which was fun. I especially liked the shop that had geodes, gems, and various geological stuff. They have a huge amethyst geode for sale. Only $12,000. 
    • I would not go to Knott's again, especially on a Disneyland trip. It just pales in comparison.
  • Line jumpers bring out the angry monster hiding inside me. I was surprised how many people just stepped into lines out of nowhere. At Disneyland, lots of people will get in line, then as their family moves forward, they might step out to use the bathroom and return. I get that; no problem, but what about the family of four who duck under the ropes and just jump in anywhere? Makes my blood boil. I got very angry a few times. My husband said it wasn't a big deal, but sometimes the only way for everyone to have fun is for everyone to play by the rules!! Grrr...
  • Even the bathrooms at Disneyland are themed. Bug's Land? The walls look like dry grass. Fantasy Land, next to the Alice in Wonderland ride? The doors are playing cards.
  • On our third day, we watched "World of Color". Just when I thought Disneyland couldn't surprise me anymore, I was completely, totally blown away by this show! It was literally jaw-dropping and I wish I had been able to watch it again the next night-- just astounding. Well worth the trouble to get a good spot-- we waited in line for well over an hour, and then had to defend our spot against a railing when other guests tried to elbow past us. (RUDE). I do wish guests weren't required to stand through the entire thing, just because I know there were little kids who couldn't see-- at one point before the show started, I turned around from my spot and nearly had a panic attack-- all I could see was a sea of people. I couldn't move, wouldn't have been able to get out if I'd needed to-- it was a little freaky. But then the show began and I forgot all about the mob behind me. It was worth the trouble of getting a good spot. It was worth all the waiting in line and in a crowd. It was astonishingly good. No photos can do it justice. 
    One small moment from World of Color
  • Disneyland is a microcosm of the USA. We saw people of all cultures and backgrounds, overheard multiple foreign languages and accents, saw tattoos and burkas and polygamist dress-over-pants; turbans and tank tops and bleached-haired Koreans, BYU t-shirts and saris and scarves, and people of every size and color imaginable. It was fantastic!! It really is "a small world after all". (And that ride was closed... go figure.) 
  • I am not in very good physical shape. After the first day of walking and standing, I had shin splints, sore feet and my back was killing me (the hotel bed was like sleeping on a board!) By the last day, the splints had started to heal, but my feet still hurt. Next time I go to Disneyland, I'm spending a few months getting ready first. Actually, maybe I'd better just get in shape... 
  • We learned that four days at Disneyland might be too many if you don't have a day of rest somewhere in the middle. We had two days at Disney, one day at Knott's, then another two days at Disney, bookended by 13-hour drives. Both my husband and I were a bit burned out on Disneyland by the end of the third day-- in large part due to navigating crowds, but also just because it was a lot of walking and walking and walking. Next time I will plan for a day or two of just lying on the beach and shopping and eating to break up all the theme-parkness.
  • We didn't make it to the beach. The first evening we were in Cali, we tried, but Huntington Beach charges a small fortune to park (State Park!) and we just didn't want to spend that much for a short walk down the beach. I am sad about this, because I simply adore the coast, but it just didn't work out. On our next vacation, we will hopefully see some beach time.
  • In spite of feeling a little burned out on vacation, I wish I was still there, now that I'm home...
  • My new favorite ride is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Every time I go, I leave with a new favorite ride. :)
  • My new favorite games to play in line are "Cee-Cee My Playmate" with Katie, that hand-slapping game with Ben, and 20 Questions- Disney style with all the kids. I also really enjoyed listening to the kids list their top 5 favorite rides. 
If you've never been to Disneyland, and you don't know whether it's worth spending money on, I can't tell you if you will enjoy it or not. I have friends who don't think it's worth the money, and others who try to go annually. Many of my friends who don't think it's worth it spend the same amount or more every year on hunting trips, season tickets to sporting events, and many other family activities. It's all a matter of personal taste, I guess.

Personally, I love the magic, and my kids do too. Our kids are not little anymore, and they can ride anything and everything in the parks, so that helps. Also, they have great imaginations and a sense of wonder. We love pop-culture (movies, cartoons, video games, music), and maybe that plays into it, too. For my family, it was a wonderful trip, and I'm sorry it will likely be the last time we go while our kids are young. (I say that... but as my husband puts it, at some point in the future, I'll get "the bug" again, and start planning another trip.)


Danny Hicks said...

I have so many comments to make! First off-great post, I love hearing your perspective!

Isn't World of Color amazing? What's great too is that although it has been running for a couple years now, they still continue to add small details and keep it fresh. I am impressed with all of the details within the new California Adventure in general and there is still more to come (phase 2 involves a redo of the Hollywood area including a Monsters Inc door coaster!)!

You will be happy to know that Tomorrowland is the next big refurb that they are working on. Rumor has it that it will all be Star Wars themed now that Disney is producing the new films. I see that as a likely thing, although I wonder what that will mean for the bits of Marvel they are integrating into the park (although there is talk of a Marvel themed third park so we will have to wait and see).

I have often complained about Knott's and Six Flags and how horrible they are at managing the lines and maintaining everything. There just isn't anything that compares with Disneyland.

I think it's always worth it! Glad you had fun! Also I do think our love of entertainment and pop culture (and magic) does have something to do with it. I have friends who have NO idea why I love Disney so much. But that's okay-they don't need to add to the crowd. :-)

Steph said...

Hooray hooray! Three cheers for a new Tomorrowland!

Can you imagine a Disney made Marvel park? I am breathless at the mere rumor. :)

The funny thing is, by our last day of Disneyland (Friday), I was feeling all Disney-ed out. I am DONE, I thought. I won't need another Disney trip for a long time. But now? I wish we were still there and I can't wait to plan another trip.