In 2006 when my son Jake was born I invented a fantasy about Fantasyland. My dream was that in the year 2012 we would take the whole family to Disney World. By then, Jake would be 6, Mary aged 12 and Emily would be a ripe teenager of 16. It would be the perfect storm of kid’s ages to enjoy a week of amusement parks.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. In my wildest dreams, short of winning lotto, there’s no way in hell that we could afford a flight to Orlando, a week-long stay at one of the Disney Resorts and 7 days at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, and of course my favorite – Epcot. The cost would total even more than the student loan I started repaying in 2010, and I have a hard time even paying that.
Instead, we decided that in lieu of Christmas presents, this year we would spend a day at Disneyland.
In high school and college I worked at Disneyland’s Hungry Bear Restaurant. Although the tasks and responsibilities were exactly the same as my previous job at Carl’s Jr. (take an order, upsell a dessert, take money, hand customer a burger and fries, move on to next customer), it was a really treat to work at the Happiest Place on Earth. I wore a costume, not a uniform, I was a cast member, not an employee, and the people paying for my slightly-above-minimum-wage salary were guests, not customers. This was before Tokyo Disneyland was built, so there were huge crowds of Japanese with cameras who loved having me pose with them in photos. I used to joke that I was mounted with a magnet on every refrigerator in Japan.
I still love Disneyland, which is exactly 41 miles southeast of our home. Tickets are now $87 for everyone 10 and over and $81 for ages 3-9. Parking is $15. So for my family, including my mother-in-law Lina (it’s our Christmas present to her), to just get into the park, we’d have to fork out $531. If you add gas at $3.69 a gallon and my minivan, which gets 14 miles to the gallon, you can tack on another $21.61. And if you really care about that, proceed to my previous blog post ($ ÷ Gallon) x (Miles ÷ Gallon) = LA Gasoline Anxiety.
I posted a request on Facebook asking if anyone knew of any good Disneyland deals. My friend Jeanne could get $6 off each ticket with her Disney Employee discount, but I would have to pay cash, and unfortunately we just don’t have it in the bank. I ended up getting about $3 off each ticket by being a member of the TV Academy, which would end up paying for the hot chocolate everyone enjoyed at around 10:00 pm on the day of our visit.
We decided to go to Disneyland on the Thursday between Christmas and New Year’s because the kids were off school and Tom and Lina were off work. I knew it would be busy, but I figured we’d stay until midnight when the park closed and it would just be a given that we would be spending a lot of time waiting.
We left at 8:15 am and arrived at the parking line at 9:30 am. One thing I love about Disneyland is its efficiency. There is an actual Disneyland exit from the 5 Freeway car pool lane that takes you directly to the parking garage. The line of cars was like a championship freeway series game between the Dodgers and the Angels – times about 10. I wish I had taken a photo for proof.
We entered the gates of Disneyland at about 10:45 am. All the medium and large lockers were taken, so we crammed all our jackets into two small lockers at $7 each. Jake’s now too big for the stroller, which used to serve as a large locker; mega-size if we stashed our loot in the seat of the stroller and made him walk.
I have never in my life seen Disneyland so crowded. Everywhere we went was like a wall of people. I felt sorry for anyone in a wheelchair or someone with a stroller – especially a double stroller. They were just stranded in place, as if they’d brought along Disney’s tar baby from The Song of the South.
The must-see ride on our list was Indiana Jones, so we migrated there first. The wait time was a staggering 160 minutes, which is mind boggling since the actual Indiana Jones movies aren’t even that long. We grabbed a fast pass which would allow us a short line, but we had to use it after 5:45.
I’ve heard that the unofficial maximum capacity of this 60 acre park is 85,000, and I would swear that on Thursday that number was exceeded. The mob became so dense the Disneyland employees (I mean cast members) were recruited for crowd control. They roped off sections of New Orleans Square and directed pedestrian traffic to the right and left, with no left turns allowed. Frankly I was expecting the crowd to riot, but everyone was surprisingly well behaved.
The Alice in Wonderland ride had a posted wait time of 60 minutes. We had been waiting for about a half hour when the ride stopped. The loudspeaker announced that due to technical difficulties, the ride would be closed for about 20 minutes. I expected a mass exodus but no – everyone continued to wait patiently in line. I thought there would be crying babies, wining toddlers, and bitchy parents, but apparently I was the only one. The Happiest Place on Earth was magically breeding happy customers (I mean guests).
I thought the crowd would die down once the children under 10 became tired and cranky, but they ended up being replaced by teenagers who arrived in the early evening. It didn’t start thinning out until after 10:30 at night, but even then the lines for the prime E ticket rides were over an hour.
We got in line for our last ride, Star Tours, just before midnight. After getting bounced around along with C3PO and R2D2, we joined the enormous throng at 12:30 am walking down Main Street and exiting the gates of Disneyland. We waited for three trams before it was our turn to board.
We didn’t get home until a quarter of two in the morning. Tom drove, and I fell asleep the moment we got on the 5 Freeway and didn’t awaken until we got off the freeway. My husband is a prince (see proof of it in my earlier post My Husband Loves Me More Than Your Husband Loves You.”)
The entire trip including food and a souvenir for each of the kids (two caps and a mug) probably totaled about $800, a little more than we would have spent on Christmas gifts for everyone, but well worth the price of the memories.
Every one of my children stayed awake until the very end – even my 6-year old Jake who not once complained about being tired, bored, or hungry. Mary was a little annoyed that we didn’t get to ride Space Mountain which had a 50 minute wait time at 11:55 pm. No yelling. No tantrum. But she stopped holding my hand. That’s how I knew she was mad. Throughout the day, Emily kept thanking me for the wonderful Christmas present. And of all the possible souvenirs she was able to pick out, the only thing she wanted was a Pirates mug.
I love my kids. Wherever I am, if my children are with me, that’s the Happiest Place on Earth.