Sunday, March 04, 2012

Leap Day at Disneyland: The Magic and The Madness

When Disney announced its "One More Disney Day" promotion - both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom would stay open for 24 hours for Leap Day - I knew I had to be a part of the history. Several days have passed, and I'm still recovering, but I'm really glad I did it!

My boyfriend Dave and I decided to approach the event realistically and acknowledge that we weren't likely to make it through 24 hours in the park. We booked a hotel room at Paradise Pier for Tuesday - Thursday. That way, we could check in the night before the event, get up early and go right into the park, and then already have a room available for an afternoon nap. We could also crash on Thursday morning after the park closed at 6am for a few hours and avoid driving while exhausted.

As the event approached, there wasn't a lot of communication from Disney about the schedule or special aspects of it. Finally, about a week before the event, they started to do some blogging. They announced they'd be giving out 2000 commemorative ears to the first 2000 people to enter the park. Fans could line up at 10pm the night before to have a chance to get the ears - and they did! For those of you who think Southern California is always warm, let me tell you, February evenings can be pretty chilly. I think the temperature was in the mid 40s that night. These people are the true die hards! Disney also announced there would be a 1am Fantasmic, an extra nighttime parade, costumed characters in their pajamas (we were hoping to see Darth Vader in his pajamas - no such luck), and special food items at many of the eateries. Blue Bayou would be open til 4am. We started to get pretty giddy about all the possibilities.

Tuesday night, we drove down and checked in at the Paradise Pier. We were excited to find out that our standard room on the concierge level had been upgraded - we would now have a top-floor suite! Our check-in clerk asked if we were celebrating anything, so I said "Cohabitation. We just moved in together." She came back with special buttons that had "Cohabitat!" written on them. Disney will celebrate any occasion, even "Living in Sin"! We also received 2 instant fast passes each. The hotel suite was nice and roomy. This was my second time staying in a Disney hotel, and the first was the Grand Californian. Paradise Pier is certainly not up to that level, but it was still a nice hotel. You can get a nice view of DCA from some rooms, but we had the Anaheim view.

We walked over to Trader Sam's in the Disneyland Hotel for a late dinner and drinks. The Tiki Room is my favorite Disneyland attraction, so this bar is perfect for me. The wings and ahi poke were tasty, and so were the cocktails. After two tropical drinks, I was pretty buzzed and had no problem falling asleep.

We didn't want to exhaust ourselves, so we slept til 6:30am (the park opened at 6am). We enjoyed the free continental breakfast provided at the hotel for the concierge level guests, and then walked over to the park. There was no line to get in, and we were excited to receive a free "One More Disney Day" pin. Of course, the 2000 commemorative ears were long gone by time we arrived at 8am. Luckily, there was plenty of schwag you could buy in the stores including t-shirts, hoodies, and ears with the "One More Disney Day" logo. We got hoodies and had the store ship them to our room - that's another cool advantage of staying at a Disney hotel. I quickly found myself overwhelmed by all the costumed characters roaming around the entrance to Main Street. We got pics with Pluto and Donald.

The park wasn't busy during the morning and afternoon. We were able to walk up to most rides and wait times were 10-15 minutes at most. Even the big rides like Space Mountain and Indiana Jones had wait times around 45 minutes. We took advantage of the small crowds to explore the whole park. I rode things I'd never ridden before like Storybook Land Canal Boats and Pinocchio's Daring Journey. We even ventured into Toon Town, although Dave warned me it was dumb. Indeed, it was pretty dumb, but we got our pic with Mickey in his house. Mickey pointed to our "Cohabitat!" button, and I was a little embarrassed to explain it to him.

We stopped for lunch at Village Haus, where they had added a Chili Cheeseburger to the menu for the day. This item had been on the menu as "The Woodcarver" for many years. We thought the food was just OK. We ventured onward to Frontierland and Critter Country, meeting Woody in Frontierland and Tigger, Pooh, and Eeyore at Critter Country. Dave discovered the bakery in Critter Country also had the special Leap Day cupcakes. Yum!

After visiting the Haunted Mansion with no wait around 4pm, we decided to go back to the hotel to rest for a couple hours. As we were leaving the park, crowds were streaming in. We asked the cast member at the exit if he expected it would reach capacity and he said "Not at all. You don't have to worry about it." Famous last words...

We had some friends meet us at the hotel and checked out the free happy hour on the concierge level of the hotel. Around 6:30pm, my friend Heather and I went over to DCA to ride Tower of Terror. At this point, we could tell the crowds were swelling. Even though we had a fast pass for Tower of Terror, they said the wait time would be almost an hour. It was 2 hours for people without a fast pass. And DCA was closing at 8pm. After Tower of Terror, we exited DCA into a huge crowd. Lines to get into Disneyland were snaking back and forth across the entire plaza between Disneyland and DCA. Everyone how had been in DCA was now trying to get into Disneyland, plus the after-work crowd had arrived. Dave and our other friends were already in Disneyland, and we were about to give up and go have dinner in Downtown Disney when we noticed they were getting ready to open the exit gates to let more people in. We quickly got to the exit gate before folks in the giant line noticed and got in. There was definitely some Disney magic at work for us!

From other reports, it seems Disney didn't bank on the large number of season pass holders who would show up after work for the night in the park. They had not fully staffed the park. Huge traffic jams arose on the 5 and on the roads around Disneyland and the parking garages. There were long waits for trams from the garages to the gates. Cell phone reception was lousy, and it took a while for us to find Dave and our friends inside the park. We met up with them where they were enjoying the special mac and cheese hot dog at the Refreshment Center at the end of Main Street - another special food item that Dave thought was just so-so. We went to the Tiki Room and over to Space Mountain and Star Tours. Luckily, we had fast passes for those rides, as wait times were approaching 2 hours.

I started to get super-tired around 10pm, but I pressed on and went on a few other rides. We stopped for food at the Mexican place. The crowd crush was really draining for me, especially toward 1am when people began flooding the New Orleans Square area for the 1am Fantasmic. We saw a bit of Fantasmic while in line for Pirates. We also saw Olympian Shaun White walk by us after exiting Pirates, with Disney security and a big group. Dave and I decided to give up around 2am and head back to the hotel. I am bummed that I crapped out and didn't stay to find the Disney characters in their pajamas, eat at Blue Bayou at 3am, etc. On the way out, we saw lots of sleeping people in the grassy areas and various alcoves. It looked like the homeless had invaded Disneyland. I felt bad for security - it must be tough to tell who is just napping vs who is passed out drunk.

As we were leaving, we saw there were still huge lines to get into the park and at the ticket windows. We didn't realize it, but the park had reached capacity and closed for a few hours that night. They did open the gates again around 2am and many people stayed until 6am. We went back to the hotel and enjoyed a good night's sleep with our late check out at noon.

Leap Day was an amazing event, and I hope that Disney will do it again, but with better preparation for the evening rush. The daytime hours were some of the best I've ever experienced with no lines, great weather, an abundance of costumed characters, and a crowd that was really in a great mood. The evening crowd had more drunk people, rowdy teens, etc. By that point, I was just too tired to put up with it. All in all, I feel this was a great way to spend my bonus day this year - leapin' forward with Tigger!





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