I had the opportunity to attend a Travel Agent Education Program at Disneyland. I had been to Disneyland twice before; once as a teenager in 1975 and again in 2003. I was looking forward to seeing for myself the preparation for the “Happiest Celebration on Earth”.
by Anne Larison, Disneyland Specialist
I flew into Orange County/John Wayne airport for the first time. The smaller size of the airport compared to LAX makes for a much smoother, faster process. I was able to get my bag and find the Super Shuttle location in a matter of minutes. I had a reservation with Super Shuttle and they were able to put me on a van immediately. We waited a few moments for the van to fill up, but overall there was minimal waiting. We had a very friendly driver, who kept us entertained with trivia questions. The one challenge to Super Shuttle is that someone has to be dropped off last. I was almost the last one to be dropped off and driving around to all the other destinations can add time to your transit. So, if you are in a hurry you might want to take a more direct option.
My check-in at Grand Californian Hotel was very pleasant and smooth. I arrived early, checking in at 10:30 am. Although this was the busy time for checking out, there were many hotel clerks and I did not have to wait more than a few minutes. After the usual questions and paperwork, the clerk asked if I believed in magic. Of course I do, and she replied that my room was ready! It was a treat to be able to get settled into my room so early. The room had a partial monorail view and was very comfortable. I had a chance to look around the hotel including the grand lobby before heading out to the parks.
I decided to get lunch in California Adventure (CA). One of the first restaurants you will find upon entering the park is Taste Pilots’ Grill. It was very crowded, probably because of the location. I decided to make my way to the far side of the park. Back in the Paradise Pier section of the park there are several food options. I chose pizza at Pizza Oom Mow Mow. There were no lines and you actually get two fairly large slices.
On my way around the park I took the time to look at a temporary display of 75 life-size Mickey Mouse statues, which were first unveiled on Mickey’s 75th anniversary in 2003. The unique statues are on display through Feb. 22. I got my FASTPASS for Soarin’ over California and headed to Disneyland to see the afternoon showing of Snow White – An Enchanting Musical. The show was excellent
Tip – I do recommend sitting on the front, left side of the theater as you are facing the stage for the best close-up view of the 7 dwarfs.
I returned to CA to ride Soarin’ over California, a ride not to be missed. I wanted to return to my hotel room to get ready for the opening session of my conference. An excellent reason to stay at the Grand Californian hotel is the park/hotel gate that leads right from California Adventure into the Grand Californian hotel. It is a really convenient option for Disney resort guests. I did stop by White Water Snacks to pick up a light snack. This self-serve refreshment center is a great place for a snack or light meal. We had eaten breakfast here on a previous stay at the Grand Californian.
We did a site inspection of the Grand Californian. It is a beautiful hotel with a very large lobby, including fire place, piano, and many comfortable chairs and couches. As with all the Disney resort hotels, there is a separate area for children to watch Disney cartoons while their parents are checking-in or doing business in the lobby.
Tip-If you go outside the door next to the Guest Services Office, there is an outside fireplace that most people are not aware exists. There are rocking chairs and it would be an excellent place for early morning coffee or late night drinks.
There are 3 pools at the Grand Californian. For guests who want to swim laps, they do designate lanes in the larger pool in the morning for adult lap swim only. There are 2 restaurants and a lounge. The concierge rooms offer a very nice private area for their continental breakfasts and wine receptions. Another option for families with kids is Pinocchio’s children’s center offering many activities for children, while their parents have some time to themselves. Pinocchio’s does charge a reasonable hourly fee and can be used by guests of all 3 Disney resorts.
Tip-There is a 5th floor balcony over looking the pools that is open to all guests of GC. Not many people know about it and it is another great option for some quiet time after the parks.
We also had a chance to tour Paradise Pier Hotel. Many people enjoy staying at Paradise pier for its fun, “seaside” hotel theme. The PCH Grill Restaurant recently was closed for refurbishment. It reopened on the last day of our visit. Some in our group ate there on our final night and reported that the food was very good. They have a new character breakfast featuring Lelo & Stitch at the PCH Grill.
Tip-For families with children, the PCH Grill offers the opportunity for kids to create their own Mickey pizza for dinner. Children receive a Mickey-head pizza dough, a bucket of sauce and lots of kid friendly pizza toppings. Kids have lots of fun knowing they made their own dinner!
Paradise Pier has a fun pool theme, and in addition to PCH Grill there is Yamabuki, a Japanese restaurant. Paradise Pier also offers concierge level amenities. There are rooms in the Paradise Pier facing CA. The view from the upper floor rooms facing the park allow guests to watch the Electrical Light Parade from their room at night!
Tip-in the past Paradise Pier guests had their own entrance into CA. Due to very few guests using this option, Disney decided to close this entrance. Guests staying at Paradise Pier can use the Grand Californian entrance into CA.
After our final meetings of the day and a catered dinner, our group strolled over to CA for a magical moment. The first stop was Golden Dreams. This is an informative, entertaining movie about the history and spirit of California. Next we were treated to a dessert party and special preferred viewing of the Electrical Light Parade. This is a “must do” parade. The fun theme music and amazing floats all covered by thousands of lights will leave you smiling for the rest of the night! Even the characters and dancers light up. Our preferred seating area was a large balcony area attached to the Pacific Wharf Cafe. We were elevated and across the water from the parade. Our view was very good. Another excellent viewing location is the The Vineyard Room at the Golden Vine Winery and the Wine Country Trattoria at the Golden Vine Winery. However, because the streets are wider in CA and the crowds tend to be smaller there is no problem getting a front row seat for this parade. I have been right on street level for the parade and enjoy being very close to the action.
From CA our group went directly to Disneyland. Before heading to our preferred viewing area for the Fantasmic show we had the opportunity to stop and experience The Walt Disney Story, featuring “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”. This attraction is definitely an audio treat with amazing sound effects that highlight a moment in history with President Lincoln. On to Fantasmic, this takes place on the Rivers of America in Frontierland. The preferred seating area is near the Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island. Fantasmic is an exciting water/light show with boats and many characters. It can be loud and perhaps scary for younger kids, since it involves villains. In the winter months it is cool at night and you may get sprayed with water so be prepared.
Tip-a great place to see Fantasmic is on the bridge over the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean. Arrive early to get the front of the bridge and you will have an elevated view.
After Disneyland closed was a great time to do some shopping in Downtown Disney on our way back to the hotel.
Monday we had an opportunity to experience a Character Breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen in the Disneyland Hotel. I highly recommend this character breakfast. The food was delicious with made to order eggs, a huge variety of breakfast foods, and even lunch foods, such as pizza and enchiladas. There were many kid-friendly foods available. We enjoyed being greeted by Goofy and also had pictures taken with Cinderella. Several times per hour Goofy would get out in the middle of the dance floor and do special dances with all the kids (and kids-at-heart) such as the Macarana. Goofy’s Kitchen has character dining at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Disneyland Hotel has 3 room towers. In the courtyard between the towers are waterfalls, koi ponds and the Fantasy Waters stage area (this is a water/light show) but the show was closed for refurbishment while we were there. In addition to Goofy’s Kitchen, there are two restaurants, Granville’s Steak House and Hook’s Pointe & Wine Cellar. The pool at Disneyland Hotel is very popular. The Neverland Pool, with its Peter Pan theme, has a slide and pirate ship for kids of all ages. You can enjoy the Neverland pool only as a guest of the Disneyland Hotel. You cannot pool hop among the three Disney Hotels.
Tip-The Disneyland Hotel does not have coffee makers in the rooms, as so the other Disney Hotels. When you check in ask the housekeeping staff to bring one up to your room. They are complementary upon request.
If you book your trip through the Walt Disney Travel Company they do have an office in Downtown Disney. You can add-on to your vacation package, including dining plans, ticket upgrades, and get other assistance related to your trip package. The office is located around the corner from Compass Books, across the street from the Disneyland Hotel.
After lunch, the group was planning to take the Monorail into Disneyland to catch the afternoon Snow White – An Enchanting Musical. We had limited time to get to the show where they were planning to provide a preferred viewing area for our group. Unfortunately, we waited in line for the monorail for several minutes and they announced that they were in the process of adding the second monorail car to the tracks and a monorail wouldn’t arrive for 15 more minutes! We had to turn around and run through Downtown Disney, into the park (through security, and ticket lines) and try to get to the show before they gave our priority viewing area away. We didn’t make it. We did arrive in time for the show, but they had given away the preferred area as they will only hold it up to 10 minutes prior to the show. However, as I found out from my first viewing, there is not a bad seat in the house. I very much enjoyed the show a second time and the seating was not full, so even arriving minutes before the start of the show, seats were available. It was a good lesson in planning ahead. If you have a priority seating for a show or a meal, be sure to give yourself extra time. There can always be unforeseeable delays, whether in lines, security or crowds.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the parks on our own. Several members of our group had never been to Disneyland and so we had to do It’s a small world. We wanted to also be sure to do California Screamin’, so we headed over to CA to get a FASTPASS We were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t need a FASTPASS, the stand-by line for California Screamin’ was only 5 minutes. If you don’t mind going upside down, this high-speed roller coaster is great fun. We had planned to eat at Ariel’s Grotto, as one member of our party was hoping for another character meal. Unfortunately, we found out when we stopped by to make a priority seating, Ariel’s Grotto is not open for dinner on week nights. The cast member at the reception desk was very helpful and after we made our alternate selection even used her computer to make the priority seating for us at Hook’s Pointe at the Disneyland Hotel.
While in CA I didn’t want those new to Disneyland to miss Soarin’ Over California, so that was our next ride, which everyone loved. We went back to our rooms to rest and get ready for the evening when we had to meet again with the large group.
Prior to meeting the large group for our preferred seating at Disney’s Aladdin-A Musical Spectacular, we had been given FAST Passes for Tower of Terror (ToT). Even those in our small group who were squeamish wanted to try it. It is fantastic. I have been on the ToT at MGM Studios in WDW. The difference at the ToT in California Adventure is really two things: There is a large mirror during the introduction, so that you can wave at yourself (and see the nervous faces of the newbies) and the elevator car does not slide forward toward the window, as in does in WDW. Otherwise the ride is just as much fun with numerous trips up and down the elevator shaft looking out over the park below as the window opens and closes.
Aladdin-A Musical Spectacular is fabulous, the travel agents among the group who had never seen the show commented that it alone is worth the price of admission.
Tip-Even though it may seem best to sit up in the front section, the best seats are actually the front of the 2nd section. There is a part of the show with the magic carpet that is best viewed from the middle of the theatre and harder to see from the front.
After returning to the room to get ready for dinner our small group headed to Hook’s Pointe at the Disneyland Hotel. Hook’s Pointe is a small restaurant with a classy, rich wood decor; the wait staff was very friendly and helpful. One side of the restaurant’s windows looks out onto the Never Land Pool. It is a very nice sight at night since there are lights highlighting the pirate boat and around the pool. The food was very good; most of the group enjoyed the land and sea (steak and shrimp).
Tuesday we had a catered breakfast at the conference room with an excellent variety of breakfast food. After our morning session we walked over to Disneyland park in time for the park opening. We immediately headed for Mickey’s Toontown Morning Madness.
This is an exclusive event for Walt Disney Travel Company vacation package guests. This special experience allows you into Toontown one hour earlier than the public. We very much enjoyed the uncrowded access to Disney characters and Mayor Mickey’s special ceremony.
After enjoying our Mickey’s Toontown Morning Madness we returned for more work before embarking on a Good Neighbor hotel tour.
We were able to tour several Good Neighbor hotels in the Disneyland area
Embassy Suites Hotel Anaheim South – Suite Category
*The Embassy Suites offers a complimentary full breakfast with cooked-to-order eggs and other foods
Residence By Marriott Anaheim Resort Area – Suite Category
*Residence By Marriott has a Kid’s Suite which sleeps 6 and includes bunk-beds in a separate room; complementary breakfast and their own complementary shuttle to the parks.
Hyatt Regency / Orange County – Suite Category
*Hyatt Regency also has a Kid’s Suite but does not include complementary breakfast
Anaheim Marriott Hotel – Superior Category
*Marriott Hotel offers free roll-away bed for standard rooms
Hilton Garden Inn – Moderate Category
*Hilton Garden Inn offers no charge wireless and high speed internet
Anaheim Ramada Hotel – Economy Category
*Anaheim Ramada offers ‘Kids Eat Free’ breakfast, lunch and dinner
These hotels offer many more amenities than can be listed here but they all had something for families with a variety of needs. I would recommend all of these hotels. I particularly liked the Kid’s Suite at the Residence By Marriott and the amenities at the Embassy Suites Hotel.
After finishing our site inspections were free to enjoy parks. We had arranged for a PS at Blue Bayou in Disneyland Park. While waiting for our party to gather, we enjoyed listening to a strolling jazz quartet; there was even a “New Orleans” style bead toss from the 2nd story balcony of the Bourbon Street buildings surrounding the restaurant. It’s the little touches that continue the magic. We enjoyed our dinner, the shrimp I had was good, and my dinner companions loved the crab cakes and another the pork chops.
We were finished eating by 7:10 pm. With only 50 minutes left until park closing we were determined to experience as many rides as we could. There were no lines to speak of and we were able to ride the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones Adventure and the Jungle Cruise, finishing our last ride exactly at 8:00 as the park closed.
We again ate another excellent breakfast buffet. We spent the morning completing our training. Our special guest was a personal congratulation by Mickey Mouse.
Once again the shuttle experience with Super Shuttle was great. They were right on time and we arrived at LAX within 45 minutes.
The trainers at my conference were not able to divulge all the information about the Happiest Celebration on Earth, but here are a few tidbits… Starting May 5, 2005 and extending for 18 months all the Disney parks will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland. The celebration will be bigger and better at Disneyland itself. Sleeping Beauty Castle will be transformed into a breathtaking focal-point for the celebration. A major highlight will be “Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams”, an all-new parade with more characters and more music, and more…
Also in the works is “Remember…Dreams Come True”. The nightly fireworks extravaganza is sure to make memories for life. And, Space Mountain, which has been under refurbishment since April 2003, is set to open and 2005 guests will be first to experience the new thrills. As May 5, 2005 approaches more details will be revealed.
I enjoyed my short visit to Disneyland and learned many things that I can use for planning Disneyland trips for my clients.