The four-hour theme park time limit (A Disneyland trip report)
Published: April 11, 2008 at 8:16 PM
1. Buy your tickets online and print them at home. You take the ticket print-outs directly to the entrance gate, where the attendant will scan them and hand you regular Disneyland tickets in exchange. These are the tickets that you can use in FastPass machines and for reentry into the park. Knocks off at least 20 minutes in line at the ticket booths, and allows you to decide on the right ticket, at home, with no pressure.
2. Avoid driving on Interstate 5, at all costs. We took the 210 east from Pasadena, to the south 57, then cut over to the park via Ball Road. It's a longer route, in distance, but took only five minutes longer than I-5 route would have taken... had there been no traffic. Which is not something that happens at 8 in the morning on a Friday in L.A. I'm guessing we saved 15-20 minutes by the end run around the 5.
3. Stick to a four-hour time limit. This is my new rule for visiting theme parks. I've been following it subconsciously for years, actually, but haven't bothered to articulate it before now.
Four hours is the time, I've found, that a family can spend together in a theme park before fatigue (physical or emotional) sets in. At the four-hour mark, it's time to get out, go someplace else, and either call it a day, or chill for at least six hours before returning to the park. Staying longer than that puts the group at risk for someone melting down. (With a toddler, knock an hour off the limit.)
Maybe newbies can let their adrenaline carry them through a "Special Forces"-style 12-hour assault on a theme park. I'll pass. I'd rather enjoy every moment of my time in the park, getting my money's worth from each minute, than suffer another family breakdown while tired people argue about what second-tier attraction to kill time with next.
Today, the plan was to do Finding Nemo, Buzz Lightyear, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain. Then mess around taking pictures in front of the castle, go to Downtown Disney for lunch... and go home. We got into the park at quarter 'til nine and were out by 12:45. Five great rides (plus a repeat trip on Buzz, thanks to FastPass, and a trip down Main Street on a horse-drawn trolley) in four hours on a day when the park was open from 8 am to midnight (meaning it was a *crowded* day), with no hassle and no conflicts over what to do.
If we'd gotten out rears on the road earlier, we could have cut our wait time on Nemo and squeezed in a visit to Tom Sawyer Island as well. And if I had made this an overnight visit, we would have returned to the park from a hotel after dinner to hit two more rides (probably Matterhorn and another go on Buzz), then to watch the fireworks or Fantasmic.
Now, you might argue that $66 for an adult ticket for four hours in a theme park ain't a great deal. Well, we bought the SoCal resident 2fer ticket, so our $66 gets us an additional (yep, four-hour) day at California Adventure within the next 30 days. So we'll hit ToT, Monsters Inc., Aladdin, Grizzly River, and, for old times' sake, Jumpin' Jellyfish. We might try the Trattoria for lunch, or head back to Brennan's. And I'll take a slew of construction photos for the site.
With the two park visits, it's a reasonable deal, with no stress and plenty of relaxed enjoyment all around. So that's the key: Find a ticket package or discount that allows you feel comfortable with the four-hour daily time limit, and not frustrated that you're spending too much money for that amount of time in the park.
Here are a few pics from the park:
My final tip? Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney. Great food, much better than in the parks themselves, and I've never had a wait to get in. It's not cheap, but the high quality makes it a great value, in my experience.