My family's first visit to Disneyland: Part Five
Published: November 6, 2013 at 9:02 PM
[Editor's note: A few handy links to our first four installments: Part One
, Part Two
, Part Three
, Part Four
. Go read those if you haven't yet. No cheating!]
With our daily visits to Disneyland and DCA complete, we had one more trick up our sleeves: Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland, a separate ticket event for Friday night, September 27. With our special tickets, we were not allowed to enter the park until 4:00 PM, so we busied ourselves that morning by washing clothes in the guest laundry, getting packed (we would check out of the Paradise Pier Hotel the next morning), and enjoying some relaxing swim time in the resort pool. We also spent a couple hours exploring the other two Disney hotels (both amazing as well) and Downtown Disney. Finally, around 2:00 in the afternoon we moseyed into Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel for lunch.
Trader Sam's is a small cocktail lounge with a great tropical setting. If you are a fan of the Jungle Cruise, the original Tiki Room, or the now defunct Adventurer's Club, you will love this joint. The walls are covered with photographs and souvenirs, supposedly collected by Sam himself, or sent to him by his many friends. The place is very unique and fun, with the bartenders ringing bells, performing a variety of gags, and calling out catchphrases known only to those regulars who endlessly straggle in and out while my family looked on in wonder wishing we were "in the know" as well. The food is relatively authentic with many Polynesian-style dishes offered. We ordered the Hawaiian Cheeseburger with Sweet Potato Fries and the Grilled Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos. Both were quite delicious, however the fish tacos were on the small side so they might be best served as an appetizer for the main course. For those who have the time and inclination, I highly recommend a visit to Trader Sam's.
After Trader Sam's we made our way to Disneyland to get in line for the 4:00 early entry to the Halloween Party. We weren't the only ones with this idea. By the time the park opened to party goers, the lines (filled with costumed Disney fans) stretched out across the esplanade all the way to DCA's entrance – so much for avoiding the crowds at a separate ticket event!
Once inside the gates we were each given a shiny orange wrist band (required to stay in the park after 7:00 PM) and a small bag for trick or treating. One word of advice for these parties: bring a large bag of your own for candy because Disney cast members are wonderfully generous with the portions they give out and the bags Disney supplies will not suffice. We brought a pillow case and a back pack – both of which were mostly filled after just 90 minutes of trick-or-treating. We also got a map for the party and a list of events and event times.
Our plan for the evening was to visit some of our favorite attractions until about 6:00, get a quick bite to eat at the Hungry Bear restaurant, then set about trick-or-treating until 9:00PM, followed by the Halloween Screams fireworks, the Mickey's Costume Party Cavalcade (parade), and then a series of final rides on our favorite attractions (Space Mountain, Indy, and Pirates). Keep in mind that there are many other Halloween festivities at the park including meet and greets, dance parties, a Toontown pre-party (where you can meet Roger Rabbit), and the like. However, with only five hours of actual party time, and fairly significant crowds at all the party specific events, our goals were set accordingly.
When we got inside the park at 4:00 the place was packed due to the day crowd overlapping with the party crowd, and for the next couple of hours we saw attraction wait times soar. For example, Ghost Galaxy had a 75-minute wait, Pirates was 30 minutes, and Indy was 45. So, plans changed. We grabbed Fastpasses for Indy first, and then scouted out the Jack Skellington character greeting area in the French Market. Note, Jack and Sally are greeting guests throughout the day, and are not exclusively tied to the Halloween Party itself. However, the line was very long, so we just nabbed a few pictures then busied ourselves with some last day souvenir shopping before heading back to Indy when our Fastpasses became active. What a great ride!
After Indy we headed to TomorrowLand and nabbed Fastpasses for Star Tours. Our return time was a ways away, so we crisscrossed back to Critter Country utilizing the Walt Disney Railroad (in order to view the Primeval World Diorama) and bought a light dinner at the Hungry Bear restaurant (we weren't very hungry just needed something more substantial than a snack). We shared a Fried Green Tomato Sandwich, a Pioneer Chili Cheeseburger, some Zesty Slaw, and a Lemon "Bumblebee" Cupcake. The food was good, but not great, and I definitely wish I had asked for extra fried green tomatoes. The cupcake looked beautiful, but did not taste as good as it looked. If you prefer a light-tasting cupcake, then you'll like this one, but I was hoping for something sweeter. Luckily, Pooh's Corner was nearby so we went in and grabbed a couple of delectable dessert treats to share (the oft ballyhooed Peanut Butter Sandwich and Peanut Butter Heaven are wonderful snacks). Satiated at last, we headed back across the park to ride Star Tours.
After Star Tours, we did a bit more shopping in Tomorrowland then positioned ourselves for our first trick-or-treat location. At 7:00 PM sharp, cast members started politely tossing folks out of the park who did not have party wrist bands. And for the first hour or so, wristband checking was preformed quite frequently around the park. Crowds, while still significant at the trick-or-treat stations and some of the headliner attractions, thinned appreciably as the night moved forward.
For those who have not been to a Disney Halloween Party before, there are about a dozen trick-or-treat paths spread throughout the park. These paths consist of several stops along a predetermined route where friendly cast members dump loads of candy into whatever container visitors happened to bring along. And we're talking the good stuff: Milky Way, Almond Joy, Snickers, Twix, Hershey bars, etc., and tons of it. The candy flows freely at Disney. Over the next 90 minutes we visited a half dozen different trick-or-treat paths which provided an estimated 35 pounds of chocolate for my soon-to-be-diabetic family to snack on for the next few months. SCORE!
Note: One of the nice things about going on some of the trick-or-treat paths is that they wind through attractions that most folks with a limited amount of time to spend in the parks don't get a chance to visit (unless they are annual passholders). For example, the Toontown trail went through both Minnie and Mickey's houses, and the Frontierland trail went through the Golden Horseshoe. So we were able to at least see the inside of these attractions which otherwise we would have completely missed.
After 90 minutes of trick-or-treating, we positioned ourselves at the end of Main Street just outside of the Central Hub and prepared for the Halloween Screams fireworks show. I grabbed a couple hand dipped corn dogs from the nearby Little Red Wagon to snack on while we waited. Hand dipped is definitely the way to go! The fireworks were supposed to start at 9:30, but maintenance delays (a common theme for our vacation) extended that start time to 9:45. Once the show finally began it was pretty cool. Jack Skellington hosts the show and his dog Zero makes several flying passes above Sleeping Beauty Castle. The fireworks start when the song Grim Grinning Ghosts begins and proceed as several of Disney's infamous villains (Ursula, Oogie Boogie, and Maleficent) arrive on the scene with their own montage of classic Disney songs. Jack and Zero return at the end to usher in the Scream-Along finale. It is a good show, worth the investment of time, but from what I understand it is very similar to the Hallowishes show at Magic Kingdom. (I can't confirm that info though since I have not attended the Halloween party at WDW).
We hung out after the show waiting for the 10:30 parade. We had really good seats and thanks to the delay in starting the fireworks we only had about thirty minutes to wait. We finished our corn dogs and soon Mickey's Costume Party Cavalcade began. After hearing so many good things about the Magic Kingdom's Boo To You parade, I must admit I was very disappointed in what I witnessed at Disneyland. Where was the Headless Horseman's pre-parade ride? Where were the grave diggers with their shovel scraping act? Where was the cool Haunted Mansion float? I guess I should have done more research, because I was definitely underwhelmed by this fairly standard, fairly short (maybe a half dozen floats is my guess), Halloween parade. I am not saying it was bad per se, but it was not what I expected or wanted to see.
After the parade we had about an hour and 15 minutes to pay our last respects to this grand old park, our favorite attractions, and our SoCal theme park adventure. We used our time wisely to visit Ghost Galaxy (the wait was down to about ten minutes at this point), Indiana Jones, and the attraction that really started our whole trip, Pirates of the Caribbean. Finally, exhausted, loaded with candy, and satisfied with all our hard work, we headed back to the Paradise Pier Hotel and crashed.
The next morning we left the Disneyland Resort to begin the second half of our SoCal vacation – the non-theme-park half. Overall, we had a wonderful time. There were a few bumps in the road, but those bumps were minor compared to the amazing adventures we experienced and the memories we made – memories that will last a lifetime. I do not know when, if ever, the Rao Family will have the wherewithal to make it back to the Disneyland Resort and Walt's original park, but at least we can hang our hats on the six days we thoroughly enjoyed in September of 2013. Six days that proved the old "Horizons" adage is true: If you can dream it, you can do it.
Published: November 6, 2013 at 9:23 PM
Well, gang, the journey is over and now I am faced with the glaring realization that it will probably be many years before the Rao Family can return to Disneyland again. How sad.
I just want to say that I very much appreciate all the comments, agreements, disagreements, corrections, and kind words you have provided throughout this five part saga. It has been a real pleasure sharing my family's adventures with a community of true theme park fans. I look forward to reading about all of your theme park adventures in the very near future. Let's keep the TPI fire burning!
"Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." - Walt Disney.
Published: November 6, 2013 at 9:19 PM
Great series. But I'm sad to see it end. Looking forward to a Orlando report from you the next time the financials allow.
Published: November 6, 2013 at 9:36 PM
Loved this series. We need more posts like this on this site. It's so refreshing to hear an honest review and experience of this fantastic resort. I too would love to see you do a Walt Disney World trip report in the future.
P.s- I went to my first Not-So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom, and it was absolutely fantastic. The fireworks were the best I have ever seen Disney do, the Boo to You parade is probably my favorite Disney parade, and the decorations and atmosphere were fantastic! I highly recommend you eventually experience this version of the Halloween Party whenever possible!
Thanks again for a wonderful report!
Published: November 7, 2013 at 5:30 AM
Jack Skellington looks like a grey alien and it terrifies me.
Great trip report though! I hope some day that I can make it to the Disneyland Resort.
Published: November 7, 2013 at 5:34 AM
This just brought some SoCal sunshine into my grey dreary London lunch break.
(@Jack - so glad you loved Boo To You! Best parade I have ever seen)
Published: November 7, 2013 at 8:36 AM
You done everything that should be done. 5 thumbs up. I went there two years ago for the Halloween Party. I usually brought the reusable Trader Joe bags. Each person held two bags. They never hesitated in filling two bags for each person. I didn't focus on the candy. I went on rides and the treat stations alternatively. The thing is you will still end up with lots of candy and you just can't take more. It is harder to go on the rides with the candy. I took advantage of the stroller to store the candy when going on rides. I will probably go again next year when my kid is 5 years old. I hope I don't need the stroller, but it is nice to have it around.
Published: November 7, 2013 at 9:38 AM
James - Thanks for bringing us along on your family trip!!! It was fun!
Published: November 7, 2013 at 9:56 AM
Did you get a chance to try the Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney? We went to DL in the spring with a group of cast members from WDW and they said that all the WDW managers said it was a must stop on any DL trip. Was so good we went twice.
Published: November 7, 2013 at 10:40 AM
Truly excellent article James. From a guy who may never get to Disneyland you made it come alive so many thanks.....
Published: November 7, 2013 at 10:46 AM
Glad it's not just me who thinks the Jack Skellington costume is freaky. Looks more like a Marvel villain or X-Files monster than a Disney character.
Published: November 7, 2013 at 12:46 PM
I haven't commented before, but I've been reading every word, Awesome stuff, Mr. Rao. I loved the pic of your kids with the candy pile..I'm jealous as heck, and I'm ALREADY diabetic! I went to Disneyland only once, as a 14 year-old in 1979. Obviously much has changed, but you really make me feel like I was with your family. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to provide us with such an informative, descriptive, and entertaining trip report.
Published: November 7, 2013 at 11:04 PM
This whole report was excellent! I wish there was more. Anyway, if you can only visit the Disneyland Resort once, this is the way to do it. It sounds like you got your fill of everything you wanted to ride (well, except Big Thunder Mountain Railroad since it's in refurbishment) and managed to avoid most of the crowds that sometimes plague the resort (typically due to Passholders coming in the evenings). Who knows, maybe you'll get a chance to return sooner than you think.
One thing I've found about Disney parades is that they are insanely popular but most of them are forgettable. The only parade I've ever found memorable was the Main Street Electrical Parade, and even though I've seen most of Mickey's Soundsational (the park's current daytime parade, likely the one you saw day one) I found it fairly dull and a general waste of time. From your report, it sounds like the Mickey's Halloween Party parade is skippable as well, which is a shame as Boo to You actually looks like it could be spectacular. The firework shows, on the other hand...I prefer Fantasmic, but I haven't seen a Disney firework show I didn't like (although Remember...Dreams Come True is my favorite).
Finally, I have to ask: Assuming the same length and same expense for each visit, would you rather do a return visit to Southern California or to Central Florida (or would it depend on the status of X2)? I've never been to Florida, and although it is near the top of my theme park destination list (and I will get there one day) it seems hard to justify the expense with Disneyland as one of my local parks.
Published: November 8, 2013 at 7:21 AM
I have very much enjoyed reading about your trip! Great to get a good insight into the goings on over in the West :)
P.S Your older son is gorgeous btw xD Sorry, I had to say something! Haha :)
Published: November 8, 2013 at 10:10 AM
@Rob, Jack, Kelly, Anon, Tad, David, Mike, AJ, Samantha, and anyone else who said something encouraging to me during the course of this five part therapy session: THANK YOU!
@Rob & Jack The soonest the Rao Family might be traveling back to Orlando would be sometime in 2015, which works out nicely since by then the Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Potter 2.0, and Falcon’s Fury will not only be running, but the initial crowd rush should be over. Now, whether or not I will subject my TPI family to another 21 page moment-by-moment diatribe of the Rao’s journey remains to be seen, but right now I think I will attempt to be a bit less verbose going forward!
@anon poster 188.8.131.52 & Ian I thought Jack Skellington was very cool. We actually did run into him as he was walking back to the offstage areas, and he was very funny and engaging as he interacted with guests. I think I will have to get the Disney Infinity Skellington figurine for my son Jeremy who now loves the character.
@anon poster 184.108.40.206 Nope, we did not get a chance to visit the Jazz Kitchen. The only place we ate that I did not cover in my report was the Earl of Sandwich and we only ate there because it was very late and the line was short. I am not a huge fan of the Earl, as I think there are far superior sandwich places in almost every city in America, but, in a pinch, when everyone is tired and hungry, the Earl is fine.
@AJ Overall, I think that Central Florida is the better “resort-style” vacation destination, but thankfully it never has to be an either/or proposition. I plan on revisiting both coasts on trips in the future (there is a LOT I missed in SoCal that will have to be rectified at some point). You are very lucky to live so close to so many wonderful parks and attractions (and coasters).
@Samantha I’d like to think Jacob gets those great looks from his Dad…..whoever he is!!!! j/k =)
And remember, everyone needs to be posting their trip reports! For the next couple years I will need to live vicariously through your theme park vacations while I save up for the Rao Family's Next Great Adventure!
Published: November 8, 2013 at 10:50 AM
James, you could LITERALLY make it a Great Adventure and haul your butts out to Jersey! I'd be glad, proud,honored, and humbled to be the Rao family's guide.
Published: November 8, 2013 at 12:39 PM
Sounds like a plan! If only it were true that spending lots of money helped people (and governments) stay out of debt! ;)
Published: November 8, 2013 at 12:22 PM
Thoroughly enjoyed the series of your Trip Report! Not all of what you said I agreed with, but it has to do with my personal experiences at the Resort. I've been to Disneyland 10 times in the past 12 years, with the most recent trip being in September of 2012. Your Trip Report definitely brought it all back, and motivated me to get back...however if I even suggest such an idea to my wife at this point, she would strangle me! "There's other places to go besides Disneyland!" That's true, but I'd rather go back to Disneyland. I'm a confirmed addict of the place. Thanks again for posting your report. What a nice family!
Published: November 8, 2013 at 2:27 PM
Understand about your wife... mine put her foot down when I originally wanted to do nothing but theme and amusement parks for two weeks in SoCal. "I'll visit Disney," she said "but all those coaster parks are the same!" ;)
Published: November 8, 2013 at 2:52 PM
Cool great trip report!! DLR is my local park, but it's cool reading the recaps & first impressions of attractions, etc.
Just as curiosity, after visting DCA & DL, if you were to rank all 6 US Disney parks, how would you rank them? I know overall, WDW wins as a resort, but I'm talking individual parks.
Published: November 9, 2013 at 8:03 AM
I guess I would go with the following list...
Off to see Thor 2 and give Disney even more of my money. Have a good weekend gang!
*Edit 11/9 - Thor 2 was a rollicking good time. Check it out, Marvel fans!
Published: November 11, 2013 at 3:26 PM
Thanks for some great reads James. It makes me want to go back sooner, even despite having a 3 year old and 11 month old.
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