Syncopated Family Travel: Yes, I’m a Mouseketeer at Disneyland!

Story by Anthony Mathenia  Photos by Rebekah Mathenia 

Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa

Dirty Disney MousketeerMecca. Nirvana. The Holy Land. It goes by many different names to the faithful, but for the uninitiated it is known as Disneyland. I prostrate myself at its hallowed turnstiles and I am filled with a shuddering ecstasy: one of those big bastard Pentecostal grand mals.
After numerous trips to Walt Disney World in Florida, I finally get to touch the sacred soil of the California mother park. What’s the first stop? Space Mountain? It’s a Small World? The Matterhorn? All in due time. First I pull up a stool at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel.  The bar, named after the infamous Jungle Cruise headhunter, is a piece of kitschy South Pacific heaven.

Disneyland Bar - TikibarThe interior is a cramped space festooned with exotic Polynesian decorations. Outside, luau musicians serenade people lounging around an impressive stone fireplace. The Tiki Bar is everything I love about Disney on amphetamines, it’s not a bar, it’s an experience. I’m served up a tropical drink called the Uh-Oa in what can only be described as a large tiki cereal bowl. As the skipper sets it down before me the whole bar erupts in a chant over throbbing drums: “uh-oa, uh-oa, uh-oa.” Pinches of cinnamon spark as they are flicked on a flaming sugar cube floating atop a pool of rum and fruit juices. Around me, lightning flashes, water sprays, and a volcano goes off. I take a drink and my head spins. It’s that classic wholesome Disney debauchery. If I’m lucky I’ll wake up in the middle of a magical princess orgy. If I’m unlucky I’ll end up floating in the castle moat.

Hotel room at Disneyland HotelMost likely it’ll just end with me sinking into my posh bed near the top of the Fantasy tower at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s decked with fluffy white comforters and navy blue throw pillows reading “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” The dark wood headboard lights up with a twinkling display and plays a soothing When You Wish Upon a Star. Elegance like this comes at a hefty price. In order to pay for the room we nearly had to sell our daughter as an indentured servant in the Disney college program when she turns eighteen.

Disneyland hotel president NixonIt’s worth it for the pure nostalgiagasm of the place. The hotel was opened in 1955, soon after the park opened, and today history oozes out of every crevice.  Just off the main lobby is a collection of frame photographs of visiting celebrities and dignitaries over the years, including that lying crook Nixon. Our room has a framed, black and white portrait of the master of the mouse, Walt Disney, standing under the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Outside the elaborate pool includes water slides made out of old monorails winding down underneath a vintage Disneyland sign. It’s a Disney time warp.

At Trader Sam’s I run up a serious bar tab and chat with another couple. I spotted them out of the crowd and could tell that they worshiped at the altar of Disney. We bond over the fruity drinks and our mutual love of the mouse.  They are California natives so we trade stories about the differences between the two parks.  This particular family one ups me by sharing that they had the opportunity to go to Disney’s new Aulani resort in Hawaii. How was it? “Expensive, but so worth it,” they replied with familiar ecstatic eyes.

Disneyland Small WorldAs a Disney World veteran, it is great to check out the source material. When I clear the Disneyland railroad berm I’m no longer in the middle of busy downtown Anaheim; rather, I’m transported into that happy place.  I skip through the hallowed castle. I bask in the beauty of Mary Blair’s whimsical Small World facade. I join Mr. Toad on his wild ride straight to hell. I loudly catcall to the “red head” as roguish pirates raid the Caribbean town. I never, ever stop smiling.
The Disneyland park is a historical testament to the dedication of one visionary who had invested himself in making so many people happy. It’s an amazing legacy I’m happy to pay homage to.
Disneyland Buean Vista StreetJust across the entrance plaza is the much-maligned California Adventure park. After an extensive billion dollar remodel, the park seems poised to reestablish itself. Through the gates I stroll past the art deco style buildings of Buena Vista Street, a tribute to Las Angeles circa 1923. We enjoy a fantastic meal at the new Carthay Circle Theatre restaurant. The interior of the restaurant evokes strong images of olden Hollywoodland high class.  The first floor bar is a particular treasure. Their specialty is classic cocktails served up proper. I enjoy a gin martini, chilled to perfection with an ice sphere and garnished with an olive.

Beyond is the new Carsland, which note for note recreates Radiator Springs from the animated Pixar movie Cars. When the sun goes down the area sparks to life with brilliant neon.  Life Could Be A Dream drifts romantically out of the loudspeakers. However, for all of the fun of the cartoon version, the real Route 66 awaits us, as we must soon say goodbye to the west coast and head home.

Neon at Disneyland CarslandOur days at Disney end with a viewing of The Wonderful World of Color water show.  Acrobatic fountains of water dance to sweeping music in a wild array of pulsating color. Dr. Leary would be impressed. We ignore the “you may get wet” warnings and take up a position right up front near the cascading jets. To quote the Flight of the Conchords, “I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face.”  This is heaven.

The Fine Art of Fantastic Family Road Trips

One of the great things about being back in the United States is the opportunities it presents to engage in that greatest of American pastimes, The All American Family Road Trip. Like the Griswalds, I can load my family into the car with a minimum of explanation, make sure the tank is full of gas and we’ve got a credit card with a bit of mileage left on it, and then we can hit the road for parts unknown.

San Francisco, California

Personally, I like to engage in as little solid planning as possible – which leaves plenty of opportunity for that most wonderful of road trip wonders – improvisation. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Miles Davis when it comes to catching everyone off guard with a new and sudden direction – and like Miles – I have the skills to make those improv moves work. It’s a little hard on my wife – she still likes to pack for a specific situation and bring everything that she might need in any eventuality – which is hard when she doesn’t know if we will be going to a theme park, staying in a posh resort, spending time in the city or the country, or even leaving the country. I will give her credit though – she’s starting to get it – bring a rain coat, a swimsuit, a passport, a sweater, and sandals. And what you forget, can usually be found along the way in a thrift shop, a mall, or at a garage sale. Yes, it’s these trips that I love most about the USA.
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Over the coming days and weeks, I will share some of the trips we’ve taken since landing on these shores back in 2013 – but for right now, I’ll give you a little teaser. We’ve camped up and down the Oregon Coast and into the Redwoods, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Peninsula. We’ve also made spontaneous trips to Seattle, Portland, Astoria, San Francisco, Sacramento, Redding, Bandon, Florence, Yachats, and Eureka. We’ve explored the deserts of Arizona and the streets of Victoria, British Columbia along with traipsing through the Coastal Redwoods, hitting the Las Vegas Strip, and of course, seeing the lights of Los Angeles. I don’t want you to misunderstand – these are fast trips with lots of road time, lots of driving, and a relatively short amount of time spent at our destinations. That’s the thing with road trips – they are as much about the road as they are about the destination. The time spent singing in the car, the games we play with other people’s license plates, and the mystery of where we will stay in a given night – whether with friends, in a nice hotel, or a roadside dive.
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I will begin with our most recent trip – which we just returned from day before yesterday. It was an epic jaunt from Reedsport to Roseburg then down to Redding, straight down the I-5 to Anaheim, a visit to Disneyland, then a trip to Southern Arizona near the Mexican border before journeying straight through Phoenix and Tucson to Las Vegas, then turning back westward to the Central California Coast where we went though Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and straight through the Redwoods back to Oregon and where we started in Reedsport. It was a crazy 3000 mile figure-eight shaped road trip in which we almost never drove on the same road twice. I’ll start telling you about it in the next post…stay tuned.
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Disney on a Dime in Time: Getting the Most from Your Disneyland Visit

Disneyland Tips and Ideas
Arrive at the park when it opens, and use FASTPASS to reduce your time spent waiting in lines. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

 

Story and Photos by K. Pearson Brown

A trip to Disneyland can be expensive, with the lowest price SoCal resident one-day, one-park tickets starting at $81 for kids 3-9 years old. Admission is only one cost. There’s gas, meals, snacks and souvenirs, and if you plan to stay overnight, the cost of a hotel.

Hotels Near Disneyland

In order to truly enjoy your visit and not worry about money, figure out which elements of your trip are worth splurging on for you and your family, plan ahead to help defray costs, and then just have fun.

If you have the buckage, staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the way to go. The Disneyland Hotel, The Grand California Hotel & Spa and the Paradise Pier Hotel are all fabulous and carry over the Disney brand of extreme hospitality and spirit in décor, ambient music and other touches, and there are added perks, like Magic Hour early admission and a private park entrance. All three Disney hotels also have great pools and waterslides.

Keeping Cool in California
The Anaheim Hilton Hotel has many amenities for families such as a kids water feature a Disney Desk at the hotel. Credit: Courtesy Anaheim Hilton

The Disneyland Resort site (http://disneyland.disney.go.com/)  features a number of packages that slightly discount Disney hotels plus admission tickets and dining options.
You can save a lot by staying off-Disney, at one of the partner hotels, which offer much lower room rates.

The nearby big convention hotels have a more corporate ambience, but hotels such as the Hilton Anaheim Hotel , with room rates starting at $94, cater to Disneyland visitors with child-friendly features, such as a terrific water feature at the hotel pool and an on-site Disney Desk staffed by resort cast members. The Hilton is also walking distance from the park, if you are a sturdy walker, or you can hitch a free shuttle bus across the street to the park that will drop you off right at the park entrance.

Eating Cheap at Disneyland
You can save on meals by shopping at a local supermarket and eating at a complimentary picnic area just outside the park’s main entrance. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

Count on food at the park being expensive. Entrees at the restaurants are pretty generous, so you can share if you have a modest appetite. If you are really hungry, the all-you-want-to-enjoy buffets are a pricey but satisfying option, and some offer character dining, such as at Goofy’s Kitchen, where the characters come by to hang with you at your table – which can be a two-fer option if you don’t want to wait in line at the park to pose with characters for photos. If you are on a tight budget for meals, dining outside the park offers the usual cheap fast-food and moderately priced casual dining options, or if you can shop at the local supermarket and eat at the complimentary picnic area just outside the main entrance. No outside food or beverage is allowed in the park, and security does search your bags when you enter.

It will cost you a little sleep but no extra money to get in more Disney by arriving when the park opens so you can maximize your visit. Lines are shorter for the first hour or so, so head to the attractions that historically have the longer lines, which are generally the rides that feature FASTPASS, which is also a great program to take advantage of to reduce your time waiting in lines.

Dining at Disneyland
Character dining options feature all-you-can-enjoy meals and an opportunity for photos with characters, without standing in line at the park. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

The themed merchandise at the shops is tempting, so set a budget for yourself and the kids each day. Use gift cards or Disney Dollars to enforce the limit. Once the allowance is gone, that’s it. Better yet, tell the kids that you are saving the last hour of the last day for shopping, so you can stave off the constant pleas for souvenirs at every turn.
Lastly, be prepared. Take along extra batteries, a change of clothes and towel for wet rides, and a sweatshirt or jacket for when the sun goes down, so you don’t end up buying these things at the park.

And remember, don’t feel deprived just to save yourself a few bucks. Budget in one or two spontaneous purchases, and enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth without regret.

Disneyland on Less Than a Grand – Barely

imageI’ve been to Disneyland a handful of times in my life. The first trip I was just barely old enough to remember it, but I remember riding the Dumbo Elephants with my dad and spinning in the Mad Hatter Teacups with my mom and brother. This was in the mid-1970s and I remember having a book of tickets – my mom, who worked in her teens as one of the mermaids on the submarine adventures – always spoke of E-Tickets as something close to admittance to heaven. Back in the mid-70s – Disneyland was something like $10 per person with individual tickets for rides costing an additional $10 or so. The parking lot was massive (now it is Disney’s California Adventure Park). Parking was a couple of bucks – so a family of five could look at around $100-$150 for a day at Disneyland without food or lodging.

I went to Disneyland again sometime around the period before it switched to single entry in 1980. The price had jumped to $12 per person and the E-ticket ruled supreme. In 1984 I went with my entire 8th Grade Graduating Class – and every other 8th grader in Southern California (it seemed) – I don’t recall how much it was for us – but I think it was something like $25 for the experience – Captain Eo was the newest and most excitement building attraction. The last time I went to Disneyland before this year was in 1988 – I’m pretty sure that tickets were still in the $20 per visit range. Star Tours was a brand new ride and we waited in line to go on it seven or eight times. We loved that there were no individual tickets but of course, that did make lines longer.

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Prices have changed. In January of 2016 I took my family of three to Disneyland. We paid approx $100 each for a one day pass to the Disneyland park only. A nearby hotel with parking cost us just about $430. We snacked on various foods in the park and kept souvenirs down to a pair of plush Minnie Mouse ears – that was another $100. Meals outside the park set us back another $150. And that brings us to $980 for a family of three to stay two nights near Disneyland and have one very full day in the Disneyland park only. Just barely under $1000 not including the trip to get there, the gas, hotels on the way etc. I felt like we did pretty good. Could we have skimped more? Sure – we could have gotten a cheaper hotel at a further distance with breakfast included. We could have snacked less in the park. We could have made sandwiches for dinner and used public transportation to get to and from the park and saved on parking – but even so – it still would have cost us $600 at a minimum – and frankly – the convenience of crossing the street to get to Disneyland was worth it, the snacking in the park was part of the fun, the souvenir we bought was essential, the meals were fun and part of the vacation experience. It was worth every penny.

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Before going on this trip – I looked at as many options as I could find. Multi-day park hopper tickets cost more but seem to be a good value – you can’t buy single day tickets anywhere but at Disneyland ticket booths. I bought them the night before and we were in line good and early – so it was a little bit galling to see the magic morning hour folks enjoying the park for an hour before us – that wasn’t an option available to us. You can get the magic morning hour if you purchase 3, 4, or 5 day park hopper tickets in advance – starting at $235 per person. So it wasn’t available to us because we didn’t have the time or money to spend that much time at Disneyland. So a 3-day park ticket (one park per day) with magic hour on one of the days would have cost us right around $700 – which is a pretty good deal for a family of three. To make those park hopper tickets would cost you an addition $120 – I’m not sure that would be worth it – unless there were a very good reason.

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I downloaded the Disneyland app for my iPhone and it was awesome. It told us wait times, which rides were closed, and gave us a great tool to help us make the most of our day in the park. Since we knew our phones would be getting heavy usage for photos, videos, and the app – I bought a rechargeable battery and a solar panel before the trip – these were lifesavers. Not once on our entire trip did we have to put away our phones and take no pictures due to battery drain. By the way, we left the solar panel behind but brought the fully charged battery with us and it gave us four full charges through the day.

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Initially, I had no idea Disneyland had become so expensive – I went to the Disneyland website thinking to create a simple Disneyland Vacation – the bill for a simple vacation staying at the Disneyland Hotel for three nights, with 3 day park hopper, a character breakfast, and not including snacks, souvenirs, or parking came to over $2400! I knew I could do better – and so we did. And it was awesome…more about the specifics in my next post.

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