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One Family's Trip to Disneyland
One Family's Trip to Disneyland

Minnie Mouse


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

When I traveled to Los Angeles with my then 5-year-old daughter to visit friends and take in local attractions I didn't buy a guidebook nor did I search the web for ideas on maximizing a day at the house of the venerable mouse. I relied on my host. I had traveled with Gail and her husband, John, on several occasions in the past. I knew I wasn't imposing. Not even with kids.

In character, Gail unfolded the agenda for the next five days minutes after we arrived. And it began with a full-blown strategy for a trip to Disneyland. 'Weekends are too crowded', she alerted, 'we'll go tomorrow.' 'The park opens at 8:00 am, we should park the car by 7:30 am, 7:40 am at the latest, it takes a few minutes to get from the garage to the main entrance', she continued. 'So let's plan to be out the door by 6:30 am.' I don't think she breathed, once.

As we backed out of the driveway the following morning, a bit late I might add, Gail outlined the plan for the day. We were to start our day with a train ride to Mickey's Toontown. We would ride It's a Small World, a boat ride past singing dolls from around the world, first. By that time it would be around 8:15 am. Next we would move on to Toontown itself. While I faded, my body somewhere over the Atlantic, Gail continued on, 'we would leave the park by 1pm.'

Car parked and stroller packed - water, snacks, sunscreen and hats for 3 kids - we hopped one the tram. The ride was delightfully amusing. In fact, by the time we arrived at the front entrance, I too was geared up for a day at the happiest place on earth.

Just beyond the gates, the land of Disney unfolded before us. 'Look, there's Alice', I shouted too late. Four sets of feet were already running in the opposite direction. Who wanted to stop and see the Wonderland characters anyway?

As planned, we took the Disneyland Railroad to Mickey's Toontown, one of the park's must-see area if you are visiting with younger kids. However, when we arrived, the gates were closed. They would not open until 9:00 am that day. We needed a new strategy. After what seemed like hours, we decided to start at It's a Small World in any case.

We exited the ride and checked the map for alternatives. I spotted the Matterhorn Bobsleds, a fast moving coaster with sharp drops and turns and one of most popular attractions at Disneyland. All three girls were above the height requirement of 35 inches (89 cm). Gail hesitated. She was not sure her girls would like the ride. Neither had ever been on a real roller coaster. I suggested we walk over and let the girls decide. Olivia, just 5, took one look and decided it was not for her. Zoe and Nicole, on the other hand, were keen. It was time to split up. I took Zoe and Nicole on the Matterhorn while Gail and Olivia ran across the way to Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

We reunited at the gate to Mickey's Toontown just as the clock was ringing in 9:00 am. We headed straight to Minnie's house. 'There's Minnie,' the girls shrieked with delight. Camera's flashed. The Disney photographer was going mad. I wondered if people actually purchased the professional photographs. I got my answer several hours later on the way out of the park: The line at the photo shop was longer than the line for any of the attractions.

We rode Gadget's Go Coaster three times, climbed the Chip 'n Dale Treehouse, bounced off the floor and the walls in Goofy's Bounce House, played at the Jailhouse and rode Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. I needed a break. 'It's only a little after 10:00 am,' Gail said. Breaks were not part of the plan.

It was time for a bit of strategy and it was time to fastpass. Gone are the days of colored coupons and VIP passes of my youth. At democratic Disney, all attractions are now equally accessible to anyone paying the entrance fee. And they've added a sweetener called the fastpass; each guest now has five opportunities to skip to the front of the line!"

Now for the million-dollar question, 'How should we use our passes?' We unanimously agreed on Pirates of the Caribbean. After a bit of negotiating, we agreed to use our second fast pass on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We would take it from there later.

Once again it was time to split up. Gail raced around the park and fastpassed while the girls and I enjoyed Fantasyland. As with everything, there was a catch. I was now in charge of water, snacks, hats and sunscreen for not one, but all three girls.

As we exited Big Thunder Mountain an hour later it was clear that we all needed a rest and a real meal in an entertaining spot. Café Orleans fit the bill. Within minutes we were chatting, playing and, yes, planning once again.

It was time to use our third fastpass and it was my turn to run the marathon. I dashed over to Splash Mountain and inserted the tickets in the kool-aid jug like machine next to the entrance. My mistake was printed in bold. I was holding five passes to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I had fastpassed for the wrong attraction. And until the pass expired, I couldn't fastpass again.

I found the girls dancing to Dixieland music when I returned to the Café. They would never realize they had just missed a ride. We packed up and moved on.

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Travel Trivia
At Four Corners you can stand in which four U.S. States?