Monday, January 31, 2011

Flying to Disneyland

We have flown to Disneyland now 4 times and the experience each time is has been very different. On those trips we have flown two different airlines, gone to three different airports and used three different types of ground transportation. Let me lay this out for you as best as I can.

We love to fly in to John Wayne Airport (SNA). It is a smaller airport. Lines for security are rather short. The longest it ever took us to get through security was about 5 minutes. There are no restaurants except beyond security. So if you think that you will eat once you get to the airport while you wait for ground transportation to pick you up make sure that you get food before you go through security to get your luggage. Ground transportation is about 30 minutes from this airport to the Disneyland Anaheim Resort in average traffic conditions.

Los Angeles Airport is our least favorite (LAX). There is nothing wrong with this airport. They have earlier arrivals and later departures than SNA. While that may be important to some, it makes no difference to us. It is a larger airport and wait times for security are much longer. Ground transportation from here to the Disneyland Resort will take you about an hour as long as you are not traveling during rush hour.

Longbeach Airport is the most recent airport we have flown into. It is a very tiny airport that needs some updating. The bathrooms are small and the only food available is similar to what you would find at an airport coffee shop (i.e. simple pastries and fruit). The waiting room here is crowded. The fun part about this airport is that to disembark the plane or to board the plane you must walk outside onto the tarmac. That was a fun experience for our daughter. Transportation from this airport is limited. You either need to hire a cab or find a shuttle service licensed for this airport. Ground transportation from this airport will take you about 30 minutes as long as you are not traveling during rush hour. On our way home it took us about an hour to get to the airport. Had I known that we would have left earlier than we did.

The view out our window just after take-off.
Alaska Airlines and JetBlue are the only airlines that we have flown to the Disneyland Resort. The staff for either airline has been wonderful to us and very accommodating. The biggest difference between the two is that JetBlue has televisions in the back of each seat. That was a nice feature when traveling in the morning with our preschooler. She was able to watch Nick Jr. the whole flight. JetBlue also has a wider selection for the beverage service and your first checked bag is free. That was a bonus on our last trip since we had an extended stay at Disneyland. One thing to note: If you are departing on the west coast JetBlue does not fly directly to LAX or SNA. On the east coast it appears (I looked at their webs route map) that you may be able to fly into LAX.

As for ground transportation...we have taken the Disneyland Express Bus twice. Once you depart the airport you are taken directly to the Disneyland Hotel. Here you will be required to either present a pre-paid ticket, voucher or pay for your travel. Once everyone on board has done this they will allow you to disembark the bus if you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel. If you are not, they stop at the Disney's Grand Californian and Paradise Pier Hotels, if there are passengers on board. Once those passengers have disembarked, they travel to all of the remaining hotels on their route. We have also rented our own car when we stayed off of the resort property and drove back and forth to the park everyday. That was my least favorite experience. The traffic stressed me out, because we are from a small community and don't normally drive around that much traffic. Make sure you check California State Laws regarding safety seat requirements for your child.

The end result: As I am currently planning our trip for fall 2011 here is what I prefer for transportation:

Airline: Alaska
Airport: John Wayne (SNA)
Ground Transportation: Disneyland Express Shuttle

These are my preferences. You may like another airline or prefer a different airport. Whatever you choose, remember that if you do not take a direct flight you will be required to pay airport fees for each airport you land in. In those cases it may seem that your flight is cheaper, but could end up costing you more. There are many times when I almost booked on Southwest Airlines. After carefully looking at the airport fees I was able to book on JetBlue or Alaska for the same price. Southwest and JetBlue do give you one checked bag for free (at the time of this posting), but I am willing to pay for my luggage if necessary.

Until Next time,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Planning That First Trip to Disneyland

I have been watching airfare prices now for about two months for our Fall Vacation to Disneyland. It's early, but tickets have actually risen by $3.00 one way if you can believe it. This got me to thinking about our first trip and what planning it was like for me being somewhat of a novice.

In November of 2008 my husband and I decided we were going to take Ainsley for her first trip to Disneyland. She had just turned three and we decided she was old enough to really appreciate the park. We just needed to decide when and how. Danny and I had taken our nieces to Disneyland before, so we were not total novices to Disneyland, but that was 10 years ago and so much had changed. Disney's California adventure didn't even exist back then. They had barely begun excavation and I remember thinking how exciting it would be go again after it was completed.

We talked about what to do first. Honestly, we had no idea. I checked the Disneyland website, read a few tips, but was still feeling lost. Danny remembered that his sister had recently made a trip to DisneyWorld and decided to ask her for advice. She said that we needed to buy a guide book.

When Birnbaum's Disneyland Resort 2009 arrived I was oober excited. Sitting down with a highlighter I was  bound and determined to read it from cover to cover. It was packed full of information. Some of the things in the book brought back memories frou our 1998 trip, but much of the information was brand-new to me. I learned about peak periods for travel vs. off-season, price points for meals within the park, traveling to and from the park, rides within the park and more. I was overwhelmed and not sure what to do.

It's possible that you have had this feeling too, especially if you have never been before or at least never taken a preschooler before. That's what I am here for. Having taken my daughter now four times since 2009 I hope to share with you what I have learned. I recommend getting yourself a notebook (3-ring binder worked best for me) to store all of your notes and travel plans in. Let's get started...

The first thing you need to do is determine your travel dates. If you have a flexible schedule I would avoid the peak travel times which include Mid-June through Late August and Thanksgiving or the Christmas Break at the end of December. While none of our most recent trips were during those times I have seen pictures of wait times for popular rides. Trust me...there are better times to visit the park.

Second thing you need to do is determine a budget. This is important. How much you are willing to spend on your vacation will determine a number of things for you, such as, transportation, where you will stay, where you will eat and so much more. Set a budget for your hotel, transportation (air and/or ground) food, souvenirs and anything else you might need. Once your budget is set, start shopping for vacation deals.

We have purchased our trips to Disneyland in several different ways: Travel Agent, Online and through the Disney Travel Company. Our first trip was done through a travel agent. I loved this experience. My travel agent was very helpful and shopped around for me to find the very best deal that she could. I told her my travel dates including arrival and departure times and she handled the rest. Of course, me being the mom that I am, I continued to shop on my own for prices over the internet. She ended up finding a deal that was $300 cheaper than anything I could find online. It pays to shop around.

The third step is to set up a savings plan. If you're like me it is easier to save if you have a goal in mind. Once I set a budget for my vacation I determined how many paydays I had left and how much I would need to save from each payday to reach that goal. Based on past experience, it is important to note that if you are booking a vacation deal from either your travel agent or the Disney Travel Company your vacation package will need to be paid in full at least 30 days prior to arrival. Please check with your travel agent for exact information regarding payments.

There are many other details to planning a Disneyland Resort Vacation, but I am going to stop here. Stop back soon and check out my next blog on my airline and airport experiences.

Until Next time,

Friday, January 28, 2011

Safety and Your Preschooler

A cousin asked me recently about the safety at Disneyland in regards to a preschooler. It's not like walking into a Chuck E. Cheese and having your hand stamped with the same number they stamp your childs hand and require that they match before you exit. In fact, there is nothing even like it.

I recommend that before you leave on vacation you pack an updated portrait of your child to carry with you at all times. Ainsley has her own state issued I.D. card. Each year I take her in and have her picture updated on it. There is a fee for that, but it makes me feel better. The I.D. goes in my wallet and does not get taken out unless I need it.

While I have never lost my daughter at Disneyland I have been right next to a woman who suddenly realized her daughter was gone. The cast members in the park immediately jumped into action and began to help her search. They found the child within minutes. I was amazed and relieved at the same time. Other parents have attached tags to their children's clothing with cell phone numbers and parents names in case they should lose their child.

Any missing children (up to age 10) who are not immediatley reunited with their parents are taken to Children's Services by First Aid. Cast members register the childs name in the log book and provide  movies and books as entertainment. Each cast member is trained to follow a very specific procedure in this regard.

Here is a checklist for you:
  • Pack and Carry a current picture of your child
  • Use a stroller to prevent them from wandering off
  • Attach contact information to your child's clothing
  • Locate Children's Service when you arrive so you know where it is if needed
  • Establish a set of safety rules with your children so they will not what to do if they get lost
  • Teach your child how to recognize a cast member and how to ask for help
  • Make sure you or your spouse knows where your child is at all times.
I am not saying that if you follow all of these steps you won't lose your child. However, they will help. If you have any questions, please ask. I'm not an expert, but I will do my best to give you the best answer possible.
My prayer is that I will never lose my daughter while on vacation in Disneyland, but if I should it is comforting to know that cast members will do all they can to help.

Until Next time,

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Small World Show

I was so excited to read that Disney announced their new show in Disneyland Park. This new projection show will turn the facade of Small World into an "animated coloring pad." A new show will appear every night, because they will use pictures that PhotoPass Photographers take throughout the day to create the show as well as guest photos submitted online at Let the Memories Begin. Guests in the park not wanting to participate in the slide show will have the option to opt out.

Check the parks daily entertainment schedule for show times.

If you would like to see a preview before your vacation click here.

Until Next Time,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Finding Characters - Disney's California Adventure

In my last post I shared with you details about finding characters in Disneyland Park according to location. Now let's take a look at Disney's California Adventure. Let me remind you that this is not an exhaustive list. This is by location and will include only the characters that my family has encountered.

Sunshine Plaza: Here we have seen Mickey, Minnie and Stitch. I am sure other characters have appeared, we just haven't encountered them. Our experience with Stitch was quite fun and I love the picture below with Ainsley giving him a kiss. Ainsley really enjoyed Stitch getting down  to her level and interacting with her.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot: This is a fun place to find many of the Pixar characters. Mr. & Mrs. Incredible, Sully and more. They are often in shady places when the sun is shining. The backlot stage show here has changed. When Drawn to the magic was appearing we saw Cinderella, Sorcerer Mickey and Woody. Check your park guide to see times for the new show appearing there. Outside of Disney Animation we have met with Handy Manny and Mulan.

Paradise Pier: The green army men are often seen wandering through Paradise Pier. They stop and put on a small show. However, I have not seen them give out autographs or pose for pictures. Across from Toy Story Mania we have met both Woody and Jessie. Ariel's Grotto Restaurant is located here. This is a fun place to meet many of the princesses. Our favorite thing to do is take Ainsley to Bibbiddi Bobbiddi Boutique (we let her choose a princess costume and have her hair and nails done) and then bring her to Ariel's Grotto for a character meal. When you arrive you are taken downstairs for a picture moment with Ariel. During the meal Snow White, Belle, Cinderella and Aurora come out in intervals. They follow a path through the restaurant stopping at each table to pose for pictures and sign autographs.

Golden State: The only place we have seen any characters here is inside of the Redwood Creek Trail Challenge. Wandering through the trail we have seen Koda and Kenai many times. They are fun and really enjoy being silly. I have read that Chip and Dale have been known to make an appearance here.

Condor Flats: Outside of Soarin' Over California to the left (if facing the entrance) is an old plane. On our last vacation we were able to get a photograph with Goofy. Passing by later in the day we saw Minnie there and stopped for photos with her as well.

Bug's Land: We have not ever seen any live characters here. However, there are many fun places to stop and pose for pictures.

One last note: Some characters (such as Sully) have large paws and are unable to sign an autograph book.

Until Next Time,

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Meeting Characters in Disneyland

I have been working on this particular blog for several days now. My biggest struggle is how to format this particular information in a way that is most helpful to you, the reader. The end result is…I am going to share my experiences with you based on location. Hopefully it will be helpful to you in your planning. Keep in mind that while we have met many characters there are still those we have not encountered and will not be listed here as a result. While characters can be found throughout the day after about 4 they are more elusive. Check the parks daily entertainment schedule for actual meet and greet times.

Town Square: This is a fun place to find random characters. Typically in the morning you will find Mickey or Minnie. We have also had wonderful experiences with Pluto, Pinocchio, Geppetto, Goofy, Donald, Mad Hatter and Cruella De Vil. Please Note: Mad Hatter has a rather large nose (as he does in the movie) and my daughter was a bit afraid of him the first couple of times she encountered him. Cruella is true to her character. She does, however, manage to be nice despite her bitterness at losing all those puppies.

Central Plaza (the Hub): Here we have encountered only Alice, Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, Mary Poppins and Bert. Alice and her friends were outside of Refreshment Corner. She was preparing to leave and Ainsley asked if she would sign her autograph book. Alice took her hand and led her across the way just behind the Corn Dog Cart and visited with her for a bit. As a parent it is shocking to see a character take your child’s hand and lead them away not knowing where they are going. It ended up being a special moment that I was most grateful for. Pixie Hollow is located just between the entrances for Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Here we have always met Tinker Bell and one of her fairy friends. For us that has either been Silver Mist of Rosetta. We did catch a glimpse of Vidia, but were unable to get a picture with her.

Fantasyland: We have encountered many characters here. Mary Poppins and Fairy God Mother have been seen to the right and the left of the castle just before entering. We had a great moment with Aurora right outside the entrance the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through. Alice and her friends have been known to perform a skit or two and Captain Hook has been seen looking for the elusive Peter Pan (he never finds him). Over in Princess Fantasy Faire we have met many princesses. However, Fairy God Mother did tell us that Cinderella, Snow White, Belle or Aurora typically open and close the attraction. Other princesses you will see throughout the day are: Jasmine, Belle, Ariel, and Tiana. Rapunzel was not greeting guests on our last trip. We are looking forward to seeing her for the first time in the fall of 2011.

Mickey’s Toontown: If you are looking to meet Mickey and Minnie this is a wonderful place to go. Head on over to Minnie’s House where she will welcome you and invite you to explore the inside of her home. Then walk through Mickey’s House to get to his Movie Barn. Mickey is working in the sound stage. Here you will be able to watch some of Mickey’s earlier movie shorts while you wait to greet him. Guests are ushered into the sound stage in groups, but given the opportunity to greet Mickey individually. Pluto is often found wandering through the streets here and Goofy likes to greet guests outside of his house. If you are able to participate in Mickey’s Toontown Morning Madness it is a fun time to greet many characters one on one. We have seen Goofy, Donald, Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale on the morning we were there.

Frontierland: Our experience meeting characters here is limited. We happened to be walking through one morning and ran into Woody on the backside of Thunder Mountain Railroad. On our only Christmas visit we were able to take some wonderful pictures with Santa at Santa’s Reindeer Round-up.

Adventureland: Aladdin and Jasmine can be found at Aladdin’s Oasis between the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Jungle Boat Cruise.

New Orleans Square: We greeted Princess Tiana inside of a wonderful little alcove here. 

Critter Country: Pooh and Friends can be found here. They have a wonderful little location right in the middle, you can’t miss it. Brer Bear and Brer Fox also wander around here, although, they are harder to meet.

Tomorrowland: Here we have met Buzz Lightyear. We saw him walking through Tomorrowland and followed him. He stopped right outside of the Astro Orbiters along the rock wall. That was a fun moment for Ainsley.

Minnie & Friends - Breakfast in the Park at the Plaza Inn: This is perhaps our favorite character meal. While it seems a bit chaotic at first it is a wonderful experience. Minnie, Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Chip, Dale, Pinocchio, Fairy God Mother, Captain Hook, Max, Susie, Perla, Baloo and more have been present at many of the meals we have eaten there. They may not all be present at the same time, but Minnie is always there. If you are eating here with small children leave an adult at the table for picture time while another brings a tray of food for the children. My daughter is often distracted by the characters here so we try and eat around 10:30 and call it brunch. On that day we will then eat an early dinner around 4:30.

A couple of things to note in Disneyland: if you can’t find who you are looking for stop by the information board in Central Plaza. The Cast Member present will do their best to help you find the information you are looking for. The most important tip I can give you is to just keep your eyes open. Often times you will see Photo Pass Photographers is random places. They are usually waiting for a character to appear. You can also watch for cast members wearing a pin that says, “Ask me about characters.” Check in with them for tips on where to find a character you are looking for.
This list is getting quite long. Check back and I will share our experiences with Characters in Disney’s California Adventure.

Until Next time,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Meet-N-Greet Tips

As I sit here this morning it is raining outside and only about 40 degrees. Disneyland weather is sunny and 65. Who wouldn't rather be there. Maybe I will go sit in a tanning bed today for about 5 minutes and dream I am flying through the air on the Dumbo ride. 

On our first trip with Ainsley she was super excited to go. We didn't tell her until just before so her excitement wouldn't get the best of her. Honestly though, I have an amazing daughter. No matter how excited she is about an activity she still manages to sleep and maintain a calm level of anticipation. Don't get me wrong...she can be energetic like any normal 5 year old, but she can be really good at waiting too.

One of my biggest fears was how she would react to all of the characters. We saw a man dressed as Tigger one year handing out candy for Halloween and she hid behind me. Keeping that experience in mind I had determined that we need to be purposeful in how we introduced her to Mickey Mouse and friends. The plan was to arrive on our first day and immediately take her to Mickey's house in Toontown. Inside of Mickey's Movie Barn you can meet with the mouse himself. Cast members take park guests in small groups into Mickey's dressing room where you have an opportunity to meet with him and have a photo taken. Ainsley changed that plan when we first walked in the gate. Off to the right of the entrance in front of the Mad Hatter Hat Shop we saw Mickey and Pluto. She couldn't wait and wanted to meet Mickey right then. What a special moment that was.

Ainsley meets Mickey for the first time.

If you think your child might be afraid here are a few tips:

1. Be willing to stand in the picture with your child and ask a cast member to take a picture of your family. They will gladly use your camera and allow you to review it to make sure that it turned out well before you leave.

2. Use an autograph book. Ainsley loves to collect signatures of all the characters she meets. We like the autograph books with the picture pockets that can be purchased at the park.

3. Start with a favorite character. If you are not sure where to find them ask a cast member. However, Mickey is almost always at his house in Toontown and so is Minnie. Pooh and Tigger can often be found in Critter Country and many Princess can be found throughout the day at Princess Fantasy Fare.

4. While meeting the characters at Disneyland can be great fun, it’s not a must for a great Disneyland experience. Cast Members will do all they can to help you and your child have a great meet-n-greet with each character you encounter, but it's okay to wait until your child is ready.

Watch for my next blog for tips on where to find Character Meet-N-Greets at Disneyland.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I have been thinking a lot lately about writing a blog. There are many people in my life who keep telling me that I should write a book. Well, that seems a bit out of my league, so a blog will have to do. Finding a topic for a blog seems a bit easy for me. There are several things that I love and enjoy, but none of them compare to my love for Disneyland. I must warn you that I am not one to know everything about Disneyland. The trivia eludes me, but if I am in need of that information, I simply look no further than my husband. He loves to learn all of that and has a memory that amazes me still to this day. Neither have I experienced everything at Disneyland. There are some areas we have not been to and rides we have not done for specific reasons, but I will explain those for another time.

What I can speak to you of is my experience as a mom of a preschooler. Not that I have been an amazing amount of times, but for some the number of times I have been will be something they can only dream about. I have been 6 times in my life, 4 of those within the last 14 months. What a whirlwind year that was!!! I may never be able to make that many trips again in one year, but it is the intent of my family to make a least one every year J.

In the course of that year I have learned many things about Disneyland and feel that I must warn you. I am a 100% Disneyland fan!!!!! I have never been let down in a way that I felt slighted or cheated. The experience that we have at Disneyland is purely our making. We choose to enjoy everything about it (including the people we are surrounded by). That is truly our mindset. On our first visit with our daughter I had not been enjoying myself. Upon introspection I realized that I was the problem and not my surroundings. I had to let go of all of my own expectations and ideologies. Once I did that, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our trip.
That brings me to the purpose of this blog. I intend to tell you all about those four trips. The food we ate, rides we experienced, people we encountered and more. My daughter, now 5, had her first trip when she was three. Hopefully my experiences at Disneyland will help you in your planning. We are even currently beginning to plan our trip to in the fall of 2011. I have started now, because I am looking for a specific price point for airline and hotels. When I find what I am looking for I will make all of my necessary reservations.
I look forward to spending my time writing this blog and recalling all of my trips in the past and sharing what I have learned. However, I also hope to learn from you. Feel free to share with me your own thoughts and experiences. It’s always exciting to hear from others. Ask me your questions. I may not be able to answer everything, but I will do my best.

Until next time,