By DARREN HANDSCHUH
One of things I remember most about my childhood excursion to the Happiest Place on Earth was the agonizingly long drive.
My dad hated to fly, so we all piled into a big blue van and spent the next several days cruising on the highways of the U.S. as we made our way to Disneyland.
To say my dad gets a little stressed in big city traffic is to say Moses went on a little camping trip.
But once we got there, dad relaxed and we did all of the tourist type things you are supposed to do and in general built memories that endure to this day.
When it was time to take the role of the dad leading his clan to the Magic Kingdom, I took a slightly different approach.
I am not a huge fan of flying. OK, who am I kidding, flying used to scare me stupid and the first time I went on a commercial jet I nearly had a heart attack every time the winged beast would hit a little turbulence.
But any concerns I had about spending a few hours in the air were far outweighed by the dread I had about spending three days driving there, and three days driving back, with a van load of kids.
We decided to let a travel agent make all the arrangements and in a matter of days return flights for five were made, as were accommodations, bus vouchers, multi-day passes to Disneyland and California Adventure parks, a day trip to Universal Studios and a pirate-themed dinner theatre.
Flight time from Kelowna to Orange County took around three hours. A short layover in Seattle added a couple of hours to the journey, but beat days of motoring by a long shot.
We chose to go the Magic Kingdom in mid-February because it is the off season, it is still warmer than the Okanagan in winter and we hoped the crowds would be lighter so we could avoid spending our vacation waiting in line.
Upon arriving I briefly questioned our strategy.
Catching a weather report our first evening in the hotel what we heard was “…the worst winter storm of the year will hit the area at around midnight…heavy rains…high winds…enjoy Disneyland suckers…”
We woke up to exactly what was predicted, but we were Canadians and we were not going to let a little weather stop us from having fun, so we grabbed our gear and off to the bus we went.
The Anaheim Regional Transit system offers reasonable rates with an adult ticket costing $4, and a child was a buck, which allowed us to ride all day and the Disneyland bus stopped at our hotel every 20 minutes.
The rain poured for several hours forcing us to buy authentic Disneyland raingear, for a premium price of course.
Initially, we thought the monsoon would detract from the experience, but we soon learned Californians are allergic to rain and going to Disneyland in precipitation makes them break out in a rash, so we pretty much had the place to our selves.
There were other people braving the weather of course, and I noticed many of them bore the Maple Leaf.
Most of the rides were indoors, or underground to be exact, and we got on them about as fast as we could wind our way through the turnstiles.
Our remaining days in Disney were sunny and beautiful, but the crowds were still light.
The Magic Kingdom is not immune from the current economic woes, and attendance has dropped 32 per cent. That is bad news for the bottom line, but good news for those waiting in line.
Fast passes are available for most rides. This is where your park entry ticket is scanned and a pass is given to go on a ride at a certain time. You won’t have to wait in line, but you can only have one fast pass at a time.
The big thing in the Magic Kingdom right now is 4-D shows. This is where 3-D is supplemented by physical attributes such as in the Bug’s Life show where as a termite ‘spits’ at the crowd, little drops of water hit you in the face. The chairs vibrate when ‘bugs’ walk under them and all sorts of little forms of interaction make for a humerous experience.
Then there were the rides. All of them were fun – some of them were fun in a throw-up-on-your-shoes sort of way, but they were fun none the less.
Between Disneyland Park and California Adventure there are rides for every taste. The California portion of the amusement park features adrenaline-pumping rides with lots of twists, turns, drops and G-forces, while the Disney area presents more relaxed and amusing rides.
The granddaddy of all Disney roller coasters was California Screamin’ where you were hurled at break neck speed up and down and doing all sorts of things typically reserved for air force fighter pilots.
The smaller roller coasters were still fun and they did not leave your spleen in your chest cavity.
There are the traditional rides that have been part of the Magic Kingdom since the beginning, and there are the newer rides that incorporate the latest in video and digital technology.
When I went to Disneyland as a 12 year old, I remember running around Tom Sawyer’s Island. It was memorable to watch my own children run around the same area having the same fun.
New memories were built with rides like the Tower of Terror – an elevator drop – and Indiana Jones that are as much a story as they are a ride. The detailed sets are amazing and add greatly to the experience.
Wherever you go there is something to look at, listen to or take part in. Street performers keep you entertained as you walk from attraction to attraction and the ever-popular Disney characters were in abundance.
Of course, every 10 metres is a souvenier stand, and as should be expected at such touristy destinations, the items are not at bargain-basement prices.
For a family of five, we found on-site food to be one of the biggest expenses. A hot dog for $7, or a cheeseburger for $8 were commonplace and that did not include a drink. Once you leave the grounds and cross the road to where there are a bevy of restaurants and hotels, prices are somewhat better.
When booking a hotel, look for one that includes a free breakfast. Ours had a well-stocked hot breakfast – including eggs, fruit, waffles and cereals – that saved us a considerable amount of money each morning.
We used cash, traveller’s cheques or credit cards for most purchases. I tried using my Canadian debit card a couple of times outside of Disney, but both times it was rejected. The cash machines in Disney happily accepted the Canuck bank cards and spit out as much cash as I could afford.
Credit cards are universal, but beware of less-than-spectacular exchange rates when the bill comes in.
One of the most important items to bring is comfortable footwear. The Disneyland train runs around the perimeter of the entire park, stopping at four main locations, but be prepared for a lot of walking.
A small bottle of hand sanitizer is also a good idea as thousands of people have touched the same rails, controllers or door handles you are about to.
Was Disneyland cheap? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
The value of a lifetime of family memories was well worth the expense of providing them.