Saturday, March 3, 2012

One More Disney Day - February 29, 2012

Early in the year, Disney announced a promotion for Leap Day this year in which Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando would be open for 24 hours, from 6am on February 29 through 6am on March 1. We thought it was a bit of an odd promotion and didn't give it much thought, but over the course of a couple of weeks, the husband and I and some friends decided that it would be fun to do. In the days before, Disney announced some special food offerings as well as special entertainment additions to the event that sounded intriguing.

We had decided to get a hotel room nearby so we didn't have to drive either before or after the event. We checked in on Tuesday, February 28, got a few hours sleep (while people were already lining up since Disney was allowing a line to form starting at 10pm), and then the next morning, we walked to join the line, arriving at about 5:45am, with the end of the line at the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Disney Way. By the time we made our way to and through bag check and through the front turnstiles, we got into Disneyland at about 6:30am.

As we were waiting at bag check, it amused me to see this sign with the posted park hours. Not something you normally see!

Disney had announced that they were giving away free event ears hats to the first 2,000 people who entered the park. We weren't in that group of people, but we did get the event buttons they were giving out, which was pretty cool.

They had banners hung up by the tunnels under the train tracks for the promotion.

We had planned to get a locker for the day, but everyone else seemed to have had the same idea, and the line extended to Main Street and further down, so we decided to skip that. Instead, we decided to have breakfast. We had already decided that there was going to be a lot of food involved in our 24-hour adventure.

We headed to River Belle Terrace for breakfast. On the way, we passed by the Indiana Jones Adventure, and I was amused at the posted Fastpass return time, so several of us got Fastpasses just for the heck of it.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at River Belle. (Meal count = 1.) It was a good thing we got there when we did, because by the time we left, the lines for both sides were extremely long and out the doors.

As we exited River Belle, we saw a section along the Rivers of America blocked off and went to investigate. Turns out the television show "Modern Family" was shooting in Disneyland in various locations that day and the next, and they had disclaimers and signs up to alert people.

We headed back to Main Street so our friends could put some stuff away in their locker. The jumbo and large lockers were already all sold out, but they still had small lockers available, so we got one of those. Even though the locker wasn't very big, we managed to stuff a couple of jackets in there that we wouldn't need until later in the evening.

It was then off to go on rides! We spent most of the 24 hours with a group of about 5 other people. One friend was with us for almost all of that time, other friends had met up with us while we were in line to get into the park, and we met up with yet other friends during the course of the day. Sometimes, we'd split up to do different things for a little while but then we'd end up getting back in touch with each other again. It seemed that many of the people who had lined up overnight and earlier in the morning than we did had come into the park, gotten their free hat, maybe purchased some of the event-specific merchandise and then left entirely or at least to go take a nap. The park wasn't terribly crowded, and we ended up going on most of the Fantasyland rides without any long waits. The longest wait was for Peter Pan, which was about a half an hour line. Usually, even that's too long a wait for us, since we're all annual passholders and so aren't inclined to wait very long for a ride because we can always do it another time. But, given that we had so much time to spend in the park on this day, we figured the wait time wasn't going to be an issue.

After going on a number of rides, we decided it was time for lunch. Some people got food from the new Jolly Holiday Cafe, some people like me got food from Refreshment Corner aka Coke Corner (they had available the mac and cheese bacon hot dog that they had debuted at the annual passholder Soundsational event last year), and some people got food from the Tomorrowland Terrace, which had a special burger, and we all ate our respective lunch at the tables there. (Meal count = 2.)

We then decided that for dessert, we would try the cherry pie being offered at the Golden Horseshoe, so we wandered over there. We discovered that the Golden Horseshoe had the pie a la mode but that the adjacent Stage Door Cafe had just the pie, and since none of us were interested in the extra ice cream at that point, we just got the pie from Stage Door and sat down at nearby tables. (Meal count = 2 + 1 dessert.)

The pie was a nice little size, and the husband and I really liked that it was fairly tart. We're not fond of overly-sweet cherry pie. I would love if they'd add that dessert onto one of Disneyland's restaurants. Oh, and notice the hidden Mickey in the whipped cream?

As I'd been thinking about the event in the days leading up to it, I was debating whether I was going to adhere to having to spend all of the 24 hours actually inside Disneyland, or whether it would count if I went into Disney California Adventure (DCA) at all. I hadn't really decided one way or the other, and I had decided that being in line by 6am counted. Many of our friends wanted to go over to DCA to see the new Carsland preview exhibit at the Blue Sky Cellar, and that was something I'd wanted to do in the course of our stay as well, so we decided that as long as we were on property and within the boundaries of bag check, it would still count.

We headed over to DCA and spent a little time inside the exhibit, looking at the drawings and models and mockups and watching the new film previewing Carsland, which is due to open this summer. I had already been impressed with the plans when we saw the models and such at the D23 Expo in 2009, so the film just solidified how much I'm looking forward to having Carsland open, and how much I'm going to enjoy just sitting in Radiator Springs on a summer evening, enjoying the sights and sounds and atmosphere.

Eventually, we headed back to Disneyland, and we figured it was going to be getting crowded at the restaurants, so we decided to have dinner at French Market around 7pm. It wasn't too bad there yet, and we enjoyed a nice dinner there. (Meal count = 3 + 1 dessert.)

After dinner, we went on a few more rides, and as we were heading back to New Orleans Square from Critter Country at about 8:30pm, we noticed that the lines for Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean had gotten significantly longer from when we'd seen them right after dinner, and there were also long lines at Harbor Galley, the Royal Street Veranda, and other food locations. I had figured that a lot of people were going to be coming after work, and it looked like they had started to arrive.

For the next few hours, our group was separated into smaller groups as different people wanted to do different things. After hanging out in the Opera House for a while (we didn't actually manage to go inside and see Mr. Lincoln because the timing didn't work), we then went outside to stake out a place to watch the added second showing of the Soundsational parade, which I love. We found a spot in Town Square across from the restrooms by City Hall that wasn't terrible crowded and waited. As we were people-watching while we waited, we did notice that while there were many people leaving during that time, there was an equal if not higher number of people who were arriving through the other side of Town Square. The scheduled 10pm parade didn't actually start until about 10:20, but it was still a lot of fun to watch.

When the last float went by, we waited in the same area for a while for the crowds to clear out, but it took much longer than we expected as we could see the people trying to head up Main Street but at a standstill. After waiting for quite a while, we eventually joined the crowds and eventually made our way to New Orleans Square.

The French Market had a few special menu items that were available during the day, and more menu items and a dessert that would be available starting at midnight. We were interested in the dessert - bananas foster cheesecake - and so ended up being behind a group of other people also waiting for the midnight menu changeover. The changeover was a bit disorganized (different cast members told us completely opposite things in a span of about 3 minutes) and took longer than we'd expected, so the menu items weren't actually available until about 12:20am. We got our desserts, which a cast member put in to-go containers as we'd requested, and we found an empty table by Harbour Galley to try them. (Meal count = 3 + 2 desserts.)

The cheesecake was ok but wasn't quite as "bananas foster" as we had expected. There was banana flavoring inside the cheesecake, but I would have liked if there were several thin slices of banana on top as well as a caramel drizzle over the whole thing. Granted, there was caramel on the plate somewhat underneath the cheesecake, but we didn't really get any of that since we had the desserts to-go.

Disney had announced a 1am showing of Fantasmic, which was all the more special because Fantasmic was currently not scheduled to be shown at all and wasn't due to be back on the schedule for several more days. Also, the Mark Twain, which is utilized in the show, was also not currently in operation, and when Fantasmic runs when the Twain isn't working, the normal sequence of the characters riding by on the Twain is replaced by the characters coming out on stage on Tom Sawyer Island instead.

We had planned to see Fantasmic, which was apparently full, and we found out later that announcements had been made elsewhere in the park, but since we were already in the area, we never heard the announcements. After finishing our cheesecake and with the show due to start shortly, we made our way to a spot that wasn't as crowded as others. There were several rows of people in front of us, and we had a side view where I could barely and only periodically see the stage, but we still had a great time. Fantasmic is a favorite show for many of us, and oftentimes, even just hearing the soundtrack is enough. I was able to see a couple little bits, including the magnificent dragon and the characters on the stage, and it was a wonderful show as usual.

After the show ended, we waited around in the area until the crowds cleared out, and then we headed back to Fantasyland, where friends were waiting for us.

I forget all the details of the origins now, but it has become tradition for many years now for some of us that if we're in the park when it's open very late, we have to ride Dumbo at midnight or after. I believe it originated because we noticed that the lines for Dumbo were always outrageously long, no matter what time of the day it was, and a friend came up with the phrase of "Must.Ride.Dumbo" as an explanation for why so many people were always in line for Dumbo. One of the nights that the park was open late (likely either Fourth of July or New Year's Eve), we walked by Dumbo at about 1am and noticed that the line was minimal, so we decided to ride it, and from there, the tradition of the 1am Dumbo ride was born. I believe the 1am tradition stems from the park usually being open until 2am on some holidays, so the 1am ride is easy to fit in. We've done the Dumbo ride at midnight as well on occasions when the park was only open until 1am. In this case, since we had the 1am Fantasmic to attend and things to do afterward, we had picked 2am for our traditional Dumbo ride. Usually, our late-night Dumbo ride only involves waiting through one cycle before we make it on, but there were a lot more people in line this night, so we ended up having to wait through several cycles before it was our turn to ride.

After our ride, we headed over to Frontierland as Disney had announced that Billy Hill and the Hillbillies had several early-morning shows at the Golden Horseshoe. We got there with a little bit of time before the 2:45am show, and the downstairs was already full, so we headed upstairs. All the seats were taken as well, and it was just standing room only, so we found some spots with a decent view at the back of the theatre, and a few people found the random stray chair to sit in as well. Based on what we saw and heard, it was a packed house for each of the early-morning shows, and I was pleasantly surprised that the four Billys were the ones I was used to seeing in shows. There have been rumours and discussions on a Disney-related board about Disney doing away with some of the live entertainment in the parks, so I hope Disney is paying attention that the Billys are popular enough that they can have SRO crowds at 1:45am, 2:45am and 3:45am shows. Everyone was cheering and having a great time during the show.

After the show, it was time to head back to New Orleans Square as we had a 3:30am breakfast reservation at Cafe Orleans, which does not customarily serve breakfast anymore. By that point, we were all a bit bleary-eyed, and it was getting colder out, and we were seated at a table outside (most of the seating at Cafe Orleans is outdoors). Many of us were loading up on coffee or tea for the caffeine and warmth, and there were some complications with breakfast, but I did very much enjoy my crab meat quiche. It was very delicious, even at 4 in the morning. Maybe Disney will decide to re-open Cafe Orleans for breakfast and put the quiche on the menu. (Final meal count = 4 + 2 desserts.)

We finished with breakfast at about 4:40, and we were deciding what to do for the rest of the time. Not all of the rides were open, and there was also the chilly weather to consider if we were going to do an outdoors ride. We discovered that Indiana Jones had a wait time of about 55 minutes, and with most of the queue being indoors, I figured that was perfect. Some of us got in line while others called it a day, and while the outdoor part of the queue was indeed chilly, it got better once we got inside. The wait time was actually shorter than posted, and we were done at 5:30am. We decided to get our things from our lockers and just spend the last bits of the day on Main Street. As we approached our lockers, I was amused that at 5:47am, the Cone Shop was open, and there were actually people in line to buy ice cream.

We sat on a curb on Main Street to wait for 6am to come. When it did, the Disneyland announcer came on to tell us that the day was over, and that there was only one thing left to do. That was followed by the ending song of the Mickey Mouse Club. Maybe it was just the perfectness of the choice or maybe it was because I'd been up for 25 hours at that point or maybe it was something else, but hearing that song made me tear up. The end announcement and song were met with cheers from those still on Main Street. Afterward, we made our way down Main Street and then noticed that Disney characters were standing in front of the train station in their pajama costumes, waving goodbye to guests.

When we finally left the park, it was about 6:15am and the sun was out. We went back to our hotel room to sleep for a couple of hours.

Yes, a couple of hours. Because I'd had the bright idea previously that it would be funny to spend 24 hours at Disneyland and then be there again when Disneyland opened "the next day" aka Thursday, March 1, aka "4 hours later". The park opened at 10am, and the husband and I finally managed to get there at about 10:15. We did several rides that we'd meant to do the day before and hadn't had a chance to, and then we had lunch before heading out of the park around 2pm and back to the hotel to get some more sleep.

Before the event had started, we had joked with friends about which rides we could go on where we'd be able to catch a quick nap. Well, none of us ever actually did that. Except for a couple of times on it's a small world and one other ride which I forget which one now, where I was falling asleep for a second or two, I was awake the entire rest of the time. And yes, we sat for meals and a few other times when we were waiting for people and shows and such, but we did actually spend quite a bit of that 24 hour period standing or walking.

I've read some reports of the massive crowds that showed up late in the evening, causing Disneyland to close their gates to entrances for a time, causing massive backups in the esplanade, at the parking structure and even on surrounding freeways. Thankfully, I never encountered any of that, and I expect that it was a very different experience for those who came earlier in the day versus for those who came in the evening.

I will say, though, that I had a great time. We kept ourselves busy, and there was never a time when we sat around bored, with nothing to do. We sometimes had to figure out what to do in the amount of time we had before something else we were scheduled to do/see, but we always managed to find something to occupy ourselves with. And the best part was having friends and people around you, crazy enough and interested enough in spending 24 hours at Disneyland as well.