I've been to Disneyland every time they held it. The first time three times, I’d wake up whenever I did and arrive later in the day or evening, just so I could honestly say “I was there”. But yesterday I was there for the entire 24 hours, from before the start through to the very end. I posted to Instagram and Twitter throughout the day. Here’s a lengthy recap, expanding on what I shared in those earlier posts.
HOW IT BEGAN
First off, I’d never been to any of the previous 24-hour events when they started right at 6am. That would mean having to wake up in the dark to join a line of fans who’d started the line the day before. That didn't really sound appealing. I like sleeping in too much. But this year, I decided I’d make the effort to be at the start, just to experience something different about going to one more Disneyland 24-hour event.
I’d gotten three and a half hours of sleep when my alarm went off at 2:30am. From following the Disney Parks Blog, I knew the Pumbaa Lot was open at that time and that the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure would open at 4am. By the time I was finally out the door, I realized I'd just park as I normally do, in the parking structure, and head to the park my regular way rather than figure out navigating some new way to learn how to get there from Pumbaa. Less stress and drama I figured.
I got a text earlier in the morning from a friend to let me know she was already in line near Harbor Boulevard and that I could join her when I got there. I texted her updates from the time I parked to when I was on the tram to passing through security and arriving in the Esplanade plaza between Disneyland and DCA, thinking I was grateful to have a much shorter wait in that god awful long line that had started since the day before.
Crossing the esplanade, I saw to my right folks waiting and lined up in front of the DCA main entrance. To my left I noticed a plain courtyard with no lines but cast members stationed at most of the turnstiles of the Disneyland Main Entrance. I then noticed a trickle of guests entering the esplanade from the Harbor Blvd. side towards the closest turnstile to them. It was then that I noticed that there were people milling around inside the main entrance who weren’t cast members. It was around 4:15am so my brain wasn’t quite clicking on all cylinders yet and didn’t immediately figure out what all I was seeing, because I knew my friend had been in line since midnight waiting to enter the park at 6am with thousands of others in the line. And I was supposed to join her. But I also realized there were people already inside the park. And that those cast members at the turnstiles seemed really, really lonely.
In my rush to loyally join my friend in line, I decided to hold up and turn left towards the Disneyland entrance. Approaching the nearest turnstile, I pulled out my wallet and decided I’d hand my cast member my annual pass when I got there to see what would happen. What happened was at 4:20am, I entered Disneyland. And I didn’t have to get there any earlier than I had to and lose any more sleep to wait in a long line overnight in order to simply walk in when I arrived.
OBSERVATIONS FROM MY FIRST 12 HOURS AT DISNEYLAND
From where we were at Tomorrowland Terrace, we thought the line for the Matterhorn Bobsleds was short and moving pretty fast. It was the attraction’s first day of public operation since closing for a few months to receive some enhancements. So we decided that would be the first ride we’d do there. We went in search of the end of the line. We discovered it was at it’s a small world. Nope, Matterhorn Bobsleds would not be our first ride of the day.
I’d stopped by Carl’s Jr. on the way to Disneyland that morning where I was disappointed to learn that breakfast menu items weren’t served until 6am. So it was a Famous Star combo for breakfast for me earlier, while I just kept my friends company as they enjoyed their breakfast at Tomorrowland Terrace. It was a good decision on their part to have breakfast now. When they ordered breakfast, the lines were short. Over the next few hours walking throughout the park, we noticed uncommonly long lines were commonplace today for any place that sold new merchandise and food.
Popcorn stands had long lines because debuting this week were new popcorn buckets shaped as Mickey Mouse head-shaped balloons, gold-filled mine train chests, and Han Solo in carbonite. New plastic Disneyland steins also debuted, at Edelweiss Snacks and Village Haus that we'd heard. Never mind that these were not limited edition items and would continue to be sold after today. Fans and collectors wanted them today, including pathetically me as I joined my fellow Disneyland annual passholder friends in line to have our own new Disneyland stein.
To make sure my friend’s drive there wouldn't turn out to be a mistake, I checked with several cast members on how busy DCA was and if tickets were still sold for that park. At that time, I really couldn’t get a confident answer, so I went to Disneyland’s entrance to look through the gates and see what was happening in the esplanade plaza. Ropes were set up around the entrance to Disneyland, with cast members and security (with dogs) stationed around them to keep park guests away from approaching the turnstiles. Disneyland was closed and no one appeared to be allowed to come in. Meanwhile, the lines into DCA were pretty long. Obviously folks coming in at that time had no other choice of park to enter but that one when they got there. It was between 4:00 and 4:30 when I heard a cast member tell another cast member I was questioning that “DCA never reaches level 1”, which from the tone suggested I shouldn’t worry about DCA ever closing today because of crowds or reaching capacity.
Boy, was that guy wrong.
OBSERVATIONS FROM MY LAST 12 HOURS AT DISNEYLAND. ACTUALLY AT DCA
A consequence I always encounter when I’m at the park and it’s reached capacity is that the cellphone signal sucks. So getting texts and phone calls from my friend who was on her way were intermittent or static-y. When I finally got texts and was able to figure out she’d actually gotten to park and was on her way to getting in line to buy their tickets, the lines into DCA were much shorter while Disneyland was finally letting guests who’d already been in the park re-enter, with a long line of first-timers to the resort waiting outside the esplanade for their chance whenever it came. (I think I'd learned later on that Disneyland didn't open for those folks until some time around midnight.)
I met my new arrival friends near the Tower of Terror around 4:30p which coincidentally meant I’d been on Disneyland property for over 12 hours by then. We watched the Pixar Play Parade before heading to get bread bowls for dinner at Pacific Wharf.
My original plan for the day was to leave the parks that evening to join another friend for drinks in Culver City. And I hadn’t seriously considered the option available to me of returning to the parks afterward and be back inside the parks before they closed at 6am Saturday morning. I’d already experienced being in the parks - well, in Disneyland - on past 24-hour events when it ended. So today’s unique experience to be there at opening had been accomplished. There was nothing else on my checklist for the day to check off.
But long story short, I promised my friend at DCA that I would return later to the parks from Culver City to keep her company. They also hadn't planned to stay through to 6am, so their driver (it wasn't my friend) wasn't able to commit to staying that long either. So my promise to return was also a guarantee to be their ride too just in case. I subsequently received texts from my other friend and her plans weren’t working out as she had planned either. And our plans to get together consequently diminished.
Little did I realize that starting my day at Disneyland would lead to spending my entire day there – all 24 hours of it, and then some - after all.
After dinner, my friend and I exited the park to the Grand Californian Hotel while her son and his friends enjoyed DCA on their own. My friend wanted to hang out at the hotel to discretely “rest up” there for an hour or two in preparation for potentially staying through to 6am. So I left her there and returned to DCA to do some exploring on my own. I’d never been to DCA at all on my previous 24-hour visits, so this was the perfect opportunity to see what it was like at this park.
DCA had reached capacity. For the first time that I had ever heard of. Wow. And now, both parks were closed off during operating hours for the first time too.
My midnight, she was finally allowed to re-enter. It was at that time that I realized how crowded the park had suddenly gotten. I went back to the main entrance and saw they were finally letting people in. Pour in actually! So I texted my friend at the Grand Cal about it, and she was allowed back into DCA shortly thereafter.
It was almost 2am when we both finished our midnight snacks. We planned to hit some rides before viewing the 3am World of Color – Celebrate! water show, another attraction making its public debut today. The new fireworks show Disneyland Forever was the third new show, and it was debuting in Disneyland. But on our way to Cars Land, I checked with a cast member about line up for World of Color and he informed me that Fastpasses were needed. When I checked earlier, the World of Color Fastpass machines were down for the evening, so I assumed the first and final show of the night would just be completely standby. But he told me Fastpasses were all dispensed that morning. Wow!
He pointed out where the non-Fastpass holder sections were, and we decided to skip Radiator Springs Racers (which closed at 3am that night, so seeing World of Color meant sacrificing doing that ride) and instead squated for an hour in front of Ariel's Undersea Adventure to see the new show.
The show is wonderful!!! I’ve seen past versions of World of Color, which seemed to me like a lot of individual vignettes showcasing a Disney movie or Disney theme and stringing them one right after another. This time it seems they took what they’ve learned technically to produce the magic here, added some more technical magic, and crafted a story and experience that flowed organically from one to the next using the effects available to them. The show was also more nuanced and restrained from past shows, not always having each part of the story ending with a dramatic, earth-shattering crescendo. My friend and I both loved it!
It was around 3:30am by now and I’d like to make one comment about the weather for the day. In my haste to join my friend in line the morning before, I forgot to grab my light jacket from my car. As it turned out, I didn’t need it (much). The weather the entire time was in the mid 50’s to mid 60s, often cloudy, briefly sunny at times, but for the most part never cold enough that I “needed” to buy a sweatshirt or jacket from the park in order to survive the overnight comfortably. (Sorry, Disney.)
Sitting on concrete before the World of Color – Celebrate! show for twenty minutes and deciding to stand for another forty took its toll on our aging bodies, so after the show we rested for a while at Paradise Gardens. We didn’t leave there until 4:30a, deciding all that remained on our checklist for the night was a ride on Soarin’, a visit to Ghirardelli, and a stop in a shop on Buena Vista Street for some final shopping.
Ah, the best laid plans. The wait time for Soarin’ was one hour. Pass. And walking to Soarin’ meant we’d walked ourselves way too far to enjoy the walk all the way back to where Ghirardelli was at the Pacific Wharf area. Pass number two. Instead with just another hour left in our day (and thoughts of going to bed becoming a prized idea), we spent the rest of our time at Buena Vista Street, where we’d be close to the exit when it was time to leave.
Sitting at a table outside the Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Café, where it wasn’t very crowded at all, we watched the morning sky behind the Carthay Circle Restaurant slowly then dramatically change from a dark grey to a beautiful morning blue obscured by white clouds.
I think I may actually try to do all 24 hours again if Disneyland tries this again next year!
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed this.