Have you or, if you're a parent, have your kids ever been to a Disney theme park? If so, does it hold you or yours in thrall the way it holds my teenage son?
Leo has been asking to go to Disneyland nearly every day since his last visit 20 months ago, because the Land of Mouse is his very favorite place, largely thanks to its disability accommodations. But after that Happiest Place on Earth changed that disability pass system last year, I balked at going. One of Leo's personal philosophies is Anything Different Is Bad. Really bad. So a different Disneyland experience would be Really Bad. Plus I heard nightmare accounts of vacations gone sour, endless lines, folks having meltdowns, and more (DRtC*). I didn't think Leo deserved to have a rotten experience at a place he considered his personal Wonderland. Best to stay away.
But he kept asking. He kept watching YouTube videos of Star Tours and California Screamin'. And I kept thinking it over. And I started thinking maybe. And I read reassurances from many folks (Moriah, Ellen, Jess) that the system was different and somewhat bumpy but doable. And his generous grandmother had given him and his little sister Mali Disney passes as 2013 Christmas gifts...
And I thought, hey, maybe it could work. Maybe the key to avoiding bumps was not adapting to the new system itself, but going during a low attendance day. So I checked the IsItPacked.com Disneyland Crowd Forecast calendar for a low attendance day near Leo's birthday. And it said that the day after Veterans Day, which was a Wednesday this year, would be a mellow day.
So we went on the day after Veterans Day. (Leo's big sister Iz and my husband Seymour, sadly, were not able to come with us.) We went for just one day, in case things went kablooey. (Spoiler: things didn't go kablooey. Not once.)
I think Leo had a great time, such a happy time, because we planned carefully. We stayed at the on-site hotel for just one night, so we could have a relatively relaxing drive on the way down, and a relatively relaxing pre-Disneyland afternoon and evening at the hotel pool, at the hotel restaurant, and wandering around the adjacent Downtown Disney shops and restaurants. Leo likes all of those places.
|[Image: Leo sitting on a lounge chair,|
with a hotel pool in the background]
Staying at the hotel allows for other conveniences: we could leave our car at the hotel overnight, and pick it up right after we left the park -- no waiting in endless post-closing lines for the parking lot shuttles. We could leave our luggage at the hotel as a courtesy the next day, even after we'd checked out. We could buy our tickets for the park as we checked in to the hotel. We could get Happy Birthday pins for Leo and Mali at the same time, because we were there for both of their birthdays.
Leo's Happy Birthday pin meant that everyone, everywhere -- hotel, park, restaurant -- wished him Happy Birthday by name (Mali, who is slowly starting to care what other people think, declined to wear hers). Leo thought constant happy birthday greetings were great. The hotel pianist even changed his tune to Happy Birthday when Leo walked by. (We were en route to the Lounge, where Leo could chill while I had a mai tai, and Mali went and made Lego racers with a local friend at the Lego shop.) I thought the birthday awareness and recognition was a lovely touch.
| [Image: Leo lounging in a fireside chair,|
playing on his iPad, with one leg thrown
over the chair's arm. I did say "lounging."]
Another, really important part of staying at one of the three Disney hotels is that you have access to Magic Hour, which means one park per day (it alternates) opens up one hour early for hotel guests only. Even better? They actually open up the gates 15 minutes before Magic Hour. Which means we got to hit the California Adventure Chamber of Commerce and get Leo's Disability Access Pass (DAS) before the park was even officially open. It was great; there was only one other family in line at the Chamber of Commerce when we arrived.
|[Image: the line at California Adventure's|
Chamber of Commerce: Exactly one
very blonde family.]
|[Image: Disneyland Disability Access Service|
Pass. It has Leo's picture, & lists his name,
the date, place issued, & party number.]
|[Image: Leo sitting on a bench in Disney's|
Grizzly Gulch, next to an empty sidewalk]
|[Mali & Leo leaning on a wrought-iron |
fence with a roller coaster and a Mickey
ferris wheel in the background. ]
|[Image: Digital sign, yellow with red/blue text,|
with approximate wait time sign for California
Screamin' roller coaster, reading "5" minutes]
Once we got to the rides, the pass worked exactly like the previous disability pass did: you go in the accessible or FastPass entrance. Sometimes you have lines, sometimes you don't. And Leo was fine with any the waiting he had to do, because damn, he was at Disneyland!
|[Image: DAS pass inside. Guest services folks|
write out rides and times by hand, using a
grid and stamped initials. The pass is white
with a green border, and is passport-sized.]
|[Image: Guest services woman writing out|
the next ride and time on Leo's DAS pass.]
|[Image: Leo seated in a spinning lady bug car. |
His official Happy Birthday Leo pin is visible.]
|[Image: Mali & Leo lounging on a bench in Hollywood Land]|
|[Image: Leo, Me, & Mali on the Cars ridecam.|
Our car is purple, we are in the front seat.]
|[Image: Leo wearing 3D glasses next to the Star Tours|
loading area. Star Tours uniformed dude in background.]
|[Image: triple selfie. Mali on left, looking over my shoulder,|
me in center, Leo smiling on the right. It's a Small World
topiaries and blue canal wall in the background.]
*DRtC = Don't Read the Comments. No, seriously, do NOT.
**Repeating it minus the doing-it-all-in-44 hours time frame. The wham-bam timing was mostly OK, but a solo seven-hour drive after a full day at a theme park is not something I recommend.