My five-year-old daughter passed a major life milestone last week: her first visit to Disneyland.
It was a (long) day filled with laughs, tears, excitement, and more. We pretty much ran the emotional gamut. But it’s a fantastic memory I’ll never forget.
This certainly wasn’t the Disneyland I last visited about eight or nine years ago — both for better and worse.
So, here’s what our day was like.
Planning the Trip
My wife’s brothers and their families visited us during the Christmas and Hannukah holidays. (Talk about eight crazy nights!) Dave, one of my brothers-in-law, and his clan are Disney park fans. Big time. They love their Disney Vacation Club membership, take Disney Cruises, and visit Disne parks a few times a year. He’s always talked about wanting to be part of my daughter’s first Disneyland visit.
Mrs. Carley and I decided that our kid is old enough (five) to enjoy, appreciate, and remember Disneyland. So, our group of 11 (or was it 12? I don’t remember) made Disneyland reservations for the day after Christmas. One of my nephews brought along his girlfriend — who was on her first trip to California. We had two Disneyland first-timers!
Because Dave, his wife, and two high schoolers are Disneyland experts (at least, we think they are), we let them do all the planning.
We bought three Park Hopper passes to go to Disneyland and California Adventure. Then we tacked on something called Genie+ which replaced the old Fast Pass.
All said and done, that cost us about $735. For three people.
We knew it would be a long day — especially for the younger kids in our group (an 11-year-old niece and our 5-year-old). We decided to get a couple of rooms at the Disneyland Hotel and have a home base where we could relax and put our feet up for an hour or two. We also stayed overnight so the teenagers (and some adults) could enjoy the park until midnight.
I once spoke at a conference held at the Disneyland Hotel and stayed there for a few days. Unless you live very close to Disneyland, staying at one of the resort’s properties while visiting the parks is something I highly recommend. You can also stay somewhere nearby such as the Holiday Inn Anaheim (read my review) or one of the other hotels within walking distance.
Our home in Los Angeles is about 60 miles from Disneyland, which is located in Anaheim. We got up early Monday morning and drove to Orange County. (The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a great time to be in Los Angeles — traffic isn’t as awful as normal.) We parked at the hotel, took the monorail from Downtown Disney, and were in the park just after 9:00 AM.
This also was our daughter’s first time in a massive crowd. That gave us some anxiety. So, I took the Apple AirTag off my sunglasses case and attached it to a lanyard she wore.
Her First Disneyland Experience
My daughter’s first ride? “It’s a Small World.”
She loved it!
Then we headed to “Alice in Wonderland.” By that point, all of the Fantasyland ride waits were about 30-45 minutes. That trend continued for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, my 17-year-old niece and Dave took charge of arranging Genie+ passes for the group. They guided us to Star Wars Land.
I darn near wept when I saw this.
I don’t know how much Disney paid Han Solo to get it. (Probably not too much. Dude is always owing someone money, right?) But seeing the legendary ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs was a lifelong dream come true. I’m told the look on my face was priceless. I apologize on behalf of my family — who was too busy laughing at me instead of taking pictures of my expression.
We rode “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.” It was fantastic!
Well, everyone except my daughter thought so.
It was too loud and fast for her liking. She cried a little after that — then later said she wanted to ride it again. (Of course she did.)
We had a quick lunch at a burger place then hit “Jungle Cruise.” That wait was about an hour or so.
She thought it was OK. (It’s full of dad jokes, so you know I loved it!)
My wife, daughter, niece, and sister-in-law decided to take a break and stake out a spot for the 2:00 PM parade. The weather was gorgeous (and downright hot, to be honest). Some of us rode the Matterhorn. Then we split up. I returned for the parade.
That was another big hit for her!
Our little group went to the hotel for a break. My daughter took a much-needed nap while we relaxed and enjoyed the air conditioning.
My Genie+ agents hooked us up at “Radiator Springs Racers” inside California Adventure. I’d been on the ride several years ago and really enjoyed it. I feared my daughter wouldn’t like it. She’s the ultimate backseat driver and tells us to slow when she think we’re speeding (when we really aren’t.)
“Really?” a couple of my family members said. “I think she’ll like it.”
Unfortunately, I was right. This, too, was too fast and loud. The big dips freaked her out. (Everyone else, of course, loved it.)
Naturally, she asked to ride it again later.
We next rode “The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure” which was so memorable that my wife had to remind me to include it in this post.
Then we decided to hit “Soaring.” That line was 80 minutes long.
Our little group aborted the mission and went back to Disneyland so the little one could enjoy more Fantasyland. Surely, 7:30 PM would be a great time. Families would be gone. Right?
We waited 40 minutes for “Snow White.” She kind of liked that one — but seeing the wicked witch “in real life” was a bit much.
Then came the real frustration.
“Daddy? Why Do the Rides Keep Breaking Down?” Hey, Disney: Fix Your $#*!!
First, my daughter wanted to ride “Dumbo.” That broke down.
Then, she decided to go on the carousel.
You’ll never guess what happened just as it was our turn to board.
— Christopher Carley (@ChrisCarleyTalk) December 27, 2022
The damn thing broke down.
I hate seeing my daughter cry when she’s disappointed by something like this. I understand that things breakdown. But Disney rides seem to be breaking at a crazy rate.
(My nephews waited 45 minutes to ride “Space Mountain.” It broke down just as they were about to board. Later that night, “Pirates of the Caribbean” shut down from about 9:30 through closing.)
Help us, Obi Wan Iger. You’re our only hope.
Bob Iger was Disney’s CEO before leaving a year ago. Then a guy named Bob Chapek took over.
Things seemingly went to heck after that.
Theme park prices rocketed — while rides broke down.
Deadline’s Bruce Haring wrote, “Citing WDW stats, a website that tracks ride status at Disney parks, the average monthly ride stoppages rose 58% at Disneyland from 2018 to 2022 as of late September, and rose 42% at Walt Disney World over the same period.”
And now, Bob Iger is back. Thank the heavens. Some Disney staffers openly cheered on social media when Chapek was shown the door a few weeks ago.
Let’s hope Disney gets their act in gear — and actually fixes the gears.
The Rest of the Evening
So, we wandered over to the Tea Cup ride. (I know that’s not its proper name — but I was so mad that I didn’t even care). My wife and I took out our frustrations on the steering wheel. Our kid practically flew out of the tea cup. The three of us giggled and staggered toward the exit, dizzy from the ride.
We headed to Tomorrowland. My wife and sister-in-law ordered dinner while my daughter found a dance party. She loves dancing!
She had so much fun dancing with the characters and choreographer!
We had pasta dinners at Pizza Planet. My wife, daughter, sister-in-law hit the proverbial wall and went back to the hotel.
The rest of us decided to take advantage of the thinned-out park and rode “Splash Mountain,” “Haunted Mansion,” and “Space Mountain” before the park closed. (Bet you can’t guess what happened to “Haunted Mansion” as we stepped off our “doom buggies.” That’s right! It stopped working!)
My daughter’s first day at Disneyland was exhausting — both physically and emotionally. I wanted her to have a great time. And she did! I was also concerned she’d be scared on some rides. And, well, she was. She enjoyed exploring Disneyland — but loved doing so with her extended family. (The selfies of her and her cousins are so amazing!) Overall, she had such a fun time — and it was special for us, too.
It’ll be a few years before we go back to Disney. It’s so expensive. And I’m very disappointed in Disneyland for the constant ride shutdowns.
But I look forward to the next time.
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