May 26, 2009 12:35 PM
Disneyland! Disney World! These are popular vacation destinations for many families. Kids love the rides, the Disney characters, the gift shops brimming with toys, and an atmosphere that puts kids at the center of attention.
Parents typically buy one ticket that covers all rides, shows, fireworks displays and more. They like the convenience of everything in one place, the clean surroundings, and the joy they see on their children's faces. But veteran park visitors soon learn that Disney offers a lot more than what you see on the Disney map.
A year ago the Backer family moved near California's Disneyland. After many visits using their annual pass, they've found a lot of extra excitement in the park. First they discovered the Fantasy Waters Show at the Disneyland hotel. "The fountains are choreographed to spray in time with music and lights," Jennifer Backer said. (See hotel staff for show times.)
Another favorite is story time with Disney princesses (three times a day in California at Fantasy Land's Tinker Belle Toy Shop). Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White tell their stories, and a hilarious footman acts out the parts of every character in the story (except, of course, the princess's role). The princesses enchant the youngest kids, and the older children and their parents laugh at the footman's overzealous performance.
A granddad reports, "Our ten-year-old grandson protested that he wasn't interested in this baby stuff, but he laughed louder and longer than his younger sister."
Story time doesn't require a reservation. Just look for times in "Disneyland Today," the brochure you're given when you enter the park. Or look for the sign in front of the Tinker Belle Toy Shop.
RFRF suggests planning ahead saves time and trouble. An upstate New York teacher reports the benefit of visiting to Epcot early in the morning. "It's almost empty then, so we easily got a great look at the area, and we were able to ride our favorite ride again and again without waiting in line."
The Mayfield family of California recommends going on the big rides (e.g., Indiana Jones and Matterhorn) first and then the others. Several families enjoyed Disney's new Fast Pass service. One family reports, "At the most popular rides you can get a time stamped on your Fast Pass. Then you go back to the ride's special Fast Pass entrance during the time frame given, and you get onto the ride without waiting in long lines!" Best of all, there's no extra charge for this pass.
You won't find Disney characters in all of Disney's restaurants, but these tend to be the most popular with the families so make your reservations in advance. Disney accepts dining reservations up to a year in advance, but in some seasons you can reserve a table just an hour or two before the meal. Disney characters come to your table during the meal, offering a photo-opt for your family. The Bissmeyer family reports, "This was so much nicer than chasing them down on the grounds!"
The Backers enjoyed dinner at Goofy's Kitchen, a kid-friendly buffet in California's Disneyland Hotel. Goofy's Kitchen is large enough to handle a crowd, but the space is divided into small areas, so no matter where you sit, there is little noise or confusion. Goofy, Max, Pluto and their buddies gather in the center of the dining area twice each hour where they and their young visitors dance to lively music.
For a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious good time, don't miss Tea with Mary Poppins in Disneyland's Pacific Hotel. Three times a day Mary shares scones, finger sandwiches, sweets and tea with the families in her Victorian tearoom. Mary sings songs and talks about her friends, Bert the chimney sweep and Jane and Michael Banks. She chats with every guest, then she invites the young ladies and gentlemen to dress up in period hats and have their pictures taken with her. (For reservations, call Disneyland's dining reservation number, 714-956-6755.)
To learn about other off-the-beaten-path adventures at any Disney destination, ask those who work there for information. They may tell you about the alto sax player in New Orleans Square or about the best place to watch the fireworks. Keep your senses alert to discover many hidden adventures at Disneyland and Disney World.
1. "Be realistic in your expectations.
We were there for five days, and we just skimmed
the surface." -Beth W.
2. "If your children are young, stay in the park area and just do quick trips out to see a limited number of sights at one time." -Lynda Hannan
3. "Call Disney and ask what new attractions and special events have been added since the last time you visited the area." -Ohio parents
4. "If it's your child's birthday, you can get a birthday sticker at town hall. Sydney really enjoyed wearing that because every Disney employee she passed wished her a happy birthday!" -Jennifer Backer
5. "Talk with people who have been there before." -Paul Bissmeyer
6. "Look at your local library or bookstore to find books about visiting the Disney parks. We found one that had fabulous ideas in it! It even told simple things like where to stand during fireworks or a parade."-The Bissmeyers
7." The best part of Animal Kingdom is the safari ride. When you get to the park, go straight to that ride, to be sure you'll get it in. You'll see the most animal activity early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but don't put it off until it's too late to get on the ride."-Mom from Iowa
8. "Have everyone in the group recite the name of the parking area you are given on the tram! Without that information, your chances of finding your car are as good as winning the lottery. We repeated ours so many times during the day that our family joke about Disney World is 'Goofy 56.' "-Mom from South Carolina
9. "If you arrive in the morning as the gates open, proceed to the back of the park. The crowds tend to mill from front-to-back of the park." -Elizabeth K.
10. "When the adults start to drag a little at Animal Kingdom, head for the fossil dig playground. The kids will enjoy unearthing buried dinos and the cool climbing equipment while the elders watch from benches!" -Grandmother --By Barbara F. Backer
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