Notice the lack of crowds behind us, on this perfect day to see Disneyland

We wrote that a major reason for having this blog was to be able to remember what happened later, and that’s the case here. Lots of small details yesterday in planning a trip to Disney that I’d like to be able to refer to when we share the story… So here goes: Family of nine to see Disneyland, and California Adventure (the adjacent amusement park that was built after most of us 40ish family leaders were here as kids). We didn’t plan more ahead than a couple of days, so we don’t have tickets and we haven’t been reading travel tip or Disney secrets books or websites until the day before. Picture this: 2 days to Disney: Kelly searches out discount tickets and finds some for one day (all the time we have, or are willing to spend there) for $49 each. Disney’s retail value is $149, and looking at deals all around it seems to be as cheap as about $79. Enter Craigslist and eBay. LOTS of listings for $49-55/day per person for a pass that’s good at either park. We choose the $49 and call the Craigslist ad. Must pay cash, must leave a drivers license with the seller, must keep the tickets in good shape and return them at the end of the day (as well as some other interesting rules you learn once you buy the tickets). While raising one eyebrow suspiciously, we go along with it. The folks that are doing this school fundraiser have been at it for 3 years without any problems they say. They have an office in a business park and although polite, look thuggish. Kelly’s spider sense did not set off though, so we went through with the deal and had zero problems. In the old days (anything earlier than about 5 years ago), I used to enjoy rolling into crowds unprepared and socialize. These days, I’m happier going into a social event with an agenda or a mission, and then back out to my safe zone of less dense, family surroundings. I’m not unhappy in that crowd, but I’m getting worse at small talk, I think. So you can imagine that Disney was daunting for me personally, and I’d like to have a plan. Right. Just try to search Disney secrets, or Disney tips. Keep in mind that this is DisneyLAND, not DisneyWORLD- totally different parks and tactics involved. Let’s just say that I spent a WHILE looking for the best plan of attack and came up with very little applicable info other than neat trivia and a patchwork of tips until I found this website, and software program: RideMax.

In front of California Adventure, the 9' concrete letters: CALIFORNIA spell out 'opportunity' if your name starts with one of them, but take the picture in the middle of the afternoon, when no one else cares. If you wait until closing time, there's a line 20 deep tp get your moment of fame, and the light (or lack of light) is tougher to photograph in.

I have probably laughed about or at people that I’ve heard about scheduling rides when they visit Disney- that they must be ‘so hardcore’, how could they have fun? May I present the defense: I happened upon the name of the software in my searching for the perfect experience and then started to pay attention to people mentioning ‘RideMax’ on Mickey fan sites, and on user groups while I was searching individual tips, etc. Finally I took a look at the company website and thought that the cost was probably what I’d be paying for soft drinks in the park, so maybe I’d go without a Coke and use this software instead (turns out that I would have to go without 5 sodas since drinks were only $3 each). I bought it and never looked back. RideMax asks what date you’ll be there, what time you’ll arrive and depart, when you want to schedule a break, if you want to walk fast or slow, if you’re willing to exploit a little known loophole of using FastPasses beyond their assigned window among a few other things. With those answers, click ‘make my plan’ and the software accessing their online database, built with ride wait time info collected every day, current Disney attraction info (ride maintenance) and other tips and spits out a schedule, complete with footnoted tips for applicable rides- like shortcuts between Frontierland and Adventureland etc. To be fair, yesterday was SLOW at Disneyland. During the day we didn’t see any ride times posted that were longer than 15 minutes, although most were 5 minutes. The Disney cast attributed it to local schools starting 2 days ago, and the traveling crowds already gone for home. They were enjoying the break from the crowds, just like us. Despite the low attendance and perfect weather, we really liked that RideMax reminded us when to pick up FastPasses (see description below) and planned a logical walking plan to keep us from going back and forth, or missing something in a part of the park we might not just happen into if we were selecting rides while browsing along on foot…

With several kids right around 40-45", we spent a lot of time measuring and remeasuring height. There was some variety in measuring signs- here Henry is being remeasured after the ride to settle a dispute about height.

[FAST PASSES are tickets to the express line of a popular ride that you pick up by showing your park ticket at the attraction, which then assigns you a return window of time. If you are visiting Disney single (don’t care about riding with anyone in particular) you can choose this line also, and don’t need FastPasses. The trick about FastPasses is that you can’t get another pass until the one you have opens for use (the beginning of the window). The loophole I mentioned earlier is that you do have to wait until the window opens to use the FastPass, but you do NOT have to use it before the window closes. This little trick allows RideMax to schedule you to pick up FastPasses throughout the morning on their schedule, then use the passes in the afternoon on your schedule, sometime one after another. (this type of use outside of the window worked for us, and was hinted at as OK by a couple of Disney cast members). You don’t have to use the FastPass when you return if the line is short enough- I came home with 9 FastPasses to Indiana Jones and Buzz Lightyear, but they might come in handy. Splash Mountain: we arrived to the line, which snaked around the entire park it seemed… We entered the FastPass line and walked for several MINUTES past other guests through the serpentine queue that did not take advantage of this park feature. I started to feel badly about passing all of them up as I kept hearing “Why are those people walking ahead of us Mommy?” Kelly assured me that it was OK to walk ahead of them.

You can't tell in the photo, but that was the REAL buzz! Henry was beside himself. Simon had the right shirt on for the day, since we got to meet Buzz and see Woody several times. It was something else to be able to shake hands with and push the buttons on the real Buzz Lightyear. All day though, we've been hearing about Gabe and Josh (friends from home) seeing Buzz when they went to Disney, so we're hoping this satisfied our boys need to meet the legend.

Since I had inserted the date of August 2nd for our RideMax plan for the afternoon at California Adventure (not todays date of September 1st), our RideMax plan was not accurate- and our wait times were almost non-existent, so we just winged it. That showed that it’s possible to just show up at Disney and have a GREAT TIME, if you come on the right day. If you choose a day that lots of other people picked, RideMax could be the difference between seeing it and not seeing it. If you’re there for one day and haven’t been since you were a kid? You’d be crazy to pass up my recommendation to pay the $14.95 for RideMax and walk in with a plan. Heck, the price of this software for your whole day is less than half of what you’d pay for a 14 slice pizza! (Guess why I know? While you’re guessing, guess how many pizzas a family of nine eats?)

... kids in one basket together, parents in the other (after we locked their door). It was a delightful 90 second break from the kids hanging on Kelly, so I did....  Don't get too excited, it was light and the kids were 10 feet away.

To summarize, a couple of tips for Disneyland:
Tip 1: Plan your trip to Disney the week local schools start.
Tip 2: Use RideMax to formulate a plan to collect FastPasses and attack the park if you’re not a Disney veteran.
Tip 3: Have a talk with your kids about their attitude before you arrive and dangle the prospect of older kids being able to separate from the group if the mornings behavior is good. Even the 14 year old will truly enjoy the rides you take the little kids on as a family, although he wouldn’t pick that ride if he had free choice in the morning….
Tip 4: Make sure one person in each group has a phone. We used ours a lot, even in the same line a couple of times to console our parent worries about where everyone was at an make it easier to separate and then reconnect. FRS radios are good close up but probably wouldn’t work if we were at the ends of the 2 parks as we were a few times.

Waiting for the parade... On previous trips to Disney, the crowds at parades are 10-15 deep. Today, it was us in the front row, next to some others in the front row, and no one behind us except an older couple sitting on a bench about 12' feet behind us. Lots of high fives from the parade cast and right up front next to all the HUGE parade characters. This kind of adventure reminds us about the many many benefits of home schooling.

Now, the family experience at Disney? It was really good. Wake up call from Dad to troops at 6:45, dropped the family off in the van at the Disney gate at opening time with schedule in hand (I ran the van back to the hotel and caught the bus back to the park to meet them inside), back in our hotel room at 10:26pm. Attitudes remained upbeat most of the day, and we were able to see everything we wanted. Trevor and Ethan broke off around 5 and met us back at the entrance at 10pm so they could get in some older rides… We officially got every pennies worth of value from our tickets. However, there was a price that we didn’t anticipate fully: red feet, stretched ligaments, unexpected sweaty areas, quick acting sunburn (is my hair thinning?) and that was just ME! Over my own complaints I could hear Kelly fussing about something sore, but my moans were to loud to clearly make out what she said. Ha ha. This Disney business is hard work! But we enjoyed the assignment and would do it again.