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Disneyland. How could it feel so familiar and yet be so very different…

We are avid Walt Disney World fans, going to the parks three or four times a year for the past 16 years. I have often wanted to visit Disneyland, but every time @drsql talked me into a longer trip or some special activity at Disney World. We finally made the trip this past January, a celebration for our 30th wedding anniversary.

When you decide to vacation at any Walt Disney resort it takes a good deal of planning, and we have become quite the experts with all our experience. As we were planning for this new adventure, we learned quickly that planning for Disneyland is an oddly different experience. Over the next several posts, I will be reviewing the differences we experienced in our vacation, things you should consider while planning, and what to expect your first visit.

 The differences are apparent from the minute you land at the airport. We chose to fly into John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County. This airport is closer to the Disneyland Resort and much smaller than LAX. Flying into MCO in Orlando almost gives the impression of flying directly onto the WDW Resort. It feels like you are already starting your Disney experience, with the store welcoming you and going directly to the Magical Express. The welcome is so warm, and the wait fairly short to get onto the bus that will take you and your luggage to your resort.

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 Landing in SNA, there was no indication that Disney was welcoming us. After we found our luggage, we tried to find the location of the Disneyland Resort Express. Although most of the resources we used while planning recommended public transportation, because we were not familiar with the area, we decided to take the Disneyland Resort Express to our resort. Reservations were not required, but there is a fee. The pickup area was not easy to locate. Our wait was significant, but not terrible, and the trip to our resort pleasant and short.

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As DVC members, we decided to use our points to stay at the nice resort (more details on that in a later blog), the Grand California. It is very beautiful, but the most surprising difference was the reception we received upon arrival. When we arrive at our home resort at WDW,  several happy and friendly cast members are standing out in front, welcoming us home and asking if we need assistance. As we removed our luggage from the bus and headed into the Grand Californian, we had no idea where to go and there were no cast members we could ask for assistance. We were several hours early, the line for check-in was incredibly long (there is not an option for on-line check-in), and we did not know where to go. After several smiling cast members passed us, even after trying to get someone’s attention, I decided to wait in line outside at the valet stand to see where we could check our luggage until it was time to check-in.

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 Eventually, they pointed us to a random line of people with suitcases to the left side of the lobby. They were waiting for the cast members to come with luggage stands to check bags. Although there was no noticeable signage indicating it, apparently that is the location to meet someone that can take your bags. After waiting for a while, there appeared to be only two cast members assigned to this task, we met a very friendly cast member who took our luggage and gave us information on how to get to the parks from the lobby. He explained that the check-in line would stay very long for most of the day and we should go ahead and enjoy some time at the parks until after our 3:00 pm check-in time. He spent plenty of time with us as we asked questions.

Our experience was not negative at all, it just all started out like going to a “normal” upscale hotel. This changed once we had ditched the luggage and took the advice we had been given and headed to California Adventure…through the gate inside the hotel. So maybe Disneyland is going to be ok after all.

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Preparing for our first Disneyland Vacation

In just 3 weeks time, my wife and I will be making our first journey to Disneyland after many trips to Disney World. We started going to Disney World about 18 years ago, and thought that for our 30th Anniversary, we should do something different. Of course, looking back we probably should have done something at Hollywood Studios, since they created the new logo specifically for us (okay, our friend @CarsonMalone edited it for us!):

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I started this blog and twitter feed (@disneypicaday) last April, and my daily picture has so far been 100% pictures of Disney World, taken from those 18 years of trips, 2 and 3 times a year for the most part. Over the years, the process of planning for a Disney World vacation has changed, but I always felt like there was planning. With FastPass+, MagicBands, and dining reservations needing to be made at 6 months, ao I was ready to attack… Only to find that things are really different.

The primary early planning was getting a room to stay in. We were planning on staying on DVC points, probably at the Grand Floridian, so that had to be done by 6 months as normal in competition with lots of other people. But when I tried to call in and see about using points for the Disneyland Hotel at 6 months, they were like… they aren’t ready for reservations for next year. In the end, we ended up with a 1 bedroom suite, which is going to be amazing.

Dining reservations weren’t available until 60 days, and we got everything we wanted pretty easily (In fact, I somehow made a breakfast reservation for Christmas Morning for the Carnation Cafe… Not sure how it happened, but that probably cost me 20 bucks!)., Our dining reservations are for:

  • Blue Bayou For Lunch
  • Carnation Cafe for Breakfast
  • Carthay Circle for Dinner

But honestly, I am way more excited about several of the foods I have heard about:

  • Corn Dogs – Disneyland people always talk about how great the corn dogs are. I will give you my opinion when I see it (though I have had very few bad corn dogs in my life, so I can’t imagine I will be that negative!)
  • Fried Chicken – I am a fried chicken maniac. I have been on a low calorie diet for 5 years now, and my main indulgence has been fried chicken. Disney World has really only the Prime Time Diner fried chicken to speak of, and it is good, but it is a table service place where you need reservations.
  • Churros – The pictures of churros I see on twitter is just nuts, all different flavors, colors, etc.
  • Chili Cone Queso – ‘Cause, you know, it looks cool (and probably sounds better than it tastes, but who knows.

The only one thing I am sure of is that there will be loads of pictures that I will sprinkle into the feed once I get back, and probably a lot of interjection tweets like “Wow!”, “Weird!?!”, “Huh???”, “Amazing!!” from Jan 27-Feb 1.

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Our Halloween Tradition Origin Story

Halloween was just never my thing, for a lot of reasons. My family really didn’t celebrate it and I had a negative experience at a haunted house as a kid, so I never enjoyed being scared for fun. My husband trick or treated some, but that was about the extent of it. When our daughter was very young, I served on staff at a church and in the 90’s churches typically did not celebrate Halloween in any way – actually it was rather discouraged.  We usually had some type of alternative church “harvest” event on Halloween night, so we just never did Halloween…until the church and Disney collided one fateful year.

I had visited Disney World as a child, but my husband had never. He husband was way out of shape at the time and had not had good experiences at other theme parks, so was really against the whole idea of going to Disney World. On our first “real” family vacation, we went to Chicago to visit the American Girl store, and it was near Disney Quest. We were all gamers, so we went and had a lot of fun… because of this, I got him to go at least once to Disney World. When we planned our first Disney vacation, we thought it was a once in a lifetime trip…but after the first time he was surprised how awesome it was, and we were hooked!

Around that same time, our church decided to have a Trunk or Treat for the kids in the neighborhoods surrounding the church. A Trunk or Treat is an event that can be set up as a fall festival. The cars are typically decorated with the trunks open for kids to walk around and trick or treat throughout the parking lot. Nothing scary, but friendly jack-o-lanterns and all of the typical “nice” Halloween décor was prevalent, including costumes (though we are only now getting close to decorating ourselves!)  But our car was participating, and so for the first time, we needed decorations… and what company produces more friendly Halloween décor than any other (probably?) The Walt Disney Corporation.

Halloween Bowls

We started decorating our car each year so that it was “really not so scary” but fun with pumpkin Mickey lights and other decorations we found or made that were Disney themed. After we moved and attended churches that did not have a Trunk or Treat, we decided that our house would be the fun house where kids would see not so scary Disney decorations when they rang our door bell.  Wearing our Halloween themed ears from Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party, we would sit on our porch with the Boo to You Parade music playing from speakers set up in our front windows.

In the house where we lived previously, Halloween was an amazing time. Almost every house was decorated, and it was an amazing block party atmosphere. So we upped our game greatly with more lights, music, etc. Our current neighborhood… not so much. Our house is the only one with lights, or any sign that Halloween is a thing… but we still decorate.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Party is now a yearly event for us. Not only do we attend at Disney World each year we can, but we host our own version of the Not So Scary Party at our home for our family. We decorate, watch some Disney Halloween movie, then watch the Not So Scary park entertainment from YouTube such as the official Disney Parks video of Boo To You Parade or from other people like All Central Florida, who gave us a great version of the Sanderson Sister’s Spooktacular this year.

 Halloween Movie

Every year though, we laugh at how our fascination with Halloween started strangely enough, with our church and Disney. Embracing the fun aspects of the night and connect with our community – sharing our obsession of all things Disney with kids in our family and neighborhood!

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Simple Mickey Pumpkin Decoration

I like pumpkins on my front porch this time of year. I like Mickey Mouse (duh!). And today’s scheduled tweet is about the cool pumpkins that are all around Main Street at Disney World.

While this blog is never going to evolve into some craft oriented Disney home decoration blog, this is one of my favorite decorations we have out at Halloween. To be honest, my ability to carve pumpkins is pretty weak (and I have a half inch deep scar on my hand from slicing a bagel and another where I cut a millimeter of skin off the top of a finger while camping that makes me skittish around knives not directed at a cutting board).

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I don’t know where I first saw a pumpkin set up like this, or if it was strictly something I saw as a plastic pumpkin, but it is really easy. The pumpkins last for several weeks on the porch, and it is a nicely subtle Disney decoration anyone can do in minutes. (If this was your patented idea, feel free to let me know and I will happily credit you!)

You need one large pumpkin, ideally one that sits flat and is fairly wide. Then two small pumpkins for the ears. The fresher the better, because poking the hole in the pumpkin will eventually cause it to rot away. The more the top two stay on without help, the better, but as you will see in my pictures, I never do a great job of getting that straight. Lastly, I use two small wooden dowels to hold the ears on like this one. Long enough to reach the bottom of the pumpkin, with several inches sticking out of the top.

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Figure out where you want the ears, then simply punch a hole that is slightly smaller than your dowel in your pumpkin where you want to affix the ears. The dowel should be really tight going in. This is the ear pumpkin here with the hole:

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Push the dowel in the hole on the large pumpkin. It should ideally reach the bottom of the pumpkin inside for support.

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Then cut the dowel so it is a little shorter than the top pumpkin, and slide your top pumpkin on the dowel (it should also be as tight a fit as possible), and you are done.

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It looks great from the road (day and night, actually under our Mickey lights!), very natural and not plastic looking, all easily for under 10 bucks.

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Finally, Pal Val’s #1 – Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Well, we have made it to the #1 thing I am looking forward to on our trip to Walt Disney World! My family and I have gone to many special ticketed events over the years. (this includes E-Ride Nights, Pirates and Princess Party, Early Morning Magic, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – just to name a few.) They have all been fun and exciting in their own way, however – my very favorite event we have ever attended is Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. There are many reasons why, more than I could (or want to) list here in a blog.

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But I definitely want to share some of my favorite things about the party for you…including a couple of tips that may help if are also planning a special spooky night at the Magic Kingdom!

  • Atmosphere – the park is decorated so well for this party (way beyond the decorations that adorn the park the rest of the day.) I mentioned in the Haunted Mansion blog that I love fall and all that goes along with it. The colors, the pumpkins, and all the other decorations are so awesome. As it gets dark, there is a creepy fog around the park, and multi-color lights providing a spooky feel to the entire park. The use of projections onto the buildings over the last few years add to this effect. Also, lots of people are in costume – not us, mind you – so many adorable couple and family costumes that you do not see on a regular day.
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  • Trick or Treating – there are stations set up throughout the park for children, and adults, to pick up candy. (And over the last few years, the candy has been the good stuff!!) Now quite honestly, I am not a huge candy fan – but there is something about people trick or treating all around the park that gives a unique, almost neighborhood, feel to the park. It adds something special to the night.
  • The Haunted Mansion – Clearly this is big, since yesterday’s blog was all about this, and this is the second time I am mentioning that entry here in this blog. I do love riding this attraction during the party!
  • Excellent Wait Times – Now this is not a given, it depends on how many tickets are sold for the party, which other than opening night, tends to grow larger as you get closer to actual Halloween night. Typically, when we have attended Not-So-Scary, wait times are extra low since there are not as many people at the park during a party as there is in a normal day. This can mean lots of re-rides – and when you are especially lucky – the coveted ‘ride again without having to get out of the vehicle’ magical moment!
  • Hallowishes Fireworks – The fireworks during this party are unique, and like so much of the party entertainment, you can only see them during this party. They are spectacular. We have always been big fans of Nightmare Before Christmas – so the heavy use of this music along with more villains, Halloween colors, and awesome explosions – just WOW!
    Castle Fireworks
  • Speaking of Villains – Other than an occasional evil step-sister or Gaston, you don’t see a lot of the villains around the Magic Kingdom on a normal day. It is delightful to see them out and about during the Not-So-Scary Party. If you want to have a picture made with them, they have meet-and-greet opportunities, but be prepared to spend a lot of your time in those lines – they can be kind of long.
  • The Headless Horseman – Just before the parade, the Headless Horseman rides through the park and it is one of my all-time favorite scenes in a show at the Magic Kingdom. Simply tremendous – it is magical. But don’t be that person who curses out a cast member (yes, in front of children!) because the safety of the rider is way more important than having to wait until next time, even if that is a year or more away.
    Horseman
  • The Boo to You Parade – The parade is the highlight of the party for me. This parade’s music and themes are fun and worth waiting to get a front row spot! The music is so catchy you will be singing it for the rest of your trip (and probably buying the soundtrack, if only to hear the chicken clucking Ghost Riders In The Sky!). And when the Haunted Mansion unit goes by, with the butlers performing with shovels and the ballroom scene’s dancing ghost couples – I just can’t stand it. It is just all the things… (and you can actually watch it tonight on Disney Parks Live Blog, plus hopefully they leave up the video so you can watch it over and over when you get home! If not, there are 100 youtubers who have videoed it that do a decent enough job.)

Wow, that was harder than I thought it was going to be – there is barely enough room in one blog post to describe the fun and excitement that is the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. All that we have seen before, plus there are new experiences we have yet to see. For example, Space Mountain, totally dark; live actors in Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.

The only problem with the party, is that it only lasts 5 hours (you can arrive at 4, but the party gets going at 7), and this may not be enough time to do everything you to do – so just like most everything with Disney, it takes a little planning to make sure you get all you expect out of the extra cost.

A few tips from our past experiences with the party (and may update with another blog after we go this year!)

  • Since they have added more dates this year, this may not be as big of an issue…but we found that week night parties are much less crowded the parties held on the weekend.
  • If you see that your party has sold-out, be prepared for it to be a much busier night. We have found on those nights, it is best if we just focus on the events specific to the party and make sure we have plenty of time to ride attractions on another day. (Except the Haunted Mansion, always ride the Haunted Mansion! And try Space Mountain in the dark. And Pirates. and, and , okay, so they do make this difficult don’t they?)
  • Decide, ahead of time, the most important things that you want to do. If you just must get a photo with Jack and Sally or you cannot survive without the Oogie Boogie Popcorn Bucket – plan on doing those things as early as possible. Lines get incredibly long and sometimes the special items sell out, and sometimes quickly sell out. The earlier you can get those things checked off your list – you will feel less stressed during the party.
  • Check in the party as soon as you can. A lot of people wait until late to get their wristband (at least in years past it has been a wristband) and the lines get long. This is particularly true if you are already a ticketed guest at the Magic Kingdom that day.
  • Don’t forget your special Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card! The party ones are really cool!
  • Check out the schedule for times of shows, a lot of times the later shows are less crowded. Like the second parade, or the Hocus Pocus Vilian Spelltacular show they have at midnight as the night ends.

The Mickey Not So Scary Halloween party is one of my favorite events at Walt Disney World. It is such a unique experience that combines childhood activities like trick-or-treating and costumes, with special event parades, fireworks and a Halloween experience that is as fun in August and September as it is on Halloween Day itself (maybe more since the place will be sold out on Halloween night!) And it really…is not so very scary!

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