FastPass Guide to Disney California Adventure

I find that FastPasses are the biggest source of frustration to first-time or infrequent park goers. Many people don’t know what FastPasses are, how to use them, or what to use them on. With this in mind, I’m going to write a guide to each U.S. park on when and where to use FastPasses.

Last week I finished the FastPass+ Guides to Walt Disney World.  Now, the time has come to move over to the west (best?) coast and offer some strategy to the FastPass system at Disneyland Resort.  I’ll be writing about California Adventure first, which doesn’t have as much to offer as Disneyland.  I’m getting ahead of myself though!

Carthay Circle old fashioned

 

What are the differences between FastPass+ at Walt Disney World and FastPass at Disneyland?

If you’ve read my earlier guides then you probably have a general understanding of how FastPass+ works (assuming I’m a halfway competent writer, a big assumption I know) at Walt Disney World.  A FastPass serves the same general purpose in Disneyland as it does on the other coast, the pass allows guests to skip the majority of the line at an attraction.

Eureka Grizzly_edited-1

The difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World is that you can’t reserve the FastPass ahead of time at Disneyland.  Hence the lack of +. If you ever have questions about reserving something in advance, just look to see if there is a + included.  That always works.  In a way, with the lack of advance FastPass+ reservations, Disneyland is much easier to manage when planning out your trip.  Along with not worrying about what to reserve in advance, Disneyland Resort also has fewer options to FastPass.  That means there is less decision-making and strategy involved.

The way to obtain FastPasses at Disneyland is to go to the attraction (at least in most cases) and insert your park ticket at a FastPass machine.  The FastPass will pop out.  That pass will have two times on it with an hour between them.  You have to return to that attraction within that hour-long window and then you’ll be able to enter the FastPass line.  The pass will have smaller font on it, as well.  That smaller font will tell you when you can get your next FastPass.  Check out the photo below to see one.

via Undercovertourist.com

via Undercovertourist.com

As I said, guests aren’t allowed to get another FastPass until that time in the small font says.  Aside from that restriction, you can get as many FastPasses as you please.  FastPasses aren’t available during early entry but they are during all normal park hours.

FastPass Strategy and Rankings for Disney California Adventure

Now that I’ve spent 400+ words on a concept most of you probably already understood, let’s get down to the real point of this post!  Here are the attractions that feature FastPass at California Adventure:

  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Soarin’
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
  • California Screamin’
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • World of Color

One way that California Adventure is unique is that you can get a FastPass for World of Color at anytime and then get another FastPass immediately.  There is no wait time when it comes to that FastPass, so you might as well get it.  The earlier you get the World of Color FastPass, the better section you will be in for the show.  So, as long as you are planning to watch World of Color then get a FastPass at some point in the morning.  It won’t hurt anything!

goofy's sky school

There aren’t many attractions with FastPass available and there are quite a few quality attractions at California Adventure, so there aren’t exactly any easy choices here.  The least of the attractions offered is Goofy’s Sky School.  It won’t often have long wait times (unless you come at a very busy time of year) and I’d recommend skipping riding this attraction if there were long lines.  Of course, I’m not a big fan of roller coaster so some might disagree with me.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this is the least popular of DCA’s FastPass attractions.

fog grizzly river run

Next on the list is a bit of a toss-up.  Grizzly River Run isn’t very crowded when the weather isn’t hot.  Of course, that’s not very often in California.  If you go in the winter months then you likely won’t need a FastPass for Grizzly River Run otherwise this isn’t a bad option for your 3rd or 4th FastPass.  Grizzly River Run is often closed in the first few months of the year for refurbishments, so be aware of that.  Grizzly River Run and Goofy’s Sky School do often utilize a single-rider line which is a good way to go if you don’t mind being seperated from your group.

Hollywood Tower of Terror can have some decent sized lines but the attraction loads so many people at a time that it’s not that high on this make-believe ‘FastPass Priority List’ .  The FastPass for this attraction also doesn’t skip a large portion of the line.  If other attractions are out of FastPasses or you’ve done Soarin’, RSR, and California Screamin’ then get one here.

sunset california screamin paradise pier

What I wrote for Tower of Terror is often the same for California Screamin’.  I think the queue for California Screamin’ is incredibly boring and hot, therefore I would recommend getting a FastPass here before Tower of Terror.  Still, I think they are close to each other in terms of popularity so let your preferences guide you in this never-ending quest for FastPass knowledge!

Grizzly Peak Airfield Soarin'

That leaves Soarin’ and Radiator Springs Racers for the coveted top spot in the Wandering in Disney – California Adventure – FastPass Rankings, also know as the WiDCAFPR Award.  This decision is really a no-brainer 95% of the time.  Radiator Springs Racers is the superior attraction and is almost always more.  With that being said, over the next few months Soarin’ Over California is only open on weekends and will have drastic crowds.  After Soarin’ moves on from the weekend-only schedule then it will be debuting a brand-new film.  While I don’t think it will surpass Radiator Springs Racers in popularity, Soarin’ will be a worthy competitor.  All that to say, get an RSR FastPass at park opening and then either go ride Soarin’ immediately or get a FastPass for it as soon as your time is available. (Assuming that it’s open when you’re there.)

There are a few things to know about Radiator Springs Racers though.  First of all, it’s the only attraction where the FastPass isn’t directly next to it.  The FastPass is right by the entrance to Cars Land.  If you are there at park opening, the line for the FastPass will likely be around Carthay Circle.  Follow signs for that FastPass, there will be many Cast Members around to help you out.  One other item of note is that Radiator Springs Racers has an extremely effective single-rider line.  In my experience, going as a single-rider hardly takes anything away from the attraction.  Often times the people you go with end up in the same car with you or in the car you’re racing against.  I highly recommend the single-rider line especially since you’ll want to ride this attraction more than once.  Unless you have no soul.

RSR rock

As I’ve already said, all of this could change do to personal preference.  I tried to go by order of popularity while also factoring in how interesting and hot the queue gets.  Below is a quicker version of my rankings along with what time of day I’d try to get a FastPass for this attraction.

  1. Radiator Springs Racers – The best and most popular attraction at Disney California Adventure (maybe in all of Disneyland).  I’d get a FastPass for RSR at park opening and then go ride it.  If not, get a FastPass for it and then go ride Soarin’ immediately.  To get a FastPass for it, you’ll have to go near park opening or else they will run out of FastPasses.
  2. Soarin’ – While this attraction is going to get more and more popular over the next few months, it finishes quite a ways behind Radiator Springs Racers on this list.  I would get a FastPass for this as soon as the previous one allows you to.  That would put getting this FastPass sometime in the late morning (depending on park hours).  While over in this direction pick up a FastPass for World of Color, as well.
  3. California Screamin’ – Once available, I’d head over to Paradise Pier and get a FastPass for California Screamin’.  If the window to ride is the next hour or so, spend some time in line at Toy Story Midway Mania, ride the not-so-popular attraction, and maybe get some Lobster Nachos at the Cove Bar.  If the FastPass is a ways out then go ride Tower of Terror and do some attractions in that section of the park.  This finishes above Tower of Terror due to its boring line and the heat.  If it’s really hot out, get a FastPass for Grizzly River Run in this slot instead.
  4. Tower of Terror – Only slightly behind Screamin’, I’d FastPass this in the afternoon assuming there were still some available.  A wonderful attraction, the queue once inside is really fascinating making it fall behind Screamin’ in these rankings.  Plus, the line does move fast and is often not that long.  Again, if it’s really hot then skip this one in favor of Grizzly River Run.
  5. Grizzly River Run – This is the wildcard.  I love this attraction, as it’s much better than your average river rapids theme park attraction.  If the weather is less than 80 or 85 degrees then the line isn’t terrible.  But, if it is then this attraction would jump up to number 3 in my rankings.
  6. Goofy’s Sky School – I don’t like this one but I guess if nothing else is available and you’re in the area then FastPass it if the wait is over 15 minutes long.

Cars Land night as you go rock

That does it for California Adventure.  If you have anything to add or any questions then please let me know in the comments!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

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Disneyland 60th Anniversary Overview & Planning Guide

Partners night 60th castle

Last summer Disneyland began their 60th anniversary celebration.  Launching new shows and refurbished attractions, the celebration was a smashing success and is now continuing into 2016.  With the end date being September 5th, 2016 many guests will still be able to experience the celebration.  Here is an overview of all that’s offered during the 60th anniversary and some strategy on how to best experience each attraction.

Disneyland Forever 

Disneyland Forever is Disneyland’s new nighttime spectacular.  Cassie and I reviewed the show a few months ago (check out the link) so I won’t get into a long review here.  In short, I think the show is fantastic.  I believe Disneyland Forever showcases the future of fireworks shows, use projection mapping on the buildings of Main Street U.S.A.  The technology is enough reason for the show to be considered a success but the shows theme works, as well.  Using animated features throughout Disney’s past to narrate, the show is nostalgic while jumping into the future.

Colorful Disneyland Forever

Like its predecessors, Disneyland Forever is insanely popular.  Main Street is packed to the brim every night.  To be able to get a good spot for the show, guests should find a spot as close to the Partners Statue as possible at least half an hour before the show begins.  If you have a bigger group, you may want to look for a spot more like 45 minutes ahead of the show.  In the summer months, increase those time by 15 minutes or so to insure a great spot on Main Street U.S.A.  With Fantasmic! being down for the year I expect Disneyland Forever to be even more popular.

Walt Disney Disneyland Forever

There are other spots to watch Disneyland Forever.  There are projections shown on the Matterhorn and in Frontierland.  If you find a spot somewhere other than Main Street, just make sure you have a clear view of behind the castle and the backside of the park.  That way you’ll have a good view of the fireworks.

Paint the Night Parade 

Cassie and I reviewed Paint the Night, as well.  This parade is astounding and another technological marvel.  Paying tribute to the Main Street Electrical Parade before it, Paint the Night is the biggest and brightest parade I’ve ever seen.  With a nice assortment of classic Disney characters and new treasures, Paint the Night is the biggest success of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Celebration.

Slinky from afar PTN

To find a prime location for the parade, guests should look for a spot at least half an hour before the parade.  If there are two showings of the parade in one night, I highly recommend seeing the second one as the crowds are much lighter.  Also, the further you can get away from Main Street U.S.A. the easier the crowds will be.  There’s no huge benefit to seeing this show on Main Street.  Last time I watched it, I was near It’s A Small World and had a great view.  As far as where to stand when you find a spot, get as close to the curb as possible.

World of Color – Celebrate 

While many of the 60th Anniversary offerings are just in Disneyland, Disney California Adventure did offer a new version of World of Color.  They added ‘Celebrate’ to the name, so you know it’s an upgrade.  Actually, it wasn’t an upgrade.  I thought the show was pretty choppy and there was a lot of forced aspects of it (I’m looking at you ‘Let It Go’.)  Still there are some memorable moments.  The portion of the show that talked about Disneyland is great and I love the soundtrack.  Here is our full review of it.

World of Color lots of colors

We talk about it in the review but Cassie and I both highly recommend standing in the ‘splash area’.  Or ‘splash zone’.  Or ‘you may get wet’ area.  I don’t know what it’s called.  Why isn’t there a universal phrase for these areas in theme parks?  Anyway, this area is the closest section to the show.  To get a spot for World of Color you do need to get a FastPass ahead of time near Grizzly River Run. (At least that’s where it is at the time of writing this.)  That FastPass will get you a spot for the show and will grant access to the splash zone.  The earlier you get the FastPass the better section you will be in.  The earlier you show up to the show the better spot in your section you will get.  Pretty basic logic there.  In past experiences, showing up to World of Color 15-30 minutes early is plenty of time, assuming you have a FastPass.  As with the other shows, if there is a second showing then that is likely to be less crowded.

Matterhorn and Peter Pan’s Flight

To celebrate the 60th Anniversary, a few classic Disneyland attractions went through major refurbishments.  The Matterhorn was spruced up and the story inside of the attraction was slightly altered.  Friend of the blog, yeti Harold, is now making more appearances in the attraction.  While it’s good to see him more, I’m not sure the changes were a huge improvement inside of the attraction.  The lighting was a bit strange and the ‘pile of garbage’ (or the wreckage caused by Harold) at the beginning of the attraction wasn’t done very well.  I don’t think the story or actual attraction is worse, I’m just not sure that it’s better.  With that being said, the outside looks as good as it has in years.  With Disneyland Forever using the Matterhorn for projections, I wonder if they’re forced to keep it looking fresh.

Matterhorn night waterfall

The other attraction that got ‘plussed’ was Peter Pan’s Flight.  I like the changes made to Peter Pan’s Flight for the most part.  Scene one looks incredible as they upgraded the technology used.  The other sections look cleaner and crisper (again, advanced technology) making the attraction generally better.  I do think the changes they made lack a little bit of texture but the flight to Neverland clearly looks better.

Peter Pan Sign

These attractions were popular before their refurbishments and are even more so now.  I would recommend riding them as soon as you get to Disneyland in the morning, as neither of them currently have FastPasses.  If that’s not an option then riding them as your last attraction of the night is the way to go.  If the park was to close at 10 PM, you could get in line at 9:59 PM and they’d let you ride an attraction regardless of the wait time.  So, if you don’t mind it getting too late than that is a good option.

Other 60th Anniversary Entertainment

While I’ve covered the attractions and shows now (unless I’m completely blanking on something) there are still a few special parts of the 60th anniversary.  One of those being that the park icons are decorated for the occasion.  The castle is adorned with blue ribbon and becomes even more sparkly than usual at night due to this being the ‘Diamond Celebration’.  The ribbons may be a tad over the top but this isn’t anything like the Birthday Cake catastrophe in Walt Disney World.  Disneyland still looks classy and the castle looks great, especially at night.

Carthay Circle old fashioned

The added decoration to Carthay Circle in DCA is more up my alley than what they did to the castle.  The ribbons and royal blue are more subtle and really tastefully done on Carthay Circle.  While it’s not the spectacle that the castle is at night, DCA’s icon looks sharp and the white of the building perfectly contrasts the blue of the ribbon.

DL entrance 60

There are other decorations throughout the park that are fun to look at and photograph.  Going on an anniversary is fairly special, knowing that the parks probably won’t ever look like this again.  There are also several photo opportunities around that celebrate the 60th.  I’m not really into these framed cut-outs but it’s nice to give guests the chance to take photos that celebrate Disneyland’s milestone.

Overview

With the construction going on at Disneyland, the crowds may be a bit daunting in 2016 (especially in the summer months) but it’s worth it to see the park celebrate its 60th Anniversary.  As I mentioned again, the parks will likely never look like this again.  That combined with the new shows make this celebration worthy of attendance.  Get to the parks early, as usual, to get in as many attractions as possible.  If you do that then waiting for the shows won’t feel like such a hassle.

Belle purple rose

If you have any questions then please leave them in the comments!  Also, if you noticed me missing anything please let me know.  I plan to do this sort of post as an overall planning guide for 2016 in the coming weeks as I hope that will be helpful to people trying to plan a vacation.

– Andrew

Question of the Week (1/24/16)

Every week our writers get together and answer a Disney-related question.  Here is this week’s question and answers, leave your answers in the comments!

tiki room full

Question of the Week: What’s the best character meet and greet experience you’ve ever had? Who was it with?

Leslie – Can my answer be a tie? Because it is. My first was seeing Darth Maul, and honestly all we did was glare at each other and glare at the camera but it felt like he stepped right out of the movies and was there. It was fantastic. The next was when I went and saw Goofy at the circus. I was dressed for Mickey’s Not So Scary as Vanessa and Goofy was positively frightened I was going to steal his voice. It was really fantastic.

Hallie Mickey Mouse

Melissa L. – This is hard for me as well, but I think Goofy and Donald would have to be my favorite. It was also at the circus and super late on a Saturday night. Just my mom and I were wandering Magic Kingdom and there were no lines for meeting the characters, so we went! Both Donald and goofy decided to fight over me and Goofy kept trying to run away with me. It was really fun! My second would be running into Alice and the Mad Hatter on our most recent Disneyland trip!

Mad hatter and Alice

Andrew – I’m not a big fan of meet & greets. I do like them with non-face characters (those with a mask or face on their costume). With that being said, my favorite is probably with Alice and Mad Hatter on our latest trip to DL, as Melissa L. said. We happened upon them as we were leaving Fantasyland and there was no one else there. They were in no hurry to take pictures and rush off but instead played around with us. Those two played catch with Melissa throwing whatever was in there pockets, while the Mad Hatter teased Alice. They were marvelously in character and it was fun to have a long interaction. At the end, Melissa asked to have her photo with them and they had completely forgot about that part of the meet & greet.

Belle purple rose

Kelsee – My favorite meet & greet was with Mary Poppins outside of the Jolly Holiday Cafe in Disneyland. I loved it because we were able to spend more time with her since she’s a less sought after character. I also love the fairy meet & greets in pixie hollow because of the set up they have for the fairies. It feels like you are a fairy yourself!

FoF MH and SW

Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!  If you enjoy our blog, please subscribe via email or WordPress and like our Facebook page.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you ever have any questions about trip planning or the Disney Parks either leave them in the comments or send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com.  Also, don’t forget to answer this week’s question in the comments!  Have a great week everyone!

– Andrew

FastPass+ Guide to Magic Kingdom

I find that FastPasses are the biggest source of frustration to first-time or infrequent park goers. Many people don’t know what FastPasses are, how to use them, or what to use them on. With this in mind, I’m going to write a guide to each U.S. park on when and where to use FastPasses.

Today concludes the Walt Disney World portion of this series.  I’ve already written about Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot.  Click on those links if you missed any of those posts.  If unfamiliar with FastPass+ as a whole, start with the Animal Kingdom post because there is a lengthy explanation of the system in that post.  Today, we’re on to Magic Kingdom!

DWMKFW

Are there differences in FastPass+ at Magic Kingdom than other parks?

Magic Kingdom uses the same system as Animal Kingdom, in that guests just select three attractions with FastPass+ capability and those are the three you start with.  There is no tiered system here like at Epcot or the Studios.  Of course, all of this could change at a moments notice but for now that’s where we stand. Guests can reserve their three FastPass+’s online 60 days in advance of their trip if staying on-site, 30 days in advance if staying off-site.  Once those three prearranged attractions are completed when in the park, you can go get more FastPasses at kiosks set up around the park.   Here are the attractions that offer FastPass+ at the Magic Kingdom:

  • Jungle Cruise
  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • The Barnstormer
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • it’s a small world
  • Mad Tea Party
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall
  • Meet Ariel at Her Grotto
  • Meet Cinderella and Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Splash Mountain
  • The Haunted Mansion
  • Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade
  • Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season (seasonal)
  • Main Street Electrical Parade
  • Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater
  • Meet Tinker Bell at Town Square Theater
  • Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade (seasonal)
  • Wishes Nighttime Spectacular
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
  • Space Mountain
  • Tomorrowland Speedway

As you can see, there is a ton of attractions here.  (There’s a reason I’ve been putting off this blog post!)  Narrowing a list from 30 to 3 is pretty hard, but that’s why you’re reading this.  That, or it’s because of my wonderful jokes…  As always, this list of attractions changes from time to time, especially the meet & greets.  I’ll do my best to keep it updated!

FastPass+ Strategy and Rankings

Since there are so many attractions here, I’m going to sort them a little bit differently than previously posts.  There are many attractions here that guests absolutely shouldn’t use FastPasses on, I’m going to eliminate those and then rank the ones that are left.

So, to begin, here are the non-contenders:

The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Mickey’s Philharmagic, The Barnstormer, Dumbo, Mad Tea Party, Meet Cinderella and Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall, Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater, and Meet Tinker Bell at Town Square Theater.

dumbo

All of these attractions can be walked on to in less than 20 minutes, and most of them in less than 10 minutes unless it is a very busy day.  The Princess Fairytale Hall and Mickey meet & greets were nearly left off this list as they’re the only attractions that can rack up some wait times but, first of all, I don’t think utilizing a FastPass on a meet & greet is very valuable and the wait times never jump over other attractions that I haven’t listed yet.  That meet & greet might be an option to FastPass after you have completed your first three FastPasses.

Moving on, here’s a few more attractions that I probably wouldn’t FastPass:

it’s a small world, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tomorrowland Speedway, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, and the Main Street Electrical Parade.

These attractions are slightly more popular than those that I’ve listed above.  Still, I don’t think they are a great use of a FastPass as there are many still above them.  Journey of the Little Mermaid has queue that you definitely don’t want to miss, and wait times are never too bad there.  The other attractions here don’t have the most exciting queues but the wait times aren’t bad and they aren’t attractions that should take priority over something else.

FoF Peter Pan skull

The Main Street Electrical Parade is great but unless it’s the reason that you are going to Walt Disney World then it probably isn’t worth a FastPass.  If it is the reason you are going to Walt Disney World, you have a beautiful soul.

That leaves us with 15 attractions that are contending for 3 spots, it’s time to narrow that list down!

If you have read my previous FastPass+ guides then you know my philosophy behind using a FastPass on a show or parade.  I don’t think it’s worth it.  Now, if shows are your favorite part of the theme parks then I’d think about using a FastPass on one of them.  These FastPasses will get you an ideal viewing spot for fireworks or a parade.  If you were going to pick a show, I would choose Wishes for your FastPass as people are generally packed in like sardines there.  The same goes for the seasonal shows.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is not worth a FastPass that you reserve 60 days in advance but is a great choice if you have completed your 3 attractions at the park and are looking for something else to FastPass.  The line isn’t usually long except during extremely busy times of the year.

Backside of MK Castle

Here is where the list gets hard.  If you are a family with a young girl then making a FastPass for Enchanted Tales With Belle or the Anna and Elsa Meet & Greet is a great choice.  Both attractions have long lines (although Anna and Elsa is slowly dropping in popularity) and are a fine use of a FastPass.  Of course, if it’s an adult trip then these probably aren’t as interesting to you.  If your family is able to stay up late, the Anna and Elsa M&G doesn’t have long lines once the fireworks are over.  With that in mind, I think Enchanted Tales With Belle is a more valuable FastPass.  Some would absolutely disagree.

The Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise come next on our checklist.  Both are wonderful attractions but don’t have the longest lines.  The Haunted Mansion takes in so many people at a time that the queue moves relatively fast.  Plus, there are many things to look at while waiting.  The Jungle Cruise isn’t as popular as the Mansion and doesn’t have crazy wait times (usually).  These two attractions follow my show philosophy, if they are your favorite parts of Walt Disney World then use a FastPass on them.  If not, just brave the line.

Pirates of the Caribbean is similar to the Haunted Mansion.  It loads quite a few people at a time.  The queue is awesome and indoors so you stay out of the heat.  Depending on the day, you may be able to score a day-of FastPass for this attraction.  So, I wouldn’t reserve this one.

That leaves the big five: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight and Splash Mountain.  Eventually, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will be slightly less popular but it’s still got that new shine on it so the wait times are pretty high.  FastPass+ that one.  If it’s summer, FastPassing Splash Mountain is a no-brainer.  From November to March though, I’d skip FastPassing that and just wait it out in the line.  That leaves one spot for Big Thunder, Peter Pan’s Flight or Space Mountain in the summer months.  They all have interactive queues, which can make the time go faster if you are into that sort of thing.  Peter Pan’s Flight loads the slowest of all of them, which makes it the one that I would FastPasss.  Whichever one I didn’t FastPass (in this case Big Thunder and Space Mountain) is where I would head immediately as the park opened.

Dwarves

So, here are my rankings of the attractions that are worthy of the coveted FastPass consideration (Include the seasonal shows with the normal parade and fireworks):

13. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – It’s not worth reserving a FastPass+ 60 days out but could be worth a day-of FastPass.

12. Festival of Fantasy Parade – A wonderful parade but there are many good locations to see it without a FastPass.

11. Wishes – The same as the parade but with more crowds.  If you get claustrophobic, a FastPass might be a good choice (although I’m not positive how crowded the FastPass area is).

10. Anna & Elsa Meet & Greet – This shoots up the list if you or your child is Frozen-obsessed.

9. Pirates of the Caribbean – This loads fast and there’s a chance that there will be day-of FastPasses available after you’ve completed yours.

8. The Jungle Cruise – Usually the least crowded of the marquee attractions.  Being in line on the roof when the sun is out is not fun though.

7. Haunted Mansion – This loads incredibly fast and has a fun queue.  But, most of it’s outside so it can be quite hot.

6. Enchanted Tales With Belle – If you have children, get a FastPass.  If you don’t then it’s probably not worth it.

5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – If you don’t FastPass this one then head straight for it at park opening.

4. Space Mountain – You can flip-flop this one and Big Thunder, it just depends on your preference.

3. Splash Mountain – A must, especially in the summer months.

2. Peter Pan’s Flight – A slow loading line for a must-do attraction puts this near the top.

1. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – For now, this is the most popular attraction in the Magic Kingdom.  I don’t think that will last much longer though.

Seven Dwarves Mine Train

Did you agree with my rankings?  If not, let me know in the comments.  I’d love to hear what other people think.  Also, if you have any questions please let me know in the comments.  I hope this was helpful!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Question of the Week (1/18/16)

Every week our writers get together and answer a Disney related question.  Here is this week’s question and answers.  (Leave your answer in the comments.)

Question of the Week: We’ll break from the parks just for this week and venture into Disney movies. What upcoming 2016 Disney/Pixar/Marvel film are you most excited for?

Cassie – I am so so so excited for Jungle Book! The trailers for the film are exceptional and I seriously get chills every time I see them. The cast is also pretty epic. I have high expectations for this film, and loved the original cartoon. My college also put on an amazing production of The Jungle Book when I went there, and I’ve been dreaming of a re-make ever since!

Annnnnd I KNOW it’s not being produced by Disney, but I’m also super jazzed about the BFG. I love Bill Hader so much!

King Louie drummers Magical Map

Andrew – I think I would choose Zootopia. Disney Animation is on a roll as of late and I’m excited to see what they come up with next. The trailers for this one look hilarious and I’m intrigued by the concept. The same goes with Rogue One, honestly but I was trying to be different and not say Star Wars. The year is pretty intriguing and I’m excited to see how it affects the theme parks in the long run.

parrots

Leslie – I am definitely really excited for Captain America: Civil War. I was never one for the Marvel universe until the movies started to be made and Ironman (or is it Robert Downey Jr?) is one of my favorite characters. I honestly can’t wait to see how this all plays out since I haven’t read the comics, plus all the movies have been a bit different from the comic book canon which I’m ok with. I also hope to see more of the Marvel universe incorporated into the parks.

American Adventure

Kelsee – I’m really excited for Moana. I love the concept art they have released and I’m curious to see if it will be another mega hit like Frozen. I have a special place in my heart for Lilo & Stitch, so my expectations for another Hawaii based Disney movie are high. I’m also loving that there are hints of her bringing back a Mulan/Pocahontas type of adventurous and independent heroine to the table.

sharp Disneyland Forever

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Farwell to Disney’s Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular

As you may or may not have heard, January 10th marked the ending of Disney’s Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular at Disney’s California Adventure. While it is always sad to see a show/attraction leaving the parks, I know that Aladdin’s departure will make way for new and exciting changes at DCA. In this post I’d like to share what I remember and loved about the Aladdin musical, and what I hope is in store for the space that was used to host this event.

Disney’s Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular was a 45-minute theatrical production held at the Hyperion Theater in Hollywood Land at DCA. I had the pleasure of viewing Aladdin on multiple occasions over the past few years, especially enjoying the cool, dark theater on a hot day. The show opened in 2003, and had a very successful run over the years. By the time of Aladdin’s closing, the musical had reached nearly 14,000 shows, delighting millions of viewers in its 13 year run.

Hyperion Aladdin theater DCA

I was always very impressed with Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular. Having been a theater major in college, I usually flock towards anything and everything musical theater related, and this show was no exception. Aladdin had all the trademarks of a Broadway show, just brought down with a smaller time frame. I found the length of the show to always be perfect. Just long enough for a nice break from walking/standing, but not too long that children would start to get fussy.

The show followed the basic premise of the Disney movie, Aladdin, but contained enough differences to make it unique and original. I absolutely loved the song To Be Free, written by Alan Menken just for this show, along with the other compositions from the Disney film. Every time I saw Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular the talent was exceptional, both in the ways of dancing and singing. Not to mention, the Genie was always on point with his adult humor, making fun and pointing jokes at modern events.

Aladdin was also very impressive when it came to stunts and technology. From flying carpets to Jafar’s transformation into a giant cobra, the props and technology were exceptionally advanced. I am always amazed at Disney’s journey through modern times, and I can only imagine what the technology will hold for the next show at the Hyperion Theater!

Genie parade

That being said, Disney’s Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular will be missed greatly, but I do believe it is time for a change. A Frozen musical experience will be taking Aladdin’s place this summer, and is already generating a lot of buzz. I think summer is a great time to open this new production, and I can already imagine the lines will be very long! There isn’t a little girl out there today who isn’t obsessed with everything Frozen, so I am not surprised that they are choosing to do a musical based on the movie. I can only hope that the show will be over the top, elaborate, and very impressive. It has big shoes to fill as it replaces Aladdin, a show that was beloved by many and will not soon be forgotten.

– Cassie

Carthay Circle Restaurant Review

Carthay Circle is a table-service restaurant in Disney California Adventure.  Acting as the park’s icon, Carthay Circle Restaurant is on Buena Vista Street right near California Adventure’s entrance.  This restaurant is the park’s fanciest restaurant and, while there’s no dress code (aside from having to wear clothes), Carthay Circle does feel more upscale than most theme park restaurants.  My wife and I spent an evening here recently (Fall 2015) and this review will cover that experience.

Carthay Circle old fashioned

There’s something alluring about being inside a park icon.  Eating at Cinderella’s Royal Table or riding Spaceship Earth is just a little more special because of where you are, regardless of the quality.  The same was true for Carthay Circle.  Once we stepped inside, there was no denying that there was a little something extra to the environment.  Sure, the excellent theming helps.

As you enter Carthay Circle, there’s a beautiful lounge area in the lobby.   Almost as if you’d stepped back in time to the 1930’s, Carthay Circle is filled with nostalgic colors that remind guests of that time period.  But, those colors are subtle and they aren’t overbearing.  The chandeliers throughout the restaurant are elegant and beautiful.  The downstairs lounge has a bar area and also has tables stretched around the room for more seating options.

Carthay Circle lobby

The upstairs area is the actual restaurant.  Either entering from the stairs or an elevator, guests find themselves in a hallway that is adorned with photos of Walt Disney and the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (which was shown at Carthay Circle Theatre in 1937).  After the leaving the hallway, there is a main dining room and then 4 smaller dining rooms (a few of which are private, having only one table in it).  We were in the main dining room and that was just beautiful.  The chandeliers were gorgeous, as was the mural painted above them.  There were flowers throughout the room, making it feel lively.  While I’ll get to the food, Carthay Circle absolutely nails the environment aspect of the restaurant.

Carthay Circle chandeliers

We sat down and quickly surveyed the menu.  Carthay Circle is run by the same chef as the beloved Napa Rose, Andrew Sutton.  The menu’s had similarities, as they featured fresh, Southern California fare.  We were brought fresh bread and butter to start.  The sourdough bread is baked daily at the Boudin Bakery and brought over to serve here.  It was delicious.

Carthay Circle Bread

For an appetizer, we ordered the Carthay Signature Fried Biscuits.  These biscuits were filled with white cheddar, bacon and jalapeños and served with an apricot honey jam.  They were freshly baked and a wonderful dish.  The cheese was the overriding taste when biting into the biscuit.  The jalapeños added some flavor but did not make them spicy and the bacon wasn’t as evident but did make for a great surprise whenever we got a mouthful.  I’d heard great reviews of the biscuits before coming to eat here and they were absolutely true.  While a little heavy for an appetizer, they were probably the best item I tasted that night.

biscuits

After the biscuits came our entrée.  Melissa ordered the Parmigiano Reggiano Gnocchi.  She liked the thick pasta and the cheese that is served on it.  The fresh vegetables were sautéed nicely and the dish was, overall, very good.

Carthay Circle Gnocchi

I ordered the Skuna Bay Salmon, which was light and delicious.  The sesame seeds on top and the black rice below gave the dish a nice texture.  There was also a red curry sauce on the dish that gave the dish some extra flavor.  The sauce wasn’t spicy but did make the salmon feel even more fresh.  I would highly recommend the salmon.

Salmon Carthay Circle

Carthay Circle, like Napa Rose, does change their menu out seasonally so be sure to check out what is currently listed.

No meal is complete without dessert so we ordered the lemon cake with ice cream.  I’m sure it had a fancier name than that but I can’t recall.  The ice cream was homemade and surprisingly light.  The cake had a great flavor, as well.  My favorite part of the dish though is that sauce underneath the cake.  Just a little tart, the sauce added an extra flavor to the dish that was missing without it.

Carthay Circle dessert

While Carthay Circle is no Napa Rose, it is one of the better restaurants I’ve tried inside a theme park.  The theming is top-notch and the food isn’t far behind.  The prices are quite high but you’re paying for the experience as well as the food.  I do like that the menu changes regularly and would be interested in trying a few other dishes.  Still, there are enough diverse options for everyone in your family to find something that appeals to them.  If you’re a Disney nut, seeing the memorabilia that’s inside is worth the price alone.  I would highly recommend this place if you want an upscale dining experience but want to stay inside the theme park.  Carthay Circle knocks its counterpart, the Blue Bayou in Disneyland, out of the ring but doesn’t quite measure up to Napa Rose in the Grand Californian Hotel.

Overall Rating – 9/10

– Andrew

Question of the Week (1/10/16)

Every week our writers get together and answer a Disney related question.  Here is this week’s question and answers, please leave your answer to this question in the comments!

Whale at night

Question of the Week: Our responses will really vary on this one due to location, but what is your favorite part of planning a trip to a Disney Park? (picking hotels, dining, order of attractions, etc.)

Cassie – My favorite part of planning a trip is probably picking out places to eat! I always love to plan ahead, especially if I want to go somewhere nice for dinner. Not to mention, the food at Disneyland really does rock. I just love eating when I’m there!

Pommes Frites Cafe Orleans

Andrew – Like Cassie, my favorite part of planning is probably picking out the restaurants you go to. At Walt Disney World especially, planning ahead and booking those in advance is important. But since she already said that, I will go with picking hotels. While I think reserving FastPass+ is interesting, I enjoy finding a hotel to stay even more. Reading through all the different options of on-site hotels at Walt Disney World is enjoyable, just to see all of the options. At Disneyland, I like trying to find the best deal on the Good Neighbor Hotels and weighing the pros/cons of each one.

Grand Flo

Leslie – For me it is definitely picking what attractions I want to go to, but I take this a step beyond FastPass+ and try to make sure that I can continue having low wait times through the day. So I get lunch when the park is busiest and try to hit more attractions when there are shows or parades. I also try to see characters when their wait times are lowest or making sure that I get there a bit before the character arrives.

Everest:discovery

Melissa L. – Can I answer all? Haha. I would agree with what everyone has already said. I enjoy getting to pick out and anticipate the restaurants we will get to try on our visits. I love picking out the perfect place to stay – always somewhere a little different, but still has that great Disney feel. And I love picking out what attractions to go to.

If I had to choose just one thing though that was different from what everyone else, I’d have to say planning which parks we will visit which day is always a blast!

Flo's V8 night trees

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One Last Trip Down the River

Much has been written about Disneyland’s Rivers of America, and the attractions on it, this week.  After this weekend, the river will be closed for about a year and will be dramatically altered upon its return.  This is all to make room for the much-anticipated Star Wars Land that will be in the back corner of Disneyland, taking over part of the rivers current footprint, Big Thunder Ranch and a good portion of backstage areas.

I’ve written quite a bit about the goats of Goat Galaxy in my latest trip report and I will sincerely miss the Big Thunder Ranch portion of Disneyland.  But, that area was outdated and underutilized.  A mediocre restaurant, a nice walking path and a petting zoo (even if I love it) probably won’t go down as much more than a footnote in the history of Disneyland, even if I did love their charm and small-town feel as a bridge to Fantasyland.  This area is loved by many but it’s easy to understand why it’s going away in favor of a Star Wars area.

Cool goat 1

While I don’t think many can argue with that, the Rivers of America isn’t just a footnote in Disneyland’s 60+ year history.  The river opened with the park in 1955, surrounding Tom Sawyer Island.  The island that the river enclosed was left pretty much bare at the time.  On opening, the Mark Twain River Boat took guests on a cruise around the river.  The Mark Twain is a steam engine boat that still runs today and will most likely run when the river reopens.

Over time, Tom Sawyer Island gained some nooks and crannies that gave it character and eventually morphed into the island we know today.  The river has largely stayed the same, showcasing views of Frontierland, New Orleans Square and Critter Country. As you move away from the park, guests enter one of the best quiet places in all of Disney.  Surrounded by nature instead of the hustle and bustle of a busy theme park and Orange County, this back area of the river is likely what will be replaced when the Rivers of America is reconfigured and reopened in 2017.  This area showcased a lot of greenery and ducks from the area.  There were still many things to look at but, more than anything, the area was simply peaceful.

Tom Sawyer Island

I’m sad that the river is changing but am not disappointed.  Dateline Disneyland (on MiceChat) ran an article this week on the supposed changes to the river.  In that article they gave a great, thorough history of the river and it’s attractions.  I highly recommend reading it for that sake, as it goes way more in-depth than I just did and is really well done.  But, the question that the article ultimately asked left me with a bad taste.  The article summed up, and I’m paraphrasing, by asking if Disneyland should build Star Wars Land where it’s currently planning or build a 3rd park to accommodate it.  Dateline Disneyland is great and I really admire their work, but asking a bunch of theme park fans if they’d rather change history from a park and add a land or if they’d rather have a new theme park is laughable.  Of course everyone would want another theme park!

The reason that question left me annoyed is because a third theme park probably wasn’t an option.  Even if it was, it wouldn’t be done for nearly a decade and there is demand for Star Wars right now.  Every time something new comes to the theme park, it’s usually going to have to replace a piece a puzzle that we’re fond of.  It’s been that way for 60 years and will be that way for another 60.  Another theme park may come along, but guess what, they’ll replace stuff in that theme park too.  It’s a never-ending cycle and it’s what has made the Disney Parks into one of the top vacation destinations in the world today.

Tom Sawyer Island Big Thunder blue night

To pull back from that rant a little bit, I will miss this first version of the river.  Like I said, the quiet areas and the peaceful nature of the Mark Twain River Boat might not be the same once it comes back.  There hasn’t been an official announcement on how the route will be altered but Dateline Disneyland did have a pretty educated guess on it (like I said, they really do great work).  I was glad to hear many of the pieces of the river, like the Native American Village and the rivers faux wildlife is rumored to return.  The back half of Tom Sawyer Island will also, most likely, be gone once everything reopens.  This is sad but, again, a necessary evil that is pretty easy to deal with.

All in all, I think Disney is making the right move.  While I would have been okay with them replacing Toon Town, there probably would have been even more outrage over that.  It’s likely the right call to keep as many attractions as possible (all attractions on the river will be back like the canoes, boats, and Tom Sawyer Island) while adding the capacity of new Star Wars attractions.  Disneyland is already overrun with guests so adding as many things to do as possible makes sense.  Yes, I’d rather there be a third park.  Do I think that’s reasonable to expect?  Absolutely not.

Cassie rainbow

So please, feel nostalgic but keep a level-head.  And be optimistic about the future of not just Star Wars Land but the river, as well.  With an alternate route comes upgrades to the areas that they’re working on.  When these classic attractions open again in 2017 they will likely look better and have some new things to marvel at.  I thought it’d be fitting to end this mess of a blog post with a little photo trip down the Rivers of America.  I’ll always remember that slow ride, taking photos, and feeling the cool air as the Mark Twain voyaged into the most peaceful part of Disneyland: the unknown.  Which is exactly where we’re headed now.

Rivers of America

Big thunder river boat paddle

Tom Sawyer Splash light

Hungry Bear Splash River Boat

rivers

Native Americans River Boat

Mark Twain Disneyland

– Andrew

Melissa L.’s Favorite Attraction: The Jungle Cruise

Here at Wandering in Disney our writers love to converse about everything Disney Parks related. Andrew recently came up with the idea for all of us to write a blog about our favorite attraction, and prove why our pick is the best! We hope you enjoy reading this series of posts about our favorite attractions! Here is our first installment, written by Cassie, and the second, written by Andrew.

Jungle Cruise Line

Have you ever wanted to see animals in their natural habitat, but stay far enough away to not get eaten?  Ever wish you could travel on the worlds longest rivers, but don’t want to be bored out of your mind?  Have you longed to see some of the worlds greatest wonders without paying for the airfare? Well wait no longer. You can experience these and more all from the safety of our hilarious skipper steered cruises!  You don’t want to miss this exciting adventure!

I don’t know about you guys, but if I read this advertisement somewhere, I would be sold!  You can experience all of this on one of the most iconic Disney rides and my personal favorite: The Jungle Cruise.

jungle cruise sign

This attraction has been around since was on Disneyland’s opening day roster.  Even though the Jungle Cruise hasn’t had a lot of updates since then, I feel a trip to Disney is never the same without being able to experience this attraction.  I mean, who wouldn’t want a skipper steering your boat through three continents worth of rivers and telling awfully funny-punny jokes? It is literally a dream come true!

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You start your journey by leaving the dock of a 1930’s British Explorer’s Lodge and make your way through major rivers in Asia, Africa, and South America. On your journey your skipper will entertain you with some lively jokes such as  being in “Da-Nile” while traveling down the Nile River…always one of my favorites.  There definitely isn’t a chance you’ll get bored! You also encounter an elephant bathing pool, hippos playing in the water, a pack of lions babysitting a zebra and so much more.  There is also no shortage to the thrill factor either!  If the lions didn’t scare you then the crocodiles attacking your boat might? If not that, then rhinos chasing you, gorillas destroying the camp, or the natives defending their territory will!  But not to worry – your skipper has a gun to scare them all away.  The only person you really want to watch out for is Trader Sam.  He always has a special going on that he will trade you two of his heads for one of yours…not that bad of a deal really.  Oh! And don’t forget the best and most important greatest wonder of the world – THE BACKSIDE OF WATER!

Elephant in Jungle Cruise

You end your trip back out the dock and really all that you want to do at that point is get back on and do it again!  This ride might not be as up to date and glamorous as Cassie’s favorite Radiator Springs Racers, but it does have the most character…and I’m always a sucker for those jokes!  And it may not have the live animals that Kilimanjaro Safaris does, but it uses the technology Walt was famous for and still has a life-like feel to is.

kidshippojunglecruise

All in all – this is a great ride and will always be one of my favorites.  It’s always a completely different experience at night versus the day, so make sure to visit it during both those times!

Happy Adventuring!

– Melissa L.