Natsu Matsuri at Tokyo Disneyland

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Natsu Matsuri is Tokyo Disneyland’s take on a traditional Japanese summer festival, and continues the “East Meets West” vibe of Tanabata Days with another celebration combining traditional elements of Japanese culture with Disney. Unlike Tanabata Days, Natsu Matsuri is a far less serious culturally, and is mostly high energy, guest-soaking entertainment. This post features some of my photos and thoughts, along with tips for Natsu Matsuri for those of you visiting Tokyo Disneyland in the summer months.

Running for most of the months of July and August, I would say that Natsu Matsuri is mostly a pretext to soak guests during the incredibly hot and humid summer months to keep them cool. Having Tokyo Disneyland decorated as if for a traditional Japanese-style summer festival, complete with lanterns and other decor, just makes sense…and is awesome.

Calling the event a pretext may sound harsh, but it should hardly be construed as a knock on Natsu Matsuri. It’s an absolute hoot. Natsu Matsuri just doesn’t have the same solemn vibe as Tanabata Days, which added an air of authenticity to Tanabata Days that I really appreciated. Had I not experienced both, I probably would not have thought anything of Natsu Matsuri’s lighthearted, over-the-top charm.

So why is Natsu Matsuri so fun? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Beating the Summer Heat & Humidity at Disney

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I don’t think anyone is going to extol the summer humidity of Walt Disney World or the dry, high heat of Disneyland. Dealing with the summer weather in the Disney Parks can make you long for a lovely getaway to the Yukon. On my past summer vacations, I’ve jumped from air-conditioned environment to air-conditioned environment, avoiding sunlight as if it’s food and I’m a Gremlin after midnight. The times when I would stand in an outdoor line, my shirt soaked through with sweat at lightning speed. This is no way to experience the parks, and I thought there had to be another way!

Last week as I watched Mickey Mouse unrepentantly douse guests with a firehose, it came to me: instead of trying to beat the summer heat by avoiding it, why not embrace it? This epiphany came by way of other guests, most of whom were dressed for the occasion in light, quick-dry summer-wear, while I was tightly bundled in my sweatbox of a full body rain-suit.

Perhaps this is not such a brilliant epiphany. Summer wait times spike for attractions like Splash Mountain, and any of the raft rides have exponentially longer waits in the summer months than any other time of year. The idea of this post does seem self-evident and like pointing out the obvious, but it didn’t click for me until I saw those guests of all ages unabashedly letting themselves get soaked…and loving it. It wasn’t just getting soaked by deranged, hose-wielding Mickey, either. Guests of all ages ran through soak pads, went on spray attractions, and just generally were dressed for getting really, really wet.

So, what can we Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans learn about how to embracing the heat while in the parks instead of fighting it by retreating to air-conditioning? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Top 10 Disney World First-Timer Mistakes

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We’ve all been there: that first trip to Walt Disney World and the inevitable “learning experience” that comes with discovering we’ve made a mistake. If you haven’t been there, it’s not because you’re perfect…it’s that you have been there and you just don’t recognize it.

That, or because you literally haven’t been there, with there being Walt Disney World, and are planning your first visit. If that’s the case, take some solace in the fact that everyone makes some mistake their first trip. No amount of planning can prevent the inevitable error. On second thought, maybe that’s more disconcerting than it is reassuring. I guess just know that you’re in good company.

This post takes a look at what we feel are the “top” (and by top we don’t necessarily mean “best”…more like most common) mistakes first-timers to Walt Disney World make based on various blog post comments, social media feedback, and more. It’s hardly a scientific top 10 list (as much as I’d like to think the most people lamented missing the attraction listed at #1 here, that isn’t the case), but hopefully it provides some good food for thought, nonetheless.

So what are the biggest mistakes first time Walt Disney World visitors make? The answers may SHOCK AND ASTOUND YOU. Well, probably not, but we have to trick you into reading this somehow… 😉 (more…)

Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland

This post features tips and info for Halloween Time at Disneyland, occurring September 11 to November 1, 2015. The hard ticket Mickey’s Halloween Party will be held during this time, with tickets costing $63 to $84, depending upon the night and whether you qualify for an Annual Passholder discount. Besides this party, entertainment during the Halloween Time at Disneyland season is included in the cost of regular theme park admission.

For those considering visiting during Halloween Time at Disneyland, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the standard offerings during the Halloween season in Disneyland are superior to those in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The decorations are better, the entertainment is superior, the seasonal snacks are more plentiful (and most are absolutely delicious), and there are two attractions at Disneyland that receive Halloween overlays (plus extra entertainment in Big Thunder Ranch), versus zero at Walt Disney World.

The bad news is that hard ticket Disneyland’s Mickey’s Halloween Party is inferior to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, crowds are not light (still better than summer) during Halloween Time at Disneyland like they are in the fall at Walt Disney World, and there are no other fall offerings justifying a visit to Disneyland Resort specifically during the Halloween season, versus Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, which is also a big draw during the fall at Walt Disney World.

With all of that said, we think Halloween Time at Disneyland is an incredible time to visit Disneyland. In fact, after Christmas at Disneyland, Halloween Time at Disneyland is our absolute favorite time of the year to visit. The only reason Christmas gets the edge is because all of its entertainment is included with the normal cost of admission, and Disney California Adventure gets into the fun during the Christmas season, too.

Note that for 2015, expect Halloween Time at Disneyland to be impacted by the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration. While we still expect all seasonal attraction overlays to happen, and Mickey’s Halloween Party 2015 dates have already been announced, it is likely that the park will have fewer decorations (with the 60th Anniversary decorations largely staying up) than normal as the Diamond Celebration will still be in full swing. Please keep in mind that this is speculation at this point. For more information and planning tips about the 60th, read our Ultimate Guide to the Disneyland Diamond Celebration.

We attended the first weekend of Halloween Time at Disneyland (September 12-15) last year, and had an awesome time. We’ve updated this post with some new photos and thoughts from this year’s festivities, so let’s take a look at Halloween Time at Disneyland, sharing some of our tips and reviews for the various offerings… (more…)

Tanabata Days at Tokyo DisneySea

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Last week we covered the Tanabata Days festivities at Tokyo Disneyland, and now it’s time to take a look at what Tokyo DisneySea has to offer. As a bit of a refresher, Tanabata Days or (七夕) is the traditional Japanese Star Festival that is held annually at both parks June 24 through July 7. During the special event, there are decorations, Tanabata greetings, special menu and merchandise items, and Wishing Places in each park and at the monorail stations.

At Tokyo DisneySea, there’s also a special hard ticket event called Tanabata Wishing that is held in the Broadway Music Theatre after Big Band Beat performances have concluded for the day. Tickets for this show are available only via the Japanese Tokyo Disney Resort page, or at kiosks located around Tokyo (in places such as Lawson’s convenience stores). We’ll cover that in this post, along with the other aspects of Tanabata Days at Tokyo DisneySea.

For starters, Tanabata Days is one of the shortest celebrations at Tokyo Disney Resort, immediately following Disney’s Easter and lasting only two weeks until the traditional July 7th date of the Tanabata. This post will be shorter than the Tokyo Disneyland Tanabata Days post, mostly because I’m not going to rehash the significance of Tanabata Days in Japanese culture or the mythos of the festivities.

What does Tokyo DisneySea do for the Tanabata? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings

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This post ranks & reviews the best and worst hotels near Disneyland, with pros & cons for each. Room photos, average prices, parking & WiFi charges, breakfast info, walking distance to the parks times, and other info is also included. Basically, my opinions on the hotel, plus all of the important objective details that will matter most if you’re planning a vacation to Disneyland Resort. Think of this as the ultimate guide to determine which hotel you should pick once you’ve determined whether you want to stay on-site or off-site during your trip to Anaheim.

These rankings are based upon my firsthand experience through actual stays of at least 1-night at the hotels. I think this is the only guide on the internet that ranks so many Anaheim hotels from the perspective of one individual who actually stayed at them. Every other resource like this is crowd-sourced (and thus lacking consistency) or cobbled together by someone with indirect experience (meaning they visited the hotels but didn’t stay there, or are basing their ranks on second-hand info).

I note this because I’m–frankly–pretty proud of this guide. A lot of time was spent staying at these hotels and putting this together and I think it will be pretty helpful. But maybe that’s all just my ego talking. For what it’s worth, I’ve been working on this for a while, and it is still a work in progress with more hotels on my list of places to review and to stay. However, if I keep putting off publishing this until I stay at and review “enough” places, it’ll never be done. I think it’s a pretty useful resource now even as a work in progress.

In fairness, there is something to be said for crowd-sourced reviews. While I don’t put a ton of stock into TripAdvisor due to selection bias and because the general public can be unreliable (I guess that’s a polite way of saying that some people on TripAdvisor have bad opinions), it’s a useful baseline. Equally as important, it offers a consensus and different perspective. Like anyone, I have my personal preferences, and there’s always the possibility that I’ll fixate on something in a review that wouldn’t matter to you. To that end, I’m including the TripAdvisor rank as one of the items mentioned in my review.

The other info below the synopsis in each review is pretty self-explanatory. Parking, WiFi, and breakfast status are all key factors for many booking a hotel near Disneyland, and whether each of these things is free varies from hotel to hotel, and can turn a good value into a great value, or make it not-so-good.

What probably isn’t so self-explanatory is “Hotel Tonight” status. I’ve been plugging this app a ton in my reviews of the hotels that are typically featured in the Hotel Tonight app (download the app here), and that’s because it’s the most economical way to book any of them. Unlike Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire, and other price-slashing options, you actually know which hotel you’re getting with Hotel Tonight–which is important to me since the “zones” on the blind-booking sites around Disneyland are so large that you may not get a hotel within walking distance.

The “catch” or downside to Hotel Tonight is that you can only book up to 7 days in advance, with the best deals coming 1-2 days in advance. Still, I’ve used it to book and review 12 of the hotels in these rankings. I highly recommend it if you’re comfortable waiting until the last minute (there is always availability for hotels within walking distance, so you’re not going to end up without a hotel if you wait), and you can save $25 on your first booking with my referral code: TBRICKER1.

I think that about covers it in terms of background. Let’s check out the rankings… (more…)