Disneyland Christmas Trip Report 2011 Pt 1

Unlike most of our trips (or perhaps like most of them?!) the first day of this trip report isn’t that interesting, as we didn’t make it to the Disneyland until 11:30 pm. Normally, this wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, as Disneyland often closes at midnight while we’re there. Unfortunately, on this particular evening, both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure closed at 8 pm!

So, rather than dragging out our voyage from Indianapolis to Anaheim (don’t worry, I had two Big Macs, and they were delicious!), I’ll cut right to the chase.

Like I mentioned above, we arrived at our hotel, Del Sol Inn, at 11:20 pm. Unsurprisingly, we were the last stop on our SuperShuttle, depsite being the first ones to load. Not that big of a deal, as the parks were long-closed. We’d rather save our good luck for a day when it would actually matter.

On the flight there, we had been debating whether to go out and do something that night, or to rest up for the next day. Well, I should say Sarah was debating what to do, because I had already made up my mind. I couldn’t simply sit in a bed within a few hundred yards of Disneyland and not go. The idea of that was just absurd.

Of course, there isn’t a lot to do at Disneyland over three hours after the parks both close, but we figured we’d have some fun. Even if everything was closed, we could use the powers of our imaginations to have fun!

We started by gazing longingly through Disneyland’s locked gates, getting our first taste of Christmas at Disneyland. A few security guards passed, and surprisingly said nothing as I craned my camera through the gate to get a shot.

This wasn’t enough, so we continued on through Downtown Disney. The lights there in the shade trees were really cool–large globe bulbs that gave the area a festive atmosphere. It felt odd to be in a Downtown Disney for a purpose other than participating in an hour-long, convoluted bus route, but it was nice. For a second, it almost made me want to visit Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney again. Almost.

It was already after midnight by this point, but we didn’t have to be up too early the next morning thanks to a 10 am opening time, so we pushed on, heading all the way over to the Disneyland Hotel to photograph the newly–literally, the construction walls came down two days prior–refurbished pool and Trader Sam’s. We debated even stopping into Trader Sam’s briefly, but we ultimately decided against it. (Plus, it looked like it was closing down for the night, and it’s tough to eat at a closed bar!)

We were quite impressed with Disneyland Hotel. Obviously, a lot of work has been done on it in the last couple of years to make it look as nice as it did when we saw it. Still, we were quite impressed. There is something about the sprawling themed resort-hotels at Walt Disney World that I prefer, as they are a substantial departure from your typical high-rise hotel, and they give me a lot of ground to explore and walk.

Disneyland Hotel was still very cool. The pools were well themed and the giving each of the towers a motif (and name) that corresponded with a land in Disneyland was also a nice touch.

Regardless of how much I like the hotel, I think it will be tough to ever justify staying there. If we plan on keeping up our crazy trip-taking pace, we have to travel somewhat frugally, and we know no Cast Members in Disneyland who can get us discounted rooms, and the benefits of staying on property at Disneyland simply aren’t that great.

At Walt Disney World, we benefit by being closer to the parks, having transportation provided by Disney, and late evening operating hours. All of this is available to us for around $65-70/night at a Value or $100-110/night at a moderate.

By contrast, Disney-owned hotels at Disneyland all would cost us in-excess of $150/night, are not closer than the off-site hotels in which we stay (except Grand Californian, and then the cost isn’t even close to $150/night!), and don’t offer late evening hours. Given all of those things, it’s difficult for us to justify paying a premium to stay on-site at Disneyland. The cost is just too high and the perks too low. I imagine this will only continue to get worse as Disneyland becomes more of a tourist destination next year, and the Resort offers fewer hotel discounts to Annual Passholders.

After we finished some quick shooting at Disneyland Hotel, it was time to call it a night. Ideally, I would have liked to trek on to Paradise Pier Hotel, but it was already like 4 am Eastern, and I had been up since before 6 am that morning. More importantly, Sarah had been up since around 5, and was really tired. So we headed back to Del Sol Inn.

The next morning, I woke up at around 6 am. When you factor in the time change this wasn’t that bad, but when you consider the actual time I went to bed, this amounted to only around four and a half hours of sleep. I guess I was too excited for sleep. This would end up being a common occurrence on this trip, and one that left me really drained by the end of the trip.

I let Sarah sleep until around 6:30, at which time I started “accidentally” making a lot of noise, causing her to wake up. At that point, we got ready for the morning.

My first task of the morning was to return the hotel room to its condition prior to our arrival. No, this is not a hobby of mine; it was necessary because I needed to record video of the room for TouringPlans.com’s YouTube page. Thanks to my great room-cleaning skills and breath-taking cinematography, the video turned out well. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m starting to get the hang of recording video. It didn’t hurt that I got a lot of experience shooting video on this trip.

With the 2-minute video recorded, we still had a lot of time to kill before the parks opened. We contemplated a trip to Goofy’s Kitchen, but by the time we realized that was at Disneyland Hotel we were already at the Grand Californian Hotel (what kind of self-respecting Disney fan doesn’t know the location of key character meals?!), so we opted for breakfast at Whitewater Snacks.

Despite the name, Whitewater Snacks is a full Counter Service restaurant. We split the American Breakfast, along with a Holiday Cupcake and Coke. At $4.99, we wouldn’t have normally purchased the Holiday Cupcake–especially since a Pumpkin muffin was right next to it for $2.99!–but I wanted to sample as many Christmas desserts as possible for the A Disneyland Christmas eBook I was planning on writing (click the link to check it out on Amazon.com!). Ahh, the sacrifices we make for research.

It was around this time we came to the realization that Disney Counter Service breakfasts are a waste of money for us. They’re always expensive for what they are, they’re rarely all that good (with the exception of the delicious ham croissants at the Main Street Bakery in Walt Disney World), and we usually wait a long time to get them. The wait wasn’t terrible on this particular morning, but the food wasn’t that good. We’re definitely taking jerky and other snacks for the mornings for our coming trips.

With breakfast over, we still had quite a bit of time until Disneyland opened. Obviously, the best use of time was repeatedly heading back into Whitewater Snacks to best my previous photos of food. At some point, probably around the time the restaurant got crowded and Guests and Cast Members started wondering why some lunatic was taking 50 photos of random foods, this became awkward.

Looking for another way to pass the time, we decided to wander around the Grand Californian, hoping someone would see us looking like lost puppies and offer us a room. Unfortunately, our plan was unsuccessful. However, we did get to take in a lot of the beauty of the hotel, and came out with a new appreciation for it. Clearly, it’s not simply the Disneyland version of Wilderness Lodge.

It is much more grandiose, and is a reasonable sister-hotel to the Grand Floridian. My personal preference would still be for something a bit more elegant as the flagship hotel, but Disney doesn’t pay me for my consulting prowess.

After wandering around the hotel for a while, we headed to the Disneyland turnstiles where we waited for about twenty minutes before being allowed to enter. Luckily, we were waiting right under a monorail berm for most of this twenty minutes, meaning that I got to feed my addiction for monorail photos as we waited.

It was a Magic Morning (how I wish we had purchased tickets for it on eBay!) so arriving for rope drop wasn’t essential, but after being shut out of the parks our first night and being up since 6 am, I was itching to get inside.

As much as I wanted to do attractions, I wanted to grab some photos of Sleeping Beauty Castle decked out for Christmas, too, so Sarah agreed to go ahead and get FastPasses for Indiana Jones Adventure while I quickly snapped some shots. It was a wildly successful mission, as she successfully acquired FastPasses and I successfully acquired photos!

Proof:

Normally, we would have experienced one of the popular and/or low capacity attractions first. However, having never experienced Haunted Mansion Holiday or “it’s a small world” holiday, we decided to do these first, even if they were unlikely to draw the type of crowds as Space Mountain or Indy.

I probably spend 18 hours per day reading Disney blogs, viewing Disney photos, and perusing various other “Disney” corners of the internet. Somehow, despite all of this time spent in the Disneyverse, I had managed to avoid seeing much pertaining to Haunted Mansion Holiday and “it’s a small world” holiday prior to this trip. This was wholly intentional, but was still quite an accomplishment given the sheer volume of Disney materials I consume. Basically, the whole of my knowledge concerning Haunted Mansion Holiday prior to our trip was that it was a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay featuring a new gingerbread house each year, and that it had an Oogie Boogie Audio Animatronic at the end. Sarah also knew very little about it, but she’s not addicted to the internet like me, so this isn’t quite as surprising.

If you have never experienced Haunted Mansion Holiday and want to experience it for the first time “in person,” (and you absolutely SHOULD go this route) I suggest you navigate from this window to Disneyland.com to book a trip to Disneyland RIGHT NOW!

If ye be brave or fool enough to face a skeleton’s curse (and spoilers), proceed…

My expectations for Haunted Mansion Holiday were not all that high. After seeing things like the Jingle Jungle Parade and other “overlays” at Walt Disney World, I expected this would be merely a few Santa hats on AAs, maybe a new AA here or there, and little else.

Suffice to say, I found myself muttering, “wow…” under my breath as soon as we entered the queue, and did not stop even after we exited the attraction. Besides these short utterances of “wow,” I was essentially speechless and dumbfounded.

We were both so amazed that we immediately queued up again. Again, it was mostly all “wows” (even a few of the illusive and incredibly prestigious “WOWZERS!”) as we noticed new details and it really hit us how starkly different Haunted Mansion Holiday was than Haunted Mansion. My camera never once left my lap as we rode the attraction. That right there says a lot, as usually I’m itching to take photos.

Neither of us are Nightmare Before Christmas fans (although we plan on giving it another shot now!), and we were absolutely flabbergasted by how much we enjoyed Haunted Mansion Holiday. It’s not just an overlay, it’s essentially an entirely new attraction inside a familiar structure.

The attraction is clever, and the story is told in a really fun way. It’s a bit over-the-top and loud, but in a really fun way, and in a way that works really well. To be sure, I know there are some Disneyland purists who dislike the overlay, but it seems most people love it–and for good reason.

By and large, the story is told in an organic manner, and most of the added set-pieces and Audio Animatronics fit really well in the existing Haunted Mansion scenes. There are some times when the story seems like it’s forced, but this is a minor complaint and should come as no surprise given that…well, given that it IS forced into an existing attraction.

Oogie Boogie also seems like a bit of a tacked-on afterthought, and after returning home, I learned that he was not added to the overlay until a couple years after it premiered. This came as no surprise.

By and large, though, the attraction was amazing. It was not a simply done gimmick with only a few trivial props to make the attraction seem like a different version, it was wholly new. For Walt Disney World fans, this might be an apt comparison: it’s like going from Star Tours to Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Heck, maybe this is even MORE dramatic than that!

I could gush over the overlay for pages, but I think you probably get the point (and I’ll spread out my gushing in more granular detail over the coming installments as we head back, and back, and back, and… to Haunted Mansion Holiday.

We were all set to experience it another time after we exited the queue, until we saw a 35 minute wait. We thus decided to head out to the rest of the park and utilize FastPasses to experience it again later in the day.

Instead, we decided to grab an eggnog latte (note to self: although eggnog is good, and latte is good, the two combined are far from good), Haunted Mansion Holiday FastPasses, and photos with Jack Skellington and Sally.

Then, we headed over to Fantasyland to experience that other holiday attraction…

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13 Responses to “Disneyland Christmas Trip Report 2011 Pt 1”
  1. backinoz June 13, 2012
  2. Dave May 18, 2012
  3. Tank January 7, 2012
  4. Betsy December 7, 2011
  5. Jacqueline Ledford December 7, 2011
  6. BreaPhotog December 6, 2011
  7. John B December 5, 2011
    • C-J. December 6, 2011
  8. Chris Thompson December 5, 2011
    • Michelle Schaefer December 6, 2011
    • BreaPhotog December 6, 2011
  9. Erica December 5, 2011
  10. C-J. December 5, 2011

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