NEW: The Grand Circle Tour

The Guided Tours booth is where all of the Disneyland Park tours begin. (After you pass through the turnstiles, walk through the left tunnel, below the train track next to the Main Street station. It's just to the left of City Hall. 

The Guided Tours booth is where all of the Disneyland Park tours begin. (After you pass through the turnstiles, walk through the left tunnel, below the train track next to the Main Street station. It's just to the left of City Hall. 

To celebrate the reopening of the Disneyland Railroad (it's been closed since January 2016), Disneyland has started a new tour. It’s so new that when I joined it, the tour had been given only 4 times and hadn’t yet been advertised on the Disneyland web site or the Disneyland app. (One of the Disneyland train conductors told me about the tour)

Everyone on the tour received this cool badge on a lanyard (Our "credentials") to identify us as members of the tour.

Everyone on the tour received this cool badge on a lanyard (Our "credentials") to identify us as members of the tour.

The tour begins in the charming courtyard behind the Tour ticket booth, with specially-decorated donuts from the Jolly Holiday Bakery, coffee, hot chocolate, and fruit (not shown here are the apple slices and bananas, too). A gluten-free option is also available on request (my flourless brownie was amazingly delicious!). Our guide (Carlos) said he wanted to make sure we had enough energy to do the walking portion of the tour. Each person also gets a listening device with headphones for use during the tour.

Carlos, our Tour Guide, kept telling us that because this is a new tour, a few things were still being ironed out (such as, I was the first person to ask for a gluten-free treat instead of the doughnut). He was an excellent tour guide, always keeping things moving and leaving time for questions. He said it was his fourth day of doing this tour, but you wouldn’t know it because he didn't miss a beat. Very professional.

Carlos, our Tour Guide extraordinaire! (the guest behind him was not on our tour)

Carlos, our Tour Guide extraordinaire! (the guest behind him was not on our tour)

This tour is different from Disneyland's other tours because it's one of Disneyland's new "immersive" story-telling tours that use video, film and audio clips to help tell the story. Carlos carried an iPad Pro to show us historic film and pictures, as well as for playing interviews, radio clips, and other spoken information.

This post is a brief summary of the tour...you wouldn't want me to give away everything, right?

After our snacks and coffee, the tour started outside City hall by introducing Walt Disney’s fascination with trains as a young boy that eventually led to construction of Disneyland Park and the Disneyland Railroad as we know it today. From there we learned about the Main Street Station,  followed by a short walk along Main Street, stopping at several places, including a stop to watch train-related cartoon inside the Main Street Cinema. 

This is a 1955 map of the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad, back when DRR only had two locomotives. (From my personal collection)

This is a 1955 map of the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad, back when DRR only had two locomotives. (From my personal collection)

From Main Street, we walked through Frontier Land to New Orleans Square, with stops along the way along way to further develop Walt Disney’s relationship with trains, animation,  movies, and Disneyland.

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After a “comfort break” in New Orleans Square (restrooms and water fountains), we boarded one of the DRR trains, and not just ANY car. We rode on the Lilly Belle, which Lillian Disney (Walt’s wife) helped to design after his passing. Our guide continued the story with more information about the inspiration for and history of the car, as we rode along the portion of the railroad route between New Orleans Square and the Toon Town station. Of the four people on this tour, I was the only one who had ever been on the Disneyland Railroad. The Imagineers did a great job of re-routing the train tracks for Star Wars Land construction, including incorporating some new (and references to old) scenery into the route, while hiding most of Star Wars Land construction (other than a crane and some building shells).

Inside the Lillie Belle...

All of the furnishings are antiques or custom-made reproductions, and the colors are Lillian's favorites. Yes, the car has Hidden Mickeys too.

After stopping at the Toon Town station (did you know it used to be the Fantasy Land Station? and that it's been relocated several times?) our train ride passed through the freshened-up Grand Canyon and Primeval World exhibits (they've got some new lighting and special effects -- and a new narrator! -- but the stories are the same).  At the Main Street station, we disembarked and met Eric, one of the Disneyland Railroad Cast Members, who told us more interesting stories about the trains and answered our many obscure questions.

At the very end of the tour, we each received an illustrated Map of the Disneyland Railroad, complete with illustrations of each of the locomotives that make up the fleet. (Sorry, no picture! I have to leave something to surprise you, right?)

Bonus Train experience...another first for me. If you see this caboose, definitely ask to ride in it (but not on a warm afternoon...it has no air conditioning!).

By the way, according to the Tour Guides, taking this tour will now be the ONLY way to ride the Lilly Belle.

I highly recommend that you make your tour reservations in advance (up to 30 days before you visit the park). 714 781-8687 or  https://disneyland.disney.go.com/events-tours/#/park-tours/Same day Walk-up reservations are sometimes possible (at least 30 minutes prior). The tour is currently only being given in the morning, so get to the Tour booth early if you haven't made advance reservations. 

Soooo.. What is your favorite part of the Disneyland Railroad?

 

What to do on a Really Crowded Day at DLR (Part 1)

Also known as "You know the Parks are going to be super-crowded, but you NEED a Disneyland Day." 

You’ve read When to Go Parts 1 and 2, and checked Touring Plans’ Crowd Calendars, and the results are not good.  Maybe friends or family are visiting and they really “have to” go to Disneyland, but it’s the middle of summer or that crazy week between Christmas and the New Years Day weekend. What do you do?

Photo courtesy of OC Register

Photo courtesy of OC Register

Your options:

Option 1: Go Anyway (but follow a carefully thought-out plan)

Option 2: Spend a day doing other fun Disney activities

Option 3: Use the time to plan a trip to DLR on a less-crowded day

Option 4: Spend a day at another cool destination in Southern California

I'll discuss Option 1 in this post, since that's what this site is about. The other options are definitely good second choices, especially on THE MOST CROWDED days at the Parks. (More about the other options in Part 2 .. and maybe Part 3.)

First, here are some Rules for having a good Disneyland (and/or California Adventure) day when it’s really crowded:

1. Make sure you've checked the Disneyland website and you know what the parks hours are. Take advantage of the longer hours that the parks are usually open on the most crowded days. In other words, get into the parks early and stay until closing. Most people don't know about getting into the park before Rope Drop. And a tsunami of people leave the parks right after the fireworks show, especially people with small children. Most people leave relatively early on Sunday nights and weeknights that aren't followed by a weekend or holiday. (In summer, this staying late rule doesn't work as well because so many people are there on vacation.)

photo from MyVeryGeekyLife

photo from MyVeryGeekyLife

2. It will be crowded. Make the best of it and think of it as a chance to (see #3).... 

3. Ride some rides, and visit some attractions and parts of the park that you usually don't see.

4. Plan your meal times away from the usual "lunch at noon to 1 pm; dinner at 5 pm to 7 pm." Use the time when other people are eating to enjoy the somewhat shorter lines.


The first row of pictures below show wait times at Pirates of the Caribbean, HyperSpace Mountain, and Autopia on a very uncrowded day at Disneyland. The clock on Hyperspace Mountain says 7:20 a.m. (We had an Extra Magic Morning hour before park opening at 8 a.m.)

The bottom row shows wait times on a more crowded day at Disneyland (the left and middle pictures) and California Adventures (the last picture), without Fastpasses. Yep, 120 minutes (2 hours!) for Radiator Springs Racers. We went to see Soarin' Around the World instead. (If you were using the Disneyland App and clicked on each of the ride boxes, you'd see the FastPass return times).


The Plan

BEFORE you arrive at the parks (preferably at least the night before you leave home—or sooner!):

1.  Load the following apps onto your smartphone:

MOST IMPORTANT: The Disneyland App- It's FREE and is a wealth of useful information. See this page for more info and a link to download it. 

Heads Up (game) - Many people play this game in the line for Toy Story Midway Mania (it's rarely less than 30 minutes long; usually much longer). It’s a fun game and helps pass the time during long lines (and you can dazzle your friends with some Disney trivia!). (It's also available at The App Store and Google Play).

2.  Be sure you have a valid ticket for your Disneyland day. This includes making sure your ticket (Disneyland calls it a “Pass”) or Annual Pass (“Annual Passport”) has not expired, and is not blocked out for the day.  If you have a One-Day Ticket, check the calendar on this page to determine if you'll need to upgrade your ticket.  Go to this page to determine Annual Pass Blockout days.  If you don't have a ticket (a Pass), buy one online here so you (and your friends) can be in the park, not don't wasting time waiting in the ticket booth line. You can buy Annual Passes online, too.

3.  Review the tips about when to arrive at the park and add 15-30 minutes to your driving/train/walking time.

4.  Ask each person to decide on one "must-do" ride, attraction, or parade. Figure out locations of the rides and their FASTPASS kiosks (if available). Then set up sequence for getting these rides done first (or getting a FASTPASS for each of these). Parades don't have Fastpasses, but you'll want to figure in some time for staking out a spot on the parade route at least 30 minutes before the parade. If you get these done, everything else will be less stressful.

5.  Fully charge your phone, and bring a charging cable and a charger. If you don’t have a charger, consider getting a Fuel Rod at Disneyland. I think Fuel Rod is one of the best inventions EVER! See this page for my review.

On Your DLR day....

Plan to arrive at the turnstile lines (entrance gates to the individual park; where the Cast Member will scan your ticket) at least 45 minutes to 1 hour before the official park opening time. Why? For Rope Drop! See this page for details.  (If you STILL didn't get a Park ticket yet, you can buy it through the Disneyland Mobile App on your way to the park: see this page.)

After you show your pass to the cast member and go through a turnstile, walk directly toward the Rope Drop area leading to your first "must-do" ride. This can be a good time to send one person to fetch snacks, coffee or other beverages while the others wait for the rope drop. 

This is the Starbucks on Main Street in Disneyland. It had a line out the door right after people started entering the park. Within 15 minutes, the line had shrunk to this. Lots of Baristas in this Starbucks, so the line moves quickly.

This is the Starbucks on Main Street in Disneyland. It had a line out the door right after people started entering the park. Within 15 minutes, the line had shrunk to this. Lots of Baristas in this Starbucks, so the line moves quickly.

The California Adventure Rope Drop map is below--red lines are the location of the "ropes." EXCEPT during my last visit to DCA, the Rope Drop area on the left side of the Buena Vista Street fountain--was relocated further into the Park. It's now between the Little Mermaid ride and the Little Mermaid shop. Along the walkway to this rope, there are at least three restrooms and several places to get food. You can also get World of Color FastPasses before park opening near the Little Mermaid ride. (People with Extra Magic Morning tickets and guests staying at the DLR hotels are allowed past the ropes for one hour prior to park opening. The rest of us look on with anticipation).

The red lines near the Buena Vista Fountain (to the right--to Hollywood Land-- and below it--toward Cars Land) and the purple line near the Little Mermaid ride are the locations of the Ropes that "drop" at the official DCA opening time. People gather behind the ropes waiting for the official park opening.

The red lines near the Buena Vista Fountain (to the right--to Hollywood Land-- and below it--toward Cars Land) and the purple line near the Little Mermaid ride are the locations of the Ropes that "drop" at the official DCA opening time. People gather behind the ropes waiting for the official park opening.

As soon as the rope drops, go directly to the FASTPASS kiosk for your first choice ride/attraction that you REALLY want to do (or ride that ride if the line is short).  Find the FASTPASS Return line after you get a FASTPASS. For example, the StarTours FastPass return line is a new location (near the Tomorrow Land entrance, facing the "Hub." 

UPDATE: As of June 30, you will receive a paper FastPass "Reminder"  and your FastPasses will be loaded onto your Annual Pass or Park Pass (aka Pass). You'll scan your Pass (not your FastPass!) at the FastPass Return Line for each ride. Some rides will have one scanner near the FP Return Line entrance; others will also have a FP scanner closer to where you get on (in?) the ride.  The scanner will not let you into the ride if you are too late or too early (usually 5 minutes early is ok) for your FastPass Return time

Next, get in line for a ride near the FASTPASS kiosk that you just visited (OR pull a FASTPASS for the next ride with a long wait time). Depending upon the return time of your first FastPass, you can usually go on another ride.  Repeat as necessary, with meal and rest breaks, of course. For more information about FastPasses and how to maximize their use, see this page from Disneyland Daily (Casey explains it very well..why reinvent....Thanks, Casey!).

If you've arrived before Rope Drop, you'll be able to ride several rides and pull at least a few FASTPASSES during the first two or three hours that the park is open. Keep monitoring the Disneyland App for wait time and FASTPASS return times, because wait times seem to change for no apparent reason.

Sometime around 10 or 11 am, you'll notice the park getting very busy and the lines will have gone from 20 and 30 minutes to 40, 50 and 60 minutes, with an occasional 120 minute wait. This is a good time to take a break and have a snack, or lunch.You'll start going to the rides that are less busy, have fast-moving lines, or have moderate length lines, but are either inside a building (the air conditioning is a big relief during Southern California summers, late spring and fall) or longer than the average rides and shows. See the lists below for the rides that typically have the longest lines (especially in the afternoon and early evening)

Most popular rides at Disneyland (FP = FastPasses available)

Star Tours (Tomorrowland; FP)

HyperSpace Mountain (Tomorrowland; FP)

Indiana Jones Adventures (Adventureland; FP)

Matterhorn Bobsleds (Tomorrowland; FP)

Splash Mountain—on warm days--(Critter Country FP)

Peter Pan’s Adventures (Fantasyland)

Finding Nemo (Tomorrowland)

 

Disneyland’s less popular/shorter lines; some with longer length rides or longer shows (The first two are in air conditioned buildings; the Monorail has air conditioning too.)

Tiki Room (get a Dole Whip--from the line inside the waiting area--and enjoy it during the show)

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln/Disneyland Story & gallery

Tarzan’s Tree House

Monorail

Disneyland Railroad (on hiatus until mid-2017 due to Star Wars Land construction)

Mark Twain Riverboat, Pirate’s Lair, & Columbia Sailing Ship (on hiatus until mid-2017 due to Star Wars Land construction)

Autopia

 

Most popular rides at Disney’s California Adventure (FP = FastPasses available)

Guardians of the Galaxy--Mission: BREAKOUT (Hollywood Land; FP)

Radiator Springs Racers (Carsland; FP)

California Screamin’ (FP)

Toy Story Midway Mania (Paradise Pier; FP--just arrived on 4/7/2017)

Grizzly River Run (Grizzly Peak; FP -- especially on warm to hot days)

Soarin’ Around the World (Grizzly Peak; FP)

Goofy’s Sky School (Paradise Pier; FP)

California Adventure’s Less Crowded/Shorter lines; some with longer time rides or shows (the first four are inside an air conditioned building)

It’s Tough to Be a Bug (Bug’s Land)

Animation Academy (Hollywood Land)

Turtle Talk with Crush (Hollywood Land)

Little Mermaid- Ariel’s Adventure (Hollywood Land)

Silly Symphony Swings (Paradise Pier)

Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (Grizzly Peak)

Golden Zephyr (Paradise Pier)

Other Disneyland Resort Activities

Shopping, especially along Main Street (DL) and Buena Vista Street (DCA), and in Downtown Disney

Get a sample of chocolate at Ghirardelli’s and bread at Boudin’s (DCA)

The Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop gives a sample piece of chocolate to every visitor. Their ice cream sundaes, cones and other delectables are yummy-licious too!

Write here...

Search for Hidden Mickeys all over the parks

Tour Carthay Circle Restaurant (Free! Arrive at 10:20 a.m. for the tour at 10:30 am.)

Get a cold drink or an ice cream cone, find a bench or chair, and watch people

Take the Monorail to Downtown Disney and browse the shops, enjoy some music (evenings), or have something to eat or drink from one of the many many delicious choices.

Watch candy-making at Trolley Treats (Buena Vista St- DCA); Candy Palace (Main Street-DL); Pooh Corner (Critter Country – DL); or Marceline’s Confectionary in Downtown Disney.

I hope these tips will help improve your next Disneyland Resort visit on a super crowded day. Do you have a tip I didn't list here? Please tell me about it in the comments box below.

Next installment: options 2 through 4:

Option 2: Spend a day doing other fun Disney activities

Option 3: Use the time to plan a trip to DLR on a less-crowded day

Option 4: Spend a day at another cool destination in Southern California

Watch Facebook for these!

 

 

 

Smartphone Smarts at DLR

Using your cell phone at Disneyland Resort: saving the battery, charging, and more.

Healthy Rocket Fuel???

Schmoozies is a Counter Service dining option at California Adventure (in Hollywood Land) that has a menu full of (wait for it..) SMOOTHIES. During the Summer of Heroes, they offer smoothies themed to coordinate with the new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout ride in Hollywood Land.

Here’s the menu:

Rocket Fuel is probably named after the Guardian who denies that he’s a raccoon. 

Since the cast members make these beverages to order, I asked if they could substitute some ingredients. Fortunately, the CM at the order window said ok. Here’s my healthier version of that smoothie:

Frozen Espresso (don’t mess with my coffee!),
Deleted the whipped cream
Add yogurt (they use low fat vanilla yogurt—see it in the Strawberry -Banana Breakout on the menu)
Add banana and  strawberries.

OMG…It was delicious. Could this be an “off the menu” item during the Summer of Heroes?

Note: I asked for this variation when Schmoozies had only a few other customers. 

They also serve some crazy (dare I saw “out-of-this-world?”) doughnuts with the GOG theme. The Gamma-Sized Donut (has blackberry and black currant filling) is HUMONGOUS! I assume that’s a GOG thing too… or Incredible Hulk?  (Yes, the donut is sitting on a teenager’s leg—it is not forced perspective!). Donuts are served until 11 AM.

Schmoozies also serves some more normal beverages, such as Caffe Latte and Mocha, Espresso, Iced Coffee, Hot Tea, and bottled water. Flavorings are available too.  Lavender lemonade with a glow cube also appears on the menu.

Where to Stay

Review: Grand Legacy at the Park

Photo credit: Grand Legacy at the Park website

Photo credit: Grand Legacy at the Park website

This hotel is really close to the Disneyland Resort. Literally a 7 minute walk from my room to the Disneyland entrance. It's on the east side of the Disneyland Resort DLR, on Harbor Boulevard near the DLR Transportation Hub.   

Location of Grand Legacy at the Park: Harbor Blvd & Disney Way (formerly Ramada Maingate)

Location of Grand Legacy at the Park: Harbor Blvd & Disney Way (formerly Ramada Maingate)

After riding Amtrak from Ventura to Anaheim, I rode the ART (Anaheim Resort Transportation) bus to Disneyland and then walked (5 minutes) across the street to the Grand Legacy at the Park Hotel (formerly Ramada Maingate at the Park). The Disneyland Transportation hub is the closest ARTS stop to this hotel. The lobby staff was very friendly, welcomed me enthusiastically, and found my reservation quickly. 

This was a budget trip for me, so I got the cheapest room in the Grand Legacy’s original building ($131 including tax and fees, on the Thursday following Labor Day--dates vary by season, day of week, and during special events at the Parks). The Grand Legacy also has a new tower with newer rooms that opened earlier this year, and the rates for those rooms and suites are $20 to $400 more per night than the "classic" rooms in the original buildings. (I'll stay in one of their newer rooms soon; I'll report back when I do). The room was functional, with two double beds, a nightstand and lamp, microwave, coffee maker (with coffee only, no tea), small refrigerator, large flat screen TV, table and two chairs, and a wall-mounted rack for hanging clothes. The bathroom was small, but ok since I was traveling solo. It had a standard size tub with a showerhead high enough for a tall person. Nice bathroom toiletries provided. Everything was really clean, which is very important for me.

After a short visit to Disneyland that evening, I walked back to the hotel, had a cup of tea and went to bed.

The bed was comfortable and the curtains blocked out light from the parking area. However… if you are a light sleeper like me, I recommend asking for a room above the ground floor. I heard people walking (especially those with rolling suitcases) toward their rooms along the walkway in front of my room until late in the evening. The air conditioner kept the room cool and blocked out almost all of the outside noise. 

Breakfast room, with view to dining patio.  Photo credit: Grand Legacy at the Park web site.

Breakfast room, with view to dining patio.  Photo credit: Grand Legacy at the Park web site.

UPDATE: As of late January 2017, the hotel has begun giving a "Snack Bag" instead of serving breakfast. According to the website, it includes water, a granola bar, cheese and seasonal fruit. I'll report back on it after my next visit.

On Friday morning, I thought I was up and out of my room early enough to beat the breakfast crowd, since the Parks didn’t open until 9 am. However, even at 7:30 am, the breakfast room was full of excited park visitors (the photo above doesn't show them, I know). My table on the outside patio was a pleasant place to enjoy my breakfast. Breakfast foods included cereal, fresh fruit (apples, bananas and oranges), scrambled eggs (maybe it was an egg casserole?), hard-boiled eggs, sweet rolls/pastries, biscuits and gravy, along with milk, coffee, tea (basic black), and juice. I would have liked some yogurt as a healthier protein source, but other than that, the breakfast was good. The to-go cups were great for taking my tea with me, the breakfast room and patio were clean, and the staff kept the food well-stocked.

Unlike some hotels that provide your bill under the door in the early morning hours and allow you to leave the key card in the room, the Grand Legacy asks you to check out at the reception desk. Fortunately, checking out was quick and easy. I really appreciated that the staff allowed me to leave my overnight bag at the hotel while I visited the Park for the day. They promptly retrieved it for me when I returned later that afternoon before my trip back to the Amtrak station.

The Grand Legacy also has a convenience store (Alpha Mart) with snacks, beverages (including alcoholic), Disney souvenirs at good prices, and quite a few other helpful items. An ice cream shop and pizza restaurant are also on-site away from the rooms and facing the street, and several other restaurants (Tony Romas, Denny’s, etc.) are nearby.

There’s a rooftop lounge (The 5th) that serves beer, cocktails and small plates, and I’ve heard good things about it, but I didn’t make it there on this visit.

By the way, check out their website: they have discounts for Annual Passholders, AAA and RACQ members, and Government/Military. 

All in all, it was an enjoyable stay, made even better because of the Grand Legacy’s close location to the Parks. I will definitely stay there again… maybe even next week!

How to Eat Healthy at DLR (resources)

Breakfast

Baked (High Protein) Oatmeal

Makes 4 servings (adult size= 1/2 of each pan).
This is a great recipe for taking with you to the DLR. It makes a lot, tastes yummy, has lots of protein, no added sugar, can be made in advance and is easily adaptable for different flavors. It's part of my "Eating Healthy at Disneyland" plan.  Enjoy!! 
BakedOatmeal1.JPG

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup rolled oats (I use Whole Foods bulk organic or Trader Joe's gluten free rolled oats, too. If you don't have a Trader Joe's nearby, Amazon.com sells Trader Joe's gluten free rolled oats.)

¾ cup oat flour (Bob's Old Mill Gluten Free Oat Flour preferred, also at Amazon.com)

½  tsp baking soda (or ½ tsp Xanthan gum)

1 tsp baking powder

½ to 2 tsp EACH ground ginger, cinnamon and/or pumpkin pie spice (to taste)

12 large egg whites (equivalent amount of refrigerated egg whites works too)

4 servings vanilla protein powder (I use MetRx Protein Plus Vanilla from Trader Joe’s.  Optimal Nutrition Cinnamon Bun flavor (from Amazon.com) also makes this recipe really tasty)

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)

Approximately 1 to 1  1/2  cups water (or milk of choice, or combination); see directions

2 tsp vanilla extract

OPTIONAL: (either one; I haven’t tried both together)

1 tbsp psyllium husks

1 tbsp chia seeds

Directions:

1.       Preheat oven to 360°  F.

2.       Prepare two 8- or 9-inch square baking pans by spraying with cooking spray (bakes faster and more thoroughly in two square pans than in one larger pan). 

3.        In a large mixing bowl, use a whisk to mix the oats, baking powder, baking soda, and spices (and psyllium and/or chia seeds, if desired). Set this mixture aside.

4.     Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites in another medium bowl (on medium to high speed) until very fluffy; then mix in the pumpkin puree and vanilla extract (on medium speed) until no pumpkin lumps are visible.

5.      In another medium bowl, use a spoon to combine the protein powder with 1 to 1 ½ cups water--a little at a time, mixing well to remove all lumps. You'll want the mixture to be like a barely-pourable pancake batter or soft pudding. (The amount of water used will depend upon your protein powder. ****VERY IMPORTANT: Use a protein powder that you like, since it really affects the taste of the final product.) 

5.       Add the protein powder mixture to the egg, pumpkin, and vanilla mixture, beating well with an electric mixer (or spoon) until smooth (no lumps). 

6.       GENTLY fold the pumpkin/protein powder/egg mixture into the dry ingredients mixture (use a bowl scraper, aka spatula. .  . not a pancake turner), and mix until the dry ingredients are just combined with the wet ingredients (too much beating will make the dough very tough).

7.       Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 25-28 minutes, checking at 25 minutes for doneness. Top should brown nicely and a toothpick should come out clean when inserted in the center.

Cool on a wire rack. Best served warm; room temp is good too. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

OPTIONS: Try adding shredded carrots and pineapple for a carrot cake-like taste. I've made it with chocolate protein powder too (I wasn't crazy about it, but others might like it). Bananas are also a good flavor addition.

8/13/2016 UPDATE: Yesterday I made this with shredded zucchini and it was absolutely fabulous! Tastes a bit like zucchini bread.. but not as heavy (and much healthier!).

World of Color Dessert Party

I think I've finally come down from the wonderful World of Color dessert party (and it was months ago!). Here's the info on how you can enjoy this special and decadent event.

Here's what's included:

  • A reserved seat at a table for the World of Color show

  • A basket of bread (for the table to share)

  • A drink or two.  Either a) sparkling wine or a World of Color special mixed drink (Made of Sprite, Lemonade, a blue liqueur and coconut rum) for adults; A pomegranate lemonade (or lemonade) in a World of Color sipper for the non-drinkers.  Disney says it's for kids 12 and under, but I'd definitely ask your server if you can have one if you don't drink alcohol. 

  • Cheese (Manchego, a mini brie and mild cheddar on the night I was there)

  • Desserts (and more desserts!) A full plate of desserts for each person.

Disney recommends that you make reservations for this party early...before you get to the park. In the summer and during the Holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas through New Years Day), you'll need to make your reservation days or even weeks before your park visit date. You can make a reservation up to 60 days before your visit. See this page on the Disney website (or call 714-781-DINE) to make your reservation.  

As part of the reservation process, you'll have an opportunity to list any food allergies that you might have. I don't eat soy, so I made sure that was on my reservation. More about that later.

World of Color Dessert Party is held in Paradise Park, across from the Little Mermaid attraction. (map from Disneyland)

World of Color Dessert Party is held in Paradise Park, across from the Little Mermaid attraction. (map from Disneyland)

The World of Color (WOC) Dessert Party begins about 30 minutes before the World of Color show. The Disneyland website recommends that your arrive at least one hour before the WOC showtime. The line for the Dessert Party will look long, but you will get a table since you've made a reservation.  I recommend you arrive a little earlier than 1 hour before the show so that you can choose your table type. 

Two types of tables are available: bar-height (with bar-height director's chairs) and regular dining table height (with metal folding chairs). The bar height tables definitely have a better view-- and less chance of getting wet, since the lower tables are nearer to the water area. (When the wind blows, the water does too.) The lower tables also have a good view. Each type of table has the appropriate height chair. Yes, you read that right: you'll be sitting before the show starts and all the way through the World of Color show.  Everyone else will be standing while waiting for the show to start and while watching the show. Yes, it's an awesome show, but after walking all day, the last thing I want to do is stand for an hour to wait for a show and then stand for another hour during the show. Munching yummy desserts and having a drink (or two) is much more my style.

Back to the WOC Dessert party: You'll give your name to the cast member at the front of the line podium (I took a screen shot of my reservation confirmation just in case), then another cast member will show you to the "Preferred Seating Area," where you will be handed off to another cast member, who will take you to your table. Please note: if you are a party of 3 or less, another person might be asked to join you at your table. I sat with a wonderful family of grandparents and their young teenage daughter from out of state (oops, I wish I remembered which state). We had a great time exchanging information and I shared some tips for their next day at the parks.

After you are seated, a cast member takes your drink orders. Each person is given one drink (or two), and non-alcoholic beverages are refillable. If you want a second drink, be sure to ask the cast member before the show starts since they won't be available during the show. The grandparents I sat with asked for a second drink (and so did I!) and the cast member brought them cheerfully. The cast member hesitated when the husband asked for a third drink, but then smiled and brought it promptly. They also serve hot chocolate. The colored lights in the World of Color sipper change with the music, which distracted all of us.

After I had eaten two cookies and some fruit from my dessert plate, a cast member came to give me my "Special" plate (with no soy). It was just as wonderfully yummy as what I saw on my first plate.

The huge chocolate-covered strawberry, the gold-leaf painted macaron, and the rice pudding were super delicious, and very pretty. (click on the arrow to see that I just nibbled...NOT!)

We chatted and enjoyed our delicious fruit, cheese, desserts, and drinks. And then it was almost time for the show. The current version of the World of Color show celebrates Disneyland's 60th anniversary, and is narrated by Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey Mouse. I'm always amazed by the 80-foot tall colored streams of water and the images projected on a huge screen of water. It's a great show and this is a great way to watch it. UPDATE 11/20/16: During the Holidays at DLR, WOC becomes a Holiday show. Same lights and water show, just a different theme.

By the way, the World of Color Dessert Party is $79 per person, for both children and adults, and it must be prepaid in advance. No Annual Pass discounts are provided. But here's a way that you can get $50 off your ticket. I'm not sure I will do the Dessert Party again, unless I have a special occasion or I'm with a person who has never seen the show.

Just to clarify: I highly recommend the show and the Dessert Party.

 

 

 

When to go (Part 2)

(This post covers the time of day to arrive at DLR. For choosing what day to go to DLR, see this post.)

When checking the Disneyland Resort Park Hours & Schedule calendar, you'll see the opening and closing hours of each park. Does this mean you should arrive at the Park opening time posted on the calendar?  

Example: Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Disneyland Park: 8:00 AM to 12:00 AM                                                
Disney California Adventure Park: 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM

Wellll, noooo. Here's why.

First reason: Most people driving by car to DLR (including you) will park at the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. It's HUGE (holds over 10,000 cars; it's reported to be the second largest in the world). So it will take longer than you thought to get to a parking space, gather the stuff you are bringing into the park (someone will forget something, or decide that they really DO NEED their sweatshirt), and take the escalators down to the Mickey & Friends tram loading plaza. Your tram takes you to Downtown Disney (about a 5 minute ride), and a 5 minute walk to the security gates leading to the theme parks' actual entrance. The security lines can be long, since Disney Cast Members are required to inspect all bags, backpacks, strollers and other items carried by people entering the park. After clearing security, you will see ticket booths with people in line to buy their tickets. (Ticket booth lines can be long and they always seem to move slowly, no matter which line I've chosen.) 

From the ticket booths, you'll walk 2 minutes (max) to the entry gates (turnstiles)--and these might have a line too--where tickets are scanned and you (finally!) enter the park.

All of the above can take 30 minutes or more, so you'll enter the park at least 30 minutes AFTER the posted opening time.  And others will enter before you do. How many others? Well, it depends.

  1. People who are staying overnight at the Disneyland Resort hotels may enter the park 1 hour before everyone else. This is called Extra Magic Hour. So if the park opens at 9 AM, DLR hotel guests can enter the Park gates at 8 AM. Specifically, Extra Magic Hour is at Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; and at California Adventure on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. 
  2. People who buy certain multi-day tickets (three or more days, as of this writing) also receive one Magic Morning as part of their ticket. This allows them to enter Disneyland (only Disneyland) one hour before posted opening time on one day of their visit.
  3. All Park ticket holders are allowed to enter a limited area of each park about 30 minutes before the posted opening time (only Buena Vista Street in California Adventure, and Main Street in Disneyland), and prohibited from entering other areas by ropes (and Cast Members) located at strategic locations. People gather at these ropes. At the posted opening time, Disney music plays over the loudspeakers and the rope is dropped (Rope Drop) to allow excited guests to enter the rest of the park. 

Based on exceptions to the Parks' opening and closing times above, here is my strategy for getting into the parks before most other people:

  1. Time Saver #1: Buy your ticket before you get to the park. You can buy park admission tickets online (from Disneyland Resort site , the Disneyland app, and at many other legitimate locations, such as ParkSavers, most Auto Club offices, and the "Gift Card Mall" at many grocery stores).   If you are coming from out of town and booking a vacation package, your travel agent may be able to include your tickets in your package.   IMPORTANT: You'll want to buy a ticket that allows you to bypass the DLR ticket booth. Some tickets are vouchers that require you to visit the ticket booth anyway. Don't order one of those. WARNING: Never buy a ticket from anyone on Ebay, CraigsList or other unofficial website, even if they say the ticket has several days on it. It could be counterfeit, used up or otherwise not valid (aka not a money saver).
  2. Time Saver #2: Check the Extra Magic Hour days for each park and go to the other park in the morning. For example: I'll start my Tuesday visit at California Adventure, since Extra Magic Hour on Tuesday for DLR hotel guests is at Disneyland.
  3. Time Saver #3: Arrive at the Mickey & Friends Parking structure one hour before the park opens. This extra time allows you time to make sure you've got everything you need for the day before you leave your car, travel down the escalators to the tram plaza, stop at the restroom at the ground floor of the parking garage, walk to the tram boarding area, take the tram to Downtown Disney, go through security, and walk directly to the turnstiles of the park you've chosen for that day. And arrive before the Park opens.
  4. Time Saver #3: Eat breakfast before you enter the park.  If you've gotten up early to get into the park before everyone else, don't waste these less crowded hours by sitting in a restaurant at DL or DCA when you could be in a short line for your favorite ride. If you are staying at a hotel before your visit to the Parks, pick a hotel that serves a good breakfast that you can grab and go (try the Grand Legacy at the Park), or get to your breakfast breakfast earlier than with a to-go breakfast.
  5. Time Saver #4: Get FastPasses for the most popular rides and shows before you ride anything. (I'll cover maximizing FastPasses in another post later).

WHY SHOULD I GET THERE THAT EARLY?

Most people don't know all the tips I've given you about getting to the Parks early. They'll do what I used to do: get to the parking structure whenever I got up and go through the tram, security and enter the park (finally). As the day wears on, more people come to the park, with the heaviest crowds in the mid-afternoon through about 7 pm.  You WILL be able to ride the most rides (attractions), see the best shows, and get the best (earliest) FastPass times if you enter the Parks before "Rope Drop"  or at least right when the park opens. I've had mornings when I've been on two rides and gotten 3 FastPasses (for the Frozen show, Soarin' Around the World, and World of Color), all before 8:20 am.

Three fast passes and two rides done-- all before 8:20 AM. (and this was during the third week in June... typically a busy time at the Parks)

When to go (Part 1)

9 am on a Friday. Do you see the crowds?  Love these quiet mornings.

9 am on a Friday. Do you see the crowds?  Love these quiet mornings.

PICKING A DATE 

Before you pick a date to visit the parks, know that you will have a much better day (or days) if you arrive at the parks early. I'll cover what is meant by "early" in another post (this one).

The dates you pick for visiting the Parks will have a huge influence on how much fun you will have (I bet you don't want to stand in line all day or feel like you can't walk 3 feet without getting run over by a baby stroller.).  I use a number of sources to decide when to visit.

  1. Calendar Dates
  2. Crowd calendars
  3. Special Events
  4. Annual Pass Blackout dates
  5. Ticket prices
  6. Weather

CALENDAR DATES

USUALLY the least crowded days in the parks:

  • Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays during the following months:
    • Early January through mid-May, with some exceptions (see Special Events below)
    • First week in June
    • After Labor Day (second week in September) through third week in October
    • Early November until (but not including) Thanksgiving week
    • The week after Thanksgiving through middle of the second week of December

Of course, all of these can be more crowded if there's a race, a new or upgraded ride or attraction, or some other huge Disney event. So keep reading. 

CROWD CALENDARS

Touring Plans has a "crowd calendar" that's a great resource for determining the best dates to visit DLR. They rank "crowdedness" of Disneyland, California Adventure and the overall resort on a scale of 1-10. They define a crowd as "the average posted wait time for the key attractions between 10:00 am and 5 pm." And that's important because you want to ride as many rides as possible, rather than standing in lines all day and feeling like a sardine. (no offense to sardines). 

Touring Plans' crowd index is related to the following:

  • How hard is it to walk around the parks?
  • How far in advance do I have to book my hotel to make sure I get a room?
  • How long do I have to wait to experience the most popular attractions?
  • What is the total attendance across the resort?
  • When I tour around the parks how does it feel? Do I feel like people are in my personal space or is there room to breathe?

Their crowd indexes are based on scientific formulas and historical data, as well as calendars, and it is right MOST of the time. I'm ok with that, since at least I have some idea of how crowded the parks will be. I highly recommend that you subscribe to this service (here) to help you plan your visits. ($7.95 for an entire year) Bonus tip: install the iPhone or Android app on your smart phone to check crowd levels anytime.

Example: Parks look too crowded for me. August 10 might be acceptable. See this page to subscribe. 

Example: Parks look too crowded for me. August 10 might be acceptable. See this page to subscribe. 

Generally, a lower Crowd Index number means a much better day for you because fewer other guests are in the Parks. You'll experience shorter lines for rides, attractions, restrooms, and food, so you'll get to do more things--and get run over less often.

As an example: a day where the overall DLR is ranked as a 10 would be one of those days when you can hardly move because there are so many other people in the park all trying to go someplace other than where they are; the lines for all the rides are at least 45-60 minutes long; the FastPasses distributed in the morning tell you to return really late (if there are any left at all!); and the Parks start running out of your favorite foods. On some of these "10" days, DL management could close the turnstiles because too many people are in the park.

In contrast, a day predicted to have a Crowd level of 2 or 3 is what we all love and wish for. Lines for most of the rides in each park have wait times of 5 to 10 minutes; the restaurants have no or minimal waiting time; and you can actually take good pictures without waiting for the crowd to walk by. On a really low attendance day, some FastPass machines will not even be turned on because the wait time is so low. I'm really picky about how crowded the Parks can be when I visit. In general, I will not go to the Parks on a day with a crowd index of 7 or more. Your experiences may vary, depending upon your tolerance of crowds (and stroller derby parents). 

SPECIAL EVENTS

Disneyland Resort sponsors several special events that affect how crowded the parks are. These include:

  • Any day of a Disney race at DLR.  For those who don't know, the Disney sponsors many themed 10Ks, marathons, and half-marathons running/walking races, such as the Princess, Star Wars, Avengers, and a bunch of others that start at end at the DLR. During the early morning hours on the day (or days) of the race, the Parks can be less crowded. But within an hour or so after the first racers finish, guess where they go? (I hope you didn't say "home." That's wishful thinking.)
  • Superbowl Sunday. This WAS a good day to enjoy the parks. Not anymore. But since the SuperBowl starts so late (4 pm, Pacific time), crowds are at the same level as a regular Sunday, and some people will leave to go watch the game around 3 pm. Of course, not everyone watches football, so the parks stay full.
  • The first day of a new, upgraded, or reopened "key" ride. For example, Soarin' Over California recently became Soarin' Around the World, which resulted in a very busy day at California Adventure.

ANNUAL PASS BLACKOUT DAYS

Disneyland Resort Annual Passports can be purchased at various prices, each with a corresponding number of days that the pass can be used for admission to the parks. The most expensive DLR Annual Pass (AP) allows the passholder to visit EVERY day of the year; second most expensive AP allows every day except the 14 days of Christmas vacation; and so on, down to the Southern California Select Pass, which doesn't allow visits during most of summer, and many weekends, in addition to the Christmas vacation days.      

Disneyland Resort publishes a calendar on their website showing the days when the various levels of Annual Passes are not admitted to the park; these days are "blacked out."  The passes are blacked out on specific dates because Disney Parks management expects the crowds to be heavier on these days. Therefore, a handy way to check how crowded the parks will be: view the Annual Pass Black-out calendar. If no APs are blacked out, the day will be less crowded than if one level is blacked out. And if one type of pass is blacked out, the parks will be less crowded than if two or three levels are blacked out. 

TICKET PRICES

Disney has recently adopted crowd-based ticket pricing, which has become another clue to predicting Park crowd levels. One-day tickets are sold at three prices, based upon predicted crowds:

  • Value for less crowded days: $95
  • Regular for average crowds: $105 (can be used on Value days also)
  • Peak for most crowded days: $119 (can also be used on Regular and Value days)

See this page for more information, including the calendar. As of this writing, the price of multi-day tickets does not change based on the date and predicted crowds.

WEATHER

Yes, this is RAIN in Southern California. We've been in a drought for 4 years... but it does happen!

Yes, this is RAIN in Southern California. We've been in a drought for 4 years... but it does happen!

Many people who live in or visit Southern California will not go to Disneyland on a rainy day. Use this to your advantage. For example, if you purchased Regular-priced tickets and heavy rain is predicted, this would generally be a really quiet day at the parks (assuming some special Disney event isn't scheduled).  Be prepared (see WHAT TO BRING), and you will be rewarded with shorter lines + fewer other people in the parks. 

WHEN NOT TO GO

 In general, you'll want to avoid the typically crowded days at the Disneyland Resort.

These are:

  • The two weeks around Christmas and New Years (known as Christmas vacation, winter break, or some other name). Disney calls it "The Holidays." These are absolutely, positively, with 100% certainty THE MOST CROWDED DAYS at Disneyland Resort. (check out the crowd calendar and the blackout calendar)
  • Spring Break, which can get really complicated when you're planning your vacation. When I was growing up, we always had Easter break the week before (or after) Easter Sunday. Not as simple now.  Some schools get the week after Easter, some get a break 10 weeks after the winter semester starts, some 8 weeks after the end of Winter break, and many more variations. When I start planning a Spring season trip, I usually review online school calendars for the University of California, California State University, Orange County Schools, and Los Angeles Unified School District to determine if any of them will be on Spring Break.
  • Thanksgiving, including the day before Thanksgiving, and the Friday through Sunday after Thanksgiving.
  • Most summer days between the first week of June and the third week in August. Yep, that's when the kids are on summer break from school. And so one (or both) of their parents take a day off work and guess where they go? Yep. Enuff said. Grad nights are also scheduled during the end of May through mid-June. 
  • Second week of December to third week of December. Same reason as summer, but not as bad as during winter break (aka Christmas vacation).
  • First few days of January. Most schools don't resume until at least a few days after January 1, so these days fall into the school break category, but worse than summer.

Of course, there are days that defy the crowd calendars and logic:  July 4, 2016 was widely reported to be a low attendance day. Peak-day (highest price) one-day tickets were sold that day, and it is a national holiday. Go figure!

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Save $50!

Do you have something at DLR that you really, REALLY want to do? Whether it's the World of Color Dessert party, the "A Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour, or a character meal, you can do it for less than full price.

I finally decided to splurge on the World of Color Dessert Party for my trip to the Parks this week. It's been a BEAR of a week (not the Pooh bear type, though sometimes I felt like I had very little brain), so I deserve it, right?

So I went to this page on the Disneyland Resort Website, made my reservation for the $79 World of Color Dessert Party, and this other page pops up telling me that I can save $50 on the purchase in my cart if I sign up for a Disney Reward Visa card right now. It also has NO annual fee. And they can approve the card RIGHT NOW. (The Disney Premier Visa Card has a $49 fee and some additional perks. For example. you get $100 back from the first $500 you spend in 3 months, so if you would use this card as your primary card, it might work for you.) 

So there you have it, World of Color Dessert party for $29 instead of $79! I'll report back on it next time I see you.

PLEASE NOTE: Since you're a grown-up, I don't need to tell you to READ THE FINE PRINT on these credit card offers. The interest rate is fairly high, so these cards are best suited for people who don't carry over a credit card balance.

THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OR ADVERTISEMENT FOR DISNEY, CHASE BANK OR THE DISNEY CREDIT CARDS.