Secret & Special Things to Do
Secret, Unique and Extra-Special Things to Do at DLR
You’ve spent a bundle on your tickets (or Annual Pass) for Disneyland and California Adventure. What else can you do? (Other than spend more money!) As promised on the Home page, I’m going to let you in on some secret things that many people don’t know about. (And most are free once you have entered the Parks)
1. Ride in the Monorail Nose cone or Tail
Imagine disembarking from the Monorail and everyone else wondering why you are so special that you got a private compartment. Well, it's not that difficult to do. Anyone can ride in the Nose Cone (the front) of the monorail with the driver (this Cast Member is called the “pilot”) or in the Tail (the back car; no cast member here). The Nose Cone and the Tail have the best views on the Monorail. Finding out more about the Monorail from the pilot is a bonus of riding in the Nose Cone.
The secret way to ride in the front or back: Just ask a Cast Member at one of the two Monorail Stations (Tomorrowland and Downtown Disney).
Of course, a few others know about this secret, so here are some considerations to increase your chances of getting these exclusive seats:
- Wait for a relatively quiet day and time, when you can walk directly from the Monorail entrance (bottom of the ramp in TomorrowLand or at the entrance stairs/elevator at Downtown Disney) to the Monorail boarding platform (i.e. no long lines).
- Be first in line at the boarding platform before the Monorail arrives and first to ask a Monorail Cast Member (It's first come, first serve) at the extreme left or right side of the platform. I usually have the best results when I ask the person operating the Monorail control panel. Humbly ask if you can sit in the front. If they say it's full, ask to sit in the back.
- Board at the Tomorrowland station. Passengers (Disneyland Resort calls us “Guests”) who board the Monorail at the Tomorrowland station are not required to disembark at Downtown Disney, which means they might not get off at Downtown Disney. Lesson learned: You have a better chance of riding in the front or back if you board at Tomorrowland than at Downtown Disney.
- Be prepared to wait for the next Monorail to arrive if the Cast Member says someone else has already requested.
Enjoy the ride! Ask the pilot questions if you are in the nosecone.
2. Use the Disneyland App
The Disneyland App is like having a concierge on your smartphone (Ok, maybe that’s exaggerating, but it is very helpful). Download it from iTunes or the Android store. Did I mention it’s free?
The Disneyland app can help with the following:
- Operating hours for Disneyland, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney.
- Buy Park tickets directly from the app (skip the ticket booth line!)
- Times of shows, parades and "nighttime spectaculars" (fireworks, World of Color water show, etc.), and list of rides that are being refurbished (aka "closed").
- Wait times for every attraction (aka rides and some shows). FastPass return times, if FastPasses are available. (Watch for a separate post about Fast Passes -- coming soon). Locations are linked to the in-app map. More info provided: hours of operation, accessibility, a short description, type of ride (examples: Big Drops, Slow Ride, Loud, Water Ride, Thrill Ride, Kids, All Ages), and other special information to know.
- Dining information. You can make reservations (at restaurants that accept reservations) up to 60 days before you get to the Parks. You can also view, change or cancel your dining reservations from the app. The app also includes menus (with prices), locations linked to the in-app map, Annual Passholder discount info, type of dining experience, if reservations are taken, and type of cuisine.
- Locations of PhotoPass photographers. Connect your PhotoPass to the app so you can download your photos with Disney characters into your smart phone. Tip: you can buy a day use PhotoPass and some Annual Passes include access to PhotoPass through the app at no extra charge. UPDATE 11/20/16: You can edit your PhotoPass photos in the Disneyland app (crop and add stickers, filters and borders).
- Locations of restrooms and water fountains.
- Information about Special Events (examples: Halloween Time and other seasonal events, special dining packages, World of Color Dessert Party, and Tours in the Parks).
- Guest Services (such as First Aid, Lost & Found, Drinking Fountains, Automatic Teller Machines, and more.
- Contact information for the DLR hotels and the “good neighbor” hotels.
3. Keep your stuff dry while riding Grizzly River Rapids
That sign above (on the far left) is at the entrance to Grizzly River Rapids (DCA) and it's telling the truth when it says “You WILL get wet.” DCA provides FREE lockers (for 2 hours) to keep your stuff dry (backpack, hat, sunglasses, cell phone, etc.) while you get practically drenched riding this wettest attraction at the Disneyland Resort.
These lockers are located just left of the big Grizzly statue outside the Grizzly River Rapids entrance, behind the Disney Vacation Club kiosk. We always bring waterproof sandals (usually flip flops) to wear on the ride and EVERYTHING ELSE stays in the locker until we finish the ride. See What to Bring on this page.
4. Get a Jungle Cruise Map
After you disembark from the Jungle Cruise (DL), ask a Cast Member near the exit for a map. It’s printed on tan paper to make it look old (sort of) and it really is a work of art. Go on the ride early in the day to get this map because they are usually gone by mid-morning to early afternoon.
5. Be the Conductor of the Day
The Disneyland Railroad (DRR) isn't operating (until Summer 2017) while the tracks are being relocated for Star WarsLand construction. However, on most days you can get a tour of the Main Street DRR Station and New Orleans DRR Station. See a locomotive up close and personal. Have your picture taken in front of the train and talk to the Conductor Cast Members about the DRR and the stations, especially if you are a train buff. Color train pictures with the Conductors and other train cast members. Walt Disney loved trains so much that he had a small scale railroad (big enough for kids and adults to ride on) in his backyard in the San Fernando Valley: The Carolwood Railroad (Google it). But I digress.
While talking to the Conductor, ask if you can be the Conductor of the Day. You’ll get a personalized, dated certificate just for asking. (I got this one after I sat and colored a train picture--!-- with one of the Conductors.)
6. Learn to Draw Disney Characters
The Disney Animation Building (DCA, Hollywood Land) includes some great interactive attractions. One of the most fun activities (for grown-ups, and maybe for some kids, too) is the Animation Academy. See the posted schedule (outside the Animation building) listing the characters that you can learn to draw (usually 2 per hour). Each guest is given a large clipboard with a pencil and a large piece of “Animation Academy” paper for drawing. A talented Disney artist leads the lesson, with the artist’s work projected on a large screen as he or she draws so you can follow along. At the end of the lesson, you'll have a cool drawing to take home.
Bonus tip: Take a photo of the schedule so you can plan to be back in time draw your favorite character.
7. Sample Some Bread and Chocolate
Definitely a DLR for Grownups favorite! As you enter the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop (in DCA, on Pacific Wharf), a nice cast member will offer you a wrapped piece of the daily featured Ghirardelli chocolate, and she (I’ve never seen a male Cast Member give these out) will tell you about the daily Ghirardelli chocolate special. You’ll then get a menu, walk to the registers just inside the entrance and order a sinfully delicious ice cream sundae or soda, or buy some too-good-to-be-true chocolate (or both!). This store even sells the Ghirardelli Cabernet Matinee dark chocolate bar, a hard-to-find variety. They also sell many varieties of chocolate by the pound, chocolate covered strawberries, giant chocolate chip cookies, brownies, hot cocoa, various espresso drinks, tea, chocolate milk, and soft drinks.
Check out the 3D model of San Francisco on the wall behind the counter, complete with a 1906 earthquake simulation (don’t worry; the building doesn’t shake, the display just rumbles).
Right across from Ghirardelli you'll enjoy the Boudin Bakery tour, with a funny video hosted by Colin Mochrie and Rosie O’Donnell. Learn about the history of Boudin Bakery and see the kitchen where bread is baked for various restaurants in the Disneyland Resort. A cast member gives you a small slice of sourdough bread as you enter. You can also buy round sourdough loaves, and loaves shaped like Mickey Mouse (and other shapes during the Halloween and Christmas holidays) at the Pacific Wharf Café next door. On busy days, a cart outside the door sells bread loaves and Mortimer's Market on Buena Vista Street sometimes also sells the loaves.
8. Enjoy a Birthday Dessert
If you're celebrating your birthday at the Disneyland Resort, definitely pick up a free birthday button at the Disneyland City Hall or California Adventure Chamber of Commerce (both are on the left, just past the entrance gates to each park). A cast member will write your name and the year on the button. Everyone else in your party can get “I’m Celebrating” buttons, too.
At the very least, you'll hear “Happy Birthday" from any cast member who sees your birthday button and many guests (me included) join in the fun.
If you make a reservation to dine at a Table Service restaurant, mention that you are celebrating a birthday and you’ll probably get a (free!) birthday treat at the end of your meal. Disney trains Cast Members to look for birthday buttons, so be sure it’s visible during your meal. I’ve had the following free birthday desserts in the past few years: a Mickey-shaped beignet, a chocolate-enrobed flourless chocolate cake, a cupcake, and others I can’t remember.
9. ride more rides
You can avoid the long lines for even the most popular rides, without paying extra!
- Go on a less-crowded day (see When to Go, Part 1)
- Get to the Parks early (see When to Go, Part 2)
- Get FastPasses – Another well-known theme park in the Los Angeles area (I won't say which one, but it's initials are US) charges extra for “Front of the Line” passes. Not Disneyland or California Adventure. You can get a FREE FastPass for any of the rides designated on the maps with the FP symbol. No charge. Ever. (Post about FastPasses coming soon)
- Stay at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels: Guests at the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel and Grand Californian Hotel are allowed into one of the Parks one hour earlier than everyone else on specific days of the week. Current schedule: Disneyland Park: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Disney California Adventure Park (including access to Cars Land): Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
- Use the Single Rider Lines - If you enjoy visiting Disneyland Resort solo (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it: it’s really quite fun!), you can reduce your time waiting in lines for the most popular rides by using the Single Rider Lines (See rides designated with “SR” on the park maps, in the Disneyland App, and below). HOWEVER, you don’t have to be a "group of one" to use the Single Rider Lines. Any group willing to split up and let the cast members choose their seats can use these Single Rider Lines. You'll be in line together, ride the ride separately, and meet up at the ride exit.
Single Rider Lines exist to fill empty spots created by even-numbered parties, or groups that don’t fill up a ride vehicle. For example, each Radiator Springs Racers vehicle has seats for three guests in the front and three in the back. When parties of two or four are in line, the third seats remain empty, which reduces the hourly ride capacity. Cast members at the quickest loading attractions (like Radiator Springs Racers) don’t always have time to look for (or ask for) the perfect number of guests farther back in line, so adding in single riders keeps the ride moving and full. And makes the overall line go faster. (So consider yourself doing your good deed by using the Single Rider Lines)
The three Single Rider Lines in Disney California Adventure
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Grizzly River Rapids
- Goofy’s Sky School
The three Single Rider Lines in Disneyland
- Splash Mountain
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Except for the Matterhorn, all of these rides have FastPasses, so you could ride all of the big rides with hardly any waiting, if you get FastPasses and use the Single Rider lines (not for the same ride!). And when you can’t get a FastPass for a time you need or don’t want to come back later, hop in the Single Rider Line whenever you want.
10. Make someone else’s day
If you decide to leave the park before you can use all your FastPasses (especially for Frozen or World of Color, but also for rides and other shows), consider giving them to other guests. This can really make someone’s day, especially if they don’t know about FastPasses or all the FastPasses were given out before they got in line. They’ll be really surprised and this Random Act of Kindness is just a cool thing to do. (Last month, we got in line for StarTours and a woman gave us her FastPasses that she couldn't use. So cool!)