Hey internet. You still here? Cool. Hope you saw to things while I was away.
Hold tight, this is a seriously unreasonably long entry about our past weekend.
We spent this weekend family-style down at Disneyland. I borrowed the mobile broadband card from work, juiced up the bluetooth, and worked from the road on Friday’s long-haul drive down south. Rubber to the asphalt around 9am, we rolled into southern California around 6pm – with a lovely two hours of LA traffic to cap off the drive. After a nice meal to settle us before bed, we tucked in for the night with designs for an early start to day-one in the park.
Since our time would be limited, and because I’m a huge nerd, I decided to do some online research into good ways to “attack” the park; in hopes that someone, somewhere had done some research into traffic patterns or ride wait-time statistics or something, in an attempt to make an efficient “itinerary” for the day. Now, I know that previous statement may border on heresy to some – but rest assured I was looking to do this planning as transparently to the “fun” of the day as possible; last thing I wanted was to suck the frivolity and spontaneity from our time there. Anyway, some quick Googling landed me on the page of some software called RideMax. Curious, I explored. I’ll let the product pitch write for me here:
RideMax is a computer software program guaranteed to help you save time waiting in line at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
RideMax allows you to specify the attractions you wish to ride during your visit, then uses a sophisticated scheduling algorithm to order your attractions so that the amount of time you spend in line is minimized.
Using historical wait time statistics for each attraction as a foundation, RideMax analyzes millions of different ride sequences in order to create a minimum-wait-time itinerary. This schedule is tailored to the expected crowd patterns on the day of your visit, for the attractions you want to ride!
Well what do you know… other nerds like Disneyland too! After some additional research on some Disney forums, I decided that, for $15, even if the application was a complete bust it would be an OK risk-buy. So, I sprung. Sharaun and I sat down and walked through the attractions, picking those we’d like to see in our marathon two-day visit to both Disneyland and California Adventure. A few clicks and optimizations later, RideMax generated what looked like a plausible set of schedules, one for each of our park days. In addition to the minute-by-minute walk-through, the software also provided a bunch of tips on things like how to get the best seats for parades, fireworks, shows, etc. We were both a little skeptical, but figured that, at the least, we had an organized way to hit the park prepared. So… we went with it.
Now, to our time at the park. I think it’s best to do this going ride-by-ride, in order of our actual fifteen hour day at the park. For posterity, I wanted to remark on how Keaton reacted to each attraction. You, readers, get to share in my OCD-like obsessional with documenting minutiae. Here we go:
Story Book Land Canal Boats: We did this bright and early on day-one, and Keaton mildly enjoyed the quick boat trip around a set of miniatures. Probably a “skip” for future visits; although she did like going into the whale’s mouth.
Alice in Wonderland: Keaton loved this one. She’s a big fan of the movie already and so she recognized all the scenery and themes. Probably one of her favorites.
Buzz Lightyear: Again, Keaton loved driving the little car with the joystick and shooting the targets. Good stuff.
Peter Pan: Keaton loved flying over London and getting to see Tinkerbell.
Dumbo: Keaton had a blast on this with Dad; making our Dumbo go up and down with the switch and spinning around. A perennial favorite.
A Small World: I think I enjoyed this more than Keaton, but she did like the song a lot and was singing along by the end. The way they’ve integrated the characters into the different areas made a fun game for her trying to spot them all.
Teacups: Keaton adored the teacups… and wanted me to spin us faster and faster and faster.
Autopia: Underwhelming for Keaton; might be more exciting once she’s actually able to drive the car herself. Probably a “skip” until then.
Tiki Room: I always love the Tiki Room show… and Keaton marveled at the 360° animatronics as well. The fake thunderstorm at the end gave her a start, but she left talking about the cool birds and fountain.
Thunder Mountain: Believe it or not, Keaton did really well on this roller coaster. She caught onto the fact that you’re supposed to scream when it’s scary and channeled all her nervous energy into making her screams count. She was a trooper, and we think (based on our later learning) that the outdoor theme of the coaster helped a lot.
Mickey’s House: Photo-op with the Mouse; long wait but worth it for Mom and Dad…
Pixie Hollow: Meet-and-greet photo-op with Tinekrbell and another fairy. Keaton loved meeting Tinkerbell, and the photos and video Sharaun and I took made the wait more than worthwhile for us as well.
Matterhorn Bobsleds: Keaton was terrified on this ride. She sat with me, in my lap, and I held her close with my arms around her. Since a lot of the ride is in darkness, and there are crazy-loud, growling yeti’s with death-red eyes popping out around corners… she really had a bad time with it. She cried the whole time, and left us feeling like mildly bad parents for giving it a try.
Celebrate! A Street Party Parade: We staked out some decent seats, bought some frozen lemonades, and watched the show. Keaton sat on my shoulders and we danced the entire time. She bopped around up there shouting “Hi!” to all the characters she recognized in the parade. An awesome show.
Finding Nemo Submarines: Our longest line of the day, RideMax was only able to get us down to about a forty-five minute wait (a testament to RideMax right there, being that it was our longest line-time of the entire day). By now I think Keaton’s skittish on any ride that’s 1) dark and/or 2) loud. She was scared on this ride at the climaxes (it is actually really loud at points), and it didn’t end up being worth the long wait for us because of it.
Winnie the Pooh: As we walked in, Keaton’s building fear was apparent: “It’s dark! I don’t want to go in!” Turns out that the mildness of Pooh was just what she needed though, and it calmed her until we hit the next ride…
Haunted Mansion: The culmination of Keaton’s fear… dark, loud, and scary to the max. I don’t think she opened her eyes once the entire time, she was absolutely terrified; wrecked. Instead, she buried her head in Sharaun’s lap and cried softly, while shivering… actually shivering. If we felt kinda bad after the Matterhorn, we felt downright negligent after this one!
Pirates of the Caribbean: A bit leery after the Haunted House, we decided to tackle Pirates anyway – despite the fact that it’s 1) dark, 2) somewhat scary. Surprisingly, she ate this one up, and actually reveled in the little stomach-dropping flumes (she liked getting splashed a bit). A good last ride of the day.
Fantasmic: On the night we went, the show broke down about halfway through. A bummer, since we had good seats after dinner in New Orleans Square. What she saw, she totally loved. And man, I wish we could’ve seen the whole show… it looked crazy awesome.
Fireworks: Fireworks happen in the dark. Fireworks are loud. Keaton watched, but she plugged her ears and complained that they “hurt” her chest (the shock of the booms, I guess). Sharaun and I loved watching them though; a perfect cap to a perfect day.
Princess Faire: Meet-and-greet photo-op with three random princess characters. By the grace of God we got Ariel, and this was probably the highlight of Keaton’s entire weekend in the park.
A Bug’s Life Show: Keaton cringed in fear at this 3D show. The “interactive” nature of the effects, puffed-air, water spray, etc. coupled with the 3D stuff and dark, loud, theater made it unbearable for her. We had to leave out the back just minutes after the thing started.
Heimlich’s Chew Chew: Simple and fun, Keaton enjoyed it.
Francis’ Ladybug Boogie: Teacups redux, so she enjoyed it as well.
Monsters Inc.: She really likes these ride-though things when she has the context of the movie from which the scenes are drawn. This one was no exception, although she was scared of the “bad” monster when she spotted him lurking around one dark corner.
Flik’s Flyers: Another Dumbo-style ride, but not controllable. Fun and well-themed, so Keaton had a good time.
King Triton’s Carousel: Merry-go-round, Little Mermaid, no-brainer.
Mickey’s Fun Wheel: Keaton and I liked this immensely, Sharaun gets freaked out on ferris wheels, especially high ones, so she clung on for dear life while we rocked the cab a bit to antagonize.
Boy; reading over that, Keaton comes off kinda wimpy… Owell, she is a three-year-old girl 🙂
Know what I loved about our time there? The fact that Disney takes advantage of modern technology. At the beginning of the day, you can pickup a PhotoPass card that you carry with you throughout the day. Whenever you see a professional photographer roaming around, they’re everywhere, especially tagging along with all the wandering characters and at the popular photo spots, you give them your card and they scan it and take your photos. Then, instead of the old-school before-you-leave-the-park stop off at the photo place to purchase prints, you can go online up to thirty days and peruse all the professional photos taken of you and your family that day. From the website, you can order prints, digital copies, etc. They even do fancy Photoshop stuff for you, like on the example image I jacked from their preview site below.
Neato! In addition, on the Buzz Lightyear ride they snap patrons’ photos as they travel throught the attraction, not unlike most modern roller coasters. But, at the end, instead of buying an instant print of your photo, you can look up your snapshot, enter an e-mail address on a touchscreen keyboard, and zip the thing right to yourself over the internet. I had our picture on my iPhone as we before we even exited the ride. Amazing. Good lookin’ out, Disney.
Oh and you may be wondering what we thought of RideMax’s plan. Overall, the software was well worth its $15 pricetag.
We did have a few bones to pick, namely that the software doesn’t account for things like the Disney Princess Faire and Pixie Hollow character meets – two things which are big deals for the kids and also garner big crowds and long lines (we waited about forty-five minutes for each, using the “free time” built into our RideMax schedule). RideMax also makes educated guesses on the FastPass return times for popular rides, but if the day is just a little slower than the software predicts (as ours was), your actual return time at the point you’re supposed to grab the passes may be much sooner. This happened to us with Splash Mountain, and we couldn’t grab the FastPass without wrecking the rest of afternoon’s lineup. Unless you’re willing to take advantage of the “late FastPass” loophole, this could mess up your plan.
But, in the end, the wait times the software predicted were dead-on, and, although I’m not certain if it was the schedule or that we just got lucky – but it really worked for us (we weren’t the only ones either, I saw a couple other folks consulting their RideMax itineraries while standing in line). The schedule wasn’t so rigid that it detracted from the fun of it all, there was ample time for frequent three-year old potty breaks, sightseeing, and shopping, and it really did prevent us from wandering aimlessly and wasting precious time. We were even able to fit in three additional attractions in the “between time” that shook out. For us, we’ll definitely use it again. Oh, and yes – they are working on an iPhone version… which I can only hope will offer “live” user-reported data like FastPass return times and attraction wait-times, all in real time. To have an adaptive version based on actual in-park data optimize your route while you’re walking through it would be so cool… sign me up for the beta.
And, overall-overall, the trip was simply amazing. Watching Keaton look around the park in wonder sparked something ultimately reminiscent in me, and there were literally times where I was enjoying our time so much that my eyes got a bit misty. No, seriously… there were times where, watching her amazement, I nearly teared up. Call me a huge sucker or sissy or whatever, but we really did have a fantastic time together at the park. Kinda magic, in fact.