Saturday, September 6, 2014

Structured vs. Unstructured Disneyland Trips

By Mark Landucci

Oh brother…what to see? What to do? What to eat? Where to rest? What to miss? What not to miss? What to buy? Where am I going to park? What time do I arrive? What if I miss the rope drop? When and where should I wait for a parade? There is a lot to consider when venturing into to the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s quite easy to get overwhelmed with it all. There are many books and companies that give you touring plans, guides and ideas. This is all fine and good. I mean I love Disneyland, but it definitely can be a bit overwhelming. Even for me. I have my thoughts and ideas about all of this structured touring and planning. Continue after the page break for more…shall you???


When planning a trip to Disneyland, there are a few givens that you have to allow. First you have to understand that there will be people…and sometimes lots of them. Second, a lot of shows, parades, attractions will be presented to you at different parts of the day. Third, everybody in your party may have a different idea of what they would like to do. It’s for these reasons that I try to save up enough time and money to go for four to five days. In fact, even between my daughters, there’s difference in what they want to see and do.

Understand this! Disneyland means something different for everyone. We all have different reasons why we go. It’s important to acknowledge that difference among us. No matter what the reason is, you can definitely make it your own.

That being said…There a few schools of thought about visiting Disneyland. On one hand, there are those folks who approach Disneyland in a very militaristic manner. They have every minute detail planned: when they’re going to arrive, where they’re going to enter the park, where they’re going to eat, which restrooms have the lowest wait time. On the other hand, there are those that are mostly casual about their trip and want to go at their own pace and explore everything. And there’s a third group of people that really don’t seem to have any agenda and don’t really care about what they see or don’t see. All are welcome, of course.

I align myself mostly with the second group of people. I learned a while ago that when we go to the parks, we try and go for as long as possible. I’ll talk more about that in a bit. But I wanted to discuss a little about the first group.

Structured plans help relieve a bit of the anxiety that comes with trying to figure out what to see and where to go. However, the can also provide some anxiety of their own. For example, what if you get held up in a long line or something along your journey catches your eye that you want to explore? Let’s take a look at a real-life suggestion from one of the leading Disneyland planning groups.

  • Arrive approximately 30 minutes before the park opens.
  • Enter through east side tunnel.
  • Immediately head to Space Mountain and get a fastpass.
  • Head over to Indiana Jones and wait in line.
  • Exit Indiana Jones and turn left towards Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Wait in line for Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • By this time, your fastpass for Space Mountain should be valid.
  • Run towards Space Mountain.
  • Stop…stop….stop.

Does anyone else see the fallacy in this? I’m not of the mindset that Disneyland needs to be rushed
through. Let’s take a look at just one aspect of this list. Let’s say you do in fact, run towards Space Mountain. You’d be running past a couple of unique elements to the park.

First, you’d be running past the Dole Whips. And you need to have one of those because…..Wait, what? You don’t know about these gems? Dole Whips are a pineapple-flavored soft serve dessert. They also come as a float and they are crazy good. I must admit though, my daughters haven’t tried these yet. (Note to self: Insist on forcing these on them next time.) These are located just at the entrance to the Tiki Room. You definitely shouldn’t run past these.

Dole Whip Stand

Dole Whip and Dole Whip Float

Coincidentally, just behind the Dole Whip stand, near the entrance to Frontierland, lies another hidden gem. Well, a gem to me. What is it?

Frontierland Pond

It’s a pond!!! Sometimes there’s foliage that obscures the view of the pond, but there is a pond there! In terms of aesthetic design, I find this to be quite fascinating and….enchanting. It’s subtle touches like this that impress me. Now, I’ve read that there were Koi fish in this pond, but I’ve never seen them. I have seen the Koi fish at the Disneyland Hotel. And if you get the opportunity, take a look at those. Quite impressive.

I know these aren’t really attractions, but they serve as a reminder that there are things scattered around the park that would be easily missed if one were to “run from attraction to attraction.”

A final thought about the structured plans. I think they (structured plans) are a good starting point for those people who may have limited time at the park(s). However, Disneyland cannot be enjoyed in just one day. They throw so much at you that it’s nearly impossible to see all there is to see. On top of that, it’s a disservice to yourself to try to do this. In addition, I’ll say that following a pre-determined course at the park(s) will ultimately meet with diversions because you’ll stumble across something that you might want to see.

When I approach the parks, I approach it with a bit of structure but I allow for flexibility. I ask what everybody wants to see or do…or more likely, ride. My youngest daughter will want to ride Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Pirates of the Caribbean. All in that order. I try to diffuse this by adding some logic in there and explain how it doesn’t make sense to go in that order. But the more I think about this, the more I think, does it really have to make sense??? Can’t you just go wherever you feel like you want to go? Hmmm. For me, I try to focus on two or three lands per day. This only really works if I’m able to go for four to five days. But I can happily spend time venturing through Adventureland, New Orleans Square and Critter Country on a certain day and then move on to the other lands during the other days. However, I always take time leaving the park to look through all the shops in Main Street. I always seem to find something new. Plus, I always seem to buy an ice cream for my daughters.

Enjoying Ice Cream on Main Street USA with My Daughters During the 50th Anniversary

I guess one thing I have to keep in mind as I write this is that most people don’t have the luxury of both the time and money to go to the parks that often. I try to go every other year, not because I don’t want to go more often, but because I want it to be special for the girls. If I had my way, I’d go a few times a year.

But structured (or at least, semi-structured) plans shouldn’t really be followed point by point. I think it’s good to circle a few major attractions and build your day(s) around those. I was talking about this the other day with some friends and I said I could easily have a great time at the park without really riding much at all. I mean, there’s always something to see and do for everyone.

I think of that quote “life is about the journey, not the destination” and I find this to hold true for your experience there. Breathe, relax, smell the flowers, listen to water, eat popcorn, listen to the jungle drums near Adventureland and take it all in. Forget about the plans and the places to be.

I will see you there soon.

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