Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Turley's Disney Family Vacation: A Way Too Detailed Recap

Last weekend, I was forced into a family vacation to Disneyland. Ok, I wasn't really forced into it, but it definitely was not my first choice. My wife's family had this master plan to go to Disneyland originally in December. But in December we, the Turley family, did not have the funds, so it was postponed to May, and now that its May, we just got back from our trip. So, Sara's parents, sisters, aunt and uncle arranged their work and school schedules to accommodate a vacation to Disneyland, and of course, so did we.

I guess I had sort of bad feelings about Disneyland. For one, there are many other ways I would have preferred spending all of that money, so many other places that would have been more exciting for me to visit. Second, the last time I went to Disneyland I went with a girl I was dating well before I met Sara. This girl was nice and everything, but deep down I knew it wasn't going to go anywhere, and I had absolutely nothing in common with the group of her friends who were also going. I left that trip with this feeling that, sure it was fun and all, but I didn't really feel like I gained anything from it. Like it was this short term fun fix that was over immediately, with no satisfactory after taste to savor later on.

On top of that, Sara read this book, right after we got married called Disney Unmasked (or something like that, I couldn't find it on Google, so I'm wondering if it's out of print because, really, who honestly doesn't love Disneyland) that disparages Disneyland as an over-crowded, money-making at all costs, cover up scandals and accidents mess of a park. On top of that, when I told my sister we were heading to Disneyland, she said, "you know, I don't think we'll ever go there." She described the slightly trashy quality of all amusement parks, how everything is way overpriced, and how at the end of the day, there are many other things that are just more fulfilling and enjoyable, at least for adults. Her trick is to make sure their son never hears about Disneyland so he doesn't know what he's missing. You know what I say, good luck with that.

So, needless to say, I had some negative feelings going into this vacation, but I knew at the very least, it would be fun for me, even if it would be this kind of candy kind of fun, the kind that leaves you a little sick afterward, and at the very least it would be great fun to see my two young kids (one of which has this Disney princess obsession) having a great time. And, you know what, I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with every single one of Sara's family members, so I was looking forward to seeing them.

So, Sara did some research on the park and was feeling pretty overwhelmed. We did do some high level planning to avoid Disneyland at the busiest times of the year, and to avoid the weekend as much as possible. So, we chose to arrive on May 1st, to attend Disneyland on Friday and Monday, leaving the weekend for some LA fun. Sara and I both knew, however, that that was not going to be enough planning. Disneyland is pretty much packed all year round, so we needed to have a plan, and with twelve people involved, the plan would have to be really good to avoid chaos, confusion, too much walking, and too much line waiting. A tall order; Sara was stressed out. So, I stepped in.

Good luck for me because I came across a really cool software package, RideMax, and I was instantly hooked. This software was written by a computer scientist who loves Disneyland. He somehow managed to obtain the wait time for every single ride at all times of the day, during all parts of the year. The user then only had to input a day of the year she would be attending the park and all of the rides she wanted to fit in on that day, and the software would spit out an itinerary that would optimize the wait in line time.

GEEK ALERT: This was very cool, because this was, in essence, a real-world example of the classic Computer Science , Traveling Salesman Problem. To find the exact optimal solution for this problem is actually considered algorithmically impossibly difficult to solve in a reasonable amount of time even for a computer given the number of rides to evaluate grows over ten or so. So, the designer of the software uses some sort of heuristics to come up with a reasonable approximation to the optimal solution. Enough said, I was hooked.

So, I must have spent a few solid hours just entering in rides and looking at the results over and over again, in this sort of trance. This was going to be fun. Let's see how well this software actually works.

So, to optimize the number of rides visited in a day, you have to be prepared to arrive at Disneyland early, about an hour early. You then have to be prepared to race to one of the most popular rides first thing, then dutifully hit as many rides in the morning as possible, when the lines will be reasonably short, then take advantage of the FastPass and the Fast Pass loopholes in the afternoon, and then coast on into the evening hitting either the less popular rides, or taking the hit waiting in line for a more popular ride you missed earlier. At this point you're too tired to walk around anyway, and waiting in line seems like a reasonable thing to do.

So, this is what we did. We raced to Peter Pan first. Why not the famous (or infamous) Finding Nemo ride? Because if you don't run to Nemo first thing, being among the first group to ride the very first departure of those dastardly submarines, the line grows pretty much instantly to 45 minutes or more and stays there the rest of the day. You basically have to beat everyone else there who are also showing up early to do exactly what you're trying to do. Since we had kids in a stroller, we opted out of that rat race. So, off to Peter Pan and a five minute wait in line. Then, in rapid succession, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Dumbo's Flying Elephants, and Storybook Land Canal Boats, but wait, that last ride took longer than the software predicted, and we arrived at Alice in Wonderland late only to see a 30 minute wait time, way over the predicted time. We adjusted, and skipped this ride. Half the group enjoyed the Matahorn Bobsleds, the kiddie/parent half went to Pinochio and Snow White's Scary Adventure (way too scary for Joshua who backed out whimpering, "I'm too scared")...

Then, it was time to begin piling up Fast Pass passes for the busy afternoon. The runners (me and Sara's dad) went to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to get the first fast pass of the day, while the group agreed to meet us at Indiana Jones for the scheduled ride there in the late morning. But BTM RR had a 10 minute posted wait time... strange. We got the FP's anyway, then ran to Indiana Jones only to find a 35 minute wait time. AARGGG, the software was wrong again. We should have just ridden BTM RR, and gotten the fast passes for Indiana Jones. But no problem, the whole family jumped on the Pirates of the Carribean. But that ride was way too scary for our kids (something Sara predicted, but I said, let's just give it a try and see how they do). As the ride ended, Elizabeth looked at me in tears exclaiming, "why did you make go on this ride"?

Ok, we re-grouped, Indiana Jones was down to a 20 minute wait time, and the group hit that. Then we enjoyed the RailRoad roller coaster, a ride that even Elizabeth loved. We even hit it twice, once with our fast passes and another in the regular line, since it was still only 5-10 minute wait. Then lunch. Fast Passes for Splash Mountain, Fast Passes for Space Mountain, woops, Space Mountain was broken... The software didn't know about that...

Good thing we had fast passes for Splash Mountain, because while the masses were waiting for an hour, we sped to the front of the line. I road with Lizzie, and she loved it, except for the end when you take the huge drop, at which time she broke down yet again in tears, but this time for only a few minutes and was quickly comforted by the singing characters at the end, and when asked if she liked it, she answered with an emphatic yes, so we'll count that one a success.

By this time, we were all pretty exhausted, but we had a lot of park left to experience. We got Fast Passes for Buzz Lightyear, and checked up on Nemo, ugh 45 minute wait. We road Buzz Lightyear, and checked on Nemo, ugh 45 minute wait. We went to Toontown, Lizzie spent some time with Princesses at this sponaneous dance/story telling show, while Joshy and I tried our luck at Mickey's house, uggh long line, more wandering. We went back to check on Alice, 15 minute wait, let's do it, and that was a cool ride. Time to check on Nemo, ugh 45 minutes, well let's just absorb the wait. At this point, we were too tired to do any more wandering. Well, we waited a solid hour, but got on the ride and enjoyed it. That submarine ride was pretty cool with all of these Nemo characters animated right in the water, as the sub floated around the pool. Very cool. After that, the day was done (at least for the Turley part of this group, the others pressed on).

So, that was a pretty detailed blow by blow of our first day at Disneyland. Unfortunately, I was so obsessed by schedule, I probably forgot to actually enjoy the park. But I think most everyone had a rather enjoyable time, and I learned a few lessons for Monday.

So, onto Monday (by the way Saturday and Sunday could not have gone better for us. They were equally fun and relaxing, a most excellent way to prepare for another theme park onslaught to come on Monday. Saturday, we spent 3-4 hours at the beach and didn't really do anything else. Sunday, we went to church, a cemetery to see Sara's grandparents, a scenic park, then a little family party where we ate junk food, watched a movie at the hotel, and planned for Monday).

So, Monday, we entered an itinerary for California Adventure in the morning, and a Disneyland wrap up in the evening. We had a lunch with the princesses planned in between. California Adventure was absolutely great fun in the morning. They opened up a small section of the park a half hour early, and we got to be practically first in line for Soaring Over California (we arrived about 30 minutes early this day instead of the hour). And Soaring Over California really soared. It was my favorite ride in the park, and our kids loved it as well. It was absolutely cool, a ride where you actually feel like you're flying over some of the most scenic parts of California, complete with all of the smells and you even experience the wind in your hair.

After that, we hit ride after ride after ride with absolutely no line. We also saw show after show. The Bugs Life Show was the coolest. The princess lunch was next and Lizzie got to have her picture taken with Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and the Little Mermaid, and we got to spend a lot of money for this experience, but Lizzie loved it, and she owes us big time...

We also tried to get both kids on the Grizzlie Raft ride, but they denied Joshua because he was an inch too short, and he was devastated, exclaiming, "But I'm a big boy" over and over again, crying the whole time, we were on the ride.... The ride was incredibly tame too, so I'm not sure what the point behind the height restriction was.

That evening, we took full advantage of fast passes to get another shot at Indiana Jones and Space Mountain (fully repaired). We tried to get Lizzie to ride Space Mountain, just as the park was about to close, but she backed out right at the last minute forcing Sara to hike all the way in to retrieve her.

At this point, I must also say, that Sara was an absolute trooper, being pregnant, she was restricted from so many of the rides and she did not complain once.

So, that was Disneyland, in all of its gory details. As for Ridemax, it cost $15 dollars to use it. For those of you not experienced with Disneyland, I would recommend it highly. But use it as a guide and not as the Bible. That was the mistake I made on Friday and learned from on Monday. RideMax is not Disneyland scripture, remember that.

The general high level idea behind it as far as I could tell are as follows:

1) If you can sprint to Nemo to get on the very first ride, go for it, otherwise avoid it, or do it like we did it and just take the hit at the end of the day when you're tired anyway (preferably on a not so busy day, Monday would have been preferable to Friday for example).

2) Keep mornings busy doing many rides with short lines, since the park is at its least busiest in the mornings.

3) Stack up Fast Passes for the afternoon/evening. You cannot get more than one Fast Pass at the same time, but you can use Fast Passes any time after the alloted time it reserves for you. We had a Fast pass to be used from 11-12 AM but they still let us use it at like 3pm, so that is a fantastic loophole to use.

4) You can also use the afternoon/evenings to see shows or the parade. The park is busy and many lines are long at this time, especially on Friday.

5) Just enjoy yourself, and try not to get too overwhelmed.

I want to end this post with one final thought. My parents basically had two sets of kids, my two older sisters, a big gap in time, then me and my younger sister. My two older sisters also left the state before Karen (my younger sister) and I were even able to sniff high school, so they became these kind of mystical legendary figures to us. We only saw them maybe a couple of times of year, which really enhanced them in this mythical way for us.

My two older sisters are also these arty types, who kind of in their DNA really enjoy going against the grain, and growing up, in my little mind, I considered them to be the absolutely coolest people on the planet. Needless to say, they had a pretty monumental influence on me, and it's been a little tough to shake that influence, to become my own person. It hasn't been all bad, don't get me wrong. Through them, I've been exposed to a lot of cool things I never would have been exposed to otherwise, theater, art, music. But as far as I can remember they have always had this kind of rejection attitude toward anything considered mainstream or pop. At least that has always been my impression of them, I know now that this is probably a drastic over-simplification.

I still have this memory where I think I asked Shelley, my second oldest sister this rather vague question. She was in high school, I was in junior high I think. I asked her if she could give me a description of the kind of music she thought I liked. And she kind of dismissively said, "oh, you like pop". I was crushed. Pop wasn't cool.

At any rate, I have to say (and ironically, I'm wondering if my sisters wouldn't agree with this), that pop is cool. Disneyland rocks. I love Disneyland. I love the characters, Mickey and Minney, the princesses, the happily ever after endings, the fantasy of the whole enterprise. It is a place where dreams really do come true, or at least a place where you can pretend they do. I love the rides, the thrills, the crowds, the expensive food, the long lines, the commercialism. I love it all.

And more than that, I love pop culture. I love watching TV. I love Lost, I love Heroes, I love Friday Night Lights. I love pop music. We just purchased the latest Amy Winehouse record, the one that won all of the grammy's and I love it, I can't stop listening to it, over and over again. I recently purchased a duet by Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson, entitled "Because of You" on iTunes, and I love it. I love action movies: Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men. I loved, loved Rocky I, II, III, and IV, and I loved that song "Eye of the Tiger" growing up. Yes, I said it, I love Disneyland, and I am glad we went, and I'm sure we'll go again.


Sara said...

This is all from the man who five years ago swore we would only take educational vacations and drag our small children to museums. I have to admit, Disneyland was more fun than I thought it would be.

Jaylee Draney said...

YEAHHHHH!!! I'm soooooo glad you guys had a such a great time. I know you want to be able to say you're anti-D-land, but I'm thrilled your humble enough to admit that you guys had a great time. You even sound like an expert. Your tips are spot on. Start saving for D-World.

By the way, I love Friday Night Lights too!

H said...

Sheesh, at first I thought you were sucking all the life out of Disneyland (I had to go feed Tasha about halfway through the post). THEN I got to the end. The end where you admit the truth. The truth that the artsy-type sister-idolizing little brothers usually push back into the depths of their soul. The truth that Disneyland rocks! It's fun, happily ever after, crazy lights, rides, and stinking fun for little kids of all ages. Good for you Scott! Embrace it! Anytime you get too serious now I'm going to say, "remember Disneyland".

tempe turley said...

I have to say that my sisters were really powerful in a really good way influences on me. And they really are the coolest people on the planet I still believe.

But I also have to say how important it is for me to be my own person...

Sara said...

Notice that Scott's own wife is not one of the coolest people on the planet? sigh

tempe turley said...

Sara, you are the coolest person on the planet!