by Hank Leukart
May 2, 2008
An honorary citizen of Disneyland
How to visit Disneyland alone.
Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle
This is the second essay in a two-part series about Disneyland. If you missed it, read about magic rediscovered at Disneyland.A
NAHEIM, Ca. — I’ve written in Without Baggage a few times about the advantages of traveling alone — you always have the freedom to do whatever you want and you’re forced to meet people you would never otherwise meet. But recently, after an enchanting trip to Disneyland, I wondered — is Disneyland as magical of a place when visiting alone? Recently, I drove to the park to find out.
As my first order of business, I wanted to buy a Deluxe Annual Passport to the park (lesser Passports have many blackout dates) in honor of my rediscovering the magic of Disneyland days earlier. Outside the park gates, a friendly cashier (known in Disneyland parlance as a Cast Member) let me use the cost of my five-day old entrance ticket toward the pass’s cost. After he swiped my credit card, he cheerfully informed me that I could retrieve my newly-minted Passport at the Disneyland Bank of Main Street. The Disneyland Bank of Main Street?! Thrilled to be introduced to a new-to-me Disneyland building, I bounded toward the park gates even before he had time to yell, “Have a magical day!”
At the Bank (even it has a “Wait Time: 10 Minutes from Here,” sign), the “teller” took my picture and within seconds she handed me an unimpressive cheap plastic card with my face printed on it in black and white. Nevertheless, I was as excited as if Walt Disney himself had handed me a ticket on a space shuttle to Mars — they had chosen to accept me into their elite Annual Passport holders club!
Beaming from the excitement of receiving my shiny new membership card, I vaulted toward Disneyland City Hall and chuckled at the “Lost parents, inquire here for children” sign. At City Hall, if you ask nicely, you can get one of six pins to wear during your day in the park: “Happy Birthday,” “Just Married,” “My First Visit,” “Family Reunion,” “Happy Anniversary,” and “Honorary Citizen of Disneyland.” Wearing a pin is fun when you’re at the park alone because you get special attention from Cast Members and other visitors.
After getting the “Honorary Citizen” pin (none of the others applied to me), I walked down Main Street USA, the park’s reproduction of a turn-of-the-century American town. At Disneyland alone, I was eager to move at leisurely pace and take advantage of the opportunity to experience the park in a way I never could with friends. I brought my camera, and spent a long time taking photos. I popped in and out of shops, paying attention to Disneyland’s exceptional attention to detail. I photographed the quaint “Refreshments Corner” shop signs with their classic red and white light bulbs. I watched a tourist have his fortune told by the vintage Esmeralda machine. I saw the Main Street Cinema, which shows perpetually Steamboat Willie — the first Mickey Mouse cartoon with sound. In the candy shop, I bought a Mickey Mouse-shaped Rice Krispie Treat. It wasn’t quite as exciting as a Mickey Mouse waffle, but it was the next best thing.
Next, I picked up a Fastpass for “Indiana Jones Adventure” then hopped on to the “Jungle Cruise.” Fastpass is a relatively-new system that allows any park visitor to reserve a place in line for one ride while they ride on another. The system is simple to use, and if you know how the system works, it can make visiting many park attractions (“Autopia,” “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad,” “Indiana Jones Adventure,” “Haunted Mansion Holiday,” “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin,” “Space Mountain,” “Splash Mountain,” and “Star Tours”) much easier. Printed on each Fastpass is an hour-long window during which you can jump to the front of the line of the ride for which you have the Fastpass. Since you are allowed to get a new Fastpass every two hours or as soon as the start time for your previous Fastpass lapses (whichever comes first), you can always get a new Fastpass immediately before using your previous one, making it possible to hold a Fastpass for every major attraction you decide ride.* Maybe I’m easy to entertain, but I found a quirky delight in running between Fastpass machines in an attempt to optimize my day.
But especially when you’re alone, avoiding lines is not always desired. In the line for “Indiana Jones Adventure,” I met a mother with her sister and daughter from Canada. They were excited for their first time on the ride, and they invited me to go with them since I was alone (and the daughter seemed especially terrified even though she was 25 years old by my estimation). To pass the time in line, I showed them the ceiling-dropping bamboo pole and explained the intricacies of Fastpass, and by the time we were ready to ride, we were all friends.
I spent most of the rest of the day grabbing Fastpasses for one ride while riding another and trying to get on every ride. I checked out the “Tiki Room,” a singing-animatronic bird performance that is by far the most bizarre attraction at Disneyland, while I waited for my “Space Mountain” window. Since “Splash Mountain” has a special line for people riding alone (enter through the exit), I rode it while waiting for “Buzz Lightyear.” Between rides, I leisurely walked around the park and people-watched. I saw Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit, playing musical chairs outside the ice cream parlor, and while I ate lunch by myself, some girls in a foreign exchange program asked to take their picture with me. Maybe it was my blue eyes.
At dusk, I sat in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle and watched families taking photographs of themselves in front of Sleeping Beauty’s lavish estate and children making wishes at Snow White’s wishing well. As night fell and the castle dramatically lit up, I watched a young couple kiss in front of the drawbridge, and I made a decision. Disneyland is fun alone, but it’s most magical when you’re sharing the fun.
My trips to Disneyland aren’t the only romantic adventures I’ve written about. In 2004, I traveled to Honduras in an attempt to win my ex-girlfriend back, and in 2009, I ice-skated and visited Alcatraz during an impromptu date in San Francisco.
(Updated April 22, 2013: This essay originally stated that Fastpass end times are not enforced. In February 2013, Disney started strictly enforcing Fastpass end times in preparation for the upcoming roll out of Fastpass Plus, Disney’s improved line-management system.)
Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon with sound, can be seen at the Main Street Cinema in Disneyland.
Things to Do at Disneyland Alone
- Get an “Honorary Citizen of Disneyland” pin from City Hall.
- Spend time taking hundreds of photos of anything and everything in the Park with a high quality digital camera.
- See Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon with sound, at the Main Street Cinema.
- Watch the Billy Hill and the Hillbillies banjo show at the Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland.
- Bypass the long lines for “Indiana Jones Adventure,” “Splash Mountain,” and the “Matterhorn” by using the Single Rider Line, a special line for those riding alone. At California Adventure, “California Screamin’,” “Goofy’s Sky School,” “Grizzly River Run,” “Radiator Springs Racers,” and “Soarin’ Over California” also have Single Rider Lines.
- See if you can visit and ride every Park attraction in a single day.
- Be social and meet new friends visiting from all over the world while waiting in line. See how many different countries you can meet people from. Ask each person to teach you how to say “Hello” and “Goodbye” in their native language.
- Ride the Disneyland Railroad around the entire park.
- Do some people watching in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle.