My friend Mike is what I’d call a true Disneyland expert! He’s been there many times and plumbed the park for all kinds of fun experiences. I recently asked him, “What are some things you think most people haven’t done at Disneyland?” In less than a week, he came up with this list of items. Have you done any/all of them? If not, make sure to pin or save this post for your next Disney trip! With that, here’s Mike:
For many, Disneyland is a vacation spot that holds fond family memories, a sense of excitement, and a touch of magic. For those reasons, travelers often come back year after year. Those who have made multiple trips know that no two Disney vacations are the same. That is part of the joy of a Disney vacation – it is different every time. With that sense of adventure, there are a few things most people have never experienced at Disneyland that are almost free (aside from park admission, which as we all know, is anything but free). So here are the top 5 Disney experiences, some more difficult than others to achieve, that you should consider for your next Disneyland vacation.
Experience #1: Musical Chairs with Alice and the Mad Hatter
The most well-known and easiest to be take part of, musical chairs is played every day at Coke Corner on Main Street at 2:30 p.m. For kids only, but possibly more enjoyable to watch as an adult, this classic game can be every bit as wild as you might think when you bring in the Mad Hatter to officiate. Get there early, enjoy a classic Disney hotdog, and get a table close by so you can see all the antics. If you are bringing children for the interactive game, do be sure to set the expectations. Not every child can participate, but they do their best. And who knows what other special guests may drop by. It is the non-scripted, live impromptu factor that delivers the unique, one-of-a-kind laughs.
Experience #2: The Tender Seat
We all love the Disneyland Railroad. Being able to take a trip around the entirety of the park (and even back through time) is one of the many joys available to you at Disneyland. The steam trains were a personal love of Walt Disney, who had his own 1/8-scale train set up in his own yard. When the Disneyland Railroad is up and running, there’s a possible upgrade to your experience. Starting at the Main Street Station, find one of the cast members and ask if you can ride up front in the engine on the Tender Seat. Sounds simple, right?
Well, only two of the trains, the E.P Ripley and the C.K. Holiday, offer this special trip. And they are actual steam trains, so there are a few technical reasons why they won’t be able to accommodate your request on occasion. And this special ride is just for two, so figure out which of your kids is your favorite. After all that, if you do get the green light, it is a pretty special ride. One round trip ride in the engine car of a real steam train with some of the most fun and knowledgeable cast members available.
One last caveat: currently this attraction is not available due to the massive building project that will pave the way for Star Wars Land. But if you are reading this in the future, you probably decided to stand in the 3-hour line for whatever brand new Millennium Falcon ride they invented instead of getting in a ride on the train…and I envy you.
Experience #3: The Lilly Belle
Before you leave the trains, there is an even more difficult (but still free) request you can make: a ride in the Lilly Belle. The C.K Holiday has another special feature to it – a Presidential Car brings up the rear. Named after Walt’s cherished wife, Lillian Disney, this special car has hosted a few famous names and dignitaries. On my ride, the cast member was quick to point out the seat that allegedly Johnny Deep feels is his. So if nothing else, it shows that all you have to do is star in a multi-million dollar film franchise for Disney, and you too can ride in the Lilly Belle.
Anyway, this special cab is filled with Disney family photos and a guest book to be signed. Having said all that, members of the elusive Club 33 have first dibs on a ride and won’t feel bad to bump you. Lastly, the cab is a real part of Disneyland history and is almost a moving museum. It has been known to be opened and closed randomly if the general crowd are not respectful. But last I heard, it was open and possible (if not extremely difficult) to catch a ride. And of course, only when the trains are actually running (see above).
Experience #4: Pet Cemetery
No, it’s not a dark ride containing scenes from the Stephen King novel (sadly). For a long time the Haunted Mansion has had various unique offering for guests. There still circulates a rumor that you can obtain a “death certificate” if you ask one of the cast members who work this favorited attraction. I have personally asked every trip, only to be told, they no longer do that. (So if you get it to work for you, please let me know.)
However, I can confirm the lesser known specialty fun. If you nicely ask a cast member, and they are not super busy, and they feel like sprinkling some pixie dust on you, you can ask to view the Haunted Mansion’s own Pet Cemetery (did I mention you have to have a penchant for the macabre?). Yes, they will take you to the inaccessible part of the mansion’s exterior and give you a quick tour of the mini-gravestones that include all the pets of Gracey Manor. Conditions to get a cast member to be able to peel away from keeping the line in order are tough. But nothing is impossible for those who smile, pack their patience and keep in good spirits (pun intended).
Experience #5: Steering the Mark Twain
To be honest, there are plenty of travelers who never take the time to ride Sailing Ship Columbia (the pirate ship used in the middle of Fantasmic) or the Mark Twain Riverboat (the ship used at the end of the Fantasmic). Both are perfect choices in the hours after lunch when lines are at all-time high for the day (and the heat is too). Both are amazingly relaxing, fun to see the Rivers of America and if you decide to go as the sun is going down, perfectly romantic. (Pro tip for couples: Skip the castle and propose to that special someone as you round the bend and see the sun coming down on Disneyland.)
Much like the trains, there is a special upgrade that is possible for the lucky few. You can be asked to pilot the massive Mark Twain. That’s right, you’ll be escorted up to the captain’s deck, and the massive sailing wheel is all yours. Oh, and you get to ring the bell and toot the horn. This is an amazing privilege you must take very seriously as you could really cause a lot of damage to the boat, the park and those sailing with you. Or at least, tell that to your unsuspecting friend or family when they take the wheel and have no idea that the boat is actually on a track.
Currently, the boats are not running (yup, Star Wars Strikes Back). It used to be that if you waited long enough, you could secure this special ride. However, the line to steer the ship became lengthy and hard to manage, which makes this now the most difficult experience on the list. Last I heard, you can no longer ask and hope to get lucky. Unofficially, you are picked by the cast member working the line on the dock as you wait for the ship. Typically, they pick children for this fun experience (the nerve of them). My advice, dress the youngest like he’s from a Charles Dickens novel, have him have a mysterious cough, and then say loud enough for a cast member to hear, “Yes, I’m sure steering this wonderful ship would be a job you could do someday, Tiny Tim.” Good luck, bro!
So there we have it, 5 fun and free unique experiences you probably haven’t tried yet. Difficult, sure, but totally worth it for the Disney enthusiast. What are your favorite, off-the-beaten-track attractions at Disneyland?
Mike Rinehart is an independent travel agent affiliated with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel. View more of his travel thoughts at Mike’s Travel Thoughts or request your free, no-obligation quote on your next Disneyland, Disney World, Aulani, Disney Cruise (and any other cruise line) vacation by emailing him at Mike.Rinehart@mei-travel.com.
For lots more Disney posts, please see my Disney page.