Disneyland, Universal Studios Florida and California, and Legoland VIP Tours

02.8.11

In the past eighteen months I’ve accompanied my children on VIP tours of four theme parks. Disneyland in Anaheim, Universal Studios Orlando, Universal Hollywood, and Legoland in San Diego. If you can swing it I highly recommend a VIP tour at any amusement park you go to. It is quite often more than double the price of admission, but the experience is more than four times as pleasant. You can see a park, sometimes two, in a day, and the likelihood of your child (or of you) melting down is significantly reduced. If you’re in the habit of taking a trip to a theme park every year I’d even suggest cutting the visits down to once every two years and making them VIP trips instead of the traditional trip.
Disneyland:
Surprisingly this was the least impressive of all VIP tours. We were a large group of 30 with three guides between us, so there is clearly more risk. The morning was lovely, the kids were able to get in a half dozen rides before lunch, and then we had lunch at Goofy’s Kitchen. The food here is absolutely revolting. It’s a sugary fatty buffet where everything is overcooked and oversalted. The service was excellent, but the salad bar was an afterthought. I hear that the mac and cheese was good as was the mac and cheese pizza… which to me is a delicacy that should only exist in a college dorm after a night of binge drinking. I do love that there are stands with fresh fruit all around the park, I picked up a few bananas for some quick energy, and bless Disneyland for keeping the water fountains peppering the park so you don’t have to walk around with water bottles.

Our guides were good until one of them got tired, and there was some eye rolling at our children. Sadly this coincided with a horrendous bartender at California Adventure who refused to provide us with proper wine glasses (as opposed to plastic) because the people in the dining room were the priority. This was said in between loud sighs. Explaining to her that we’d just purchased four bottles of wine at $60 a piece as well as a dozen appetizers did little to appease her. An apologetic and embarrassed server brought us water glasses that had been hanging in the rack right over the bartender’s head, and assured us that she would explain the situation to the manager.

It was all very good, and certainly much better than Disneyland would have been without the VIP experience, but still it was Disneyland and they could learn a thing or two from the folks at Legoland and Universal.

Universal Studios Orlando: I’ve documented my experience with Universal Orlando here. I was lucky enough to take my kids there on a press tour, and to date I’ve never seen anything so impressive. I recognize that we (as press) were likely given the best two guides in the park, and treated to the best food that a theme park can offer. It is with that information that I offer you a highly skewed rave review of Universal Orlando (though I do include pictures of our guides so you can have the same fabulous experience).

Universal Studios Hollywood: ($249 per person) The kids loved Universal Orlando so much that we ended up having a similar day at Universal California. The tour was worth every penny, the guide was attentive, efficient, and like our guides at the Orlando location she had a plan that would take us through the park in a way that wouldn’t exhaust everyone and would also give the kids (and I) the theme park experience (the good part of the experience).

Universal Studios is a little more adult than the other parks, so as evening approaches it’s still family friendly, but you’ll get the boozy twenty somethings. In the last few years they’ve done a good job of cleaning up the City Walk at night, but there’s still a skeeze factor at night that persists.

Legoland: This was another large party. Fifteen or so boys and their mothers, three guides and a very difficult day. It was raining so the guides had to maneuver us through the park in a way that made sense in the rain. Legoland was just incredible, the guides were polite and attentive, they gently suggested different areas when the rain would start, and then as sunlight peeked through they’d whip us in another direction and bring the boys to a place where they could ride something.

Even in the most uncomfortable moments, freezing winds (okay it felt freezing to this So Cal native), grey skies, rain, whiny kids, the guides at Legoland never stopped smiling, never stopped helping and they always had another plan. It’s not a great place to go on a rainy day unless you’ve got someone to help you through it and fourteen of your closest friends (the kids had a BLAST). Also, the food there was not nearly as impressive as the food at Universal Orlando (no one’s has been) but it was possible to cobble together a healthy meal.

I’m Not Asking Disneyland To Say The Motzi

12.4.09

Mom Bloggers and Disneyland have a complicated relationship. It’s no secret that many Mom Bloggers are in it for the swag, the review items, the trips. The days at Disneyland.

I am not. I promise you, I don’t want your tchotche, I don’t want a trip with a publicist, I want a trip with my family. I don’t need a spa weekend away, I’ll take the cash, buy some advertising and let me worry about the content. Capiche? Do we have that out of the way?

During the months (yes it’s only been months) that I’ve been blogging here I’ve had a number of emails from Disneyland. I am ThisClose to posting them all here. The essence is this, they send banner advertising and suggest to me that I “share this great deal” with my readers. Over and over again I’ve said, “that looks like an advertisement, would you like to buy ad space?” and they never respond.

Last year Disneyland invited Mom Bloggers to Disneyland during the first nights of Passover. If you are not Jewish you might not know. During Passover Seders are held on the first two nights (in my home) and you tell your children the story of the Exodus. It’s a wonderful holiday, with wine, songs and food that makes Thanksgiving look like a Jenny Craig meal. If you are a mother, Passover requires a lot of cooking. Oh, also during Passover you don’t eat bread or anything leavened (that’s pretty much everything at Disneyland).

When I contacted the folks at Disneyland’s PR department to say that this was quite a slap in the face, the response I got was this:

Did you check your email. Did you see that the head of our PR department has a Jewish last name.

They went on to explain to me that Passover is at night and this was a day event.

Message delivered. I heard ya. I’m reminding myself that I don’t blog for free crap. It’s a little hard to remember… but I’m trying.

We don’t really go to Disneyland, it’s 90 minutes in the car, and it’s expensive. It’s hundreds of dollars for a day with the kids, during the X-Mas season it’s hideously crowded and you will spend your entire day waiting in line for thing. Oh, unless you are her (hold your vomit folks, it’s not a press junket, it’s another mom blogger muddying the waters. If it were a press junket there would have been press there).

So as a parent I never liked Disneyland, because a day of skiing is less expensive and more fun. As a parent I’ve taken my kids to Disneyland a number of times and once during the XMas season, it was horrible. There were lines that lasted for hours, kids crying everywhere, parents yelling at the crying kids and telling them to stop. It was bad. My kids? My kids loved it. It’s geared for them. As a parent, like so many of you, I have a push and pull relationship with that gawdforsaken theme park. My kids love it, I hate it, it’s expensive, we go anyhow. That is the reality of Disneyland.

If you are reading blogs, you might think that going to Disneyland is free and breezy. Well, it is, and that’s wonderful PR in play. Of course you’re having a great day when you don’t spend the $400 that the rest of us do and you leave with a ton of swag. Erin (once again) does it best, explaining that Disneyland is great when you’re a mommy blogger being hosted.

Moving forward, my friend Ciaran’s kids learned the hard way that Hanukkah is not celebrated at the Happiest Place on Earth.

But wait, very few people celebrate Hanukkah! (you tell me) I get it, really I do. There’s a big problem though. When I go to Disneyland.com I see this:
(more…)

Disneyland Is Not For Jewish Mommy Bloggers

12.3.09

Read about Ciaran’s experience at Disneyland. Here are some excerpts:

Hours went by as we made our way through the rest of the park, expecting at any moment to discover a nook or a cranny with a decorated dreidel. Underwater by Nemo? On Autotopia? Someplace in Tomorrowland? Alas, we spied nothing. Not until we were sailing through Pirates of the Caribbean.

Imagine this:

The eight branched candlelabra, considered the universal sign of hanukah, was overturned and broken in the window of a burning building.

More:

the one menorah in the park that was not concealed within a ride. You can find it above the jewelers. [sic] The Disney attendant on duty went on to happily tell me that they not only had a menorah for hanukah but there was also more Jewish holiday decor in the form of a mezuzah on the door of Dr Silverstein’s office!

Oh, and by way of full disclosure, I’ve been invited to Disneyland by their PR department once. On the first day of Passover, you know, the day in between the two seders. When I explained to them that this was offensive they said that their head of PR is a Jew.

If you’re Jewish and you want your kids to have a holiday where they get to feel good, probably you should skip Disneyland.