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.
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.