Picture a perfect day at Disneyland. Imagine your family being led through the park by your own personal tour guide, and boarding the most popular attractions with little or no wait. How wonderful would it be to have a prime viewing location reserved for you at Fantasmic, World of Color, or the fireworks? The convenience of having someone who can get you a last-minute reservation at the Blue Bayou, or even a table at Club 33. All this may sound too good to be true, but these are just some of the services available though the Disneyland Resort's VIP Tour Services department.
Disney does little to market this offering, and many people assume that such treatment is reserved for famous celebrities and professional athletes. Yet as increasing numbers of "regular" guests book a VIP tour to help make the most of their trip to Disneyland, word is spreading and bookings are reportedly very strong. I was recently invited to join just such a tour group at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and got to experience this VIP treatment first-hand.
The Resort offers two versions of the tour: standard and premium. The standard tour costs $195 per hour ($175 in the off-season) for a group of up to 10 people, and requires a 6-hour minimum. Your VIP host or hostess contacts you before your arrival to discuss your visit, helps make any dining reservations you need, and requests reserved viewing at the shows you wish to see. Your host greets you when you arrive at the Resort (valet parking at the Grand Californian Hotel is included with the tour), and remain with you during your tour.
The standard tour does not include expedited boarding, though your tour guide can act as a Fastpass runner, collecting Fastpass tickets at one attraction while your group rides another. VIP hosts are trained as Disneyland Resort tour guides, and can point out often-overlooked details, share Disney history and stories, and answer questions about the parks and resorts.
During my visit, our hosts booked the Premium VIP Tour ($295 per hour; $275 in the off-season), which includes all of the elements of the standard tour plus what is described as "limited expedited boarding." I asked Disneyland Resort spokesperson Suzi Brown for clarification, and she explained that guests who book the Premium VIP tour can use the Fastpass entrance at every attraction that offers that service, and have "preferred access" to more than a dozen other attractions. As of this writing, the current list includes:
Disney California Adventure attractions:
We met our tour guide inside Disney California Adventure, and briefly went over the schedule our hosts had arranged. The original plan was to spend most of the day in DCA and then go to Disneyland for other attractions and then fireworks and Fantasmic. Unfortunately, the reserved VIP viewing area for the fireworks was already completely full for that evening, but our tour guide suggested a Plan B: watch the early Fantasmic, stay for the fireworks, and then head to DCA for the second World of Color. Once we agreed to this alternate plan, our tour guide made some calls to reserve space in the VIP viewing area for both shows, and then led us to the first stop of the day: Cars Land.
Normally a visit to Cars Land requires either an early start to get Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass tickets, or a willingness to wait in long lines—both of which I've experienced in the month since Cars Land opened. This VIP experience, however, was much different.
As we headed to Radiator Springs Racers, our tour guide made a detour to Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Flying Tires to pick up return time passes for both rides. Officially, neither ride offers "expedited boarding" for VIP tours, but our tour guide realized that one member of our party was eligible for a Guest Assistance Card. Depending on the nature of the disability, GAC policy for the Cars Land attractions may call for the cast member to issue a readmission pass as a makeshift Fastpass, writing a return time equal to the current wait time. This still requires the guest to wait—in this case, the line for Luigi's was 60 minutes—but lets them avoid standing in line the entire time.
Though this particular situation was unique to our group, it quickly demonstrated the usefulness of having a City Hall-trained cast member as an escort—they knew the rules inside and out, and knew how to use them to our best advantage. Passes in hand, it was onto Radiator Springs Racers, where we followed our tour guide into the Fastpass return line—no Fastpass required, no questions asked. After our race, our tour guide led us to Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, and then back to Luigi's Flying Tires.
In less time than it would take to wait in the standby line for Radiator Springs Racers, we'd visited all three Cars Land attractions and were ready to explore the rest of Disney California Adventure. Our tour continued around Paradise Bay, where we rode California Screamin' (entering through the Fastpass return line) and Toy Story Midway Mania (bypassing the 45-minute line) before stopping for lunch.
I had always wondered how meals worked on a VIP tour—were we expected to pay for the guide's meal? Were they required, or allowed, to sit with us? Our guide explained that it was up to each group; some groups invited the guide to join them and/or paid for their meal, while other groups wanted to eat alone. We enjoyed chatting with our guide during lunch, and used the time to plan our next moves. We declined the offer of reserved VIP seating for the Pixar Play Parade and Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, and decided instead to hit a few more rides before going to Disneyland. After riding Tower of Terror (once again using the Fastpass entrance) and wandering down Hollywood Blvd, we made our way to Disneyland.
Another benefit of the VIP tour experience is the opportunity to ride in the Lilly Belle, the passenger car on the back of the Disneyland Railroad's C. K. Holliday train. While day guests can make an appointment to ride the Lilly Belle if a conductor is available, VIP groups can board with their tour guide as a host. For our trip, we also had a conductor in the car with us, and the tour guide and conductor took turns sharing some of the history of the beautiful train car.
Returning to Main Street, we realized that we didn't have any plans for dinner, and asked if our guide could get us into Carnation Cafe. A phone call later, and we had reservations. Since we had our sights set on Tomorrowland, we opted to skip Mickey's Soundsational Parade, though our tour guide offered a spot in the reserved viewing area. As we entered the Fastpass queue for Star Tours, our guide explained that VIP tours had just been given permission to bypass the line for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, so we made that our last stop before dinner.
Our tour guide joined us again at dinner, and while we waited for our table, I asked about something posted by a member of our MousePad discussion boards. According to this reader, they booked a VIP tour for an upcoming visit and were discussing dining reservations with their guide, who asked if the guest had heard of Club 33. Delighted, the reader jumped at the chance to dine in the exclusive members-only club. I asked our guide, who confirmed that yes, they are now occasionally allowed to request Club 33 reservations for VIP tour guests. The requests are filled only if Club 33 is not otherwise booked by members, and are not guaranteed. From their comments, I would not book a VIP tour with the expectation of getting a Club 33 reservation, but it’s a nice “bonus” that may be offered during your visit.
We discovered another benefit of having a host with us during dinner, as our tour guide was instrumental in helping resolve some service issues that might otherwise have kept us from getting to Fantasmic on time. There are several reserved viewing areas for Fantasmic, and the last-minute schedule change meant that we were assigned to a roped-off section on steps left of center. We arrived just moments before the show began but still had a great view of the show and the fireworks that came after. Then we made the mad dash across to Disney California Adventure to see the World of Color. When we arrived, reserved seats (actual seats on benches) were waiting for us in a roped-off section.
After the World of Color we had time for just one more ride, so we returned to Radiator Springs Racers for a nighttime race around the Cadillac Range, once again taking advantage of using the Fastpass entrance to avoid the hour-long wait.
Walking down Route 66 and reflecting on our day, I realized that in 11 hours we had ridden every ride we cared to in both parks and had great views for all three nighttime spectaculars. Beyond just getting us to the front of the line, our host made dinner reservations, got us where we needed to be on time, coordinated with other cast members as needed, entertained us with stories and trivia, and just generally made our day more enjoyable.
All of this convenience definitely comes at a price, with the standard off-season tour starting at just over $1000. During our tour, we encountered another group who had booked a six-day premium tour—a $10,000 splurge on top of theme park admission (not included in the fee) or gratuity (our host explained that many, but not all, groups do pay a gratuity to their guide above the hourly fee paid to Disney). Yet for those who can afford it, there may be no better way to spend a day at Disneyland.
Disneyland Resort VIP Tour Services