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Adrienne Krock, editor

Beating Boredom at Disneyland

or “A Disneyland Campout With Children”

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
by Lisa Perkis, staff writer

Some of you may be thinking “How on Earth can anyone be bored at Disneyland?” Just ask any 3-, 5- or 8-year-old sitting for hours waiting for various parades, Fantasmic! or fireworks. The best seats for entertainment at Disneyland come with the price tag of patience, something a young child knows little to nothing about.

As the holidays approach, viewing areas for Disneyland entertainment become even more crowded. Is it possible to camp out with young children for entertainment at Disneyland? Yes, but it does take good planning to make it a positive experience for kids and parents alike.

The first step to a Disneyland campout is weighing the pros and cons to what you're about to attempt by answering the following questions:

How often do you visit the parks?

Families who visit Disneyland only once or twice a year will usually want to make the parades and fireworks a higher priority, especially since they are fresh for the 50th Anniversary. Though the Christmas parade is certainly not fresh, it's a must-see for most children, and Fantasmic! remains a perpetually popular show.

Which is more important to your family—riding attractions or seeing the entertainment?

On the other hand, if your family feels that riding Space Mountain 10 times in a row is the ultimate Disneyland experience, camping out will be a waste of precious ride time. While crowds are occupied with the Fantasmic! or the fireworks, use the time to get the bigger attractions done.

Do you have other adults willing to help with the kids?

This is especially important if you have small children. Don't even think about trying this alone with kids under 6 if you value your mental health.

How important is it for you to have prime seating for entertainment?

If you don't mind obstructed views or squinting from backs of crowds, walking up with the kids right before a show starts may be the way to go for your family. Taking a chance on sitting or standing room takes much less planning and patience; however, it's hard for children to see over crowds of people and may miss out on most of the show.

Do you have something to sit on?

A ground covering is a must for longer campouts. It designates your space and will allow other members of your party to come and go with the kids until show time. Try to be considerate and bring a blanket large enough for your party but not so large you take up much more room than you need. If you are flying in from out of town and do not have room in your suitcase for your favorite quilt, pack an old sheet, or, even better a tarp-like ground covering called a Neat Sheet, which is water resistant and durable. The lockers on Main Street are a perfect place to store your ground covering until campout time


This family forgot one of the most important items for camping out: a blanket. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

How long are you willing to wait for a good seat?

A prime spot for the parade is the easiest of the entertainment to secure, and only requires 40 minutes to an hour for a front row spot on the curb. A prime waterfront seat for the first showing of Fantasmic! generally requires around two hours of camping. The most challenging wait is for the Remember... Dreams Come True fireworks. Watching fireworks in front of the castle sets you back over two hours.

This summer my daughters and I secured a prime bench to the right side of the castle and had a perfect view of both the parade and fireworks. It was very exciting to have such wonderful views of both shows; however, we spent over five hours camping out over the course of the afternoon and evening. I wouldn't recommend that strategy unless you have some determined children and fellow grown-ups to help you.

If you've answered these questions and are still determined to camp out with the kids until show time, it's time to get prepared. I've broken down some strategies for Disneyland campouts with kids by age group. Keep in mind that some ideas can be used by multiple ages; use what works best for your kids.


Some essential supplies for an older child's campout. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Birth to 2 years old

Let's face it, kids this age could care less about prime seating and babies just want a comfortable place to nap. Toddlers have no idea why it's so important to keep a particular spot on a blanket and will be ready to move on in under ten minutes. A camp out with kids this age is not advisable unless the children are happily asleep in their stroller. Another factor to keep in mind is the noise: some of the entertainment is extremely loud and may terrorize a young baby or toddler.

3 to 5 years old

Camping out with 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds is a big challenge. This is where other adult support is key, since most kids this age can not and will not stay in one place for several hours unless given a strong dose of Benedryl (I'm kidding; please don't write me outraged letters). Have someone in your party save the spot while you take Jimmy and Jenny on Dumbo or the Carrousel. However, be sure not to linger too long on the attractions; if you head back to the camping spot too late, you may find it impossible to fight through the crowds.

MousePlanet staff Adrienne Krock, another organized mom and editor of Parenting in the Parks, offers some suggestions for this age group:

“I keep a little bag or plastic box with crayons in it with me at all times, either in my purse or in a diaper bag. Clamshell boxes like travel bar-soap boxes work well for this purpose. A doodle pad of paper fits well in a backpack. I have also used comb-bound pads of plain white printer/copier paper. If you have access to a comb-binding machine, you might make up a few of these. Plain paper is great. You can play hangman on it, tic-tac-toe, draw pictures, write stories and more. Many restaurants use paper placemats so you don't necessarily need the paper in a restaurant, just the crayons. Not all restaurants have crayons for kids.”

6 to 8 years old

In addition to the essential kid-swapping technique mentioned previously, this is a good age to pack activities with an interactive quality. My children have made fast friends with kids on a neighboring blanket and scarcely noticed the wait. On our last campout we met some kids from Australia who had never been to Disneyland before, and asked my kids a million questions. My kids were thrilled to be mini-experts for the afternoon.

Some of our favorite things to pack for this age group include playing cards for Go Fish and Crazy Eights, Silly Putty, Crayola modeling clay and handheld games. Silly Putty is a huge hit with my kids—they like to press it on various items around them to create patterns, roll it in a ball to bounce off their sister's head, and stretch it until it's stringy. For under two dollars it's a must-have in the backpack. The craft store Michaels has a dollar bin in the kids' crafts area, and we have found several fun activities there, including the classic “Balloonies” bubble blowing kit that I remembered from my childhood. It still has that nostalgic plasticy smell, too.


Who cares about riding attractions? We've got bubbles. Photo by Lisa Perkis

9 to 12 years old

This age group is a little easier to manage. Older children understand exactly why they are sitting on a blanket watching the rest of the world skip by on their way to fun attractions, so are more philosophical about camping out. They are also generally good at entertaining younger kids in the group, or, wonder of wonders, entertaining themselves for short periods of time. Kids this age also enjoy pin trading with CMs working crowd control in the campout zone.


Have your kids pack their lanyards for possible pin trading opportunities. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

13 and up

Home free. Most parents are comfortable sending their teens on short excursions on their own while the rest of the party are saving space. Just be sure to warn the young adventurers that the crowds may make returning difficult if they wait until the last minute. Designate an alternative meeting place if the crowds prevent the older child from returning to the camp out spot; cell phone reception can be spotty in some areas of the park.


Go Fish, anyone? Photo by Lisa Perkis

My Secret Campout Weapon

Way back in college I learned the Name Game—a deceptively simple word game played with scrap paper, pencils and a hat or other container. We've been playing it in our family ever since, and have found it a good resource for keeping parties distracted and cheerful. The Name Game is similar to the commercial board game Taboo, but cheaper and more portable. It sounds too mindless to be fun, but if you are camping out with a large group with various ages, give this game a try and I promise you will enjoy it. All you need to pack is some scratch paper, some pencils or pens, and some sort of container—a hat, popcorn bucket or even a cardboard drink holder.

Da Name Game Rules

Step one: Distribute scratch paper and pencils to players and instruct them to start writing names of people—all kinds; living or dead, fictional or actual. The only guideline is for that name to be reasonably recognizable; not Joe Schmoe, the guy who makes your latte (unless everyone in your party knows Joe Schmoe as well.) Write as many as you can on small strips of paper and fold each name into small squares. Keep writing until you fill the container to the top; don't worry about duplicates, and don't share the names as you write them.


Some possible names for a Disney version of the Name Game. Photo by Lisa Perkis

Step two: Break into teams of at least two players each. Find a couple of players with second hands on their watches and designate them timekeepers.

Step three: Now you're ready to play. Give the bucket to one of the teams and have them choose a “caller.” The role of caller rotates each time. For one minute, that person opens the strips of paper and describes the name without using any part of the name as clues. Rhyming is okay, as well as “sounds like grass” type of clues. Teammates shout out names randomly until they get the correct answer. At the end of one minute, add up the strips of paper the team guessed correctly and keep score (do not put the names back in the bucket.) If a team is stuck on a name, the caller may skip it and put it back in the bucket; however, they will have to subtract one point for each skipped name.

Continue playing until the bucket is empty or the parade starts.


OK, he's the CEO of MousePlanet and the evil mastermind behind this Fall's Mouse Adventure... Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Alternatives to camping out

There are ways to avoid long campouts with your kids and still find good seating for shows if you know where to look and are willing to take a chance at finding a good seat at the last minute. The walkways in front of "it's a small world" can be a good alternative to watch fireworks with the kids. So far, guests are still allowed to sit during the show so children will get a nice view of the projections on the fašade of the attraction. The down side is missing Tinker Bell, all the wonderful lower pyrotechnics around the castle, as well as the Matterhorn fireworks during the Pirates of the Caribbean segment. However, the shorter wait time and the ample seating might make it worth it for parents and groups unwilling or unable to wait long periods for the perfect view.

For last-minute parade viewing, the steps leading to the Main Street Train Station are one of the last areas to fill and provide a good elevated view for children. Normally, cast members will allow one side of the steps to be a seating area, keeping the other side clear. Just ask a nearby cast member before you settle in to watch. On the other side of the park, the farthest edge of the Esplanade across from "it's a small world" takes longer to become congested.

Fantasmic! viewing can be more difficult to view from a walk-up position, since hordes of people stand behind the tenacious campers at the waterfront and block smaller children's views. Many people recommend standing in the crowd for the first showing, then moving to a waterfront position for the second showing as the crowds from the first show disperse. This is a good strategy but not always feasible with young children, who, by 10 p.m., will care less about Mickey's imagination and more about a nice comfy place to sleep.


Something as simple as a favorite book can be a great way to pass the time. Photo by Lisa Perkis

Planning for a Disney campout with kids can seem like a lot of work, but I find that the more advance planning I do, the happier my kids are and the faster the time passes. We don't camp out every time we visit the park, but when we do the kids have special memories of not only the entertainment they saw, but of the fun time we spent together as a family; talking, playing simple games, and getting to know the people around us. Happy Camping!

Do you have any tried and true Disney camping tips to share? We would love to hear about them.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lisa here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Perkis is a mom to two girls who also love Disneyland and have been annual passholders since they could toddle onto Peter Pan. Lisa has a degree in English literature, which naturally led to a career in early childhood education. She lives with her husband and children down the street from her girlhood home in North San Diego County.

You can contact Lisa here.

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