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Lani Teshima, editor

Party of One

Going Solo at Disneyland

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
by Shoshana Lewin, staff writer

“Party of one.” It's hard enough to say when you go grab breakfast at Denny's. Now add a few thousand people, four mountains and a few churro carts to the mix. Truth is, it ain't easy to be solo at Disneyland. “The Happiest Place on Earth” is both a family mecca and a romantic destination—and for those who don't fall into either group it can be intimidating. For those of you who find the idea intriguing, but aren't sure if you can do it, this is for you.

I became a Southern California annual passholder after moving to Los Angeles from Chicago and taking a job in Anaheim that required a three-day-a-week commute.

I always said that when I “grew up” I would go to Disneyland whenever I wanted—so my wish came true. Once a week (or every other week) after work I would head to the park (the first year I got the pass, Disney's California Adventure was not yet open) and wait out the traffic.

It was strange to be there without my family. We would go to the park once or twice every year—although in recent years it had been harder to get my cousins to go until eventually they stopped wanting to go altogether.

The hardest part about going alone is I want to tell someone, “Look at that cute shirt,” or ask, “Should I grab a seat for the parade or take advantage of the short line for 'it's a small world'?” But I can't. Going solo makes you very self-reliant.

Once I changed jobs I also changed passes and became a Premium passholder, since going during the week was no longer feasible. It was one thing to go on a Monday afternoon, but solo on a weekend? Why aren't you with your friend/family/boyfriend/husband? I would end up telling guys—who I didn't want following me around—that my boyfriend was in the bathroom/store/restaurant (in actuality, he doesn't like to go nearly as much as I do so I only have him come with once every six months or so).

But there are quite a few advantages to going solo. It means you can sit in the patio area at the Disney Gallery for two hours reading a book. It means going on California Screamin' seven times. It means no one chiding you for eating an entire slice of mint fudge (not that I've ever done that). It means when you are in line for the Matterhorn Bobsleds you can bypass parties of threes, fours and fives when the Cast Member needs to fill a spot.

Now that I've being going solo for almost four years, I feel like an old pro. With a little pre-planning, making the solo leap can be easy.


Going solo means going on the Matterhorn 15 times if you want.
MousePlanet file photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The First Step

Before you start to panic about going alone, think about a time when you did something—anything—by yourself: an airplane trip, a movie, shopping, going to get your hair cut. Now answer these questions:

  • Did you feel good about going alone?
  • Would you go alone again?

If you answered no to both questions, you are not yet ready—but you will be. Go to a bookstore by yourself this weekend, get a cup of coffee and pick out a good book to read for when you do go alone (see below).

If you answered yes to both questions, grab that backpack or purse and some good walking shoes—you are definitely ready.

Drive Now or Later?

I live about 60 miles from the resort and choose to get up early and drive rather than getting a hotel room nearby the night before. If you are not a good driver early in the day, you might want to consider staying over—but this will require you to be alone for a longer period of time—and to make it down to Anaheim the night before.

Look at AAA or the Entertainment Book for deals on hotels—but remember that since you are a solo, you aren't going to be sharing the cost with anyone else. Off-site can be less expensive, but on-site might be more convenient. Either location could turn the day into a mini-vacation.

Almost all of the hotels in the Anaheim area—and even those not in Anaheim—offer a shuttle to the park. If you choose to drive yourself, note that parking is $9 (for more on that, see “Making a Singular Sensation“). Even for those who decide to give the car ride a go, the trip starts the night before.

I Have to Carry All of That?

You know how you walk through the park and you see a family where mom or dad is carrying a backpack, three water bottles, four jackets, the wallet, the camera and an ice cream bar? Congrats! That's now you. The good news is you have less stuff as one than as four. The bad news is the expression, “Can you hold this for me?” will not be uttered once during your trip.

The night before you go to Disneyland, figure out what you need to take and then select the best way to take it. Guys, we all know you that some of you can be gone for months with just a toothbrush and change of underwear and be fine – this time you might need a bit more. Ladies, it's time to leave your personal Rite-Aid at home—you'll only be gone a day.

Packing list

  • Bottle of water – It's cheaper than buying there. If you want a strap and don't have one, you can buy one at any beverage cart around the resort.
  • Sunscreen – Even on a cloudy day. If you burn you'll have no one to tell.
  • Jacket or sweatshirt – Either stuffed in your backpack or in a locker. The mornings and late evenings can be chilly, even in the summer. In the winter I even grab gloves and a scarf.
  • Money/credit/debit cards/AP or ticket – make sure you have this before you leave the house. You don't need to take an entire wallet. Many places, like MouseShoppe, sell plastic wallet holders (link). I put my AP in there along with my driver's license, debit card, AAA card (in case something happens) and some cash. Although uncommon, try to avoid placing the backs of credit cards together in case that causes demagnetization.
  • Make-up (lipstick, lipliner, mascara, perfume) – ladies, stick them in a pocket where they won't get lost. There is a Sephora at Downtown Disney (a five-minute walk from the main gate) if you forget, break or melt anything.
  • Cell phone (fully charged) – So you can tell all your friends of your adventure.
  • Pen – You might meet someone, you never know—also good for marking up your map.
  • Keys – You'd be surprised how easy they are to forget.
  • Camera – Find a friendly guest or cast member to help you document your trip. What fun is a picture of the Matterhorn without your head in it?
  • Coffee, tea, or other morning drink – this is my morning salvation. I can enjoy my frappuccino in the car and it has a cap so I don't have to worry about it spilling in my bag.
  • Gum or mints – you can't buy gum in the park, but the Altoid-like mints that are sold in the candy stores are pretty cute.
  • Book and (optional) small booklight – I'm a big reader and sometimes not a big talker. If you're someone who makes friends everywhere you might not need or want to bring one. I like a good easy paperback (don't bring War and Peace or Gone With the Wind) for long lines, meals and those midday breaks when my body needs a rest. The booklight comes in handy in the darker queues (like Indiana Jones) and also at night in the outside ones (like Alice in Wonderland or Matterhorn Bobsleds). I am able to get all of the above (except for the jacket) into a purse-size backpack. Remember, if you leave any of it in the car – you're the one who has to go back and get it.

Safety first

Even though you are at Disneyland you should still be safe. If any guest makes you feel uncomfortable, be sure to tell security. Keep your eyes peeled in the parking garage and hang on to your purse or wallet at any time you are in a crowded area like at a parade or during the fireworks.

Make a singular sensation

It's really early in the morning (around 7:30 a.m. if the park opens at 8). You've parked the car at Mickey and Friends, reached the tram (or walked across the street and through Downtown Disney based on how much energy you have) and are ready to embark on your day. If you need to purchase tickets, the booths open anywhere from one hour to 30 minutes before the park does.

If you plan to buy something that you don't feel like schlepping around all day (or want to store a jacket or sweatshirt), take this time to get a locker. They are located to the left of the Disneyland Main Gate and come in different sizes. Once you get one, it is yours for the entire day and you can open and close it as often as you wish.

Once you get to the main gate, picking the right line is a combination of roulette and Murphy's law. Now that security is done before you reach the Esplanade, the lines move much faster—theoretically. However, whichever line you select will inevitably be the slowest one—and you can't do the “let's split up and see which one moves faster” trick. So pick one toward the middle of the pack and if it really looks to have problems, switch lines (only do this once as you might never get into the park if you keep switching).

While you are waiting, don't be afraid to smile at people—or even talk to them. If I overhear a family wondering about something park related, I'll answer their question (some call it eavesdropping, I call it helping). I recently stopped a family from starting their day at Space Mountain by letting them know it is closed until 2005.

This works throughout the day as well: I flashed a Fastpass at Indiana Jones last time I was at the park, but the cast member at the front told me I didn't need it (too early). The family behind me commented that it must be a Special Assistance Pass. I told them what it was, how it worked and how to get one as we quickly moved through the nonexistent line. They were very grateful and when I passed them at the exit, they were heading to grab a Fastpass for another attraction.

If You Can't Join 'Em—Eat Anyway

Few people notice someone eating alone at any of the counter service restaurants around the resort, but what about the big, elaborate, sit-down, make-a-reservation-to-eat-here restaurants?

Nothing says you need to have children with you to enjoy a character breakfast. The same hold true for a family. If you've been dying to enjoy a breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel, Storyteller's Cafe at the Grand Californian or the Plaza Inn on Main Street don't let going solo stop you. Make a reservation on the Disney Dine Line at (714) 781-DINE (714-781-3463) and make those character dreams come true.

Or maybe you go for atmosphere over character. There's no reason to forgo lunch or dinner at the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square or the Wine Country Trattoria in the Golden State section of DCA. Read a book, people watch or grab a napkin and brush up on your origami. Just don't miss out on a wonderful experience because you're worried about what people think.

Walk on the Holiday Red Carpet

If you are interested in taking a tour (The Red Carpet Experience, A Walk in Walt's Footsteps, Holiday Time at Disneyland), go, go, go. Currently the only one that requires you to make two reservations is the new family tour. If you order in advance you get your tickets at the windows to the left of Disneyland Park. If you aren't sure until you get there, you can see the CM at the cart outside City Hall for available tours and tour times.

How Many Did You Say?

At 8 a.m. telling someone you are a party of one may seem awkward; by 10 p.m., it is old hat. The following is a breakdown of the attractions at both theme parks and what to expect as a single. I've marked rides that offer a special separate single-rider line (SR) and which offer a Fast Pass (FP) and when one might help more than the other.

Tram to the Park – I am including this because there always seems to be room in a row for one more tushie—this is especially helpful at the end of the day.

Disney's California Adventure

A Bug's Land

  • Flik's Flyers/Heimlich's Chew Chew Train/Tuck n' Roll's Drive Em Buggies/Princess Dot Puddle Park – I grouped these together because they are aimed more at kids than adults. If you are looked at funny for riding these it won't be because you are solo—it will be because you aren't 7.
  • It's Tough to be a Bug (unnecessary FP) – Movie; they don't ask how many.

Golden State

  • Boudin Bakery – Tour; they don't ask how many.
  • Golden Dreams – Movie; they don't ask how many.
  • Grizzly River Run (FP) (SR – not offered all the time) – Ride; you will be getting wet with total strangers. If it is hot, go for SR first, then FP if SR is not offered. On colder days the wait is not a problem.
  • Mission Tortilla Factory – Tour; they don't ask how many.
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail – Explore on your own; they don't ask how many.
  • Seasons of the Vine – Movie; they don't ask how many.
  • Soarin' Over California (FP) (SR)—One of the only rides where the SR line doesn't always help—if you have the chance, take the FP. Some CMs seem to go out of their way not to use it by asking for parties of two from the regular line. Since everyone boards at the same time no one can tell if you are solo. Get SR from CM at FP entrance.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot

  • Disney Animation – Self-guided tour, movie and live-action presentation; they don't ask how many. In the Beast's Library of the Sorcerer's Workshop you won't be able to lessen your wait by splitting the party. One the other hand you don't have to wait for others in your group to finish. At Ursula's Grotto (where she “steals” your voice) there are no scenes for only one person—but have fun using different voices for the different characters.
  • Hyperion Theater (FP) – Show; they don't ask how many.
  • Jim Henson's Muppet Vision 3-D (unnecessary FP) – Movie; they don't ask how many
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (FP) (no SR yet but there have been rumors due to the configuration of the elevators)—You will be riding with strangers. As long as you don't grab someone by mistake you'll be OK.
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire – Play It! (FP) – Game; everyone comes in at the same time. The only down side to going solo is that if you get into the hot seat you have no “friend” in the audience to cheer you on. However, that could make you a more sympathetic character and elicit a stronger reaction from the crowd.

Paradise Pier

  • California Screamin' (FP) – Based on the crowds you might end up riding next to another single.
  • Golden Zephyr – Ride; you won't have to share a seat.
  • Jumpin' Jellyfish – Ride; individual swings
  • King Triton's Carrousel – Ride; you can still wave at total strangers and see who waves back.
  • Maliboomer (SR) – SR is quick and although you will be riding next to others, the seats are individual. No pass needed for SR.
  • Mullholland Madness (FP) (SR) – SR is the best way to go. You will be sitting next to someone else (and possibly banging into them, as well). No pass needed for SR.
  • Orange Stinger – ride; individual swings.
  • S.S. Rustworthy – Play area; you might feel silly, but play anyway.
  • Sun Wheel – Based on the crowds you might be seated with others. Some might find this awkward, but seeing your life flash before you as you teeter over water somehow brings strangers together.

Disneyland

Main Street U.S.A.

  • Disneyland Railroad – Like the tram, there is always room to squeeze in one more, but space is usually not a problem. You can almost always find a corner for yourself.
  • Fire Engine/Horsedrawn Streetcars/Horseless Carriage/Omnibus – All but the omnibus are restricted by space (so there is usually room for one more). You'll be squeezed in with total strangers, but the trip is not too long. I've had the chance to be the sole rider on the Omnibus as it went from the train station to the castle (grab the top front spot if you can, it provides for some great views).
  • Main Street Cinema – Standing-room only movie; enjoy this during the day as a break from the heat. They don't ask how many.
  • The Walt Disney Story Featuring Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln – Movie; they don't ask how many.

Adventureland

  • Aladdin and Jasmine at Aladdin's Oasis – Storytelling show; If you don't mind being surrounded by children and families go for it.
  • Enchanted Tiki Room – Show; they don't ask how many. For the most room, grab one of the benches around the perimeter.
  • Indiana Jones Adventure (FP) (SR until Summer 2004) - SR was removed from this attraction because you bypassed the safety movie. Until they work this kink out, your best bet is walk-on early or get an FP. They might ask for one or two guests to fill seats from the main line, which will cut your time a bit. You will sit with strangers, just don't grab anyone in the dark.
  • Jungle Cruise – The boat fills from both lines. If there is room for one more they might ask someone in line to fill it, but not always. As a single I tend to get a spot in the middle of the boat.
  • Tarzan's Treehouse – One big line. Fun because you can take as long as you want to read the stores, look at the scenes and explore.

Critter Country

  • Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes – You'll be rowing next to a stranger, but maybe they'll be cute (for those unattached).
  • Splash Mountain (FP) (SR) – This ride is an SR heaven. Ever since the recent log redesign (which made the amount per log go from eight to five) SRs have been needed to fill with parties of four and two parties of two. Check with the CM at the entrance to see if you need a pass—otherwise just head to the exit and follow the signs.
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (FP) – They will ask how many. If you get there early enough you won't need an FP. You also might get your own car. Even if it is crowded you won't have to sit next to anyone.

Fantasyland

  • “it's a small world” (FP at holidays) – They'll ask how many but you'll get your own row. If you'll want to sing along, it is up to you.
  • Alice in Wonderland – You say “one.” They say “one?“ You'll get your own car, but you will need to sit in back because of the way the caterpillar is weighted (I worked there and it didn't make sense to me, either).
  • Casey Jr. Circus Train – If you sit in one of the outside benches you can sit alone. If you opt for the cage you'll be roaring with a family or two.
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant – The CM will come through the line asking how many are in the elephant. Just say one and you won't have to share. Sixteen feathers are given out (one for each elephant)
  • King Arthur Carrousel – Any horse you want and you don't have to worry about the people you are with getting the horse they want. If the CM has time, ask him or her to take a picture of you (or ask friendly looking grownup on an adjoining horse).
  • Mad Tea Party – Tea cup for one. You won't have to share.
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds – Keep your ears peeled once you get into the switchback under the roof. The CM at the front will ask for parties of one or two—just make sure to get his or her attention.
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride – They won't ask how many; you get your own car.
  • Peter Pan's Flight – They won't ask how many; you get your own boat.
  • Pinocchio's Daring Journey – They might ask how many. There is no need to share a car. When you get in, push down the bar on the back seat to make sure the family behind you understands you want to ride alone.
  • Snow White's Scary Adventures (see Pinocchio)
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats – Keep your ears peeled once you get to the row adjacent to the water. The CM at the front might ask for parties of one or two—just make sure to get his or her attention.

Frontierland

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (FP) – You will be asked how many, but you won't have to ride next to anyone else. I always ask to sit as far back as possible. It is worth it to wait a little longer (especially at night).
  • Mark Twain Riverboat/Sailing Ship Columbia – You'll load with everyone and then just grab a spot. One morning I had the Mark Twain all to myself (it was really early), I got one of the chairs on the first deck and waved at people who were walking along the river.
  • Tom Sawyer Island – Take a raft and explore on your own; they don't ask how many.

Mickey's Toontown

  • Chip n' Dale's Treehouse/Donald's Boat/Goofy's Bounce House – Height will keep you out of these, but you might be able to walk around Donald's Boat—if you scrunch down.
  • Mickey's House/Minnie's House – Explore on your own; they don't ask how many. If you want to skip the picture with Mickey, just turn back around when you reach the movie barn.
  • Gadget's Go Coaster – They don't ask how many. Just pick a row and sit down.
  • Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin (FP) – They will ask how many but you will be the one to determine how much you spin.

New Orleans Square

  • Haunted Mansion (FP – needed at the holidays, not usually during the year) – They don't ask how many, just grab a Doom Buggy and enjoy.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (FP for the moment) – They'll ask how many but you'll get your own row. If you'll want to sing along, it is up to you.
  • The Disney Gallery – Nice way to pass time when it gets hot and crowded. Enjoy the exhibits and do some window shopping around what would have been Walt's apartment.

Tomorrowland

  • Honey I Shrunk the Audience – Movie; they don't ask how many.
  • Astro Orbiter – Like Dumbo you will get to fly by yourself
  • Autopia (FP) – Keep your ears peeled once you get to the stairs leading to the cars. The CM at the bottom will ask for parties of one or two—just make sure to get his or her attention.
  • Monorail – You can enjoy a one-way ride. Occasionally, they let guests sit in the front.
  • Innoventions – Explore on your own. Stay as long as you want.
  • Space Mountain (FP – when it opens in November 2005) – They will ask how many and you will have a row to yourself—unless the reconfigure the cars.
  • Star Tours (unnecessary FP) – They'll ask how many to determine which row you'll sit in and you will be seated next to others.


The author readies for a solo day at the park. Photo courtesy Shoshana Lewin.

No matter what you end up doing, have a great time and know that one is not the loneliest number—if done right, it can be the most fun.



ABOUT THE EDITOR

Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.

A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.

When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.

In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alex—our MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinator—attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).

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