To paraphrase the Walt Disney quote, it was all started by a text.
On Friday afternoon, Ann received a text from longtime friend Colleen (pseudonym). She said she was in town for the week and had a question for her: would you and the family like to join us at Disneyland on Saturday?
We immediately thought, “With what money?” Ann got another text explaining that it was complimentary. Then another stating it would be 100% free. With every text, Ann asked if this would cost us anything.
The conversation ended with Colleen texting, “Ann, I don’t play.”
She also mentioned that it wasn’t just a trip to Disneyland. Colleen had booked a VIP Tour Guide for the duration of her family’s trip. For those who don’t know, a VIP Tour Guide is a Disneyland Cast Member – they wear a blue-and-red plaid vest – who escorts celebrities and other dignitaries around the Park so that they can get immediate access to all attractions.
Meals would also be included. We would pay nothing.
Our jaws dropped. In this, the third day of the new year, we’re getting some incredibly awesome news. This was bigger than getting my picture printed in the newspaper. Big, I tells ya.
Ann confirmed that we would go then asked about parking.
We would park in the valet of the Disneyland Hotel and charge it to Colleen’s room. Well, okay then…
Ann called Colleen ahead of our arrival so that she could meet us at the hotel. By the time the car was taken by the valet attendant, she was waiting for us. She said that her family was still eating breakfast and asked if we could wait which is exactly what we did. Once finished, we met them outside the hotel and wandered over to Disneyland.
It was a horrible trip: maybe a quarter-mile walk through Downtown Disney. The Monorail, adjacent to the hotel, could have taken us but it was down for temporary maintenance. I wasn’t complaining.
Colleen handed us our Park Hopper tickets and we entered. She then told us she had to meet our Tour Guide, Robert, at the VIP Guide area. This would be the only time that we, as individuals, would use our tickets.
Having Robert as our Guide was no mistake. Colleen specifically asks for him every time – he’s been Drew Carey’s guide in the past – because he is so pleasant and accommodating. I definitely wouldn’t expect anything less from a Cast Member with this job but I can see what she meant. By all accounts, Robert was amazingly gracious and when we rode the rides he joined us. In fact he stated that he wasn’t required to ride them but “I do anyway.” Might as well, right?
Upon meeting him, he also said that if anyone had any questions, please ask away. He was definitely a fountain of Disney knowledge that would rival even the most hardcore fan.
It was decided that the first place we would go was Fanstasyland so Colleen’s daughter Amy (pseudonym) can go on her favorite rides. So away we went.
Robert marched his way down Main Street with our group in tow, stopping to answer any guest questions along the way. Once we reached our destination, Amy told Robert that she wanted to ride Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
“No problem,” he exclaimed, smiling.
He walked over to the exit of the ride where the attendants immediately recognized the plaid vest, which seems to symbolize importance in the Disney Cast Member world. He took a head count of who was riding and told the attendant. We were then waved over to the ride and happily escorted to the vehicle while those waiting in lines as long as 75 minutes stopped and stared. It’s almost like rock star treatment.
Once done, the kids decided Snow White’s Scary Adventures would be next. Again, Robert made sure who was riding and repeated the process he went through with the previous ride. We were in.
This is pretty much how it went the entire day and while being a VIP doesn’t guarantee you front-of-the-line access, it definitely gets you a shorter wait time as well as admiration from those who have been waiting for well over an hour. I think the longest wait we had was 30 minutes at Autopia which is a slow-moving line in general. The wait for Indiana Jones Adventure wasn’t even that long and the stand-by (regular) time for that was at least 90 minutes. In some cases, you are escorted to through the ride’s exit while in others you join the garlic-eating masses in the FastPass line. Either way, it beats waiting.
Another privilege of having a VIP Guide is having the ability to schedule times for meet-and-greets with characters. Colleen asked if there were any Anthony would want to meet but outside of Jack Sparrow, there weren’t. Sparrow, we were told, was a limited time character and unfortunately wouldn’t be available that day. She then told him, “Well, today you’re going to meet Jack Skellington and Sally, so there!”
And we did.
I do have a better picture of the group but I thought this one was funny. This self-taken shot sort of gives a sense of realism, like the Pope Francis selfie.
Do the perks end there? Absolutely not! We were also able to take a peek at the pet cemetery, located adjacent to the Haunted Mansion, that is rarely seen by guests.
I had no idea this existed until Robert told us about it and I’ve since read that if you ask a Cast Member at the Haunted Mansion to see it they will show it to you. This is just one of the many pictures I took of the cemetery; the others are close-ups of all of the headstones. It’s not very big but definitely a cool hidden Disney gem.
Robert also joined us for our meals which were paid for by Colleen (dinner) and one of her clients (lunch). We had lunch reserved at the Blue Bayou which is situated practically on the entrance of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Never in my life would I have thought we’d be eating there; we’re usually the gawkers floating by on a boat.
Before lunch, Colleen approached us and said that this was our (meaning The Moreno Clan’s) Christmas vacation as well and to order anything on the menu. We were dumbfounded. Ann has known her since grade school and I had only met her once when I was the photographer for a reunion she hosted. Her generosity was something we’ll always remember and definitely don’t deserve.
But she wasn’t hearing any of it. We enjoyed the day just as her family wanted us to and ate some amazing foods.
By the way, I’d like to point out that my face is in no way that fat nor have I gained a ridiculous amount of weight. I sort of scrunched up with the family to get the shot. Here, I’ll prove it to you with a selfie I took on Autopia.
There, that’s better. But if I keep eating stuff like the Monte Christo sandwich I got at Blue Bayou…
…I’m in big trouble. I only finished half and Robert said it was more than most people finish. Should I be proud?
With lunch finished, our day continued with practically no waiting at all of the attractions. Just to give you an idea, here’s the list of what we were able to ride during our visit from 10:30 am to 11:00 pm:
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Pirates of the Caribbean
Indiana Jones Adventure
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Peter Pan’s Flight
Snow White’s Scary Adventures
Disney’s California Adventure
Radiator Springs Racers
Soarin’ Over California
Toy Story Midway Mania!
Monsters Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue!
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
World of Color
A total of 20 attractions in around the 12 hours we were there. Compared to what you would normally ride during that same time span with a FastPass, that’s an incredibly mind-numbing amount of rides.
Yet another perk* is VIP seating and scheduling for parades and shows such as fireworks, World of Color, and Fantasmic. Out of all of those, we were only able to see World of Color since the kids took a little longer than expected when building their light sabers in Tomorrowland. Robert didn’t recommend watching the 9:30 pm fireworks show since we had reservations for World of Color at 10:00 pm and when the fireworks were over, everyone would migrate over to Disney’s California Adventure to see WOC. So we made our way down Main Street during the fireworks – it was hard to walk away from them – and into DCA for the second time that day.
It was the second time we had gone there because earlier we ate dinner at Napa Rose in the Grand Californian Hotel then went on some rides. And remember what I said earlier about only using our tickets once? Robert collected them each time we switched parks and had them swiped before we reached the gate. How’s that for service?
In addition to his exceptional service, Robert is also a good sport. He took one for the team by riding Splash Mountain with us, a ride on which he got totally soaked. When he did, I found it as the perfect opportunity to ask him a question. Both of us drenched after the first drop in Splash Mountain, I turned to Robert (sitting behind me) and asked, “So Robert…what’s the temperature of this water?”
“FREEZING,” he exclaimed as we both laughed. With my teeth chattering the rest of the ride, I’m pretty sure he was right.
The night was wrapped up at DCA where we were able to, yet again, bypass the ridiculously long lines. This time it was for Radiator Springs Racers, one of the many rides in the new Cars Land. And let me tell you, Disney did an absolutely incredible job in bringing Radiator Spring to life. It’s as if you’re in the movie: every shop and last detail is there.
Oh, and Radiator Spring Racers is a blast. Here’s Anthony and Ann enjoying their ride.
And here’s what World of Color looks like from elevated VIP seating, not standing with the crowds. Funny, I didn’t see any of those funny hats in the crowd.
One last thing about having a Tour Guide. While you have access to everything and time shouldn’t be a concern, things still moved at a rapid pace since we had meal reservations and other things scheduled. We stopped a few times but never for very long. By the end of the night we were pretty exhausted.
With WOC over, we headed out of DCA as Robert saw us off. Before he parted, he asked for my valet ticket, punched in a few numbers on his phone, and said my car would be ready at the hotel. We all shook hands, thanked him for his time, his help, his everything. Still smiling after a day of hanging out with us, he waved and walked over to Disneyland to probably clock out and go home.
When we arrived at the hotel, the car was sitting there, door open, waiting for us.
All in all, it was an experience that we’ll never forget, and something that we’ll never, ever be able to repay. And even if we could, Colleen wouldn’t take it. She’s unbelievable.
The VIP Tour is probably the only way to see and do everything that both parks have to offer. This does, however, come with a price. According to the Disneyland website (January 2014):
Reservations may be made up to 90 days in advance. There is a maximum limit of 10 Guests per Tour Guide, and a minimum requirement of 6 hours per tour.
- $315: Hourly Rate per Guide (regular)
- $355: Hourly Rate per Guide (holiday)
Unless I win some kind of lottery, there’s no chance I’ll ever be able to enjoy such an experience ever again.
Okay, maybe we will. Colleen has invited us back in a few weeks (if possible) and again in June. No, she demanded it and told us to clear our calendars of anything so that we could join her and the family.
That won’t be an issue, unless my Monte Christo sandwich still hasn’t worked its way out of my system by then.
Either way, we’ll see everybody once again in June!
*VIP status will still not get you into Club 33 so don’t bother asking.