I honestly never expected I’d ever have the chance to experience at day at the parks with a VIP tour guide (aka a “plaid”). I’m neither a celebrity, nor do I have the up to $550/hr (with a 6 hour minimum reservation) it costs to book such an event.
However, recently, some friends and I were lucky enough to win a 4-hour tour with a plaid, along with associated privileges and I thought I would share the experience for those who wondered just what it was like to wander the parks as a “VIP”.
First of all, what we quickly learned is that VIP does not mean any non-public perks. We asked about the possibility of viewing any special locations such as Walt Disney’s Apartment, the Dream Suite, the Disneyland Hotel Signature Suites or the Lily Belle and were told that none of these were available as part of our tour. We were disappointed to hear this, but open to whatever we would have access to from the experience. And basically that turned out to be that the plaid was a ‘super FastPass’, meaning, for whichever attractions in the park had a FastPass option, we could get jumped to the back of the FastPass line (not the front).
Which meant that the four hours with the plaid turned out to be a whirlwind fast-walk from attraction to attraction to attraction with only brief (FastPass time) waits.
This was great for the others in my group who got to go from Star Tours to Space Mountain to Thunder Mountain or Tower of Terror to Radiator Springs Racers to Midway Mania in record time. However, as someone who deals with motion sickness, I could not go on any of those attractions and spent most of the time walking with them, sitting and waiting for them to get off the attraction, and then walking to the next one and sitting and waiting some more. So it was not quite the fun, productive experience for me that it was for them. Although I was happy to finally walk through the beautifully themed queue at Tower of Terror, even if I then proceeded directly to the exit since I couldn’t ride it.
We did get to go on a few attractions that I could stomach including Soarin’ Over California (one I had wanted to go on again before the switch to Soarin’ Over the World expected this summer) and Pirates of the Caribbean. However, when I asked the plaid to join me on Haunted Mansion (the only other attraction I could go on with the group), and asked for some interesting trivia/background about the attraction that maybe I didn’t know, it really wasn’t provided. Which cemented the fact that this tour is really just for attraction-hopping, and not for a behind the scenes walk-through and discussion of the history of the Resort, which would have interested me far more. (For that, you’d want to book something like the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” Guided Tour, which I still hope to do one day and at $109 for the whole tour is a much more manageable price point for more people.)
Unfortunately any of the attractions I’d hoped to ride with minimal wait (i.e. Peter Pan’s Flight or Alice in Wonderland or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride) were not options for this tour. And indeed, my friends felt bad for me after their four hours with the guide, and stood with me in line for half an hour afterwards just so I could at least go on the Alice attraction that day!
But there were two other perks of the tour. First, at our request, dinner reservations were made for us at Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa (we couldn’t make reservations anywhere that was non-public like Club 33 or the 1901 Lounge, so we opted for this instead as the nicest option in the Resort, but of course had to pay for our own meals). I was excited to try this location as I’d always wanted to go but mainly to taste one famous appetizer they offered – the Truffled Mac ‘n Cheese. Everything else was out of my price range there, but I was happy to finally have an excuse to try this creamy pasta dish. And indeed it was delicious and incredibly rich and decadent. That said, it was also REALLY TINY.
Pictures don’t express that the adorable little copper pot it arrives in is only about three inches big. One friend with us who ordered a soup dish had it served in a coffee cup. SMALL portions are the key here and I’m glad I didn’t try to splurge on a steak or other entrée as I no doubt would have been frustrated by the portion sizes of those as well. As a non-foodie, if I’m going to spend a lot of money on a meal, I would like to get a lot of good food for the price! So while I’m very happy to have finally gotten to eat at the fancy Napa Rose (seriously, this is an upscale restaurant for resort dining – the kind where they pull your chair out and place your napkin on your lap for you!), I personally would have no need to return. Instead, if you want a really filling mac n’ cheese portion, I recommend going to Napolini in Downtown Disney for their take-out version which is bigger, just as tasty and cheaper! Or for a big meal splurge, I still recommend the food at a buffet like Goofy’s Kitchen.
Finally, the last perk of our VIP tour experience was that they booked us VIP seating for the Paint the Night Parade and Disneyland Forever fireworks. I was excited for this in particular to finally get a guaranteed good fireworks viewing spot by the castle! But even this proved to be not quite as expected.
Although there was a roped off area with benches at the front of the Hub directly facing Sleeping Beauty Castle, we were instead directed to an area behind the Partners statue where many rows of folding chairs were lined up facing down Main Street towards City Hall. It was explained that we would watch the parade facing Main Street and then, once the parade was over, would be told to pick up our chairs and turn them around towards the castle to watch fireworks. Which, was a little odd sounding, but meant that we had to make a decision – if we opted for the very front chairs facing Main Street, we would be in front for the parade with a great view, but once we turned the chairs around would be in the back row of a downward slope for the fireworks behind a dozen rows of people now sitting in front of us. So we opted for the back row of chairs for the parade – since the floats are tall, we figured we’d still see them easier over all the other people’s heads – which we would then turn around to become the front row for fireworks.
However, this “front” row was still obstructed by trees on either side of us, the Partners statue directly before us, and a guest-crossing area in front of that. So really it was a more obstructed view (although a guaranteed seat) than any regular guest who simply got a spot early and waited.
That said, I did manage to get some nice pictures of the statue against the fireworks, plus got to see how the nighttime light show looks on the castle and the Matterhorn. I am very glad I got to see that, but concluded that the fireworks display for this show still doesn’t move me as compared to previous fireworks spectaculars and that I was much more immersed in the fun and cleverness of the lights show when I viewed it from the middle of Main Street than from the VIP spot.
So ultimately, what I learned that day is that this VIP tour is really about convenience and speed getting through the parks. And as someone with a pass who goes regularly to the park, I can manage speed through know-how (go to this attraction early or late, get a FastPass for this one then that one, grab a spot for this parade here, etc.) and for me, convenience doesn’t trump quality of overall experience.
As I fast-walked with the guide and my friends from attraction to attraction, I passed many performers I truly enjoy who were out and about that I would have loved to have spent the day stopping to watch (Dapper Dans, Bootstrappers, Jambalaya Jazz Band, etc.). And it was a reminder that for me the pleasure of the parks is not about what I get to ride, but who I get to see. I’d rather be my own guide to the parks than be on someone else’s agenda. So for me, the VIP tour is not a good fit.
However, for someone who may be coming to the Disneyland Resort for their one and only visit in a lifetime and whose priorities are to get on as many of the E-ticket attractions and have guaranteed meal and parade/fireworks reservations, this may be worth a group splitting the price to splurge on for a day.
But for a regular Mousertainment fan and park atmosphere and history nerd like myself… not so much!
Have you ever been on a VIP tour of the parks? Did you feel it was a good value/experience for you?