A trip to San Diego Comic Con is unlike any other. For days your senses are assaulted with many experiences you’ll find nowhere else, as all of downtown San Diego is taken over by geeks (like me) from across the globe.
But getting there and back again can be a painful experience when you have a limited budget.
In planning my trip I quickly discovered that flying into Los Angeles instead of directly to San Diego was a much more economical option, and although a car rental from LAX is a pretty good deal, I dreaded the car ride from LA to San Diego as it is a hellish excursion.
Instead, I booked a business class seat on Amtrak, had a guaranteed comfortable seat with free snacks, outlets for my phone and laptop, and most importantly I completely avoided that terrible drive to San Diego.
Coming home was a different matter. On Sunday, the last day of Comic Con, thousands of people have booked every flight as San Diego empties back to normal day-to-day population levels. Every flight is expensive, even from LAX, and I needed to find a less expensive option.
This turned out to be a no-brainer. If I left Monday night instead of Sunday or Monday morning, I’d save a substantial amount of cash on the flight. What to do for that one day?
In case you hadn’t heard, Disneyland is celebrating their 60th Birthday this year. I love Disney, and in the back of my mind I’ve been thinking all year long of some way to get to the park and see how Disney celebrates their Diamond anniversary.
You can guess where I’m going with this. I could leave Comic Con on Sunday, spend the day at Disney, sleep in an inexpensive hotel near the Land, and head off to the airport the next day. Capping off a trip to Comic Con with a birthday party at The Happiest Place on Earth. It was perfect.
I know what you are thinking. Save money by paying for a trip to Disneyland and an extra night at a hotel? Well, maybe I didn’t end up saving much, but I had already decided to stay until Monday anyway because of the huge difference in flight cost, and trading the savings for a trip to Disneyland’s Birthday Party was well worth the cost to me.
Sunday Morning in San Diego I boarded the Amtrak train once again, but this time I stepped off at the Anaheim Station, a mere three miles from the entrance to Disneyland.
It turned out that the trip to Anaheim on Amtrak was less expensive than going to LAX. A business class seat was $39.00 as compared to the $52.00 I paid to get to San Diego from LA on the Pacific Surfliner. As I watched the Pacific roll by outside my window, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be weird going to Disneyland all alone without my family. I brushed my concerns aside as I vowed to find some nice Diamond Anniversary souvenirs for my wife and kids. I could have fun, and bring some magic home for them too.
After leaving the train, I could have walked or taken the bus, but I opted for a quick cab ride to my hotel as I wanted to maximize my time at The Land. My hotel choice was the Motel 6 Maingate. It wasn’t the most economical, I could have gotten an ultra cheap flea bag motel for a lot less, but this was convenient, available, and moderately priced. I arrived around 12:30 pm, but had no room available yet as check in time wasn’t until 3:00. The friendly staff promised to get me a room ready as soon as possible and agreed to hold onto my luggage until that time. I took advantage of the time to walk over to Disneyland (10-15 minute walk) and pick up my ticket, then stopped at Denny’s for lunch.
By the time I was all checked in and back at the gates of Disney it was around 2:30. I knew that crowds would be heavy, and lines would be long, but I was determined to make the most of the time that I had. Disneyland was open until midnight, so I had plenty of time to experience my favorite rides.
This is where I realized that I had a distinct advantage. Many rides have single rider lines that were much shorter than the regular lines. I didn’t realize that the Indiana Jones ride had this option, so my first stop was to pick up a fastpass for Indy to use later that day.
The land was crowded, but I didn’t feel packed in like a sardine. Everywhere were signs of the
Diamond Anniversary, and the shops that I passed were filled with glittering treasures. My souvenirs had to be small because my luggage was already bursting, so I snagged a couple of Diamond Anniversary pins for my wife and 8 year old daughter. My other girls and son also got pins: Chip & Dale, Mickey with a lightsaber and a few more. These tucked neatly into my pockets and I was ready to experience some rides.
First was Pirates of the Caribbean, one of my all time favorites. Unlike some critics, I enjoy the addition of Jack Sparrow to the ride. He blends in, with antics that you’d expect from the scoundrel. This line moves quickly even when your in the regular queue, and I was on in 20 minutes.
But my main goal was two rides in particular. The Haunted Mansion has a new ghost. The Hat Box Ghost as returned after a several decades absence, and even denial that he ever existed. He was one of the surprises added for the Diamond Anniversary, a birthday present from the Imagineers to us.
The second ride that was a must see for me was the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The Abominable Snowman has gotten a big upgrade and was supposedly more realistic and scarier than ever before. Peter Pan received an upgrade as well, but I didn’t know about it so I avoided the huge lines there.
I spent a very relaxing day at the park, missing my family but still enjoying the rides. The single rider line saved me a lot of time on Splash Mountain, but they shut down the single rider line on the Matterhorn Bobsleds because the wait became longer than the regular line. Mr Toad, Space Mountain, and Star Tours all got a visit, and I made it into the Haunted Mansion.
The Hat Box Ghost was everything that I expected and more. His head disappeared from his
shoulders and seemed to zip down into the hat box he was carrying. It wasn’t just a vanish and reappear, I could actually see his head turn into a misty shape and fly down into the hat box. It only took a second or two, but it left me with a smile on my face wondering how in the world they pulled it off.
My fastpass got me onto Indiana Jones in five minutes, and afterwards I realized that my head and face was starting to burn considerably from the unrelenting sun. So I picked up a souvenir for myself, a Pirates of the Caribbean baseball cap. Perfect for saving my face eyes and head from the sun’s burning rays.
The Matterhorn was the longest wait of the day, at about 45 minutes. It was worth it though, the Abominable Snowman was very animated and scary as he reached out to grab the intruders encroaching in his mountain home.
The evening brought the celebration activities I was waiting for. The Paint the Night parade is the first nighttime electrical parade that has seen the land in years. It was magical, unlike any parade that I have ever seen, including other Disney parades. The lights covered everything and everyone. Truly a sight to behold.
Later came the Disneyland Forever fireworks show. I stood on Main Street to get a view of the buildings and the castle and was not disappointed. The buildings were painted with different scenes and colors while the music played and the fireworks exploded overhead. The crowd actually gasped as waves sprang up around the top of the shops on Main Street and the whole area was transformed into an under the sea scene straight from The Little Mermaid for a portion of the show. You think that you’ve seen everything when it comes to fireworks shows, and then Disney goes ahead and proves you wrong.
I ended the night at the Enchanted Tiki Room, enjoying the air conditioning and a delicious Dole Whip, which should not be missed on any trip to Disneyland. I enjoyed the day immensely, rode and saw everything that I wanted to see, and didn’t feel out of place at all visiting by myself. It is a magical place no matter what the circumstances are.
As a stop off when returning from Comic Con it fit the bill nicely. If I cover Comic Con next year, I’ll top it off once again with a trip to Disney. Heck the crowds seemed light compared to what I dealt with at San Diego Comic Con, and I left feeling relaxed and with a smile on my face. I had a shuttle waiting to take me to LAX the next day, and then headed back home to Chicago with souvenirs and memories to share with my family. Although next time, they need to come too.
Here’s a video of some of the highlights from Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever. Please forgive any shakiness, it was a long day.