california, United States

To Disneyland for my “extra” (leap) day

What would you do if you had an extra day?

This year is a Leap Year so we will have 29 days in the month of February instead of the typical 28. We’ll get an extra, sacred, 24 hours.

I can’t remember what I did the last time we had a leap year but I do know what I did the one before that.

For Leap Day 2012, I spent 24 hours straight at Disneyland. I thought it was a dream come true!

Truth be told: While Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, spending 24 hours straight at the magical theme park doesn’t make it happier or more magical.

But, let me start from the beginning …

02/29/2012, approx. 5:15 am

Phyllis and I walked from our hotel that we carefully selected that was less than a 1/2-mile away from the park. Disneyland was scheduled to open at 6 am so we wanted to arrive early. Turns out that our fellow park-goers also had the same plan. There was a line that snaked and nearly hit the main boulevard. I had never seen a line like this to get into Disneyland before. But, it didn’t matter. My best friend and I were too excited to let the crowds get us down. We saw a few people with custom “Leap Day 2012” Mickey ears and we were a bit envious that we didn’t come prepared with our own commemorative attire.

Approx. 6:20 am

When we made it into Disneyland, all was well. We followed everyone down Main Street and despite the long line (and wait) to get inside, I felt happy and excited for the day ahead!

Leap Day 2012, Disneyland

We high-fived with a few cast members who wore the big white Mickey hands as they waved and greeted visitors. It’s always a great feeling to return to Disneyland. There’s the nostalgia of it all — the many great memories at the park I have made as a child with my family and as an adult with my friends, which makes returning feel like I’m coming home. I don’t even live in California, but it feels so familiar.

Rest of the morning

I’m not going to bore you with a minute by minute account of this magical Leap Day, but I’ll try not to forget any highlights. We hit all the big ticket rides before the park was crowded. We rode Indiana Jones, Thunder Mountain Railroad and Star Tours with very little to no waiting.

I didn’t think the day could get any better. I couldn’t stop smiling and taking pictures. I was at the happiest place on earth with my best friend, showing her the ropes with it being her very first visit to the park! And, it did get better!

Modern Family at Disneyland

We spotted the cast of the TV show, Modern Family, filming a Disneyland episode near New Orleans Square! They had the section roped off but I could still spot little Manny with his Mickey ears and it appeared he was talking on a cell phone. Was this part of the episode they were filming, or, was he really taking a personal call?

1:30 pm

Phyllis and I met up with my friend, Annie, in front of the castle at 1:30 pm. Despite it being the afternoon, the park remained pleasant and crowd-free.

Leap Day 2012, Disneyland

We were able to capture some great castle shots with minimal people in the background! (If you know Disneyland well, you know that when you’re there during peak hours, it can be nearly impossible to get a good castle shot without at least seven to 15 strangers in the background of your own photo!)

The three of us soaked in the sunshine and rode more rides, like the tea cups and Matterhorn. (I am recounting something that happened eight years ago so forgive me that I cannot recall the exact rides we rode this lovely afternoon). We made plans for the rides we wanted to ride a second or third time in the wee hours after midnight.

We caught a parade in the late afternoon. This is something I typically do not do when I regularly visit Disneyland. Every pro knows that during the parades is the best time to hit the rides because they are less crowded! But, with 24 hours to spend at the park, we decided to take a load off our feet and enjoy watching the parade. It’s actually really fun!

After dark

Around 10 or 11 pm, I got talked into riding Splash Mountain. To be clear, I love Disneyland and most of the rides but up until this point, I had never been on Splash Mountain. I had been on California Screamin’ — the loop-de-loop roller coaster on the California Adventure side — but, Splash Mountain always seemed scarier to me. (I don’t like the feeling of your stomach dropping during rides).

But, there was virtually no line because it was dark and cold so not many people wanted to potentially get wet. Annie kept telling me Splash Mountain is just a calm “log ride” and that the fall at the end is not “that bad.”

When in Rome, right?

It was not that bad. My heart was beating so quickly but I survived. And, then we rode the ride two or three more times. Because, there was no wait! And, I started to actually enjoy the ride by the end!

Splash Mountain, Disneyland

Nothing went according to our plans after that. We tried riding the train, which isn’t necessarily a ride, but more a mode of transportation. (The train is on a track that goes around the circumference of the park so people usually ride it to get from one end of the park to another). We just wanted a place we could sit and take a nap. There was a long line to get on board, and once we finally did, it was super crowded and not very relaxing. We were a bit past midnight now and I wasn’t sure how I was going to stay awake.

We later ended up getting in a Star Tours line that was nearly two hours long. With nothing else to do, unless we just wanted to sit somewhere, we waited it out for the ride. Under normal park circumstances, I would never wait in line more than an hour long. Tommorowland felt like it had transformed into some galactic-rave. There was loud music booming throughout the speaker system. And then I heard that Shots song and I immediately knew it was time to go. You know, the song that goes: Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Everybody!

In what world is this song Disney-appropriate?

03/01/2012, after midnight

Now, of course we weren’t going to leave Disneyland. (Well, Annie left around 3:30 am to go take a nap at the hotel. She had class later that day in LA). Phyllis and I went to Adventureland hoping it wouldn’t be as chaotic as Tommorowland was.


It appeared that a horde of annual pass holders had descended upon the park and with that came rowdy teens and young adults who sneaked in alcohol and marijuana. I’m not kidding! There were a few drunk guys in the Indiana Jones line who wouldn’t stop yelling about the Jager they managed to bring in.

This was not the magical Disneyland I was accustomed to. It was a dark side of Disney. I wasn’t a fan of it.

Phyllis and I abandoned the long Indiana Jones line and opted to return to Main Street. We rode the carousel a few times. We watched Steamboat Willie in the little cinema. Lots of other people were there to just take a nap on the floor. We settled into an empty spot against a railing … and shortly thereafter Phyllis told me that she, too, needed to close her eyes and nap.

5 am 

I didn’t want to take a nap because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to wake up. Plus, I was going to be awake for the full 24 hours in the park! I went back outside and walked around, passing more sleeping park-goers on benches and just on the side of the curb. People were dropping like flies!

Disneyland, Goofy and Pluto

I turned a corner and found Goofy and Pluto dressed in pajamas. How often do you see Disney characters dressed for bed? Their attire was an indication that we were now very close to 6 am.

I rushed back to the cinema to wake Phyllis. We walked back outside and the sky was starting to turn blue. We were in the middle of Main Street with our fellow sleep Disney maniacs.

The clock struck 6 and everyone cheered and music started playing. I was both happy and relieved. What a day at had been.

Phyllis and I slowly walked back to our hotel. As we crossed a street, we noticed several SUVs drive by with signs taped to the windows with “Modern Family crew” written on them. I guess they were headed back for another day of filming. Meanwhile, we were still walking back from “yesterday.”

What an exhausting, fun and surprising Disney day! I don’t think I could ever do it again since I’m not as young as I was back in 2012.

But, never say never.

Cheers to whatever 24-hour adventure awaits you tomorrow. Or, just whatever normal waking hours adventure — or mundane task — you have in store for Leap Day 2020.


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