Well we’ve turned into the month of January and started a new year. January is one of two months I have never taken a trip to Disneyland (the other being August). After the the first weekend in January and the official holiday season comes to a close, things settle down and the crowd levels shrink to some of the lowest of the year at the Disneyland Resort. You would think that would make Disneyland an attractive target for those looking for something to do in January but two things conspire against making it a tantalizing trip. The first is the weather. For those who think Southern California is all palm trees and warm temperatures – guess again.
Oh, you can get a 7o degree day in January at Disneyland but don’t count on it. It can get quite chilly. And then there is rain. You will hear from countless people that say “I love Disneyland when it rains because it keeps the crowds down”. Quite true. But in Disneyland, there is rain, and there is RAIN. Disneyland in the rain is one thing because the crowds stay away and the attractions that normally require lengthy wait time become virtual walk-ons. Disneyland in the RAIN is a different story. The place just doesn’t handle downpours of length very well and you will find many of the rides, especially if there is any exposure to the elements, begin to shut down. Luckily, you can probably count the number of hard rain days in the course of a year on one hand, maybe two in some years.
The second reason why park fans tend to avoid January, especially for extended trips, is closures. In January, the Haunted Mansion and it’s a small world always close down to remove their holiday overlays (though usually not at the same time). It takes about 3 weeks to get each of them back to their normal modes of operation. It’s also the reason why the Magic Kingdom in WDW doesn’t do holiday overlays. There is no desire by Disney to take 2 popular attraction down for about 6 weeks out of a year to install and remove overlays.
So two E-Ticket attractions are automatically removed from your visit in January. You can debate whether it’s a small world is an E-Ticket attraction or not. In my book it is simply because of its size and length (about 14 minutes). January is also the month where if there are any major refurbishments for big rides, you might as well begin it in a month when the fewest number of people are affected. This year it’s Big Thunder Mountain railroad which is shutting down for 9 months. Now you have 3 E-Ticket attractions shutting down in January, not to mention smaller refurbishments of a few days to a few weeks. Uh-Oh.
January is also the month that if refurbishment is needed to a water ride, you might as well do it in a month when the desire to get soaking wet is at its lowest. Splash Mountain and/or DCA’s Grizzly River Run also present attractive targets for closure. And I’m perfectly fine with it knowing full well what its like to get soaked from head to toe in about sub 50 degree weather. “Look, no line” – there’s a reason for it.
For fans of Fantasmic, after the first weekend in January, you can pretty much forget about it as the popular nighttime attraction goes dark until maybe President’s Birthday week February (at which time it normally just comes back on weekends till spring break). In some years, Fantasmic can stay dark all way till spring. Speaking of nighttime, I should mention that January also brings some of the shortest operating hours of the year to Disneyland. 8 am till midnight? Nope. Not even on a weekend.
So there seems to be a cumulative effect going on here. Maybe your favorite ride isn’t going to close but your total pool of rides to chose from may shrink considerably. For some who have experienced this, a trip to Disneyland, while still something that is a lot of fun, just seems to have something missing. You pay dearly to get the full Disney experience and in January you can feel like you got short changed (which is why it is also the best time to perhaps get some kind of discount on a package).
I can’t say that I would never make a trip to Disneyland in January. If time and opportunity are just right, then sure – why not. Weather is a factor for sure but the closures of the rides and attractions mentioned above would not be considered trip deal breakers for one of my trips. There are only two closures that would force me into looking for another time to go. One is Pirates of the Caribbean, probably Walt Disney’s greatest conceptual park attraction and a ride that was under construction at the time of Walt’s death (the Haunted Mansion, a Walt idea, was still in the early stages of development).
I’ve been to Disneyland during a Pirates closure. I couldn’t walk by the walled up entrance without grumbling something to myself or anyone else within earshot. A trip to Disneyland would not be the same if I couldn’t get on Pirates multiple times. It is that special. Once during a particular December rainstorm, my wife and I got on Pirates of the Caribbean and had a boat all to ourselves.
Now that is a special Disneyland moment (well, actually about 15 minutes – the length of the ride). Closing Pirates the ride also usually means the closing of the Blue Bayou Restaurant which sits inside the ride. While most will claim the food, which is probably the best prepared in Disneyland park, is not worth the price, it is a a memorable dining experience especially with a table by the water. Another reason why closing Pirates of the Caribbean is a deal breaker in my book.
The second closure that would make me second guess a trip to Disneyland may be a bit of a surprise – the Disneyland Railroad. It’s not even really a ride so much as it is mode of transportation and just part of the atmosphere. I love the railroad. Sometimes I’ll make back to back “grand circle tours” killing the better part of an hour riding the rails. Making its way around the park riding the train just allows me to soak up as much of the atmosphere as the day can bring. And while that Grand Canyon Primeval World diorama can get a bit tiresome after a while, riding the train is never a time waster. And when you have come to the end of your Disney Day and you have just gotten off a ride like it’s a small world and your feet are dog tired, hearing that train whistle feels like a life saver.
For those heading to Disneyland over the next few weeks – don’t think too much about what’s not open and available or how cold you might be. I’m just jealous that you still will hear the magic words of “All aboard…..” and “Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirates life for me”.
Edtior’s Note: We have been to Disneyland many times in January. While it is an odd experience because of the mix of Christmas decorations and regular park entertainment, the month may also be one of the best times to visit because of the lack of crowds and the ability to ride lots of attractions.