Yesterday was probably one of the busiest days I’ve seen at Disneyland, but it didn’t at all start out that way.
Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom Park in Florida remained open for 24 hours yesterday in celebration of Leap Day. Dubbed ‘One More Disney Day’ the bi-coastal, simultaneous 24 hour operation of the two Disney theme parks was a first. Although Disneyland park had remained open for periods over 24 hours in the past, such as when Star Tours first opened in 1987, the hype and crowd size for Leap Day 2012 turned out to be almost more than Walt’s original park could handle.

The first set of guests arrived on February 28th around 9:30pm. The official line up would start at 10pm the night before, as the first 2,000 guests to enter the park would receive limited-edition ear hats commemorating the event. The line formed inside of the east transportation area. See video of the line at 10pm on Tuesday night below.

At 6am, the first guests entered Disneyland to cheers and music. Main Street was immediately flooded and merchandise locations were hit hard as guests lined up to purchase commemorative shirts, sweaters and Mickey hats. In the beginning it appeared that Disneyland was going to have a very busy day, but within the first few hours the crowds dispersed into the park. Some picked up their free limited-edition ear hats and headed out to take a nap, shower or get some coffee before heading back into the park in the afternoon.

During the day time hours both parks remained pleasant. The walkways were comfortable, the wait times were minimal and the guests were very upbeat. The Disneyland Resort looked like a Wednesday in February. The cast of the ABC show, Modern Family, was in the park for most of the day hours filming at different locations. It appeared that the filming and periodic closure of attractions and walkways were going to be the ‘big story’ and possibly even the big problem for the ‘One More Disney Day’ event at Disneyland. But with the exception of a few inconveniences it actually felt like it did little to damper the celebratory demeanor of the crowd.

One More Disney Day - Modern Family sign

One More Disney Day - KIIS FM

During the early morning and day hours, the media hype was in full swing. There were live broadcasts from KTLA 5 and ABC 7 in the park. KIIS FM, a popular radio station in Los Angeles, was broadcasting live from the Dream Suite balcony overlooking New Orleans Square. KIIS FM’s DJ Drew was also keeping the crowd alive in the evening hours at ‘Club 29’ at the Tomorrowland Terrace. Twitter became a huge source of live information for the conditions of the park into the evening hours, and at the close of the first 12 hours, Disneyland’s ‘One More Disney Day’ was a hit.

One More Disney Day - Mickey and Minnie in PJ's

At 8pm a park wide announcement was made by the Disneyland voice. “Disneyland has now ended its normal operating day…” followed by the sound of a scratching record, “Just kidding, we have 8 hours left!”. Jump, Jive and Wail was played afterwards. Every hour after, until 6am, Disneyland played a song to keep the crowd going and energized.

One More Disney Day - Country Bears Meet and Greet One More Disney Day - Darth Vader One More Disney Day - Storm Trooper

Rare Disney Characters Were Available for Photos with Guests

About the same time, something else was happening. Thousands were descending on Anaheim. The line to enter Disneyland reached back to the gates of Disney California Adventure just before 8pm. About this time I started to see many reports of traffic jams all around the resort. Some guests told me that it took them over an hour to park their cars after exiting the freeways. An NBC 4 news traffic reporter flying over Disneyland said, “In 18 years, I’ve never seen traffic so bad around Disneyland”.

Shortly after this started to break, Disneyland posted the following on their official Twitter account, “UPDATE: “One More Disney Day”@Disneyland continues to be very popular. Disneyland park is currently full. Updates to follow. #Disney24” (link). I made my way to the front gate to witness this first hand. The sight was incredible as I overlooked the esplanade from the Main Street Train Station. The mass of guests in front of Disneyland’s main entrance didn’t even appear to be in lines. Flanked on the east and west sides were ticket booth lines over flowing with guests. And at about 11:30pm the gate turnstyles stopped.

One More Disney Day - Closed Turnstlies

It is not uncommon for Disneyland to close due to capacity issues during the Christmas Holiday, but on a Wednesday in February? It was a bit surreal to stand there and listen to the clicking of the turnstyles and the chimes of the passports being scanned only to hear it all stop at once. Disneyland was only restricting first time entries, meaning those who were re-entering with hand stamp and a ticket could come in, but because there appeared to be no actual line, only a trickle of guests who could make their way through the crowd were able to get back in. I stood there with a reporter from Mouse Planet and watched the sight of thousands of people trying to get into or even purchase tickets for, this 24 hour event, when only 7 hours remained.

The night went on for most guests in the park. Despite the restricted entry and the thousands in the esplanade, the park was in great spirits. The viewing area for the 1am showing of Fantasmic! filled to capacity at around 12:30am. Cast Members on Main Street were trying to divert guests to other ‘lands’ and a park wide announcement was made.

Most of the guests at the park were enjoying themselves and in great spirits. But some, however, were enjoying themselves a bit too much. I’m an observer when I’m in the parks, and I observed quite a bit of non-Disney, non-family activity in the early morning hours. The smell of alcohol was strong. I observed some very inappropriate adult ‘activity’ several times. Uniformed security was actually tough to spot in some areas, and the ones I did see appeared to be overwhelmed. I must stress, however, that most guests were having a great time and that the entire park did not appear this way.

One More Disney Day - Club 29, Tomorrowland Terrace - DJ Drew

Over at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park, the contrast was stark. Inside the Magic’s Ricky Brigante was reporting a much calmer atmosphere and what seemed to be much smaller crowd levels for that park.

Around 3:30 am I called it quits. I walked out of Disneyland to find a huge crowd trying to get into the park. The line to get into Disneyland extended to the west side of Disney California Adventure’s entrance, turned 90 degrees, went across DCA’s entrance, turned 90 degrees again and began under the monorail beam. Two ticket booths on each side of the esplanade still had overflowing queues of guests trying to purchase admission and the Downtown Disney bag check tents had a line which began at the World of Disney shop. As I pulled out of the Mickey and Friends parking structure there was a small trickle of cars coming in. By now it was about 4am, two hours before closing time.

One More Disney Day - Ticket Booth Crowds

One thing is for certain. Disney has a hit on their hands! For all the issues I noticed, and the gates being forced to close for a few hours, there were thousands of guests having the time of their lives.

The bottom line; for all the public relations issues that TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) woke up to this morning, I’m sure the City of Anaheim and Disneyland’s neighbors were not happy with the traffic situation, the revenue has to be staggering for a duration of only 24 hours.

I truly hope that Disney does this again, it was a blast for so many Disney fans, but I hope that it can controlled much better in the future. Perhaps a ticketed event and keeping both parks open are options. After all, Disney took a Wednesday in February and maxed out the park!