AKA “The diary of an idiot in line at 4am”
by Mark “FuseMP” Petar
Disclaimer: Let me just start by saying that I do not recommend barely sleeping at night, nor getting up at stupid hours of the morning, nor going 16 hours without sustenance, liquid or use of the restroom facilities; these are merely the choices made by this idiot while at the D23 Expo and should not be attempted before seeking medical advice.
So, here we go again, D23 Expo 2013. Having spent the first D23 Expo in the Box, the decision was made not to miss another one; and we haven’t. In 2011 I had a lot of fun, and learnt a lot of lessons; lessons that I hoped would help make 2013 a more enjoyable and hopefully easier experience. But the truth is that there is no way to make the D23 Expo an easy experience, there is no miraculous strategy or touring plan, and no matter what you do, there will always be disappointments. And like any event with so many factors and combinations and overlaps, the more you want to do and experience in those three short days, the harder it all becomes and the more disappointments you are going to face. But, despite all the hardships, and despite all the disappointments, the experiences that you do get to cram into those three days make it all more than worthwhile and leave you will good memories that you will take away and cherish.
Thankfully, with the odd exception here and there, the organisation of the Expo this year was way up from two years ago and that helped a lot. One of the first changes made was in the morning queues. Previously, everyone lined up along the outside of the building, on and on, in a single line no matter what their intentions were once they got through the doors. This meant that generally a third of the line wanted into the morning D23 Arena presentation (which couldn’t hold that many people) while another third were pin/vinylmation traders heading straight for the Dream or Disney Stores to get the day’s limited edition collectables (of which there weren’t always enough); and everyone was nervous about how many of the people in front of them in the line were going to which and thus be in front of them in the individual lines.
But thankfully, at this year’s Expo, I got to line up around the other side of the building completely in a much calmer environment because the show floor entrance (predominantly traders at the front all geared up like they are about to run the 100m in the Olympic finals) and D23 Arena entrance were completely separated; and this is probably one of the best decisions made by the organisers.
Having seen people starting to line up on the Thursday night at 9.30pm, I was slightly nervous as I headed down to the Hilton lobby at 3:45am on the Friday morning. In 2011, I had been heading to the line about 5/5:30am and had often joined it a good thousand or maybe two in; but with every event, the lines start earlier and twitter was already telling me that the crowds were starting to arrive so I was dreading how busy it would already be even a good hour or so earlier. That said, I still stopped at the lobby Starbucks to pick up a double espresso, orange juice and giant cookie (which was good because that was the only food and drink I consumed until 8pm that evening when I met the MEI group at Condor Flats with a tray of food in hand). Imagine my relief as I turned up to the D23 Arena entrance to find a grand total of only 10 people there; the hordes all apparently either being traders or people in the wrong line having not read the signage properly; but most importantly for me, all at the other entrance at that time.
Now here is where some of the fun and games begin; because for what we believe are insurance reasons we weren’t allowed to line up at the doors until 5am (as advertised on the website); yet here we all were and by 5am the amount of people was significantly higher at the D23 Arena entrance and I would have to think hugely higher at the show floor entrance. Thus we all formed a pre-line right down Katella Avenue and actually (probably because we weren’t all clambering for LE goods) this line then filtered in a very relaxed and orderly manner to the proper line once the clock struck five. We later found out that this proper outside line would then be let into the building to go through security at 7:30am only to then form another line inside in the normal D23 Arena waiting area; so what we actually ended up with was a line to join a line to join a line to get into the Arena; but generally speaking it stayed in pretty much the same order all the way through although puffed out a little as many people were holding spots for others in their party who would be joining them at more sensible times of the morning.
What I am sure many people are thinking right now is “why get there so early and be 10th in line, anything up to 3,000th would suffice” and it’s true, I probably could have stayed in bed an extra hour maybe even two and been fine; but this was one of the mistakes I made two years ago. At Expo ’11, I wanted to go to the Parks & Resorts presentation which was an afternoon arena show. I stopped by the line area and there was maybe 200 people there, “no point getting in line yet” I thought so I went to a couple more stands in the collectors forum which was adjacent to the line. Not more than 15mins later I returned to find the line had exploded in that short time and I actually ended up in the stand by line being told I might not get in at all. In the end I was probably one of the last hundred or so to get in. Once a line starts, it has a habit of growing fast. When I got to the line Friday morning at 4am there were very few of us, by 5am there were quite a lot, by 6am the line was rows deep and each row probably contained somewhere around a thousand people. I honestly do not know which of the arena shows had enough people to fill the arena, which used to the overflow, and which turned people away having filled that. But that extra hour was peace of mind that I would be good and be close to the stage and not up in the nosebleeds. This was especially true on Saturday where at 4am I was a good hundred back to even start and by the time the pre-line became a real line at 5am you couldn’t even see the end of the pre-line from where I was; although we could see bus drivers pulling up and then being annoyed that no one was getting on as the pre-line went straight through a bus stop (if not two). So maybe I could have stayed in bed, but maybe I wouldn’t have gotten in if I had; you just do not know.
One of the things Christy asked me to talk about was what do you do when sitting in line for 6 hours for a presentation. Well, first of all, that is exactly what you do, you sit; few people actually stood all that time especially as 99% of the time we were stationary. Some people brought fold out chairs, some people brought blankets or towels; I personally just found the floor. But even if not standing up and somewhat more comfortable, it is still a long time to wait. The Convention Center’s free Wi-Fi obviously helped, and I had three backup batteries for my iPhone at the ready should I seriously have depleted my power. I also had my Kindle with me but I rarely even got it out and even if I did, I was putting it away again within a page because the lines were rather jovial. Everyone is excited and everyone is a Disney fan and thus it doesn’t stay like a line for a ride in a park which is very insular in groups; instead it becomes quite social with complete strangers all mingling. Being in lines like these are one of the reasons I made contact cards where I look like a car salesman, because by the end of the lining up experience, you want to share contact details and keep in touch with the new friends you have made in that time. Between the three main lines at this year’s Expo that I waited in, I became friends with a couple of families, a few bloggers and some cast members on their day off; and many of which have connected on Twitter or Facebook since. Then of course, you have those who you are actually in line with you as part of your own group. On Friday I was joined in line by WDW Radio Blogger Fran Cassano (with appearances by Alyssa Wiseman) and on Saturday I was joined by WDW Radio Blogger Liz Driscoll (with cold coffee supplied by Alyssa Wiseman). For Sunday’s Disney Interactive panel I was joined in line by my wife and son, which was probably the most I saw of them all weekend. Going back to technology though, I also saw a lot of people in lines using the “Head’s Up” app which is basically a charades game and offers lots of fun for those who aren’t going to be shy about pretending to be a rabbit in front of a few thousand strangers if it means getting the point. So yes, it can be a long time, but depending on the people around you, and depending on the conversations, the fun and the games, these long waits actually become one of the good memories of the weekend and not the nightmares that you think of when you hear “I was in line for 6 hours”; of course, you have to be willing to strike up conversations with absolute strangers, a trait I inherited from my dad.
Like it or not, lines are a big part of the Expo experience; there is little that you do not have to line up for to some extent and that it why you cannot plan too much because you just cannot look at the schedule and say “I’ll go to that, that and that and in between I’ll do this, this and this” because it just doesn’t work that way. Keep in mind you will line up to get into a shop, you will line up to check out at a shop, you will line up to get food, you will line up to use the bathroom, you will line up to get a free giveaway, you will line up to get an autograph or a picture, you will line up to see an exhibit; pretty much the only thing you won’t have to line up for is a hug from Mr Mongello. And the more you want to do something, you can bet the more other people will want to do it too, and that means the longer you will have to spend in line to do it. The best way to think about it is like an auction, only rather than wagering money, you are wagering time; and the real question is, how much time are you willing to wager in order to see or experience something? If you decide that the time you are willing to sacrifice is 3 hours, and you turn up 3 hours before and find the line is already so big that you are unlikely to get in; well, that was your decision and you were outbid and sure, you are likely to be disappointed but you have to live with that decision and move on; after all, it was your own to make and that was the maximum you were willing to sacrifice. The flip side is where you decide to sacrifice 6 hours and turns out you could have gotten away with 30minutes (like for the Disney Interactive presentation); you over bid and paid too high of a price but at least you got the experience you wanted and didn’t risk losing out by only originally bidding 30mins and finding out that 2hrs was the winning bid; even Yoda couldn’t call it right every time.
And so a lot of tough decisions have to be made and lived with. Sadly it isn’t just what time you are willing to give up, it is also what else you could have been doing during that time; business people will refer to this as the “opportunity cost”. Events clash on the schedule to begin with making them impossible to be at both. If you have to be in line for one panel, then you are going to have to miss the panels that preceded it, likewise by the time you get out of one, it is likely too late to get into the next one (or even the one after that). And if you spend the whole time in lines for panels and in the panels themselves, then you miss the show floor completely which in itself you could quite easily spend the entire three days exploring properly. There is no win-win situation which allows you to do absolutely everything, not even if you have paid through the nose on a Sorcerer ticket (although that does help greatly). You will notice that for me all I really sacrificed was sleep, most of the hours I spent in line for the D23 Arena presentations, the Expo itself was closed therefore I wasn’t missing out on any other experiences; just sacrificing my general health and well-being for a couple of days.
When it came to other line situations though, I made my decisions, bet my time based on them, and I won and lost accordingly. Straight after the Animated Films presentation I headed straight for the Dream Store where I queued for at least 30mins. I knew that if I left it to 6.30pm I could likely walk straight in, but those 5 hours could have meant the difference between some of the Limited Edition merchandise being in my basket or sold out; so I sacrificed the time. Soon after that I waited nearer 45mins to get into Mickey’s of Glendale which again, could have been far reduced had I been willing to wait until later; but seeing as I wear so much WDI clothing to work that people in the sandwich shops nearby actually think I work for Disney; getting a new wardrobe in my size was important to me. Thankfully, in both these cases, while I waited to get in, check out was a matter of minutes at this Expo and not the hour long ordeals of two years ago; this made the experience far easier and happier. But, at no point during the entire Expo did I ever make it into the Disney Consumer Products Store because the line for it was always incredibly long and from what I could see it was mostly Princess merchandise on sale; it was never worth the cost in time to get in even though I probably would have spent a few hundred had I managed (because the store space was WAY too small to meet the demand hence the line so slow and long).
By far the biggest decision to make during the entire weekend and one that I can both justify with every brain cell (both of them) and regret with all my heart is that of the Disney Songbook Concert. On Saturday I spent from 4am till 1pm in line for and in the Feature Films presentation, the general consensus was that to get into the Arena for Sherman/Menken you had to be back in line by 2pm. I don’t know what the actual cut off time was for people who made it in; I’m not sure that I want to know in case I end up really kicking myself. I had already decided that I was going to skip the Legends ceremony for various reasons, but could I really justify dedicating my entire Saturday to two Arena shows and nothing else? It was not an easy decision in the slightest, but in the end I decided no; there was just far too much to do and see and experience and the estimated bid price was just too high. If it had been a morning concert, I would have been there at 1am if need be; but the opportunity cost of an entire half day of active Expo was just too high considering I knew that as a worst case scenario I could watch the entire thing on YouTube days later. So I decided that my maximum bid would be an hour to see if there was a chance of getting into the overflow; but it wasn’t worth more than that to watch a big screen being I could do that at home anyway. In the end, I am watching it now as I edit this blog; I didn’t get in, I didn’t even make it to the line before being told not to bother. But, I spent the entire of Saturday afternoon doing some great things and many/most of them I probably would not have gotten to do at all over the weekend had I decided to attend the concert and spent the afternoon in line for it, so silver linings and all that.
As I said at the start, there is no ultimate strategy or touring plan for the Expo, it’s hard work, it’s disappointing, and it’s amazingly awesome all at the same time. The only thing you can do is dedicate your time where it will have the most value to you and live with the pros and cons of what that means you will experience and miss out on as a result. The first thing to come to terms with is that it is impossible to do everything; Expo could be a week long with repeats of panels and you still wouldn’t fit everything in. Enjoy what you do, try not to regret what you miss, question why on earth it isn’t all filmed and released as a 50hr DVD pack costing a fortune which we would all gladly pay; make friends in line and have a good time even at 4am. Look at it this way, for the same price, you are getting 5 more hours of experience; and who needs sleep anyway??? *yawn*
Mark lives in the UK but is often holding an Annual Pass for Disneyland Paris, Disneyland or Walt Disney World and eagerly awaiting the chance to get back to one of them. While stuck at home in between trips his house is so full of Disney, that it feels like home away from home anyway. Mark can be found on most social networks under the name FuseMP and has his own podcast “In My Disney Opinion (IMDO)” as well as being a co-host on the “Dedicated to DLP” Disneyland Paris podcast.