Friday, February 14, 2020

Disneyland and the Tiny Trailer as a "Bed on Wheels"

tiny teardrop trailer camping, Disneyland
Anaheim Harbor RV Park

Sometimes we camp to commune with nature, and sometimes we just want our "bed on wheels" for the night, even if it's parked deep in the roar of the city. Karen and Louis Valentino took their Hiker Trailer into the hubbub of Southern California's Disneyland country, and even though their hiking was on pavement and cement, at the end of each adventurous day, they were still able to spend their night in their familiar bed, snug in their tiny trailer.

Living in Northern California near Monterey, Karen and Louis wanted to visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, having the idea to take their Hiker Trailer with them and stay at an RV park to save money on a hotel. After some research, they settled on Anaheim Harbor RV Park (not to be confused with Anaheim RV Park). "Our 'campsite' was very different from what we usually prefer," Karen said. "RVing is a completely different lifestyle than camping; in fact, we generally avoid RV sites at campgrounds, opting instead for quieter, more scenic tent sites with no hookups." They found Anaheim Harbor to be "a big parking lot experience," but still a camping place that had the amenities they wanted: proximity to the Disney parks, a good restroom and shower, an electrical hook-up so that they wouldn't need to manage their usual solar power source, and an on-site water spigot so they wouldn't have to pack water.
"We chose a 'Deluxe with Grass' site ($56/night). It was a double site designed to allow travelers with long RVs to park a vehicle next to their rig. At the rear of one side, there was an area of faux grass with a picnic table and umbrella. Behind that were electricity and water. The bathrooms were immaculate. The women’s bathroom had two showers, three toilet stalls and two sinks. I never had to wait to use anything, but we were up early and back late. The showers provided sufficient hot water and acceptable water pressure (in California every shower head is low flow)."
Karen and Louis caution that it's important to go into the "big parking lot" experience of tiny trailer camping with eyes wide open. It's important to make sure that the RV park you choose will accept your tiny trailer set-up. Know in advance whether the cancellation policy is acceptable to you. Finally, they add to be sure you have a high tolerance for noise and sub-prime weather conditions. If you're good on those points, then maybe a Disneyland camp trip is for you.
"Some RV parks accept only self-contained RVs, but I confirmed with Anaheim Harbor that our set-up would be acceptable. We then put down the required $40 deposit. Had we canceled our reservation a week or more before our visit, we would have received the deposit back; if not, it would have been forfeited. We were dead certain we did not want to camp in Anaheim in rain or freezing weather. We were willing to forfeit the deposit if the forecast unexpectedly turned ugly. We watched long-range forecasts for weeks to ensure weather would be favorable. Fortunately, the forecasts held true and a few days before we went down to Anaheim, we could tell it was a go!"
They stayed four nights and visited the Disney Parks three days this January, 2020. Their original food plan was to cook dinner on arrival their first night, and breakfast each morning thereafter, then have lunch and dinner at the Disney complex. Karen and Louis quickly decided upon arriving, though, that if they wanted to take advantage of Magic Mornings (early opening) and get enough sleep the night before, it would be simpler to also get breakfast inside the parks.

tiny teardrop trailer camping, Disneyland
Double campsite space for a little more room

What did those four nights and three days of parking lot camping look like? What was the experience in terms of noise, privacy, and camp routine? The Valentinos provide some insight.

 Noise

"The RV Park is located about a mile north of Disneyland on Harbor Blvd., which made for a convenient 15-minute walk over to the parks. But between street noise, planes overhead, and close-in neighbors coming and going, it’s not a peaceful place. Louis and I always travel with a Rohm: a small portable, hang-able white noise machine. The constant noise is effective at blocking outside noises, so we slept well every night."

Privacy

"Getting privacy is harder when you’re not self-contained, but we had a few things going for us. We were assigned a spot at the end of a row with no neighbor on my side, and because we had a double site were able to park our car beside my door, helping to shield my doorway and privacy area."

Camp Routine

"Each morning we were up, dressed and out very quickly, before most others were awake. Also, we are masters at changing clothes behind a partially open doorway and spent very little time in camp. In the evenings we were back, showered and relaxing in our cabin just long enough to get drowsy and go to sleep."

Tiny Trailer Versus Motel

Considering the big-parking-lot reality of all that pavement and having to cope with a routine that includes a high-density population with its noise and lack of privacy, the natural question that arises is this: How did the tiny trailer camping experience compare to the motel experience? "Our experiment of staying at an RV park," Karen said, "actually ended up feeling very similar to a hotel stay. The Anaheim hotel we have stayed at was also about a mile from Disneyland, and in both cases we spent very little time where we were staying except to sleep, and ate almost every meal at the Disney parks or Downtown Disney. We view the experiment as a big success that we would do again."

Choosing a Visitation Date and Weather

It's important to consider Southern California's weather if you plan to camp in a big parking lot. The Valentinos remind us that Anaheim can be miserably hot in summer, and the Disney Parks are very busy when school is out. Even during the school year,  SoCal residents enjoy a special rate, and many have annual passes. Every afternoon the Valentinos noticed an influx of local teenage and college-age kids.

Having visited in early 2018 and 2019, Karen and Louis knew that three winter days would provide just the conditions they wanted. "To choose the specific week, we consulted a website that rates each day of the year based on historical attendance at the parks, and selected three sequential weekdays in January that showed as low to moderate."

tiny teardrop trailer camping, Disneyland
Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

It turned out to be a very lucky date choice for the Valentinos. Neither of them realized until just before leaving home that they would be there less than a week after the opening of a new ride, Rise of the Resistance, in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. "My husband is a huge Star Wars fan, and we were both excited to visit the new Galaxy’s Edge section of Disneyland, which opened last May. We then got even luckier because upon entering Disneyland, both days that we tried we got into a boarding group (via a form of lottery). So we were among the first to experience Rise of the Resistance, and we got to do it twice!"

tiny teardrop trailer camping, Disneyland
From the Ferris wheel

Dressing for the weather, Louis and Karen started each morning in shorts with layers on top, because the temperature was quite cool (low to mid-40s) in the mornings and evenings, warming up gradually throughout the day to highs from mid-60s to low 70s. They brought a backpack with a pair of jeans and a reusable water bottle for each of them, stashing the backpack in a locker ($7) every morning upon arrival. As it warmed up they shed layers and stashed them in the locker; as it cooled down they swung by to put extra clothes back on. Two out of three nights, Karen says she also changed into jeans.

Advice

The main piece of advice Karen has for anyone who’s planning a teardrop trip is to plan ahead. This applies to theme parks and traditional camping venues. "Louis and I are among those people who think planning a trip is a big part of the fun. We also develop contingency plans–we ask the question, “What could go wrong?” and then work to come up with solutions."

Thinking ahead is important. "Where are the places you won’t have access to cellular or internet? Karen asks. "What will you do to ensure you have the information you need during those times? If you’re driving through remote areas, where will you get gas? If it’s a long trip, where will you restock on groceries and do your laundry? If you plan to hike, how will you decide where?"

Reserving camping spots, planning a route, and knowing local sites of interest and enjoyable activities are all part of the planning. If the Valentinos want to stay at a popular campground, they inform themselves of the date and time they can first try to make a reservation, and when the minute hand hits the mark, they’ve already looked to see which specific campsites they prefer and are ready to try to get one of them. Before they leave home, they download Google Maps, and they also carry detailed paper maps. They are avid hikers who search in advance for the best hiking for their ability at each stop–length, elevation gain, scenic payoff, where the trailhead is–and they often bring a trail map with them.

tiny teardrop trailer camping, Disneyland, Star Wars
February 2019 photo

The question for the Valentinos is whether or not their Disney experience will grow old. They've visited several times--why go again? Are there other destinations that would be better or more fresh? Karen thought about those ideas and had a good response.
"My brother-in-law likes Universal Studios, and I’ve heard it’s also a lot of fun. If they decide to go, we might go with them. But there’s something about Disney. I grew up with Disney. I watched The Mickey Mouse Club religiously and remember feeling a little smug that one of the Mouseketeers had the same name I do. My dad took us kids to Disneyland for the first time just a few years after it opened–and made sure we visited once a year whenever he was stationed on the West Coast. All things Disney were magical, and some of that magic still exists in me. I like how Disneyland and California Adventure keep evolving, feeding both my nostalgia and desire to see new things."
We thank the Valentinos for providing us with valuable insights into a more urban camping experience. Through the research, planning, and experiences they have shared with us, planning a Disney or Adventureland trip, or some other such experience, should be a lot more easy and glitch free. For another more traditional Valentino camping adventure, you might try reading about and enjoying photographs from their West Coast Camping Extravaganza, published earlier on this blog. Karen also shares her trailer security measures in the guest article "Tiny Trailer Security: the Valentino Approach." Both a revelation and an inspiration, I can't wait to find out about the next Valentino adventure.

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