USA Jr. Nationals – Insider Tips
By: Gianna Henke
The United Spirit Association’s Jr. Nationals is around the corner and we are thrilled to be going back to the most magical place on earth. If you are competing or watching someone compete at USA Jr. Nationals, below are some insider tips to make sure you make the most of your magical weekend.
PARKING AND ARRIVING. When arriving on competition day, make sure to give yourself ample time to park, get into Disney California Adventure® Park and make your way to the Hyperion Theater in Hollywood Land where the competition takes place. Remember, Pop Warner and Independent/Non-Affiliated teams perform Saturday and Elementary or Junior High School teams perform Sunday.
The weekend of Jr. Nationals is a busy time for Disneyland® Park and Disney California Adventure® Park, so be prepared to possibly be directed to an off-site parking lot and shuttled to the park. Be aware that there is now enhanced security with metal detectors and bag checks that could take a while to get through. Once you get into Disney California Adventure® Park, remember that a spectator wristband is needed to get into the Hyperion Theatre to watch the performances. If you did not pre-purchase one through USA or your team, be sure to go to the USA admissions table outside of the Hyperion Theatre to do so. Lastly, to ensure your fans catch your awesome performance, we recommend them getting there an hour before your team’s scheduled time in case there is a line to get into the theatre. With so many great teams and families coming to beautiful Southern California, these tips will help plan for an enjoyable day!
Making the most out of your trip can be stressful; especially when you are traveling with families and trying to ensure you are there for your athlete’s performance. Once you know what time your athlete performs, you can plan the rest of your day accordingly.
Now for the fun stuff…
Disneyland® Park App. Before you start your day, make sure you download the Disneyland® Park App to help maximize your time in the park. The app has a built in map features, as well as up to date wait times for rides. It also shows you which characters are in the park, where and when they can be found. Additionally, you can use the app to make dining reservations. It even has a search filter that tells you which restaurants have open reservations for a specific time of day! This can be so helpful when you are working your day around a cheer or dance performance.
Eats and Treats. Planning your dining experience in advance is a great idea, as there are endless options when traveling with families so it can be hard to decide on one thing! In Downtown Disney District®, Tortilla Joe’s, Naples, and Brennen’s Jazz Kitchen all have “express” versions of their restaurant that are slightly less expensive without the wait. For example, Tortilla Joe’s “express” version restaurant is called Taqueria at Tortilla Joes' and is similar to a Chipotle style restaurant where you can build your own burritos. Also, located in Downtown Disney District® is a brand new Sprinkles cupcakes! If you want a fun dining experience for kids of all ages, make a reservation at the Rainforest Cafe! Downtown Disney District® is a bit of a walk, so if you are short on time and looking to eat at Disney California Adventure® Park, there are a variety of food options at the Pacific Wharf, including comforting soup and chili in bread bowls at the Pacific Wharf Cafe. If you want a snack on the go, must try snacks include: churros, which can be found at various stands throughout the park; corn Dogs at Corn Dog Castle next to Goofy’s Sky School; and the pizza flavored popcorn at the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land. If you want an upscale dining experience, make a reservation at Carthay Circle Restaurant which is a replica of the very first theatre to screen Snow White. Inside Carthay Circle, don’t miss the beautiful mural on the ceiling of Snow White’s forest, as well as photos of 1950s celebrities like Shirley Temple and Walt Disney himself. Cove Bar is an outdoor restaurant, located at the base of Paradise Pier that overlooks Mickey’s Fun. You cannot make a reservation for Cove Bar, so there is often a long line to get in. However, if you are lucky enough to get seated around sunset, the beautiful views are well worth the wait. Everyone loves Starbucks, so it’s no surprise that there is one in Disney California Adventure® Park, one in Disneyland® Park, and two in Downtown Disney District®. What is unique about the Starbucks located inside the two parks is that they have special cups with Disney characters on the side!
THRILLS AND CHILLS. There are tons of rides at Disney California Adventure® Park. A few of my favorites include California Screamin’, Radiator Springs Racers and Soarin’ Over the World. These are, however, some of the most popular rides at the park. There are fast passes available for all three, but keep in mind that Radiator Springs Racers almost always runs out of fast passes early in the morning because it is that popular. So, if you get to the park right when it opens and you do not have to get to the competition right away, see if you can grab a fast pass. Remember you can’t get a new fast pass until an hour after the time you got your last one, so you have to be strategic if you are really trying to get all three of these rides in on the day you are also watching/competing at USA Jr. Nationals. Soarin’ and Screamin’ are both a little easier to get a fast pass for and you can go on a few rides while you are waiting for your hour to pass to get your second one. Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and Goofy’s Sky School are fun rides that usually don’t have very long lines. Depending on the ages of the people in your family, you may want to jump in a single rider line as the wait times are significantly shorter. The single rider wait times are not listed on the app, so you will have to go to the ride to check it out, but the Radiator Spring’s Racers single rider line is usually half the wait time of the regular line. You can stand with your family while waiting in a single rider line, but you may not sit next to them during the ride.
If you are finding yourself unable to get on a ride before you need to be at the Hyperion Theatre, check out the Animation Academy right down the street from the theatre. Inside they screen clips of all of your favorite Disney® animated films and have a few interactive shows including a step by step drawing tutorial of a character. Right outside of the Animation Academy is a lovely wall mural that says “And They Lived Happily Ever After” which is a great picture spot for a team or stunt group!
A little extra…
If you also plan on going to Disneyland® Park, be sure to check out some of the parades and shows. The Main Street Electrical Parade is back and is so much fun to watch! Disney’s Magical Map is a great show to watch as well. Did you know that many USA alumni dance in the parades and shows at Disneyland® Park? Before and during the parades, certain roads are cut off and there can be heavier foot traffic, so be sure if you do head over to Disneyland® Park to see a parade that you give yourself enough time to get back Disney California Adventure® Park if you are needed to be back at the Hyperion Theatre for a performance or awards show. All parade and show times are also listed on the Disneyland® Park App.
Right now, Space Mountain, currently renamed “Hyperspace Mountain” is set to the theme song of Star Wars and has special effects for a limited time. Hyperspace Mountain is another ride that often has a very long wait and runs out of fast passes early. So, if that is a ride that you know you want to ride, try to grab a fast pass earlier in the day. Some other rides that have fast passes include Indiana Jones, The Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain.
All the rides in Fantasyland are nostalgic and fun, but Peter Pan’s Flight is the one that draws the most people and has the longest wait, but is well worth it. Another fun Fantasyland essential is Mad Hatters Tea Party. Right outside of the ride, they have a standing teacup that makes for a great picture spot! If you find yourself in Fantasyland after dark, take a ride on the Storybook Book Land Canal boats. The miniature vignettes really come to life at night and there is something dreamy about how the light hits the water as you float around in your boat.
MAKING MAGIC. No matter which adventures, thrills, chills, eats and treats you experience, remember that the real magic is in the teamwork, dedication and hard work your athletes and dancers have been putting in all year long. CONGRATULATIONS on making it to Nationals. Make memories and MAGIC!