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Disneyland - Gradnite

Quick Gradnite History:
Gradnite is a Disneyland tradition that started in 1961. The idea was to give High School seniors a safe and clean envirnmont to "party in" after they graduate. Gradnites occur selected weeknights overnight after regular park hours (for many years this was from midnight until 6am) throughout the month of June. Admission is by special ticket only that must be purchased through your school.

Until recent years Gradnite has meant that seniors would have to "dress up" to enter a party at Disneyland that included Dancing, Live Bands, and of course Disneyland's attractions, shops, and restuarants. In recent years Gradnites have really been scaled back and made much more informal and "watered down". For example in the past there have been live bands (in the really old days they were headliners), then it went to bands you never heard of, now its just DJ's playing "records". There used to be other types of entertainment too. One year their was a magician, once a comedian, etc... now there is really nothing unless the the DJ is from brings something in.

The other drastic change to Gradnite has been the dress code. Originally everyone got "dressed up" for the evening. Men were required to have a coat and tie and "good shoes". Women dresses. Over the past several years the dress code has eroded and now you can were pretty much anything as long as its not torn, gang affiliated, or extremely revealing. Oh yeah you can even where clean tennis shoes now. So what once looked like a special evening now have kids in normal school clothes.

One last change has been the shutting down of the park. The entire park (or at least a larger majority of it) used to be open for Gradnite (image of the Gradnite map showing what was open). In recent years areas of the park are off limits and many shops and dining places are closed too. For example all of Toontown & Small World were off limits some years. The Disneyland Railroad, Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, Monorail, Innoventions, Mark Twain, Columbia and some Fantasyland rides were all closed too. I understand that many of these will not be favorites of the kids, but when they used to be open people did go and experience them. From a business standpoint it makes sense to close down attractions to save money, but from a Disneygeek perspective that is just plain wrong. The park should be open, these kids are paying almost full admission prices for 6 hours (in the middle of the night) to be in the park. Once again, I know costs are higher, etc... but still it seems on principle the attractions should be open.

For the 2012 season GradNite shifted to Disney Calfiornia Adventure and the formula has been tinkered with. GradNite guests now arrive throughout the day and mix in with day guests. Then after park closing have several hours of the park to themselves with special dance areas/DJs set up. In 2014 this meant from 10pm to 2am. They did have a special add on to World of Color, about 5 minutes of modern dance music and the fountains performed during it.


The Chaperone Experience:

For several years I volunteered with our local high school as a chaperone in the late 90s/early 2000s. Being a Chaperone for Gradnite pretty much consists of riding the bus with the students and then spending a shift in the Chaperone headquarters. The rest of the evening you are free to enjoy the park. Disney is very efficient and has the logistics pretty well under control for Gradnite.

Chaperone headquarters is the one spot you can go to escape the students if you wish. It is usually in Plaza Inn. Disney provides drinks (sodas, water, coffee, tea, etc...) and snacks for you. Usually pastries and fruits. One year at beginning they had a beef stew and biscuit available. One year there was soup. Usually everything is free. (In 2001 they were selling omlettes, which seemed weird, don't remember that in the past, hope its not a sign of things to come.) Throughout the evening there are various activities to keep the chaperones occupied. My favorite is the trivia contest. I have won a prize a handful of years. These included a T-shirt, sweatshirt, beanies, etc... The purpose of chaperone headquarters is so that Disney knows where to find a representative from a school if there is a problem or a question. Luckily the school I went with is pretty good and most of the time we do not get called, and if we did it was something minor like a student with a headache or something like that.

Chaperones are identified by a bright wristband. To the left is a shot of the one I had to wear. You must have this on all night or else you will be denied entrance to the Chaperone headquarters.



Event Report 2001

I had the opportunity to Chaperone a Gradnite in 2001. This was my fourth time as a chaperone (and I went once as a student my senior year). I really enjoy grad nites because its a different environment in the park. It has a completely different feel to it than Disneyland during normal operating hours. For starters its strange to go through the park and not hear Disney background music playing. All you hear is the heart pounding bass of modern music. Also the lighting for the park is more of a dance club than Disneyland. The lights are blinking and doing sequences. Its quite a site. Here is an image of the Gradnite map showing what was open in each land.

There has been a trend in recent years (as I discussed above) of the park cutting back on entertainment and attractions. This year your choices pretty much consisted of local radio DJs playing modern music. Every DJ location did have a dance area, which the students seemed to enjoy a lot. The only live band was a Jazz band in New Orleans Sqaure (Oh yeah one of the radio stations did have an extreme sports ramp set up where there were some performers). There were no special fireworks displays or anything this year. Many food locations seemed closed and the ones that were open had huge lines.

A few other minor complaints that Disney has little control over probably. One is the terrible music selection (I guess the kids enjoy it so that is what matters most, but if there would have been an oldies or country place I bet they would draw a decent crowd tooo).

This year there were a couple things I really liked. One is they used the Timon parking lot. This was a much shorter walk than the Pinocchio lot. (BTW for Gradnite they do not run the trams, you must walk). Its an interesting site watching tens of thousands of teenagers stagger back to their busses at 6am after being up all night at Disneyland. The second thing I really enjoyed was how fast we got off the busses this year. Once your bus is parked in the parking lot you are not allowed to let your students off the bus (except for escorted bathroom runs) until a Disney cast member comes and "clears your bus". In the past this used to be a security check, but in recent years its a CM stopping by saying ok you can get off now. Usually we are on the buss for between 45-120 minutes. This year it could not have been more than 20 minutes. Then once in the park they let the chaperones in at 11:15 to set put their things down in the headquarters and get a bite to eat (the park was not supposed to open till midnight). They let students off Main Street about 11:30.

One other interesting note about the night. They were passing out a special deal for DCA. If you take your ticket stub to the park by September you can get a discount on entrance to the park for up to four people per stub. Its a great deal and an interesting promotion. See the flyer below.

To sum things up Gradnite is a great Disneyland tradition and an experience most grads will never forget. I only hope that Gradnite will reverse its current trend and start improving every year instead of its current declining pattern.


The above image is the deal they have for Gradnite guests to come back and go to DCA. It was just a photocopied piece of paper. Seemed really last minute and I found several on the ground throughout the evening. Wonder how well the promotion will work. You are allowed to buy up to four passes with each Gradnite ticket stub (that is what the fine print on the bottom says).


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