Welcome to The Check-In, our weekend feature focusing on all things travel.
Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland to reopen in March 2023
A whole new Mickey's Toontown is coming to Disneyland — and guests can check it out starting March 8, 2023. Toontown, which first opened in January 1993, closed earlier this year for what Disney Parks called an "ambitious reimagining," and its reopening coincides with the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration, honoring the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company.
What can visitors expect at this new and improved Toontown? Disney Parks shared some renderings last week of the new features, including CenTOONial Park, a grassy area where kids can play in a fountain with water tables or crawl around a giant tree with sculpted roots, and Goofy's How-To-Play Yard, complete with a sound garden. There's also a brand new attraction featuring the Mouse himself: Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, which will open early on Jan. 27. For Walt Disney World fans, this ride is a familiar one — it opened there two years ago.
Yosemite to end park reservations ahead of summer 2023
Reservations will soon be a thing of the past at Yosemite National Park. Over the last three summers, in order to keep crowds down amid the COVID-19 pandemic and extensive infrastructure repairs, visitors had to make a reservation to gain access to the park. On Nov. 15, officials announced that starting in summer 2023, RSVPs are no longer necessary. "Yosemite has been grappling with congestion — even gridlock — for decades," the park tweeted, and in December, it will "start seeking your help to design an approach that provides a great visitor experience while protecting Yosemite's natural and cultural resources."
Reaction to the news has been mixed — some people say they're glad they don't need to plan a trip too far in advance, while others enjoyed having some extra room to breathe. Mark Rose, the Sierra Nevada program manager for the National Parks Conservation Assn., said in a statement it's "disappointing that park managers have chosen to hit pause on a highly successful reservation system ... We don't want to see a return to the days of visitors being stuck in hours-long traffic lines before hiking overcrowded trails."
How to make flying, driving, and riding the rails easier over the holidays
Whether you're flying home to your parent's house across the country or road-tripping it, the main objectives are to be safe and comfortable while moving from Point A to Point B. Here are a few tips and tricks to make holiday travel a more pleasant experience:
If you're driving: To avoid any surprises on your journey, get your car to the mechanic about a week or two before hitting the road. This way, they can top off the fluids, check the brakes, and look for any issues — and have time to fix any problems. Sanna Boman, editor-in-chief of Roadtrippers, told Travel + Leisure it's a good idea to download apps like Waze for traffic conditions and directions and GasBuddy ahead of time, and to remember to stop along the way, as "detours and unexpected stops are often the most memorable moments from a trip." Double-check to make sure you have emergency supplies like jumper cables, extra water, batteries, phone chargers, and a first aid kit in your car, and stock up on wipes, paper towels, and other cleaning supplies — you won't want to be stuck with a sticky steering wheel if you spill your Frappuccino three minutes into your trip.
If you're flying: For long-haul flights, get a window seat. That way, if you get sleepy, you can rest your head against the window — and you can also avoid having to get up if the people sitting next to you need to use the bathroom, Greg Geronemus, CEO of smarTours, told Reader's Digest. He also recommends buckling your seatbelt over your blanket, so the flight attendants don't have to wake you up if things get bumpy and the seatbelt sign goes on. Be sure to pack an eye mask, comfortable socks, lip balm, and a sweater — all items you'll want to use to combat the stale air and cold temperatures inside the plane. Noise-canceling headphones are also a good item to bring, so you can block out the chatter of your fellow passengers. If money is no object or you have a ton of frequent flyer miles available, consider booking a business or first-class seat.
If you're taking a train: A lot of the same flying tips work for trains. If you're on a shorter trip, stick to the quiet car, curl up with a blanket and neck pillow, and put on your headphones so you can listen to some relaxing music or a fun podcast. When you're on an overnight trip, reserve a sleeping car room. Pack lightly, and prepare for delays — it's a good idea to give yourself a buffer zone, so your train doesn't arrive 20 minutes before it's time to eat Christmas Eve dinner. Bring your own food and drinks, and don't forget to get up regularly to stretch your legs, so you don't feel cramped and sore when you get off the train.
5-star gift idea: DAMDAM Cleansing & Hydrating Bento Box
After a long day of traveling, there's no better feeling than washing your face — and it's even better when the products you use offer a zen experience. The DAMDAM Cleansing & Hydrating Bento Box offers a complete Japanese skincare ritual — two cleansers, a hydrating mist, and a moisturizer — all in one container. The clean ingredients are sourced from regenerative farmers in Japan, and the products are good for normal, dry, and combination skin. This travel-friendly set is a great stocking stuffer for the person who is conscientious about what they put on their skin and is looking to pack light.
Plan accordingly: Upcoming events to add to your calendar
You can live out all your Hallmark Channel movie dreams at Christmas Town USA. That's the nickname of McAdenville, North Carolina, but it's apt — this place goes all out in December, with most of the homes and hundreds of city trees all aglow from Christmas lights and holiday decorations. About 600,000 people head to McAdenville every December to see the dazzling displays, and there are two annual traditions that really draw crowds: the tree lighting ceremony, held this year on Dec. 1, and the yule log ceremony, set for Dec. 15.
Hanukkah begins the evening of Dec. 18, and for all eight nights, there's something going on at the largest menorah in Brooklyn. The 32-foot, 4,000 pound menorah has been at Grand Army Plaza since 1985, and it's so massive that to get to the top to light it, a cherry picker has to be brought in. A kick-off event and concert are scheduled for Dec. 18, but every night will feature live music, hot latkes, and gifts for the children in attendance.