Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In April, we’re taking a thrilling ride into the world of theme parks.
There are Disney Park regulars, and then there’s Jeff Reitz. The 50-year-old California native visited Disneyland every day for 2,995 days between 2012 and March 2020, earning him a shiny new Guinness World Record for most consecutive trips to the theme park.
Reitz adventure started a decade ago when he found himself with a Disneyland annual pass and, due to being recently unemployed, a bunch of unanticipated free time. One visit turned into another, and pretty soon he was documenting his daily sojourns to thousands of followers under the social media handle Disney366 – a nod to the number of days in 2012, a leap year.
His visits were curtailed by the pandemic in early 2020, but history had already been made. (After all, one doesn’t just haunt the same place every day for eight years and not become something of a celebrity.) Researchers at Guinness found out about Reitz’s feat, and recently contacted him about the creation of a new record.
Reitz talked to CNN about his favorite moments in the park, and what made the experience something worth returning for, day after day.
Why he started his record-breaking streak
Reitz has a history with Disneyland. The park already felt like an old friend by the time he started his streak in 2012. “I grew up in Huntington Beach, and my family used to come several times a year,” he tells CNN.
“It’s a nice place to walk around and chat with people. The park really is alive. I’ve got to see so many things change.”
Plus, the cost was fairly low, especially by Disney standards.
“One criticism I get is people saying, ‘Oh, that must have cost so much money.’ I live about 20 minutes away, and with an annual pass that also covers parking, a year of daily visits costs about $1,400. It’s a lot, but it’s not what people think.”
Even when Reitz returned to work, he made a daily trip from his job to Disneyland, and then home again.
“Part of what made it fun was I tried to mix things up and do things differently each time,” he says. “The only consistent thing was, I would post a check-in on social media, and try to post one image of the park per day.”
Back in 2012, Instagram wasn’t quite the cultural giant it is now, and smartphones weren’t nearly as smart. Instead, Reitz captured the first few years of his visit on a BlackBerry Bold 9700.
His favorite things to do and eat
Reitz’s favorite destination in Disneyland is the Matterhorn Bobsleds, a pair of steel roller coasters twining through an Alpine landscape made to resemble the famously precipitous peak.
“It’s been my favorite attraction since I was little,” he says.
However, the 2019 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a complex in the park with several different rides and attractions, introduced a close second.
Any Disney fan will know that an attraction isn’t just an attraction – it’s an experience. One could feasibly sit all day without riding a single ride and still enjoy the atmosphere.
“There is an area by the boat docks across from the Matterhorn where I like to relax when I visit,” Reitz says. “Sometimes, I’ll go into Galaxy’s Edge and listen to the background sounds and the music. Or I’ll climb the Adventureland Treehouse for a nice view.”
As for sustenance, Disney Park food doesn’t come cheap or easy. Reitz figured out a reliable go-to: pasta from the Pizza Port restaurant in the park’s Tomorrowland section.
The reason he kept coming back
While thrill rides and carbs can certainly be great incentives, they weren’t the reason Reitz returned to the park day after day.
“It’s always been the cast members that make the magic, not the place itself,” he says. As years passed and he became a bona fide Disneyland regular, he collected stories and secrets from the Disney Parks employees, who are referred to as cast members.
One cast member who used to be a park set painter told Reitz about little easter eggs the artists had fun with, like a bin in the park’s “ghost town” of Frontierland that he would occasionally repaint with different population numbers.
In 2013, when Reitz noticed a large tree near the park exit was missing, a cast member told him she could tell one of two stories about it.
“She said the realistic one was that the tree, which was very old, had become diseased and had to be taken down. The feel-good story, she said, was that there were some trees that were planted when Walt [Disney] first opened the park, and they were simply moved to another location.”
Some time later, while passing a corner of the Soarin’ attraction at Disney’s California Adventure (the neighboring park to Disneyland, which Reitz sometimes also visited), he spied a tree he hadn’t seen before. It looked suspiciously familiar.
“Was it the same tree? Who knows if it’s true. But it’s that kind of magic they can spin.”
What he’s going to do next
Times have changed, and swanning in and out of Disneyland isn’t as easy as it used to be. As a result of the pandemic, Disneyland now operates on an admission reservation system that effectively limits when guests can come to the park. While it makes frequent visits difficult, it also ensures Reitz’s record won’t be challenged – at least not for a while.
Until then, there are scads of new attractions for Reitz to discover, like the park’s new Avengers campus.
“After being out of the park for three years, going back is a chance for me to have an eye-opening experience,” Reitz says. “It’s almost going to be like starting over, and that’s exciting. (Walt) Disney himself once said, ‘Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.’”