He visited Disneyland every day for more than 8 years. Here's how he got started and his tips for your visit.
Jeff Reitz wasn't trying to set a Guinness World Record, but he did anyway.
He officially holds the title for the most consecutive visits to Disneyland.
"Eight years, three months and 13 days," he said.
That's five days shy of 3,000.
"There was always that magic number," he said. "You know, one year, two years, 1,000, 2,000. Was I going to stop at 3,000? ... Where would have been the perfect place to stop?"
Reitz spoke with USA TODAY about the mind-boggling feat, including how it all started, what kept him going and why he ultimately stopped visiting the California park.
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How did you get started?
Disneyland and Walt Disney World announced at the start of 2012 that for the first time ever, both resorts were going to stay open for 24 hours on Leap Day, Feb. 29, for what was dubbed "One More Disney Day."
"Jan. 1, I was at the park with some friends and we were joking around that, 'How could it be an extra day if you don't use the others?' " Reitz said.
They decided to truly make it an extra day by trying to visit Disneyland every day that year.
"A couple of us were unemployed, but we had the annual passes that had been given to us as gifts – birthday, Christmas and such – so we decided to go for the challenge and use it as a positive," he said. "It forced you to get out of bed instead of moping about being out of work at the time."
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He and a friend saw it as an opportunity to get some exercise and meet others. "You never know who you're going to talk to in lines or just walking around, so you're always working on your networking and communication skills," Reitz said.
They'd hang out for a few hours, share some laughs and maybe a sandwich they brought into the park, then return to job hunting. "You can't help but go and share a few smiles while you're there, and so it helped to cheer us up."
Reitz, who is a veteran, worked several temporary jobs before landing a permanent position at the VA hospital in Long Beach, California, in September 2012.
Working full-time didn't stop his Disney trips though.
How do you fit it into your schedule?
"It had become such a normal thing for me. I'd get up. I'd drive 15 miles to work. I spend my eight hours here," he told USA TODAY from the hospital recently, on his lunch break. "Then I'd drive 15 miles to the park, and I'd have my fun. I'd spend on average of about three to five hours a day (there)."
The minimum he'd like to spend there was an hour if he had other plans on his plate.
"Not only was I going to Disneyland, but there (were) times when I'd hit Disneyland and then I'd go to the San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld or Knott's Berry Farm," he said. "Or even to do Disneyland and then Magic Mountain or to go out to Palm Springs and go hiking up on the Tramway." Once he even spent the day scuba diving in the Channel Islands and still made it to Disneyland that night.
Disneyland Resort is composed of two parks: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Reitz would sometimes park hop, but he always made it to Disneyland Park.
"It was never about spending the entire day there," he said. "It's just about making a visit."
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What kept you going?
"The number just kept evolving over time," Reitz said. "The other person stopped after two years, and I was still having fun with it, so I just decided to keep going at it."
He wasn't sure how long he'd keep going. "Next thing you know I hit 1,000 and then in 2017, five years in, I hit day 2,000, and then I kept going."
Every day was different. The only thing he did consistently was check in on social media, where he's grown a loyal following.
"A lot of times I played it by ear," he said. "If I was meeting people, I was like 'Hey, what do you want to do?' "
If there was something he missed one day, he could always go back the next. He knows guests with limited time don't have that luxury and "need to get their money's worth."
"But by doing that they also have a tendency that they can miss out on a lot of the magic," he said. "Part of the experience, I think, is experiencing everything that's there, and that means paying attention to the area that you're walking through."
He loved slowing down and absorbing all the details Imagineers put into the park, like Hidden Mickeys, and seeing different lands each day. He also enjoyed limited-time offerings and events, like Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, which is currently underway. "There's always special things going on."
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Over the years, Reitz saw a number of changes at Disneyland.
Star Wars: "Galaxy's Edge took a big chunk of one of our loved locations away from us," he said." I used to always love going to Big Thunder Ranch and the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ."
He still has many fond memories of laughs and meals shared there, but he understood they were making way for "new magic."
"When I was parking in the parking structure every day, I could look over the rails and watch as construction was building," he said. "I'm seeing things like OK, what is that? I can't figure it out, and then come to realize what I was actually looking at was two life-size AT-ATs. ... I got to actually see them as they're built from the inside out."
He wound up loving Galaxy's Edge and visited nearly daily, if only to walk through.
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Why did you stop?
Reitz didn't stop going to Disneyland on his own accord. He had to stop when the parks shut down for the pandemic on March 13, 2020.
"At that time everyone thought 'Oh, it's three weeks. It's nothing. We'll be able to knock this out,' " he recalled. "But to me, this was it. Once the park closed ... it was no longer consecutive. So to me, that was the end of it."
He had already taken the following Wednesday off because it would have marked his 3,000th consecutive day. He didn't know if he would have kept going after that. But he knew he would have had fear of missing out seeing others visit without him.
"COVID helped me out in that respect because since it closed the park, it cut everybody off," he said. "Everybody in the world had to go cold turkey and therefore I wasn't missing anything."
In the end, he made it 2,995 days. He hasn't been back yet.
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Part of the reason is the cost. Prices have risen since the annual pass program was replaced by Magic Keys, and he doesn't care for the park reservation system both Disneyland and Walt Disney World introduced when they reopened during the pandemic, but he's also changed his own spending habits.
"I had started getting into other hobbies again redirecting my funds," he said. He is looking forward to returning eventually. "It's going to be kind of a homecoming for me."
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What does it take to get a Guinness World Record?
There are several criteria for a Guinness World Record. The feat must be measurable, breakable, standardizable, verifiable, based on one variable and the best in the world. The application can be filed online, but Reitz never filed one.
"I wasn't doing this just because I wanted to earn a Guinness World Record," he said, though he had considered it from time to time. "I was doing it because I was having fun."
He said Guinness actually reached out to him via Instagram direct message, and before he knew it, he got an email congratulating him on his achievement.
"It was actually put in as a consultancy record, meaning that one of the Guinness consultants found my record, deemed it worthy, and they took care of all the documentation on the backside," he said, adding that he asked if the title could be changed to widen the field, but was told it had already been filed for most consecutive visits to Disneyland.
"I wanted to actually create the title most consecutive visits to a single theme park, and then it would be open to people around the world to try at their local parks," he said.
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"My number one tip that I give is to bring a good-sized dose of patience with you," he said. "You're going to be around thousands of people, so you want to make sure you're ready for it."
To help prepare, his second tip is to download Disneyland's free app, which cast members also recommend for making the most of parks.
"Not only are you going to find maps to know where your restrooms and things like that are, it's also going to give you the wait times for the different attractions, show times," Reitz said. "You're also going to be able to order your food before you go over to pick it up, instead of just waiting in line."
His other top tips include bringing a portable power bank for smartphones and layers for the weather.
"If there's a chance you're going to be there all day and night, then be prepared. Bring a windbreaker, sweatshirt or something heavier," Reitz suggested. He usually wore his "trademark hat" with a strap on it so it wouldn't fly away, hiking boots or a "good pair of tennis shoes," a t-shirt and shorts. "It's whatever feels comfortable to you."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Guinness World Record holder for Disneyland trips shares his best tips