Review of The Disneyland Resort in California
Family Fun at the Disneyland Resort
Disneyland Resort Ratings
Located in Anaheim, California, the Disneyland resort is a fantastic destination for families of all ages and sizes. As a former annual pass holder and mother of two young sons (currently ages five and six), I have has made frequent trips to the Orange County area and has visited both Disney parks and several Disney hotels.
Disneyland has changed in many ways in the past decade. From the original 55 acre park to a sprawling resort with two main theme parks and three Disney resort hotels, the theme park is now a vacation destination that can easily take 2-3 days to visit.
Disneyland's Magic Kingdom, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney comprise the resort. The restaurants, shows, hotels, and ride attractions will be reviewed in this article.
Downtown Disney PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Downtown Disney Tour
Downtown Disney Review
The Downtown Disney area is situated between the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks, extending all the way to the Disneyland hotel. This area features shops, restaurants, fountains, and entertainment. Our family visited the Disneyland resort in September 2012 and greatly enjoyed walking through the shops. This area is a wonderful way to eat a quieter lunch, as it is easy to exit the park with a hand stamp, eat lunch in one of the restaurants, and then re-enter the theme park.
Shopping in Downtown Disney
The shops in Downtown Disney include a massive Lego store, which is a favorite of our two sons. Giant Lego creations (including Darth Vader and a giant giraffe) decorate the store, which features an extremely large selection of Lego kits. A large Disney merchandise store (the World of Disney) is located here, along with a pin trading store, Build-a-Bear, Ride Makerz, among others.
Restaurants in Downtown Disney
A large variety of restaurants exists in Downtown Disney, greatly expanding the food choices to those visiting the theme parks. Italian, Mediterranean, American, Mexican, and Cajun cuisine are available. Themed restaurants include the Rainforest Cafe, ESPN Zone, and The House of Blues. The restaurants in Downtown Disney include:
Mexican Food: Tortilla Joe's and the Taqueria and Tortilla Joe's offer Mexican food. The Taqueria is a casual, outdoor eatery offering custom tacos and margaritas. The main restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating options and hand-made tortillas in addition to traditional Mexican fare. Both venues offer vegetarian and healthy food options. Live Mariachi Bands are sometimes available.
Mediterranean Cuisine: Catal restaurant has Mediterranean food in addition to steaks. Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar is offered before the meal, and the indoor seating offers a cool and quiet respite from the busy theme park atmosphere.
Themed Restaurants: The House of Blues has a Cajun-style menu and live music is on tap in the evenings. Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen also offers a Cajun menu and live music. The Rainforest Cafe has a jungle themed atmosphere and American food: the volcano dessert option is a fun, sweet treat to the end of a day at the Disney theme parks. Some very young children might be frightened of the "lightning storm" effect inside the restaurant - outdoor seating is available. ESPN Zone is a sports bar with American style food and a massive, 10,000 square foot game area that kids and teens will love.
American Food: La Brea Bakery Cafe, The Rainforest Cafe, ESPN Zone, and Wetzel's Pretzels all offer standard American fare in Downtown Disney.
Italian Food: Napolini's and Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria both offer Italian cuisine. Napolini's has a full Italian menu, while Naples focuses on wood-fired pizzas (though other Italian food options are available). Vegetarian options are available at both restaurants.
Cajun: Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen and the House of Blues both offer Southern/Cajun food.
Entertainment in Downtown Disney
In addition to the entertainment offered in the themed restaurants, an AMC theater is located in the district.
The Jedi Training Academy: PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Billy Hill and the Hillbillies at Disneyland
Disneyland Magic Kingdom Review: Shows
The Magic Kingdom, or the original Disneyland Park, is an excellent theme park. Disneyland sets the standard for quality in the theme park industry. Visitors to the park should try to visit at least a few shows or parades in addition to the rides - there is entertainment around every corner and some of the best Disney experiences occur in the impromptu performances that occur in the back corners of New Orleans Square and other areas of the park.
The Best Shows at Disneyland
The Jedi Training Academy is an absolute must-see for families with young children. This show selects children from the audience and trains them in the use of the Force - the kids must then fight Darth Vader or Darth Maul, and earn a graduation certificate once they have defeated their foe. This show takes place throughout the day at the Tomorrowland Terrace. Make a sign or wear Star Wars themed clothing to increase a child's chances of getting picked. My two young sons have both taken part in this show and were ecstatic to fight off Darth Vader and become Padawan Jedis.
The Golden Horseshoe Review has a wonderful live-music and entertainment show in Frontier Land. This is a great place to stop off for a bowl of stew at lunch time. This show features a Western theme and is injected with humor, and is appropriate for all ages.
The Tiki Room is one of the best shows for families with small children. Singing animatronic birds, a fountain water show, and the ability to take a Dole Whip (frozen pineapple treat) into the show make this attraction a wonderful retreat in the middle of the day. Be aware that some very small children may be frightened by a brief, pretend thunderstorm in the middle of the show. The author's children were not frightened by the show, but there were a few upset toddlers during the brief period of mock-thunder.
Bands are frequently found along Main Street and in the back area of New Orlean's Square. These bands may suddenly show up in a street and perform a tap-dancing routine, play Jazz, or sing a capella with a Barbershop Quartet.
Disneyland Ride PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Space Mountain with the Lights On
Splash Mountain Ride Through Video
The Disneyland theme park is broken down into lands, which all radiate out from a central hub. The lands are: Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Fronteirland, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, and Toontown. There are many, many attractions in Disneyland, and the entire family can ride most of the rides. The tallest height requirement for any ride in the Disneyland park is for the Indiana Jones Ride.
My two sons are both too short to meet the height requirement for this ride (which is jarring, in a simulation of an off-road experience). All of the roller coasters allow children as young as four or five to ride, as the height limits range from 40-42". My five year old son adores thrill rides, and had a fantastic time on Space Mountain.
The big "E-ticket" thrill rides are colloquially known as the Mountains. Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and the Matterhorn (which actually is a mountain) offer a thrill for families. The rides are fairly tame compared to a Six Flags style park, but are very well themed and fast enough for a real thrill. These rides offer much more than a cheap thrill, as the themes are well done and each ride tells a story - my six year old son jumped off the Space Mountain roller coaster and shouted, "That was SO well done!"
The Best Fantasyland Rides
Peter Pan is a "don't-miss" ride in Fantasyland. This dark ride is appropriate for all ages and children love riding in a flying boat to Neverland. Dumbo is often requested by toddlers and preschoolers, and the line can get very long. Get in line for this one early in the day, as Fantasyland closes early (by 8:00pm) due to the fireworks show. Small World is another ride that many people of all ages adore (or detest, depending on how long the song replays in one's head). My children (ages five and six) really enjoyed the ride. The Matterhorn is located in Fantasyland as well, and the recently renovated bobsled cars have made this ride a bit smoother and more comfortable.
The Best Frontierland Rides
Thunder Mountain is located in Frontierland, and is a western-themed train roller coaster. The ride is fast and fairly mild - this ride is a great "starter" coaster for kids who want a thrill. Tom Sawyer Island is located across the river from this area, and is a great place to let kids run off some steam. Avoid Tom Sawyer's Island if you are on a tight schedule, as the island may take up a significant amount of time (my older son had to be dragged away from the island at the age of four, as he would have never left voluntarily).
The Best Adventureland Rides
The Jungle Cruise is a classic Disneyland ride - the animatronic animals and the humorous jokes told by the boat drivers make this a great ride for all ages. Indiana Jones is next to the Jungle Cruise and is an excellently themed ride for older children and adults.
The Best Rides in New Orlean's Square
Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion are "must see attractions" in this area of the park. The cool boat ride through the Caribbean is a wonderful way to get some relief from the heat in the middle of the day and the two short flumes offer a bit of a thrill. Some children might be frightened of the skeletons within the ride - my sons were not bothered by the imagery, but we had taken the precaution of telling them about the pretend pirates and skeletons prior to riding. The Haunted Mansion may be too much for some children, so avoid this for children who are afraid of the dark or ghosts. My children had seen the ride on a Disneyland Fun sing-along DVD and were not bothered by the ride.
Critter Country is located beyond New Orlean's Square and features Splash Mountain, the log flume ride. Several short flumes exist throughout the ride, which ends in a 50 foot drop. My five year old son declared this ride his favorite in the park: the theme is very well done (from the Brer Rabbit stories).
The Best Rides in Tomorrowland
Space Mountain and Star Tours are absolute must-sees in Tomorrowland. Space Mountain is a roller coaster ride through space, and the effect is both beautiful and impressive. This steel coaster is extremely smooth and fast, and through the dark - most young children would be frightened by this ride (my children loved it and were impressed by the realism). Star Tours is a 3-D motion simulator ride and offers several versions of a "destination" - any lover of the Star Wars movies will be in love with this ride, which is a great deal of fun.
Disney California Adventure Pictures
Cars Land at California Adventure
Disney's California Adventure Theme Park Review
Disneyland's California Adventure theme park has received a massive renovation. The theme park's update cost more than the initial cost to build it in 2001. The addition of Cars Land added three new rides catering to the entire family, including a great "E-ticket" level themed racing ride through Radiator Springs. The theme park used to offer little for children in the toddler and preschool years, but the renovation has made this park great for the entire family. A list of great rides for toddlers and preschoolers in California Adventures can be found here.
The Best Rides in California Adventure
- Soarin' Over California is a fantastic attraction - "flight" seats swing up and out over a massive theater screen, and the rider experiences a flight over the scenery of California. Very young children may not ride, as there is a 40" height requirement.
- Toy Story Midway Mania is an amazing 3-D carnival style ride in cars that whip through a virtual arcade. Guests pull a string to shoot darts, rings, and other objects at targets.
- Radiator Springs Racers replicates the scenery of the movie Cars, as riders race through Radiator Springs. This ride is extremely well done and is one of the best dark rides Disney has ever done.
- California Screamin' is a fast-paced steel roller coaster with a magnetic launch system. Complete with hills and a loop, this coaster is a great ride for thrill seekers.
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror drops riders faster than free-fall, since the ride actually pulls the "elevator" down. This ride is an extreme thrill ride and is themed after the Twilight Zone television show.
Disney California Adventure offers a magnificent playground for children with cargo nets, slides, and a Sequoia/Redwood theme. Several splash-pad playgrounds exist for children to enjoy, and two 3-D movie options are available (Muppet Vision and It's Tough to be a Bug). The Tough to be a Bug show frightens most children and should be avoided by all but the most stalwart families. Muppet Vision is loved by nearly everyone who sees the film.
The Grand Californian Hotel
Disneyland Hotel Reviews
The Disneyland Resort features three main hotels: the Disneyland Hotel, the Grand Californian, and Paradise Pier Hotel.
The Disneyland Hotel is connected to Downtown Disney via a walkway and is the first official Disney owned hotel in the area. The pool has been recently renovated and has several water slides that look like monorail cars. The rooms have been updated and have features like a headboard that lights up with Sleeping Beauty's castle.
The Grand Californian hotel is located next to the California Adventure theme park and has the benefit of a private entrance to the California Adventure theme park. This hotel also has a spa and a fine-dining restaurant called Napa Rose. The pool is well themed with a water slide.
Paradise Pier offers great views of the California Adventure theme park at night, and features a pool on the roof. This pool also has a great water slide (named the California Streamin') and is the most affordable Disney property in the area.
The cost of an on-site Disney hotel is very high: upwards of $300 per night. Unlike Disney World, where off-site properties are quite some distance from the theme parks, the Anaheim park has many "non-Disney" properties within walking distance. As a frequent visitor to the theme parks, I often stay off-site and take the hotel's shuttle to the theme park. The Residence Inn is a personal favorite, as it offers a kitchen and a home-like feel for half the price.
The Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim, California.