Disneyland: Worth the trip
Disneyland v. Disney World
If you are looking for a full-blown Disney experience, Florida's Walt Disney World Resort far exceeds Disneyland. However, Disneyland has some surprises up its sleeve and it is definately worth a few day visit while in Southern California.
Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Disneyland Hotel & Disneyland
This summer my family and I visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California for the first time. We have been to Walt Disney World in Florida numerous times, and we were curious to see what Disneyland was like on our visit to the west coast. We love Disney World and have always had a fabulous time there. So we thought we would see what the original Disneyland had to offer.
We flew in to LAX and waited for a shuttle, Disneyland Resort Express, to our in-park hotel, the Disneyland Hotel. We booked our vacation through Disney Travel Company. This was the service they provided for a fee. The experience was vastly different to Orlando. In Orlando, there are greeters who work at Walt Disney World (WDW) pointing you in the direction of the bus as soon as you pick up your luggage from baggage claim. The buses are then waiting outside to swoop you off to your resort. In Los Angeles, we followed some signs to an island in the middle of the airport and waited an hour for our bus. The buses run every hour, and apparently we had just missed one. The alternative to the Disneyland Resort Express is to take a taxi, rent a car or there are privately owned shuttle companies. The taxi and private shuttles cost more. On our family vacations we don't like dealing with a car unless we have to. Also, if you have been to the LA area, you know that you have to pay to park everywhere. So we decided upon this shuttle service, and then to rent a car leaving Disneyland for the remainder of our vacation in southern California. Disney Travel Co. took care of all of this for us, which was wonderful! Despite the wait, I would take this service again, as it is preferable to the alternatives.
Our hotel, the Disneyland Hotel, was the first stop on the bus route. It is the "moderate" resort of the Disneyland hotels, located next to Downtown Disney. It is a 10 minute walk to the parks: Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. When we arrived, Goofy was waiting in the outdoor lobby. That was a great surprise! I don't remember seeing characters out and about in the WDW hotels. It was a great start to our vacation and a magical Disney touch! Our room was located in the Adventureland Tower. It was nicely decorated with Sleeping Beauty's castle in the wood paneling, with sparkling stars as a night light. They upgraded us to a pool view (We had booked a parking lot view originally). Sadly, we never had time to use the pool in our 3 days because we were so busy in the parks. For this reason, you may want to consider a fourth day for relaxing.
Our first priority was to head to the parks. After a quick lunch, we headed to Disneyland. I felt the park was very much laid out like the Magic Kingdom. It was a little more congested because there isn't as much land. The majority of the crowd were California residents, and I found Disneyland much more crowded than I ever found WDW traveling at the same time of year. For every ride in the Magic Kingdom, there is its counterpart in Disneyland. Most of the rides were the same, with some exceptions. The first exception is Pirates of the Caribbean. It has a bigger first drop than Florida and it also has a second drop. This was probably my second favorite ride at Disneyland.
The next surprise was Splash Mountain. For starters, you sit front to back, four people in separate seats of the log. If you read Disneyland's website and WDW's, they state that the drop is the same. However, it felt much faster in Disneyland than WDW. We went during the day and again at night. At night we were boating through the creek at the top of the mountain as the fireworks were going off. It was beautiful! I would definitely recommend trying this, as lines are shorter at this time and you can't beat the view!
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has to be the best Disneyland ride. We went on at sunset, which in of itself was amazing. The ride has pyrotechnics that the Magic Kingdom does not. It also has some turns missing in Florida and is a smoother ride.
The Mad Tea Party and "it's a small world" are decorated nicely. The Mad Tea Party doesn't have a roof due to California's wonderful weather. So they are able to hang colorful lanterns to light the ride. It looked spectacular at night. it's a small world was all white with a large facade on the outside, and the ride itself had more rooms to sail through.
One major disappointment was the Matterhorn bobsleds. I adore roller coasters and the Matterhorn rides at your local county fairs. So I was really looking forward to a new adventure that WDW doesn't offer. The ride was old and herky-jerky. I got off with a crook in my neck. I also soon realized that the Everest ride at Animal Kingdom is WDW's answer to the Matterhorn Bobsleds. WDW just wins that battle without even a question. Everest is my second favorite ride in all of the WDW parks. Hopefully, Disneyland will refurbish this attraction next, and make it the same, or better, than Animal Kingdom's.
My other disappointment at Disneyland was Space Mountain. Don't get me wrong, it is still a good ride. However, the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain, has always held the title as my favorite ride at any park in the USA. The last time we went to Florida, Space Mountain there was being refurbished, so my daughters could not go on. After having such a terrific experience on Thunder and Splash Mountains, I was truly hoping Space would live up to its legacy and my girls would finally see what all of the fuss had been about. Although we enjoyed it, it was missing the first major drop you get at the Magic Kingdom after you go through the blast off tube. That drop offers such a rush and anticipation, that when it didn't happen, I was sorely disappointed.
In addition to rides at Disneyland, we also attended the Jedi Training Academy and the Mickey & the Magical Map show. Both shows were terrific. As my husband and I grew up in the original Star Wars generation, we were looking forward to the Jedi Training Academy. It delivered! The presentation far out did the Hollywood Studios version, with Darth Vader's ship rising from the stage and Darth Maul walking right in front of you. The Magical Map show was our only opportunity to see Stitch, our favorite Disney character. It also had wonderful choreography and some of the best Disney songs.
Character interaction was not as available as WDW. You could wait anywhere from 1-3 hours to meet the Frozen cast. We did not. That is a bit much to wait for anything. There were also meeting places for the other princesses and Mickey. As mentioned above, Stitch is our favorite. We were looking for a chance to take a family picture with him for our Christmas card. However, when we asked a cast member, they told us you need to have a Disney Visa card to meet Stitch. This is absolutely absurd! Either have him accessible or don't have him. This was a great disappointment to us.
Overall we enjoyed Disneyland. Some of the rides were spectaular! However, the crowds and Space Mountain were a bit aggrevating.
California Adventure & Resort Restaurants
California Adventure looks very much like Hollywood Studios in Florida upon entering. It offers the Muppet Vision 3D, Tower of Terror and the Toy Story ride. It also offers elements of Animal Kingdom with "it's tough to be a bug" and the Grizzly River Run, which is Anaheim's equivalent of the Kali River Rapids in Orlando. However this park has a lot to offer that you can only find at Disneyland. Bug's Land has a whole set of rides for little ones, including Flik's Flyers, bumper cars and Heimlich's Chew Chew Train.
The newest attraction at California Adventure is Cars' Land. It is set just like the movie, with plenty of character interactions. We saw Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, to name a few. The most coveted ride is the Radiator Spring Racers. On any given day it was a 2 hour line. Fastpasses would run out before 11 AM for the entire day. So we hatched a plan. We went for a Magic Morning, where you can enter a particular park one hour early if you are staying on Disneyland property. We figured we could get on the ride if we got there right at 8 AM and ran down. We got into the line, and waited 35 minutes with little movement. We had 9 AM breakfast reservations, and after a few more minutes of barely moving, we had to run to breakfast. When we returned at 10 AM, the Fastpasses were gone for the day. So sadly, we did not get to enjoy this attraction. Had my children been avid Cars fans, I may have waited the two hours. It just didn't seem worthwhile otherwise. The other rides in Cars' Land were Luigi's Flying Tires and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. Luigi's was a wonderful family ride. My daughter and I had fun navigating our tire and trying to crash into my husband and older daughter. It was a lot of laughs! My children went on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, and were not too impressed. They said it was similar to the Mad Tea Party, but you did not spin as much. Perhaps it would be a better take for younger children.
Our family's favorite attraction at California Adventure, and in both theme parks for that matter, was located on Paradise Pier: California Screamin' This is an old-fashioned, wooden roller coaster that extends 6,072 feet, complete with numerous drops, a loop-de-loop and a family photo at the end. This ride made it worth the admission on its own.
In addition to the rides, we also went to see Disney's Aladdin- A Musical Spectacular. This show was phenomenal! We arrived in Anaheim the day after the passing of Robin Williams, and I was curious to see how the Genie character would be portrayed in light of this tragic event. The Genie stole the show. He offered his own one-liners, with jokes relevant to current events such as the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus. It was humorous to adults, as well as children. At the end of the show, when the Genie came onto the stage to accept his applause and bow, half of the crowd, including myself, stood up in appreciation. He tastefully stopped mid-stage, pointed to the sky and said "Thank you" as he blew a kiss. The entire show was colorful, with super special effects and choreography.
While at the Disneyland Resort, we enjoyed several restaurants. To understand our eating habits, here is a brief run down. The way we have always eaten at Walt Disney World, and now at Disneyland, is to have a large breakfast, a snack or small item for lunch, and a regular dinner. It is economical and it allows you not to get too full with all of the large portions. At the Disneyland Hotel, we enjoyed The Tangaroa Terrace for lunch. This was a simple counter service restaurant where we ate pastries, a burger and a salad. It was fine for a quick snack. We also had breakfast at Steakhouse 55. There weren't any characters here. The food was delicious and the prices were reasonable. We ate omelets, French Toast and Eggs Benedict.
One morning we ventured over to the Disney Grand Californian to have breakfast at Storytellers' Cafe. Here you ate among various animals from Disney films. There were Chip and Dale, the characters from "Brother Bear" and Balou from "The Jungle Book". This breakfast was a similar to all the other all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets in the Disney Resorts.
In California Adventure my daughters enjoyed their favorite lunch of the trip: Clarabelle's. At this ice cream parlor, they each ordered a sundae: cookie dough for one and mint chocolate chip with hot fudge for the other. The sundae comes in a tub that looks like Mickey's pants. After they were done, we went to the restroom to rinse them out and received a bag from the candy shop to carry them home in. We now use them in Boston to consume ice cream. Though pricey, this is a great take. Who doesn't love ice cream and a keepsake from a wonderful vacation?
For dinner one evening in California Adventure we ate at the Wine Country Trattoria. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed in this restaurant. the ambiance is spectacular, but the menu is limited. I am supposed to avoid gluten for health reasons. Most restaurants offer a meat or fish option. When I looked online there was a steak on the menu. So i thought, "Perfect. I'll get that and my pasta-loving children will be happy." When we got there, we were told that the filet mignon was reserved for the World of Color menu and that we were welcome to order from it, but that we couldn't make any changes to the set menu if we decided to order that way. The filet came with potatoes and other things I shouldn't be eating, and it was expensive. So I chose to eat pasta with meat sauce. It obviously did not agree with my stomach and put a damper on the rest of the evening. It was that, hope to get a seat somewhere else or eat another carb filled snack at a quick service place.
In Disneyland Park we had dinner at the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue. Here we got all you can eat chicken, ribs, kielbasa, corn, corn bread and coleslaw. The kielbasa was delicious. The menu was similar to the Hoop de Doo Review, except the dessert wasn't included. The show was entertaining. A cowboy and a cowgirl singing songs and heading over to tables for those celebrating a birthday or the like.
My favorite restaurant in all of Disneyland was the Carnation Cafe. The service was terrific! We feasted on favorites like fried pickles and Walt Disney's favorite cherry milkshake. Our reservation was during the evening parade. So as we ate, we had prime seating for the show. In addition to be a great experience, it was also reasonably priced.
One morning we had breakfast at the Plaza Inn. This is the equivalent to WDW's Crystal Palace. Here we saw the characters from Winnie the Pooh, Minnie, Chip and Dale, Captain Hook and the Fairy Godmother. This was the typical all-you-can-eat buffet again, which is always a great way to start off a fun-filled day at any Disney Resort.
Finally, we had lunch at Red Rockett's Pizza Port in Tomorrowland. My daughters got pasta and I got a pepperoni salad. Both of these dishes were tasty and reasonably priced. my husband, however, got pizza. That was a disappointment. Perhaps this restaurant should tweak its recipe for its signature dish.
Disneyland was a wonderful experience. We had a terrific time overall. I'm not sure if I would travel to California just for Disneyland. We're talking six hours on a plane from here. So it is not a quick stop, as Florida would be for us. If you head to southern California and have children, or just love Disney, it is worth taking a few days to see everything. You certainly cannot do Disneyland justice in a day or two. I hope these tips on our experience are helpful to those of you planning or considering a trip to Disneyland!
What to See & Do (Or Not) at Disneyland Resort
When You Have Time
You Can Easily Skip
it's a small world
Pirates of the Caribbean
Big Thunder Ranch BBQ
Mad Tea Party (at night)
Wine Country Trattoria
Luigi's Flying Tires
Jedi Training Academy
Mickey's Fun Wheel
Meet Mickey in Toontown
Soarin' Over California
Grizzly River Rapids
Aladdin! Disney's Musical Spectacular
Clarabelle's in California Adventure