Disneyland Resort- Anaheim, California
As a Walt Disney World lover, visiting Disneyland has always been a bucket list item. When deciding to do a southern California trip, I knew instantly that squeezing in a day at Disneyland would be the perfect birthday celebration. I think we all initially expected this park experience to be more of a historical appreciation for Disney but my Disney Podcasts certainly told a different story and I was anxious to find the magic myself.
We were warned of the LA traffic and having experienced it first hand from our drive from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, I was strategic when arranging our departure. To optimize our day (and make the most out of the cost of the park ticket), I wanted to be in the park at the 8AM open but since arriving then would set us into a traffic debacle, we planned on arriving at the Disneyland Hotel at 7AM for breakfast. This way, we would already be in the Disneyland Resort area and hopefully avoid the traffic.
With a 5:30AM alarm (sorry boys), we set out at 5:50AM and arrived at the Disneyland Hotel at 6:50AM- perfect timing! We wandered around the resort, adoring the monorail pool slide, as we made our way to Tangaroa Terrace for breakfast. While it was not the most adventurous breakfast, doing this made our early arrival time useful and we did not need to stop in the parks to eat until lunch, having read that early morning is the best time to get on the popular rides.
- I ordered the french toast topped with warm banana-caramel sauce, dusted with powdered sugar and served with bacon
- Kevin ordered the Mickey shaped waffles dusted with powdered sugar and served with island fruit and bacon
- My brother ordered the breakfast wrap stuffed with scrambled eggs, avocado and shredded cheese in a whole wheat wrap served with roasted potatoes, island fruit and bacon
Hands down best bang-for-buck was the breakfast wrap- all the entrees were the same price ($8.50) and the wrap was a huge portion stuffed with eggs and avocado accompanied with a fruit bowl and breakfast potatoes.
We began our walk towards the park entrance passing through the Downtown Disney area. As we approached the ticket station, to our left was the entrance of Disneyland and to the right was the entrance to Disney California Adventure (DCA)- both incredibly decked out for Halloween. When passing through the turnstiles, the thought occurred to all of us- as Disney World pros we know all four parks inside and out- all the sudden the familiarity of Disney dwindled- we needed maps to help orient ourselves and get our game plan together.
After passing under the railway, we were quickly waved over by a Cast Member to ride in his trolley to the castle. I was able to get my “It’s My Birthday” button (yay!) and then we began our personal tour down Main Street as our driver pointed out all the different buildings. We got out of our trolley with our first view of the castle- dramatically smaller than our familiar Cinderella Castle but the Sleeping Beauty Castle is Walt’s original and we reflected on that history.
Maps in hand (and buttons adorned!) we made our way to start the attractions. The plan was to start in Adventureland and work our way around the park, breaking midday to switch over the DCA. We intentionally did this to ensure we would be able to get on the DCA rides before the lines got too long or the FastPasses were out. Once the last “must do” ride was complete at Disneyland, we started booking FastPass rides for DCA.
As we got into our first line, the excitement of a new ride experience was evident- we could recite every ride at Disney World and for the first time in a while, we had an entire set of brand new rides- so cool!
- Indiana Jones Adventure– the Dinosaur ride of Disneyland; same ride vehicles and ride experience with a different environment entrenched in the Legend of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
- Pirates of the Caribbean– a longer ride experience with many new and familiar scenes (the redhead still present!). While I thought there were no drops on this attraction, there were actually two drops that got our bottoms quiet wet. I loved the interior of the queue with the proximity to the Blue Bayou Restaurant– reminded us of the Mexico pavilion and the boat ride that passes as people dine.
- Haunted Mansion Holiday (FastPass)- we had no idea was the “Holiday” meant, figuring it was going to have a few decorations for Nightmare Before Christmas. What an amazing surprise to find out the entire ride is transformed into a Nightmare Before Christmas ride renting out the Haunted Mansion space. The details blew us away and we wonder why Disney World doesn’t do this- it is clearly very popular and hits both Halloween and Christmas. Hats off to this attraction!
- Matterhorn Bobsleds (FastPass)- a new attraction for us listed as a “must do”. After riding, I would say it was a combination of the ride cars and tracks from Space Mountain with theme of Expedition Everest… however we had no idea we were going to walk off the ride wet! A fun ride that definitely had more startles and water than predicted.
- We walked by a few attractions- Splash Mountain (we were already wet), “it’s a small world” (beautiful exterior), Alice in Wonderland, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (disappointed it was closed for refurbishment) with the intention of getting to them on our return trip at night.
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride– Kevin’s first dark ride! One thing Disney World has moved away from is these original dark rides and Disneyland is full of them. When we got off, Kevin and my brother instantly took to Google to learn about the story as they were enamored with the ride’s story progression, particularly how we got to “Nowhere In Particular” with such speed from the court hearing!
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey– keeping the dark rides going!
Our Fast Passes for DCA were coming up, so we made our way down Main Street taking the time to investigate each store. Before leaving, we got the proclaimed “best corn dog” in the parks from the Little Red Wagon. I have never had a corn dog before so starting off with the best is probably going to spoil me but we did all agree it was delicious- I wonder why there is a difference in quality from the other corn dog locations?
Entering Disney California Adventure had a different feel than our entrance to Disneyland. Disneyland was “I know this place but some of the things are rearranged”, Disney California Adventure was “Is this like Hollywood Studios? Is this like Animal Kingdom?” as we tried to find an association but we fell short- it was clearly its own park. The map indicated the layout was fairly circular so we started counterclockwise with Grizzly Peak walking around the enormous and iconic bear shaped mountain watching riders of Grizzly River Run getting wet (appeared similar to Kali River Rapids). We also passed a familiar attraction, Soarin’ Around the World.
After walking through the Pacific Wharf (love the San Francisco reference!) we got our first glance of Paradise Pier! We were unable to resist some group shots before continuing on- it really is visually stunning. Examining the massive roller coaster, we failed to notice a unique feature of Mickey’s Fun Wheel until minutes later- the gondolas actually were dramatically swinging back and forth on their own tracks! Kevin and my brother were anxious to get a closer look while the thought nauseated me.
With still plenty of time until our first FastPass, we noticed a corridor that was leading to a gigantic red rock backdrop- the back entrance to Cars Land where Radiator Springs Racers resided. What an impressive structure! This area was perfect in the dedication to theme and attention to detail- we were blown away! Rides that seemed very basic and simple had twists that demonstrated new ride technology. The food areas were extremely creative- the Cozy Cone Motel with different snack items in each giant cone (appropriately transformed into carved pumpkins for Halloween), Flo’s V8 Cafe set up as a gas station for food “refueling” – we could not wait to explore this area in depth when our FastPass time came around.
Returning to the Pacific Wharf, we did The Bakery Tour walk through where sourdough bread is made on premises for the various restaurants on property, including the Pacific Wharf Cafe. We walked through “a bug’s land” with Mickey Mouse ice creams in hand. One attraction that stood out was Flik’s Flyers as it was incredibly detailed with the bases including a box of raises, Chinese food container, and an animal crackers box all spinning on an empty pan and whipped cream container- so creative!
Deciding the finish off the loop, we through Hollywood Land before jumping onto some rides.
- Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!– cute ride that rehashes the storyline of the movie
- California Screamin’ closed down right before our FastPass, then Toy Story Midway Mania! after that resulting in a very long line for Mickey’s Fun Wheel (phew!) and a very jammed packed Paradise Pier
- California Screamin’ (FastPass)- what an interesting roller coaster- using the Rock’n’Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith propelling technology in the beginning but with confusing circus music as you ride then with thrilling curves and drops, finishing with a hard and abrupt body aching break mechanism. A fun roller coaster, but we were all a tad nauseated!
- Radiator Springs Racers (FastPass)- technology from Test Track rebooted in an immersive experience! What an impressive attraction from start to finish. While our car did not win (hah!) it had a great balance of movie details, new features, and thrilled ending. Wish we had time to do this one again!
- Guardians of the Galaxy-Break Out (FastPass)- Tower of Terror revamped to match Disney’s newest acquired franchise. For having such a specific ride to conform to, I think they did the best they could with the story line to make it work. Unlike Tower of Terror, the ride just starts and it is rather jawing! We did at least 4 or 5 full top to bottom drops to a great soundtrack. The stops that were made to see the screens of the Guardians was well done. We learned there are actually six different ride versions that showcase a different song and movie reel. While my heart belongs to Tower of Terror, this was a fun experience and transformation of the ride. We were disappointed that we were unable to try the Halloween version at night- Guardians of the Galaxy- Monsters after Dark as the line reached well over 100 minutes once the attraction switched over and FastPasses were long gone.
Hunger pains finally began to set in after a long and productive morning. It was so difficult to pick places to eat as everything looked amazing (I really wanted a mac and cheese cone at the Cozy Cone Motel but it was too hot and we did not make reservations for Carnation Cafe– park was crowded today). We decided to take a break and go back to the Disneyland Hotel for Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar– a must do every time we go to Disney World so we felt compelled to pay homage! We were fortunate to find seats inside at our 3PM arrival and dived right into the extensive menu.
- Shrimp tacos- sautéed shrimp, pineapple salsa, shredded cabbage, and lime tartar sauce wrapped in corn tortillas
- Chicken lettuce wraps (dissembled) with teriyaki sauce
- Fried spring rolls deep- fried vegetable spring rolls with sriracha aïoli and teriyaki dipping sauce
- Kalua style pork flatbread pulled pork, barbecue sauce, red onion, cilantro and mozzarella
- For drinks Kevin got an IPA (boring!), my brother ordered the Shipwreck on the rocks- bourbon with freshly muddled lemon and mint with organic agave nectar (strong!) and I ordered the Piranha Pool- strawberry vodka blended with pineapple juice, cream of coconut, strawberry purée and blue curaçao (could have drank all day- dangerous!).
When my brother’s Shipwreck came out, we were all disappointed that nothing “happened” so we asked our server who informed us that the Shipwreck prop for the interaction was broke- boo! Unfortunately, the only interaction we got to see was the Krakatoa Punch which was familiar to us from Orlando, although I am sure that would have changed if we were there later at night. Great drinks and food that gave us a much need recharge.
We boarded the monorail in Downtown Disney and it transported us to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. The monorail is very slick looking but does not have the massive network that Disney World’s monorail system provides- everything is very walkable in Disneyland so it was nice to not waste time on buses.
Since we did not finish going through Disneyland earlier, we continued where we left off completing the loop and getting a few more rides in.
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough– a great opportunity that would have been nice for Cinderella’s Castle- I always wondered why there was no development to go inside!
- Haunted Mansion Holiday (FastPass)- because we had to see all the details again!
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin– an obvious choice as we all loved the movie but really enjoyed that this ride made it’s own story and was not a scene-by-scene of the movie
- Alice in Wonderland– another dark ride showcasing Alice which definitely benefited from the luminescence lights
The choice between nighttime shows was Fantasmic! at Disneyland or World of Color at DCA- we opted for World of Color since we have Fantasmic! (even though I read it is a slightly different show). Unlike Disney World, there are not fireworks and parades every night so nighttime entertainment was sparse- good for us to only have to choose between two things rather than the over five options that typically exist in Disney World. Upon exiting Disneyland in the evening hours, we admired all the lights that lined Main Street and the lantern that is always lite above the Disneyland Fire Dept in Walt’s park apartment.
Back to DCA for their light display which was completely decked out in Halloween orange and purple.
Hungry for a snack, we swung by the Pacific Wharf Cafe where I got broccoli and cheddar soup in a housemade sourdough bread bowl, my brother got the turkey pesto club (sliced turkey, crispy bacon, swiss cheese and pesto aïoli on a sourdough baguette), and Kevin went across the way to Lucky Fortune Cookery for an Asian rice bowl with chicken teriyaki. We assumed with World of Color at 9:45PM that rides at Paradise Pier would close earlier and since Kevin had his eyes on that ferris wheel all day, we got in line for Mickey’s Fun Wheel.
- Mickey’s Fun Wheel– After a moderate wait in the line, we made it into our swinging gondola. It certainly is the most thrilling (and horrifying- depending on who you ask!) ferris wheel ever- who thought of this? Apparently there are only two “wonder wheels” in the country like this, the other being at Coney Island- the design inspiration for this attraction. As your gondola hits different points on the ferris wheel (depending on momentum) your car sways dramatically as it moves independently on the interior rails. Once off the ride, we spent a good chunk of time on the bridge looking at the ferris wheel analyzing the physics of it- making sure that each cage experiences a comparable level of thrill.
- Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree– at first glance this ride looks like a typical scrambler but as you observe the ride’s progression, it is actually do-si-do with Halloween (sorry, Haul-O-Ween) tracks to match the dance- it really whips you around- very fun ride! We also watched Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween where the cars dance without tracks- perhaps magnets? The use of technology on both rides was really neat.
We grabbed spots for World of Color near the The Little Mermaid- Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at the bridge to Pacific Wharf for a great viewing area- I do not think there is a bad spot as the show is expansive. Once again, use of technology was incredible- the colors were extremely vibrant and the water show was spectacular.
That being said, I found the show lacking in a single, yet critical facet- the story. Disney is the pinnacle of great storytelling and this translates into every aspect of the park rides and entertainment- this has been the key to their success and something we have grown to anticipate, appreciate, and evaluate. This being said, as the show progressed it was difficult to ignore that World of Color was lacking a cohesive story line.
The first scenes were “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea” from Little Mermaid then “A Whole New World” and “A Friend Like Me” from Aladdin. While being a personal pet peeve, to use the same movie twice in one show when there are hundreds of movies that can be featured seems wasteful. Why take up two slots of the show with the same movie? Additionally, there were no transitions between scenes (other movies that followed included Toy Story- Buzz flying then beating Evil Emperor Zurg, Pirates of the Caribbean- use of fire with the water fountains, Pocahontas- also got two songs “Just Around the Riverbend” and “Colors of the Wind”) and came across as a random selection of movie clips rather than having a purpose. For example, in Mickey’s PhilharMagic at Disney World the transitions between movie scenes are seamless with relevance to the story line (Donald finding Mickey’s sorcerer hat). We found it difficult to find a theme or story that was being told from these numerous clips despite everything being visually stunning.
The more confusing part came towards the end of the with the appearance of the Lion King. With the titled theme of colors, “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” would have been an appropriate clip. Instead, World of Color shows the stampede scene and Mufasa dying- total buzz kill, probably up there as one of the top saddest scenes from any Disney movie- but more importantly, this scene is off message for the show’s deemed color theme- just tones of brown. Then after Mufasa’s demise, the song “So Close” from Enchanted begins. I love that they decided to highlight Enchanted as I really like this movie and feel it’s always overlooked- but this song after we just saw Mufasa dying? Take a listen to the song if you are not familiar. As the song continues to play we get a montage of Disney couples. A break up song played over images of Disney couples kissing- so baffling!
Sorry for the rant but Disney has built expectations for their story telling and this did not seem to demonstrate it- just randomly selected, abruptly changing, mostly colorful scenes with water projections. A more discernible theme, intentional transitions, and thoughtful storytelling could have elevated the show past simply displaying the water technology. It really was a visually beautiful with an impressive display of vibrant colors and achieved without any fireworks.
World of Color tied our bow on DCA- a really fun park that highlights all the new ride technology. It is obviously a newer park because of the creative incorporation of the themes with the technology- makes me excited to see the new additions that are coming to Disney World and I can only hope they will be doing similar things that the have done here. I am also thrilled we had the chance to see both parks at night- they both become new environments so while it seemed inefficient to go back and forth several times during the day, it allowed us to experience both park twice in different ways.
We went across the street one last time to Disneyland for a final lap of the park. Exhaustion started to slow us down a bit but we enjoyed strolling the lite streets.
- Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy (Fast Pass)- we figured it was Disney World’s Space Mountain ride re-branded with whatever Ghost Galaxy was. We could not have been more wrong. This ride screamed “screw theme and storytelling- here’s a roller coaster with a terrifying screeching red ghost thing chasing you”. And it was exhilarating! First, the ride is a dream compared to Orlando- a clean, smooth ride in comfortable cars- already an improvement to not come off the ride with a sore neck. The ride was much faster and the music was intense as this red ghost thing followed you through the ride. We got off and were stunned at what we just experienced- great ride!
As 11PM rolled around, our achy backs and feet made our way to the car for the traffic free journey home. An over 17 hour day with over 12 miles of steps clocked, we conquered both parks in one day- definitely got our money’s worth out of that park pass! And the ten dollars extra for the FastPass (called MaxPass) was beyond worth it. MaxPass uses the old FastPass system and it is accessible on a mobile app so there is no need to run to every FastPass kiosk and can continually get passes all day.
I do not think any of us expected to be as impressed with the parks as we were- from the varied of rides, the Halloween decorations, the fun it was comparing the re-skin rides, the food, the ambiance- it was such an amazing day and the perfect day for my birthday.