You may remember my review last year titled, “DisneyWorld on a Dime? Ahhh, Forget about it!” Well, this review is on Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. This was our first time visiting land as opposed to world. We had a blast, and I can honestly say it was more manageable and less stressful than Disneyworld. Also, because we live in Colorado, it is a quicker flight as well. Can it be done on a dime? Well, no, but, there are some cost-saving tips included here, along with some tips on parking, and what to bring with you. I hope this helps you, and your family as you venture to Disneyland and California Adventure Park. Also, make sure you check out the beaches of Southern California and unwind a bit while visiting this area.
Disney is … Disney. There is something magical about Disney Parks- you can feel it. It’s not just how the cast and crew members treat you, it goes deeper. I have to say, Disney events, food stands, dining options (including character dining), and activities are well thought-out, well-planned, and run like a well-oiled machine. From the moment you enter the park to the time you exit the parking lot, there is someone to help you along the way, and guide you. Disneyland was no exception. I can say this because last Christmas we visited SeaWorld in Orlando, and there is a huge difference in how the parks operate. I found California Adventure Park less organized, and less friendly than the traditional Disney parks, but still pleasant and part of the Disney experience. It has a different look and feel to me, and I just didn’t feel that I was in a Disney park when we visited the Adventure Park side. But, Adventure Park is very well done too- nice layout, and you are transported into the areas you enter- Pacific Rim, Cars Land, Bug’s Life, etc.
First, both parks are directly across from one another, and next to Downtown Disneyland (all walk-able), so, it does not matter where you park but take note to the Tips below. Second, if you get hoppers here, it is easy to hop from Adventure Park to Disneyland and vice versa, so if you miss a firework show, or parade, or light show, it is really very easy to hop here as opposed to hopping at DisneyWorld which requires a long bus ride in most cases.
Tip #1– Park at the Toy story lot. Everyone and their mom tells you to park at Mickey & Friends. Every google search leads you to the Mickey & Friends lot. This lot was a nightmare, especially for parents of young children, strollers, or car seats. Garage or not, it sucks. Park at Toy Story Lot and use the A/C buses to go to and fro. Just trust me on this one. The price is the same… it is $16, so park at the Toy Story lot especially if you have younger kids. The buses are running constantly, fit way more people than the tram (it’s not a monorail people), and is better organized. Employees count people and send you the right bus. It is quick, easy, and with strollers, pain-free. The drivers are helpful (unlike tram drivers), and there are at least 4-5 buses running at a time, so there is little to no wait time. If you take the tram for the Mickey & Friends Lot and leave and enter at peak times, watch out! At 11pm, it is hard to wait with cranky, sleepy toddlers and infants.
Tip #2- The nighttime show “Fantasmic” on Tom Sawyer’s Island (viewable along the banks of the Rivers of America) is amazing. Do not miss it! Skip the fireworks if you need to but don’t miss this show! Also, get your seats at least 1 hour prior to showtime. You can get reserved seats (actual chairs) for the event but will cost approximately $40 per person for dessert and coffee/drinks, and
more importantly a chair with a beautiful view of the Island where the action takes place. But, you can also get a seat anywhere along the river for free. What we did was order dinner and took it with us, and sat right near the Cafe area outside of the New Orleans area, and faced the river. We were by a lamp-post and tree, and with all the people sitting in reserved chairs in front of us, we had an excellent view of the entire show. You can see some of the pics posted here. This show is not to miss and a spectacular light and sound show for adults and kids. It is the electric parade of Disneyworld, but on water.
There are some scary portions with the evil witches and fire-breathing dragons (you can feel the heat in the water), so stay close to your young children! We got there one hour early, sat down in our spots and had our dinner. Towards when the show began, we let little ones behind us move up in front and stand on the rails. I would highly recommend snagging a good seat early for this show.
Tip #3 – Parades, more parades, and fireworks at Disneyland and where to go observe them– If you want to see the fireworks, you can stay put right after the Fantasmic show, and you can see them great from the banks of the Rivers of America, or you can go near the Castle. The July 4th fireworks were spectacular, and longer. There was a special tribute to our men and women in uniform- brought a tear to my eye. But the regular fireworks are nice too. For a less crowded view, and one close to the exit, head down Main street towards the entrance, and watch them from the square – near where Mickey hangs out. That center circle area with benches was far away enough to not scare the kids, but had a fabulous center-stage view. Parades are best from this location as well, and remember adults, Disney is for kids, so why not let them sit in the front, and you sit or stand behind them? I never get why adults want to stand or sit in front of small children and block their view to a parade. It’s Disney for God’s sake and it is for children. Be kind. We watched the parade from Main Street near the castle, and it worked out fine. All the characters come to life in this parade, and it is definitely worth a watch and a wave.
Parade at Adventure Park – the Parade at Adventure Park is actually very cute and interactive. The characters spray water at you, throw things, and there is tons of dancing. We enjoyed both parades – my kids love parades!
Tip #4- Do a character dining experience if you can swing it financially. Younger kids love it, and it takes care of all the character visits with a meal. It really is multi-tasking the fun way at Disneyland or world. If you look at my review on Disneyworld, though, the character dining was a much better experience. That one was at Park Fare (at an off-site hotel we took the monorail to) and it was a Cinderella lunch. The character dining event we did this time was right on Main Street, at the Plaza. Try to make reservations ahead of time. We did the cheapest meal which was a breakfast buffet with Minnie and her friends. It’s still not cheap, but it is very cute, and if you time it right, it doubles as brunch, and keep the kids sated until dinner time. That was our goal, and it worked. Other than snacks we had packed for sustenance, we did not have to eat again until 6-7pm! The waffles are very cute and shaped like mickey mouse. There is a made to order omelet station, tons of pastries, yogurt, juices, biscuits and gravy, eggs, oatmeal, and cereal. It is an endless buffet. Coffee, tea, and other beverages are included, and it is very fun for the kids to have fruit and waffles. Again, time your reservation for 1030am if you can, and you can stay until at least 1130am when they wrap it up. Then, you can head over and see the Royal Theater where the princesses hang.
Tip #5- Get there early! Not sure why but at Disneyland and Adventure Park crowds pick up after 11am. So, if you can get there when it opens at 8am (park by 730am), then you can really get in a lot of rides, character meetings (like Princesses at 10am), and get them done before doing a character brunch or something at 1040am. Then, after that, you have the rest of the day to see and do other fun things. I was not sure what it was about Disneyland versus Disneyworld but things just got going later. It seemed people arrived later at Disneyland. When we were at Disneyworld, the mornings were already packed. Important Note re: CARS ride at California Adventure Park:
My sister-in-law’s boys really wanted to ride this ride but if you do not get there by 930am, all the FAST Passes for the day will be gone, and the line will be 120 minutes+ keep this in mind so despite coming early, you can wait up to 2 hours. It is worth the wait I hear but 2 hours is tough on children. We noticed the lines going to 50-70 minutes later in the afternoon when lunch time hit.
Tip #6- Character meetings – I never did figure out the character meeting for Merida from Brave (near It’s a Small World). It seemed like she was never there but if you can get there early as noted above and head to the Royal Hall and meet the princesses (you get 2-3 princesses in one fail swoop), and then quickly head towards the Toy Story ride to Pixie Hollow, the lines for the pixies will be shorter in the morning too. Merida (Brave) does not start until 10am near It’s a Small World. After that time, all bets are off on wait times. You can also ask any of the cast members re: character meetings, and they will tell you where to go. While waiting for the fireworks towards the exit one night, Mickey was hanging out near the theater on Main Street, and the girls got to see him while awaiting the fireworks for the 4th. Character meetings are the highlight for my kids so we tried to keep an eye out every chance we got, and we were lucky because in Fantasyland, right near the carousel, my sister-in-law spotted Rapunzel’s village. She stood in line for us, and we were 5th in line to meet Rapunzel! It was magical for the girls.
Tip #7- Pack snacks, water bottles, and a cooler; and bring souvenirs from home. The website says you cannot bring food but we did it both days. One of my sisters-in-law snagged the cooler my mother in law had and brought in an entire meal for her family- sandwiches! She was able to get them through both days. It saves a lot of money to do this, but coolers only last so long in 88 degree weather, so if you plan a 12-hour day at Disney, plan on eating at least one big meal which can cost an average of $12 per person in the park. I generally ate snacks we brought along, granola, etc., and always filled up my water bottle. You can ask most places for ice, and they will give it to you for the water bottles. Do this for all the kids. Bring pepsi cans in and you can ask for a cup of ice. Kids meals are cheaper so I always got 2 kids meal and then I would eat what the kids did not. But, I went ahead and splurged on one day when I was craving Asian food. California Adventure Park has a Pacific Rim area, and they have yummy Boudin’s sourdough bread bowls and soup (very reasonable) and they have asian food too. I splurged that day and ate my meal along the river, awaiting Fantasmic. It was OKAY Thai curry but it hit the spot. Another place to take a snack break is the New Orleans cafe area in Disneyland. They have very good food, and the mickey mouse beignets are not as good as the real thing, but very good. Avoid the mint juleps… yuck! And remember, no alcohol anywhere in Disneyland, but Adventure Park has a winery, and alcohol everywhere! Also, avoid the cars souvenir happy meal toy box. It is a waste of money. Rather, go for the cone of soda (in Cars Land). Wonderful and so cute!
souvenirs As far as expensive souvenirs in the park, re-read my review at my DisneyWorld post too, but this time, I bought loot bags for the girls (Princess and Minnie bags) from a local store before we left. I took along their hats, and other small souvenirs from Disneyworld or local stores, and stuffed their bags the night before our Disney day. The girls loved it, and carried them into the park with their water bottles, Minnie hats and souvenirs. This way, we only spent money on one $5 each souvenir at the end of day #1- we bought them glo-bands for the fireworks show. We only spent $10 on souvenirs, and saved the rest for food.
Tip #8- Is this ride for kids? Be careful! We thought the 3D Bugs Life movie for kids at Adventure Park would be okay but our kids were freaked out and everything comes to life in 3D- bug spray, the seats, etc., so be careful with kids under the age of 7 – especially girls. Indiana Jones is not a ride for kids under 50 inches of height. It is quite toss and turn and steep drops. It really is not meant for kids that are young. We did not take them on this but almost took our 6 year-old. I went alone, and I was glad because she would not have made it. Also, if you go on rides, leave your wallet, medicine, keys, etc., behind. Not kidding. Oh, and do not – I repeat, do not wait for the stupid ferris wheel ride at California Adventure Park. You can spend an hour of your life another way. Check out the little mermaid ride there – it is cute for young girls. Very cute. I would say when you are in Disneyland, stick to the Fantasyland rides. They are safe. Oh, a word of caution in Disneyland, Tomorrowland re: the Space Orbiters ride (Toy Story) in front of Star Wars- PYUKE! That is the only word I Can use to describe this little rocket ride. It is not fun or cute, nor is it like Dumbo. Go get on Dumbo, but avoid this one. It is also cramped. Do not let looks fool you- two people cannot fit in these seemingly “spacious” rockets (I put a picture here so you can see how cramped it was).
A really perfect ride for little ones with a very short wait each time is the Buzz Light Year ride across from Star Wars. It is a little game shooting targets with a laser gun, and at the end you get a cute little picture of you fighting Zurg. Lots of fun!
Fast Pass? Try to get Fast Pass for the rides you want to go on but have the longest wait but remember, you can only get one Fast Pass at a time and need them for all in your party so plan accordingly. Also, remember that once you get it, if you miss your time, the cast is pretty nice about letting you know outside your window of time. They are super about it. Indiana Jones is worth it. Roller coasters are just not to me, but that’s me. I hear the Cars ride is worth it at Adventure Park and Toy Story (no fast pass available).
Tip #9 – On a hot day cool off at Adventure Park at Bug’s Life Section (BRING YOUR SUITS and SANDALS) – Disney is rather strict about wearing shoes at all times, and suits. You can’t get your kids naked and let them run through the fountains, so bring suits along. There are water fountains the kids can run through at this park, and a sprinkler area to cool off. They have misting fountains, and water fountains. Disney will not let you take off your young child’s clothes (that is a no-no) but you can get drunk a few meters away at a winery. Anyway, just bring the proper gear so your kids can get wet. Another thing we saw people walking around with was fans with water bottles that spray water and then fan you down. Take your own ones along. They are $8.00 at Target or $17 at the Park. Your choice.
Tip #10– Bring a stroller for kids 7 and under. It’s okay! Who cares who judges you? I really do not give a rat’s ass about what people think but for me the stroller helps carry our stuff, and is a resting place for the kids or me. It is a great thing because my kids touch or hold the stroller or rest in it and I keep them with me at all times too! At night, when we exit the park at 11pm and have to wait in the stinking tram line, they can pass out in the stroller. It is the best thing ever. Do not let people judging you prevent you from bringing what you need. The equipment, the food, the supplies you need to get through Disney are critical to having a good time, and an easier time. So, do yourself a favor, bring it. Or, you can rent them for $23 a day I believe. Totally worth it!
Tip #11 – Theater anyone? I highly recommend the shows at Adventure Park, and the Royal Theater at Disneyland for prince and princesses. This was one thing different from Disneyworld, the shows were fun, the lines were not long, and it was manageable. Aside from the random dancing and dance crews that showed up all the time at California Adventure Park including Phineas and Ferb (fun for kids), the shows are fabulous. We loved the Aladdin musical. It was long but it was so well done. It is truly worth getting a good seat, and watching the characters come to life. We saw Royal Theater twice at Disneyland- Tangled, and Beauty and the Beast, and it was fun for the kids. They theater is very interactive, and creative. It is just different but funny and fun for the kids too. The shows are not super crowded and they are manageable. For the Royal theater, the kids get to sit on the floor before the stage, and really interact with the characters, and add to the antics. There is also a Disney Junior show in
Adventure Park which features Doc McStuffins, Princess Sophia, and other characters. We missed it due to time. I would recommend these for young kids.
Tip #12- Where to get your discounted tickets. Someone suggested I add in the tip of discounted tickets. If you are military, check with your MWR office at your base. The best deals out there are military hopper passes for $125 (3-day) to Disneyland. I am not talking about WORLD here. But, you there is a limit of six, and they scan at them the entrance, and take photos of the people who enter with them. DisneyWorld is different because of the fingerprint thing but at DisneyLand there is no finger print but paper tickets. Do not lose them! In any case they photograph you on re-entry. Not sure what purpose it serves other than if someone reports their tickets lost or stolen. The best website to get discounted hotels, and tickets in my humble opinion (if you can’t do the military tickets) is mousesavers.com. I was able to find a cheaper deal for my friends and family on this site than even the 1 and 2 day military discounts to the parks. Sign-up for the Mousesavers newsletter ASAP!
Tip #13- Check out the beaches of Newport Beach, Laguna, and the Pacific Coast and Unwind after Disneyland We were lucky because we stayed right on the Corona del Mar beach but try to go check out the coast, because that is truly the most relaxing part of the trip after visiting theme parks. I think set one day set aside for the beach, and driving along the coast. Newport beach has an amazing coast, not to miss and it’s only 25 minutes from Anaheim (50 in traffic- ha).
All in all, we had a fabulous trip to DisneyLand, California Adventure Park, and California beaches. Our favorite times were on the beach, meeting princesses, and for mom- acting like a princess, but hey, who’s judging? It was a great summer family trip, and one we will not forget for a lifetime.