Help! A Walt Disney World Vet’s First Time at Disneyland – Part 2

| February 18, 2013 | 21 Replies

We’re really getting deep into the planning of our May trip to Southern California and the Disneyland Resort.  If you read the last installment of my Help! series, you’ll recall that my family travels to Walt Disney World several times a year, but this will be our first trip out west and we’re really looking forward to it!  Since we’ll only be “newbies” once, we decided to take you all along on the journey and even before that, to get your help in planning our trip.  Keep reading to see what decisions we’ve made and what still needs to be done!

As a reminder, my family consists of my husband David and I, plus our three kids – Jacob is 7, Jonah will be 5, and Lydia will be 23 months.  I’m the Senior Editor for the DIS, so I (and my family by association) live and breathe Disney.  My kids have been to Walt Disney World so many times that our boys will even give park touring advice to people while we’re on the buses.  But, for a variety of reasons, we haven’t made it to Disneyland until now.  We will be traveling the last week of May, spending the first part of our trip touring Hollywood and the Southern California area, and then spending the last 5 days at the Disneyland Resort.  In our first segment, the members of the Disneyland Edition of the DIS Unplugged podcast team gave me a lot of great advice on planning the first part of our trip.  I got some great feedback from our listeners/readers as well!  Since then, we have firmed up some of our plans.  We decided to arrive a night earlier, so will land at LAX around 4:45 pm on Tuesday, May 21.  We’re renting a van and will then drive south to Carlsbad, near San Diego.  We’ll spend the night there, because we’re going to Legoland the next morning!  We weren’t really sure if we wanted to spend the time at any non-Disney theme parks, but after some research, we think our kids will absolutely love Legoland.  They’re the perfect age for it, plus the boys are obsessed with Legos right now.

Legoland California

Image courtesy of Legoland

For a special treat, we’re then spending the night at the brand-new Legoland Hotel! It opens April 5, so will only be a month and a half old when we go.  The next morning (Thursday), we may head back to Legoland for a few hours if we didn’t finish everything, then we’ll start our drive back north.  I’m excited, because we’re going to go a little out of our way and drive back along the coast.  I had really wanted to see the ocean and this is a great way to combine that with a drive that has to be done anyway.  For the next few days, our base will be the Howard Johnson in Anaheim.  We don’t have any plans for Friday.  On Saturday, we have a friend who’s going to play tour guide and show us around the Hollywood area.  This will save us money on a professional tour, plus we’ll be able to stop whenever we want.  On Sunday, David and the boys are going to Dodgers Stadium to see a game against the St. Louis Cardinals.  As I mentioned last time, we’re Cubs fans, so they should enjoy getting to root against the Cardinals even when we’re away from home.  We’ve also left plenty of free time in our schedule so we can add things in as we go.

Now, on to Disneyland!  On Monday, May 27, we’ll check into the Disneyland Hotel for the rest of our trip.  After getting our luggage in and picking up our park tickets, we’ll head off to Disneyland Park.  On the show, I mentioned that at Disney World, we always like to hit the Magic Kingdom first just to start off with the magic.  Some people may think that’s cheesy, but that’s how we like it.  On our last trip, we went to Epcot first and it just seemed so weird!

Disneyland Hotel

Image: Disneyland Hotel.

During this planning session, we really focused on answering some general questions I had.  We like to get to the parks early, so I asked the team to explain how the Early Entry program works.  I had heard the terms “Extra Magic Hour,” “Early Entry,” and “Magic Morning” and I was confused.  Basically, they are programs that allow Annual Passholders, Hotel guests, and guests with multi-day tickets the chance to get in an hour early each day to one of the parks.  There’s a schedule to follow depending on which park you want to visit.

The team doesn’t think the parks will be too busy on our trip; possibly the first day, as it’s Memorial Day, but the crowds should start slowing down after that.  We will only be there during the week, so that should help as well.  Disneyland is such a locals park that it gets quite a bit busier on the weekends.

One thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around is the size of the Resort.  I am so used to the massive amount of land that Walt Disney World covers – 42 square miles in all – that hearing we will be able to walk from our hotel to the front gates in 15 minutes is just strange.  I do think the size will be helpful to us while traveling with our kids, because it seems much more manageable.  Getting to the gate in the morning, getting back to the hotel for naps, even leaving to eat lunch at Downtown Disney if we want, is all possible to do in a fairly short amount of time.  We haven’t decided yet if we want to rent a stroller.  We will have a stroller for our daughter, but aren’t sure about the boys.  We always have one in Florida, though a couple times we’ve had a single and they’ve just taken turns.  I need to do some research on the cost of renting a stroller at Disneyland vs. finding an outside company to rent from.  Even if we decide not to start out with an extra stroller, I’d like to know ahead of time what our options are if the boys end up needing one.  Maybe the smaller size of the Resort will be okay and we won’t even mess with getting one.

I asked if on-property hotel guests could send packages back to their rooms and the answer was yes.  We often take advantage of this in Florida, so I was glad to hear we’d be able to do it at Disneyland as well.

We had a good discussion about Rider Switch, something I know we’ll be using pretty often.  This is a great service that Disney offers where the parents can take turns on an attraction if their child is not tall enough to ride.  Because we’ll have Lydia with us, we will have to take advantage of Rider Switch if the boys want to go on any of the larger attractions, like the Matterhorn.  And speaking of larger attractions, somehow in this discussion I promised to try Space Mountain while at Disneyland.  I don’t like this ride at all, but everyone insisted I would like the Disneyland version better.  Sticking with our theme of this being a “once in a long time” trip, I guess I’ll have to try it since I don’t know when I’ll be back!

Image: Matterhorn Bobsleds.

While talking about height requirements for some of the bigger rides, Mary Jo mentioned that it might be helpful to find a YouTube video if there were any attractions our children might be unsure about trying.  I thought this was a great tip for parents to keep in mind!

Here’s an interesting fact for folks who are used to Disney World:  Disneyland may not have fireworks every night.  In the slower seasons, fireworks at Disneyland Park may not be presented every night.  World of Color at Disney California Adventure will be shown every night, but may only be once a night if it’s a slower time of year.  Because we’re going after Memorial Day, the start of the summer season, we should be able to watch them any night during our trip.  The other nighttime show is Fantasmic!, which is held on the Rivers of America.  The team had some great tips about where the good viewing locations were, as well as whether the Premium Dessert Seating would be worth it for our family.  The consensus is that it’s probably not worth it for the price.

Image: Fantasmic!

The last thing we discussed was in response to my question about which attractions to hit first.  For example, we know at Disney World that if we’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we need to head straight to Toy Story Mania if we want any chance of riding it.  The team’s recommendation for Disneyland was to head straight for Fantasyland or TomorrowlandPeter Pan and Dumbo are going to get busy and stay busy, so if we want to experience them, we should head there first.  One piece of advice they gave was that Peter Pan in California doesn’t have FastPass, like it does in Florida.  I think that seeing the differences between “dual-coast rides” is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most.  I was really interested to hear about Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland.  Not only do the guns come out of the holders, making it easier to aim, but each target is a different shape, which represent different point values.  Now, can I memorize all of them without telling David? He beats me every time we go on that ride!

That’s a pretty good wrap-up of our discussions, so I’ll check back in after the next segment where we will discuss eating at the Disneyland Resort.  You can listen to our trip planning segment on The DIS Unplugged: Disneyland Edition.

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Category: Disney World, Disneyland

  • Kristi Bell

    Be prepared for longer lines at Disneyland than is typical at the Magic Kingdom just in general. And at that time of year, it WILL be fairly busy, I’ve had an annual pass for 15 years, trust me.

  • Alison Bazeley

    Leah, that was us in December 2011. We had almost a dozen WDW trips under our belt before we moved to the west coast. I’ll tell you a little secret, though… We liked Disneyland every bit as much as we like WDW, perhaps even more. I, too, was told over and over again not to be disappointed because DL is so much smaller than WDW. Well, let me tell you, there’s SO MUCH MORE TO DO. The lines were shorter and we did so many more attractions. There are different characters in rotation, as well. We met Jack Skellington, for instance, outside of the Haunted Mansion. (For a real treat, go at Christmastime!) Toontown is a whole CITY that just captivates!

    Things you should know: (1) The monorail from the DL Hotel drops you in Tomorrowland. You go through security before boarding and it drops you right in the park. It was our experience, however, that it was unreliable and often out of service. I don’t know if that’s usual or not. (2) Also, hardly ANYTHING uses FastPass. The line for the Toy Story Mania equivalent was around past Ariel’s Grotto one morning. No FastPasses. We didn’t ride it because we weren’t willing to spend that much time in line. (3) Dining is nowhere equivalent to WDW restaurants in terms of options However, the one character meal we did enjoy (Goofy’s Kitchen) was delicious and had quite the random assortment of characters that came around. (4) World of Color is SO overrated. I don’t know if I’ll waste a single minute on it again. I’m short. I have three kids. Even with the “priority” viewing area that you can get by being a resort guest and showing up to get a pass at the crack of dawn, it was still standing room only and we spent the entire time staring at the backs of the people in front of us. It was upsetting. (Oh, similarly, there is not a viewing area/theater for Fantasmic, and folks start sitting on the curbs around the lagoon quite a long time before the show begins.)

    p.s. I wanted to share our first day (WDW) park strategy — bus roulette!! We get on the first park bus that shows up! :)

  • Sherrie Simpson

    Don’t miss Indiana Jones in Adventureland- one of the best Disney rides anywhere!

  • Vicki

    “My kids have been to Walt Disney World so many times that our boys will even give park touring advice to people while we’re on the buses.” Mine too! We happen to live less than 10 minutes from WDW (we go 3-4 times per week) and my 3 and 4 year old girls are always telling people in line where attractions are, if they are fun, if they are tall enough (they’re both 40 inches plus now), and if you have to get to the ride early because the line will be full. I have had several people ask me why they know all this and if they are going to work for Disney when they are older. My 4 year old can even recite most of the countries in order (she mixes up Germany and Italy sometimes) at the World Showcase. It would be hysterical to see them all on a playdate there.

  • Kristie E Warren

    We will be visiting DL at the same time. We are also WDW vets. This will be our first trip to DL. I have enjoyed all the tidbits. We are also staying at the Disneyland hotel.

  • The great thing about Disneyland and DCA is that you will be able to experience so much more in each park. You have nearly as many rides and attractions as you do in all 4 WDW parks in just 2 parks. With 5 days between the 2 parks, you should have no problem seeing and riding everything at least once. As an added bonus, the weather in Anaheim is better than that in Orlando.

  • superdisneyfan

    We used to alternate between Florida and California every year and I must say California weather beats Florida’s –no humidity like Florida! We are also big Snoopy fans and back in the day, we always included a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm to see Snoopy in Camp Snoopy. I don’t know how it is now since we haven’t been there in over a decade, but you may want to check it out if you are Snoopy fans as well. The famous chicken dinner isn’t bad there either (if it’s still there). Enjoy your trip–wish I was going!

  • DLW

    Leah – Don’t go home without seeing the “World of Color” at DCA. On the day you plan to see the show, head to DCA early in the morning and get Fast Passes at Grizzly Peak to ensure a great viewing location. World of Color is more incredible then Fantasmic.

    The Parks may, indeed, be crowded. I generally visit Disneyland once a year during the off-season. Last year, I was surprised to find the Parks relatively crowded, not like peak summer, but crowded nonetheless during the off-season. I believe the updated DCA has increased visitors.

    • Guest

      Getting a fastpass won’t help bc DLR is now enforcing end times on your fastpass… unless you’re willing to wait at the fastpass machine for it to give you the time of the fireworks show.

      • The fastpass just reserves your spot for the show. It doesn’t work like the other fastpasses. You can hold the world of colorfast pass and still get a fastpass for a ride.

  • Ilene Veronica Lopez-Silva

    Hey there,

    June 30, 2013 will be our first trip to Disney World and we are busy planning our trip as well. =) We are Disneyland vets…Hard Core with kids ages 11, 9, and 7. Here are our tips for your family.

    There is a Target down south Harbor Street. You can’t miss it. It will be the same street as the Howard Johnson. If you forget anything or need a cheap fold up stroller, you might want to check it out. One thing to remember is that everything in CA is cramped. If you are pushing a stroller around, you might want to think small and compact.

    You might also want to look into buying the San Diego or Los Angeles Go Card. Knott’s Berry Farm, Aquarium of the Pacific, and the Queen Mary are all very close to each other. If you do a whale watching tour, make sure you take a sweater.

    Don’t be fooled by the warm weather during the day, pack a light sweater for the night, especially in the San Diego area. The marine layer rolls in and makes things cold and moist really quick. You will be traveling during a time when we are having May showers and June gloom so just be prepared.

    If you are looking for cheap SoCal souvenirs, you should look in a CVS or Walgreen’s. The Howard Johnson has a little store that will be full of cool stuff too.

    SUN SCREEN! SUN SCREEN! SUN SCREEN! The SoCal sun will get you through the Marine layer…and don’t forget to pick up a misting fan. California is known for its terrible dry heat.

    We have three boys and their favorite spots to eat for character dining are The Plaza down main street for breakfast and Goofy’s Kitchen for dinner.

    Toon Town in Disneyland closes early for the fireworks. So if there is anything that you want to see in Toon Town, make sure you hit it early. If you can… take advantage of Toon Town Morning Madness. The kids will love it. =)

    If you don’t like any of the food options inside Disneyland there are plenty of dining options down Harbor or Katella.

    In DCA corn dog castle is our favorite quick service stop. I did not like the food at Ariel’s Grotto..not worth the big price tag IMHO. The Monster’s Inc ride is really cute for the kiddos and you should make time to watch the Pixar Parade and the Aladdin show. Enjoy some free chocolate at Girardelli which is located near the baby center. As soon as the sun goes down, take some time to party with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at the Mad Tea Party. It is a DJ party with Alice and the White Rabbit. So much fun!!

    Hopefully any of these tips can help you with your planning.

  • Tommy Daly

    Ok, let’s see if I can help..I’m “vain” about few things in my life, but I am a dyed-in-the-wool, bona fide Disneyland expert. I’ve been going to both parks for over 40 years but my true “expertise” comes from weekly visits since my son turned 1, he’s 7 now. I’ve taken him on “Boys Night Out” once a week (minimum) for over 6 years, rain or shine, sick or well..we’ve been over 400 times since 2007. 1) Wrong Hotel. The Californian is the best of the 3 by far, but it’s pricey, since it’s about the kids this trip, Paradise Pier is the right choice. It’s got a “beachy” theme, the character breakfast is super-fun and you always meet everyone you want to of the characters they have. The prices are lower, the view is gorgeous (get a higher floor and be sure you face the right way), you can watch the whole World of Color show from your window while listening to the soundtrack on your TV. The Disneyland Hotel has had 2 renovations in recent years which means new furniture, but it’s just too old…but not “nostalgic” old, just OLD. Any real expert will tell you the best times are at night…most of the toddlers run out of steam which means shorter lines, less screaming, fussy kids to tolerate, the park is prettier at night because of the lights of course…go every night..continued.

  • Tommy Daly

    Pt 2 World of Color, don’t get passes, stand in lines, just go on a slower
    night and pick a spot around the lake that is sparsely populated. Get this app., buy the paid version for $6. It has a 10 day forecast
    of park levels to the tenth (.ie Diz 7.5, DCA 6.2), it shows wait times, show
    info and has a chat area. When no one’s posting times, the staff does. The
    other apps are ok, but just the free versions. Go on rides when the
    fireworks/parades and Fantasmic are on and you’ll see almost no lines, even the
    “big rides” can be quick. Stay away from Main Street during fireworks and parades
    at all cost. Watch the fireworks from the Small World Plaza, they are launched from behind Toontown so where do you think a better viewing place would be?
    Food, get the pizza from Tomorrowland at the Pizza Port, good prices for a huge
    slice or Tomorrowland Terrace for good chicken tenders and fries or Fried Chicken, the burgers suck, slathered with Thousand Island Dressing. If at DCA, the corn dogs are legendary and the line is fast. Speaking of DCA, there’s an arcade behind the Alice in Wonderland band venue that even many regulars don’t know about, all Alice-themed arcade games like Skee Ball etc and every game is a quarter, where can you play games for a quarter any more? Take your kids to Redwood Creek when you need a break, it’s like taking them to daycamp and they’ll run wild until they drop while you rest your weary bones. There’s a thousand fun things to climb on and slide and only one entrance/exit, very secure.

  • Tommy Daly

    During peak day hours when the lines are longest, think outside the box…Don’t que up for 60-90 min for Space Mt and Indiana Jones…ride the Main Street Railroad, take a boat trip on the Mark Twain Riverboat or the Columbia Sailing Ship, run them around Toontown (but ride Roger Rabbit later) Be sure to take your kids to the Pirates Lair, formerly Tom Sawyer Isle, they can explore lots of neat caves, rope bridges and the stage where Fantasmic is performed. I told my son that’s where they house Maleficent’s Dragon, so he thinks he’s being brave and clever climbing around the Dragon’s Keep, do this after they’ve seen Fantasmic of course. Don’t burn your Fastpass for Space Mt at 10 PM! By then you won’t need a FastPass anyway! By 10, you’ll nearly walk on Star Tours, it cracks me up to see people waste their one FP on a ride 8 hours later that will be nearly empty. A little common sense is the difference between hitting 3 rides in an hour and not even one ride during peak hours….Hope it helps (it will)

  • Leah Zanolla

    Thanks so much for the advice, everyone!! We’re reading every comment and making notes! Kristie – say hi if you see us around!

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  • PixieAngelo

    It sounds like you have a lot of great advice going for you but I wanted to add my two cents.

    One of the many differences between WDW and DLR is that in California, the queue lines are predominantly outside and unshaded. Even though the weather isn’t as hot as Florida, the sun can still be intense; plan accordingly.

    The food at DLR runs circles around WDW’s Magic Kingdom! There are lots of choices but I suggest you skip the pizza place at DTD and don’t leave without trying the Corn Dogs at the wagon near The Plaza Inn (which is also really good) and getting a Churro which are night-and-day different from what WDW passes off as Churros. The Beignets found at DTD are a great snack also.

    Want an Orange Dole Whip? Save your time standing in line; they only have Pineapple at DLR. For Ice Cream, we stopped into the DCA Ghirardelli shop and it was practically empty- unheard of at WDW DTD!

    No one has mentioned Radiator Springs Racers at DCA which is a must-do in my book. Carsland is simply breathtaking; if you can stop in during day AND night, do it. Get there as early as you can and prepare for a long wait; the ride is a technological marvel and is susceptible to breakdowns. Hit the bathroom before you get in line and make sure you have a bottle of water in your bag. Flo’s V8 Cafe had a GREAT breakfast when we were there last August.

    Which ever night you plan to view Fantasmic, pack a few towels or jackets in your park bag. You will be sitting on the pavement and even a little bit of cushioning helps.

    You didn’t mention how you were getting home; I highly recommend using the John Wayne airport instead of LAX. It’s closer and not as busy.

    OK, so it was six cents. Have fun, enjoy the things that make Disneyland so unique and make some great memories!
    -Donna & Bob Angelo
    Bradenton, FL

  • Guest

    Just back from a visit to DLR, my third visit. I’m an East Coaster who’s strangely never visited WDW. This was my first

    visit with kids (4yo and 6yo) – DLR compact layout and Cars Land made my WDW vs. DLR visit decision easy. We didn’t use

    strollers at all and the kids didn’t complain much – okay, may be just a bit on the last day when FastPasses forced us to

    go DCA->DLP->DCA->DLP->DCA. The best part about DLR now is DCA. I’ve never been to DCA before, but with the new changes,

    DCA is up-to-date and fresh. Which attraction hit first? RS Racers, of course – sure hit with your sons. One of the best

    dining experiences is Ariel’s Grotto if visiting with girl kids. I’ve been visiting DLR only once every 7-8 years so I

    have nostalgic values too. But, I’m sorry to say, DLP feels jaded and to me is starting to look like a museum of antique

    rides. Tomorrowland and a couple of others being exceptions. All the rides in Fantasyland (plus Roger Rabbit Car Toon

    Spin – which is a similar ride in a different “land”, and minus it’s a small world which is distinct) are the same. Once

    you step off these rides they all blur into one – unless you get home and check them out on youtube. Just Peter Pan and

    may be Alice would be sufficient (I wish I had ditched Snw White SA, Pinocchio, Roger Rabbit etc.). All, IMHO, of course.

    You’re a veteran, but I thought you might appreciate an honest alternate view. Good luck.

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  • VirgilioV

    Your family will enjoy Legoland as well, but try to make sure you stay in a hotel that is in walking distance. There are 2-3 in addition to the newly opened official Legoland Hotel. Not only will you not have to pay extra for parking, but you’ll be able to get into the park earlier. Legoland can be very frustrating for Disneyland/WDW vets since they don’t know how to manage lines very well. You can easily spend 1-2 hours in line on rides that aren’t worth it (like the motorboat or the skycruiser). At least most lines have a place for kids to play with legos, while you’re waiting.

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