“I only hope we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”
I first visited Disneyland after the obligatory teenage Contiki tour when I was in my early 20s. As with many memories when you get to my age, I often wished I could go back again and truly appreciate the experience (and take bloody great photos because, well, cameras were pretty shit back then).
My youngest daughter mentioned to me in primary school that she wanted to visit Disneyland one day and I made a promise that we would visit before she finished school. Fast track four years and the subject came up again and we decided that we would visit for her schoolies trip** after she finished Year 12.
So the day after she finished school for the last time, we headed to LA and then to Anaheim for three nights. We had a three-day park hopper which meant we could go to either park when we wanted to. The date we went was in thanksgiving week so it was also extra busy.
Disneyland is split into three areas: Disneyland proper, Disney Walk and the California Adventure Park. Security is strict and you will be required to go through a bag check first before going to pick up your tickets. Also no selfie sticks are allowed, they will take them off you.
Day 1 – Disneyland
Words cannot describe the feeling you get when you walk through the gates.
The park is split up into: Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Mickeys Toontown, Frontierland (this was closed when we were there), Critter Country, New Orleans Square and Adventureland.
We grabbed a map and worked out how we were going to tackle our first day. We started in Tomorrowland and had a look at the Star Tours ride (which used to be called Space Mountain) but the line was huge.
Here we learned our first lesson – get a Fast Pass. There are machines for most of the rides where you can get a Fast Pass which will tell you what time to go back (it will an hour block) and bypass the normal queue. On the ticket it will also tell you what time you can get your next Fast Pass. The system works by scanning your DL ticket. We used it for many of our favourite rides and it cut wait times considerably. Wait times for the most popular rides were sometimes 90 minutes+.
Really on that first day we ambled around, got the layout of the park and worked out what rides we definitely wanted to go on. We knew we had 3 days and nights there but if you were only there for 1 day, you would really need to do your homework before hand and plan your day.
Observations: Absolutely everyone is wearing mouse ears, from the littlest kids to the biggest burly blokes. Also there are loads of families wearing identical t-shirts like ‘Smith Family Vacation’ or ‘Just Married’. It was kinda cute and definitely not something you see every day.
Day 2 – California Adventure Park
Mention this park to people and they will tell you about the ‘Tower of Terror’ ride. This park didn’t exist when I visited the park in my 20s so I knew next to nothing about it. It was based on the 70s show ‘The Twilight Zone’ and a popular myth about a Hollywood hotel that was thought to be haunted.
I say ‘was’ because shortly after we left the ride was closed and gutted to make way for a new Guardians of the Galaxy’ ride. Residents were visiting the ride in droves to say goodbye such was its popularity. The ride itself was fantastic, so much so that we got off and obtained a fast pass to do it again. We went back a final time on our last day, to say goodbye to the old girl.
The California Adventure Park is a quite low key in comparison to the main park. There were less young families and more couples with older children. But I really enjoyed the lack of crowds and the different vibe.
The park itself is split up into – Grizzly Peak, Paradise Pier, Pacific Wharf, Cars Land (the most popular), ‘A Bugs Land’ and Hollywood Land (Tower of Terror). I really liked this park and could have spent another day there.
We really liked Downtown Disney. You don’t need to pay to get in but you will have to go through security. There are a large number of Disney stories selling merchandise and some great restaurants and bars. Well worth visiting for a change from DL park food.
Day 3 – Both parks
On our last day we attended a character breakfast (see below) and visited all the rides we wanted to go on one final time.
We stayed at the Howard Johnson Hotel, which was right across the road from the park and only a 10 minute walk. On the way were a number of restaurants such as Mimi’s cafe iHop, Dennys and Panera Bread where we had breakfast on the way or dinner on the way back.
The hotel itself was ok, we didn’t spend much time there during the day, but it was adequate. There is also a shop on site that sells essential items.
Yes food is expensive in the park. I saw more than a few local families bring food with them. For us though food was part of the fun. Unlike my very first visit there 30 years ago when all I remember is hot chips and churros, fruit and healthy snacks are now commonplace all over the park. In fact I struggled to find anywhere that sold hot chips and donuts. Who’d a thought?
Warning: if you are coeliac/gluten free/vegetarian/vegan, you will struggle. I am both gluten free and vegetarian and had issues finding food. Thankfully it was their winter so there was lots of soup to be had but we really had to search. The place we frequented the most inside the main park was the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café. They had the best selections of food and a huge eating area
If you want to go to a restaurant you’ll need to make a reservation, preferably before you arrive at the park. Download the Disneyland app, create an account and you can book from there. You can also look at the menus online.
Plaza Inn – Minnie and Friends – Breakfast in the Park (main street)
This was very much a spur of the moment thing on our last day there. The cost was around $70 US for the two of us. Held at the Plaza Inn, the buffet was great and we had a really good time. It is the only character breakfast inside the Disneyland Park. Tables were well spread out, characters were always walking around and food was plentiful – made to order omelettes, sausages, bacon, pancakes and pastries. You name it, they had it!
There is only one decent place to buy coffee in the House of the Mouse and that’s at Starbucks on the main street. Be warned though – word has got around and there are always huge queues. But considering the lack of decent coffee around the park it’s a small price to pay if you like your ‘cawfee’.
Disneyland has lost none of her charm and for this old gal, I felt like I was in an alternate universe for 4 days. I actually came away feeling good about the world and I loved the whole Disneyland vibe. I think there are few places where you can truly get away from the stress of life and have fun while you are at it. A theme park is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but if you are keen to embrace the child within, then visiting Disneyland is for you.
As you enter the main park there is a sign:
‘Here you leave today and enter the world of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy.’
Couldn’t have summed it up better myself.
***In Australia some students take a ‘schoolies trip’ when they finish Year 12, their final year of school, it is considered to be a rite of passage trip for some and for others, a way of celebrating 13 years of schooling.