Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, CA
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In our experience, many people think of Disney parks as the antithesis of nature. And in most ways, they’re probably right. But to us, Disney-fication is not a pejorative. It’s an assurance of excellent customer service and a consistently fun experience. Josh and I have visited every Disney park in the world (there are twelve of them), and we enjoy each of them. Since we were planning to be in California anyway, we made Disneyland a stop on our trip.
Our first day in the park was a Tuesday which is a great day to visit a Disney park; it’s not too crowded since it’s the middle of the week. We did Disneyland on that day and Disney’s California Adventure the next day. Unlike Orlando, the parks here are very close together which makes hopping between parks very easy. You don’t need to take a shuttle or bus; you just walk across a plaza. That said, with only two days, we decided not to get park hopper tickets. It would have cost us an additional $180, and we decided instead just to get tickets for one day in each park. If we had been planning to be there for three days, we would have gotten hoppers.
We started our day by getting to the security line 30 minutes before the official park opening time. Guests of the three Disney hotels and guests who buy at least a three-day pass get an extra hour of time in the parks in the morning, so we weren’t the first people in line by far. But getting there before most of the non-hotel-guests arrive is still an advantage.
Disneyland is supposedly transitioning to a new FastPass system, and we were there during the first week of the transition. They were using a system that was kind of a legacy FastPass/Magic Band hybrid called MaxPass, and people were completely confused. We figured it out quickly, but there were still long bottlenecks at the FastPass entrances because of people who didn’t get it. We were able to work things well enough that we ended up getting ten FastPasses each that first day. Not bad! We were able to get on rides like Storybookland, the Matterhorn, and the Jungle Cruise and attractions like The Enchanted Tiki Room without a FastPass in 15 minutes or less, so we got to do pretty much everything we wanted to do that day without waiting very long at all.
Our longest wait was to meet Moana. Every time we checked, it was a 45-minute wait, but we managed to find a time when the line was down to 35 minutes. She spent a lot of time talking to the kids, so we were glad we had waited to meet her.
2017 is the 50th anniversary of The Pirates of the Caribbean, and the park had added special foods in New Orleans Square to commemorate the occasion. We had a delicious lunch at the French Market and tried the Jolly Roger Punch, the Buccaneer Pulled Pork Sandwich, and the Lost Treasure Beignets. Kinley had the jambalaya, I had the red beans and rice with andouille sausage, and Knox had the pasta kids’ meal. And later, while listening to the Disneyland band play, we tried the Pirates’ anniversary Golden Churro which had lemon-flavored sugar dusted on the outside. It was delish! The food at French Market was good enough to be table service, but it was actually counter service and therefore much less expensive than a table service lunch would have been.
|French Market is now our favorite counter service restaurant at Disneyland.|
|The special beignets and churros for the Pirates anniversary were yummy!|
Speaking of expensive table service, nearby in a tucked-away corner of New Orleans Square is Club 33, a members-only restaurant with a years-long wait list for new members. We ate there as guests of friends of friends (Thanks, Meg!) in 2013 and were told then that a complete remodel was about to occur. I went looking for the new entrance on this trip and found it! There is no sign explaining what wonders wait behind the door, and most people walk by without even noticing it. If anyone ever offers to take you, you should definitely splurge and go.
|Notice the easily-missed 33 above the door. There is no other sign. The picture on the right is of the doorbell.|
Later that night, we had a reservation to eat dinner inside Pirates of the Caribbean at Blue Bayou. We had pre-ordered the three-course prix fixe menu which came with reservations in a special seating area for viewing the Main Street Electrical Parade. I ordered the surf and turf, Kinley got the salmon, Josh got the ribeye, and Knox got to order the kid’s steak even though he was a year too old thanks to our kind server. Desserts included crème brulee, a hazelnut cake, a turtle-shaped mousse, and a Mickey-shaped mousse for Knox.
|The glow necklaces were a fun bonus.|
|We would never have ordered this much food if we hadn't signed up for the prix fixe that included parade seating, but it was yummy!|
We were given light-up necklaces and special tickets to get us into the special seating area an hour later. The food was good, and we love the atmosphere including watching the boats float by at Blue Bayou. When we arrived at the roped-off area for parade viewing, it felt special to get to go into the reserved space. There were other people there, of course, but we didn’t have to mark our territory in order to be able to see. We had a front-row seat. Was it worth the $65 per adult price tag? I think it was, but Josh might not. He thought our much-cheaper lunch was significantly tastier.
|We had prime seats right in front of the Disneyland Railroad station.|
|This parade is a Disney classic and is no longer featured at Walt Disney World.|
The next morning we headed straight for the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride at California Adventure. It’s really just a re-branding of the old Tower of Terror, but they did a nice job of changing the story line and adding some fun details. We got there at opening, but the line just to get a FastPass wrapped all the way back near the entrance to the park. We followed the masses and ended up having to wait about 20 minutes to grab a FastPass. If you go any time soon, expect a similar wait. And if you don’t get there early enough to get a FastPass before they’re all given out, expect a three hour wait.
|Notice the taped lines on the ground for the FastPass line to snake around several times before getting to the actual kiosks to get a FastPass.|
California Adventure is a more sprawling park than Disneyland, and we had lots of rides on our must-do list which made for a lot of criss-crossing back and forth the park. Mickey’s Fun Wheel, California Screamin’, Toy Story Mania, Soarin’, Radiator Springs Racers, and The Avengers’ Training Academy were all things we wanted to do for sure. I had wanted to see the Frozen show, but people were lined up at 9:00 for the noon show so I could tell that wasn’t going to happen. We were able to do everything on our must-do list and many more things during our day, but I will admit that this ark was much harder for us to do. Attractions were constantly breaking down which would mess up our timing, and we found the app to be unreliable as well. Poor Josh hiked back and forth across the park checking to see if Toy Story Mania was up and running more times than I can count.
|The Paradise Pier section of Disney's California Adventure has Mickey's Fun Wheel and California Screamin'.|
For our second special dining experience, we had booked lunch at Ariel’s Grotto. We did this in 2013 as well, and it’s a great way to meet Disney princesses. Even though we had a reservation, we still had a 15 minute wait, but having the princesses come straight to your table for meet and greets is a serious advantage over standing in line to meet them. Cinderella was especially sweet and spent a long time talking to the kids about their interesting and unusual names. She told us that twice she had met guests who were actually named Cinderella!
Because we had just been on Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona, which was the inspiration for the Cars movies, visiting the Radiator Springs section of the park was extra special this trip. Seeing the Cozy Cone after just having seen the Wigwam Hotel and looking at the Disney versions of the canyons after just having driven through the real thing brought the movie to life for us in a whole new way. It is definitely our favorite area of the park, especially at night when Flo’s V-8 is all lit up with neon. We’ll be driving through the real Monument Valley when we head through Utah and Nevada, and I know we’ll be thinking of Radiator Springs when we do.
Later that evening we watched the World of Color light and water show. It was great, but we were glad we weren’t in the front few rows since there was a lot of overspray from the fountains. In my opinion, this show was better than the fountain show in Las Vegas at the Bellaggio, but, of course, I love the music from Disney movies which this had as its soundtrack.
When we do Disney, we do Disney hard – park opening to park closing with no rest in between. So we were exhausted when we returned to our room at the end of the second day. But the coolest part of Disneyland? Walking in the place that Walt Disney actually walked himself. Walt died before Disney World was completed, but at Disneyland you can know that when you’re walking right down the middle of Main Street USA, Walt walked there, too. And while admittedly that’s not anything close to the natural wonders of America’s national parks, it’s still pretty stinking cool.