If you know anything about me at all, you can probably assume that I was more than excited for our trip to Disneyland. San Diego was spectacular. But for a Disney fanatic like me, Disneyland was the heart of my trip.
The story starts, however, before we even left San Diego. A couple of days before we left, my mom had told us we’d be leaving around 6 AM to drive from San Diego to the Best Western in Anaheim. But then, the following day, she said we’d be leaving closer to 5 AM to get there at 6:30, check in, and go for the Magic Morning hour at 7. I was confused; weren’t extra magic hours reserved for guests staying on property? My mom grinned. She’d kept it a secret from us the whole time — we were actually going to be staying in the Grand Californian Hotel, one of the Disneyland hotels.
We left the San Diego house at 5 AM and powered through exhaustion to drive the hour and a half to Anaheim. I was so excited that I didn’t even care how tired I was; as soon as I saw the Anaheim Convention Center (where they were holding the D23 convention that weekend), I started bouncing in my seat.
We pulled under the expansive awning, had our car valet parked (we wanted it parked underground so we could leave our heavy suitcases inside), and went inside to check in. The hotel is absolutely breathtaking — we all spent the first few minutes just looking around, unable to believe we’d be staying somewhere so beautiful.
We couldn’t access our room right away, but the hotel held our luggage for us so we could go get food (Disney Parks coffee — yay!) and head to California Adventure for the early opening. Our hotel had an entrance directly into the Coronado Springs area of California Advenure.
We knew that, based on the popularity, Radiator Springs Racers, a new Cars Land attraction, would immediately fill up. So we booked it to Cars Land first. We were all absolutely amazed by Cars Land — it looks exactly like the scenes from the movie!
Radiator Springs Racers is a really cool attraction. Guests climb into a car straight out of the movie to go through the scenic Radiator Springs, tip tractors with Mater, and get a fresh coat of paint or new tires before the big race. What was really fun was that the race is between your car and the car next to yours, so you’re racing another group of guests! A randomly selected car wins every time; we didn’t win our first race, but we were still completely impressed by the attraction.
After Radiator Springs, we could see the Hollywood Tower Hotel looming in the distance, and since it’s one of our favorite Walt Disney World attractions, we knew we had to ride it. We took a detour through It’s a Bugs Land, which had some of the most amazing theming I’ve ever seen.
Every inch of the land makes you feel as small as a bug, but in the best way. It’s a really cool land, mostly themed toward the little ones, but us big kids definitely appreciated the scenery.
I came to a realization as we were walking through Bugs land. My family kept talking about the differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I noticed, though, that we had changed the inflections. While we normally put the emphasis on the word “Disney” in Disney World and Disneyland, our comparisons were leading us to put the emphasis on “World” and “Land” instead. In fact, we’re still emphasising the differences in the words, as well as the differences in the parks themselves.
I knew there would be some differences between the Tower of Terror in Disneyland and the one we’ve ridden over 50 times in Walt Disney World, but I was unprepared for just how different they would be. For one, the attractions, while decorated the same, are set up pretty differently. The pre-show is the same, but the boiler room is very different. On our first ride through, the cast member gave us our own elevator — which is when we decided to debut “Flat Andy.”
A bit of background: My cousin Ben came with us to Disneyland. His brother, Andy, could not, because of prior obligations. We knew Andy was upset, but we wanted him to know he wasn’t forgotten. So my mom decided that we had to take Andy — or, rather, a representation of Andy, with us to the parks. “Flat Andy” was created by cutting out an 8×10 photo of his face and mounting it on a popsicle stick. We didn’t tell Andy; we just started taking pictures with “Flat Andy”, posting the pictures on Facebook, and tagging him.
So anyway, we got our own elevator. My mom pulled out “Flat Andy,” and he joined us for the “most uncommon” elevator ride. It was so different from Walt Disney World’s tower that the first initial drop got me every time.
After our stay at the Hollywood Tower Hotel (we ended up going once more), we headed over to check out Paradise Pier and go on Toy Story Midway Mania. Midway is one of our favorite WDW attractions, but it always has a ridiculous wait. At California Adventure, though, we didn’t see the wait time go above 45 minutes, and on our first trip through we only had to wait about ten minutes. Next, we decided to try something new — California Screamin’. I was thrilled that the narration is done by Neil Patrick Harris, and it was a great coaster, but the loop got me (I get pretty bad vertigo sometimes — some rollercoasters bug me, others are fine). California Screamin’ was followed up by a trip around Mickey’s Fun Wheel, which didn’t help the vertigo much — the swinging gondolas were pretty cool, though, and I got some really nice pictures once we got to the top.
That big building behind the attractions was just a small part of our hotel!
After that, we had lunch at Boardwalk Pizza/Pasta, and then headed on some smaller attractions, like Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. Then we went over to the front of the park, and as we were searching for the Monster’s Inc. dark ride, we found a shop called Off the Page that connected with the Animation Academy. My cousin Ben is an artist, so this area was definitely his happy place. We learned to draw Tigger, saw how Pixar uses Zoetropes (sp?) to animate their characters, and traveled through replicas of the Evil Queen’s castle, the Beast’s library, and Ursula’s grotto.
Then, after a brief ride through Monstropolis and a flight over California on Soarin’, we decided it was time to go to Disneyland. I for one was ready for some comfort — I was still feeling pretty weak from my encounter with Paradise Pier — and I was hoping the buildings on Main Street USA would offer some familiarity and good vibes.
I was absolutely right. As soon as I saw the train station, I immediately started to perk up (it could have been the Vitamin Water my mom forced on me, too, but I like to think it was the Disney magic).
Walking on to Main Street was surreal. It felt like home, the same way the entrance to the Magic Kingdom does. But there was one big difference; when you turn the corner near the Emporium in Walt Disney World, Cinderella Castle towers in front of you. Sleeping Beauty Castle, while spectacular in its own way, does not really tower the same way.
Nonetheless, I was not underwhelmed — I was eager to take photos of the Partners statue and the castle, so we rushed up Main Street to do that.
Next, we headed to Pirates of the Caribbean. My mom had been checking wait times on her phone, and Pirates’ queue is almost never over 20 minutes. There are so many differences between DLR’s Pirates and WDW’s Pirates. For one, DLR’s is much longer. It starts in the Bayou — which got us excited for our dinner reservation at the Blue Bayou the following evening — and then goes through scenes, like a shipwreck, that WDW’s Pirates is missing. (I said throughout the trip that I refused to play favorites — to me, no attraction is better or worse at either Disney park, it’s just different. I enjoyed Pirates in Disneyland just as much as I do in Disney World.)
After Pirates, we crossed New Orleans Square to the Haunted Mansion. It was closed (only briefly), so we went to Splash Mountain for Fastpasses, then headed to Tomorrowland to brave the queue for Space Mountain. Space Mountain is another attraction with many differences; the most notable differences are the double seating and the soundtrack. We had a blast. That first ride was definitely worth the wait.
We still had some time before our Splash Fastpasses, so we decided to see if Haunted Mansion had reopened (it was). One of the most interesting things for me was the stretch room — DLR handles theirs differently than WDW (but I’m not giving away more than that).
We went to Splash Mountain next, and were pretty much soaked by the first turn. It was a lot of fun, but we were starting to get chilly as the sun went down, so after visiting the Hundred Acre Wood, we headed back to the hotel to change into dry clothes and go to dinner at Downtown Disney.
Our room was ready, so we opened the door — and found four Mickey graduation caps, and an envelope for each of us containing a “Just Graduated” button and a signed photo of Mickey. When booking our hotel, my mom had told the cast member that we had all graduated recently, and the CM made sure our graduations were celebrated. It was such a sweet gesture and really added to the Disney magic that was already winding its way through our minds.
In Walt Disney World, Downtown Disney is separate from the parks; in Disneyland, Downtown Disney is right there, outside the parks. (The front of our hotel was attached to Downtown Disney, the back was attached to California Adventure. It’s all in the same area.) We went to House of Blues for dinner (a Downtown Disney must for us), and then shopped for a while before heading back to the hotel — it had been quite a long day!
On day 2, we woke up early again (though, not as early) and headed back to California Adventure for another early entrance. We hit Midway Mania first so Ben and TJ could test their skills (and try out some of the tips they’d learned from the internet). Then the boys went on California Screamin’, but since I didn’t want a repeat of the previous day, mom, Kylie, and I went on Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.
After that, the park was opening so we decided to try and get Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses, but the Fastpass line was already really long. Instead, everyone went on Luigi’s Flying Tires (basically human air hockey), while I finished my coffee and took pictures. We also decided to do Muppetvision 3D, which was pretty much exactly the same as at WDW, but entertaining and relaxing nonetheless.
After shopping through a few stores, we headed over to Disneyland to try and get on some of the rides we’d missed the previous day. We started with the Matterhorn — which was much more jolty and rough than any of us anticipated — and then went to It’s A Small World. Small World is another Disney must, and we were excited to see some of our favorite Disney characters joining the cast of singing dolls.
We took another trip through Space (I think Space Mountain was our most ridden ride), and then headed over to check out Indiana Jones Adventure, which was mindblowingly cool (yet intitially terrifying). My reward for braving the eyes of Mara? A Dole whip float! (TJ and Ben joined me in that endeavor; mom and Kylie got regular, yet amazing, ice cream cones.)
After the snack break, we went on the Jungle Cruise (I took multiple pictures of the backside of water), Indiana Jones Adventure again (I wish they had ride photos for that one), and then headed over for a relaxing round trip on the Monorail. DLR’s monorail goes from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney, but it’s more of an attraction than transportation. As we were returning to Tomorrowland, we saw the floats for the Soundsational parade just coming out of the gates, so we disembarked and ran straight for the parade. Even though we were standing in a pretty crowded area and getting pushed around, we all got some awesome pictures.
Once the parade had gone by, we had a little bit of time before dinner, so we meandered around the park until we got to the Blue Bayou, which is where our reservation was. We’d all heard that it was one of the best restaurants in the resort, and we weren’t disappointed; the food was incredible, and the atmosphere was breathtaking.
After dinner, we quickly ran back to the hotel for sweatshirts (it gets chilly in Anaheim at night, apparently), and went back to Disneyland to ride the Disneyland railroad and watch the fireworks. I didn’t think anything could top the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks, Wishes, but Disneyland’s Magical was pretty on-par. I think it’s safe to say that everyone in our group teared up. We went back to the hotel, exhausted yet again, but ultimately very happy.
Day three started with another Magic Morning, but this time we were starting in Disneyland. We started with, of course, Space Mountain, and then went over to Fantasyland to do some of the dark rides — Alice in Wonderland, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. I’ve actually come to find I’m more of a fan of the Fantasyland dark rides than the big attractions.
After that, we got hungry, so we got breakfast and coffee and then went on Indiana Jones Adventure and Haunted Mansion. As it was our last day, we knew we had a lot to get done, so we rented a locker, jammed in our sweatshirts (Anaheim mornings are chilly, too) and the purchases we had already made, and headed to California Adventure.
On a whim, we decided to try and get Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses again — and succeeded, though they were for 7:50 PM. We rode the Tower of Terror (again — probably our second most ridden ride), Soarin’, and Tower of Terror (YET again, though the boys went on California Screamin’ instead), before our lunch reservations at Ariel’s Grotto.
Ariel’s Grotto is a character dining location. As my sister is an avid Ariel fan, I knew we had to make it a part of our trip. The food was outstanding, and we got to meet many lovely princesses. Ariel greets guests as they walk in. As soon as she saw me, she gasped and said, “You look like me!” I laughed and pointed to my sister and said, “She looks more like you!” Ariel was ecstatic about her “sisters.” We also met Cinderella and Belle (who graciously took pictures with Flat Andy), and Tiana and Aurora.
After lunch, we thought it would be appropriate to go on Ariel’s Undersea Adventure one more time, and then make a marathon run over to Disneyland to get more done there before going back to California Adventure for our Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses. The girls got separated from the boys, but we all decided to meet in the castle. I am so glad we did.
I was standing on the bridge taking pictures, when I looked over at Snow White’s Wishing Well and saw a bright green shirt. I knew from Tumblr that Peter Pan sometimes likes to hang out at the Wishing Well. I pointed and yelled “Peter!” My mom and sister barely had time to look at where I was pointing before I was off and running. I passed my brother and cousin in the castle and ran through the back area toward the well. Peter was still there, greeting some pint-sized fans. I waited my turn, almost unable to contain my excitement at finding my favorite character. We chatted for a few minutes, took some pictures, and I was on my way, letting him meet with more fans.
After meeting with Peter, we appropriately went on Peter Pan’s Flight (only a 30 minute wait!), and then walked through Sleeping Beauty Castle, where they’ve set up a beautiful Sleeping Beauty exhibit. After that, everyone was starting to get tired, so we decided to head back to the hotel to rest and pack up a little bit. However, as we were on our way out, I saw Alice and the Mad Hatter in the Carnation Cafe. I yelled to my mom that I was going to follow them as they walked across Main Street to a meet and greet area. There were some other guests meeting with them first, but I got to chat with them a bit and take a photo.
Still heading for the hotel, we aimed for the train station, and on the way my sister and I found Goofy. She and I decided we were having way too much fun, and decided that instead of heading to the hotel we’d stay and stake out a good spot on Main Street to catch Soundsational again.
Seeing Soundsational from the curb on Main Street was amazing! I got some more awesome parade photos, and danced along with my sister.
When the parade was over, we found the rest of our group in Disneyana and went on Pirates, had dinner at the French Market, and went on Space Mountain one last time before going back to California Adventure.
At California Adventure, we went on Radiator Springs Racers — and won the race! After that was one more trip to the Tower of Terror, where we coordinated a pretty funny ride photo:
Then it was back to Disneyland for the fireworks. We got on the Disneyland railroad, took it from the Main Street station to the Tomorrowland station, and then disembarked to get a spot for the fireworks. We ended up with a pretty good spot on Main Street, and enjoyed the fireworks one more time before heading back to the hotel to finish packing and get to sleep — we had to get up at 4 again to catch our flights.
You can pack a lot into three days at Disneyland — this post doesn’t even cover everything we did! Disneyland is a truly spectacular place, and I was so happy to get to spend a few days there. Disney magic is a strong part of my life, and this trip just enhanced that.
But it didn’t end there. From Disneyland we went to San Francisco, where we got to do a LOT of relaxing (necessary after a Disney Parks trip), spent time with wonderful family friends, and got to see the Walt Disney Family Museum. After spending three days in Walt’s park, I was ecstatic to learn more about the man behind the name — and learn I did! The museum, put together by Walt’s daughter, is a collection of original drawings, Disney family heirlooms, Disney merchandise, and so much more (like a full-scale model of Disneyland that, like the park, will never be finished).
Now that I’m home, I’m trying hard (as always) to keep the Disney magic alive. I’ve added my new pins to my board, hung up my signed Mickey photo, displayed my graduation ears, and uploaded my photos to Facebook. As soon as I’m done with this post, mom and I are going to check out the Photopass pictures. I’m still jet lagged, and not so excited about returning to work (I love my job, but going back means vacation is truly over), but I’m happy for all that we did on our trip. The Disney magic is still very much running through me, and I can’t wait for my next Disney Parks vacation. 🙂