I considered writing a full trip recap here, but it was a long weekend and there’s so much to say, so in the interest of keeping readers, I think this is going to become a Top 10 instead.
(Note: This is not a ranking. It’s just 10 things in no particular order that really stood out to me from our Disneyland Resort/Universal Studios Hollywood trip.)
1. The Disneyland Hotel
The Disneyland Hotel is an absolute delight. For those of you who have never seen it, there are three towers: Fantasy, Adventure, and Frontier. (We stayed in Frontier tower, but we spent a lot of time in Fantasy tower as it is the main building and houses food and merch options as well as the front desk.)
We were fortunate to get a pool view room (check out that monorail themed pool!), with a great view of Fantasy tower. The rooms are simple but beautiful, with dark furniture, intricate designs on the carpet, and the most beautiful headboard ever…
Overall, my fiancé Hunter and I were quite impressed with the Disneyland Hotel, which has a lot to offer its guests, including a very short walk to Downtown Disney, which is a gateway right to the parks!
MaxPass was the real MVP of our trip. At only $10/person/day, it’s an absolute bargain to get unlimited photo downloads and the ability to book FastPass on our phones instead of running back and forth to kiosks. With MaxPass you can book a new FastPass every 90 minutes regardless of whether or not you have a FastPass already booked. You can also hold FastPass selections in both parks simultaneously, which ended up working out really well for us on our park hopping days. It was a fun system to play with and we hit very few snags.
Also, did I mention unlimited photo downloads? For $10/day? So worth it to, at the very least, get our ride photos!
3. Holiday Overlays
I am obsessed with Disneyland’s holiday overlays, specifically Haunted Mansion Holiday and Small World Holiday.
Haunted Mansion Holiday doesn’t feel like an overlay at all, it feels like its own stand alone Nightmare Before Christmas attraction, and I was pleasantly surprised. Hunter is a HUGE Mansion fan, and I was worried about him not seeing Disneyland’s Mansion in its organic state, but after our first ride through, we were completely blown away. While we definitely want to see Mansion without the overlay sometime, this is the ride we ended up visiting the most over the course of our trip because we enjoyed it so much. And as an added bonus, we got to see Hatbox Ghost!
Small World Holiday was quite possibly my favorite part of Disneyland. The facade all decked out for Christmas brought me to near tears every time I saw it. Inside the attraction, it’s Christmas as well, and as the children sing a blend of the Small World song and Jingle Bells. I’ve always loved the addition of familiar Disney characters in Disneyland’s Small World, and it was fun seeing my fiancé’s face as he recognized the characters peppered throughout the attraction. Overall, just like Mansion, I think Small World lends itself very well to a Christmas overlay.
4. Disneyland Food
I’ve heard it for years — Disneyland food is superior theme park food. And it did not disappoint. We ate at Blue Bayou (shoutout to the gumbo!), Wine Country Trattoria, Lamplight Lounge, Cafe Orleans, and Steakhouse 55, which were all spectacular in their own way. At Cafe Orleans, I had my personal favorite meal of the trip — the Monte Cristo.
We also had some great quick service experiences, most notably Bengal Barbecue. While it had a long wait, my fiancé said the wait was justified and the food was fantastic. We didn’t do as much eating as we wanted (we ran out of time to try the Festival of Holidays booths), but the eating we did do was great. And in true Disney fashion, the allergy accommodations we needed were all met beautifully.
Oh, and the churros? Magnificent.
5. Attractions & Lands That Surprised Us!
My fiancé mentioned multiple times how surprised he was that he loved Disney California Adventure. When I last visited Disneyland (five years ago!), I remember saying the same. DCA has gone through a lot of changes since my last visit, but I ended up truly enjoying everything I experienced.
Paradise Pier was one of my favorite parts of DCA on my last visit, and the transition to Pixar Pier seems to flow way better than I expected. While I didn’t experience the attractions here thanks to a morning migraine, I had Hunter go off on his own for IncrediCoaster and Mickey’s Wheel of Death — er, Pixar Pal-a-Round, and he loved both of them. I got to soak in the atmosphere of Pixar Pier, which I enjoyed way more than I expected to.
Another breakout (ha) surprise for us was Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout. From Rocket setting the scene for us in the office, to the soundtrack, to the scenes opening ahead of us on the attraction (including the thematic inconsistency of looking out over HollywoodLand when the doors open up), Mission: Breakout is just so fun. Of course Tower of Terror will always be a classic, but Mission: Breakout had us laughing the entire time and we truly enjoyed it.
6. Cast Members and Team Members
We encountered some amazing cast members at Disneyland — most of whom wanted to know all about my job making magic at Walt Disney World (they also wanted to know about the similarities and differences between our parks). We also had cast members going above and beyond for us in little ways when they noticed Hunter’s first visit button and our Happily Ever After buttons. The cast out there was so kind and genuinely friendly, which is what we expected of course but we were still very happy with our experience.
But where we found some truly stand out employees was Universal Studios Hollywood.
We were fortunate to be accompanied by our friend Eric on our Universal day. Eric is a Universal Hollywood team member and therefore was an excellent guide for the day, making sure we did literally everything we wanted to do. He also introduced us to some amazing team members, specifically the team at Guest Relations who hooked us up with all the different buttons we could ever possibly need (below is just a few of them).
We were truly impressed with both Disneyland’s Cast Members and Universal’s Team Members, and each encounter made our trip that much better.
7. Universal Hollywood Shows/Entertainment
Both Hunter and I were completely blown away by the entertainment at Universal. Of course, the stand out is Waterworld, which combines a great cast, crazy stunts, and special effects to bring guests into the world of making a movie come to life. We also throughly enjoyed the Special Effects show (and its little nods to our Orlando favorite, the Horror Makeup show). We were also pleasantly surprised by the incredible talent of the Frog Choir and Beauxbatons/Durmstrang performers in Hogsmeade.
Universal Studios Hollywood entertainment is top tier for theme parks. If you ever find yourself in the LA area, I encourage you to check it out!
8. The Studio Tram Tour
The Studio Tour was definitely the highlight of our Universal day. It’s an hour long tour, but the guide takes you through tons of movie sets, pointing out all the different movies and tv shows that have been made right there in front of you. We saw sets from Hairspray Live (which was filmed right there on the lot), The Good Place, Bates Motel, and War of the Worlds, just to name a few.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the tour. It’s hard to explain without actually seeing it, so again, if you find yourself in the LA area, definitely check it out.
It’s probably impossible to visit Universal Studios Hollywood without mentioning the escalators. The park is two levels, and to get to the Lower Lot, you have to take not one, not two, but FOUR ESCALATORS. The escalators are time consuming but they’re also awesome for seeing the incredible views surrounding the park.
10. Snoap EVERYWHERE!
Jumping back to Disneyland…
There is so much snoap at Disneyland. There’s the expected snoap on Main Street during the nighttime spectaculars, but we also saw snoap in Frontierland and Grizzly Peak, which was unexpected but very much welcome! It really set the mood for the holiday season!
Honorable Mention: How Easy Park Hopping Is at Disneyland!
When we first arrived at the Disneyland Resort, I walked Hunter over to the gates of Disneyland and then had him turn around so he could see the gates of DCA. We both had a good laugh, because we’re very much used to the long commutes between parks at Walt Disney World. But park hopping between Disneyland and DCA is so easy, as the park entrances are so close together. This made our trip planning very easy, as we didn’t have to plan out a ton of time to move between parks.
There were so many things we loved that didn’t make it into this post, but there were also so many things we didn’t get to see. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll start planning our next Disneyland/Universal Studios Hollywood trip very soon!