Let’s Plan the Best Disneyland Resort Vacation!
The Disneyland Resort may not be absolutely the Happiest Place on Earth (we reserve that title for Washington, D.C.), but it truly is a wonderful and remarkable place. Sifting through the vast amounts of information on the web can be a daunting task, even if you are familiar with the place and its surroundings.
We just finished a year of celebrating the 60th anniversary of Disneyland. The latest big move by our friends at Disney is that they have brought back the Main Street Electrical Parade, which has been in Florida for many years. This alone will be enough for many fans to come back to the park in 2017.
Stick with the Guru and you’ll soon find yourself ready to make some decisions and engage in specific planning for your trip to the parks.
Parks? There’s more than one?
If you’ve not been to the real, original Disneyland since the turn of the century, you’ll be blown away by the changes. Time was, there was just Disneyland Park. We used to take trams in from the big parking lot out in front of the main gate.
There are still trams (which we think are a part of the charm and culture of the place), but now they take most of the Guests to the mother-of-all-parking-structures, the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure.
The point here is that in place of the huge open parking lot of the past, we now have two new destinations adjacent to the Kingdom — Disney’s California Adventure Park and the Downtown Disney shopping/entertainment district. They are all connected by a nice entrance plaza (I wish I had owned the parcels next door to the old parking lot, because Walt’s guys no doubt paid up for that land as part of the huge expansion.).
With that major expansion in 2001, along with more recent improvements to the surrounding area by the city of Anaheim and work by the California Department of Transportation on Interstate 5, it truly is a multi-faceted world-class resort. Everything from the entrance to the fireworks show has been upgraded.(BTW, if you have not been to the resort in a couple of years or more, you’ve missed the major upgrade to it’s a small world attraction; here is a report we filed shortly after it re-opened awhile back.
There is real synergy created by the new features, and Mickey has just spent another $1 billion on California Adventure over the last few years (the recent opening of Cars Land, and before that the Toy Story Midway Mania attraction, is a great example of the incoming influence of Pixar Studios on the Disney Imagineering team). They renovated it’s a small world a couple of years ago; check out our coverage of the re-opening of this favorite attraction below!
But all this isn’t to say that the Disneyland Resort is the huge, master-planned solar system you’ll find in Orlando, and that difference has advantages and disadvantages. The larger Florida resort, with vast parkways separating the numerous theme parks, fully enfolds you into its bosom. While you’re there, you can pretend there is no outside world, and that’s kinda cool. But forget about quickly going out for an inexpensive dinner or a trip to a non-Disney attraction in Orlando. You need to register a flight plan with the FAA just to leave the resort district.
Note to Enthusiastic Anaheim Disney Vacationers
If you really feel that you want to spend some time right NOW checking out the Disneyland Resort attractions, shows, lodging and whatnot , jump to our recommendations for great detailed websites and our shortcuts for the official Disneyland website. We’ll help you avoid having to wade through a bunch of irrelevant search results you’ll face if you go to Google or Yahoo.
Instead click here to skip to various good pages on the official Disneyland Resort website. Or, you can check out our recommended independent sites with terrific information about the Disney Resort and everything that goes with it.
If you’re itching to check out the other sites, go for it, and then you can come back here later.
OK, Where Were We?
One can still get lost in the magical world of Disney in Anaheim, but on a smaller scale; you can walk from the Main Street Fire Station out to Harbor Boulevard and get a ticket for jaywalking in under 10 minutes. So there is a bit more intrusion from the real world.
On the other hand, they do a great job of shielding you from the outside; it is amazing what the designers have done to create a world apart. And, of course, there are advantages to being able to eat at restaurants that have the business incentive to offer prices that are lower than those inside the park (capitalism and competition can have advantages over a monopoly according to Jeffersonian economic theory—this can be explained more fully by any Disney Cast Member you encounter on your vacation, just ask).
It is easy to engage in non-Disney activities in Orange County, and there are a lot of such activities with which to be engaged. And don’t forget, this is the Granddaddy of them all, the original theme-park-in-an-orange-grove (actually Knott’s Berry Farm is the Great Granddaddy, the original theme-park-in-a-berry-field and a worthy destination).
So, we have Disneyland, Disney’s California Adventure, Downtown Disney and three hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian Hotel and the Paradise Pier Hotel). And the biggest parking structure in the country, with rest stops and gas stations on each floor (not really)…
…and many other non-Disney hotels and restaurants nearby in the Anaheim Resort District. The District includes some very nice, entertainment-oriented commercial shopping centers also, which can be reached easily by various modes of transportation.
You’re going to soon be looking at a lot of detailed information about your magical destination. Photos, ride descriptions, Disney hotels, non-Disney hotels, cute videos, suggestions, Space Mountain operating manual, electrical schematics for Pirates of the Caribbean, Julie Andrews’ tax returns, etc. That will all mean more to you if you run through a couple of other exercises first…
Decide Your Vacation Objective
If your primary vacation objective is to fully experience the Disney Resort, with less interest in the rest of Southern California, that simplifies things. You can choose not to rent a car if you’re flying in (or taking AMTRAK) and don’t need to move around O.C., L.A or San Diego too much. (You could still use public transportation or a cab to get down to the beach or over to Knott’s Berry Farm to break things up.)
By the way, a recent poll reported by TripAdvisor.com indicated that 70% of vacationers stayed at the Disneyland Resort vacation 1, 2 or 3 days; with the balance staying 4 days or longer. Click here for more discussion on fine tuning your vacation objectives.
Getting To and From Disneyland
If you are flying in and shuttling to the Disneyland Resort, it is not unreasonable to rent a car from an agency in Anaheim for a day or two; that might be better than renting the whole week and paying for parking when it sits in the nation’s largest parking structure for days on end (of course you may get a great weekly deal that makes paying the parking worthwhile and you have more flexibility).
You can take public transportation, rent a cab or get a car for a portion of the week. But I’d try and settle that in advance as car rental rates and availability are much better if you reserve in advance. Click here for more discussion about transportation options and details.
To Disney or Not To Disney…
…Lodging, that is. There are a lot of good alternatives to staying at a Disney resort hotel and we’ll help you learn about those. However, from our observation (including our own experience at WDW in Orlando) and what we’ve heard from others, it is worth checking to see if your budget will allow you to stay at one of the Disneyland hotels. There are perks that come with completely submitting your will and credit card to the Mouse. For example, the parks open an hour early on certain days—to Disney hotel guests only. Click here for more discussion about lodging choices. On the other hand, there are a number of rather nice hotels within walking distance of the main entrance and they might be worth checking out before you make a decision.
Food, Glorious Food!
You’ll soon see that there are a gaggle of dining choices within the parks, hotels and Downtown Disney entertainment center. You’ll definitely want to hit those; if you have small children we recommend a character breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. That is a great way to see the characters up close, for the price of a moderately overpriced breakfast, lunch or dinner, and especially if you are not staying at a Disney hotel to take advantage of Mickey’s Toon Town Morning Madness.
They do try to offer a wide variety of menu items at the many Disneyland restaurants, including an attempt to help you with your budget. There are a few things you can do to help trim the budget in the food department. Click here for more discussion about tips on Disney dining options and ways to save.
By the way, it is easy to get in the habit of not eating right when on vacation. I’ve begun drinking a minty green juice offered by another Southern California guru… a fitness guru Mr. Drew Canole. His company offers a great alternative to juicing, and it’s something you can easily take with you on vacation to add a bit of healthy consumption to your diet.
FastPass is a great invention on a par with the mouse trap (hitting close to home with that one). It is most useful to help you enjoy a very busy summer day in Disneyland—not as important if you’re coming during the off-season. The concept is like making a reservation for dinner rather than just showing up at the restaurant and waiting for a table.
If the system works, you may wait a few short minutes with a reservation, but even on a busy night you cut your waiting time way down. You breeze past the hungry faces in the waiting area in the restaurant. One difference between a Splash Mountain FastPass and a dining reservation is how soggy your shoes get by the time you’re done.
Disney Amusement Park Wisdom, Tips and Lore
After you’ve worked out the major details of your vacation such as how many days at the Disneyland Resort and where you’ll be staying, you can start thinking about the specifics. It’s very satisfying to learn little tricks that make the day more fun, or where you avoid a potential wrinkle.
I’m happy to say that we have some of those cool tricks for you here. In fact there are a lot of them that we’ve herded together in one place. We’ve organized this great intellectual treasure into a few categories for easy absorption. They are mostly presented in bullet point format to make it as concise as possible. You might want to print out these pages and mark in red pen those items that really jump out at you. Click here for our treasury of Theme Park Wisdom, Tips and Lore.