When I was a young child I have very vivid memories of watching Walt Disneyâ€™s Wonderful World of Color on the television with my grandfather.Â Inevitably, our favorite episodes were those that were about a new attraction or some event that was taking place in Disneyland.Â My grandfather and I talked often about the time when we would visit Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and see everything for ourselves.Â Sadly, that trip never occurred due to many reasons.Â Many years have passed and oddly, I never made that trip to the worldâ€™s most famous theme park.
This year my daughter, Liz, and I were talking about a place to spend a few vacation days, and I suggested that maybe both of us should meet up at Disneyland.Â I would travel from the East Coast of the United States and my daughter would make the journey from the West Coast.Â This would be a first-time visit for both of us.Â We were not newbies to Disney parks.Â Both of us have been to Walt Disney World so many times that we cannot even remember the exact number.Â Somehow the lure of seeing Disneyland intrigued us.Â Perhaps it was its mystical history or maybe even its direct link to Walt Disney, but visiting Disneyland seemed like a brand new adventure.Â So we asked ourselves, would Disneyland be any more special than any other Disney park?
We booked a trip to the Disneyland resort for the middle of November.Â The resort is made up of the Disneyland theme park, Disneyâ€™s California Adventure amusement park, an area of restaurants and shops known as the Downtown Disney District, and three Disney-themed hotels.
We decided to stay on-site at Disneyâ€™s Paradise Pier Hotel so that we would be able to walk to the parks each day.Â We anticipated that this would be a time of the year when the weather would be predictably warm and the skies sunny.Â Furthermore, we also knew that the Disney properties began decorating for the December holidays shortly after their Halloween celebration.Â All of our assumptions proved to be true, and we delightfully arrived two days after the beginning of the annual Disney Festival of Holidays.
We purposely didnâ€™t make many plans or even set up a day-by-day agenda.Â We just wanted this experience to be a relaxing, joyful discovery.Â One goal that interested me was finding the Disneyland I remembered seeing on television in my youth.Â I wanted to find those things that were directly related to Walt Disney.Â I remember watching television episodes about the Haunted Mansion, the Pirates of the Caribbean, Main Street U.S.A., and Tom Sawyerâ€™s Island.Â I had seen these at Walt Disney World, but I was interested in finding out if the experience was different at Disneyland.
Furthermore, I was also looking forward to attractions that were unique to Disneyland such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Radiator Springs Racers.
There were other unique things about Disneyland that I was also excited to explore.Â As a very young child, I had the opportunity to attend the New York Worldâ€™s Fair of 1964-1965 on multiple occasions.Â Four attractions at that exhibition were designed by Disney Imagineers. Â To this day I have vivid memories of seeing Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the State of Illinois Pavilion, sailing through â€œitâ€™s a small worldâ€ presented by Pepsi-Cola/UNICEF, marveling at the General Electric Progressland presentation, and riding a Mustang automobile through the Ford Magic Skyway.Â Some of those attractions made it back to Disneyland, and I was fascinated by what I would remember.
My daughter and I spent four days going back and forth between Disneyland and Disneyâ€™s California Adventure park.Â We attempted to see as much as possible at a reasonable pace.Â We were never bored and developed a strategy of using Disneyâ€™s Fast Pass system to see the most popular attractions and looking for the shortest wait lines at others.Â Eventually, we saw almost everything we wanted to see.
When you go
- Buy Disneyland tickets in advance to avoid waiting in another line
- If you stay on property like Barry you can get into the park early
- Save on Disneyland tickets
- If you go during the holidays read 12 Tips for Tackling Disneyland for the Holidays
Some observations immediately caught my attention.Â Disneyland seemed smaller and more compact than Walt Disney World, but it also seemed more comfortable.Â Sleeping Beautyâ€™s Castle at Disneyland was noticeably less soaring than Cinderellaâ€™s Castle at Walt Disney World. Â Surprisingly, it was often not visible from many areas of the park. Â None of this was disappointing, just different than I expected. Â Many of the people appeared to have been to the park many times before.Â We marveled that almost every visitor except us seemed to have a unique Disneyland shirt and hat to wear.Â The variety of mouse ears and character-themed hats was amazing.Â We were also struck by the fact that even though we knew there was a major city outside the boundaries of the park, we never saw or experienced it.Â Disneyland is well designed to make visitors forget about the outside world and just enjoy a magically designed world of fantasy and fun.
Overall, our four days turned into a wonderful adventure.Â We enjoyed all the traditional Disney rides and attractions such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain.Â We liked the specially adapted holiday versions of Itâ€™s a Small World and the Haunted Mansion which was decorated with scenes from the movie â€œThe Nightmare Before Christmas.â€Â We marveled at how coasters such as Hyperspace Mountain and the Incredicoaster had a storyline attached to the ride that added a little extra excitement to the experience.
Pleasantly, we found ourselves in the middle of a pop-up Mary Poppins musical event in front of Sleeping Beautyâ€™s Castle.
We even laughed when I got incredibly wet on the Grizzly River Run rapids ride due to an unexpected geyser that strategically appeared.Â Overall, even though we found the parks more crowded than expected, the wait times were manageable, and we found that we were able to easily find seating at all the restaurants we visited.Â One thing we appreciated was being able to walk to both Disney parks from our hotel.Â The short stroll from the hotel through the Downtown Disney District to the entrance of both parks was a great way to begin and end each day.
Amazingly, I did find remnants of the 1964-1965 New York Worldâ€™s Fair.Â I was pleased to see how prominently â€œitâ€™s a small worldâ€ was featured in Disneyland.Â Even though it had been refurbished, it still rekindled those feelings I experienced the first time I rode the attraction in New York. Â I found some of the dinosaurs from the Ford Magic Skyway while riding the Disneyland Railroad. Â To satisfy my curiosity, we rode the train around the park twice so I could see the Primeval World Diorama and Audio-Animatronics dinosaurs.Â All of this brought back fond memories.Â I remembered that the General Electric Progressland exhibit was repurposed as the Carousel of Progress in Walt Disney World, so I knew I wouldnâ€™t find any of it at Disneyland.Â Sadly, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was closed most of the time we were there, so revisiting that experience will have to wait for a future visit.
One new attraction that wowed us was the new Star Wars-themed area called Galaxyâ€™s Edge.Â We found ourselves visiting the simulated planet of Batuu multiple times. Â The attention to detail and the immersive experience was a remarkable surprise.Â Every time we visited the area there seemed to be a different scenario being acted out with the visitors that involved Storm Troopers and other Star Wars characters.
There were multiple spacecraft around such as a full-sized TIE Echelon fighter and a very large, detailed Millennium Falcon.Â Even the food and drinks in this part of the park were unique and made us feel like we had walked right into the village of Black Spire Outpost.
We sampled the brightly colored popcorn from Kat Sakâ€™s Kettle that was sweet, savory, and spicy all at the same time. Â We puzzled at the food options at the Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, and we ended our last night, by having exotic drinks such as Jabba Juice, Blurgggfire, and a Fuzzy Tauntaun in Ogaâ€™s Cantina.
What I enjoyed so much about Disneyland was the way it createdÂ an environment for family members of all ages to share an experience and have fun.Â We loved the holiday celebrations and thoroughly enjoyed the international options at the Holiday Food Festival.Â We were so impressed with the nighttime fireworks show â€œBelieveâ€¦In Holiday Magicâ€ Fireworks Spectacular that we watched it three nights in a row.Â It was just as magical the last day as it was on the first.
So to answer my question, was it worth flying across the country to visit Disneyland.Â The answer was a resounding, â€œYes!â€Â The experience was more than I could have expected.Â Even though many attractions were the same or similar to those at Walt Disney World, Disneyland felt different.Â There was a lot of tradition, history, and pride in the park that was modeled by the cast and crew members who worked there.Â Even though I have been to Walt Disney World many times, I enjoyed every moment at Disneyland.Â My grandfather would have loved the place. Â Even though I felt some sadness at not being able to experience Disneyland with him, I felt a uniquely extra special joy and pride at being able to experience it with my daughter.
While there, I often found myself wondering why Disneyland seemed unique and special, but I couldnâ€™t exactly figure out what it was.Â A park employee saw that I was wearing a â€œFirst Timeâ€ visitor pin and welcomed me to the park.Â She asked how I was enjoying my visit, and I took a few moments to tell her my story.Â I also explained that I felt something special and unique about Disneyland that made it feel different than the other Disney parks I have been to.Â Her feeling was that what makes Disneyland unique is that amidst all the crowds, excitement, and noise, you can still feel and see touches of Waltâ€™s presence here.Â I have to agree because I felt it too.
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