As soon as my wife brought up the conference she had to attend in Anaheim, most of you reading this can imagine where my mind went. Yes, a trip for her to Anaheim for a conference meant a golden opportunity for the family and me to go and check out Disneyland, Walt Disney’s original theme park. While I have been in the past, my children have not been outside of a short trip when my son was 4 years old. And none of us has been in over 5 years. So I was eagerly anticipating the trip. That is, until I started planning it.
As a Walt Disney World veteran, I know how to plan for a trip there. At least I hope I do, or I wouldn’t really be qualified to write for TouringPlans.com. I know how to use the Touring Plans, the Crowd Calendar and the Lines app before and during my trip, and I know how to make Advanced Dining Reservations. I know the crowd pattern, and I know the best places to stop to water and feed the children. I’ve got Florida down pat. So Disneyland is just a case of taking that same knowledge and using it there, right? Wrong.
I know all about the differences between the parks, how Disneyland is two parks within walking distance of each other, the ability to stay at an offsite hotel and still walk to the parks. I know all of those things. What I don’t know is the crowd patterns, the tips and tricks for the must see shows, or the ins and outs of a trip to Disneyland. My first place to try to find that out was right here: I have combed through the Disneyland section of TouringPlans.com, checked the Disneyland Lines mobile app, and bought a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland to prepare. Here’s what I’ve learned about the differences between the two resorts:
- Chill Out – You know how things can be with a Walt Disney World trip. You’ve got your touring plan, your notarized itinerary, your list of ADRs a mile long, and you know what you’re going to do from sun up to sun down. What I’ve learned at Disneyland is that while having your touring plan for the morning is essential, the rest of it is not quite as crazed as Walt Disney World. The typical suspects will have long lines, but there is SO much more in Disneyland than in the Magic Kingdom, so you can pretty much always find something to do. The obsessive planning is not nearly as important, with a few exceptions.
- Mornings Are Crazy – In Florida, you arrive at the park at rope drop, see several attractions on the touring plan, and avoid the park with Extra Magic Hours. Pretty simple formula. At Disneyland Park, there is early entry (called Magic Mornings) several days a week, and if you try to follow the touring plan then, you’ll be out of luck because not all attractions are open. Plus, Disneyland opens at 8 a.m. most busy days, so you need to be there by 7:30am at the latest. In other words, Disneyland is going to require much more morning time than Walt Disney World has in the past.
- Dining Is Different – Many of us spend the months leading up to our Disney World vacations choosing just the right restaurants to reserve once that 180-day mark hits prior to the trip. Should I go to Le Cellier or Brown Derby? Where do I get the school bread? Where are those waffle sandwiches I’ve heard so much about? At Disneyland, making meal reservations 6 months in advance is not required or even possible. In fact, except for the Blue Bayou, there’s normally no need to make dining reservations. Imagine the freedom to walk into a restaurant and just…sit down. It hasn’t been that way in Walt Disney World for almost a decade. That will be quite the adjustment for me.
- Shows Are King – Yes, in Florida, we line up for parades and fireworks. But not like Disneyland. At the Magic Kingdom, I’ve been known to grab a seat in the Hub for the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes about 40 minutes before showtime. I was reading this week that some people will grab seats for Fantasmic! on the Rivers of America 4 hours before showtime! And don’t get me started on the algebra problem that is World of Color seating. Part of my planning process is definitely going to be how to squeeze in these amazing shows without spending all night camped out on the ground.
- Hotels Are Hotels – I admit, I usually stay on property at Walt Disney World. It’s nice for the convenience, and a room at Pop Century – while more costly than a comparable offsite hotel – is more than worth it for Disney’s Magical Express or bus service to the parks. At Disneyland, every hotel across the street on Harbor Boulevard is cheaper than any of Disney’s hotels, most of them are closer, and many of them feature better dining. Paying to stay on-site at Disneyland is a luxury, likely one that I cannot afford.
Those are just a few of the things I have learned. As I get closer and closer to my trip, I’ll keep you posted on what else I learn and how the Disneyland plans are going. What about you Disneyland vets? Any tips and tricks?