A Walt Disney World Veteran Heads West To Disneyland

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It's not just the castle that's different at Disneyland

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:

Some things are the same, like the need to hit Dumbo first thing in the morning.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    It's a little easier to do some map decisions at Disneyland.

  4. 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.
  5. 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?

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Posted on April 30, 2012

31 Responses to “A Walt Disney World Veteran Heads West To Disneyland”

  • I would highly recommend the Minnie and Friends breakfast at the Plaza Inn inside Disneyland. We just got back from our latest trip, and there were 14 characters at that meal. I would recommend a reservation for any of the characters meals, you might not be able to just walk in and sit down for those. If you are not doing early entry but want to eat with Minnie on an early entry day, you can get a reservation for before the park officially opens and go in and have your breakfast done before rope drop.

  • I agree with Melissa about the Plaza Inn character breakfast. I just did it a couple of months ago, and with an early reservation (about 30 minutes before park opening), Minnie was waiting for us at our table, and we saw a ton of characters.

    Speaking of characters, especially at the meals, that’s one difference you’re likely to notice. Characters tend to be much more playful and interactive out here!

    Since you mentioned getting a seat for World of Color, if you’re interested, I wrote an article recently for PassPorter about World of Color viewing (http://www.passporter.com/articles/world-of-color-dca-tips.html, but be sure to also check out the forum post where I added some clarifying information: http://www.passporterboards.com/forums/passporter-news/257824-feature-article-world-color-disney-california-adventure-disneyland-touring-tips.html)

    One other tip: be sure to try to do the uniquely-Disneyland experiences that are closest to Walt. To me, that mainly means a ride in the Lilly Belle and/or the tender seat on the Disneyland Railroad, but there are others.

  • by Amy in Seattle on April 30, 2012, at 3:03 pm EST

    Great Post. We had the same experiances. We had gone to Disney World but when we went to Disneyland last summer it through us off more then I thought it would have. There were +’s and -’s for us. The biggest plus, was it seemed liked the rides were longer, not sure if that was even true, lol, and great unque rides. But the -’s (sad to say)that will make us think twice about going again to Disneyland is that the lines grew so long so fast and the HUGE crowds for the parades and the nightly shows.

  • Disneyland is a terrific park! You’re right about the nighttime crowds. Unlike WDW, DL is more of a ‘locals’ park. There are over a million annual passholders (IIRC) and most of them live close enough to just ‘drop in’ when they feel like it. This means that many APs will come in after work and on weekends for the big show spectaculars.

    I know you said that staying onsite at Disneyland is a ‘luxury’ but it is well worth it. As a resort guest you get early entrance to the park EVERY day it is offered. Right now that’s 4 days per week, but rumor is that the other 3 days will become DCA early entry once Carsland opens in June. You simply can’t beat early entry at Disneyland. It’s actually possible to do all of Fantasyland (dark rides, carousel, Dumbo) and the Matterhorn before the park even opens, then be first in line to nab a Fastpass at your favorite ride when the park officially starts letting in the crowds.

    Oh yeah, did I mention that Fastpass return time is NOT enforced at Disneyland? That means that all of those Fastpasses you picked up first thing in the morning can be used in the evening when those AP crowds appear.

    I highly recommend Cafe Orleans. Blue Bayou is nice, but only if you get a waterside table, and there aren’t that many. The best dish is the monte cristo, and they have that at Cafe Orleans… in both the traditional ham & cheese and a three cheese style! The pommes frites at Cafe Orleans are to die for. Truly. You won’t know until you’ve tried them.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!

    • I plan to have the pomme frites at Cafe Orleans. Had them 5 years ago and I’m still dreaming about it! Thanks for the tip about on-site hotels. I still can’t afford it, but maybe one day?

      • If you book a package with a Good Neighbor Hotel, you should also get the Magic Morning & Mickey’s Toontown Morning Madness benefits. Check with your travel agent for details.

        • That’s not entirely true. If you buy a 3 day (or more) parkhopper you get ONE Magic Morning. You can only get more than that if you stay onsite. Now since the hotels are so close, a lot of people do ‘split stays’ where they will spend Saturday night at a Disney hotel, therefore becoming eligible for both Saturday and Sunday Magic Morning, then spend their other nights at an offsite hotel and get their extra Magic Morning from their pass.

          Magic Morning is going to become much more important if they start doing it for DCA on DL’s ‘off’ days.

          You are right that the Toontown Morning Madness vouchers (etc.) are available with any package, and packages include offsite ‘Good Neighbor’ hotels.

          • by Charlene Solonynka on May 3, 2012, at 2:57 am EST

            If you stay at the California Grand hotel you can also get fast passes for World of Color before the parks open.

  • I JUST went through this very situation a month ago! I’m a WDW vet and went to Disneyland – I LOVED it, but it was very strange planning, because of that “it’s same… but very different!” vibe. Every now and again, I’d get turned around, and I never did manage to find the mysterious Disneyland-only Critter Country without help, lol, but I absolutely loved pocket-sized DLR!

    Even though the crowd calendar told me the parks would be around 9s in Disneyland, somehow I felt like I spent FAR LESS time waiting in line in Disneyland than my Disney World visits (which are usually more like 4s) – maybe that’s because I was finally able to be at the park for Rope Drop, what with the convenient three-hour east coast to west coast time difference!

    I was then able to go back to my non-property hotel *across the street* from the entrance (fab stay at the Best Western Park Place) and take a nap for the afternoon, then go back in the evening. It was wonderful! I was still able to apply WDW time rules to Disneyland rides (get on new Star Tours stat!) and I REALLY worked those early-morning and late-night touring plan hours to best advantage. Over a leisurely 3 1/2 day visit, it all worked like a charm. You can walk right onto Dumbo at midnight, lol.

    I had the benefit of being at the park by myself, and also being tall, so it turned out World of Color “seating” (I quote that because I see you used “seating” – there’s no seating, even if you get a dining reservation. It’s all standing, all the time!) wasn’t a problem – I could still see over heads just fine (and WoC was, hands down, the best Disney show I’ve EVER seen!!!) I splurged on the Fantasmic dessert package to get myself a chair and food, and was happy enough to simply walk along the parade route eating a Dole Whip during parade time. As for fireworks, I serendipitously hit Main Street exactly when they were roping it off, so I got a prime spot right smack dab in the middle. … obviously, it will be harder with kids or people not approaching 6′!

    I’m sure I could write an entire guest blog essay at this point, so I’d better stop, lol. My friends suspect I might be a Disneyland snob now, though, because it’s true, some things really ARE better in Disneyland! :)

  • by Heather Lousie on April 30, 2012, at 5:32 pm EST

    I am going to have the exact opposite experience this year. I have been going to Disneyland at least once a year for the last 30 something years and will be making my first trip out to WDW this September. I am trying to wrap my head around all the differences to prepare myself as well. Size of the parks, dinner reservations, fewer attractions per park etc.
    We will have to compare notes when we both get back. :)

    • Yes, for DL locals, WDW is a planning nightmare. Everything has to be planned out and ready before you leave, so you can relax when you arrive. Use the info on the site and you’ll be fine. :)

  • I am a DL local who visits WDW annually. My tips for DL are to get there at opening because locals like to sleep in. Utilize FP whenever possible. See the Steve Martin movie in the Opera House to get a feel for the history of the park.
    Try to pick days where locals are blocked out. Less crowds that way. Still follow a touring plan. These are especially valuable due to the smaller size of the park.

  • I agree about the culture shock when planning dining at disneyland resort compared to WDW. It’s a very different experience, but FUN!

  • I disagree about not needing any ADRs. We went last Columbus Day weekend with mid-level crowds. People were turned away at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ without reservations. Also, waits for dinner at Ariel’s Grotto and lunch at Cafe Orleans exceeded 1 hour. So if you want to eat at some more popular TSs or are going in higher crowds, I’d say ADRs are still a must. You just don’t have to book as far in advance! Also how to avoid wasting hours staking out spots for F! Or WoC- pay the money for F! Dessert package or WoC dining. Note WoC picnic is not WoC dining!

    • Interesting…I’ve never had that experience at Disneyland before. Perhaps it’s gotten busier? Blue Bayou I have always had to make an ADR for, but I’ve walked into Goofy’s Kitchen, Ariel’s Grotto and Steakhouse 55 before with no wait. Again, it’s been 5 years since I’ve been, though, so I’m sure things have changed. I will check out the ADRs and see what I want to do.

      • I constantly see people turned away from Ariel’s Grotto, and I haven’t been able to make reservations for dinner time a month before my trip. I would book here as soon as possible if seeing the princesses is a must. The dinner’s will also be booked more now since they went back to the princesses at dinner rather than the world of color dinner package.

  • Oh, here’s another tip. If there are two Fantasmic! showings, to avoid the crowds (if you don’t mind getting a peek at the show in advance), sometime shortly before the first show, head towards Critter Country. Ride the Haunted Mansion (which is right on the border to Critter Country), Splash Mountain, and/or Winnie the Pooh. Get dinner at the Hungry Bear Restaurant (a counter service location) or the Harbor Galley (a walk-up window across from Mansion).

    When the first show ends, everyone heads towards Main Street & the rest of the park. Meanwhile, everyone who wants to see the second show is trying to go against the exit-traffic to grab a spot. But from where you are, you can wait a few minutes and then stroll on into the F! viewing area. 9,000 people are leaving, almost as many are entering, and at the very same time you’ve beaten most of them to a good viewing spot.

  • Big Thunder BBQ is awesome! We will go there every trip from now on. Definitely get a reservation, they were super busy when we were there a couple of weeks ago.

    Fantasmic is so much better at DL than at WDW. I cannot even describe how much better it is. Do not miss it! We did the dessert seating for the first time this last trip and it was wonderful.

  • Just got back from my first ever trip to Disneyland. I am a WDW veteran but wanted to see the original. My observation was that although the park is smaller it is much more detailed. Definitely more locals so arrive as early as possible. Sunday morning I woke up after 6am got ready and was one of the first in line when the park opened at 7am for morning magic hour. Some rides were so empty that I had to ask CMs if the rides were even open. By 10am I had done everything I had wanted to do so I just relaxed, went to DCA for a few hours and rode the single rider attractions and made my way back to DL. While everyone was waiting for Fantasmic or the fireworks I hit a few more rides with minimal waits. The food was much better I thought. Walked up to Cafe Orleans without ADR and called only a day in advance for lunch at Ariel’s. Of course there were only 2 of us and we didn’t mind either a late lunch or early dinner. Goofy’s kitchen was great too! It is definitely a must see but very different from Disney World.

  • I suspect I’m going to that same conference in Anaheim! I’m making sure to reserve one evening to get to Disneyland–WDW is my usual park, and I look forward to experiencing the differences. Thanks for the tips!

  • At WDW the UG recommends avoiding parks with early EMH due to the crowds it draws. Is the same true at Disneyland for the Magic Morning Hours? Or are those an effective way to do a little more and beat the crowds (assuming one is eligible for the early entry)?

    • Magic Morning at DL is awesome. We have been able to do every Fantasyland ride within that early hour, and then get Space Mountain Fast Passes and walk right onto the new Star Tours when the park opens. Or get in line for the Finding Nemo subs right when the park opens, it is probably the shortest the line will be all day.

      • The UG to Disneyland advises doing Early Entry if you are eligible, but if not, then yes, avoid that park unless you want to skip ahead in the touring plan. This is one of the things I am definitely trying to wrap my head around.

        • I wouldn’t say you have to ‘skip ahead’ in the touring plan. But if you go to the park for ‘RD’ on a Magic Morning, then you have to be prepared to skip Fantasyland. You can still have a runner go into Tomorrowland and grab FPs for Space Mountain and/or Star Tours, but start your touring in Adventureland with Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder, etc. Remember, the FPs don’t start distributing until Magic Morning is over, so you won’t be ‘behind’ on FP gathering, plus you can use them after they have ‘expired’ so you can just collect a bunch.

  • How’s the planning going? What else have you discovered?