TouringPlans Everywhere – I’m Going to Disneyland!

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Photo by Seth Kubersky. Modifications by me.

Photo by Seth Kubersky. Modifications by me.

A little while ago we announced that Touring Plans would be spending a weekend this October at every Disney-operated destination. Well, I managed to draw the California-shaped straw, which my family and I could not possibly be more excited about. To hopefully help any of you who are, or would like to be, planning a Disneyland Resort trip, I will be writing a few posts over the next few months explaining our planning strategy.

Since I’m sure many of you are wondering how we at Touring Plans decided who would be going where, I’m going to let you in on a secret: I don’t know. I honestly have no idea how it was determined, and frankly, I don’t care because I’m going to Disneyland! (Ed. – it was based on sending people places they’d never been before plus trying to keep transportation and lodging prices down. That’s why all the FL based people are cruising or going to Vero Beach.)

I have been visiting Walt Disney World in Florida since 1984, but have never once been to Walt’s first park on the west coast. In fact, despite much travel, I have only been to California one time and that was a long weekend for a wedding. My wife and children (girl who will be almost 6 and boy who will be 3) have also never been to Disneyland, making this a very special experience for us.

Photo by Guy Selga, Jr

Photo by Guy Selga, Jr

Since having my first child 5 ½ years ago (well, technically my wife did a large portion of the ‘having’ part), I have noticed that many of our experiences with the kids have been introducing them to things that we are already familiar with. For me, Disneyland represents a wonderfully rare opportunity for all four of us to experience something new and monumental together as a family. Sounds like something Disneyland was built for.

As I mentioned, our California exposure has also been fairly limited. Because of that, we decided to take advantage of our cross-country flight and see some of the other Southern California sites. A little beach time sounds like just the right thing prior to going super-Disney-fanboy-crazy in the parks. Besides that, I hear that California…knows how to party, although I’m unsure of what time a West Coast party stops.

Our Timeline

As I mentioned, we wanted to see some other things in California besides Disneyland. Before making any concrete plans we needed to figure out how long we could go for. As with many of you, work and school commitments complicate our plans in addition to the regular old money concerns. There are also logistical concerns as California is a large state and we would have to miss quite a bit of work and school to go all the way up to Oakland and Sac-town, the Bay Area and back down (I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first one to quote Tupac on this blog…gimme love!). (Ed., I would have gone with “California Über Alles,” but that’s just me.)

Once we sat down and chose a few things we wanted to do such as the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park and several different beaches (gotta show off the pasty white belly) (Ed., ew.), we determined that we wanted to spend 6 days in California in addition to Disneyland. Next came the parks themselves, just how much time does one need in Disneyland?

Look how small the castle is! (Photo by Guy Selga, Jr)

Look how small the castle is! (Photo by Guy Selga, Jr)

What I read from sources such as the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, the two parks, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, can be seen in two days, one for each park. To do that however, requires either a busy schedule or skipping some stuff. Since my children are small, pushing them to the limit is usually a bad choice. And of course, skipping stuff is not something I want to willingly do.

We really wanted time to a) see all available attractions, b) see our favorites again, and c) be able to enjoy all the little atmospheric touches that made Disneyland such a revolutionary park. What we settled on was 5 full days at Disneyland, which should enable us to go slow and see it all. I may even have time to stop into Trader Sam’s!

Lodging

As with Walt Disney World, the first choice that needs to be made is onsite vs. offsite. One of the big difference out west is that there are way, way more offsite hotels than onsite, as there are only 3 Disney hotels. The other huge difference is that “offsite” could mean literally across the street from the park entrance. Unlike Florida, where there is a ginormous buffer of land around the parks, the California version is abutted by dozens of hotels.

Here are the things that we decided are important to us in a Disneyland hotel: it has to be clean, it has to be safe, and it has to be close. We wanted to fully take advantage of the walkability of Disneyland and have no need of any sort of shuttle once we are at the resort. While staying in one of the Disney hotels, the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier, and the Grand Californian, would be nice, we decided it was not necessary.

After examining the prices (hint: Disney hotels are more expensive, like pawning your silverware expensive), reading lots of reviews, and talking to some friends and colleagues who are familiar with the parks, we decided to stay offsite. The specific hotel we decided on is the Camelot Inn and Suites, it is simple, but seems to be well run and the location can’t be beat. When I told my wife it was a 5 minute walk, she assumed I was exaggerating. No, Google Maps says it’s a 5 minute walk…to the entrance gate! All that and we can stay for 5 nights cheaper than 2 nights in the Disneyland Hotel would have been.

I cannot wait to see this. (Photo by Guy Selga, Jr)

I cannot wait to see this. (Photo by Guy Selga, Jr)

What Else Am I Going to Write About

I won’t continue to bore you with things like choosing my airfare, although please ask any questions below or by emailing me at Brian at TouringPlans.com. Instead I will bore you in the future with other long-winded moderately amusing posts about my trip.

At some point in the next few months I will be writing a story about my expectations for Disneyland. As a Walt Disney World veteran who has heard stories about the original theme park for years, I have imagined some scenarios in my head. My goal with my next post will be to unleash those ideas so you can all tell me how wrong I am (and so I can revisit them afterwards).

Around late July or early August, there will also be an article about dining at Disneyland much like this one, where I explain our thought process with places we want to eat. Since I am unfamiliar with Disneyland food options I will be looking for plenty of help making my dining reservations.

There will also be a post highlighting my Touring Plans for the parks and everything we hope to see and how we are organizing our trip. Of course there will also be at least one follow-up with how all of this turned out for us.

I am also taking requests. Since many of you are more familiar with Walt Disney World like I am, please let me know if there is anything you would like to hear about from a planning or traveling perspective. Nothing is off limits (well, some things are, but not much).

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Posted on May 2, 2014

27 Responses to “TouringPlans Everywhere – I’m Going to Disneyland!”

  • Looking forward to reading your planning, Brian. Our family is also going to Disneyland for the first time in early August. We are planning only 2-3 days however as we were just at the World last year and our boys are older (14 and 11.) Also planning San Diego Zoo as a stop and some LA-Hollywood sightseeing and a beach day. Especially interested in seeing the differences between the rides/attractions at both parks.

  • I am glad you are so excited! I have been to both WDW and DL many times, and it always frustrates me when WDW people dismiss DL out of hand as being a ‘small park’, despite the fact that it has as many attractions in 2 parks as all 4 WDW parks combined. Both resorts have their own unique fun and character, and I know you will have a terrific trip! And you get to enjoy ‘legacy fastpass’ while you are there!

    With little ones, you may want to consider a trip to Legoland (especially as you are going down to San Diego anyway, and therefore will be driving right by). The Legoland Hotel is a work of art, and well worth a one night stay. Plus Carlsbad has some nice beaches!

    Are you planning on attending the Halloween party at Disneyland?

    • by David Davies on May 2, 2014, at 1:08 pm EST

      My kid likes LEGOLAND quite a bit, and the park in California is right off an Interstate and thus A LOT easier to get to than the one in Florida. We’re returning again later this year.

    • by Brian McNichols on May 2, 2014, at 9:08 pm EST

      Thanks for the advice! We’re still debating Legoland because we don’t want the entire trip to be theme park days, but we’re definitely considering it.

      Not sure about the Halloween Party yet either. We don’t get a lot of value out of the hard ticket events because our kids just can’t make it too late. The fact that we can practically roll into our hotel room afterwards does help though :)

  • by TonyT in SD on May 2, 2014, at 12:00 pm EST

    I just wanted to clarify that you’re going to be at D’Land in October…My wife and I get up to D’Land once a month…I would have to say that you should think about “Cafe Orleans” for a lunch or dinner option one of the days you’re at D’Land…

    • by Brian McNichols on May 2, 2014, at 9:12 pm EST

      Thanks for the advice, I’ll be asking for lots of dining recommendations in a few months, but I’ll certainly keep that in mind.

  • My family and I went to Disneyland last summer for the first time and loved it! We stayed at Paradise Pier which isn’t very “magical”. We checked out the two Disney resorts and will stay at Disneyland Resort next time we go as it felt like a Disney resort. Loved that we could walk everywhere!

  • by Angela from Ohio on May 2, 2014, at 12:05 pm EST

    We just went to Disneyland in March with our boys to see Carsland. We spent 4 days in the parks with at least 3 hours each day wandering around the streets, eating at Flo’s, and enjoying the theming of Carsland. As for Disneyland. Fastpass seemed slow- still waiting 20 minutes to get on Space Moutain and Autopia. At Disneyworld with magic bands ( went in Nov) or even old system you were often on rides in 5 mins. We hopped between both parks many times since you can quickly walk between them. Have fun!

  • We’ve never been to Disneyland, but of course a pilgrimage to the original park is on the bucket list.

    However, I highly recommend the San Diego Zoo. I’ve been to quite a few zoos in my life, and it is without question the best.

    Yes, I know…we were THAT CLOSE to Disneyland and didn’t go. Even closer, actually; we caught an Angels home game on the same trip. All I can offer as explanation is that the trip occurred before we discovered the wonder of Disney parks. We will not make this mistake ever again.

  • My fiance and I traveled to Disneyland for the first time (for both of us) after having both been to the World many times. It was wonderful. I think you will really enjoy the time you spend there and having time to just walk around and enjoy all the little paths is great. Disneyland has so much history and a lot more little hidden trails and spots than the Magic Kingdom does.

    We stayed at a Best Western (that was within walking distance) that was great and I was glad that we saved a large amount of money and still had easy access to the parks. I think you made the right choice!

    Most of the other attractions we did would not appeal to children, but we did love touring studios. The Warner Brothers studio is fantastic and was by far the best of the four or five we did and I would HIGHLY recommend it. For Disney fans, I also enjoyed going to see a movie at the El Capitan theater. It has an organ and we were treated to live music before the show. We saw Frozen and it snowed inside after the movie and Anna and Elsa came out and there was an ice sculpture demonstration. It was a magical way to spend some down time and rest up and get excited about going to the parks.

    But as a warning, we thought we would save some dough (and time) and eat outside the parks and ate at IHOP. The prices were twice what they are here at home and not really any cheaper than in the parks. I would be careful to eat at the chain restaurants in the area; they may not be a better value. This was something I wish the Unofficial Guide had warned me about.

    As far as requests, I know this isn’t a request for you, but one for touring plans in general, but I would love to see a parkhopping touring plan. We were there for the second to last day of holiday stuff (then left to see other LA attractions and then came back to enjoy the much lower crowds) and we had a list of attractions in both parks we wanted to see in that day. We wanted to know the best way to go back and forth between the parks, but I ended up having to just research what attractions would be busy when and then plan accordingly. It is so easy, compared to the World, so it isn’t really a put a half day in one park and a half in the other, but rather going back and forth all day long. If there is any way to allow the creation of custom plans for that it would be wonderful!

    • I actually have wondered about this feature for the Disneyland parks as well many times. I live in Los Angeles and often take friends/family that visit to the parks and want to maximize a 1 day park hopper. My personal strategy has usually been to be a fastpass runner to Radiator Springs Racers first thing in the am, then follow a half day touring plan at Disneyland. RSR fastpass return time is usually late afternoon so it works out that we do the second half of the day in California Adventure park. But I still would love to see a park hopping plan option for the California Disney parks!!!

    • by Brian McNichols on May 2, 2014, at 9:17 pm EST

      Thanks for the IHOP warning, I will definitely heed that one :)

      As for the multi-park plans, that is a request we get a lot. A solution is on our considerable “to-do” list, but it is a fairly complicated problem. The park switching creates extra variables and FastPass options that make the programming tricky. It will be available in time, but probably not this year.

  • The Camelot Inn is a perfect place to stay. I agree with someones earlier post the IHOP that is around there is about as much as the parks. There is a Denny’s and a buffett (I do not recommend eating there.) I actually grew up in California and have been to Disneyland many times. I made my first trip to Orlando 2 years ago. Disneyland is much more compact, and trust me when I say Pirates is a better ride there :)

  • Ooh! Really excited to follow along! Our family just got back from our first trip to WDW earlier this week. We had a blast. But I hope we have the opportunity to go to DL someday. The cooler, less humid temps, and less walking have strong appeal to me.

    The hardest part of our WDW trip was the flight home. We were mega delayed and had fussy kids. The flight to LAX would be like 4 hours vs. 2 to MCO so that part might suck.

    But still. DISNEYLAND!

    Have a wonderful time at the happiest place on earth!

    I think I’d be most curious about how rope drop there is, how overall crowd behavior and attitude compares, ease of getting around, etc.

    Being able to walk from an offsite hotel to gates in 5 minutes?! That’s even better than the Contemporary!

    • by Brian McNichols on May 2, 2014, at 9:19 pm EST

      I live in PA, so Disney World is a 2-2 1/2 hour flight and Disneyland is 6. The flight is the one part of the trip I’m not looking forward to :/

  • I live in LA and according to my annual pass I have been 71 times in the last year and a half…. and it never gets old! My recommendations are you MUST do the Minnie & Friends character breakfast at the Plaza Inn at least one day, and have breakfast and maybe another meal at Carnation Cafe. At Carnation Cafe, a cast member once told my boyfriend and I that the cherry malt they serve there was Walt’s favorite Disneyland treat. So we now order one every time we go there. It is truly magical and delicious! :)

    • by Brian McNichols on May 2, 2014, at 9:32 pm EST

      Awesome! We will definitely do somewhere between one and all of the character meals (probably closer to all)

  • As a weekly visitor to Disneyland, we welcome to the “superior” US Disney park :) I can’t wait to hear what you thinkg of it.

  • Wow – crazy coincidence! I have also been visiting WDW since a kid in the 80′s and my husband and I are taking the kids to DL for the first time this Oct during the same timeframe! Can’t wait to hear more about your planning and tips that DL Vets have!

    • by Brian McNichols on May 2, 2014, at 9:33 pm EST

      That’s great, we’re most likely going to do a meet or something fun for anyone that’s around, so hopefully we’ll run into each other.

  • Exciting! One little suggestion, as a San Diego native, I would personally skip the Safari Park and stick to the zoo. It’s just not that great – especially if you are already going to the zoo and have been to Animal Kingdom. Legoland or even another beach day would be way more fun.

    • by Brian McNichols on May 2, 2014, at 9:34 pm EST

      Thanks for the tip, although I can already tell you we’ll be doing both the Zoo and the Safari Park. My family and I just really enjoy zoos :)

  • Hungry Bear Restaurant located in Disneyland is a great counter service choice. They offer relatively inexpensive food (by Disney standards). My favorite is the fried green tomato sandwich with jicama coleslaw.

    I highly recommend trying out the canoes. Disneyland offers a “you paddle yourself” canoe ride around Tom Sawyer Island. They at least give you two Disney cast members per boat but you’re still expected to row. My family loved it! The kids rowed in the wrong direction and proceeded to soak us but it was nice in the summer heat. The cast members on your canoe are great sports and make it a lot of fun with their commentary.

    Last tip, Winnie the Pooh ride is a WALK ON! no waiting! I couldn’t believe it! The cast members were surprised when I told them it was a 1-2 hour wait time in WDW

    • Not only is Pooh a walk on, Toy Story Midway Mania only had a 25-30 minute wait and Soarin’ was only a 5 minute wait on July 4th, 2013!!! I almost fell over! My sister, who lives 20 minutes from Disneyland, thought I was insane with all my rope drop, run for fast passes WDW nonsense. Touring DL and DCA was so much more relaxed than WDW.

  • I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you will enjoy it! It is more intimate than Walt Disney World, more relaxed, and Walt’s presence is palpable around the flagship park. Plus, you can walk to an IHOP within 3 minutes after exiting. Sweet!

  • We have season passes to Disneyland so we got a few times a year but never been to WDW (that is on the bucket list)I love park hopping becuase we have teens and we can spend a few hours doing the favorite rides in one park then go to the other park for shows and other favorite rides there. Having lived in San Diego for years, I say Sea World and teh San Diego zoo are the sightes to see.
    Also, the Denny’s across the street from Disneyland does accept coupons (IHOP is expensive) and they also have the $2,$4,$6 and $8 menu. Works well and saves some cash on eating- it’s also near the Camelot Inn…if eating in the park and love Mexican Food, we fed a family of 7 (5 teens and 2 adults) for $85…meals at Zocala are good and not as costly.
    We are taking a trip to Disneyland in a week. I may have more suggestions for you when we get back!

  • I live in the bay area of California, and grew up in Southern CA. I still go to Disneyland at least 8 times a year. Here’s some advice that may help: Some rides are actually better at Disneyland than Disney World. Plan to ride Buzz more than once as it is FAR superior to the DW version. DL’s Fantasmic is also worth at least 2 viewings. For food, if you can afford it, Napa Rose is great. Carthay Circle, Naples, and Big Thunder Ranch are also worth a meal each. For quick serve, I’m partial to the Hungry Bear. Also, don’t miss Billy Hill and the Hillbillies for great entertainment.

    As for beaches… visit only one or two tops. It’s definitely not worth your time to do more considering you’re going in October. The ocean is extremely cold and seaweedy. The best beaches are furthest south unless your actually going for scenery over actual beach activities. Go to Mexico if you want really warm, clear water, and warm sand.

    If you’re going to northern CA at all, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is definitely worth seeing, and there are several national parks that are superior. Big Sur and Sequoia are the best. Big Sur is probably the most practical for you to actually see though, and the view on the drive from Monterey can’t be beat.

    Good luck with your trip!