Disneyland Fantasyland Hidden Gems & Touring Tips

by on August 19, 2011 15 Comments

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Disneyland’s Fantasyland. Probably the most storied and significant land in any Disney theme park worldwide. Yet, despite Fantasyland being Walt’s flagship land in the original Magic Kingdom, it’s quite a divisive place. Some love it for the way it pines nostalgic, preserving some Disneyland original attractions and emphasizing story over the latest technology. Others don’t care for it, scoffing at the cheap execution and long lines.If you’ve read my recent Disneyland trip report, you know I fall somewhere in the middle, really enjoying some attractions and the architecture, but thinking some plussing might be in order.

Since I’ve now taken two whole trips to Disneyland (and if you’ve done something twice, you’re an expert, right?! (to be fair, each were several day trips and we started most mornings in Fantasyland)), I figured now would be a great time to share my thoughts on Fantasyland’s top under-appreciated attractions, plus some strategies to avoid long lines.

Storybook Land Canal Boats – Walt Disney World fans constantly clamor for Indiana Jones Adventure to be imported to Walt Disney World, yet I rarely hear the same demands for the Storybook Land Canal Boats. That’s just crazy! Not only is the Storybook Land Canal Boats the epitome and essence of the Disney experience (dare I say this is the quintessential Disneyland attraction), but I think it would cost like $25 to build. Yeah, that’s $25.00, not $25,000,000. Okay, maybe it wouldn’t be that cheap, but I think the budget for this could probably be lower than the yearly budget for jewelry for Joe Rohde (no offense meant to the top genius at WDI).

Despite being such a low budget attraction, the Storybook Land Canal Boats work because the attraction so effectively utilizes a simple storytelling device, being shrunken down to the size of a pixie, before guiding you through a collection of painstakingly detailed scale representations of houses, villages and palaces from Disney animated classics. The storytelling doesn’t stop there, as music, lights, and landscaping all add layers of detail to make the attraction a full sensory experience. The best way to describe it, for lack of a comparable Walt Disney World experience, is like a ride-through PhilharMagic. It’s incredibly awesome, and often overlooked by first time guests who have heard more about thrilling attraction like Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain, and the Matterhorn. Yet, it’s one of the absolute best, and without question most charming, attractions at Disneyland. Cool Fact: I once saw a stray cat sleeping in one of the Storybook Land villages. It was like Godzilla-Cat!

It’s probably best that many people overlook this attraction, because even though it is overlooked, long lines for Storybook Land Canal Boats build quickly. This isn’t so much because of demand, but because the attraction has incredibly low capacity. Most of our Disneyland Touring Plans list Storybook Land Canal Boats as one of the first attractions you should visit, and this is very solid advice. I definitely agree with that advice, but really, you should experience this attraction twice: once in the early morning and once late at night, as it takes on a totally different character at night. Luckily, lines become fairly short around thirty minutes before park closing, presumably because the little tykes are too scared to be consumed by Monstro at that hour.

Casey Jr. Circus Train – A couple of weeks ago while I was carrying on about how awesome Casey Jr. Circus Train is, Sarah said, “why do you like that ride so much?!” I almost threw down right then and there (verbal fisticuffs, not physical ones). How can you not like Casey Jr?! It’s the Fantasyland-equivalent of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover. It gives you stunning views of Fantasyland, has some humorous and playful ride vehicles, and catchy music. What’s not to love about that?! It’s simply executed, but this is hardly a criticism as it’s an attraction more about the ambiance and experience than the substance of the ride itself.

Unfortunately, this is another attraction that builds long lines early. We also have it listed very early in the day on our Touring Plans (it’s attraction #4 on our “Disneyland Dumbo or Die” Touring Plan).

Disneyland - Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – If you’re a longtime Walt Disney World fan, you’re probably pretty excited to see this attraction make the list. I have to come clean on this one: it took me about 10 rides on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride before I finally warmed up to it. Even after that, I was still a little skeptical. Its execution is very low tech, almost to the point of fault. That said, outside of the Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World, I don’t think there exists this irreverent of an attraction in any domestic Disney theme park. You go to a pub that serves beer, you get hit by a train, and you go to hell. This attraction wouldn’t pass politically correct muster in today’s climate, and this is part of the draw for me. Let loose and see this attraction as a child (and by the way, this is totally suitable for children of all ages), and I think you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

Mr. Toad can accrue 30-60 minute waits at certain times of the day, but almost every time we’ve experienced it, we’ve walked on or waited in line for less than 10 minutes. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: “Booyah, Touring Plans!”

Matterhorn – Even if you have never been to Disneyland, you might be wondering why I’m listing this as a hidden gem. Okay, it’s not, per se. However, I have heard of some Walt Disney World fans who visit Disneyland skipping the Matterhorn because “we have Expedition Everest.” I know this might be controversial, but I’m going to come out and say it: I prefer the Matterhorn to Expedition Everest. That’s right, I like the decades-old low-tech and (relatively speaking) low-budget attraction over its contemporary with all of the high tech bells and whistles and bloated budget. You know why? Because the Matterhorn works! Its yeti, Harold, doesn’t dance to the disco light. It is an awesome attraction that offers exactly the right level of entertainment and thrills. I can’t wait to see what plussings Tony Baxter is making to it while it’s currently down for refurbishment.

Our Touring Plans that include Matterhorn list it early, and this is largely because it isn’t a FASTPASS attraction. I think this is the best strategy to follow, but if you’re using our LINES – mobile wait times app, make sure to check out wait times for it throughout the day, as my experience has been that the lines here (there are two lines, one for each “side” of the track) can fluctuate substantially throughout the day.

Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through – Some of you probably zoned out when you read “Walk-Through.” Big mistake. This is one of the coolest Fantasyland attractions, and one of the most overlooked. Recently restored, it contains some pretty spectacular effects. Visit later in the evening when it’s least crowded.

This barely begins to even scratch the surface of the awesomeness that is Disneyland’s Fantasyland. I didn’t even mention Alice in Wonderland (absolutely amazing, and I don’t care for either Alice in Wonderland film), it’s a small world (far far superior to the Walt Disney World incarnation), Pinocchio’s Daring Journey (a “New Fantasyland” add during the 1983 overhaul), and the Mad Tea Party (again, much better than at Walt Disney World given its open-air setting), among many other great Fantasyland offerings. Make sure to set aside plenty of time for exploring this highly detailed Disneyland land!

What do you think of Disneyland’s Fantasyland? What’s your favorite attraction there, and why? If you’ve never been to Disneyland, which Fantasyland attraction do you want to experience most? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Posted on August 19, 2011

15 Responses to “Disneyland Fantasyland Hidden Gems & Touring Tips”

  • Tom, as usual, you are spot on (although I’m not sure I agree with the Matterhorn being “overlooked”). I love the canal boats but alas, all my friends I go with think it’s boring. What is wrong with them?! Great idea about riding it at night, never thought of how the different lighting would affect the ambiance. The castle walk-thru is also a nice little bonus to DL.

    You’re so right about how a lot of these little, low-budget attractions (Casey Jr train, canal boats, walk-thru) make DL so special (and not just Fantasyland).

    Oh, and one word of warning about the Alice ride: every time I’ve been on it, it’s broken down! The CMs have told me it breaks down at least once a day, so be prepared for that.

    • No, the Matterhorn definitely isn’t overlooked, my only point by including it was to say that, relative to Expedition Everest, it’s overlooked. For true “gem” purposes, I should have include Alice in Wonderland instead.

  • The one thing you didn’t mention about all of the above: Walt personally had a hand in each of them. That makes a huge difference.

    • Yep! This is exactly why I consider it “Walt’s flagship land in the original Magic Kingdom.” Hard to top Disneyland’s Fantasyland from a historical perspective!

  • I love Peter Pan. I know the DLR and WDW versions are pretty similar (even WDW edging out my beloved DLR). My favorite Fantasyland ride unique to DLR is the Canal Boats followed closely by Alice in Wonderland (and I’m totally with you that I don’t even like the movie!). I am bummed about the new guardrails on the outside portion. I understand for safety, but one of the best feelings was that you were going to slip right off the edge!

    • I really like Peter Pan’s Flight at Disneyland, but didn’t include it since it’s not really a hidden gem. (Although since I found an excuse to include the Matterhorn, I’m sure I could have done the same for PPF!)

      I didn’t know about the Alice OSHA stuff until Henry pointed it out. After that, I watched a video online. WOW, what a difference! I wish I could have ridden it before the safety rails.

  • Also have to agree, we did the Storyland both during the day and at night. There is something about a low tech charm, a relaxing ride where you aren’t whipped around at high speed. All ages can enjoy these, and it adds to the “retro” feel that is Disneyland. Enjoyed the train as well, too. You could do an updated version at WDW that added some new high tech but still inexpensive gimmicks e.g. smoke from a chimney, a miniature motorized carriage (see how Legoland does it), moving figures just glimpsed behind a window. Think of toy window displays in department stores, kids (and adults) love those.

    Also love the dark rides in DL. Sure, a bunch of plywood doors, black lights and fluorescent paint, but it is done so well, it tells a story, it is lovingly done with great detail, you can enjoy the effects. Sure, I enjoy the state of the art Winnie the Pooh and the newer Peter Pan, but there is something about those 50 year old rides that just makes you feel like a little kid again. And again, everyone can go on them.

  • by Keith C (TheFugitiveGuy) on August 19, 2011, at 9:37 pm EST

    Great post Tom! I agree about the Canal Boats, I absolutely loved them. I did happen to go both during the day and at night on our recent trip, and loved the different feel of it. I don’t think the CM driving the boat was prepared for an adult to be so enthusiastic about the attraction. She may have thought I was being ironic when I thanked her at the end for such a great experience 🙂

    Casey Jr. was also a lot more fun than I had expected. My kids loved sitting in the animal cage cars, and it helped me feel more like a kid trying to squeeze into them.

    My general Impression of DL after our first family trip was that it was really charming, and now that you mention it, I think a large part of that charm comes from these Fantasyland attractions.

  • I’m thinking I must not have been in the right mindset when I visited DL a few years ago…it was a quick day trip from San Diego and after starting the day being weirded out from having to park in a parking garage for a Disney theme park in what seemed like the middle of downtown Anaheim, my friend and I started the day with the Matterhorn because a) it’s one of those rides that only exists in DL and b) the kids riding it in my childhood favorite Disneyland Sing a Long video look so happy riding it.

    We giggled as we bumped along the mountain at what seemed like a snail’s pace and laughed out loud at the “yeti.” To this day, the Matterhorn is the single biggest disappointment in my Disney life. I blame those darn kids in the Disneyland Sing a Long video for making it look way more terrifying and exciting that it actually is. Now that I’ve had some time away from this experience to reflect and get my mind right, I think the next time I’m in DL I will be able to appreciate the MH for what it really is!

    • by Andrew Carrieri on August 21, 2011, at 12:53 pm EST

      The Matterhorn was, in my opinion,pretty bad. Its storied history is the only reason its still popular IMO. As for comparing it to Everest, the only thing that was better on the Matterhorn was the shorter queue (and Everest has a single rider line so this is moot). In my book, the Matterhorn is rough and not very thrilling to boot, the seats are uncomfortable, and the Yeti was just a doll (i.e. nothing special). As far as Everest goes, the main complaint I hear is that the Yeti is broken. Fair Point but the ride still packs its puch in thrill-the backwards sequence is perhaps the most thrilling sequence on any Disney coaster. This leads me to a bigger point-it seems like people love attacking AK and its attractions as if they have some ax to grind. If Everest was located in Epcot or Disneyland Park I feel like people would be singing a different tune.

      • My response is three-fold:

        1) No Disney attraction should be judged by the thrills it delivers. If you’re main interest is thrills, you should be visiting a different theme park.

        2) The Matterhorn has a certain charm to it, and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do without a ton of high tech bells and whistles. I love tech, but it isn’t always necessary. To me, Materhorn v. Everest is demonstrative of this.

        3) You’re absolutely right, I am more critical of Everest because it’s in Animal Kingdom. DAK is a park that is in desperate need of more SUBSTANCE. It’s a style of substance park. The ‘style’ is absolutely amazing. However, when you spend $250 million on a single attraction that could have been built for $75 million, with the other $175 million spent on other sorely needed attractions, you open yourself up to criticism, in my opinion. Everest is amazing, but I would be much more impressed with a Matterhorn style attraction plus 2 other C or D ticket attractions in its place.

        • by Andrew Carrieri on August 21, 2011, at 2:05 pm EST

          Thanks for the response Tom. I understand your points although I will admit to liking AK more than most.

  • Great article, Tom. I love Casey Jr and Storybook land. I look forward to you visiting the Paris versions someday. Also awesome.

    Come visit during December. The houses in Storybook land have wreaths on their doors and live miniature Xmas trees with lights that work!

    Was the cat you saw an orange color? That is the one I see in that area most frequently.

  • by Andrew Carrieri on August 21, 2011, at 6:40 pm EST

    The Matterhorn was the only Fantasyland attraction I went on during my Disneyland trip. If I ever go back I would want to go on Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. I know the Unofficial Guide pans it but I just love “When you wish upon a star.” That song brings a tear to my eye every time.