Archive for September, 2011

10 Great Rides at Disneyland You Won’t Find at Disney World

by on September 23, 2011

The Golden Zephyr

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, some of the best rides and shows at Disneyland aren’t at Walt Disney World.  So let’s start with the rides!  Here are ten rides that you won’t want to miss at Disneyland.

1.  Number one has to be Indiana Jones Adventure.  It has to be!  Indiana Jones is an amazing ride.  You start off in the beautifully detailed queue.  It’s easy to forget you are in Disneyland at all once you go inside that queue.  You are suddenly transported to Indy’s world.  Once the ride itself begins, it’s a feast for the eyes and other senses.  I won’t give anything away, but this ride is not to be missed.  It’s one of the best there is.  DINOSAUR uses the same technology at Disney World, but doesn’t “pull it off” nearly as well.

2.  California Screamin’.  Some people think of this as an outdoor Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.  There are some definite similarities like the launch that literally takes your breath away, but California Screamin’ is no knock-off roller coaster.  It’s one of the smoothest roller coasters I’ve been on, and it’s a long ride at over 2 minutes.  It’s also one of the few roller coasters I’ve ridden where I feel it’s worth waiting for the front row.

3.  The Matterhorn Bobsleds.  The Matterhorn is a Disneyland classic and one of the iconic skyline views in the park.  It opened in 1959 and was the first steel coaster in the world.  It’s an old-fashioned, herky-jerky roller coaster, but it’s great fun.  Zipping inside and outside of the mountain with Yeti-like creatures (that work) spooking you throughout.   FYI – the left side is more thrilling at 2 minutes, while the right side runs at a more leisurely pace and offers a 2.5-minute ride.  Until a few years ago, Mickey and his friends climbed the Matterhorn during a regular show.  It was crazy cool to see Mickey in climbing gear scaling the side of a mountain.

Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!

4.  Monsters, Inc: Mike and Sully to the Rescue.  Monsters Inc is not a thrill ride by any stretch.  It’s a dark ride.  And it’s a great one.  The special effects are wonderful.  At one point you travel through what is likely a relatively small room and yet it feels like you are in a room with hundreds of flying doors.  Don’t miss Roz at the end!

5.  Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.  Finding Nemo is Disneyland’s modern adaptation of the old submarine ride that was such a classic.  In the ride, you are transported through a quick version of the Finding Nemo story.  The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland points out that you do not have to be a Nemo fan to enjoy the scale and effects.  It can be a long wait, but it’s a visual thrill.

6.  Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin.  Tucked away in Toontown, Roger Rabbit’s is a spinning dark ride.  The car spins on its own, and you can make it spin even more.  While a little disjointed at times, it’s still a fun place to cool off and take in the sights.  Well, whatever sights you can take in between spins.

7.  Davey Crockett’s Explorer Canoes and the Sailing Ship Columbia.  Disneyland has several great ways of traveling the Rivers of America.  One is the canoes.  While not exactly a thrilling ride, it’s a fun diversion.  It does take some work!  The riders actually do paddle the canoes.  A fun canoe guide can make this a hilarious trip around the river.  Another way around is the majestic Sailing Ship Columbia.  It’s a beautiful ship with two decks to explore.

8.  Alice In Wonderland.  Alice in Wonderland is nothing spectacular, but it’s a very cute diversion.  Your caterpillar buggy takes you through the story of Alice and Wonderland.  There’s no Johnny Depp in this version, but there are some nice surprises.  At one point you pop outside on the second story!

Storybook Land Canal Boats

9.  Storybook Land Canal Boats and Casey Jr. Circus Train.  I put these in the same category because they take you to the same sights.  They are very different rides.  On one you are floating in a boat through Monstro’s open mouth, on the other you are riding in a small circus train.  Both take you through a very detailed, miniaturized version of some movie favorites.  Even the plants are miniaturized!  For many Disneyland lovers, these rides are some of the most magical in the park.

10.  Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  Who can forget Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride?  Long since gone at Disney World, this classic can still be found at Disneyland.  It’s just good mindless fun.  Not the best special effects, but it’s been there since the park’s beginning.  That alone explains its popularity.

And there’s more!  A Bug’s Land rides, Silly Symphony Swings, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Goofy’s Sky School, the Golden Zephyr, and many more!  When Cars Land opens, I’ve heard Radiator Springs Racers alone may be worth the admission price.

So how about you?  What are your favorite rides you can only find at Disneyland?

Android Lines Navigation Update

by on September 22, 2011 is is proud to announce the update of Lines on Android for Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Added in this update are quick navigation buttons in portrait view at the bottom of the application to help you navigate through the main sections of Lines as fast as possible. So when you are browsing wait times for a park and want to get back to chat, it’s only a single click away.



Ultimate Epcot Touring Plan Part 2 – World Showcase

by on September 22, 2011

2:18pm.  A recap… my friend, Megan, and I had just exited Ellen’s Energy Adventure where we had just had our lunch.  Yes, on the ride.  You see stopping to eat elsewhere wasn’t in the cards that day because we were busy touring Epcot hard core.  We were on the Ultimate Epcot Touring Plan, and we had just conquered Future World while World Showcase loomed ahead of us.  If you missed the first part I suggest you check it out here:

2:25pm.  After entering World Showcase by making our way past the Odyssey, we reached the Mexico Pavilion.  It was time to visit with three of my favorite friends The Three Caballeros on the Gran Fiesta Tour.  There is seldom a backed up queue on this ride, and we walked right on with no wait.

2:36pm.  Next we headed over to the Norway Pavilion to ride Maelstrom.  We boarded within minutes and were off on our high seas adventure.  Despite our inclination to walk through and skip “Norway – The Film” (a.k.a. “The Spirit of Norway Movie”), it is a requirement for Tour completion, so we sat and we watched.

If you’re looking for more information about the movies of World Showcase check out this post of mine.

At this point we stop for a few minutes to strategize.  Megan points out that we need to start focusing on the show times, and I can’t argue with this.  In order to complete the tour, you need to watch all the movies, and all the scheduled shows – some fully, and others only for 5 minutes (check out the attractions list for requirements).  It meant deviating from the listed plan quite a bit to meet the scheduled show times of the day, but it looked doable.

3:02pm.  We’ve gone from Norway all the way over to the France Pavilion to watch the Serveur Amusant.  Most people probably think of this as “the French guys with the chairs” or “the chair stacking dudes”.  For us it was a chance to sit and catch some shade while we watched.

3:18pm.  Mo’Rockin is not playing, but this does not mean we get to skip the Morocco Pavilion.  So we spend a few minutes walking around the Pavilion, through Tangerine Cafe, back past the front of Restaurant Marrakesh, and then through the shops.

On our way over to the Japan Pavilion we bump into our friend Doug, and he decides to follow us around a little bit.  This is permitted when you do an Ultimate Tour.  As long as you stick to the rules that state that you are not allowed to accept any outside assistance, there’s no reason you can’t be social.  Just warn them about the running.

3:35pm.   After a short bit of downtime we watched Matsuriza, the Taiko players in the Japan Pavilion.  This one requires only 5 minutes of our time.  I don’t dislike this show, but it’s not something I go out of my way to watch either.

3:43pm.  Now we’re at the Germany Pavilion.  Because there is no free show in this pavilion, it has a special task.  You need to walk through the shops, find the Christmas Pickle tree and take a picture with it (hint: it’s in the Christmas shop).

3:46pm.  We stop at the Outpost.  This isn’t really a pavilion when compared to the others, but it is themed to an African safari supply outpost, hence the name.  The task here is simple, play the drums.

3:50pm.  At the China Pavilion we check on the movie time, and see the wait is 14 minutes.  This is far too long to wait right now – even though things seem to be going well, we still feel crunched for time against the show times.  We take a second to check out the Tomb Warriors exhibit really quickly – it counts as a bonus attraction for the Ultimate Tour.

4:00pm. It’s time to watch the Ziti Sisters walk through their comedic act at the Italy Pavilion.  I’ve seen it take as little as 10 minutes and as much as 17 minutes.  It all depends on how much they’re working the crowd.  In the middle of the show I warn our friend Doug that Megan and I will be running full tilt to make the next show on time.  He opts to meet us there and heads off.  As soon as the show ends we run, having less than a minute to get to our next location.

4:15pm.  Thankfully Megan and I are runners, and we manage to slide into The American Adventure building with moments to spare.  It’s a pretty good place to cool off when you’re sweaty and overheated, and thanks to the singing of the Voices of Liberty we were also well entertained.

On the way over to the United Kingdom Pavilion, we meet up with my wife, Cheryl, and our friend Chip.  Doug considers this a changing of the guard, and says good-bye to us.  We let the others know to meet us over at the UK.

4:37pm.  We make our way over to watch the British Revolution.  I actually really enjoy listening to them when I get a chance – they cover a lot of music I like.  We’re only required to listen and watch for 5 minutes.  We head around the corner to position ourselves for the next show, but can still hear them while we’re waiting.

5:00pm.  We shout, “Long Live the King!” a few times while watching the World Showcase Players act out a condensed version of the quest for the Holy Grail.  It’s also snack time!

5:30pm.  After arranging to meet Cheryl and Chip later, we find ourselves watching Sergio. This is one of my least favorite things in all of Epcot, and yet he still let me throw one of the mini Soccer balls at him anyway.

At this point we want to ride a Friendship Boat.  We notice immediately there is not one on the Germany-Mexico side, and get a little concerned.  After a few moments we finally see see one and it’s about to dock over in Morocco, and decide to run over.

5:48pm.  We board the Friendship boat and Megan swears that she never wants to see a Friendship boat again.  Our journey takes us over to Germany, and we realize that we didn’t need to run.  We get off the boat.

5:56pm.  Back at the China Pavilion.  This time we’re not as concerned about the wait and watch Reflections of China.  It’s housed inside the Hall of Prayer which is modeled after the Temple of Heaven, Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, in Beijing, China, and also my favorite building in World Showcase.

6:21pm.  Once our Kimmunicator is programmed we head over to Norway.  With the help of Kim, Wade, and Ron we complete our Kim Possible Adventure and capture Camille Leon.

6:48pm.  At the Canada Pavilion we watch O Canada!  This movie stars Martin Short and is a lot of fun to watch.  It’s also a good place to just stretch out on the floor for a few minutes.

With only a few attractions left and a little bit of downtime, we head over to check on the wait for Impressions de France to get a feel for its schedule.  We decide that we’ll come back as the timing is better.

7:30pm.  We watch Off Kilter with Cheryl and Chip.  While we only have to watch for 5 minutes, it is entertaining as always, and we’re sad to have to run off.

7:39pm.  Back at the France Pavilion, one thing I learned from Impressions de France is that Megan has been there.  She seriously loves France to no end, and if you watch this movie with her, she will let you know it.

8:13pm.  I’d been looking forward to this one all day.  The American Adventure is just a fantastic and amazing show, and in all of World Showcase I sort of feel it’s the one must see show.

9:00pm.  Winner winner, chicken dinner.  Sorry by this point I was starved, but I was perfectly willing to be satisfied with fireworks at this point.  And IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is a perfect way to fill that need.  Megan and I met back with Cheryl and Chip and performed our victory dance to the music.

9:23pm.  The Tour is officially over when you reach the stopping point.  In Epcot that means heading to the Fountain of Nations for one last establishing photo.

Megan and I had completed the Ultimate Epcot Touring Plan.  Looking back, I feel that Epcot was a much easier Ultimate Tour than Magic Kingdom.  Future World itself is fairly straightforward to complete, there’s not a lot of reason for deviation unless you can partake in Extra Magic Hours (which we did not).  If night time EMH is available, I’d make sure to know which Future World attractions will be opened during that time and consider delaying them until later on.

The real potential for failure lies in the shows of World Showcase.  Many of them get scheduled on top of one another and you really need to make careful plans as to which ones you’ll do when, and in what order.  You also need to be prepared to run.  Many of the times are tight down to 6 minutes or less between them.

Did I have fun?  Yes.  It’s a lot of fun navigating the park with a full agenda trying to get it all done.  I used to love commando touring years ago, and Ultimate Touring Plans take me back to those times.  It ends up being both nostalgic and new all at the same time.

When’s the next one?  We haven’t worked out the details yet, but I do know it will likely be in the early part of 2012.  The park and participants (other than me) are all still up in the air.  So stay tuned in to for more exciting blog posts between now and then.

The Characters of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on September 22, 2011

I’ve made it to the final installment of my Walt Disney World parks character experience series.  I can admit that initially before doing research I assumed Animal Kingdom was going to be lacking in the meet and greet field.  Boy, was I wrong!  Once I looked at all of my information in front of me on paper (in my super cool/nerdy brainstorm web) I was shocked… truly.  I know Animal Kingdom provides some killer thrill rides and animal interactions but I never realized just how many characters from Disney animation can be found.

Right off the bat, before the park even opens, characters seep out from behind the scenes and greet guests.   Seeing Rafiki, Baloo, Louie, Timon, and Terk interact with visitors and welcoming them into the park really gets me revved up for a good time at Animal Kingdom.  Often times I’ve seen characters surprising guests while they’re waiting in line to get tickets.  This is an opportunity for characters to break away from a formal meet and greet line and have some off the cuff fun.  Just before park opening, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto gather on a truck and perform a little welcoming ceremony.

As you come to Discovery Island, home of The Tree of Life and It’s Tough to Be a Bug, you can find my personal favorite characters in all of Animal Kingdom… Lilo and Stitch!  This is the only place that you can regularly meet Lilo so take advantage of it!  These two characters really like to have fun with guests and sometimes their line can build up and become quite long.  If you walk over to Flame Tree Barbecue and look across the way you’ll see a meet and greet location for Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet.  Keep in mind that not all of them are there at once.  Most of the time it’s one or two characters at a time with a rotation.

Coming up on Dinoland U.S.A. you’ll find only one formal meet and greet location across from TriceraTop Spin.  Goofy and Pluto come out ready for a hug.  I haven’t personally seen them out at the same time, not to say that it doesn’t happen.  What’s great about this location is that because it’s not on a main path people sort of don’t notice the characters as easily.  Gotta love shorter lines for two members of the fab five.  For Finding Nemo fans, be sure to see the live stage show Finding Nemo – The Musical.  As a girl that grew up in a family of musical theater geeks, I think I am a pretty good judge of top notch peformances and I can tell you that this show is nothing short of spectacular.  In fact, if I could only do one thing in Animal Kingdom it would be Finding Nemo – The Musical.  There is no meet and greet after the show but if you make sure to get a seat along the catwalk you’ll feel truly immersed in the big blue world along with Nemo, Marlin, and Dory.

If you take the Wildlife Express Train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch you will be greeted by… you guessed it!  Rafiki!  The characters here are sort of random and not regular except for Jiminy Cricket and Pocahontas who are pretty much always there and ready to say hello.  Before taking the train over, check with a cast member to see if they can find out what characters are currently out doing greetings.

I’m simply obsessed with one character in particular that can be found in Animal Kingdom and she isn’t from any animated feature.  DiVine is truly a sight to behold.  If I told you she was a stilt performer you’d probably think, “Sure, but I can see that anywhere!”  DiVine isn’t just any performer though.  She is disguised by a combination of leaves, vines, grapes and body paint.  You could walk right past her and not even know she’s there.  DiVine blends into her surroundings and then will slowly move out into the walkway and tower over you.  She even stops to pose for pictures with a couple of guests!  You can find DiVine on the path between Africa and Asia.  Also along this path you can find Baloo and King Louie from The Jungle Book.

The most popular and busy character greeting location in Animal Kingdom is without a doubt Camp-Minnie-Mickey.  While the live show, Festival of the Lion King, is a great place to see the lively characters from the animated feature, there is no meet and greet before or after the show.  If you’re looking to get photos with characters then check out the nearby pavilions in the area.  If the line is lengthy and you can’t see which character is at the end, Disney provides signs at each line entrance to let you know which character is on call.  Typically, you’ll find members of the fab five unless one of them has a stand-in.  The “filler” characters often times are characters from Winnie the Pooh and Song of the South.  On top of those characters, Disney sends out other ones randomly to greet guests in the area.  On a trip last year I ran into the adorable Thumper for the first time as well as Chip and Dale.

If you’re interested in dining with characters in Animal Kingdom, check out Tusker House for breakfast where you can dine with characters like Donald, Daisy, Mickey, and Minnie.  Be sure to get an Advanced Dining Reservation since this tends to get book up quickly!  Luckily, Disney noticed that and come December 4, 2011, lunch at Tusker House will switch over to a character meal experience.  While this used to be a fairly reasonably priced buffet option, I have a feeling that when character lunches begin the price will increase.

For those of you that see Animal Kingdom as a half day park, like me, and want to stay a little longer, try filling up your day with all of these character meet and greets!  On top of all of the scheduled character experiences, you never know who is going to pop up and where.  Has anyone had some really memorable character meetings at Animal Kingdom?  Share them with us!  I’d love to hear!

Magic Kingdom Parking Lots Change Names, Add Colors

by on September 21, 2011

Earlier this week on a research expedition it was noted that Disney was putting a lot of effort into the tram stations at the Transportation and Ticket Center. The Disney Parks Blog has now confirmed that these changes are part of the work to overhaul the Magic Kingdom parking lots, assigning them new names, colors, and hero or villain themes.

Disney’s photo of a new lot sign:

The new red tram station, pictured below, will be for the Villains Lot, which will have sections named after characters like Zurg, Jafar, Hook, Scar, Cruella, and Ursula.

The blue tram station, pictured below, will be for the Heroes Lot, which will have sections named after characters like Woody, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Simba, Mulan, and Rapunzel.

Final signage should be updated in the parking lot soon. As of today the Villains Lot and tram station are reportedly finished. In theory guests going forward only need to remember if they are in a villain/hero, red/blue, or a particular character name to narrow down the possible lots their cars are in. Parking cast members have reported that the old names caused lots of confusion over which duck, dwarf, or mouse someone was parked in.

The fine folks over at Discussion Kingdom are letting us share the following photos they took today:

Planning A Trip With My Non-Disney Family

by on September 21, 2011

Like most Walt Disney World enthusiasts I love the planning and anticipation of an upcoming trip.  Heck, I currently have four in the works!  And while many of our readers here at totally get my love of Disney World, my family does not.  So imagine my delight when my brother strolled into my office and said, “Hey, would you like to go to Disney World?”  I’m not sure if I squealed with delight before or after exclaiming, “yes!”

You see, the last time the Helmstetters took a family trip to WDW was approximately 1987.  I was 4, my brother was 10, and we stayed in the Polynesian because it was one of the only options.  So now that my brother has three very adorable kids, it is time for him and his family to make that American right of passage trip.  Luckily for him his sister is, as he put it, a Disney PhD.  Since planning a trip for my whole family will be a new experience for me, I thought I would take our blog readers along for the ride to take a glimpse into planning a family trip with folks who aren’t so sure what to expect from the Vacation Kingdom.

So let’s dive right in and start from the very beginning.  There will be eight of us embarking on this journey: my parents, my brother and his lovely wife, my nieces ages 6 and 4 at the time of travel, my nephew who will be 2, and I, Auntie Kristen, acting as tour guide and creator of Disney magic.  With ages ranging from 63 to 2 years old, we’ll have quite a few bases to cover when considering everyone’s wants and needs on this trip.  I’m hoping that documenting some of our considerations during planning will help you with your multi-generational trip.

The first thing I did was order the latest edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World for each household.  This way everyone could read up on whatever topics are important and ask me any questions before we make our trip.  Of course, I also sent my brother and sister-in-law to to check out some of our services there.  When planning with people of a certain generation (i.e. my parents) you may want to consider their technological limitations.  I realize that many people their age are completely capable of checking out websites for information.  My parents are not those people.  A copy of the Unofficial Guide is a much better option for them.

So now that they were provided with some background information, it was time to get to planning.  We will have to travel during a school break since my sister-in-law is a teacher.  We settled on trying to travel during the President’s Day break since here in the Northeast schools are often off for the entire week.  Being the staffer I am, I immediately checked out our crowd calendar.  One of the awesome features of our site is our crowd predictions.  Our statisticians work hard to forecast how heavy crowds will be for every day of the year!  Be sure to check them out before your next trip.  When I saw level 9 crowds predicted during our dates, I cringed a bit, but with my knowledge and a good Touring Plan, we should be able to manage just fine.

Once we settled on approximate dates, it was time to look at airfare.  Although there will be eight of us, we will only need seven tickets since the youngest can be passed along laps during the trip.  We found decent fares since we could be flexible about our travel dates during the week off from school.  My parents and I will definitely be flying from Newark to Orlando International, but my brother is now thinking about driving his brood, so we’ll see what happens there.

Next, it was time to decide where to stay.  This weekend I went over to my brother’s house to show him and his wife pictures of resorts on various websites to give them an idea of their many options.  They couldn’t believe how many resorts were on Disney property.  Their faces lit up when they saw the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  They loved the idea of sitting on their room’s balcony and letting the girls check out the animals roaming the savanna.  My nieces love animals, so this seems like a perfect fit to make a bit of magic for them.  I also think my parents will enjoy the scenery and the opportunity to relax by the pool and to watch the delight on their grandchildren’s faces when they see their first giraffe.

I was sure to explain all of the benefits associated with staying at a Disney resort to them, but I think they were already sold on the Animal Kingdom Lodge just from the photos and the promise of animals outside their window.  I’m sure they will still appreciate the availability of complimentary transportation and other such details once they get there, even if they are not so concerned with those details now.  I emailed my favorite Disney travel agent, and she was gracious enough to give us a few lodging options.  Her help sealed the deal for a savanna view room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  We’ll be booking two rooms and hoping for a wonderful stay.

That is about as far as we’ve gotten, but in the next few days I’m hoping to solidify some of our other plans.  I’m so used to throwing together a trip with friends that the element of keeping kids, parents, a brother, and a first-time visitor sister-in-law happy seems like a daunting task.  They are looking to me and my background as a Disney nerd to enhance their experience, and I want to be sure to deliver.  I’ve never traveled with kids or older folks before, so any advice from our readers would be much appreciated!

I will be reporting on my family’s trip planning progress from time to time in the coming months before we take our trip in February.  In upcoming posts I’ll discuss ticket options, dining options, and everything else to keep my family happy, so stay tuned!

AVATAR Themed Land Announced for Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on September 20, 2011

Disney announced a new Avatar (the movie)-themed land will be added to the Animal Kingdom theme park. Construction will begin in 2013. The press conference with further details is ongoing as we write this. This post will be updated with further details as they become available. Tom Staggs will be responding to questions emailed to later today on the Disney Parks blog.

A long-term creative partnership with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Fox Filmed Entertainment to bring the fantasy world of AVATAR to life at Disney Parks. And it’ll all begin at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

AVATAR Coming To Disney Parks

James and his producing partner Jon Landau and their team at Lightstorm Entertainment will serve as creative consultants on the project and will work side-by-side with our Walt Disney Imagineers as we dream up experiences that will take our guests deep into worlds of AVATAR like never before. There are also two sequels to the record setting first film in the works, which will offer more fascinating stories, characters and locations to explore in the AVATAR universe. Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort is planned as the site of the first AVATAR-themed land with construction expected to begin by 2013.

We believe Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a great fit for this project because it was created to give guests the opportunity to experience the worlds of animals and nature – real and mythical – in new ways. Disney’s Animal Kingdom also celebrates adventure, living in harmony with nature and environmental stewardship – themes that are deeply rooted in the story of AVATAR.


Tutto Italia Ristorante at Epcot to Close January for 3 Month Renovation

by on September 20, 2011

The Tutto Italia Ristorante at Epcot’s Italy Pavilion will be closed for renovation from January 8 to April 1, 2012. This closure was actually first discussed back when the Via Napoli expansion was announced for the Italy pavilion. The new sponsor, Patina Restaurant Group, was said to have plans to close and retheme the old L’Original Alfredo’s de Roma shortly after Via Napoli opened to the public. Instead, the location was merely renamed Tutto Italia and the menu tweaked. A new interior look and possible shift in cuisine are anticipated after this renovation. Possibly even a new name for the location. More details will be posted as they become available.

First-time Disneyland Tips from a Walt Disney World Convert

by on September 20, 2011

I’ve been visiting Walt Disney World since I was about 6 months old. Sure, I don’t remember anything from that visit, or the next one at around 6 either, but when I was 9, my family drove down from Massachusetts, we stayed at the Lake Buena Vista Vacation Villas (now long extinct and where Saratoga Springs stands) and I fell completely head-over-heels in love with EPCOT Center. That was 1983 and I’ve been a die-hard Walt Disney World fan and loyalist ever since. In contrast, California, and with it Disneyland, seemed like such an out-of-reach destination that I’d never seriously thought about visiting. I’m not sure why. I guess I was just overwhelmed by the thought of the entire state of California, maybe? Earthquakes? I can’t pinpoint it, but suddenly time had passed and I was married with three children, and the thought of flying or driving there to see Disneyland seemed like a punishment (both mentally and financially) rather than a possible vacation.

Then I found out friends were going to the 2011 D23 Expo. I had watched the 2009 Expo online and dreamed of being able to be there in person. I did some calculations and discovered I could actually make it work. My husband gave me his blessing to go have fun, and my mother watched the kids, since I’d added days on to the trip before and after the Expo. I was beyond excited to finally get to visit the “Motherland” for all Disney fans.

Disneyland Small World

Disneyland's "it's a small world"

I will admit, I was preparing myself to be underwhelmed. Everyone I spoke to had to warn me about the tiny size of the park, the even tinier Sleeping Beauty Castle, and how it was surrounded by commercial properties. As a result, I really didn’t do much research before hand. I was a little overwhelmed by the unknown, but I also felt confident that, being a WDW expert, I’d be able to handle whatever Disneyland threw my way. I knew I’d have fun, but I headed out there with the mindset of “Walt Disney World RULES!”, expecting this dinky little ‘first attempt’ at a Disney park. To say I was proven wrong is a gigantic understatement of epic proportion.

Driving by the Disneyland Resort property, it was odd to see green fences with landscaping, keeping in the magical parks that were within walking distance of most off-property hotels. It was also odd to park in an immense parking structure on our first visit, where walking from our car to the exit seemed like walking from Future World to the American pavilion at the time. And to then be dropped off in the middle of their Downtown Disney Area, bordered by the Grand Californian Resort, it was a recipe for confusion to WDW visitors. (Especially ones that had done zero planning before-hand!)

The moment we walked through the gates of Disneyland, all of that confusion melted away. It was a beautiful, intimate little jewel box of a park that captured my heart in an instant. I wish I could put into words or even photos what that experience was like, but I’ve been in a daze of Disneyland withdrawals for the past few weeks now, trying to figure out just what made that place so special.

I’m not sure if it’s the history, the beautiful details of the park itself, or perhaps even the people we were with that made this first visit so magical, but what I do know is that Disneyland is now my favorite park of all-time and I’m doing everything I can to get back there as soon as possible. What I’ll do now to try and help out Disneyland newbies with a Top 5 Tips for First-Timers at Disneyland:

Wicked Queen

Look down, up and all around to see details like the Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the window.

5. Slow. Down. Many of us WDW veterans go into Magic Kingdom or any other Walt Disney World Park and run to the attraction we know will have the longest wait, or grab FASTPASSes before we know they’ll be gone for the day. That is simply not needed at Disneyland Resort. FASTPASS tickets are available for some rides; I think while there we got one FASTPASS for Splash Mountain and that was it, but it’s not a necessity to experience everything like it is here on the East Coast. Especially if you plan to visit the parks for more than one day, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see everything you want, multiple times. [An exception to this is the World of Color show, for which you’ll want to be sure to secure a FASTPASS or a dining reservation that includes preferred seating.] I am always saying WDW is all about the details, but that fact is amplified about 20-fold in Disneyland. Make sure you slow down, take the time to look up, look down, look all around you at all the details which make up this amazing place.  There are surprises waiting around every corner!

4. Don’t fret about dining. Again, coming from a Walt Disney World perspective, where you are used to calling 180 days in advance to try to get a reservation at Le Cellier or Cinderella’s Royal Table, this can be a hard bit of planning to relinquish control of. On our trip, I knew I wanted to go to Blue Bayou, and that was the only plan as well as the only sit-down place we ended up going to. We also had a reservation for Ariel’s Grotto, but there was just so much else to do, we didn’t even make it. That’s not to say you don’t need to plan out your dining at all: it’s just not as much of a necessity as it is in Florida, and as first-time visitors, my friend and I were much more interested in getting to experience all of the parks than the dining, this time around anyway. Besides, with amazing snacks like Disneyland corn dogs, you’ll be hard pressed to want anything else while you’re there. Or maybe that was just us? In any event, we actually forgot about our Blue Bayou reservation and walked in 2 hours late and were seated within minutes. I’m not saying that’ll happen for everyone, it’s just a lot more laid back and easier to walk-in than it is here in the World. If you are traveling solo or without kids, you may find you just don’t need to plan as much and can still enjoy all Disneyland and California Adventure have to offer.

World of Color

The breathtaking World of Color at Disney California Adventure

3. Experience both parks in the day and night time. When we first arrived in California, the sun was just getting ready to set, so we were able to walk down Main Street, U.S.A. for the first time with all the lights on and the little pink castle waiting for us at the end of the street. Over in California Adventure, we were able to see Mickey’s Fun Wheel all lit up. I think this made it even more magical for our first visit, but some parts of California Adventure and even Disneyland were pretty dark, so we were glad to be able to see it all in the daylight the next day, to really take in the details and see everything from a new perspective. The Storybook Land Canal Boats are a perfect example of this. We rode this for the first time in the morning, and we could see all of the tiny houses and landscaping. When we went back at night, we realized some details were only visible then, like the lights in the Seven Dwarfs mine and even King Triton’s palace at the end. The same holds true for many areas of both parks.

2. Don’t worry about staying in a Disneyland hotel. While the resorts on property are wonderful, and the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian are gorgeous, you can stay within walking distance of the parks and still enjoy everything while saving a bit of money. Especially if you are a first-time visitor and you are really going to experience the parks at their fullest, you really only need a clean and comfortable place to lay your head at the end of the night. We stayed at the Best Western Stovall’s Inn and had absolutely no problems with it. The beds were comfy, it was well within walking distance, and we still had a peek-a-boo view of Mickey’s Fun Wheel from California Adventure. If you are trying to be frugal, don’t be afraid to stay off property. There are plenty of “Good Neighbor” hotels to choose from.

1. Plan to return. Along with all my other misconceptions and preconceived notions about Disneyland, I really thought, “Okay, I’ll go once and then I can cross that off my list.” So, so wrong. After the first night, I started planning in my head when I could get back for a longer visit. Disneyland totally won me over, hook, line and canal boat, and I have been longing to return ever since I said my tearful goodbye to the beautiful resort. There are so many things yet to discover that I know I’ll be coming back for years just to take it all in. We were lucky enough to be traveling with locals and friends who grew up going to Disneyland and could tell us all sorts of wonderful backstories about the park’s rich history. What that left me with was wanting to know more, and as much as possible, about Disneyland. Also, unlike Walt Disney World, which keeps parades and fireworks shows for years to ensure visitors from across the country and world are able to experience them, Disneyland frequently switches up its shows every six months or so. Because the resort is dominated by local guests, Disneyland is able to do that and keep things fresh and new. The result for those of us a coast away is wanting to go more often in order to see things before they disappear.

So those are my little tips. I’m not a huge planner to begin with, but I think these things are important to note going into a first visit, since it is so completely different from a Walt Disney World Resort experience.  I’m glad I didn’t go into my first time with too much knowledge about the park because I loved that feeling of discovery and newness at every turn. I think my next few visits will keep that feeling going, as I become more and more at home at the Happiest Place on Earth.

More Winners in the F&W Drawings!

by on September 20, 2011

Six more lucky RSVPers for our October 2 Food & Wine Meet have won copies of the DisneyFoodBlog Guide to the Food & Wine Festival!

  • Amy from Neverland
  • Charles Aguillon
  • Ellie from Cary
  • DBTN from Walt Disney World
  • Adam from Huntsville, Alabama
  • Megan Annunziata

Join Aaron DelPrice, Jackie L Riblett Horvath, AxJaxDiz, Kerri Lothrop, Jackie Damon, and Angi Basi on the winners list!

Please email for information on how to claim your prize!