Hopefully, by this point, you’ve read the first couple of articles in this Disneyland planning series and have got the broad aspects of your trip mapped out. Just in case, here they are:
- Disneyland Planning for Walt Disney World Veterans — Part 1
- Disneyland Planning for Walt Disney World Veterans — Part 2
Since you’re going to Disneyland, though, it probably makes sense to know where to devote your precious time, right? Read on to learn what attractions are the “must-dos,” which are skippable, and to pick up a few extra tips and tricks to help you make the most of your trip!
Obviously, Disneyland has several unique attractions unavailable at Walt Disney World that every Walt Disney World vet should try (subject to your own tolerance for thrill rides, etc., of course). Also, even though there is overlap between the attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, they are not always the same, and there are a few instances where the Disneyland version of an attraction is CLEARLY better and also make the “must” list:
- Radiator Springs Racers — There are several instances at Disneyland where Disney has taken a ride system that exists at Walt Disney World but created a better experience. Radiator Springs Racers, which uses the same ride system as Test Track, is a great example of this. It is a next-gen experience, with a great story, fantastic animatronics, and some moderate thrills. It is a true “can’t miss” for a Disneyland visit.
- Pirates of the Caribbean — In just about any discussion comparing Disneyland and Walt Disney World, someone is guaranteed to point out that Disneyland’s version of Pirates is better. Simply stated, this is correct, and unlike some attractions like Big Thunder and Haunted Mansion, where you could viably make a case for either park’s version, there really isn’t a debate to be had here. Of the folks I know that have done both, I literally can’t think of anyone that prefers the far shorter Orlando version. The concept is the same, but if you like the World’s version, there’s more of that to love out west. For those with small kids, it does have two drops that are much larger than the little launch drop in Orlando, one of which is entirely in the dark. You’re not likely to get more than a spritzing of water and no one would confuse Pirates with a a thrill ride, but worth noting just the same.
- Space Mountain — Orlando’s Space Mountain is a wild-mouse roller coaster in the dark, and Disneyland’s Space Mountain is a wild-mouse roller coaster in the dark, so it might be easy to think these rides are basically the same, but I VASTLY prefer the west coast version. It’s silky smooth, Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is outstanding, and the attraction is just an unmitigated blast! I routinely skip the Walt Disney World version, but I’ll always make a special point to do Disneyland’s if I can.
- Matterhorn Bobsleds — The Matterhorn is the visual focal point of Disneyland Park, the first ever tubular steel roller coaster, and is as iconic a part of Disneyland as anything at the park. To be completely frank, and this may be heresy to some, I like the Matterhorn, but I can’t say I love the ride itself; there have been a lot of advances since it was constructed, and it delivers a pretty rough, jerky ride. With that said, it’s the sort of thing that any Disney fan should experience at least once, and the recently added effects and Yeti animatronics really add a lot to the ride. If nothing else, you should experience it to see a ride featuring a Yeti where the Yeti actually works!
- Indiana Jones Adventure — Not only does Indiana Jones share the same ride system as Animal Kingdom’s Dinosaur, it also shares the track layout, such that the underlying framework of the attractions are essentially identical. With that said, however — and this is not to say that Dinosaur is a bad ride — Indy does a lot more with it and is above all a heck of a lot of fun. It also has an extremely impressive and immersive queue. All told, it’s a fantastic experience and should be on any Walt Disney World veteran’s short list.
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission – BREAKOUT — Another instance where Disney has reworked an existing ride system to great effect, this attraction was, until fairly recently, Disneyland’s watered-down version of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The ride experience remains essentially the same — go up, drop down, repeat — but the soundtrack and visual changes that have been made add to the attraction immensely. It is, in a word, FUN. Not that Tower wasn’t, but I hear much more laughter than screams, and the attraction is just an absolute blast.
- California Screamin’ — This will be taken off-line on January 8, 2018 to be rethemed to become The Incredicoaster, but to be quite honest, the wooden-roller-coaster theming was never the primary draw of this outstanding attraction anyway. As of this writing, it’s the third longest roller coaster in the United States, features a high speed launch, an inversion, and just about every other dip, dive, and bump you’ll find in coaster design. As a pure roller coaster, it’s an enormous amount of fun and whether you get there before the conversion or after, it’s a must for any roller coaster fan.
- World of Color – Disney’s California Adventure’s nighttime spectacular is just that, spectacular, and there isn’t really anything comparable at Walt Disney World at the moment. It’s a combination of fountains, lasers, projections, lights, and music that is a worthy end to any day at the parks.
- it’s a small world — Disneyland’s version of small world is often touted as being better than the Walt Disney World version, and this is another one where it’s not really a close call. The ride experience is largely the same, but the facade of the attraction is a masterpiece, the ride has an outdoor section, there are some “hidden Disney characters” in various scenes (like Lilo and Stitch in Polynesia or Alice in Wonderland in the UK), and all together it really elevates the experience. Full disclosure, that same song still loops and if you’re in the camp that finds that unbearable, nothing about the Disneyland version is going to change that, but it’s unquestionably a far better version of the attraction and worth experiencing even if you’re familiar with the east coast version.
- Fantasyland Dark Rides — Disneyland drips nostalgia and charm, and nowhere is this more apparent than the dark rides that are wedged into Disneyland’s tiny Fantasyland. It’s not so much that these are fantastic rides — some of the classics like Pinnochio’s Daring Journey, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and even fan-favorite Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride seem very technologically dated — but they nevertheless deserve a spot on this list if only from a historical perspective. As an aside, Alice in Wonderland uses more current technology but still has the charm of a classic Disneyland dark ride. It is truly unique and is worth experiencing on its own merit. If you only pick one to do, that would be be my recommendation.
In a hurry? Here’s what you can skip
Don’t misunderstand here, this is not an attempt to pass upon the quality of these attractions, just to help you make some decisions about what to skip if you don’t have time to do it all and want to focus on experiences that you can really only get at Disneyland.
The following attractions are so similar to their Walt Disney World counterparts that you’re not gaining anything new or noteworthy by doing them at Disneyland:
- Astro Orbiter
- Buzz Lightyear
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug
- The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
- Mad Tea Party
- Star Tours
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- Turtle Talk with Crush
- Winnie the Pooh
Tip: From a substantive standpoint, you can add the Enchanted Tiki Room to this list. It’s not exactly the same as the Disney World version, but it’s close enough that seeing this version isn’t going to feel that new or different. There is, however, an important caveat, and that is that should you be lucky enough to have “Tiki Maynard” as your host, you are in for a treat — he’s a park icon, and delivers the most ridiculous, over-the-top pre-show, which is possibly better than the show itself. Just ask at the entrance, and they should be able to tell you whether Maynard is on duty or not.
The following attractions have non-superficial differences from what you find in Florida that are worth seeing, but are in most cases not massive changes. I don’t recommend skipping them, but if you are short on time and really need to make some hard decisions, experiencing them would be less important than some of the must-dos identified above (especially because most of them generate significant waits). In all cases, there are valid arguments that could be made for these versions being better than their Walt Disney World counterparts (though the converse is also true), so they are absolutely worth doing in the abstract.
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Jungle Cruise
- Soarin’ Around the World (only the last scene is different)
As a quick aside, the general consensus is that the Disneyland version of Fantasmic! is superior, and some would probably say that it’s vastly superior. With that said, there’s not really any seating for it, you have to stake out a spot well in advance, and it’s not as if it’s so radically different that it will be completely new to you. It’s better (in my opinion), but I don’t know that it’s so much better as to be worth seeing as opposed to devoting that time to other attractions if you’re familiar with Hollywood Studios’ version.
Peter Pan’s Flight might also fall into this category although it includes an entire additional room that you don’t see at Disney World. I personally prefer the Disneyland attraction for that reason, but it also generates huge lines, doesn’t use FastPass, doesn’t load as efficiently as at Disney World, and you really need to prioritize it if you want to experience it. Is that effort worth basically one extra scene? Depends upon how much you like the Orlando version.
The Haunted Mansion is one other attraction that bears special mention here. First and foremost, if the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay is running when you visit, it becomes an absolute must-do for a Walt Disney World veteran. The regular version of the Haunted Mansion, however, contains fewer scenes than the Disney World version, and you’ll walk rather than ride through some other scenes you know as you’re heading to board the ride, so some might view it as skippable. I can’t recommend skipping it, however. For one thing, you’d miss the Hatbox Ghost (an opening day element of the attraction that was quickly jettisoned but recently returned to the Disneyland version only), but the attraction just has a different feel to it between the Dixieland-style facade and the original stretching room. Definitely recommended, even though it’s very similar — and shorter — than Orlando’s version.
Just as at Walt Disney World, not all FastPasses are created equal, and some attractions are better uses of your precious FastPasses than others. At Disneyland Park, Space Mountain, Star Tours, and Splash Mountain churn through their times the fastest and should be your priority if you want to experience those attractions. At California Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers should be your first priority, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy and Soarin’ Around the World.
Note that you can obtain a FastPass for World of Color at California Adventure and Fantasmic! at Disneyland Park even though you have a FastPass for another attraction.
Finally, see how in the picture above, I managed to get a FastPass for Haunted Mansion at 7:05 and another for Big Thunder Mountain at 7:10? In what is basically a trap for the unobservant, several attractions currently permit you to grab a FastPass and more or less immediately experience the attraction — which also enables you to immediately grab another FastPass for something else. While they are not always active, Big Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear, and Roger Rabbit at Disneyland Park, and California Screamin’ at California Adventure, all have this functionality as this goes to press. This may be the case even when there is a significant standby line — as I recall, Big Thunder was at least a half hour wait when I grabbed that one. There’s obviously not a need to rush to get these FastPasses, and you should check the return time before getting in the standby line, too — you might be able to skip the line entirely and use FastPass to get on immediately!
Be sure to check out our Disneyland Resort FastPass page for the most up-to-date information about FastPass at Disneyland.
Want more? If you found this helpful, you might want to check out these other articles about travel to Disneyland:
- Why Every Walt Disney Would Veteran Should Visit Disneyland
- A Primer on Visiting Disneyland Solo
- You Need A Disneyland Corn Dog Right Now
Also, once it gets closer to your trip, make sure you check out our weekly Disneyland preview, which runs every Friday morning, to find out what’s on tap for the upcoming week!
So, any questions? Think I’m way off base or missed some “must-dos?” Got any other tips for first time Disneyland visitors? Let us know in the comments!