I had never been to Walt’s first theme park. ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ is certainly a fitting name, and with the addition of Cars Land and extra attractions in Disney California Adventure Park, my family was continuously grinning. It is absolutely certain that Disneyland just got happier. Much smaller than Disney World, the original California location was intimate and incredibly accessible. Popping back to the room for nap time was easy and using my park-hopper pass to make the best of each day was a breeze.
Downtown Disney was smack dab in the middle of everything and featured amazing shopping, food and evening childcare. On one side of the Downtown section there are the 2 parks (Disney California Adventure and Disneyland Park) and on the other, the Disneyland Hotel, with incredible waterslides, character meals and beds that [had a headboard that had fireworks carved within that lit up and played music] as the kids drifted off to sleep. No buses were needed to get around, and the shopping and dining options were as plentiful as princesses.
I spent many a meal at Catal wine bar. Not only did it have great food, and an amazing patio, but it was super kid-friendly. (Plus it was right beside Sephora, which aided in my Lightening McQueen-inspired manicure.) When my feet got a bit tired, I grabbed some shoes at Sanuk, I watched the Stanley Cup final at the ESPN Sports Bar and saw the handmade signature quilts within the House of Blues. (With all of these great places you can skip the parks for a day or two!) One of my favourite spots was Wonderground Gallery, which featured reasonably-priced Disney-inspired original works by up-and-coming artists.
Tip: The Downtown Disney District parking lot is conveniently located and offers free parking for up to 3 hours — or up to 5 hours of free parking with validation from participating locations.
When the kids needed some down time, the Lego Imagination Centre was the place to be. With giant Lego sculptures and a kid’s (and parent…) play area, we were able to transition beautifully from the excitement of the parks to some quiet time.
Divided into Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Main Street USA, New Orleans Square, Critter Country and Mickey’s Toontown, the iconic and original park remains the stuff of dreams. Just like in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, no alcohol is served at this park, which places a huge focus on the family experience and holds true to Walt Disney’s original vision.
As a huge fan of New Orleans, the authenticity of the buildings, food and rides in New Orleans Square kept me going back to this park again and again. I just wish I could have played some jazz with the bands or strolled across the square in a Mardi-gras gown. In green silk. Because I’m kind of odd like that. (Note to self: apply to be a Disney cast member).
1. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (which is also available out at sea on the the Disney Fantasy). Have your little princess get styled, coiffed and sparkled by the beauty experts in this popular Fantasyland salon. And if you’ve brought a little pirate with you? There is a hairstyle package for boys too.
2. The Mad Hatter’s Teacups: “Again! Again!’ Was all my 4 year old would say.
3. Star Tours: with 60 possible scenarios, you become a passenger on a space flight piloted by C3PO. Different landing sites include Coruscant and Naboo. You are chased by stormtroopers, spoken to by Yoda and some scenarios even include a pod race. Yes. I did it at least 7 times with my boys and we had a new story every time.
4. Jedi Training: Kids are picked from the audience, unlike Disney World where you get there early and sign up. Different than Disney World, however, the young Jedis fight against both Darth Maul and Darth Vader. My kids were enthralled just to watch!
5. Space Mountain continues to be one of my favourite attractions, and unlike Disney World, where riders sit alone, this Space Mountain allowed for 2 people side by side, which made my son much more comfortable.
6. The fireworks above Sleeping Beauty Castle brought me to happy tears. Even with small children, they shouldn’t be missed. And keep your eyes peeled for Tinkerbell and Dumbo, who fly in at a special time. Depending on the age of your kids, I would recommend a stroller in case sleep comes calling. (You can rent a double or singe at the entrance gates).
7. Jungle Cruise: This 7-minute Jungle Cruise was one of the opening day attractions when Disneyland Park opened in July, 1955. The animals you see along this trek of water engage the whole family.
Disney California Adventure Park
Being in town for the grand re-opening of the park was an honour and will be a lifelong memory. The day of the opening, the line snaked all the way through Downtown Disney as customer service experts entertained the buzzing crowd. I have never seen such excitement. Broadcasters interviewed the public and a huge TV screen gave people hints of what was to come. Not only was this the first day that Cars Land was open to the public, but California Adventure Park had been revamped and upgraded with the addition of Buena Vista Street – a re-enactment of the Los Angeles Walt Disney would have discovered when he arrived in 1923. Carthay Circle is a bustling focal point with a 1920’s-30’s vibe, where talented Disney cast members perform swing and tap numbers. The Red Car Trolley carries passengers from the gate to the Circle, and newspapers are distributed as fast as your kids ask to grab penny candy at the Five and Dime.
1. Everything in Cars Land. Wow. And go early to grab a Disney Fastpass for the Radiator Springs Racers!
2. Soarin’ over California: The sensation of hang gliding over different parts of the state but you’re actually sitting, as smells are pumped into the room to correspond with the imagery. Hint: take off your shoes – it’s even better with bare feet.
3. California Screamer: this classic rollercoaster takes you for a loop. And make sure you smile as you come to the end so you can grab the photo of yourself at the Disney Photopass kiosk at the exit.
4. Goofy’s Sky School: I was fine on the Screamer, but this ride (geared for smaller kids) scared me! It was a gas, as you ride in a buggy over 4 levels of railings, twisting, turning and going down slopes. A must.
5. Silly Symphony Swings: The boys couldn’t stop grinning as we ventured on this old-fashioned carnival-style swing ride. It also gave me a chance to explain centrifugal force, which they fully ignored.
6. The Tower of Terror: Pretty scary as you drop several stories, but you may save some money on food if you lose your appetite like I did.
7. The Pixar Play Parade is incredible and even the clumsiest of readers will feel like dancing! A great venue to watch is right outside the Tower of Terror. You can get great photos of the familiar Pixar characters dancing and on elaborate floats.
8. World of Color: This nighttime water spectacular incorporates water, color, fire and light. With more than 1,000 jets of water forming incredible shapes in time to the music, kids are mesmerized. Hint: (Pre-order a World of Color picnic with reserved viewing).
I felt as if I could go to Disneyland once a week. Actually maybe I should just move to California! I’m hooked, and I haven’t stopped swing dancing or saying Ka-Chow since my return. And when you go? (Insert Tow Mater voice)… You’ll be happier than a tornado in a trailer park. I couldn’t resist.
Disclosure: UrbanMommies was hosted for the grand re-opening of Disney’s California Adventure Park. As always, our opinions are our own.