We’d traveled to California, arranged for tickets through Disney PR (thanks, gang!), moved all our stuff into our rooms at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel across the street from the main Disney entrance, and even had our warmup day at Disney California Adventure. We were more than ready to enter the fabled, magical world of Disneyland!
What? You’re just joining the narrative here? Well, I strongly suggest you start by reading part one, our Disney trip backstory, then read part two, our day at Disney California Adventure. Now you’ll know who we are and what our trip was all about. In case you skipped those links, though, I’m a single dad and took my three kids, a 14yo girl, 10yo boy and 7yo girl, to Disney solo, with just a bit of help from my sister, who had flown down from Alaska for the trip.
Thursday dawned and the kids had slept well in our HoJo rooms (we had two rooms and my oldest was bunking with her favorite Auntie, while the younger two were sharing a room with me. Our setup? A travel airbed for the little one, ensconced in her own corner, and the beds for both my son and I), though we were a bit cranky about the lack of an actual breakfast at the hotel. Instead, cereal from the gift shop and an early start were our preference so we walked down the street to the main Disney entrance and turned right into Disneyland instead of our left turn the previous day to get into Disney California Adventure.
And we were in! Disneyland! After years of talking about it…
The first order was to come up with a game plan, but that didn’t last long. We stood at the end of Main Street USA and I just soaked it in. Just like I remembered. Well, actually, it seems a lot smaller than it did when I was a kid, but from my kids perspective, it was like that perfect, idealized early American small town, just like Walt had built it back in the 50s. They were visibly impressed.
We decided that our first stop had to be the Dumbo The Flying Elephant ride. I mean, a 7yo girl? How could we not go on that a zillion times? In fact, I have a very fond memory of when my oldest was about 5 and we took her to Disneyworld, and had to stage our queue points so she could go the maximum number of times possible.
Walking down main street we encountered one of the most mythic spots in Disneyland: the wonderful statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. What you might not have realized, however, is that surrounding this statue are these terrific smaller sculptures of classic Disney characters. The pic below is of the Minnie Mouse sculpture, about 18″ tall.
Then we walked into Cinderella’s Castle proper and, acting on a tip from my pal Heather, we found the small brass spike in the ground that denotes the exact geographic center of the original Disneyland park. Since they added Toon Town, it’s apparently no longer the central spot, but still, kinda fun to get the inside scoop.
We walked into Fantasyland and it was, again, a wonderful nostalgic experience for me and clear fun for the kids. We promptly zoomed to queue up for Dumbo and my sister clearly was just humoring us at that point, so I suggested she count off 30 people behind us, then get in the line herself. We enjoyed the ride, then the kids met up with her in line and were flying elephants again, no more than ten minutes after they’d gotten off. (If you read books on Disney, you’ll find that this sort of “line staging” is a recommended strategy for popular rides)
It was time to try a dark ride. We’d all enjoyed the Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! ride in Disney California Adventure the previous day, but I was still anxious for my 7yo and concerned she’d be frightened by dark rides with frantic action, luminescent creatures and loud noises. Our gentle first try was on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
And she LOVED it!
What a relief!
We then went on Pinocchio’s Daring Journey and all enjoyed it. Next in the circle was Peter Pan’s Flight, but the line was too long. It was lunchtime anyway, so we popped into the Village Haus Restaurant and had surprisingly decent pizzas, my sister trying out the flat bread version, which I didn’t like as much.
Sated, we decided to keep moving, so we walked over to Tomorrowland and jumped onto the Autopia ride. A few days earlier we’d enjoyed some go-kart racing so the car was a bit of a letdown with its central rail, but once I remembered that if you don’t steer you get this great side-to-slide slamming motion, it seemed more fun. The five of us took up four cars: the two youngest in front, then one car per person. Very fun!
I have fond memories of the Submarine Voyage from when I was a kid, grey subs going under the polar icecap and encountering a mermaid, mostly themed on the terrific live-action Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. These subs, however, were painted a bright, bright yellow, though at least one original sub name had been retained (the Nautilus). If you’re paying attention, there are also three hilarious (animatronic) seagulls sitting on a buoy yelling “mine!” “mine!”.
The newly revamped Finding Nemo Submarine Ride is themed after Finding Nemo, a film that I have to admit is not my favorite of the recent animated fare. Most of the ride actually ended up being the same as I remember, until we went “into the cave”, which is now themed around Finding Nemo. Thing is, rather than audio-animatronics, the ride instead has video screens visible through the water with animated fish zipping about and a synchronized soundtrack on the sub. In my opinion, less innovative and imaginative, but the kids really liked it so maybe I’m the one out of touch.
Next stop was the Disneyland Railroad, which we rode in the full circle around Disneyland, including through the dioramas of the Grand Canyon and Primeval World. Both frankly looked tired and need of a major revamp, and while I remember thinking it was pretty cool and I know that Walt was a huge train buff, it still felt like a ride that is only around for historical reasons. Then again, it was full the entire circle and there were people waiting at every station…
Next up was Adventureland and we started by queueing up for the Indiana Jones ride. The queue was delightfully short — about ten minutes — but just before we’d have boarded the ride I watched their pre-ride video and decided it looked pretty rough and like a fancy rollercoaster. I asked a cast member if people got sick on the ride and she said yes, people did get nauseous all the time. My eldest and I decided to sit that one out so we grabbed a nice pineapple whip from the vendor just outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Delish!
We all regrouped and enjoyed a ride on the Jungle Cruise, complete with the non-stop cheesy puns and silly lines. I was surprised that one line I remembered from when I was a kid has been removed. Used to have “This is the famous Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous explorer Dr. Henry Falls.” Maybe I’m misremembering, but I still liked the ride, and my kids rolled their eyes, laughed, and said “these are just your kind of jokes, Daddy!”
From there we finally made it to the area I’d most looked forward to visiting: New Orleans Square. Haven’t heard of it? Well, I know you’ve heard of the rides in that area: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Two of my very favorite rides from when I was a kid. Would my kids like them, through?
In fact, all the kids adored Pirates of the Caribbean and we went on it twice in a row. Again, the lines were surprisingly short on what I consider one of the very best rides in the Magic Kingdom. I was a bit surprised to find Captain Jack Sparrow now a central part of the ride, however. Think about it: the ride inspires a film which features a flamboyant pirate, as played by Johnny Depp, and then the film inspires a remodel of the ride. It’s great fun and still a favorite of mine.
Then it was time to go to the ride that I’d always assumed the little one would skip: The Haunted Mansion. Thinking about it more, I realized that it was the descending elevator that would probably be the most frightening, so I held her through the creepy entrance and we got our little “Doom Buggy”. And she liked that ride too, though we didn’t go on it a second time.
By this point we needed dinner (does it seem like all we did was eat? Yeah, it felt that way) so the little ones wanted corn dogs which we bought from a street vendor (they were huge and delicious) and brought them into the Plaza Inn, where I had a bowl of pasta and the gals had salads. Decent enough meal and by that point it was time to wrap up our day, but not without a few last rides…
Kids choice and they picked It’s a Small World, Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean one more time, so we walked through to Fantasyland again to take a ride on little boats while listening to the most ubiquitous of Disney songs. You know it. “it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fear, there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.”
We survived a ride that’s still fun, colorful and cute as a button then walked back to queue up for the Peter Pan ride. Just before we were to get on the ride, something happened with one of the guests on the ride and they shut it down for 15-20 minutes, running diagnostics and such. We never found out what had occurred and when I asked a cast member she, appropriately, explained that they’d run low on pixie dust. Peter Pan was as cute as I remember, but astonishingly short, less than two minutes long. For that we queued up for 30 minutes?
We hightailed it to New Orleans Square for one last ride on Pirates of the Caribbean and it was great, no line at all. The kids really wanted to go on another time, but by this point it was already late and I hoped we’d be able to see the fireworks from the hotel if we got back soon enough, so, regretfully, we bid a very fond adieu to Disneyland.
A day very well spent, and a fabulous time had by all. The weather was perfect, the crowds were surprisingly thin, and the rides were really fun. We’ll definitely be back again!
But wait, I’m not done with my story of our trip to Disneyland. There’s one more really important chapter: Downtown Disney and an overall wrapup…