A Passage to Disneyland: Downtown Disney and Wrap Up

Don’t start here! This is the fourth part of my (I admit, epic) write-up of our adventures at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Tickets were supplied by Disney PR and we were the test case: a single dad and his three kids, 14, 10 and 7. To get the full story, I encourage you to start with Setting The Stage: Disneyland!, then read all about our first timer experiences at Disney California Adventure, followed by the really long article, our adventures at the Magic Kingdom: Disneyland. Back? Great!

We had two days at Disney, and spent two nights at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel across the street from the park. Our approach: Wednesday we dropped the car off at the hotel and spent the afternoon at DCA. That night we stayed at the hotel. Thursday we dedicated the entire day to Disneyland itself, and also spent that night at the HoJo. Friday morning I thought would be a perfect time to pop into Downtown Disney, do some shopping and grab lunch before we drove back south to my parents. Even better, I encouraged the kids to defer their purchases until the last day so we didn’t have to tote stuffies, toys, clothes, etc, through the parks.

downtown disney anaheim
Best laid plans and all that: My little 7yo was fried, had a tummy ache (possibly from all the sweets we ate the previous few days, quite atypical from our regular diet) and I ended up cuddling with her while sitting outside on a bench for the first hour we were there, then we went into the bathroom at Build-a-Bear and she threw up. Ugh. Then passed out in my arms and slept for the next two hours.

Everyone else wandered around and checked out various shops: my son was very impressed with the Ridemakerz shop and I have to say that it was the best Build-a-Bear I’ve ever seen, one significantly better than the little shop in the local mall! They also had unique bears and outfits that apparently aren’t available anywhere else in the United States. Well, I suspect they’re also available at the Downtown Disney shop in Orlando, but that’s another story…

I could see the sands trickling through our hourglass, while I let my girl sleep on my shoulder, so finally I just stood up and walked to the great World of Disney store. She was out like an unpowered bulb so it certainly didn’t bug her at all. Nice store, tons of stuff, but, ironically, the one thing I saw that I really wanted, a sort of graffiti Mickey hoodie (see pic, below), they didn’t have in my size.

mickey hoodieFortunately I took photos of it and when we returned home I called the Disney retailing team and they helped me track one down, one that should be on its way here as I type this!

Everyone found stuff to help remember our visit to Disneyland and I did manage to find a cool retro Mickey coffee mug that makes a fine addition to my informal mug collection. The kids got keychains and various other stuff and I bought a sticker book for my zombie little one so she’d not feel too left out when she did finally awaken.

Not sure if I mentioned it earlier, but my strategy for dealing with a never-ending stream of “can you buy this” was to give each of my children a $50 gift card good at all Disney stores (including the one back here in Colorado). That made it easy to be at the World of Disney store too: they made their own choices and bought their own goods. The 14yo daughter got a very nice, somewhat Goth black jacket, my 10yo son bought a white hoodie and my little one? Well, she was asleep.

We had planned on eating at the Rainforest Café (the one there is HUGE) but after we’d walked around and tried to get a table for lunch — one I figured my 7yo would sleep through — the 45min wait was unappealing so we went across the way to the ESPN Zone. Impressive as heck, and the big screen there? Showing a European Cup soccer match? Excellent. A sports lover’s dream!

Were the iPhone Apps Useful?

disney dining fail

I have to admit that neither of the iPhone apps proved particularly useful, though I have to say that the Disney Dining app was rather an extreme fail. As you can see on the screen capture to the right, even while I was smack in the middle of the park it thought I was on the wrong side of the planet. Not very useful!

The Walkee Disneyland Resort iGuide was more helpful with its info on menus at different eateries and queue times, but otherwise we probably got just as much use out of the printed park maps as the digital ones. Go figure, and I’m a big techno guy too. Oh, I pretty much ignored my iPhone otherwise, not tweeting, not posting on Facebook or similar. It was all about that be present in the moment strategy!

Next time I’d like to have a digital version of Steve Barrett’s entertaining Disneyland’s Hidden Mickeys. We did our best to look out for them and spotted a few, but way fewer than I’m sure were present.

And About Those Updates to Disneyland?

As I’ve said earlier, I went to Disneyland a lot in the 1970s, my most recent prior trip being in 1979. That’s a long time. In fact, that’s 32 years. Which is odd because I’m 28. 🙂

A lot of the updates were sufficiently subtle that I couldn’t tell what was new, including It’s a Small World, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and The Haunted Mansion. The Submarine Ride had been updated to tie into Finding Nemo and I wasn’t a huge fan of the update, mostly because having animated sequences on monitors seemed like a cheap trick, though I don’t know why that’s such a big deal.

disneyland horse drawn trolley
There are no longer any transportation vehicles on Main Street USA, which was a drag. I have nostalgic memories of horse-drawn trolley cars, even if we never spent the time to actually ride on one. The great Carnation Ice Cream Parlor is gone too, I also have fond memories of that from when I was a kid. Even then I was traveling on my stomach. 🙂

The biggest ride change, and the one that I am most ambivalent about, was unquestionably the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It was a favorite of mine and even twenty years after I had last ridden it I could still whistle most of the tune from memory. But the ride begat the terrific series of Johnny Depp films and now in a sort of dual-reflection, the ride actually has his character, Jack Sparrow, appearing a number of times. Worse, they’ve tweaked some of the other audio-animatronics to be more politically correct, so the part of the wench auction where pirates were chasing their new brides? It’s all been changed so all but one of them are now being chased by their brides. Amusing, but disappointing.

The biggest update, of course, was that the last time I went to Disneyland it was a circular park surrounded by tacky Anaheim motels and the biggest parking lot I’d ever seen. Now that’s all changed, Anaheim has done a splendid remodel and renovation of the area and Disney has done a truly miraculous transformation of the parking lot into Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney. It’s really astonishing if you’re familiar with the history of the area.

Thoughts on the Trip Itself

After all those words and thoughts, what was it like to travel to a place as frantic and crazy as Disneyland as a single dad with three smart, active kids who, yes, are rather more used to a quiet and peaceful life than the mob scene? We had some hiccups, truth be told, and I had to accept that if I wanted to let them enjoy some of the treats at the parks that I’d have to be okay with how it affected their behavior. Not too bad, but I also tried to limit it to “one treat per day” and had them share, so when we had cotton candy, it was one that the three of them shared, not three.

Heck, with the lollipops that they got while we were lining up for the Finding Nemo Submarine Ride they tossed them into the garbage without ever finishing them. Good for them. A little bit of sweets goes a long way in my experience…. I am also careful to limit sodas and try to encourage protein each meal and we always just have water (all of us) at dinnertime and no dessert.

disneyland kids buying candy

Kids buying candy at Disneyland

Since we’ve returned, they’ve constantly brought up Disneyland, their favorite rides (the biggest hits: Toy Story Mania, Grizzly River Run, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Haunted Mansion) and how much they enjoyed the overall experience. They remain concerned about my Mum – and her health hasn’t improved in the last ten days either – but I’m pleased that their memory will be of a few nice visits with her and a fun trip to Disneyland with their favorite Auntie. Always good to wrap the bittersweet with something else sweet, in my opinion.

Would I go back? Definitely. And not to sound like I don’t love my kids, but I’d like to go back without ’em — or go to Walt Disney World — and be able to go on the rides I want, eat where I want, keep the schedule I’d like and stay up until the late night parades and shows, without worrying about the closest bathroom and whether a particular treat has corn syrup or not. Maybe soon!

Finally, I want to again thank the team at Disney PR for generously giving us admission tickets for two days at the parks. That saved us quite a bit of money and while I probably spent it on food and souvenirs, it was still a definite help because another reality of being a single parent to three kids is that every trip involves four plane tickets. It adds up!

One comment on “A Passage to Disneyland: Downtown Disney and Wrap Up

  1. I really enjoyed Disneyland Florida, but went to Euro Disney in Paris and was very dissapointed. It just doesn’t have the same magic as the original park.

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