Disneyland Review!

There haven’t been too many stories on Jinja Bobot lately because I’ve just finished up a family road-trip to Disneyland.


This isn’t my first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth and certainly won’t be my last.  It was, however, my first three-day stay at the California location, so I think it’s time for a nice review of this famous amusement park.

Right, but where to begin…?

First of all, calling Disneyland an amusement park is obviously totally wrong.  It’s an ecosystem.  It’s its own country!  But alright, I’ll call it a campus.  Disney’s goal is to get you there and keep you there.  We arrived at their Paradise Pier Hotel on a Sunday night and didn’t even return to our car until we left on Thursday morning.  There was no need to drive. All the food, entertainment and services we needed were all on site.

Located on campus are actually two parks: Disneyland (AKA The Magic Kingdom) and California Adventure.  There are three hotels as well: Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.  All of this is tied together with Downtown Disney, a street-like area with shops, restaurants, live music, and more!

The Hotels

Let me start with the hotels.

We’ve stayed in them twice and both times it was at Paradise Pier.  We wanted to do the Grand Californian this time but when it came time to make a reservation it was a full $1,000 more than the others.  Since we spend very little time in our rooms, it wasn’t worth the extra cost.  The Grand Californian is much nicer, though, and has lots of great services including Child Care.  The biggest advantage, though, is that there are entrances to it from Downtown Disney and California Adventure.  Super convenient!  Even better for us is that all guests are allowed to use them, so it serves as a nice shortcut to Paradise Pier.  For this reason, I rate Paradise Pier has the best value of the three hotels.  However, the Grand Californian is the best. Period.

Downtown Disney

The first (and only) time I went to DisneyWorld I ignored their Downtown Disney “nightlife.”  I had three very young children and it didn’t seem like I’d get the chance to enjoy much of what they had.  I was definitely wrong about that as it’s very kid friendly and I assume it’s very similar to California’s version.

Downtown Disney at Disneyland has some nifty restaurants such as Rainforest Cafe, New Orleans and Italian fare, as well as quicker-service eateries such as the very tasty Earl of Sandwich. There’s a huge Lego Store there with tons for the kids to do as well as Disney-themed shops for all ages and genders.  Lastly, the Starbucks is a welcome necessity for all adults, right?

Honestly, without Downtown Disney, you might get forced off campus should you need a meal when you’re not in one of the parks. This is easily remedied by going into one, but there’s a lot of reasons you may not want to do that.  Chief among would be utter exhaustion at times. :-)

The area can be crowded, but on average is always less busy than the parks.  On our first visit we waited three hours for a table at Rainforest Cafe and then for our meals.  My youngest son was asleep at the table by the time that happened and it was so late I wasn’t even hungry anymore. :-(  This time around, the wait time was much less and we had a fantastic experience!

Earl of Sandwich, though, is my personal favorite.  The food is made to order and the toasted sammiches are fantastic.  Plus, there’s tons of little goodies to grab.  I’m also always in a rush when I’m not waiting in line for a ride, so getting my food fast is a priority.  I’m not at Disney to EAT, I’m there to RIDE!

Top it all off with the chocolate shop and it’s a great way to end (and begin) a day as you walk towards the parks!

California Adventure

I’ll start with the lesser known of the two parks, California Adventure, which is often just lumped in when referring to Disneyland but, yeah, there’s really two parks.  Your ticket to the Magic Kingdom won’t get you into California Adventure unless you buy the so-called “Park Hopper” that lets you go back and forth between them and I certainly recommend it.


Well, because California Adventure is terrific and I’m inclined to say I might actually enjoy it even more than Disneyland Park itself!  While the rides there don’t carry nearly the same sway as classics like Splash Mountain and Matterhorn, they’re great fun and benefit from being newer overall.

My favorite ride between both parks is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and just so happens to stand in California Adventure, in fact.  Think your typical “Tower of Doom” ride where you are raised up, up, up and then dropped down, down, down.  Many amusement parks have a ride like this.  The first time I went on it, I thought that’s what it would be, too, but noooo no no.  It’s a whole different experience packaged with Disney flair and it’s just a blast!  I wish it was a little longer, sure, but it’s still my favorite ride. As a bonus, the end of the line is in an area that is freezing cold so it’s a nice way to get some relief from the heat!

Radiator Springs Racers is another fantastic ride that’s relatively new.  This ride is a mashup of the “experience” rides that Disney is famous for where you’re slowly cruising through your favorite stories, but then becomes something of a roller coaster, too.  The special effects are AMAZING here and you feel like you’re right in the movie.  It’s funny, scary, and thrilling all in one.  A fantastic achievement!

Finally, there’s California Screamin’ which is the best roller coaster on campus, hands down. (Yes, better than Space Mountain.) Firstly it disposes of the cliche of a slow incline followed by a big drop to start things off.  No, this thing FLINGS you at top speed right from the get go.  It’s zero to a hundred-billion MPH in a second!  Such fun and it’s almost always a short line.

Rounding out the roster at California Adventure are a bunch of good rides and attractions that may not blow you away but are fun nonetheless.  Tons of rides for the kiddies, but most of them are fun for adults, too.  A hidden gem among these is Goofy’s Sky School.  I took my kids on it as the kindly dad, but found myself wanting to drag them on several more times even when they didn’t want to anymore!

Grizzly River Run will get you wetter than Splash Mountain, Soarin’ Over California is a unique IMAX experience you’ll need to try at least once, and don’t miss Toy Story Midway Mania.  It looks a bit outdated from the outside, but it’s a blast to play when you’re on it!

Disneyland Park

Alright, now the real reason you came to Disneyland: Disneyland Park!  What do I make of it?

Mixed reviews, really.  I mean, look, it’s epic of course.  You’ll have a blast here.  Let me start with the high points.

Obviously, many of the most famous amusement rides in the world are here.  Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, Haunted Mansion…they’re all here.  And they’re terrific. You simply have to experience them and, if you never have, I totally envy you!  I knew about all these rides for years before my first trip about 8 years ago.  Finally riding them was just awesome.  The rides at Disneyland are so much more efficient and engaging than any other park you’ll find.  The speed at which they get people on and off the ride makes waiting in line not so awful.  You’re always moving.

The park itself is broken out into various sections: Mickey’s ToonTown, Critter Country, Frontierland, and (just like the movie) Tomorrowland are just a few of them.

A map of Disneyland Park.

The layout of Disneyland Park is broken into themed sections.

Mickey’s ToonTown feels more like the Roger Rabbit movie in all honesty.  Lots of stuff to play with for the kids without waiting in line.  The rides here aren’t all that great, but it’s more about the interactive experience. If you don’t do a single ride, you’re not missing anything. Though, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin is worth it only if the line is short.

Fantasyland contains a lot of classic Disney-themed ride such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and others featuring Snow White, Peter Pan, and more.  This area is jammed with families and strollers most of the day so if you’re single or just there as a couple you might choose to ignore it.  The rides are older and designed for kids, so if there’s one area you can save time and avoid this is probably the one.

The two best areas are easily Tomorrowland and Critter Country.

Tomorrowland features Space Mountain, Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.  All are musts.  My favorite ride in the park is Space Mountain for its history and energy you feel as you reach the main area.  Everyone is pumped to get on and you can feel it. Star Tours is newer and is one of the handful of virtual rides that’s popped up in the parks in recent years.  Seat movements are combined with a 3D video display to give you a unique sensation that has to be experienced to be understood. Finally, Astro Blasters if an interactive ride where you are presented with a series of targets as you go through and your score is tallied up and compared against others.  There’s even strategy guides on how to get top scores!

Critter Country is home to Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. (Technically, these bleed into New Orleans Square but they’re all next to each other.) These are the classics of Disneyland!  While Splash Mountain is most known for its big drop and “splash” (so say cheese!), all three of these rides are brimming with decoration and details that demonstrate why Disney’s Imagineers are the best in the world.  You’d have to ride Haunted Mansion 100 times itself just to appreciate everything in there.

Splash Mountain is the best place to mug for the camera!  Say cheese on your way down!

Splash Mountain is the best place to mug for the camera! Say cheese on your way down!

There is, however, one big problem with Disneyland Park that will most likely hamper your experience: the enormous crowds. Depending on the time of year you go, you can expect some massive crowds that will make the mere act of walking through the park difficult. As the day wears on, the heat and constant feeling of strollers biting at your feet will exhaust you.  Now, if you stay in a Disney hotel, you can take advantage of something known as “Magic Hour.” This is when you can go into one of the two parks a full hour early and ride (most of) the rides with little to no wait.  But let’s get back to this one later…

Related to the crowd problem is Disney’s parade and fireworks problem.  And it’s an amazing one, too. Several times a day, parades will run through the park and, once, at night, the fireworks show will occur.  When these happen, many people line the routes and best observation spots HOURS in advance.  I’ll never understand why, but people willingly sit around on blankets for up to three hours just to watch the parade go by and the fireworks show.  Maybe they’re just exhausted, I don’t know…but they do it and it makes walking around a nightmare.  If you ask me, Disney needs to do something about this because it’s the worst part of the experience.

How To Manage Your Magic Hour

As noted above, if you stay at a Disney hotel then you’re allowed access into Disneyland Park or California Adventure an hour before opening depending on the day.  There’s also a bonus hour available if you have a 3-Day Park Hopper or more, too, but you only get one I believe.

Perhaps surprisingly, this hour involves some serious strategy.  The reason being that not all rides are open and some rides are popular targets during this time.  Radiator Springs Racers is the HOT destination in California Adventure because it’s usually an hour-plus wait all day long.  The morning is the best time to get in line…but it may still take you some time to get through it and could suck up much of your Magic Hour.

In Disneyland Park, Space Mountain is the #1 target during Magic Hour for similar reasons…it’s usually packed all day long.  It’s also fairly close to the entrance compared to some of the other rides.

Both Radiator Springs Racers and Space Mountain may be the top Magic Hour destinations, but I’m here to tell you to avoid them at all costs.  Instead, for California Adventure, you should grab a Fast Pass to Radiator Springs Racers and then move on to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (perhaps twice!) and then Grizzly River Run (three times!) before returning.  You’ll not only get in both of these great rides while there’s next to no line (and do them multiple times to boot), you’ll then get a short wait for Radiator Springs Racers.  Why waste at least half your hour on one ride when you don’t have to?  The best part is that the Fast Pass access is at the entrance to Cars Land, so you can immediately run over to the other rides without wasting much time! When you’re all done, move on to California Screamin’ before the line gets a little longer there.

For Disneyland Park, I recommend Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain for your Magic Hour.  All three of these rides will have only tiny lines during this time while everyone runs elsewhere, plus they’re all located somewhat near each other.  Don’t even grab a Fast Pass for Space Mountain, you can get that at any time later without a problem.  In fact, I recommend grabbing them when you go to Pizza Port to lunch, which is located right nearby.  This is a shady, spacious eatery that’s a nice break when the noon sun is overhead.

Mastering Fast Passes

I’ve made mention of the Fast Pass a couple times, but do you know what that is?  Each park allows you to hold one Fast Pass for any ride at a time.  While not available for every ride, it’s available on pretty much all the big ones.  This pass allows you to essentially skip the line.  If you play your cards right, you should run through 4-6 of these per day.  If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong!

To find them, go to the ride you’re interested in and find the “Fast Pass Distribution” area.  Usually these are near the start of the line, but in cases like Haunted Mansion you’ll find that they’re somewhat hidden.  Be sure to ask for help if you have trouble finding them!  As a rule of thumb, if a ride has a 40-minute wait time or longer, you should try to Fast Pass it.  Then, you can move on to another ride and, once you’re finished, go back and get right on the first ride!

Another little trick is that your Fast Pass will have a one-hour window where you can use it.  Yes they literally will not let you on the ride even a minute early.  Take note of the start of this window…once that time hits you can get ANOTHER Fast Pass!  If convenient, grab one on your way to use the first ticket!  You’ll have to wait at least half an hour before you can use any Fast Pass you get, so start the clock as soon as you can.

With rising crowds, Fast Pass strategy will allow you to get on more rides and wait less.  Every time you go to the park you should work on improving your Fast Pass management.  It’s fun, too!

Have a Great Time!

Disneyland is a fantastic place for a family vacation!  Plus, it’s so huge you’d have to go at least a few times just to see everything once!  Hopefully my little review will help you along!  Have a blast!!

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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