Grammy Award winning musician and storyteller Bill Harley has taught my family many things over the years — how to mimic being flushed down the toilet in a bathroom stall, for example. His most vital lesson for me though comes in the middle of “Why Kids Sing To Their Parents” on the modern classic story CD The Town Around The Bend, when he reminds that “you should never say never and very rarely ever say always”.
I said I’d never go to Disney. I said that exact thing a lot.
But Bill’s right. As always (usage justified). One should really never say never.
We went to Disneyland. No kidding. We of the lower case B brave young girls, no capital P princesses, and anti-commercialization of childhood stance: WE went to Disneyland. And you know what? We had a pretty grand, if not magical, time of it. What we did in Los Feliz two nights prior to our one day at the famous park helped make my 10 hours in the house of the Mouse more pleasant than I could have ever imagined. Big hugs to Lucky Diaz for this:
I grew up a history buff. I knew more about our country than most kids my age back then, and probably more today than most adults, so taking a casual unplanned walking tour of the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, the very streets that Mr. Walt Disney walked when he set up shop for his very first animation studio framed the luster of Disneyland in a historical context for me. After that, I was eager to climb into original rides built a half-century ago in places with names like Fantasyland and Adventureland. And all of that set me up to happily climb aboard newer creations like wickedly cool Star Wars simulator, Star Tours.
Heaven help me, but I had fun. I even bought a Donald Duck shirt in one of the zillion interconnected stores on Main St. Donald was my favorite as a child, and I reconnected a bit with that childhood at Disneyland.
We got to the park shortly after it opened on a Monday in September. The line for tickets was maybe 3 people deep. Good start, I thought. Nothing I hate more than standing in lines. And yes, I realize I was about to spend an entire day in Disneyland!
We started with Great Moments with Abraham Lincoln, a quietly stunning exhibit just to the right after you pass through the Disneyland gates. This short, stirring show has nothing at all to do with Disney per se, save for legendary Disney animatronics, but for the history loving 8-year-old boy inside of me, it was the ideal way to slowly seep into Disneyland as a too-cynical 37-year-old dad.
Before we venture any further into the park, I must recommend that you choose to stay offsite during your Disney experience, just across the street as a matter of fact, at the Fairfield Inn. Sure the Disney resorts are probably wonderful, but that’s a cost that needn’t be spent, unless you’re swimming in cash. The affordable, clean and comfy Marriott brand economy hotel is a short walk, maybe 10 minutes, even while walking with short-legged children, into the park off of Harbor Blvd, with views of the top of Space Mountain and the Matterhorn from your room. Unlike every other Fairfield, however, breakfast isn’t free here. And neither is parking (but it is cheaper than inside the park, so…)
There’s a Pizza Hut on the 3rd floor that should be generally avoided other than passing it briefly when entering the pretty alright arcade next door — air hockey! Instead, walk down towards Harbor Blvd for a decent and reasonably priced morning meal at the stand-alone restaurant in front of the hotel. Or, if you are a loving husband and papa like me, you’ll wake up early, have the valet get your car (you do have free in & out privileges after all) and drive 20 minutes roundtrip to the nearest Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to get your wife a vanilla caramel steamer and your kids some fresh bakery goodies and hot chocolate. Just sayin’. To be fair, the Fairfield’s Pizza Hut does offer a good deal that you might consider when you check-in: $20 for a decent-looking backpack stuffed with 4 waters and 4 snacks to keep your family going in the park.
Okay, we’re back inside Disneyland now and we are using the clever Mousewait app (recommended by Gina McHatton — thank you!) to discover which rides have the shortest lines. This ingenious modern tool helps families make the most of their time, in real time, which is huge when you’ve got only one day at Disneyland like we had! Just be sure you’ve packed your back up power source/battery pack case for your smartphone! Luckily for us, a Fall non-holiday weekday proved a smart day to visit because we had only one wait over 20 minutes (Peter Pan, our first ride of the day) with most being under 5 minutes. From what I’ve been told, this is nothing short of amazing. Still, we didn’t get to ride everything and didn’t ride anything twice, much to the chagrin of the Mouse who fell in love with the classic It’s A Small World boat ride.
Not only does it make economic sense to buy a multi-day Disney park pass (with 3, 4 and 5 day deals having the greatest bang for your buck) it’s also necessary if you want to actually ride on everything in Disneyland Park, let alone the Disney California Adventure Park next door, and your favorites, like It’s A Small World, more than once. Next time, that’s what we’ll do. Yes, there’ll likely be a next time. Don’t judge me.
Disneyland Park rides you simply must experience with little kids:
- Peter Pan’s Flight (the opening salvo of which is the most beautiful moment you’ll experience in the park, hands-down.)
- It’s A Small World (a classic)
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters (super cool later shooting game)
- Disneyland Railroad (especially the portion between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland)
- Jungle Cruise
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (leg room issue for anyone taller than 5′ 8″!)
- Mickey and the Magical Map show at the Fantasyland Theater
- Toontown (we missed this area entirely, but I’ve heard great things from parents of young children)
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
- Snow White’s Scary Adventure (fear not, this one is not scary)
I could’ve done without the Finding Nemo submarine ride which was a major thud in a day of fireworks. It isn’t nearly as claustrophobic as you might imagine, that’s not it at all, but it is far more boring than any submarine experience should ever be.
Disneyland Park rides you must experience with older kids and little ones with a taste for adventure:
- Star Tours (wow!)
- Indiana Jones Adventure (tough on sore backs, but amazingly thrilling!)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (neat because it is old, one of the classics and the inspiration for the movies — which I did not know at all, that the ride came first! Movie fans will appreciate that Johnny Depp’s character now appears throughout the exhilarating boat ride)
- Haunted Mansion (we got to see it transformed for Halloween, which was super cool)
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (a tiny bit scary for little kids, maybe, with some devil/fires of hell action at the end — but is a joyous car ride based on the most obscure character in Disneyland)
Many would put Space Mountain on this list but I will not. I refuse. When I was 8 and was dragged into Disneyworld by my parents, I rode this pitch black nightmare (yes, there’s one in Orlando too) with my father. I clung to his legs underneath the seat for the duration. It was easily the worst 3 minutes of my otherwise terrific childhood.
Hopefully you’ll build some time into your Disneyland trip to experience L.A. to the north or Legoland and the San Diego region down south a bit. I’d highly recommend Santa Monica, family concerts at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, the La Brea Tar Pits, LACMA, the Hollywood sign and the hills, Griffin Park Observatory, family concerts at the Getty Museum, and Amoeba Records. If you want specific L.A. family travel tips, shoot me an email and I will do my best to help point you in the right direction.
Pretty much everyone who’s been there, or dreams of going someday, will eagerly tell you that Disneyland is a magical place. The most magical, these folks will insist. We didn’t quite get that impression. It was a good day, sure, but for real magic during your next trip, take a look at the Laplands area in the great north of Finland that’s believed to be the true home of Santa Claus and is for-certain as prime a place as any on Earth to witness the Northern Lights. The Laplands is where real world magic seems to be in abundance, especially during the winter, just as Germany and France are where real world castles await to take your breath away. There are some great deals to be found online that will make Lapland breaks more affordable for families in search of real winter magic. I’ll never stop searching for affordable airfare to take my family back overseas to a magical place like Laplands so that we might dip our toes again into actual fairy dust. Just look at this place!