How I Fell In Love With Disneyland

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Features, The 626

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Published on July 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm with 42 Comments

I recently had the privilege of flying out to California for a few days to work with Disney Legend Rolly Crump on our forth-coming book about his life, It’s Kind Of A Cute Story. While there, I obviously was going to visit Disneyland.

But, I was a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t been to Disneyland in over 20 years. How would it compare to Walt Disney World, which I had been to numerous times since then. Would I enjoy it?

Short answer, yes, I absolutely did. I know I’m one of the MiceChat columnist that tends to write about Walt Disney World stuff (because that’s my home turf), but I wanted to post this so you Disneylanders can see I’m totally on your side, too.

While reading this, please keep in mind that my visit was LAST summer, so many of the changes that have since taken place at Disney Parks worldwide did not occur yet (the new Matterhorn ride vehicles, WDW bringing back the original Tiki Room show, etc). But I think you’ll enjoy my initial thoughts and feelings from this trip.

Suffice it to say, I fell in love.

It started off like one of those typical, romantic stories. We first met when we were both younger. I was only about 5 at the time. We had a few fleeting moments together, but I wasn’t old enough to remember any of it. Of course, that didn’t make our time together any less special. In fact, after being reunited after so long, those long forgotten memories began to flood back, and it was like love at first sight all over again. It was like we were destined to have our paths cross again, and I’m happy they did.


I’m an East Coast guy, so my home turf has always been Walt Disney World. I grew up with the place, visiting at least once a year since I was very young. I’ve always had a loyalty to it, and it’s all I’ve ever known (despite those few fleeting memories of my singular visit to the West Coast).

Growing up, I’ve always heard Disneyland was inferior to the gigantic empire Disney created in Florida. “Disneyland can fit in Magic Kingdom’s parking lot” is a popular phrase amongst people I know. “It’s quaint and a much smaller version of what you’re used to,” others told me. So, leaving for Disneyland, I was nervous, and afraid that I’d be disappointed.

My fears were unjustified. Despite my years of Walt Disney World experience, it took only minutes for Disneyland to win me over as my favorite park. I know Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland has been an ongoing debate for years in the Disney blogger community, but I have defected to the Disneyland side.

Allow me to explain why…

Size Doesn’t Matter

Or, in this case, it does. Walt Disney World is huge. Like, super huge. It’s bigger than some Third World countries. Of course, this allows it to have more attractions, more resorts, more everything. But is bigger always better? Well, in this case… no.

It hugs you.

Those are the three words that Rolly Crump used to describe Disneyland to me. The first thing that struck me was how small everything was. Walking through the main gate, and seeing the Main Street Train Station for the first time, was almost a cultural shock. But I felt as if it was more at home with a small town setting than the monster at Walt Disney World. Even Main Street itself was much smaller. The buildings, while still making use of forced perspective, don’t tower over you as much. The street isn’t as wide, so Rolly was right – the park begins to ‘hug’ you the second you walk in. And it fits perfectly!

In Disney World, Cinderella Castle can be seen towering in the distance; Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland cannot. It’s much, MUCH smaller. But again, it fits in better. It looks more like a quaint castle in the countryside, and it’s more suitable for Fantasyland, than the massive building on the East Coast.

The entire park is much smaller, without a doubt. I can take a few laps around Disneyland and still feel fine, while a single lap around the Magic Kingdom might make me feel like I just ran a 13K Race! But to me, this makes it nicer. No longer was I completely exhausted at the end of the day after walking (what feels like) 500 miles of the Magic Kingdom.

Even the queues were smaller. I’m used to traversing an entire fort before getting on Pirates. Here, it was a few simple pathways, and suddenly I’m on the boat. It was amazing to me how small the lines were – perhaps in peak season, they are a little longer and maybe even extended. But here, I was on the rides before I even knew it.

The smaller size of the park fits right into its theme.

Celebrating Epcot’s 30th Anniversary!



Disney has always went the extra mile with theming. But Disneyland makes Walt Disney World look like a red-headed step-child. Every square inch of the place was COVERED with theming. Everything.

Sure, you’re thinking, so is Florida.

No. No it’s not. I can’t even begin to tell you how much more is at Disneyland. They truly do make use of of every square foot of the park. Because of its size, they need to get their point across much faster than they do at Disney World. While it may be a smack in the face at first, you come to find it’s richer in detail.

Toontown was a great example. While the Magic Kingdom’s version was a half-assed, re-done version of a temporary birthday celebration, this Toontown made you feel like you stepped right into something straight out of Roger Rabbit. The many buildings and facades, with local businesses such as the Clock Repair or Glass Factory, made it seem like this was a living, breathing community filled to the brim with toons.

On top of that, everything had a gag! See that big button that says DO NOT PRESS on it? Go ahead and press it. Or that door that says DANGER in blocky cartoon letters? Try to open it. Everything was interactive, and waiting for you to come explore. It was amazing.

In fact, all of the lands looked lived in.

They were places that you felt like a resident of each could appear at any moment, and in some cases, they did. I was walking past the Golden Horseshoe Revue in Frontierland when a cowboy and the Mayor came walking out of the building in the midst of a conversation, just like we really were in the middle of the Wild West. Once they noticed me staring, they stopped and included me in their chattering as well. We had a conversation that lasted about 10 minutes over how the cowboy was due to marry the Mayor’s daughter, and he wanted to make sure he would treat her right. What’s amazing is that they didn’t do this in front of a large crowd – it was just the three of us. It was a great little experience and a nice magical moment for me.

I definitely have to mention the Small World facade here, as well. I’m so used to a covered building without much else to see. Having the entire facade, with working clock face, outside adds a whole new layer to the attraction. Having seen the original model just days before at Rolly’s, and then to see the real thing in action, was a truly wonderful experience. It’s a gorgeous show building, and something that is needed in Florida.

To me, the only place where Walt Disney World won in this category was Tomorrowland at night. While it was still very nice looking, it was kind of crowded in there. Walt Disney World is more aesthetically pleasing at night, with more vibrant colors and a better representation of a thriving metropolis of the tomorrow that never was.


Much like the rest of the park, I found the original attractions to be far superior in every way to their East Coast counterparts. The easiest way for me to go through this is a (kind of) short list!

Haunted Mansion  If you’re a regular reader of my column, you know that I’m a huge Haunted Mansion fan. I didn’t think I could become an even bigger one, but Disneyland proved me wrong. Going through the original attraction was like seeing it again for the first time. While much shorter than the one I’m used to, it was definitely superior. It just flowed better. I enjoyed hearing the individual components of Grim Grinning Ghosts in the graveyard when passing a certain set of ghosts. At Walt Disney World, it seems like everything is thrown in at once, making it one big mess of a song. Here, I could actually hear each ghost reciting the song in their own unique way, and it was wonderful. I found something new on every one of my 10+ (no, I’m not joking) ride throughs. And yes, I spotted the infamous spider web gunshot in the Ballroom!

Pirates of the Caribbean  Also fantastic. The extended cavern sequences and a more coherent storyline seemed to help the flow here. The burning town scene also seemed much more realistic. The pirate’s torches seemed to contain REAL fire in them. These simple effects are still astounding today, many years after they were originally introduced.

Jungle Cruise  I love the corniness of this ride overall, so how could I hate it here? I enjoyed hearing some new jokes (“Guys! You’re in the wrong line! The Jungle Cruise is over HERE!”), and a slightly different layout (hello Piranhas – you scared the hell out of me). Magic Kingdom has a sliiiight edge over this one, though. Just a slight.

Indiana Jones  Truly amazing. I went on it at least 5 times. This is a MUCH better use of the same ride system used in DINOSAUR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Some of the effects are amazingly simple, but they still look great. Not really a ride for kids, I thought, as it can be a little frightening. But it is a great addition to the park.

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room  I am an avid fan of the original version, and seeing it here was an absolute delight for me, especially after hearing so many of Rolly’s stories about it. The first time I sat down in the theater, the wave of nostalgia came over me. As soon as it was over, all these memories also came back, prompting me to call my grandmother and reminisce how she used to sing “Let’s All Sing Like The Birdies Sing” to me as a child.

Tom Sawyer Island  I enjoyed it, but the caves were also the cause of a panic attack, which created the chain of events that led me to meet Miley Cyrus. But that’s a story for another time.

Star Tours  I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but I really enjoyed this ride. You’ve all read the massive amounts of coverage on it, so no need to go into more detail. I will say it was lots of fun, even though my first ride went 101 within minutes of its opening for the day. But they made good by giving us all FastPasses to come back later. My second ride through went off without a hitch, and I was even the Rebel Spy!

Captain EO  I remember watching it as a kid and loving it, and nothing has changed. It was a great show then and still is now. The audience broke out into applause when it was over, and it was great to re-live it all over again.

Matterhorn  I made a point to go on each side of this ride to see the difference – and what a difference it was! The right side was much more intense, but both were incredibly enjoyable. A great, old school coaster ride!

Space Mountain  Much, much better than WDW’s version. The music, the track layout, the intensity – absolutely amazing. Imagineering out-did themselves with their redesign a few years ago.

Small World  This original version far exceeds any other version. It was incredible. I felt more like I was in displays with the the dolls than ever before. I also had no issue with the Disney character additions to the ride. I barely even noticed them my first time through!

Fantasyland Dark Rides  Some were the same as their WDW counterparts, but it was fun to experience some new ones like Alice and Pinocchio. Mr. Toad was, of course, my favorite. I miss that ride dearly. Where else can you get hit by a train, die, and go to hell at Disney?!

Roger Rabbit Car-Toon Spin  Silly me didn’t realize you could actually SPIN your car until halfway through the ride. It was very enjoyable, and definitely worth all the good things I’ve read about it.

Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye…

I could go on and on talking about how wonderful Disneyland was, but I’m sure you have other things to do (and I’m sure I do, too!).

All in all though, in case you couldn’t tell already, I absolutely loved every minute of it. I cannot wait to go back. I’m converted, and need another fix again soon.

I’d love to hear from you guys about this. How many of you have been to both parks? Which do you prefer? What do you like the best and the worst? Which is better for you the awe inspiring hugeness of the Magic Kingdom or the tightly packed and hyper-themed Disneyland?

Tickets are now on sale for the


Come celebrate EPCOT’s 30th Anniversary in style with a live taping of MiceChat’s Communicore Weekly! Join co-hosts Jeff Heimbuch & George Taylor, along with MiceChat’s Dusty Sage, Kevin Yee, and the Communicore Weekly Orchestra, for a fun-filled night of fandom and frivolity as they tape a special hour long episode of the hit show, Communicore Weekly.

Join us on the evening of Saturday, September 29th 2912 in the Norway Pavilion Special Events Lounge in EPCOT’s World Showcase for this one of a kind event!

Your ticket includes:

  • Admission into the live taping of CW in the Norway Pavilion of EPCOT (note: admission into the park is NOT included)!
  • Meet special guest, Ron Schneider, the original Dreamfinder!
  • Decadent dessert reception!
  • Short scavenger hunt hosted by Kevin Yee before the show will be available to those who would like to participate (prizes will be awarded)!
  • Prizes, giveaways and more!
  • The chance to be a part of EPCOT and Communicore Weekly history!
  • Endless Five Legged Goats and perhaps even a real life Bathroom Break!
  • Exclusive late night ride after park closing on a selected EPCOT attraction to cap off the evening!


For more tickets and more information, be sure to visit!

by Jeff Heimbuch

If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

You can read past columns of The 626 by clicking here!

Jeff can help you plan your perfect Disney vacation with Fairy Godmother Travel! Call him at 732-278-7404 or email him at [email protected] for a free, no-obligation quote for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani or Adventures By Disney.

Jeff also writes another column called From The Mouth Of The Mouse. We invite you to check it out.

Jeff co-hosts the weekly VidCast Communicore Weekly as well!


About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at

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  • Timekeeper

    Well, Disneyland’s and for that matter, WDW’s version of the Tiki Room, are missing the “Offenbach Segement”, but the reasoning why they removed it in the Original Tiki Room was because it was a long show (at the time) and they cut it out because of audience viewership. The rest of the original show is the same as it was when it first opened and when it was refurbished in 2003.

    WDW’s Tiki Room was similar the original tiki room presentation when it first open, only with the pre-show, exit area and the name being different, but you already know that part, and the rest, leading up to the return and stuff.

    Tokyo’s Tiki room was the same as WDW’s Tiki Room, up to a change in 1999 when it was called the Enchanted Tiki Room: Now Playing “Get The Fever!” which had a totally different overtone, setting it with Las Vegas overtone. Then in 2008, it got changed again, called, The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha E Komo Mai!, featuring Stitch from the Lilo and Stitch series.


    • Jeff Heimbuch

      I didn’t mention this in the column itself, but when I went, the DL version of Tiki was still what it was. WDW hadn’t been the same in years.

      So, when I saw this version again, I had tears in my eyes. It was wonderful to see it again!

  • Jlomo23

    I couldn’t help but feel all “warm and fuzzy” reading your article, Jeff! How can people NOT feel love for Walt Disney’s original park? While WDW is a amazing place full of magic, there’s just something special about DLR. I’ll continue to visit both parks but Disneyland will always be my first Disney Park love. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jeff Heimbuch

      Warm and fuzzy….a great way to describe it! Thanks for reading!

  • coneheads

    I went to Disneyland with my Grandparents at 8 but that was 1966, same as you almost no memories of the trip except having a great time. But grew up in Orlando and my Mom worked at WDW from ’69 to ’74, got to watch the Park being built and the very early years. We ended up leaving Florida and I didn’t return till 1988 when I moved to So. Florida. What a difference, Epcot was built, MGM Studios about to open and, Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island had not been turned into a Mall and enough Resorts to start to kill the Hotels in Kissimmee.

    To me WDW has aspects that will not be duplicated anywhere ever. A family even of modest means like mine can buy Seasonal Annual Passes and watch the resorts for Passholder discounts and go a couple of times a year and get treated just as well as someone who payed much more to stay at a Deluxe Resort. To stay on property for few days truly feels like you went somewhere different and somehow you should be required to get your Passport stamped and go through Customs. WDW is where Disney experiments since people from around the World continue to come year after year . There wont be another Epcot or Pleasure Island or Wide World of Sports or Animal Kingdom. But all the other Parks take attractions that worked well here first.

    Someday I plan to go back to Disneyland and DCA and I’m sure I will love them for their individuality too, I just think the entire experience is different at WDW it seems like you don’t “leave” until it’s time to go home.


  • lionheartkc

    As someone who’re been to both parks countless times (I’m fortunate to have family near Disneyland who also have DVC and invite me to join them at World), I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that the ultimate Disney experience would be to take the Disneyland Magic Kingdom and put it in Disney World. Of course, that was before I went to Tokyo and fell in love with Tokyo Disney Sea.

    In any case, to me the magic of WDW is that it is a complete and total escape from the outside world. You can go there and literally envelope yourself in Disney for as long as you can afford to stay. It’s the perfect place to destress.n It also, hands down, has the best overall food.

    Disneyland, on the other hand has the best of the best in almost every attraction, it’s Magic Kingdom at least feels larger and more detailed. On the other hand, it’s crowds are getting out of control, and once you leave… you’re back in LA.

  • west coaster

    Great article Jeff, I agree completely.
    I’m just about the opposite from you, I visit Disneyland more often and I haven’t been to WDW in almost twenty years. There are a couple of things I would add.
    I miss the Swiss family theme for the tree house. I understand theming it for a younger generation but I don’t believe Tarzan is as long lasting as Swiss Family Robinson, of course that’s still one of my favorite movies. Also I felt like they broke an unwritten Disney rule with the life size figures on display. In the past an attraction like this felt like you had just missed the people who live here but they’d be back soon.
    Also, New Orleans Square is my favorite land and it’s exclusive to Disneyland. I love both Haunted Mansion exteriors for different reasons. DL Haunted Mansion looks clean and neat but for some reason it still gives me the creeps when I look at it. Another thing about the HM is the weather vane, the sailing ship on the weather vane at DL is mysterious and suggests a back story. The bat on the weather vane at WDW looks almost cartoonish to me.
    There are many more comparisons I’m sure and like everyone else I love both parks but Disneyland is much closer and financially doable for me, it is the first park I visited and where I fell in love with my wife. So it will always be special to me. Where WDW is large, amazing… and a little over whelming, DL is intimate and magical. “It hugs you.” I love that!

  • DuckyDelite

    Thank you for another great article, Jeff.

    Growing up in California, I spent many vacations at Disneyland. It is a special place for me. However, once I saw pictures of Epcot, I knew I needed to get out to Florida. A whole city of Disney? I couldn’t wait. Unfortunately I had to wait many years, but finally made it out there in 2010.

    I was excited about a bigger Magic Kingdom after struggling with DL’s Main Street during parade times and the stroller nightmare at Pirates. Plus there were 3 other parks! This was going to be great.

    But I definitely agree with your article. I had a great time at all the parks of WDW, but the distance and scale of everything is just overwhelming. There is something about DLR, exiting I-5 at Disneyland Drive, walking through Downtown Disney from one of the hotels, or approaching from Harbor and Katella, you know you have arrived. Once you make it to the ticket booths, everything is right there. You can reach out and touch the Matterhorn, and Space Mountain, and the Castle. You are part of the Disney Kingdom.

    When I drove into WDW, I just kept saying to myself, “are we there yet”? I said it driving to the Animal Kingdom parking lot. I said it walking from Haunted Mansion to Pirates. I said it circling the hotels on the Monorail. I knew I was in the WDW Resort, but I didn’t always feel it.

  • FantasRic

    Both Parks are different in their own rites. And while I cannot say one is better than the other, I must profess that Disneyland holds a special place in my heart and imagination. Living in LA, I have been visiting the Park since I was a child; and my fondness continues today, as an adult. And while WDW’s Magic Kingdom is a different experience, I love that Park as well.

    I will use my favorite “land” as an example – Main Street, USA. Disneyland’s is quaint, charming, has a small town appeal.But Florida’s is breath-taking. Setting foot on Main Street, it felt more like a real small town because it was bigger with impressive detail on the architecture and facades. It felt more real. Plus there were shows on the street using the transportation vehicles – Disneyland does not have that. Disneyland Paris’s Main Steet is even more awe-inducing, which was modeled after the Florida Park.

    Again, while I cannot say one is better, both gave me different experiences and sentiment. And that may be the point of the article; many have compared the Parks, claiming one superior over the other. I may not agree with those claims, but I do enjoy my times at both. Florida may not have the Blue Bayou Restaurant, but they have Cinderella’s Royal Table. There is no Alice dark ride in Florida, but they will have the Dwarves Mine Ride roller coaster. Thus the Parks are different – not better,

  • Concieved@DL

    Welcome to the Light side Jeff !!!

  • grnflash

    MK is magical.

    Disneyland IS magic….