Disneyland is better at night. This isn’t my opinion–it’s an unassailable truth. (Okay, it is my opinion…but it should be a fact!) I am a firm believer that a big part of the appeal of Disney theme parks is the intangible kinetic energy that brings life and an element of entertainment beyond the sum of the attractions in any particular land. An example of kinetic energy in Disneyland is the Rivers of America. You have two boats, plus the Davy Crockett canoes all on the same waters. Even if don’t experience any of these attractions, they bring life and a certain atmosphere to the area–even if you don’t realize it. Likewise, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland have criss-crossing transportation-based attractions like Casey Jr., the Storybook Land Canal Boats, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Autopia, and the Disneyland Monorail (RIP PeopleMover) all operating in close proximity to one another. While these attractions are fun on their own, they are undoubtedly better because of their “interaction” with one another.
What does this have to do with Disneyland at night? Absolutely nothing, besides explaining and establishing the importance of kinetic energy in Disneyland. Basically, kinetic energy is an incalculable x-factor that enhances the guest experience by giving a pulsating life to the park. The kinetic energy of Disneyland is amplified at night, when not only are these attractions and details present, but also is excellent lighting and a different ambiance in the park. Plus, everything is better at night.
Here I will set forth my ten favorite ways to enjoy at evening in Disneyland. Most of this list will focus on the minutiae and random things I do to soak up the ambiance while wandering aimlessly around the park. Judging by the hordes of people that crowd into Fantasmic! and Main Street for the fireworks each night, any idiot can give you a list filled with things like, “OMG, watch fireworks at Disneyland. They’re NEAT-O!” So I don’t waste my time or yours with a list filled with patently obvious tips (although I’m sure many of you already know much of this), assume you should also enjoy the obvious.
At this point you might be thinking I’m crazy, because Innoventions is an indoor attraction that doesn’t belong on any top ten list besides the “Top Ten Things That Suck” at Disneyland, but hear me out. The second floor outside Innoventions offers a great view of Disneyland, and is a nice tranquil spot to just stand and gaze. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your perspective), Innoventions typically closes early, so you need to make sure you either time your visit well or sweet-talk a Cast Member into letting you wander up the exit ramp to the second level.
9. Hungry Bear Restaurant
This is more of a post sunset, early evening shot than a night one. In the early evening hours, the golden light on the Rivers of America is excellent, and the harmonious melody of the begging ducks drowns out all other noise in the area. Hungry Bear Restaurant is probably my favorite counter service restaurant in Disneyland, and that’s largely because of its tranquil setting. My wife and I love to grab a table here on the second level as far from all other guests as possible, and just relax on the Rivers.
Here’s another one that’s all about the ambiance and view. Most good views are obscured by branches, but Tarzan’s Treehouse does offer an excellent view towards Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Although I fulfilled my dream of spending the night in Disneyland earlier this year, I didn’t get to fulfill the second part of that dream: sleeping in the Treehouse. If you are ever invited to spend the night in Disneyland, request the Treehouse as your accommodations. Why stay in the Dream Suite when you can sleep in a treehouse?!
7. Rancho del Zocalo
Honestly, this entire list could be filled with places to eat at night (it pains me to snub French Market’s outdoor seating and the “Pineapple Fountain” over there). Rancho is a fairly obvious choice because of its excellent lighting at night, which makes for a great spot to sit. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the food here, we frequently head over here just to catch our breath.
6. Porch on Main Street
You haven’t lived until you’ve grabbed an ice cream cone and kicked your feet up in the rocking chairs on the porch on Main Street. While a lot of the other options here are reclusive ways to get away from people, this puts you right in the midst of the action as people conclude their days at Disneyland.
5. Pixie Hollow Water Show
Even though Pixie Hollow basically encroaches upon Main Street, it wasn’t until this year that I had ever seen this little water show, which a friend jokingly described to me as “mini-World of Color.” While it’s not of the same scope as World of Color (not by a long shot), it’s a nice little diversion, and the color-changing lights make it fun to watch at night. The nearby bright lights of Astro Orbitor and the rest of Tomorrowland make a nice nighttime “attraction,” too.
4. Motorboat Dock
The former dock for the Motorboats is now a nice, tucked away area with tables that is close to many food locations and offers nice views of the Monorail, the Matterhorn, and ‘it’s a small world’. All things considered, this is a nice spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the park while having some great eye-candy in view. The photo above was not taken from the Motorboat dock, the view of the ‘it’s a small world’ facade is more obscured from the dock. This was the closest I had…plus it’s a pretty picture, right?
3. Storybook Land Canal Boats
Although I made a conscious effort to avoid this becoming an “attractions that are better at night” list, I can’t help but add Storybook Land Canal Boats to my list. It’s one of my favorite attractions at Disneyland any time of the day, but the ambiance is even better at night when all of the little twinkle lights heighten the mood. I’m probably a bit biased towards this attraction because “A Whole New World” was my wife’s and my first dance song at our wedding, and passing under the lit-up archways always puts a smile on my face, but this is my list, so it’s going to incorporate my biases.
2. Les Court des Anges
One of my favorite little corners of Disneyland, the Court of Angels in New Orleans Square is absolutely stunning at night (when it’s not being used as a Christmas ornaments shop). Strands of popcorn lights overhead perfectly illuminate the intimate area, which is absolutely jam-packed with detail. I like to sit at the bottom of the steps here and just absorb the ambiance.
1. The Hub
This one is, admittedly, rather obvious, but I think it bears mentioning as so many people race past the hub as they rush from attraction to attraction. In reading this list, you might be thinking, “jeez, this guy likes to sit around A LOT.” It’s true, I do. And I must admit, I’m quite awesome at it. My favorite theme park experience in the world is sitting on a bench in the hub at Disneyland or Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (or on the ground under Spaceship Earth at Epcot) after the other park guests have left, and marveling at what is all around me. I prefer this to any attraction, as odd as that may sound. I won’t get melodramatic with sentiment about the park’s creator, but suffice to say, gazing at the Castle late at night from the hub frequently gives me chills.
There you have them, my ten favorite things to enjoy at Disneyland at night. What do you like most about Disneyland at night? Share your thoughts in the comments!