Quick Summary of Guide
WaltDisney World (WDW) in Florida and Disneyland Resort (DLR) in California have a lot in common - and a number of things not in common. Both give visitors a unique Disney experience. But the location and history of each resort lead to different experiences.
The DLR has two theme parks in contrast to WDW’s four, and three Disney hotels in contrast to WDW’s twenty. A WDW veteran might look at this and assume DLR will provide a lesser experience. I would suggest that the experience at DLR is not lesser, just of shorter duration.
There are a number of differences between the two resorts of which the WDW veteran should be aware. The body of this topic will explore these in more detail. Here the differences will be summarized.
While physically smaller than WDW’s Magic Kingdom, Disneyland actually offers 30% more attractions. Most would agree than Splash Mountain is clearly better at MK, and that Pirates of the Caribbean and the newly revamped Space Mountain are clearly better at DL. After these few the differences are marginal, in my opinion. It is common for people to prefer the ride at their “home” park.
One key difference is the location of parks, hotels and Downtown Disney at DLR. They are all located close together. While this is contrary to WDW’s expansive layout, it offers some attractive benefits. Foremost is not having to depend on transportation to move you around the resort or between parks. Just stay at a close-by hotel and use your feet. At DLR you can literally stay across the street from the parks or, in the case of the Grand Californian Hotel, connected to one of the parks. Combined with typically longer park hours at DL and overall better weather in California, we found that we spend about 50% more time actually at the parks at DLR than we did at WDW.
DLR has about 40 non-Disney “good neighbor” hotel options. The benefits of staying at a Disney hotel at DLR are not nearly as great as that at WDW. In fact there are a number of good neighbor hotels much closer to the DLR gates than two of the three DLR hotels. Even if you are a diehard Disney hotel person at WDW, you should be open to non-Disney hotels at DLR.
The location of the second park, Disney’s California Adventure (DCA), is face-to-face with DL. They are separated by a plaza about 100 yards across. This brings a whole new meaning to the concept of parkhopping to the WDW vet. At DLR it is practical to hop back and forth multiple times during the day – always using just your feet.
One area where DLR does not compare well to WDW is in the area of dining. While DLR does have a number of fine dining options, it lacks the quantity and diversity that exists at WDW.
Unlike WDW, DLR is located in a high population density area and thereby draws many more local visitors than WDW. This means more day trip visitors. This also means that DLR is more crowded on the weekends and holidays than during weekdays. If visiting during the busy season, avoid weekends and especially holiday weekends if possible.
If you plan to visit DLR from out-of-state (or further), plan to stay 3-5 days. There are of course many other interesting places to visit in Southern California for those who would like to extend their trip further. These are discussed in the main body.
DLR has extra hours available outside of regular park hours for certain visitors. Similar to WDW, care should be taken to plan your days around these extra hours or you may find yourself dealing with longer lines than necessary.
The main body below explores the above topics and others in more detail, and also includes links to other resources.
Why I Wrote This Guide
Like any group of people, WaltDisney World (WDW) veterans come in all shapes and sizes. Virtually all of them are aware of Disneyland (DL) in California. Many of them have never been to DL or, if they have, have not been for a very long time. There are some who have come to believe that WDW is superior to DL and have no interest in visiting a "lesser" destination. In addition, there are others who understand DL is physically smaller but are curious as to what is out there in California.
I wrote this guide for two reasons. First, I will try to show that whereas DL, which is part of Disneyland Resort (DLR), is a smaller destination, it is not a "lesser" destination. In so doing, I hope to open some minds to the possibility of visiting DLR and experiencing the magic there.
Second, for those who may already be considering a visit to DLR, I will try to give some perspective on DLR. I will try to help such people understand how a DLR experience differs from one at WDW so that they can focus on the strengths of DLR rather than be potentially frustrated by the differences. Where relevant I will give direction to resources that can provide additional information.
What I will not do is try to write a basic guidebook. Those books exist and can be purchased. Much of the information provided here is at a different level than a basic guidebook.
The magic of Disney is not contained in any single physical location. Both WDW and DLR are full of Disney magic, and each has its own strengths. As I walked around WDW on my recent trip there I tried to think of a way of explaining this to a WDW vet.
I would put it this way: DLR’s smaller size does not mean it has less magic. DLR has 100% of the magic as that at WDW. It just does not require as many days to experience it. To be more concise, fewer days but equal magic.
3. Disneyland: Past and Present
4. Who Visits Disneyland Resort
5. Disneyland Resort Internet and Print Resources
7. Differences between WDW Magic Kingdom and Disneyland
8. Touring DL and DCA: Parkhopping and Other Differences From WDW
9. Touring Plans
12. Characters and Character Meals
14. How Many Days Do You Need at DLR?
15. Is DLR a Vacation or Not a Vacation?
16. Best Time To Visit DLR
17. Early Entry at DLR vs. Extra Magic Hours at WDW
19. Entrance Tickets
20. Disney Immersion
21. Not To Be Missed at Disneyland Resort
22. Other Destinations in Southern California
AK – Disney's Animal Kingdom (WDW)
AP - Annual Pass
DCA – Disney's California Adventure (DLR)
DL - Disneyland
DLH - Disneyland Hotel (at DLR)
DLR – Disneyland Resort (composed of two parks, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, and Downtown Disney)
DTD - Downtown Disney
EE – Early Entry (at DLR)
EFP - Enhanced FastPass (at DLR)
EMH – Extra Magic Hours (at WDW)
FP - FastPass
GCH - Grand Californian Hotel (at DLR)
MGM – Disney-MGM Studios (WDW)
MK – Magic Kingdom (WDW)
PPH - Paradise Pier Hotel (at DLR)
TTMM - ToonTown Morning Madness (at DLR)
WDW – Walt Disney World
Forty years ago – in 1966 – I went on my first DL trip I can remember. I had recently turned three years old and I went with my grandfather and uncle (who was ten). I remember several things about that day, but one of them – which helped me pinpoint the year – was my grandfather explaining to me as we drove into the DL parking lot that I was going to be two years old that day and not three. His was not the first attempt - or the last - to avoid paid admission for a young child.
I grew up about 45 minutes away from DL, and we made day trips there every year or so. For me DL was, is, and ever will be a place full of magic. Now that I have children of my own – four boys currently in the teens and tweens category – we make multi-day trips to DLR every year or two when we are visiting my wife’s or my parents.
Before our first of two DLR trips in 2005 I started to become active on Disney Internet forums and soaked up a lot of DLR information which added to my experience over 40 years. This led me to become more curious about WDW and we ended up taking a ten-day trip there in June 2006. Along the way I spent a lot of time researching WDW and trying to understand how it differed from my "home park", DLR.
In writing this guide I have to admit a couple things. First, I am being a bit presumptuous in writing a guide to DLR for WDW vets after having only made one ten-day visit to WDW. I know my understanding of WDW is incomplete. To this I can only say I did a lot of research beforehand and paid a lot of attention to details while I was at WDW. But I am sure I will fall short in certain areas. However, this guide is not about WDW. It is about DLR. So I hope that an imperfect understanding of WDW will not be a serious drawback.
Second, I have not experienced all aspects of DLR, and I certainly have not experienced all aspects of WDW. So in certain areas I can only speak from second-hand knowledge. I will do my best and am bound to have some imperfections, and in such cases others with first-hand knowledge may want to contribute and fill up any gaps.
3. Disneyland: Past and Present
Today the Magic Kingdom at WDW is the most highly attended theme park in the world. Do you know which park is a close second? You got it - Disneyland. According to Amusement Business magazine, in 2005 MK drew 16.1 million visitors while DL drew 14.5 million - about 10% less. Not bad for that little park in California, huh? Later in this section I will discuss attendance a bit more.
When Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955 it launched a multi-billion dollar theme park industry. Walt Disney chose to locate it in Orange County, California in an unpopulated area where it was anticipated future population would grow. And boy did it. Financing was tight, and Disney tried and succeeded in pulling in investors - many of which were from television. One television company that declined to invest was ABC. Ironically, the Walt Disney Company eventually grew so large that it purchased ABC - which it still owns.
Due to limited resources Disney was not able to control the area around Disneyland and a bunch of seedy hotels sprung up. This prompted Disney to pursue construction of the first Disney hotel - the Disneyland Hotel - in order to get some control over this aspect of park visitation. The DLH was not originally owned by Disney. But eventually they bought it. Disneyland has worked with the local community and proprietors, and the area around DLR is no longer seedy and is in fact quite clean and upbeat.
Disneyland's early success led Walt Disney to the idea for WDW - a place where Disney could control a larger land area and have essentially infinite room to expand. This happened in 1971 with the opening of WDW, five years after Walt Disney's death.
WDW eventually built four theme parks, two water parks, 20 some hotels and much more. This idea of a multi-park resort eventually became a reality in California. In 2001 Disneyland became part of Disneyland Resort, which encompasses two theme parks (DL and Disney’s California Adventure - DCA) plus Downtown Disney (DTD), a shopping and restaurant area just outside the DL and DCA gates. A third Disney hotel was added, the majestic Grand Californian Hotel (GCH). This was in addition to the older Disneyland Hotel and the more recent Paradise Pier Hotel. DCA and the GCH were built in the original DL parking lot and parking was moved further away.
However, according to some sources, not all is well at DLR. I believe that most WDW vets who just went to DLR and visited DL and DCA would find DCA a valuable addition to DL. It has a lot going for it, including being the birthplace of the inspired ride Soarin' Over California. This ride was later exported to WDW Epcot (and renamed to just "Soarin") and is now purportedly the most popular ride at all of WDW (including the new Expedition Everest).
The truth is that DCA attendance numbers have never risen to the level expected by the Walt Disney Company. DCA was built during what many refer to as the "Pressler and Harris" era, former executives who are widely loathed by DL fans. During the 1990's and early 2000's, many knowledgeable sources would argue that these executives made a string of very poor decisions regarding Disneyland. Neither was much of a theme park fan, and Pressler in particular was a merchandising expert and purportedly forced shopping areas into DCA in an attempt to drive increased revenue through merchandise sales. Along the way the original budget for DCA was cut from $2.1 billion to $1.4 billion, and numerous compromises were made. The end result was a park which underachieved. Further, the entire concept of a theme park located in California which celebrates California culture and history is regularly called into question. It is also interesting to note that the park's signature ride, Soarin' Over California, was not expected to be anything of the kind. It was a filler of sorts. Somebody miscalculated on that one.
Pressler and Harris eventually left and a new manager took over named Ouimet (pronounced with a "W") who is widely praised by the DL fan base. Ouimet has Disney roots and "gets" Disney theme parks, and is credited with many of the positive things happening at DLR. One example is the revamped Space Mountain ride. The revamp was in progress when Ouimet came on board and DL was readying to celebrate its actual 50th anniversary on July 17, 2005. Space Mountain had been down for awhile and was not scheduled to reopen until November 2005 - four months after the actual 50th anniversary and after the critical DLR summer months. Ouimet sagely decided to pour extra resources into the project to make sure it was open for the actual 50th. Space Mountain "re-launched" on July 15, 2005 and has been a huge hit for DL.
And further improvements are coming. In early 2006 the Walt Disney Company purchased Pixar, the creators of such hit animated movies as Toy Story and Finding Nemo. This acquisition happened after the resignation of former CEO Michael Eisner - who Pixar had decided they could no longer work with. The new Disney CEO Robert Iger moved quickly to re-establish ties with Pixar and eventually moved to buy them. This means a number of things for the Walt Disney Company, but it means something special for DLR. Upon buying Pixar, Disney inherited John Lasseter who was an executive and senior creative type at Pixar and has been empowered at Disney to unleash his creative instincts throughout the company. Lasseter has a special affection for DL, having worked there as a Jungle Cruise Cast Member in his younger days. And before the acquisition he regularly took his family to visit Disneyland. He is already impacting Disneyland in the area of its upcoming new submarine ride based on Finding Nemo (to open in 2007). This project was well under way when Lasseter joined Disney, and apparently he has been given enough authority that he has had the project change a number of things already constructed (a very expensive thing to do). So with Lasseter involved, it appears that good things will be happening in California for many years to come. Much of this Pixar and Lasseter information was obtained from a recent Al Lutz article (www.miceage.com, June 20, 2006).
Back to DCA for a moment. If you visit some of the Disneyland Internet forums, and I recommend you do, you will see a lot of scorn heaped upon DCA. A big part of the reason for this is that many DL fans think that Disney did not deliver a true Disney park at DCA. This can be debated - and is ad nauseum on many forums - but suffice it to say that Disney is working on a number of improvements to DCA to better establish the theming there and turn it into a Disney park which everyone believes is worthy of the name.
Another reason for the negativity is that DLR has insisted on charging the same single-day/non-hopping entrance rate for DCA as they charge for DL. As DCA is not the same caliber as DL, California locals in particular feel this to be unreasonable. To get more people to visit DCA, for the last few years Disney has made all two-day or more tickets include parkhopping. It is only the single-day tickets that are not parkhoppers (unless you pay extra). Until DLR changes the ticket pricing policy, parkhopping tickets will be a non-issue for those of you visiting from out-of-state (or further) because they are always parkhoppers.
My recent visit to WDW left me with the impression that DCA has a WDW MGM park type of feel to it. And my family really enjoys DCA. Put another way, if I were to say that on our next trip to DLR we were planning to skip DCA, I would get heated objections from all of my boys. I will outline later how the dynamics of visiting DL and DCA are very different from the dynamics of visiting the four parks in WDW and give suggestions on how to work this into your planning.
If you log on to some of the Disney Internet forums and read the negatives about DCA, you will then be surprised that this little "failure" of a park was the 7th most highly attended park in North America in 2005. And that after only 5 years of being open. Five of the 6 parks ahead of DCA are Disney parks (DL and the 4 at WDW). If Universal Studios Florida continues its downward trend, DCA could take over the #6 spot as soon as 2006. According to Amusement Business, the most respected source for such numbers, here were the top 10 in North America in 2005:
1. Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 16.1 million, +6.5 percent
2. Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. 14.5 million, +8.5 percent
3. Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 9.9 million, +5.5 percent
4. Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 8.6 million, +5 percent
5. Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 8.2 million, +5 percent
6. Universal Studios Florida at Universal Orlando, 6.1 million, -8.5 percent
7. Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., 5.8 million, +3.6 percent
8. Universal's Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, 5.76 million, -8.5 percent
9. SeaWorld Orlando, 5.6 million, +0.2 percent
10. Universal Studios Hollywood, 4.7 million, -6 percent
See this link for more information: www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/200512/2
For 2004 information and much more information on theme parks in Southern California, see this scholarly study performed by UCLA: www.anderson.ucla.edu/documents/areas/ctr/ccp/ThemeParkAttendance%28color%29.pdf. Appendix A (page 51) has detailed information on park attendance.
Finally, go to www.scottware.com.au/theme/guide.htm and click on the “When to Go/Attendance graphs” on the left menu for more information. From there click on the “Annual Visitor Totals” link to see historical attendance at Disney parks. You can see there that it is only in the last few years that MK has exceeded DL in attendance.
I do not want to leave you with the impression that DCA is criticized by all DL fans. There is a vocal group that criticizes DCA at every opportunity, but there are many other DLR regulars who see DCA as a positive addition to DL.
4. Who Visits Disneyland Resort
One very different dynamic at DLR compared to WDW is the issue of locals. Southern California has a population of roughly 20 million (with another 15 million or so in Northern California). Many of those in Southern California are within range of a day trip to DLR. And such people make up a significant percentage of DLR visitors. This has several implications. One is that it affects visiting patterns. Specifically, weekends and holidays are a notoriously bad time to visit DLR as this is when the locals can most easily make their day trips. Second is that DLR has many regular visitors. Such people get Annual Passes (APs) - of which there are special ones for Southern California residents. Unlike many WDW AP holders who make one or several longer trips to WDW, many of the DLR AP holders make numerous day trips to DLR. This tends to also fill up the parks on weekends and holidays. Therefore, one badly kept secret to visiting DLR is to avoid weekends if at all possible.
Another interesting dynamic I have observed is that with so many Southern Californians visiting DLR on day trips, the regular, non-AP visitors (who often go maybe one day per year) focus on DL. And that means they never set foot in DCA. Part of the reason for this is the poor reputation that DCA holds (I think unfairly), and the other is the fact that if you only have one day per year and can only visit one park, which would you choose? Now it is not true that they can only visit one park, but the perception in California is that DL itself is enough for one day. My sister, who still lives 45 minutes away (on a low traffic day) and has three children, visits DLR every year or so and no one in her family has ever been to DCA. And they hardly know what is in there. My sense is that she and her family are typical of those in Southern California. This leads to the strange situation that, aside from AP holders, it seems that most of those who visit DCA are not from California.
5. Disneyland Resort Internet and Print Resources
The official Disneyland website is www.disneyland.com.
There are a lot of nice multimedia resources for DLR at www.visionsfantastic.com. And for information on rides and shows, I like those posted on WDWInfo here: www.wdwinfo.com/disneyland/disneyland-theme-parks.
Almost any WDW vet who uses the Internet for WDW visits has found the DIS board and their WDW forum. The DIS DLR forum does not have the same activity level as their WDW forum, and I suspect that WDW vets who go to the DIS DLR forum see this and, perhaps, attribute that to the "lesser" status of DLR. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many DLR Internet forums as discussed below.
Two of my favorite DLR Internet forums are MousePlanet (www.mouseplanet.com) and their DLR forum MousePad (http://mousepad.mouseplanet.com/forumdisplay.php?f=7), and MiceAge (www.miceage.com) and their DLR forum MiceChat (www.micechat.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=17). The level of knowledge found on these two forums rivals or, in my opinion, surpasses the level of WDW knowledge on DIS. And part of the reason for this are the Southern California locals who visit DLR on a more frequent basis than WDW visitors and therefore have stronger ties to the parks.
Another favorite of mine is the DIS DLR forum (www.disboards.com/forumdisplay.php?f=26) where there are many friendly people and the discussions tend to not be as heated. The people there often have significant WDW experience and that gives the discussions a different flavor.
The Laughing Place has another strong DLR forum (www.laughingplace.com). The Mouseinfo DLR forum (www.mouseinfo.com) also has a lot of activity.
A couple other online resources I enjoy are Al Lutz's articles on MiceAge every few weeks. Go to www.miceage.com and scroll down to the Al Lutz area and click on his recent articles. Al has ties into DLR and gets insider information which he relates in his always insightful articles. You will find out pretty quickly that Al is not a big fan of DCA. He’s also not a big fan of WDW either. If you love WDW you may have to grit your teeth sometimes when reading his articles. MiceAge has several other interesting editorial contributors accessed from their home page. I also like the weekly DLR park update on MousePlanet (www.mouseplanet.com) which is posted every Monday.
I cannot recommend any print resources for DLR. The most popular WDW print resource is Sehlinger's "Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World". For what its worth, he also has one for Disneyland. "The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland", currently 2006 version, can be found on Amazon and elsewhere. I actually bought this book in 2005 to see if there was anything worthwhile, and I did learn a few things I did not already know. If you want a print resource this is probably as good a one as any. However, it is not nearly as respected as the WDW version. Similar to the WDW version, the DLR version does include touring plans if that interests you. However, if you are interested in touring plans at DLR a better resource is RideMax. See the Touring Plans section of this guide for more information.
A significant issue we encountered at WDW was transportation. How do you get from here to there? And how long will it take? And will we be able to make rope drop or our dinner reservation? There are buses, boats, monorails and taxi cabs. Or personal transportation (your own or a rental car) in which case you have to deal with the hassle of parking - and usually trams or, in some cases, still the monorail. So here is where DLR's smaller size offers a huge advantage over WDW. How about removing transportation from the list of things you have to deal with? Just get a nearby hotel (either Disney or non-Disney - called "good neighbor hotels" in Disney-speak), and walk everywhere. Want to go to DL that day? You just walk out your hotel room and you are at the DL gate in 5-10 minutes. Want to hop to DCA? Just walk out the DL gate and in 1 minute you are at DCA. How about that dinner reservation at DTD? A 5 minute walk and you are there. Want to take a hotel break for a swim and nap? Walk out the DL or DCA gate and in 5-10 minutes you are there. No buses. No boats. No trams. No parking. No monorails (well, you can use the monorail from one of the DLR hotels but it only helps from DLH and PPH and only when you are going to DL - no monorail service to DCA).
When we visit DLR we arrive in our own car. We park it at our hotel and never use it or any other form of transportation other than our feet for the rest of the trip.
The nearby hotels combined with the typically longer park hours makes it very practical (and highly recommended) to take hotel breaks every day. At WDW a hotel break can take one or usually two hours out of your day just for transportation - 30-60 minutes each way. At DLR the transportation aspect can be almost zero. This means more time for a long nap and swim. And more time in the parks. Whereas at WDW we typically spent 5-8 hours of each day actually inside one of the parks, at DLR we typically spend 10-12 hours.
If the above is not enough to convince you to get a close by hotel, then check the Hotel sections in this guide for more info on local hotels. You can always drive from your hotel to DLR. Some hotels have shuttles. Or you can use the ART (Anaheim Resort Transit) system - see www.rideart.org and www.mouseplanet.com/more/mm020604.
Here are a couple other helpful links:
"How Far Is It?" (shows actual distances in feet from hotels to DLR entrance plaza) www.mouseplanet.com/articles.php?art=mm060329as
"Walking Distance Accommodations" (shows hotels within walking distance) www.mouseplanet.com/dtp/maps/dl_area/dl_walking_distance_map
"Bret's Disneyland Lodging Map" (shows hotel locations around DLR) www.geocities.com/ashpsyche/DisneylandLinkMap
Regarding air transportation, you can fly into Los Angeles International Airport, John Wayne Airport (nearest DLR and in Orange County) and Ontario airport.
7. Differences between WDW’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland
The anchor for WDW is Magic Kingdom (MK) while the anchor at DLR is Disneyland (DL). These parks have a lot in common. How do they compare?
First it is interesting to note that when people post polls on the Internet, WDW as a resort is usually favored over DLR as a resort, but DL as a park is usually favored over MK as a park. And there are reasons for this.
The basic layouts of the parks are similar. You enter through one of two tunnels onto Main Street. Main Street leads to a central hub in front of a castle, and around the hub are different themed “lands”. TomorrowLand is on the right, FantasyLand is straight ahead through the castle, ToonTown is beyond FantasyLand, and AdventureLand and FrontierLand are on the left.
MK has Liberty Square which does not exist at DL. DL has New Orleans Square which does not exist at MK. New Orleans Square is a popular and well-themed area at DL for dining, entertainment and shopping. DL has Critter Country beyond New Orleans Square which is the location of Splash Mountain and the Winnie the Pooh ride.
MK had the advantage of more space during construction and MK is roughly 20% larger than DL – on the surface – 107 vs. 85 acres. MK also had the advantage of building a more well conceived logistical infrastructure, including a better underground tunnel system. This infrastructure allows MK to always run their parades in the same direction, for example. When DL runs a parade twice in the same day, it will run in opposite directions each time because DL does not have the ability to move the parade elements back to the original starting point. So they run the second one in reverse.
DL has the advantage of not being located in a wet area so the water table is lower. This allows DL to build extensive underground rides that cannot be built underground at MK. So even though the park perimeter at the surface is smaller at DL than MK, DL actually extends outside the park perimeter underground for some of it’s key rides. The Indiana Jones ride, unique to DL, extends outside the perimeter, as does Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The castle at DL is much smaller than the one at MK so prepare yourself for that. The smaller castle seems to be one of the biggest disappointments for WDW vets. Nevertheless, it is located in a charming setting surrounded by a moat. However, to DLR vets the castle is not the central visual landmark. The Matterhorn is.
At one time Tomorrowland at DL was a magical place. However, some poor decisions in the 1990’s reduced Tomorrowland to a shell of its former self. The last few years have seen a Tomorrowland revival – with the revamped Space Mountain and addition of the new Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride. The finishing of the Finding Nemo Submarine ride will mostly complete the revival. But many will never understand the nonsensical decision to move the Astro Orbiters (the old Rocket Jets) from high above Tomorrowland (as at MK) down to the entrance area of Tomorrowland where it crowds the walkways and is less than inspiring.
On the other hand, Fantasyland is more compact at DL and the theming is stronger and more self-reinforcing there than at MK. In addition, there are several additional rides at DL. Even though it is much less spacious, many people prefer DL’s Fantasyland to MK’s.
At WDW Fantasmic is performed at a theater at the MGM park. At DLR it is performed inside DL on Tom Sawyer Island. The experience is quite different and many prefer the experience at DL.
Overall DL has more attractions than MK. If you look at their respective websites they are very liberal in what they define as an “attraction”. I decided to look at the RideMax software for both MK and DL and count up attractions, and then add some additional interpretation.
As of this writing, it appears to me that DL has 41 true attractions while MK has 32. Many of these attractions exist at both parks. DL has been refurbishing one of its moderate attractions for the last couple years and it will reopen in 2007 as the Finding Nemo Submarine ride. Some people claim this will be an “E-Ticket” ride, meaning it will be yet another headliner. When this reopens DL will have 42 true attractions – over 30% more than MK. Listed below are attractions at one park but not the other.
Attractions at MK but not at DL
- Country Bear Jamboree (used to be at DL but was removed)
- Carousel of Progress (used to be at DL but was removed)
- Hall of Presidents
- Stitch’s Great Escape
- Aladdin’s Magic Carpets
- Swiss Family Treehouse (used to be at DL but was changed into Tarzan’s Treehouse)
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority (used to be at DL but was removed - was called the People Mover)
Attractions at DL but not at MK
- Indiana Jones
- StoryBook Land Canal Boats
- Alice in Wonderland
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (used to be at MK but was removed)
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin
- Davey Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
- Star Tours (located at WDW MGM)
- Honey I Shrunk the Audience (located at WDW Epcot)
- Innoventions (located at WDW Epcot)
- Tarzan’s Treehouse (used to be Swiss Family Treehouse at DL)
- Columbia Sailing Ship (in addition to the Mark Twain which is similar to MK’s Liberty Square Riverboat)
- Disneyland: First 50 Years (similar to the one at WDW MGM)
- Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Treehouse
- Monorail (I counted this at DL but not MK because it is more of a ride at DL than pure transportation – you can get on this “ride” in the middle of Tomorrowland at DL rather than outside of the park as at MK)
- Finding Nemo Submarine Ride (this is still being refurbished and will reopen in 2007 - I did not count this for DL)
Disneyland also has more headliner attractions than MK. It is fair to say that MK has five headliner attractions:
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Haunted Mansion
Disneyland has all of these plus two more:
- Indiana Jones
And the refurbished submarine ride newly themed as Finding Nemo may turn out to be another headliner unique to DL.
Without going through each ride one by one, most would agree that MK’s Splash Mountain is a better ride than at DL. Most would also probably agree that Jungle Cruise is better at MK.
There is debate about whether DL or MK’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is better, as is there debate about Haunted Mansion. Suffice it to say that these rides are fairly similar.
Most would agree that Pirates of the Caribbean is better at DL. Before DL’s Space Mountain revamp the rides were fairly similar. Since the completion of the revamp in 2005 most would agree that DL’s Space Mountain is better.
It’s a Small World is fairly similar in the interior, but the large and creative exterior at DL would lead most to say that DL’s Small World is better.
Other attractions can be debated. In some cases MK may have the better version, while in others DL may have the better version.
A list of “not be missed” attractions and shows at Disneyland is given in a later section titled: “Not To Be Missed at Disneyland Resort”.
To see another take on the differences between MK and DL, see http://allearsnet.com/dlr/tp/dl/dlmk.htm.
8. Touring DL and DCA: Parkhopping and Other Differences From WDW
The four theme parks at WDW are miles apart from each other. This has the advantage of giving each park a more separate feeling. And if you want to hop from one park to another it can take an hour out of your day and involve a bit of hassle. DL and DCA are directly across from each other. Their gates face each other, and the distance is roughly 100 yards - or the equivalent of a 1 minute walk. The downside is that the parks do not feel quite so separate. But the upside is, well, the same thing - namely, that the parks do not feel quite so separate. Here is where I think a switch in philosophy for the WDW vet is helpful. In Disney terms DL and DCA are separate. From the visitor's point of view it is better to consider them as one large park that happens to have two separate gates. To take the concept further, DL has FantasyLand, TomorrowLand and AdventureLand. Now it has "CaliforniaLand", or another themed area of the park.
What I am suggesting here is most definitely not what the Walt Disney Company had in mind when they built DCA. They wanted a separate, standalone park. But in reality they have had a hard time making this case to their visitors. And no matter what they intended, it is more convenient to think of the two parks as one. With this concept in mind, things like parkhopping get obscured. Personally, it is not uncommon for us to hop back and forth from DL to DCA several times a day. Why? Because each has its own rides, shows, parades, and park hours, which makes it useful to move back and forth. In fact, during our four-day DLR trip in August, 2005 we spent part of every day at each park. That was not on purpose. It was just how it worked out.
It is also worth pointing out the FastPass dynamics between the two parks. This will be discussed later in its own section, but although you may consider DL and DCA as one large park, their FastPass (FP) systems are not connected. In practical terms, that means that FPs obtained at one park (and the associated wait time until the next FP) will not restrict you from getting FPs at the opposite park. Indeed, the whole FP system at DLR has several idiosyncrasies that do not exist at WDW. The well prepared DLR visitor should be aware of these. Consult the FastPass section later on for more information.
WDW vets know how passing through Disney security can be a minor hassle. At DLR they have moved security outside the plaza between the two parks. That means you only pass through security once and when you park hop you do not need to do so again. That is very convenient. Passing through security at DLR is similar to that at the WDW parks.
Finally, as of this time DLR has not adopted the biometric turnstiles like at WDW. They rely on entrance tickets only and hand stamps for park departure and re-entry. So make sure to get your hand stamped if you leave a park and plan to re-enter.
9. Touring Plans
For those familiar with the Unofficial Guide by Sehlinger, there is also an Unofficial Guide for Disneyland (currently 2006 version, can be found on Amazon and elsewhere). Like the WDW version it has touring plans.
One of the things I dislike about pre-specified touring plans is it only includes certain attractions. Better would be a custom touring plan for the rides you want to go. This is what RideMax provides (www.ridemax.com). RideMax will create a custom itinerary for the rides you want to go and the day on which you visit. I have personally used RideMax at times and have found their customized touring plans to be quite good - especially on very busy days. If you want more information you can consult my RideMax DLR critique here: www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=885134 or http://mousepad.mouseplanet.com/showthread.php?t=46207.
For some WDW vets, dining represents a significant portion of their experience. Here WDW vets will find DLR a weaker counterpart. There are some fine dining options at DLR - such as the Blue Bayou in DL, the Vineyard Room at DCA, and the Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel - which can all hold their own with the best of WDW. But in total DLR does not offer the diversity of choices that WDW has because there are fewer resort hotels and no counterpart to Epcot's ethnic dining options.
Neither does DLR have any counterpart to creative dining options such as MGM's SciFi Diner. And finally, dinner shows such as the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue or Polynesian Luau are also lacking.
DLR does have a Downtown Disney area adjacent to the parks and thus within easy walking distance. DTD offers a number of additional dining options.
It should be noted that DLR is located in the center of a major metropolitan area and there are numerous non-Disney dining options nearby.
To view menus at DLR park, hotel and DTD restaurants, go to this link: www.dlresortinfo.com and click on the "Disneyland Resort Area Menu's" on the left. This website also includes references to other nearby off-property restaurant options.
Special dining (or rather “dessert”) reservations for the Fantasmic show at DL are available and can be made 30 days in advance. These are not comparable to the way Fantasmic dining / reserved seating is setup at WDW. They are very limited in number and go very quickly. During busy periods you must call immediately on the morning 30 days in advance (according to DLR dining) in order to secure a reservation. But be careful with this one as I know of one person who called exactly 30 days in advance only to be told they called one day too late. Sometimes you need to call 30 days in advance, and sometimes you need to call one month in advance. The “rules” are not well explained. To be safe I would contact DLR dining 32+ days in advance and find out which day you need to call for your desired date.
By saying all of this I am not recommending a Fantasmic dessert reservation. We have never done this and have always been able to see Fantasmic just fine. But then we usually go to the second show during high season. Be aware that there are two options – balcony seating (over the Pirates of the Caribbean ride) and riverfront seating (next to the Rivers of America). If I were to ever to do this, I would choose balcony. The riverfront seating is off to the side.
You can make dining reservations at DLR by calling: 714-781-3463 (714-781-DINE).
The lodging dynamic at DLR is very different than at WDW. DLR has only 3 resort hotels compared to the 20 at WDW. And when you stay at a WDW resort hotel you are getting closer proximity to the parks and DTD. Not so at DLR. The closest resort hotel to the parks and DTD is the GCH which is literally attached to DCA and DTD and a short walk to DL. But because the GCH is so large, how close you actually are to the parks and DTD depends a lot on where your room is.
In addition, the idea of on-site vs. off-site does not equally apply at DLR. A DLR hotel may be "on-site" in a sense, but much further to the gates of DL, for instance. So rather than talk about on-site vs. off-site, it is clearer to talk in terms of resort hotels, good neighbor hotels, and other hotels. The resort hotels are easy to define as these represent the three Disney-owned hotels. In order to have some sense of hotel quality control DLR implemented a "good neighbor" hotel status. Just to be clear, "good neighbor" does not equal "good hotel". Rather, these are hotels which Disney has forged relationships with. Some or all of the good neighbor hotels can sell you DLR admission tickets, for instance. And they often have mild Disney theming in the lobbies and the rooms. There are roughly 40 good neighbor hotels (see http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disn...pareDropDown=1) broken down into categories of Suites, Superior, Moderate and Economy.
Finally, any hotel that is not a Disney or Good Neighbor falls into the "other" category. And here you are on your own.
Additional information on the Disney and Good Neighbor hotels can be found at: www.dlresortinfo.com. Click on the "Disneyland Resort Hotels" or "Good Neighbor Hotels" on the left.
It should be noted that some WDW visitors attach a stigma of sorts to staying "off-site". If such a stigma exists at DLR, it is much weaker.
To see a map of hotels in and around DLR see "Bret's Disneyland Lodging Map": www.geocities.com/ashpsyche/DisneylandLinkMap. To see a map of hotels considered within walking distance of the parks see: www.mouseplanet.com/dtp/maps/dl_area/dl_walking_distance_map.
Finally, to see how close some of these hotels are to DLR, see:
"How Far Is It?": www.mouseplanet.com/articles.php?art=mm060329as
The same information as above was first given in a DLR forum and thus accompanied by some visitor discussion:
“Answering the ‘which is farther’ debate”: http://mousepad.mouseplanet.com/showthread.php?t=46907
We personally have stayed at the DL PPH and two good neighbor hotels (the Howard Johnson's and the Best Western Park Place Inn). Disney visitors of course come in many shapes and sizes, so there is no "one size fits all" answer to the question of lodging. I can tell you about my family, for what its worth. When we go to DLR it is all about the parks. We are ride warriors who also like to see shows and fireworks. Thus easy park access is paramount for us. We tend to spend very little time at our hotel. If we are awake, we are at the parks. And since park access is so much easier, as I mentioned earlier, the 5-8 hours per day we spent at parks while at WDW is more like 10-12 hours per day at DLR.
Some people plan their DLR visit in such a way as to spend a bit of time at their hotel. For such people, a DLR hotel or other Superior Good Neighbor may be the best option. But I would advise WDW vets that since it is much easier to access the parks at DLR you may find yourself spending less time at your hotel than you do at WDW. Further, with the all around better weather at DLR - especially in the summer months - and the longer park hours at DL compared to MK and the other WDW parks, there are additional reasons why you may find yourself spending more time at the parks than you usually do at WDW. So consider that when choosing a hotel.
Finally, some WDW vets talk reverently about Disney "immersion". I am not going to downplay that, but from what I can tell it is just not the same at DLR. I have dedicated an entire section to the issue of immersion later in this guide.
12. Characters and Character Meals
A big part of Disney parks are the characters - Ariel, Cinderella, and of course Mickey and his friends. Characters can be found at both WDW and DLR in abundance. So if characters are your thing, you can find them at DLR. DL has ToonTown where many characters hang out all day. And there are characters at DCA – though these tend to be more of the Pixar variety. I have been informed that unlike the WDW characters, the ones at DLR often do not have “handlers” and this sometimes results in abrupt and frustrating cutoffs in visits.
We have never done a character meal at either DLR or WDW. So everything I say about this is second-hand. I know that DLR has character meals, and it appears to me that character meals are very important to some WDW vets.
From my time spent on DLR and WDW Internet forums, it appears to me that character meals are discussed much more often on the WDW forums. From this I suspect that character meals are much more important to WDW vets than DLR vets. When I presented this opinion to a few folks who are both DLR and WDW vets, some agreed with this opinion and some disagreed. So maybe I am right, and maybe I am wrong.
Whatever your opinion is of character meals, just know that DLR has them. See http://www.wdwinfo.com/Disneyland/dining.htm for more information on DLR character dining. Reservations can be made 60 days in advance.
DLR has a FastPass (FP) system that is very similar to that at WDW. However, it does have some idiosyncrasies that do not exist at WDW that are worth understanding. These two links – one of them by me – discuss all of the current idiosyncrasies and tricks.
“The Joy of FASTPASS - details and secrets”: www.micechat.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5720
“Getting the Most Out of FastPass During High Season”: http://mousepad.mouseplanet.com/showthread.php?t=46202 or www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=885132
Here is a quick summary of important differences of DLR FP:
1. Enhanced FP – This is a relatively recent perk offered by DLR (since 2004, I believe). If you stay at least two nights at one of the DLR hotels and book through AAA you can get EFP. EFP allows you to get FPs more quickly then regular guests. See the “Joy of FastPass” link above for more information.
2. Expired FPs - It has been DLR policy for a number of years to accept FPs any time that day after the one-hour FP window.
3. Disconnected FP Rides – DL and DCA have certain FP rides that are “disconnected”. This means that when you get a FP for a certain “connected” ride, the delay until you can get another FP does not apply to the disconnected FP rides. At present there are two at DLR: Roger Rabbit at DL and Grizzly River Run at DCA.
4. FP Initialization for Both Parks – The ability to actually get a FP depends on the entrance media being initialized that day when you pass through the park turnstiles. When you do this at either DL or DCA, your entrance media are initialized for both parks at once. This means you can send FP runners to the opposite park you entered to get FPs for the whole group even though no one in the group has actually entered that park on that day.
One other difference from WDW is that DLR does not add artificially long return times at certain parks in the morning. For example, MK always seems to make the first FP return time 10:05AM – even those obtained during EMH mornings. DLR does not do this. The first FPs always start the day 40-45 minutes away. And DL does not issue FPs during Early Entry, unlike MK.
14. How Many Days Do You Need at DLR?
The answer to this question depends on a number of things including the interests of your group and age of any children in the group. If you want to see all or most of the parades and shows, then 3 days would be a minimum amount of days and 4 would be better. If you like to visit the Disney parks at a very leisurely pace then 5 days (or more) may be a good idea. If you decide to attach extra days to visit other Southern California locations (e.g., Hollywood, Universal Studios, Sea World, a beach) then of course additional days are needed. But 3-4 days will be enough for most people.
15. Is DLR a Vacation or Not a Vacation?
Many people take their annual family vacation to WDW. This is consistent with a trip which is 6-10 days long which WDW trips often are. It is my impression that most people do not consider a DLR trip a vacation. Yes it is a fun trip. But I think many people are like my family. We usually vacation for a week each summer at the beach in Southern California. And when we are in Southern California we sometimes visit DLR for a few days. But it is not our family vacation spot.
Part of the reason for this is that DLR is 3-5 day trip, which is too short for most family vacations.
16. Best Time To Visit DLR
Best means different things to different people. Some people define best as periods of low crowds. Others define best as periods with nice weather. And still others define best as periods where all the rides and shows are available.
First let’s talk about crowds. As described elsewhere, DLR visitors have a much higher percentage of day visitors than WDW. This is a result of the large population base in Southern California who are within an easy day’s drive. This means that weekends are typically more crowded than weekdays. And holiday weekends are worst of all.
One other dynamic working for you is the notorious Southern California traffic. The traffic on the freeways there highly discourages locals from visiting DLR on weekdays. And if they do, it will be very hard for them to get to the parks for opening – which is all the more reason to get an early start at the parks. For those day-trippers, they will not have anywhere to rest all day and many of them will be tired and ready to leave by late afternoon or early evening. This is all the more reason to take a hotel break in the afternoon and come back to the parks when the day visitors are calling it quits.
One of the first things that surprised me when doing WDW research was that crowds at WDW had very little to do with weekends. I was so accustomed to thinking about Disney parks in terms of avoiding weekends that I really had to ponder this. When I realized that WDW is made up much more of out-of-state (and country) visitors, this made more sense.
So at DLR you should plan your trip for weekdays, especially during busy periods. But during low season this dynamic changes a bit. Even during low season weekdays are less crowded than weekends, but the problem with low season weekdays is that shows are cut back or even not offered. This includes fireworks, parades and Fantasmic. This makes it difficult to see these shows. So if you go during low season you may need to use a combination of weekdays for lower crowds and weekends for shows.
The least crowded day of the week to go to the DL park is Wednesday. If you are doing a day trip this is even more true because EE (Early Entry) is not offered on Wednesdays at this time. Here is a list of least crowded days of the week at DL which basically reflect that the further away from the weekend, the better:
DCA follows the same patterns, but even on weekends during peak season can be surprisingly uncrowded. The DCA crowds have not followed as regular a pattern as DL.
Busy periods at DLR parallel WDW a lot. Summer months are very busy. The weeks before and after Christmas are very busy. Spring Break and Thanksgiving week are also busy.
It seems that at both DLR and WDW January through early March are slow periods, as are September though early November. Check this link: www.scottware.com.au/theme/guide.htm and click on the “When to Go/Attendance graphs” on the left menu for more information. From there click on the “Time of Year” link.
Personally, I prefer the busier periods at DLR – especially the summer. Unlike WDW, the Southern California weather is consistently good all summer long. It rarely rains, but it does get hot (I have been to DL when it is 100 degrees). Check this link www.anderson.ucla.edu/documents/areas/ctr/ccp/ThemeParkAttendance%28color%29.pdf on page 34 for rainfall patterns in Southern California. Since we go to DLR primarily in summer, I have never even thought about bringing a rain poncho. At WDW we used rain ponchos on half our days during our June trip – traditionally a rainy month in Florida.
Another reason I like summer weekdays is that the shows are going full bore, and almost all the rides are going. DLR takes rides down in off-season for refurbishment. And since DLR has long park hours in the summer – longer than WDW – it is nice to stay out late most every night. Finally, if you go to WDW during the summer when it is humid (as we did) and you get wet (as we did) – from a ride or from rain – you just never dry off (as we didn’t). At DLR with the arid climate you will dry off much more quickly – especially in the summer. So getting wet is fun. Look for Grizzly River Run at DCA or Splash Mountain at DL.
I have to admit to being annoyed at people who make it their #1 priority to go to DLR when “the crowds are low” and then complain about all of the rides that are down and they will miss. RideRefurbs at www.riderefurbs.com is usually reliable on what rides are scheduled for maintenance. Also the MousePlanet DLR weekly update lists them here: www.mouseplanet.com.
So just in case you missed it, here is how it works at DLR as well as WDW: If you want low crowds then expect to miss some rides and shows. If you want to experience all of the rides and shows, go during a more crowded period and learn how to work with the crowds.
For instance, during our high season DLR trip in early August 2005 we spent four days at DLR. And we never waited for a ride more than 20 minutes – usually far less. And we went on every ride at DL and most of the rides at DCA at least once while doing the headliners as many as four times. How? By getting to the parks early, leaving in the afternoon for 4-5 hours for a swim and nap, and then returning in the evening and staying late – usually until closing at midnight. And we used FastPass a lot.
But that is just me. If you want to go during off-season here are a few gotchas. For a number of years now DL has taken down Its A Small World in October for about four weeks to add its “holiday overlay”. And then Small World is taken down again in January or February to remove the overlay – again for several weeks.
For about the last five years the Haunted Mansion has been taken down in September for several weeks to add its “Nightmare Before Christmas” overlay. And it too goes down again for a few weeks in January or February to remove the overlay.
Similar to WDW, watch out for Grad Nights, mostly in early to mid-June. In 2006 they had these at WDW over two weekends in April and May, but at DLR they are on different nights of the week and I believe there are more Grad Nights than at WDW. I went to Grad Night at DL back in 1981, by the way, and although DL was fun my date was not. If you go during this period it can mess up your DL Early Entry days as DL generally does not open for Early Entry the day after a Grad Night, I believe.
One final thing to be aware of are special Annual Pass (AP) periods for Southern California residents. These restricted APs have blackout dates that typically go into effect in late June and lift again in late August. This means that people who have these passes often try to squeeze in “one last visit” in mid to late June (right after schools get out). And it also means that these pass holders are eager to get back into DLR after the blackout lifts (and before school starts) in late August. The weekly DLR park update on MousePlanet lists the blackout periods (see www.mouseplanet.com). The park attendance will be affected by these AP visitors during these times.
17. Early Entry at DLR vs. Extra Magic Hours at WDW
DLR and WDW have a history of offering extended park hours to certain visitors. These perks change over time and the current form of these perks will most likely change in the future. Therefore the information in this section is the most likely of all sections in this guide to become outdated.
At DLR “EE” means Early Entry, not Expedition Everest (as at WDW). The DLR Early Entry and WDW Extra Magic Hours (EMH) are recent perks offered to guests. Similar to EMH, paying attention to how EE works will have a major impact on how you plan your days at DLR.
EE is offered at DL on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. During EE DL opens 1 hour early for certain guests. The rides open during EE are fairly regular but subject to change on any day. During EE most of the FantasyLand rides are open, as are Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in TomorrowLand.
Officially the only way to get EE is to buy a 3+ day parkhopper bonus ticket. Note that most DLR tickets are bonus tickets, but some (such as those offered by the military) are not (or so I have heard). If a guest buys one of these 3+ day bonus tickets, they are entitled to one EE morning during their trip. It does not matter if the guest stays at a DLR hotel, a good neighbor hotel, or any hotel for that matter.
In July 2005 DLR started offering EE to its DLR hotel guests. When this second EE access method began it was described as a “test”, which meant it could be stopped at any time. This test has now gone on for a year and some DLR hotel guests have come to regard it as a perk and not a test. In any case, if you are a DLR hotel guest you can use EE on every day it is offered while you stay at the hotel, not just on one day as the “official” bonus ticket visitors are allowed. At least you can as long as the “test” continues.
DCA does not have an EE program. However, GCH guests are regularly allowed into the park early (there is a special DCA entrance from the GCH). On most mornings DCA opens its gates 30 minutes early and opens one ride, Soarin’ Over California. So even if you get to the DCA gates right at official park opening you may face a pre-existing line on this ride. Fortunately it has FastPass.
Another early entry perk of sorts is Mickey’s ToonTown Morning Madness (TTMM). ToonTown at DL typically opens one hour after official park opening, and TTMM allows certain guests to get into ToonTown one hour early. Since TTMM is one hour before ToonTown’s typical one hour delayed opening, it begins right when DL regular park hours begin. And TTMM is not necessarily on the same days as EE. Right now it is offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
I have never done TTMM so this is second-hand. During TTMM a mock ceremony is held and access to characters is provided. Apparently the TT rides (of which there are only a few) are also open.
TTMM is obtained by simply booking your trip through the DLR website, and does require you to stay at a DLR or Good Neighbor hotel. Unlike EE, TTMM does not have such a major effect on DL traffic patterns. But TTMM will affect Toontown traffic patterns as there will already be lines when ToonTown officially opens to everyone. If you want to visit ToonTown and do not have TTMM privileges, it is best to visit it on a non-TTMM day. And go early.
So how should you use or plan around EE? First, if you have EE you should definitely use it. This is contrary to certain advice for WDW to avoid EMH parks. Second, EE should be focused on the FantasyLand rides. These rides are very close together physically and are often 2-3 minutes in length. So you can do a lot of the FantasyLand rides in that one hour – I have heard of people doing 9 different rides – we have done 7. None of the DL FantasyLand rides have FastPass, and thus rides like Peter Pan, Dumbo and Matterhorn must be done first thing in the morning to avoid lengthy lines later in the day. EE is a perfect time to do them.
Some people are tempted to go to the headliner rides during EE, namely Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear. Both of these rides have FastPass (FP), and as such can be ridden any time of day with a short line using FP, unlike the FantasyLand rides which do not have FP. It is therefore wise to focus on FantasyLand during EE.
If you visit DLR during high season, that means an 8AM park opening and 7AM EE. All else being equal, if you only have one EE day I think it is best to use EE on the first possible day you can – preferably the very first day of your trip - because you will have the most energy that day (no park day on the previous day) and, if you can manage it, and earlier bedtime than other nights where you may stay late at the parks.
What if it is an EE day (Mon/Tue/Thu/Sat) but you yourself do not have EE? On such days even if you arrive at the parks before they open and are first in line for regular opening you will face long lines in FantasyLand right away. Such days are thus good days to avoid FantasyLand altogether. They are also good days to go to DCA.
In summary there is no other way to slice it. If you want to do FantasyLand during high season without extremely long lines, either do it during EE or do it first thing on a non-EE day.
As related in the previous section, Southern California weather during the summer months cannot be beat. For Southern California rainfall patterns check page 34 in this link www.anderson.ucla.edu/documents/areas/ctr/ccp/ThemeParkAttendance%28color%29.pdf. Check this link: www.scottware.com.au/theme/guide.htm and click on the “When to Go/Attendance graphs” on the left menu for more information. From there click on the ”Disneyland Weather” link. It can get hot at DLR, but it is not humid.
Like Florida, it does get cold at DLR during the non-summer months. And it does rain. But it can also be warm during the winter months as well.
The average annual rainfall in Orlando, Florida is 50 inches. In Anaheim, California it is 10 inches. The thought of bringing a rain poncho to DLR has never occurred to me.
19. Entrance Tickets
Entrance ticket programs change at DLR and WDW almost as often as the extra hours programs. Currently WDW has Magic Your Way tickets. Parkhopping costs extra at WDW. As does access to water parks and other activities outside the theme parks.
At this time DLR includes parkhopping in all tickets of two or more days. For single-day tickets it can be purchased at extra cost.
Although it may exist, I have not seen a non-expiring ticket option at DLR. And there are no water parks or DisneyQuest at DLR.
DLR does participate in a Southern California CityPass ticket which offers three days at DLR and three at other non-Disney destinations. See the section on “Other Destinations in Southern California” for more information.
Entrance tickets can be purchased separately or as part of a package. Similar to WDW, package pricing often does not get you a better price. See http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disn...ketListingPage for ticket info. Similar to WDW’s Magic Your Way, you can upgrade your tickets while at the parks to additional days or Annual Passes.
20. Disney Immersion
I think I understand what Disney visitors mean by immersion. They enjoy being within Disney themed areas during their entire visit. This includes hotel, transportation, shopping and dining, as well as the parks. This experience sort of blocks out the outside world and gives a more enjoyable Disney experience.
Immersion in this sense is more possible at WDW because of its large size which allows the outside world to be more thoroughly blocked out. The 20 Disney hotels also help. The setting at DLR is different. The parks, resort hotels, and DTD are in the middle of Anaheim, California. When you enter the DL park you will find the outside world fairly well blocked out. In fact I can never remember noticing the outside world when inside DL. DCA, for better or worse, was not designed this way. Perhaps the reason is that it would seem odd to design Disney’s California Adventure and locate it in California, and then try to block out all of the surrounding real California. So DCA does not seem as isolated as DL. In addition, the DLR hotels look out on the city of Anaheim (in addition to DLR) and are not as isolated as at WDW.
The bottom line is that it is just not possible to have the same level of immersion at DLR as at WDW. By staying at a DLR hotel and taking the monorail or walking to the parks through DTD you will come closest.
However, there are some upsides to the DLR geography that may balance this out. The issue of transportation and hotel locations at DLR have already been discussed and will not be detailed again here. But note this - when one stays at a DLR hotel or certain Good Neighbor hotels, you can see the parks right out your window and easily hear (and see) the fireworks at night. In fact, if you are trying to sleep they may wake you up. You are right there, across the street from the parks. Although you are not immersed in Disney as at WDW, you nevertheless feel very close to the parks because you are. When you walk out your hotel room you may clearly see the Matterhorn or Space Mountain at DL, or the Tower of Terror or California Screamin’ at DCA. As also mentioned previously, DLR usually has longer park hours than at WDW. If you use the close hotel locations and longer park hours to your advantage, you may sense a different kind of immersion where you are in the parks for most of your waking hours and not waiting for or sitting on buses, boats, etc.
In summary, DLR does not offer quite the same immersive experience as WDW. But the fact that you can spend up to 50% more of your daily hours actually in the parks and have a room literally across the street from the parks can be immersive in a different sense.
21. Not To Be Missed at Disneyland Resort
Here I get to give my unabashed opinion on the major attractions and shows at DLR.
Pirates of the Caribbean – Amost 40 years old and still my favorite ride at DLR. Better and much longer than the MK version.
Indiana Jones Adventure – I did not like this ride at first because of its jerky motion but it grew into my second favorite at DLR. If you do not like it at first, give it a second chance. Has some similarities to Dinosaur at AK. Indy is a really cool ride that stacks up well against any ride at WDW.
Space Mountain – re-launched in 2005 after two-and-a-half years of refurbishment and a great ride. New version better than the MK version.
Matterhorn – the first Disney “mountain”, built in 1959 three years after DL opened, and still a fun roller coaster.
Haunted Mansion – similar to the MK version and very fun.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – fairly similar to the MK version and fun.
Splash Mountain – A fun ride but not as good as the one at WDW.
Remember Dreams Come True – fireworks/laser/special effects extravaganza created just for the DL 50th anniversary celebration and reportedly going away after Feb 2007 – but there is no official word yet. This show is better than anything at WDW. It is just incredible, but you should try to see it from the DL castle hub or Main Street where you have a good view of the castle. If you do this plan to arrive 1 hour early on busy nights.
Fantasmic! – performed on Tom Sawyer Island and makes use of the Rivers of America as part of the stage. The only downside compared to WDW is that there is no theater and thus no formal seats. Similar to a parade or fireworks, people either stand (in the rear areas) or sit on the ground (in the front areas). This show is similar to that at WDW but differs in several details. I and most others would say it is quite a bit better at DLR because of the setting and use of the ships. If there are two showings on a given night, the second one is much less crowded and a good viewing spot can be obtained 30 minutes in advance (or less). Reserved seating is available but limited. It costs about $60 per person and includes dessert (see the Dining section in this guide for more information).
Parade of Dreams – a wonderful Disney parade created for the DL 50th anniversary celebration that rivals or surpasses any of the parades at WDW.
At Disney’s California Adventure:
Soarin’ Over California – my third favorite ride at DLR. The attraction itself is the same as that currently at WDW. However, the queue inside the building, as well as the external theming and location at DCA’s Condor Flats makes for a better experience than the sterile entrance and queue at Epcot.
Grizzly River Run – a great river raft ride similar to Kali River Rapids at AK - but better. It is longer at DCA with more drops and surprises, and they have free lockers right there where you can stow your stuff and keep it dry.
California Screamin’ – a long looped roller coaster with theme music and a 0-60 mph start similar to WDW’s Rock ‘n Roller Coaster but outside. Lots of fun. When it was opened in 2001 it was the longest steel track coaster in the world at over a mile long. It may still be the longest.
Disney Animation Studio – If you have kids plan to be here at least 90 minutes. There are several areas here that revolve around animation which allow visitor interaction and creation. For the most part these are not available at WDW. Also Turtle Talk with Crush is here, and the larger theater than at Epcot means the lines are much more reasonable any time of day.
Tower of Terror – I have to mention this because it is a headliner, but if you have ridden the one at MGM you will probably be disappointed. The DCA version does not yet have the randomized drop sequence capability. After this is installed then it will be more worth your attention.
Aladdin – A 40+ minute Broadway quality stage show inside the plush Hyperion Theater. Excellent show with talented genie actors who are given latitude to ad lib their humor with reference to current events – so each show is a little different. Better show than anything comparable at WDW in my opinion.
DLR Rides not at WDW:
Matterhorn and Indiana Jones (already mentioned)
StorybookLand Canal Boats
Casey Jr Circus Railroad
Alice in Wonderland
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Roger Rabbit CarToon Spin
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (coming in 2007 – replaces old submarine ride)
And most everything at DCA
22. Other Destinations in Southern California
Some potential DLR visitors may conclude that a 3-5 day visit to DLR is not worth the effort because it is too short. To make the trip more worthwhile you may want to consider other destinations in Southern California.
One possibility to consider is the Southern California CityPass, which offers three days at DLR, one day at Sea World San Diego (80-100 miles away), one day at the San Diego Zoo (also 80-100 miles away) and one day at Universal Studios Hollywood (40 or so miles away). All for about $200 per adult ticket. Tickets can be bought on the DLR website and other locations.
Knott’s Berry Farm is near DLR and is actually older than DL. It has turned into a more full-fledged theme park of its own. I have not been there for 20 years but back then it was a fun place to go. Do some research if you are interested.
Up Interstate 5 about 40 miles away from DLR is the real, actual Hollywood. And near that is Universal Studios Hollywood (USH). If you are interested in either or both of these destinations you may want to try to schedule them on or near weekends. If you were to visit both, then a local hotel might be a good idea and you could visit them on subsequent days. The reason for scheduling these on weekends is that it allows easier day time driving from DLR. Or you can do your driving late in the evening. Otherwise you can take your chances with the Southern California freeway traffic. Also if you are interested you can obtain tickets to see live tapings of certain shows (such as Jay Leno). These will be at other network studio locations in and around Hollywood and typically on weekdays. I had occasion to do all of these things when I lived in California.
If you travel south of DLR on Interstate 5 about 80-100 miles you will come to Sea World San Diego which sits on a beautiful location straddling Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. SW is a one-day destination. Nearby is the world famous San Diego Zoo. And in northern San Diego (but inland and away from Interstate 5) is the Wild Animal Park which has some parallels to WDW’s Animal Kingdom. It is operated in conjunction with the San Diego Zoo. I had occasion to visit all of these when I lived in San Diego 15 years ago, and have visited Sea World several times over the last few years.
Then there is Legoland in Carlsbad, California. Carlsbad is at the northernmost edge of San Diego County and near Interstate 5 (about 50-60 miles from DLR). Legoland is a theme park with rides that revolve around the Lego theme. For those of you who missed childhood, Legos are those little building blocks that children use to build up creative three-dimensional structures. I have never been to LegoLand which was built about 5 or 6 years ago. Legoland appeals more to the under-12 crowd, but there are some things there to interest older kids. I have been told that they have a few thrill coasters, and Miniland, including an informative and fun boat tour, are not to be missed. Many of the United States’ major cities and historical landmarks have been recreated using nothing but standard Lego bricks that anyone can purchase.
If you travel to the north on Interstate 5 (80-100 miles) you will come to Six Flags Magic Mountain with its array of thriller roller coasters. I last did Magic Mountain about 15 years ago and it has gained a reputation as a hangout for gang members (just warning you).
OK, a couple of quick mentions to round things out. Mission San Juan Capistrano in south Orange County and right along Interstate 5 is one of the early missions established by the Spanish when exploring California and has a nice tour. And the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles is an area where many pre-historic creatures got ensnared and died. The tar pits are still there bubbling up in the middle of Los Angeles, and the exhibits there and animal skeletal findings are on display and quite interesting. I visited both of these some 15 years ago. Also there is the Santa Monica Pier on the coast near Los Angeles. This offers some interesting shopping, dining, aquatic displays, and amusement areas. It is often found in Hollywood movies so you may recognize some things there from movies. I was there just last year.
Last but not least are the Southern California beaches – a special temptation in the summer time. For those easterners not in the know, the Pacific Ocean waters circulate down from Alaska along the California coast and the water at the beaches is pretty cold. Even during mid-summer the temperatures will peak at around 72 degrees – on a good day. If you go in the summer be aware that the water temperature is tolerable albeit a bit shocking when you first get in. Once you get used to it, it is really not that bad. Nice, nearby beaches to DLR in Orange County are Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach. If you go down to San Diego there are many nice beaches there as well – that is where we usually spend a week each summer.
Disneyland Resort has a lot to offer the WDW veteran. I hope that you get a chance to experience it.
Thanks to Betty, Lynda, Brian, Amy, Kristy, Jessica and Mark for their feedback and suggestions on this content.