We find so much inspiration from Walt Disney himself. The story of his life is as touching as the stories he brought to life. There's nothing like being where it all began- the very first Disney Park. We’ve taken advantage of some business trips to enjoy Disneyland as a couple, but 2011 was the year we met our goal to go as a family, because for us, that's our most magical lens—experiencing it through our children’s eyes.
Where to Stay
One of the first questions we ask ourselves when planning a trip is, “Where are we going to stay?”
A question I frequently get asked is, “Do you recommend we stay on property?” My opinion?
Yes! Yes! and Yes!
But there are a list of Disney approved neighboring hotels and some of them are within walking distance or may even offer a free shuttle to the park.
So why stay on property?
You’ll still get, "Have a Magical Day" when you call the front desk or visit Guest Services. And if that’s not enough to put a little more pep in your step, there is also that grand benefit of the park’s extra magic hours, plus you can schedule wake-up calls from the characters. (Oh how I wish I could schedule those for my normal day-to-day life.) And there is convenient park access from the on-property hotels to the parks.
Again, there are so many options and different ways to do Disney. So above all, know that you’ve got the elements of a magical vacation wherever you stay—those special people traveling with you!
*btw- child crying in stroller is “the other side” of Disney not many are willing to show. But it’s the real deal here. And our little twenty-two month old baby was not okay being confined to his stroller for our Disneyland start to this day. Disney travels have gotten much smoother over the years, but I wouldn’t trade these memories for anything. Totally worth all the work.
Where We Stay
We’ve enjoyed our Disneyland accommodations at Disney’s Grand Californian. The Grand Californian is the only Disneyland resort that has Disney Vacation Club villas, which I would love to share more about with you on our Disney Vacation Club page. We had a fabulous view off our balcony to California Adventure at Mickey’s Fun Wheel and the nightly World of Color show. A fantastic place to call home for our Disneyland get-away.
Our Favorites for Dining by Park
Call (714) 781-3463~ you can make dining reservations up to 60 days in advance
· The Blue Bayou The Pirates of the Caribbean ride goes through this restaurant. The kids loved their hats and kids menu and we loved ours. A win for this family!
· Naples- we took in a perfect evening on the patio for this dinner. Considering the ages of our group, we soaked up the peaceful dispositions and atmosphere.
· Tortilla Jo's- this evening wasn’t so peaceful. We had tired, sleepy, worn-out children, so we went back to the room and got showers and baths started, ordered our food and the precious Dad took the feasible walk to get it. It was a great meal for takeout and I’m sure would be just as fabulous in the restaurant.
The Grand Californian
· Storyteller's Cafe – lots of fun, music and characters involved. Anticipate seeing fun characters like Meeko, Koda, Kenai, Terk and Chip and Dale. Oh, and great food. We’ll take a good breakfast buffet any day!
· Goofy's Kitchen – maybe because Goofy’s Kitchen is so similar to Chef Mickey’s this was one of our favorites. We made reservations for breakfast and the sweet tooth’s in our family enjoyed their generous servings of Mickey pancakes.
Our Must Do's by Park
It’s been a few years since we’ve been to California, so there’s much we are adding to our list of things to see when we return. In the meantime, here are some of the attractions we’ve enjoyed in years past.
Mickey's Soundsational Parade
Fantasmic-- THIS IS MY FAVORITE SHOW! In both Disney World and Disneyland. It’s one to work into your visit.
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
- Space Mountain
- Star Tours
ALL of Toontown is a must. There’s nothing like visiting the homes of Mickey and Minnie and their friends!
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- It's a Small World— California is the home of It’s a Small World and that is evident by the elaborate detail of this attraction.
- King Arthur Carrousel
- Mad Tea Party
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
- Peter Pan's Flight
- Snow White's Scary Adventures
- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Jungle Cruise
- Indiana Jones Adventure- it’s a ride in Disneyland (a show in WDW)
- Tarzan’s Treehouse
New Orleans Square
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Haunted Mansion
- Frozen Live at the Hyperion- on our list to see
- World of Color -- highly recommend this one; be sure to head over to the Grizzly River Run as soon as the park opens to grab your Fast Pass for that evening's WOC show.
- Grizzly River Run
- California Screamin'
- The Little Mermaid~ Ariel's Undersea Adventure
- Mickey's Fun Wheel- now be careful; the first time I rode this, I didn't pay attention that my husband was getting us into one of the rocking carts! May not sound too daring, but I found that I enjoy this ride much more in a stationed cart.
- Silly Symphony Swings
- Toy Story Mania
A Bug's Land
Everything in here, the rides, shows & attractions are super cute and fun, especially for the younger ones in your group.
We haven't been back as a family since before this opened in June 2012. Brandon and I have only visited Disneyland in that period of time as a couple, but our next family vacay out west we plan to do it all. Go check it out. I’ve heard it’s fabulous!
- Monster's, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue
- Turtle Talk with Crush
- Guardians of the Galaxy- this was formerly the Tower of Terror but this change is part of the park’s Marvel makeover. Can’t wait to see.
My Disney Experience
After making your reservation be sure to download the App for The Disneyland Resort on your smartphone. From your smartphone, make dining reservations, see menus for restaurants your considering, and access a map of the park, times and places for character meet-and-greets, and the park’s schedule. Also, you can view information on in-park distribution of Fast Passes for attractions. Or you can add on the Disney Max Pass Feature to have the option of reserving your FastPass for select attractions right from the app. This Feature also allows you to have unlimited Disney Photopass Downloads for the Day. Visit the Disney Max Pass Feature link for full details.
In Disneyland you can purchase a one park per day ticket or make it a park hopper ticket, allowing you to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure in the same day. Since the parks are directly across from one another, I would recommend having the flexibility of park hopping. However, if you’re pretty mapped out on your Disney Days, then definitely go with your gut and save the money with the base one park per day ticket.
When to Visit
We’ve been in May, September and December. The weather in California is so mild year round. Of course December was a bit cool, but nothing major with a light coat or jacket. May was actually a little bit cool for what we Oklahomans practically consider to be a summer month. But again, light jackets were perfect. September was a great season for weather to be there. While we’re pretty limited to long school breaks or summer breaks for family travel, if we didn’t have a school schedule and sports schedule to work around we’d probably aim for September again.
Once you get into Disneyland, there are no concerns about getting around. You walk. Everything is in pretty close proximity.
Now. How would one get into Disneyland? Here's the scoop if you're flying….
There isn’t a Magical Express awaiting your arrival in Disneyland, so for frequent WDW travelers, this takes a little more planning. Visit Disneyland’s Transportation page for a list of suggestion by airport. We have flown into John Wayne Airport (SNA) and this is how we arranged transportation to Disneyland.
- Get your things from baggage claim go outside to the Ground Transportation Center.
- Look For The BIG Disneyland® Resort Express Bus At The Airport. Present your prepaid printed voucher to the Disneyland® Resort Express ticket agent. Please be sure to collect your return transfer slip at the time of ticketing.
- Pick ups are in front of the Disneyland Resort Express ticket booth, located to the left. Hourly departures between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. (departs every 30 minutes between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.). Climb aboard and GO!!!
- Website at https://dre.coachusa.com or call 800 828-6699 or 714 978-8855.
- Check with the front desk of your hotel, or visit the following website to view the schedule for exact return times. https://dre.coachusa.com/disney-bus-schedule
We can count our California Disney trips on one of Mickey’s hands. We love all things Disney, but the World just feels more like home. Which is why we continue to return over-and-over again. That being said, we haven’t experienced all the seasonal fun at the Disneyland Parks, but check out their website if you’ll be there for the holidays. There will for sure be some special celebrations.
On one of Brandon’s business trips out west we took a December evening to explore Disneyland all decked out for Christmas. It was beautiful. And It’s a Small World was gorgeous! So even if you’re not participating in a special ticketed event, the Disney and the holidays are always a beautiful site to see!