This August my niece Alexis and I had so much fun exploring Disneyland and Disney California Adventure over the course of three days in Southern California. We were with a group of media from across Canada (Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Toronto) as we assembled in San Francisco for a few days, made a quick trip to Calistoga, then flew from San Francisco to Orange County.
We were guests of Disney Canada on this trip and once we got to Anaheim, we stayed right at Disneyland California Adventure in the Disney Grand Californian Hotel for three nights. This week-long journey was chock-full of fun activities and memorable dining experiences, and I’ve done my best to capture a slice of it all through a series of blog posts. The pièce de résistance was of course our final destination, where I fully explored the Magic Kingdom for the very first time.
Vancouver to Disneyland: Top Tips
As guests of an official Disneyland resort, we enjoyed benefits like “Magic Hour”. This is when guests of the Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier hotels can enter the park an hour earlier than everyone else. Show your room key at the entrance and check out signs the night before to see which park has “Magic Hour” the following day as they alternate. I learned many tips like this during our short time at the parks so here are a few that I found the most useful, and hopefully you will too:
I have flown to Orange County twice in the last year and both times I went through John Wayne Airport/Santa Ana (airport code: SNA). I have never been through LAX but I hear it’s busy, crowded, and it’s actually much further away from Anaheim than SNA. If it’s anything like Denver or Chicago’s airports, I would be happy to avoid it whenever I can. SNA is a lovely, cozy, welcoming airport with about 20 gates. Depending on traffic, it’s only about 20 minutes away from Disneyland. Both times I booked flights, SNA was actually the cheaper option as well so be sure to include that in your research.
We had Park Hopper passes, which you can purchase when you book your trip, through Disney, or on-site. These passes can then be used to scoop up FastPasses on applicable rides and attractions.
I didn’t realize the importance and convenience of having a FastPass until we saw line-ups for attractions and rides that were about 60 minutes long, in the 35+ degree heat. What FastPass allows you to do is grab a ticket to ride at a specific timeframe in the future on that same day. So instead of waiting 45 minutes, you can grab a FastPass and return at your convenience to skip the regular line. This allows you time to go get a drink, some lunch, shop around, and not spend that time in a line-up.
I was very thankful for this option and it’s INCLUDED in your park pass. Here’s how it works, courtesy of the Disney FastPass Service site that also lists where FastPass is available:
- Look for the FASTPASS Distribution sign near the entrance of an attraction.
- Check the Return Time displayed on this sign.
- If the return time works for you, insert your valid Disneyland Resort admission ticket, readmission ticket or Annual Passport into the FASTPASS machine.
- The machine will generate a FASTPASS ticket printed with your return time.
Return to the FASTPASS Return entrance at your Return Time, show your FASTPASS ticket to the Cast Member and enjoy the attraction with a minimal wait.
You can only collect one FastPass at a time so you can’t hop from ride to ride using them, but you can go into a regular line then return to the FastPass destination when it’s your time to ride.
One of our favourites, Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, “sold out” of FastPasses every day so it might be good to grab a pass there first as they seem to all go before 2:00pm.
Right or Left
The well-organized lines at Disney rides and attractions are sometimes split between the general admission and FastPass holders however, sometimes they split just to manage the flow of foot traffic. We noticed a few times that sometimes a very long line was forming on the left or right with the other lane completely open so we asked a cast member who said both are open and we can go ahead. This helped us zoom to the front of the line on several occasions simply because we took the path less-traveled.
Alexis and I didn’t want to be split up when riding but we did meet up with our pal Preston for the afternoon and he has an annual pass for the park as a California resident. As a single rider, meaning you don’t care who you sit with, he said his wait times for rides could be less than 10 minutes. If your group doesn’t mind being split up to ride, you can go as single riders where the option is available and get through very quickly. The “Single Riders” line at the California Screamin’ coaster was the shorter we saw all day.
This might be very basic and seem very obvious but the Southern California sun does get very hot and staying hydrated is key. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks have water fountains around the grounds where you can fill up a water bottle on the go. You can bring in your own bottle or purchase one and refill it as many times as you like around the parks.
Salads and Sandwiches
Another great way to enjoy the parks while also getting out of the hot sun for a little while is to watch one of the many live shows that are put on daily. You can sit in air conditioning for a while, recharge, and enjoy some of your favourite Disney stories live on stage like Disney’s Aladdin: Musical Spectacular or Turtle Talk Live with Crush.
When to Ride
We had a lot of luck wait times and grabbing FastPasses for rides at opportune times. Lines will diminish during peak times like when everyone’s watching a parade or special event or during traditional meal hours (lunch, dinner). Visit your “must see” rides early on in the day, and get a FastPass if you can, and take advantage of smaller lines when you see them. My niece did the Haunted Mansion for the first time with me (wait time: 5 minutes) and enjoyed it.
There’s no better way to cap off a full day of sun and fun than to watch a spectacular nighttime show. We caught each of the following during our stay:
World of Color
The impressive World of Color water show is what happens when you take fountains like the ones found at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, add hundreds more to the set, add thousands of lights and projections of Disney movies, add music, and turn everything up to “11”. You can reserve standing-room spot at the very front of the spectator area or stake-out a viewing position around Paradise Pier. FastPass is actually available for this show as well and can be picked up, while it lasts, by the Grizzly River Run.
The fireworks at Disneyland can be seen from outside the park at Downtown Disney but the very best viewing location is along Main Street, USA and in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. This is another place where you can either book a reserved spot in the roped off viewing area or stake out a spot along Main Street to view the bright bursts of colour in the sky set to Disney music. There are also seasonal themes so if you’ve seen the fireworks once, you will probably see a new-to-you show on your next visit.
WIFI was abundant at our hotel but I was also traveling with a HotSpot from Roam Mobility that I topped up with 1GB of data (for under $40) that I used throughout the week. 1GB was probably overkill but I wanted to make sure I would be covered especially since I wanted me niece to be able to video chat with her mom. With all this connectivity it was a natural move to check out online resources for Disneyland park news each day such as two key Twitter account.
@Miss604 Beautiful! Have a great day!
— Disneyland Today (@DisneylandToday) August 22, 2013
@DCAToday & @DisneylandToday on Twitter provide frequent updates throughout the day from Disney California Adventure featuring answers to your questions, special events, attraction information, park hours and more. I also found the Disneyland Explorer iPhone app to be helpful for showtime listings and maps.
Disney All Over California
Even though we went from the seaside fog of San Francisco, to wine country, and back down to Orange County, Disney was a running theme throughout our entire trip. If you’re a big Disney fan and you want to explore more than the parks in Southern California, there are many places to do so.
In San Francisco we visit the Walt Disney Family Museum and even up in Napa we popped into the Sharpsteen Museum in Calistoga which was founded by Ben and Bernice Sharpsteen. Ben was an Academy Award-winning animator, producer and director for Walt Disney Studios.
The family-friendly trip, even through wine country, was filled with laughs, great food, and a smile that took days to leave my face after we left the park. It was great to visit Disneyland and build up this knowledge for the next time I make the trip but it was even better to watch my niece jump up and down with excitement as we started out each day in this truly magical place.