When we sat down to plan our California road trip, I knew we had to squeeze in a trip to Disneyland. It was during the planning of our honeymoon to Walt Disney World (in Orlando) in 2014 that I became Disney obsessed. Luckily, my husband is a fan of Mickey Mouse too, so we booked a stay at “the happiest place on Earth” while in California.
We drove up north from San Diego, which was about an hour and half. When we arrived in the Disneyland area, I was surprised at how beautiful it was. There were palm tree lined streets with hotels and restaurants on either side. Seemed like a happening place to be! Funny to think that when Walt Disney bought the Anaheim property over sixty years ago, all that existed were acres of orange groves.
We checked in to our hotel, The Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort. The hotel is classified as a Good Neighbor hotel. This means that not only is it close to DL, but it also has specific Disney standards it needs to keep up with. For visitor convenience there is an on-site Disney Desk to assist with planning, tickets, or reservations.
One fun thing I noticed right away was the hotel’s decor. All over the hotel were black and white photographs from the 1950’s-60’s of Disneyland. A lot has changed since then!
Our reservation was for a standard room, so we were pleased to find that it was extra spacious. At this point we were toting around bags of wine from Napa and snacks from San Luis Obispo along with our luggage. We were glad to have the extra space to store everything.
After settling in, I was super excited to walk around the Anaheim area. There were lots of people out and about. After a couple blocks we found our way to the Anaheim Garden Walk, an outdoor retail and dining area. We grabbed a bite for dinner at P.F. Chang’s. As we walked back to our hotel, we caught a glimpse at the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s castle which ended the evening on a nice note.
The next morning we got an early start and had breakfast in the hotel’s Park 55 Café. We were one of their first customers in the door at 6:15am, so there was hardly anyone else there. They serve a simple yet very decent breakfast. I was happy that a breakfast place was open so early at the hotel, and the service was quick. I was anxious to get to the park!
Once we checked out of our hotel and set up our luggage to be stored, we went outside the hotel entrance and waited for the ART bus. It was easy to use, and we didn’t have to wait long. Within 5-10 minutes it dropped us off right at the entrance to the park to start our day of adventure.
Disneyland Park Entrance and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
The moment had arrived and we were finally at Disneyland! Disneyland and California Adventure sit next to each other. I had a slight pang of disappointment as I approached the entrance to both parks: I’d decided not to get the park hopper. I would have loved to have done both parks, but I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough time to see everything. In retrospect, I’m glad we chose to do Disneyland only, and take the time to really enjoy it. I would have hated it if we had rushed the day just to get our moneys’ worth on a park hopper ticket.
Disneyland is the first theme park Walt Disney opened, and the only one he saw completed prior to his passing in 1966. He kept an apartment in the park just above the Fire Station on Main Street, U.S.A. He’d stay there with his wife when visiting the park. Disney would turn on a lamp in the window of his apartment to let guests and cast members know when he was there. Disneyland now keeps that light on (visible in the center window) 24/7 to let everyone know that Walt is still present.
We walked past Main Street, U.S.A. and toward Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. The castles are the centerpieces of most Disney parks, so I was very excited to see Anaheim’s. Upon approaching it, while it was very pretty, I was surprised at how small it was. Later, after doing some research I discovered that it stands at 77 feet tall. That makes it, along with Hong Kong Disney’s recreation, the smallest castle of any of the Disney theme parks across the globe. Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando is more than double it’s size at 189 feet tall.
As we walked past the castle we took a right toward Tomorrowland. We’re not huge fans of WDW’s Space Mountain, so we decided to skip HyperSpace Mountain. The big Tomorrowland attraction is similar to its Orlando counterpart, but with a Star Wars twist.
Pat and I were both excited to see the new Star Wars: Launch Bay, located just past HyperSpace Mountain. There, they have an extensive collection of replicas of the costumes, props, and models from Star Wars: The Force Awakens which we really enjoyed seeing.
Additionally, it was pretty cool to meet the characters at the Launch Bay. We had a bit of a wait to meet Chewbacca. Meeting Kylo Ren was a Disney Visa cardholder perk, so there was virtually no wait time at all. Both characters were very convincing in their portrayals. I always heard that the characters were especially good at Disneyland, but it was cool to witness them in action. You could tell they took the time to study their characters’ specific mannerisms and demeanor to make the encounter special for the park guests.
It had been years since I viewed the attraction of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room (they have a version at WDW). Originally conceived as a restaurant, The Enchanted Tiki Room is a show featuring animatronic birds singing catchy songs above guests’ heads. Disneyland’s version has an outdoor portion to the show to entertain guests who are waiting for the next feature performance. The Polynesian gods come to life similar to the birds. A narrator tells about each one in turn.
The Jungle Cruise had just reopened from being refurbished when we visited. There were some really fun elements in the area where you stand in line: It looked like a base camp with framed butterfly specimens on the walls, and book and maps on a desk. The ride itself was the same pun-filled adventure that Pat and I know and love from WDW.
New Orleans Square
New Orleans Square was amazing to see. This area is unique to Disneyland. Walking around, I couldn’t help but be dazzled by the intricate ironwork in the lamp posts and buildings. While I’ve never been to New Orleans, I felt like I was there. There were balconies just like I’d seen pictures of in the French Quarter, and a jazz band even passed through the streets!
In New Orleans Square is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction. While there were many differences in this version of the ride from what I remember of the WDW one, I really like the Disneyland interpretation. I was surprised at how quickly we got on the boats, which is good because the line had virtually no themed queue. I loved the setting for the ride in New Orleans Square. Once on the boats you pass by the Blue Bayou restaurant, which sets the stage nicely that you are leaving port.
We had reservations for lunch at Blue Bayou. The restaurant is set as if it’s outdoors and under moss-covered tree canopies of a New Orleans mansion. The outdoor setting is only illuminated by candlelight and paper lanterns. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” boats pass by as you dine. It was a fun experience. The food was good too. I had a Montè Cristo sandwich, one of their specialities– it was very filling!
There is a sense of magic to Fantasyland at Disneyland. If some of the lines weren’t so long, I could have been here all day riding the rides in this part of the park– they were among my favorites.
You actually get to go inside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. Inside there is a walk-through attraction that tells the story of Sleeping Beauty and how Briar Rose met Prince Charming. Her story is told through several window displays. The photo below is from outside the entrance.
The It’s a Small World ride is definitely done better at Disneyland. When approaching the beautiful facade of the attraction, I immediately felt gypped by the WDW’s Orlando version of the ride. The facade of the ride in Anaheim, designed by Mary Blair, is so charming. Dubbed the “Glockenspiel,” it’s playfulness is highlighted every fifteen minutes when it comes to life. Doors open and animatronic dolls parade around, singing the signature theme song. While many consider this to be a classic Disney ride, it actually was added to the park in 1966 about ten years after Disneyland opened.
It’s easy to see why Walt Disney considered the Storybook Land Canal Boats as one of his favorite attractions at Disneyland. After boarding a boat and being “swallowed” by Pinnochio’s Monsto the Whale, visitors are transported to a magical world of miniature where they tour homes and castles from their favorite Disney movies. Some highlights include: Anna and Elsa’s castle in Arendelle, Aladdin and Jasmine’s castle, and Gepetto’s workshop set in the Alps. Each castle is so detailed, and the landscaping throughout the ride is rich with color.
Off of Main Street, U.S.A. there is a store called Disneyana. Disneyana is a retail gallery featuring original and limited edition Disney-inspired art. Our favorite spot in the space though was the small space adjacent to one of the gallery rooms in the store. It is a studio for Ink and Paint artists. This was especially exciting to see since I haven’t seen an Ink and Paint artist at work since my time at Walt Disney World’s MGM Studios in the early 1990s. There wasn’t an artist working while while we were there, but a gallery cast member graciously entered the studio and donned whited gloves to show their cel artwork and tell a little about it.
Before hitting the road for our last California stop, we went over to the Downtown Disney area to check it out and have dinner. We were immediately awed by the Lego Store and the large-scale Disney characters that were made out of thousands of the tiny building blocks. There were many Disney favorites both inside and outside the store.
We also enjoyed wandering around the WonderGround Gallery. There they had all sorts of curated Disney-inspired art. This gallery, unlike Disneyana in DL, was geared toward the alternative set, so no Thomas Kinkade in this space. There was also a Disney sketch artists stationed here, doing pencil sketches of the characters on-site.
By this time we were pretty hungry and tired from our long day. We stopped to eat at Tortilla Jo’s. They had great margaritas and chips and salsa. However, we thought their burritos were subpar.
From here we took our rental car back and stayed in Los Angeles before taking an early morning flight back home to Atlanta. It seemed like the trip was all over in a flash!
Disneyland in Summary
It’s hard not to compare Walt Disney World in Orlando to Anaheim’s Disneyland. There are many similarities and differences between rides at both parks, and we were excited to walk around the park pointing them out. But the feeling I get from Disneyland over any other park is the sense of history. This was one man’s dream come true. You can tell the level of detail and decision Walt put in to everything. It must have been amazing to see everyone’s favorite animated features come to life when one walked into the park in 1955. Walt never wanted it to be a museum, and it’s not. It keeps changing and evolving. But the heart of the place, which remains intact, keeps people going back for more.
I hope everyone has enjoyed reading about our California road trip! We had a great time soaking up all that West Coast culture. There were so many highlights. I enjoyed re-living them a bit through writing these posts and sharing pictures of our travels.
Let me know if there was anything we missed and should include on a future trip to California!