There once was a little girl.
Her name was Nicole and she was a child of the ’70s in regional Australia.
She grew up on a diet of bike riding, Vegemite on white bread sandwiches and two channels on a black and white TV.
Her grandparents travelled the world and so it would come to pass that they would arrive home from mysterious far-flung places with talk of things a nine-year-old mind could barely attempt to process.
She had help processing one of those places thanks to the aforementioned black and white TV because every Sunday night after dinner and a bath she would sit down on the baby-poo-coloured carpeted floor and watch the Wonderful World of Disney.
Or, if she was really lucky, she got to see The Mickey Mouse Club on TV when visiting her mum in the big smoke (they had four TV channels there!).
To this little girl, those mouse ears, that music, and all those “lands” represented the big, wide world out there beyond her own.
From that day on she hoped and wished that one day she too would ride the Tea Cups, travel through It’s a Small World and see Tomorrow Land.
This week, that little girl hoped and wished no longer.
That little girl was ME.
My son is seven – so just a little younger than I was when I first started dreaming of this trip.
I don’t think he realises how lucky he is right now.
What I do know is that he was a perfect age for our Disneyland adventure.
You need stamina to tackle this not-so-small world. Yes, you do. If he had been any younger, I’m not sure we would have got to do as much as we did over two days.
Let’s paint a little picture, shall we?
There is not one but two theme parks in the Disneyland California precinct: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.
Disneyland Park is the original Disneyland. You’ll find all the “lands”, the castle, the fireworks and the street parade with new rides and attractions thrown in for those in your group not as nostalgic as me.
Disney California Adventure opened in 2001. And it’s here you’ll find some of the newer Disney move franchises represented, the newest of which is Cars Land, aka heaven for a seven-year-old boy whose first DVD was that very movie.
Oh, and I know you want more: between the two parks is Downtown Disney District, a street shopping mall filled with shops, restaurants and cafes (just quietly, I may have shopped at the Sephora in Downtown Disney three times in two days … shhh … blog post coming). This area doesn’t require a ticket to access.
Are you getting a picture of the stamina required for a Disneyland visit?
Let me add to that for you. In summer, the parks open at 8am and do not close until 11pm. Yep, I know. That’s a long day. A day that requires strategy, particularly if you are travelling with young children.
How did we do Disneyland?
- We had a two-day Park Hopper pass* that gave us access to come and go from both parks over those days and nights.
- We stayed nearby in a hotel with a regular shuttle service. Most hotels offer this if you’re not staying onsite. Our travel agent booked the Hyatt Orange County for us ($150 a night) and we can highly recommend it.
- We broke up the day by spending time in the morning and early afternoon at the parks, then returning early evening for dinner in Downtown Disney District before putting in another session in the parks. This not only gave us a chance to recharge but meant we avoided being in ride queues in the hottest part of the day.
- We made full use of the free MouseWait app to check on wait times on rides, what was coming up next in terms of shows and appearances and also just finding our way using the map function (particularly useful at night when pathways are not so well lit).
- We tended to operate on two meals a day: brunch and early dinner. This worked well for us and maximising our time in the parks.
My Disneyland highlights
The fireworks: We saw them both nights, the first night from the end of Main Street; the second night up close in Fantasyland. Spectacular on both counts.
The parade: Mr 7 could not understand why I needed to stop and watch the parade. He said the same about Sleeping Beauty’s castle. He is a boy. What more can I say?
Cars Land: The newest attraction did not disappoint Mr 7 at all. Even the 100 minute wait that turned into 60 minutes for the Radiator Springs ride did not detract.
California Screamin’: In our books a theme park visit is not complete without a roller coaster ride and this one is one of the best.
Jedi Knight training: Not sure who was more excited about Mr 7 being selected for Jedi Knight training – Mr 7 or Mr SY. Both are Star Wars nuts.
The Tea Cups: Nostalgia trip plus 1000. Those coloured lanterns above the cups look extra special at night too.
Rainforest Cafe: We ate here on the second night in Downtown Disney. It’s a themed restaurant chain which kind of adds to the whole Disney experience. Mr 7 loved the “thunderstorm” that happened ever 25 minutes. Mr SY loved the CoronaRitas. Yes, it is as you think … a Corona in a margarita.
So, what would we do differently?
Probably invest in FastPasses. These magical passes would be a must if you’re trying to do Disneyland in one day. You get priority access to key rides at certain times of the day, jumping the queue and avoiding some particularly long wait times.
Having said that, Disney has its queue system down pat. You generally cannot see how long the queue is and most queues tend to wind around interesting things to look at with plenty of shade along the way.
Will we be back?
It’s a Small World after all
Have you visited Disneyland? What was the highlight for you? Are you old enough to remember the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights?
* Disney Australia kindly organised the Park Hopper passes for us. Prices for park entry start from $81 for a child (aged 3-9) visiting one park on one day. More details here.