A lit-up colorful theme park sign that reads "Adventure is Out There"
USA

A Weekend at Disneyland, California Adventure, and the Disneyland Hotel

By the time we got to California on our Disney Global Tour, we were both completely exhausted. Our week in Florida was totally non-stop, and then we flew across the country on Friday evening, only to hit the parks again on Saturday morning. 

A blond woman and a bearded man smile at each other at the Disneyland entrance
Awwww…

Since we took it slowly for the weekend in California, I decided to write one blog post about both parks and the Disneyland Hotel. The whole weekend is sort of a blurry memory between the grueling week in Florida and the amazing experiences we had in Japan afterwards (more on that soon – I promise!). Although it wasn’t exactly a highlight of our trip, we still had a good approach to maximizing our time and not feeling rushed. I think it’s definitely worth sharing!

A red and black stagecoach sits askew on the side of a pathway with trunks on the outside
Frontierland’s abandoned stagecoach

Our best tip for Disneyland and California Adventure is to purchase MaxPass for an extra $15 per person per day in order to utilize FastPasses and PhotoPass on the Disneyland app. It’s absolutely worth it, even if Disney just increased the price from $10. We hardly waited in line at all because we were using this system. The key is to book your next FastPass as soon as you’ve checked in for your current one. You can fit in a lot in one day that way, and you don’t have to waste precious time getting paper FastPasses.

Disneyland 

AJ’s original plan with this trip was to allot two days for every Disneyland park (including the Magic Kingdom) and one day for each of the other parks. But since we’d spent a day in Disneyland California the previous January, technically in the same year, I convinced him that one day would be sufficient this time around. That way we could have an extra sightseeing day in Japan on the next leg of the trip.

A bearded man in a Spartan shirt strikes a joking superhero pose in front of Disneyland's fairytale castle

Between the fact that we’d just been there a few months earlier and the fact that AJ was coming down with a cold, we had a very leisurely day at Disneyland. We had room service breakfast at the hotel and arrived at the gates at about 8:00am, which was easy considering our bodies were still on East Coast time.

We went back to the hotel for lunch and a nap. I also went back to the hotel in the evening while AJ stuck around for the fireworks and the second showing of Fantasmic.

Fireworks above Disneyland's fairytale castle

Main Street USA

People don’t seem to spend a lot of time on Main Street unless they’re picking up merchandise or grabbing some food. The main attractions of Disneyland are obviously the rides, which are elsewhere in the park. It turns out that if you want to get away from the crowds, Main Street is a really good place to do it.

When AJ’s family (who are Canadian, by the way) would go to Disneyland when he was a kid, his dad always loved (and still does love) going to see Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which is near the front entrance of the park. AJ and I stopped in sometime in the afternoon, since I had never seen it. Its animatronics are quite outdated, but it has a certain charm nonetheless. Plus, although our country is currently incredibly politically divided, I think most Americans would agree that it’s hard not to get a rush of patriotic sentiment from listening to an Abraham Lincoln speech. The theatre is air conditioned, and there was hardly anyone there when we saw it. It was a nice little break in the day.

A replica of the US Capitol building with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the backgroung
The lobby display at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

After catching the showing of Mr. Lincoln, we saw a six-piece band playing as we strolled along Main Street again. We stopped to listen for a few minutes. They were fantastic to watch as well as listen to. It’s too bad there were only about four other people who stopped to enjoy the show.

In the late afternoon, we watched the Pixar Parade, at which point the area got more crowded. It was cute, and I think something that little kids would really enjoy. All of the favorite Pixar characters were there, including the Toy Story and Inside Out crews. There’s a water soaker element to that parade that we were not looking forward to, since it actually wasn’t that hot, but we managed to avoid getting too wet. We wished the floats were spaced closer together as well.

Fantasyland

We headed to Fantasyland as soon as we arrived at the park and went straight into the queue for Peter Pan’s Flight. There was already a bit of a line formed, so we had some time to check out the Disney Play App. We had fun with that. There’s a Tinker Bell lantern in the queue that you can activate from the app, and there’s also a treasure hunt of sorts. It definitely kept us occupied.

After checking Peter Pan off the day’s list, we did some of the other rides in Fantasyland, including Alice in Wonderland, which we hadn’t gotten to do in January. I’m pretty sure we went on Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride again as well. The Matterhorn Bobsleds were, tragically, closed for refurbishment at that time.  

A blond woman and a bearded man pose inside an oversized pink teacup

Finally, no trip to any Disney park is complete for me without at least one go on “it’s a small world.” It was 4-year-old Katie’s absolute favorite. The California version of this ride has been updated to include Disney characters. “Small world” purists may not like this, but I actually enjoy finding all of the characters, like an Easter egg hunt.

Fantasyland in California definitely has Fantasyland in Florida beat. There are so many more rides and things to do in the California version. I wonder why Disney did that.

Tomorrowland

We were in and out of Tomorrowland a few times throughout the day. Early on, we checked out Space Mountain, which I like better than the Florida version. The differences in theming and the timing of certain sound effects make it a much better experience, in my opinion.

Late in the day, we did Autopia, since we didn’t get a chance to check it out in January. It was our longest wait of the whole day but still not too bad. The best part about this ride is watching the enjoyment of the little kids who are “driving” while their parent sits in the passenger seat. It’s really cute. 

A futuristic statue of various connected planets
The crowd in Tomorrowland

We tried Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters twice – once in the morning and once in the evening. AJ kicked my butt both times, although my score the second time was slightly less abysmal. Luckily I had a few chances at redemption later on in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Paris.

We didn’t feel the need to go on Star Tours that day, having gone in January at Disneyland and a couple of times in Florida a few days prior. We also didn’t go on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, because – what can I say? – we just didn’t feel like it. 

Adventureland

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I really don’t like the Jungle Cruise ride. In California, since we’d gone on it in January, I managed to avoid going on it altogether. We also skipped the Tiki Room and got our Dole Whip at the hotel – more on that below. 

So, the only thing we really did in Adventureland was the Indiana Jones Adventure. In fact, we actually got stuck on Indiana Jones Adventure! The ride broke down when our ride vehicle was just around the corner from the exit. We sat there for, I’m guessing, a good 20 minutes. When they finally got the ride moving again, the cast member supervising load-in and load-out of guests told us we could go around again if we wanted. I had my “no thanks” answer all ready to go, but AJ shouted “OKAY!” before I had a chance to say anything. So off we went again… Luckily, we didn’t get stuck the second time!

Frontierland

We’d watched the show at the Golden Horseshoe Stage and ridden the Mark Twain Riverboat back in January. We’d also seen Fantasmic, as I mentioned above, and AJ stayed late that night to see it again. I had zero desire to see Fantasmic again after having experienced the extreme sensory overload once in January.

The thing that makes Frontierland special to me is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I just love that ride. It’s the wildest ride in the wilderness! Naturally, we got a FastPass for that one.

A large red stone theme park "mountain"
Big Thunder Mountain

Oh, and I got a churro. 🙂

A blond woman with stars and stripes Minnie ears smiles while holding a churro
Churro time!

Critter Country

Since we’d gone on the Winnie the Pooh ride in Florida, we didn’t feel the need to ride it in California. That means the only thing really left to us in tiny Critter Country was Splash Mountain. We waited until afternoon to make our FastPass reservation for that one. It’s no fun trying to dry off when it’s a bit chilly.

Mickey’s Toon Town

This part of the park is generally oriented toward younger kids, with an interactive fun-house atmosphere. We actually didn’t spend any time here that day, although we later visited Toon Town in Japan.

New Orleans Square

We did pretty much everything there is to do in New Orleans Square. Pirates of the Caribbean is just required, no matter how many times you’ve been on it. Haunted Mansion is pretty much the same. They’re both classics. The one that’s a little too classic for my taste is the Disneyland Railroad. It’s slow, and the animatronics are pretty hokey. I needed excitement and excellence to keep me awake!

A large mansion-like structure with lattices balustrades and a large line of people
The Haunted Mansion

We ate at the Blue Bayou for dinner, having made a reservation in advance. We really liked our table’s location. It was off to the side near the kitchen, so we had a good view of the Pirates ride boats going by and also the whole dining room area. After getting some crab hush puppies (watch out, they’re spicy!) for an appetizer, AJ had the ribeye, and I had the veggie pasta. 

An orange and teal sign that reads "Blue Bayou Restaurant" and a building with latticed balustrades in the background

I only lasted for one more ride after dinner, and went back at the hotel for my East Coast bedtime.

A dark dining room full of people with colorful lanterns overhead
The dining room of the Blue Bayou

California Adventure

We were up bright and early again on our second day in California. AJ had a full-blown cold by that point, which thankfully only lasted for the one day.

I was really looking forward to California Adventure, since I’d never been there before. It did not disappoint. Despite needing to go back to the hotel to nap in the afternoon again, we had a really good day. 

We went on three rides in the first hour (not too shabby!), and then AJ’s niece, Afton, joined us for most of the day. We enjoyed having company again!

A brunette young woman with glasses looks off to the side with a smile
Afton!

Even when we backtracked to redo some of the rides that Afton had missed, we were still able to go on almost all the rides we wanted to go on by noon. It wasn’t busy at all, especially in the morning. This definitely has the potential to be a half-day park, depending on the crowds.

Buena Vista Street

Since we were still in need of breakfast after Afton came to the park (see hotel section below for more info on that snafu), I looked on the app for a bakery-type place to have breakfast. I came across Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe on Buena Vista Street. Ooo, that sounds interesting, I thought. We made our way there in search of some good sustenance.

Yeah, it’s just Starbucks. They don’t call it Starbucks, because it’s Disney. But really, it’s plain ol’ Starbucks, except the baristas wear Disnified uniforms.

Anyway, I got a breakfast sandwich and tea (of course), while AJ ordered a yogurt parfait. Thanks, Starbucks! We can always count on you.

Hollywood Land

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is the re-themed Tower of Terror ride in California. I’ve never seen the movie, so the new theming was a little lost on me. It’s still the same ride, though. AJ commented on how the outside of it sticks out like a sore thumb even more than the old version. We ended up going on it twice – once in the first hour we were there, and again after Afton had joined us.

A large theme park tower with futuristic alien symbols and t-shaped architecture
This tower is really hard to miss.

We went on Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue! as well. Apparently ending the ride title with an exclamation point is the thing to do in Hollywood Land. Monsters, Inc. was one of the movies that I caught up on prior to the trip, so I actually knew what was going on. This ride is a regular dark ride – when I first wrote about it, I thought it was an interactive Astro Blasters-type ride, but AJ reminded me that the interactive Monsters, Inc. ride was actually in Tokyo. My memories are totally blurred together.

A blond woman strikes a glamorous pose on a fake theme park Hollywood backlot
#bevel

In the afternoon, after we’d done most of our rides for the day, we also dropped in to see Frozen – Live at the Hyperion. I thought it was very well done. They used projections very intelligently to indicate changes in place and time. There was also a super clever Olaf rig, where the actor playing him was a puppeteer rather than wearing a full costume. The singing and acting were quite good as well. Hollywood Studios set the bar pretty low, I admit, but I was pretty impressed with this show. The only downside to be aware of is that it’s over an hour long. AJ, busy fighting his cold, slept through most of it.

“[a] bug’s land”

This was an area for little kids, and we didn’t do anything there other than pass through. It’s now completely closed and being turned into a Marvel land.

Cars Land

As soon as we were through the gates in the morning, we headed straight for Radiator Springs Racers. Cars was not one of the movies I caught up on to prepare for the trip, but I enjoyed the ride nonetheless. It’s one of those rides that offers a slightly different experience depending on which side of the line you end up on. Guests in two different ride vehicles “race” against each other. Through perspective and some Disney magic, everybody in both cars thinks they’ve won the race at the end. We went back to do it again once Afton joined us.

Tourists walk down a paved walkway in a theme park
The morning rush to Radiator Springs

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is similar to the Flying Saucers ride in Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios in Florida. Intersecting circular tracks whip the ride vehicles round and round. Hope you didn’t just eat!

Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters was our first trackless ride of the trip, meaning the ride vehicles are guided by GPS and other technology, rather than staying on a track. There’s a rotating soundtrack, so you can get new experiences if you go on it multiple times. The cars basically do choreography to the song that’s playing. It’s fun to watch as well as ride, and you will probably watch it several times while you’re in the queue.

Theme park ride vehicles that look like cartoon cars
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

We also stopped for popcorn in Cars Land for a mid-morning snack. One can never have too much popcorn on a Disney trip. That was our motto!

Grizzly Peak

We got FastPasses for both Grizzly River Run and Soarin’ Around the World, both located in Grizzly Peak.

Grizzly River Run is a raft ride where roughly eight guests sit in a circular raft. Depending on where you’re sitting and how the raft happens to spin, you might not get wet at all, or you might get drenched. Disney has a few of these types of rides at the various parks. While it can be nice to cool down on a hot day, they’re really not my favorite rides. I found that one good tip is to keep your feet up on the center console to avoid the pooling water at the bottom of the raft. Also, wearing a poncho doesn’t help all that much. The ride was down quite a bit throughout the day. They must have been having a lot of technical difficulties.

A large, circular theme park raft floats down rocky rapids
Grizzly River Run (when it was actually running)

Soarin’ became one of my favorites as the trip went on. I typically don’t like heights, but I always felt secure enough in the seat that it didn’t bother me too much. It felt so good to take the pressure off of my sore-in’ feet (ha.) when the ride lifted into the air. As with the same ride at Epcot, we tried to sit in the middle seats of the middle row to avoid screen distortion.

Pacific Wharf

We ate both lunch and dinner at Pacific Wharf, having not made any special reservations for California Adventure.

Lunch was at the Pacific Wharf Cafe, with their famous sourdough bread. AJ and Afton both had soup with sourdough bread bowls, while I had a turkey sandwich on sourdough.

A sourdough bread bowl with a creamy soup inside
Doesn’t that bread look good?

For dinner, we stopped at the nearby Lucky Fortune Cookery. There, you can order different stir-fry and sauce combinations. AJ and I both had the thai curry rice bowl. No complaints here! It even had veggies!

A paper bowl with rice, broccoli, chicken, carrots, and yellow sauce
Mmm… veggies…

We also found a spot for the Paint the Night parade somewhere near Pacific Wharf. AJ and I were so exhausted that we just sat and waited for over an hour while Afton went on more rides. The parade was our favorite up to that point on the trip. All of the colorful floats were pretty close together, making the parade an endurable length. The creativity of incorporating colorful lights into as many floats and costumes as possible is pretty cool. The canned, repetitive pop music that went along with it got on my nerves, though.

Three women in elaborate light-up costumes walk in a nighttime parade
Paint the Night’s dazzling lights

Paradise Gardens Park

We didn’t venture over to Paradise Gardens really at all. We just weren’t too interested in the rides there!

Pixar Pier

I understand from talking to AJ that some people really miss Paradise Pier, which was Pixar Pier’s predecessor, although he thinks the re-theming was a great choice. I thought it was awesome too. I tend to really like the Pixar movies that I see, and I thought that the way Disney had incorporated the different films into the theming was charming.

A blond woman and a bearded man take a selfie with a Mickey Mouse ferris wheel in the background

Toy Story Midway Mania! (there’s that exclamation point again) was one of my absolute favorites in Florida. It was just as fun, if not more so, in California. It was one of our first three rides in the morning, and we did it again later in the day. If you’re tired, though, it tends to follow the law of diminishing returns. You won’t necessarily get better at it the more times you ride.

The Incredicoaster was just a really great roller coaster. Thrilling, but not too much, with just the right amount of twists and turns. I hadn’t seen The Incredibles 2 yet at the time, but, looking back, the ride makes more sense if you have. It seemed to be down a fair bit, but we still managed to get on it once.

A section of roller coaster tracks covered in a red awning with a sign that reads "Pixar Pier"
A section of the Incredicoaster

Disneyland Hotel

I would have loved to have written a full guide about this hotel, but we just didn’t spend enough time there to be able to do that. We didn’t get to use any of the amenities, other than the lobby gift shop.

I will say that of all the hotels we stayed at on the Global Tour, this one was definitely the least impressive. The theming was pretty generalized and, as AJ put it, campy. Unlike Wilderness Lodge, where the theming was subtle and cohesive, this hotel’s decorations were garish. There were light-up fireworks that played music on the dingy, flaking leather headboard, a version of Alice’s Tea Cups in the lobby, and Mickey hands holding up the light fixtures in the bathroom.

A hotel bed with light up fireworks over the headboard and a pillow that says "a dream is a wish your heart makes"
Let’s get this hotel refurbished!

Each tower of the hotel was named after a different section of the park and kind of themed to go along with it. For example, we stayed in Adventure Tower, named after Adventureland. Luckily for us, Adventure Tower is conveniently located to Downtown Disney.

A blue sign with an elephant that says "adventure tower"

We ordered room service for breakfast each day, and on the second day, it didn’t arrive. It turns out they never came to take the order tag off of our door, even though we’d hung it up well before their listed cut-off time. Tired Katie + no food = cranky Katie. Luckily there was Starbucks – see above.

Our room overlooked the pool, which was good as far as views go. However, we could hear the music playing poolside in our room, and they seemed to play it at all hours of the day and night. I know that when my jet lag woke me up around 5:30am on the second morning there, I could hear it playing. We’re not sure if they ever actually turned it off. Good thing we were too tired for that to keep us awake!

The pool itself looked nice enough and even had a slide for the kids. Overlooking it is the famous Trader Sam’s with the bar that has different special effects based on which drink you order. Unfortunately, the inside is really small. We tried to go there for lunch on our first day, but we didn’t have any luck finding a seat. We ended up at Tangueroa Terrace, which has since undergone a refurbishment, instead. It was about as “meh” as lunch can get. AJ had a burger. I had a shrimp salad that was advertised as having rice noodles. They turned out to be rice noodles of the styrofoam variety. Yucky. 

A salad in a green bowl with shrimp and rice noodles that look like styrofoam
Styrofoam. I mean, rice noodles…

The one absolutely wonderful thing about the Disneyland Hotel was the kindness of the manager on duty when we checked in, Nati. AJ was in the habit of telling any and every Disney employee about our Global Tour, mostly in the hopes of getting upgrades, which we hardly ever got, at least not because of that. When he was telling Nati about it, he jokingly said, “Any way we can get upgraded to the Walt Disney Suite?” She was super enthusiastic about our trip and responded that if there wasn’t someone already staying there, she totally would have upgraded us. The next day, we received a lovely tray of chocolate-covered strawberries, milk, cookies, and assorted fruit with a sweet note from her wishing us well on our travels. It was so unnecessary but really nice all the same.

A room service cart with a fruit bowl, two glasses of milk, and a platter of cookies and chocolate covered strawberries
Nati’s wonderful gift to us

The other great feature that we found there was that The Coffee House served Dole Whip. There was even the option to add rum to your Dole Whip float! We just got the regular ones though. It looks like they might have moved the the Dole Whips to Tangueroa Terrace after its makeover. But the rum is still there to be had. I’m going to have to try that next time.

A woman holds up two tropical-looking ice cream floats
Dole Whip is just the best.

Overall, the Disneyland Hotel is just old and in desperate need of some repairs and upgrades. I have no doubt that this will eventually happen. 

AJ’s been itching to get back to California since he heard that the new Star Wars Land has turned Disneyland into a ghost town. We might be making a trip again soon to check in out…

A bearded man stares off into the distance while a blond woman sleeps on his shoulder
The reality of the Disney trip 🙂
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