My family spent last week at the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. It’s been several years since we made the trek south. The drive takes a minimum of 6 hours from our home, but can take much longer depending on the dreaded L.A. traffic. After three magical days, we came home. Leaving the park is always bittersweet. Now I am going through Disneyland withdrawals.
I know people have varying feelings towards all that is Disney. I saw people on this trip who have way more dedication to the brand than I do. I’m talking full sleeve tattoos of Disney characters and movie scenes, owning multiple mouse ears to go with with each outfit, wearing 1000 trading pins on your lanyard, baseball cap, and clothing, and going to the Park on a weekly basis. Okay, I’d probably go weekly if I had the time and money, but the rest of those people are a little obsessed.
There are other people who just don’t see the joy of standing in long lines, buying overpriced food, and dodging strollers and toddlers at every turn. Not me. I didn’t mind the wait to ride the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride. It was totally worth it. And I voluntarily spend way too much on churros without any complaining. The strollers got to me after a few days. I have to admit was really getting sick of being run over by overtired parents and their over-sugared and over-excited offspring. But, hey, it’s part of the price you pay to be in the Happiest Place of Earth.
I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. My kids are in their teens now, so many of the slower rides are off the list. The ones that still make it are the best of the best. Some things you never grow out of.
- Churros – I have yet to find a churro anywhere else on the planet that can compare to those at Disneyland. If you know of some, please share your information with me. I make sure to get my minimum of one churro a day in while visiting the parks.
- Grilled Asparagus Wrapped in Bacon – So many visitors don’t know about this one. Unlike the churro stands that are seemingly everywhere, the only place I know to get grilled asparagus wrapped in bacon is the Bengal Barbecue in Adventure Land. It’s across the way from the Jungle Cruise. The service is fast and the food is yummy.
- Dole Whip – I like ice cream as much as the next person, but Dole Whips are much more refreshing. It can get really hot in Anaheim. Do your self a favor and buy a Dole Whip and then sit in the shade and watch the show at the Tiki Room.
- Caramel Apples – Sure, you can get caramel apples everywhere, but do they have marshmallow ears? We stood and watched some talented ladies make Mickey Mouse Caramel Apples in a window one afternoon. I waited until a parade on night to buy a couple to share. Hands down, the best apple ever. We brought one home, and even after several days in our refrigerator, it was crispy and juicy when we cut into it.
- Hot Chocolate – I love the hot chocolate at the Carnation Cafe on Main Street in Disneyland. We had breakfast there one morning, which was really good. But the hot cocoa was super delicious. It was creamy and chocolately and just the right temperature.
Favorite Shows, Rides, and Experiences
- Pirates of the Caribbean – This has always been one of my favorites. You get a little wet, but not like on Splash Mountain or Grizzly River Run. It’s nice and cool. And there’s fun music and things to look at. Also, the line moves pretty fast because they can load so many people at a time.
- Guardians of the Galaxy– Mission Breakout – This ride opened about two weeks before we took our trip. Needless to say, the line was LONG. I’m talking 2-3 hours of waiting in line. We used some strategies and cut our wait significantly. Check the tips out below for more information. I will say that it was totally worth the wait. We loved it.
- California Screamin’ – This is a fun roller coaster. It’s not in the big leagues like some of the extreme coasters that are out there, but it’s a good first step for kids who aren’t quite ready for some of the crazier rides. The line moves quickly and the ride is smooth and fast.
- Space Mountain – This is the one my teenagers love the most. I like it too, but the wait can get crazy long if you don’t get a Fast Pass. And it tends to rattle my middle-aged bones a bit too much for comfort. Still, it is fun to fly around in the dark.
- Mad Tea Party – Another classic and one of the best rides ever. Fortunately, spinning doesn’t make me sick. I always feel so sorry for those poor people who can’t spin on rides like this. My mother and I indoctrinated the kids early. We would get the cup spinning so fast, we literally couldn’t see straight when we stumbled off at the end of the ride. Now the kids are older and they still love the tea cups. It wouldn’t be a Disneyland trip without stopping by the Mad Tea Party.
- Main Street Electric Light Parade – This is pure nostalgia for me. It’s been around almost as long as I have. Apparently, it’s being retired (again!) at the end of the summer, so get there while you can. Sure, the music is extremely repetitive, but the light show is so much fun. This trip, we stayed for the 10:45 pm parade on the last day of our trip. I was exhausted. My feet, hips, and knees were killing me. The parade made me smile and cheer regardless.
- The Enchanted Tiki Room – I passed this spot by for years before I discovered the joys of the Tiki Room. Sure, it’s a little corny, but the songs are catchy and the room is a shady place to rest on a hot Southern California Day. The wait isn’t usually long, and you can bring your Dole Whip in with you.
Favorite Shops and Souvenirs
- Silhouette Studio – This little shop is found on Main Street. I have silhouette’s of my kids at different ages. It’s a fun visual souvenir of how they’ve grown up going to Disneyland.
- Main Street Magic Shop – If you have a budding magician or prankster, this is the shop for you. It’s a small space packed with tons of small items. I remember my brother spending a lot of time in this place.
- Smashed Pennies – You’ll need to keep your change purse handy for this one. My son has developed quite a collection hat includes pennies, nickels, dimes, and even quarters. They’re one of the least expensive souvenirs you can buy.
- Pin Traders – I love the variety found at the pen trading stores. There are several of them in the parks and in Downtown Disney. If you’re looking for something with your favorite Disney character on it, try the pin stores. They have something for every one. Just be careful you don’t turn into one of those pin trading junkies. I started with one or two, now I have at least 10. It’s a slippery slope.
- New Orleans Square – I can’t say whether I’ve ever bought something from the shops in New Orleans Square, but it’s so pretty to wander around in. The shops here carry everything from souvenir pirate gear to crystal paperweights to sun parasols to perfume.
- Pack for a variety of weather – I have been to Disneyland in February and it’s been roasting hot. We were there last week, and it was cloudy and drizzling. I’ve been there when it suddenly decides to pour rain. If you don’t want to end up buying a really expensive t shirt or sweater, bring everything with you. When it poured rain, we did invest in some rain ponchos. We stayed and played while other people ran for cover.
- Bring Snacks and Water – I love churros as much as the next person (probably even more), but it’s good to have snacks for when you’re standing in line, sitting at parades, or just when you can’t take another sugary or salty treat. You are allowed to bring snacks and water (no glass bottles) into the park. It’ll save you money, time waiting in lines for food, and possibly your sanity of you have a hungry child with you.
- Use the Fast Pass System – We knew the new Guardians ride had really long wait times. So we made sure to get Fast Passes as early in the day as possible. We also used Fast Passes for the Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain, Toy Story Midway Mania, and the Radiator Springs Racers. This really cut our wait time down. In between using our Fast Passes, we would go on rides that had shorter wait times.
- Go Early, Stay Late – Our first morning, we got to the park just as it opened. We went straight to Guardians and got in line. The line was still almost 90 minutes long, but that’s half the time it was later in the day. By mid afternoon, every one was tired and cranky. That’s the time to either go to a cooler, more relaxed place in the parks (Tiki Room, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, or the Main Street Cinema) or head back to your lodgings for a rest. Come back for the evening fun, the parades, the fireworks, and the parks all lit up. If you have a multi=day pass, you can do both. We had an early day where we just went home and we had a late night too.
- Don’t Make it About the Money – Everything costs too much. You can easily ruin your vacation (and your family’s vacation) by cutting pennies everywhere. Buy the churro. Have the ice cream. Maybe even splurge on some mouse ears. Prepare yourself before you go. There will be sticker shock. Don’t let it turn a fun family trip into a lecture on money growing on trees.
- Take lots of photographs – Doesn’t everyone have a smart phone/phone these days? Take loads of photographs. They don’t cost a thing! There are so many fun things to take pictures of at Disneyland. There’s fun signs, fun characters, fun rides, and really cool architecture too. On my recent trip, we staged a photograph to look like one we took more than a dozen years ago. See below.
Our latest trip to Disneyland was wonderful. Sure, it was crowded and expensive. The weather could have been better. But our family was together for three days of fun and sharing. We made new memories and recalled old ones. Now that my kids are almost grown, I cherish the time we have together. Disneyland is a great place for families. I hope it doesn’t take us too many years to go again.
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