The Happiest Place on Earth
There is a reason why Disneyland is truly “the Happiest Place on Earth.” First and foremost, it is a testament to the brilliance of Walt Disney, whose vision not only laid the very streets of this park, but also created the theme park industry we know today. Situated in the beautiful climate that is Southern California, it simply seems like a world of sunshine. Add another theme park—Disney California Adventure, a wonderful shopping district—Downtown Disney, and some beautiful hotels, it’s not just the Happiest Place on Earth, it may be the Happiest Resort on Earth.
Still, people who have first visited many of the other Disney parks around the world often scratch their heads when they finally enter these gates. To say it’s intimate seems too kind to such visitors. They wonder how could this park be so tiny compared to mammoth parks like the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and even the brand new Shanghai Disneyland.
But make no mistake about it. There is no park that punches more magic per square foot than Disneyland. Interestingly, combined with its sister park, Disney California Adventure, it actually hosts more ride attractions than all four parks at Walt Disney World. And some of those attractions like Indiana Jones Adventure and Radiator Springs Racers are just jaw dropping. Moreover those two attractions may pale compared to the new attractions coming to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019.
Despite its smaller size, there are some real advantages that come with being compact. For one thing, moving from one park to the other is simply a walk across a plaza. Flanking both of those parks is Downtown Disney, making an evening of dining, shopping and entertainment just a few steps away. Downtown Disney also serves to connect the parks to its hotels—three at this time—with a new major hotel on its way.
Our guide to Disneyland is dedicated to anyone who is thinking about making a trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth”. We especially focus on helping those who have already visited Walt Disney World make sense of this experience. If you love all things Disney but have never been to Disneyland, then you don’t understand all things Disney.
Navigating a Disneyland Vacation
A word about getting there—California freeways compete against Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for getting to and from. If you’re flying into LAX or John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, consider taking a shuttle bus to and from the resort, and just dropping the idea of renting a car. You definitely won’t need it if you’re staying on property—there’s even a monorail you can take right into the heart of Tomorrowland. But if you can’t afford those hotels, consider the Disney Good Neighbor hotels that surround the resort from all directions. Many are simply a stroll away, while others connect you to the resort via the ART (Anaheim Resort Transportation).
Should you drive a car, know that there are two options. One is their major parking structure known as Mickey and Friends. It’s enormous—remember where you parked your car! From there you pass through security and board trams to Downtown Disney. Some who don’t want to unload a stroller will follow signs to Downtown Disney where they will pass through security there, and then move all the way through Downtown Disney to get to the parks. It’s a haul, but there is an option when parking there.
The second parking option becomes a site located off of Harbor Boulevard South of Katella. It’s known as the Toy Story Lot. There you take shuttles into the plaza area, where you then pass security. Which of the two is the better? It’s a toss up, really. Security can be enormously long in the mornings at the parking structure. Getting on a bus at the end of the evening can be daunting when returning to Toy Story Lot, not that it’s a whole lot better boarding a tram. The truth is that arriving very early or very late helps you to avoid the crowds getting in. Leaving before the fireworks, Fantasmic and/or World of Color shows finish will help unless you choose to close out the park and Downtown Disney. You make the call.
How long should you spend at The Disneyland Resort? A long weekend can give you the time you need to enjoy. Add the beach, Hollywood and other theme parks like Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios, and you’ve got an entire week’s stay. California is a great resort destination—did I mention the weather?
Just like Walt Disney World there are FastPasses. Only they approach it somewhat differently. You can’t make reservations prior to your day of visit. But once you’re in the park, you’re free to get those FastPasses one right after the other. You may take advantage of MaxPass, which allows you to not only make FastPass reservations online without having to head over to the attraction, but you can also download photos taken via PhotoPass. By the way, there aren’t as many FastPass attractions per park. But unlike the Magic Kingdom where FastPasses are used on character greeting experiences and attractions not necessitating such (yes…we’re talking about you Mickey’s PhilarMagic), the attractions utilizing FastPasses really are great attractions worth getting one.
What else? Did I mention the weather? It’s weather enjoyed by millions of Californians. And over a million of those Californians love Disneyland so much they take out annual passes. There are several annual pass options to choose from, and they come with a variety of block out dates. What that means to the average visitor is that the parks may be crowded on days you wouldn’t expect. The answer to that uncertainty is simply get there first thing in the morning, take a break at the hotel pool in the afternoon (did I mention the weather?), then head back in the evening.
Oh…and because of that weather, don’t hesitate to come during the winter months—especially at Christmas, where they celebrate the holidays like no others. Halloween is fantastic as well—don’t miss it. And best of all—summer may be warm—even hot—but it’s not nearly as humid as Florida. That’s right—if it’s July and you’re making a choice between California and Florida with its wet heat, thunderstorms and potential hurricane forecasts—choose California.