Be a a kid at heart at any age!
When I was five, we went to Disneyworld and I barely remember it outside of riding Haunted Mansion the Dumbo ride. Since then, I hadn't set foot in a Disney park for twenty-five years. I'm a bit terrified of roller coasters, and just never had time to go back. Also, Florida is crazy humid and I do poorly in humidity for too long.
And then three years ago I went to Disneyland for the first time ever, and fell in love. It really can be the happiest place on Earth and from the moment I walked onto Main Street with it's quirky, bright small town feel, I was in love. And that was before I had even tried the wonder that is Dole Whip!
Disneyland makes you feel like a kid again, and really, you're never too old to visit.
Some initial quick tips/points:
- I find going off-season is best (Jan-May, Sept-Nov.). It's less crowded and can be less hot. If I had to pick the best month, January and February where it's not cold, but not hot either, and it's not as crowded since school is back in session. April and May can be ideal as well, depending on spring breaks and if you go before Memorial Day.
- Disneyland is much more compact than Disneyworld, meaning Disneyland Park, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney are all in easy enough walking distance. This also means you can get through the parks easily in 1-2 days if you only have a weekend.
- If you're staying off property, hotels closer to the park tend to cost more, so try finding hotels a little further that are serviced by or along the ART bus route. The ART bus is a $5/day shuttle around part of Anaheim that services Disneyland and other attractions. The Hilton by the Anaheim Convention Center is a solid choice depending on budget. Also see if some hotels a mile or so out offer free shuttles of their own.
- Fast passes can take the stress out of a lot of rides. More on that later.
- If you plan of wanting a meal at one of the nicer sit down table service restaurants, try and make reservations in advanced. Disney reservations begin booking 6 months out to the date, and some restaurants like the Blue Bayou inside of Pirates of the Caribbean book up quickly.
- Seriously though, eat at the Blue Bayou sometime. It's such an experience with good food to boot.
- The beignets at Brennan's Jazzy Kitchen, while not Mickey shaped, are the better beignets in the park. They also have chicory coffee, which is delicious.
- The best times to ride popular rides that often have long lines or wait times is first thing when the park opens or at night after the fireworks. After 9-9:30pm, when most families leave, things start quieting down. This is one of my favorite times to do a lot of rides in general because it's also cooler outside with the sun down.
- SUNSCREEN. Non-negotiable. Also, bring a collapsible or some form of water bottle. There are water fountains throughout the park and staying hydrated, even on less warm days, is key.
We stayed at the Doubletree Anaheim Orange County, which is pretty affordable and runs a free shuttle on the hour to the park. Since we got in late Friday night, we ended up sleeping so we could hit the park up in the morning when it opened. Getting to the park Saturday morning, first thing was first: breakfast.
After meandering about what to get, we ended up at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square for Mickey beignets and some mint juleps. If you've never had a beignet, they are a delicious fried dough cloud of joy smothered in powdered sugar. Fantastic with coffee, I chose to go with mint juleps this time because it was already a bit warm in the park and I find these non-alcoholic juleps are pretty refreshing. With the beignets quickly consumed and happily fueled by sugar, we went straight on to the best ride ever.
You can have your Hyperspace or Splash Mountain, for me it's all about Pirates of the Caribbean. I love this ride, from the not-too-awful initial dark drop to the boat ride feel and the incredibly detailed decorations and scenic work. I'm a theater production kid at heart, so I really get excited by all the art direction put into this ride. Pirate history also fascinates me, so this fun adaptation of all that always tickles me. Pro-tip, if you sit more to the front of the boat, you're actually less likely to get a wet butt after the drops, but expect to get a little splashed no matter what and don't get too upset if you do. It's not Splash Mountain super-drenched levels of splash.
Afterwards, we made our way quickly to Adventureland to get fast passes for the Indiana Jones ride. If you want to ride this attraction, save yourself the trouble and get a fast pass. It's one of the most popular rides in the park and even if it means waiting a while to get in, it's worth it to breeze through the line as this also has one of the longest queue spaces in the park. Also, if you aren't a fan of being tossed around too much, sit in one of the two seats more inside of car when you do get on the ride. I made the mistake of sitting on one the seat at the end, and it was just a level below whiplash-inducing.
Other rides I would highly suggest to get fast passes for (if available): Hyperspace Mountain and the Cars ride in California Adventure. Peter Pan too, if they have them, because that is busiest younger kid's ride with wait times of anywhere from 30-45 minutes on a good day. I can understand why it's so popular: you're riding on a mini Jolly Roger over a really cute interpretation of London and the light work for the stars is pretty gorgeous.
You can't visit Disney without getting a Dole Whip. Has to be done. This creamy, fruity, delightful treat is a real highlight and there's a good reason it has such a strong cult following. I like it as the straight up whip, but many of my friends love to do the Dole Whip Float, where it's the soft serve dropped into pineapple juice.
If that's not your cup of tea and are looking for a more substantial snack, the kebobs at Bengal Barbecue are both delicious and cheap at under $5 a kebab. They have two beef options, a chicken one, and a veggie one. These paired with a Tiger Tail roll or other side dish option can make quite the easy, affordable lunch. I'll be doing a separate post on snacking/eating at Disneyland in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.
If it starts getting too warm, as it can in Anaheim during the late spring/summer months, check out the Star Tours exhibition in Tomorrowland. It's dim, nice and cool, and has cushioned benches, making it an ideal place to take a break while checking some cool Star Wars stuff.
After Adventureland it was off to Fantasyland to really let my inner child have fun. I had somehow never ridden Mr. Toad's Wild Ride before, and that was pretty fun. It made me want to find the movie it's based off, The Wind in the Willows. We then rode Pinocchio and Winnie the Pooh because they're easy and really adorable rides, so why not? My boyfriend decided to go off and ride Hyperspace Mountain. I decided to go to Jolly Holiday Bakery.
This photo doesn't really do justice to show how huuuuge the Diamond Celebration cupcake is. The one at the Jolly Holiday is a lemon cake cupcake with a strawberry filling and white chocolate champagne frosting. I never thought I'd say this about a cupcake but...it was way too much frosting. And dense frosting too. I ended up scraping it off to get to the cake itself, which was delicious and the strawberry filling was truly amazing. You can also find classic staples like the Matterhorn Macaroon here and other amazing baked goodies.
Outside of Sleeping Beauty's castle, some baby ducklings and their mama were roaming around happily. It seemed super cutely appropriate that is where they hang out, and sometimes the best things you find in Disney aren't operated by the park itself. But if one wanted to bring something adorable home, you are in the right place, my friend.
Like most places, Disneyland is as much fun as you make it. With so many rides and attractions, things to see, and tasty food options, it can be perfect place to spend a weekend no matter what age.