Monday, September 16, 2013

Disneyland in a Day

Some people jet off to Vegas for the weekend. Francis and I, when faced with a pile of frequent flyer miles and a limited number of "saver" cities, decide to tackle Disneyland in one day for our first wedding anniversary. We flew out Friday night, and spent 14 hours of Saturday running back and forth between Disneyland, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney. Park Hopper is the way to go if you only have one day!

I wouldn't recommend trying this with children, but two adults can definitely do this in one day, especially if you have normal Southern California weather and are used to walking a lot. We happened to be there on a day that was 100 degrees, but since we just left a St Louis heat wave, it felt like mid-80s to us. Still, that is plenty hot, so we were careful to stay hydrated, and we used it as an excuse for frequent breaks & snacks!

My biggest regret is that I remembered my camera but left the memory card in the computer at home, so I had to rely on my HTC One. I'm trying to fool you with this format. Is it working?

My second biggest regret is not reading the TripAdvisor reviews for the hotel I booked. Word to the wise: The second floor rooms at the Harbor Blvd Howard Johnson have skylights. SKYLIGHTS. IN  A HOTEL ROOM.

So, I was up and bugging Francis at 6:30 am because of the skylights. Tip #1: Show up at the park at 8:30 and go straight to the Fastpass line for Radiator Springs Racers. You will hear a lot of hype about Cars Land and RSR, and you will be skeptical. How can a ride be so great that the line is 75+ minutes all day? Because it's like a life size slot car track. Get in line, get the Fastpass, thank us later. Then get yourself a chicken tamale & scrambled eggs at Flo's V-8 Cafe.

Trivia: Have you ever wondered how Disney comes up with the standby ride times you see at the beginning of the queue? They have these red plastic cards on lanyards that are swiped by a cast member at the entrance to the queue, who then hands it to a rider to carry through the line. The rider then hands it to the cast member at the loading point.

After our first ride on Radiator Springs Racers, we hovered in A Bug's Land until the RSR Fastpass was spitting out 8pm return tickets, so we could ride again at night. IT IS THAT AWESOME. Bug's Land is pretty cool, too. I like how forced perspective makes you feel like you are shrinking as you walk into that section of the park.

Since we wanted to come back at night to see CarsLand all lit up in neon, and ride Radiator Springs Racers again, we made short work of California Adventure. We did a walk through of Bug's Land, which is geared towards small children, skipped MuppetVision 3D but took advantage of walk-on Soarin' over Calilfornia, watched Grizzly River Run but decided not to do a water ride so early in the day. My two favorite parts of California Adventure (besides CarsLand) were the Wilderness Explorer Camp (think Russell from Up), which is like a giant tree house, and Paradise Pier, which is like Coney Island, with a HUGE roller coaster called California Screamin'. If you stay at the Grand Californian hotel, you can walk right into this park!

Rumor has it that Walt Disney said he would never have a Ferris wheel in his park. Does Mickey's Fun Wheel couns, since the cars slide around? See how some of the gondolas are in the center in this picture? There are actually two lines for this ride, one for moving cars and one for stationary cars. Francis's reaction was basically, "What is this sorcery?" so it was a stationary car for us, and we made some new friends. After this ride, it was time for our first snack: corn dogs at the Corn Dog Castle. If you're into hot links, they also have hot link corn dogs! These are corn dogs big enough to be a meal, and they come with chips or apple slices. Healthy, right?

After our snack, we made our first run through Disneyland Park. This is where things get hazy, because we took a break for a couple hours in the heat of the day. We started with the art gallery at the front of the park, got our hats (Dumbo for Francis and one of the Minnie Year of the Ear headbands for me) and then... we saw Sleeping Beauty's Castle. It's so wee! You can't even see it behind us in this picture! If you have only been to Disneyland and have never seen Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World, I want to give you a hug and then put you on a plane. I will say this, the Sleeping Beauty dioramas inside the castle are probably one of my favorite things in the whole park.

Our first rides at Disneyland were the Matterhorn bobsleds, Mr Toad's Wild Ride, and Snow White's Scary Adventures. Those were all priorities for me because the Matterhorn is probably more iconic (and bigger) than the castle, Mr Toad is a 1955 original ride, and Snow White is an old favorite that is no longer at WDW.

Here's where I insert a lot of blah blah blah because it was baking hot, a lot of the lines are out in the sun, and we had already walked about 7 miles by 1pm. I was wilting, so after we took a Dole Whip break, we moseyed over to Downtown Disney to do some shopping and had some margaritas and guacamole at Tortilla Jo's. This turned out to be a good plan. By the time we went back over to Disneyland at 3pm, we still had 8 hours of park time left, but the temperature had dropped perceptibly and we were able to stand in more lines. Still, we started with the train while we digested those margaritas. I love how the train goes around the perimeter of the park, and the seats face in so you never look outside the park. Ingenious!

Submarines with Nemo was one I was really looking forward to, because this is one of the only rides I remember from my first trip to WDW when I was 8 (as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). This is one thing I loved about Disneyland: Upcycling old rides, and getting creative with limited space. When the Pirates line was clogging up the walkways, they dug a hole for the queue and built a bridge over it!

One thing that surprised us is that the "upcycling"and limited space makes Disneyland much less accessible than Walt Disney World. According to the Fitbit, we averaged 25,000 steps a day and 3-5 flights of stairs at WDW. A flight is any 10' increase in elevation, so hills count. At Disneyland, 30,000 steps and 31 flights! Submarine Voyage even has a sign that says there is a "wheelchair accessible alternate experience", though I can't imagine what that could be. Does anyone know?

We rode a few more rides and then it was time to head BACK to California Adventure to check out Cars Land in the dark! It was just as cool as I'd heard! I was glad that Francis had me watch Cars before this trip, because it really made me appreciate all the details that went into making a life size version of Radiator Springs. As usual, Disney did some cross over merch, so we got Luigi & Guido as C-3PO & R2-D2, to go with our Bunsen & Beaker C-3PO & R2-D2.

One of the most fun (and mystifying!) parts of Cars Land is the character meet and greets. Lightening McQueen, Mater, and Red the Firetruck take turns doing photo ops, and they drive from somewhere near Radiator Springs Racers to the carport at the Cozy Cone with Cast Member escort walking along side. As you can see here, the window is completely opaque. The eyes move, and you can't see through the pupil. No mesh, no mirror, no holes, nothing. Of course, the Disney line is that these are the real characters, not actors, so they aren't telling. I've since learned the answer but I'll let you guess! Now, once more to Disneyland to wrap up the day!

This was actually the only part of the day where I wish I'd had some advice, so I'll pass on what I learned. We planned to ride the the Fantasyland rides we had skipped earlier, like Small World, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland, and especially Storybook Canals because I had no idea that ride even existed in 2013. First we got caught up in Fantasmic crowds & got lost trying to get around them, and then we found that most of Fantasyland shuts down for the fireworks. This was another strange experience for us, as Fantasmic is in the Rivers of America, and the fireworks were kind of like Wishes but it seemed like a lot of the projections were on Small World. I know now that it's best to just plan to watch Fantasmic, World of Color, and the fireworks, so I'd love to hear your best viewing tips!


  1. Hmm... I'm thinking the inside of the Cars frame is a go-cart, and on the inside it's a Henson-style anamatronic with screens and robotic stuff to control the eyes. I heard that's how he did the King in Fraggle Rock.