Adult’s Guide to Disneyland (for First Time Visitors)
By Mark & Dawn

Nostalgia can play a big role when visiting Disney. If your family visited Disneyland (or Disney World) when you were a child, it’s likely that returning as a middle-aged adult will be a more gratifying experience. The other family we vacationed with certainly had this nostalgia factor going for them, and I think they got more “magic” out of their time at Disneyland, as they got to re-live their childhoods, while introducing the experience to their children.

The Disneyland Castle

We had fun, too, but Disney California Adventure was more our style (see our DCA review). As children, we grew up near Cedar Point, where the focus is on world class roller coasters. We’ve been conditioned to expect that a long wait in line will be rewarded with a major thrill ride. The slow-moving, dark rides are fine if the lines are very short, but we went on a busy day. For attractions like Pirates or Haunted Mansion, the payoff wasn’t nearly worth the time we spent in line.

Space Mountain
We absolutely loved this ride. It was nonstop thrills, magnified by the fact that you have no idea where you’re headed next at any given time. The fields of stars (LEDs, we hope) fly past in every direction like stars in a hyperspace launch. The ride is much longer than we ever expected it to be, which is a big plus. At the end, bright flashing lights and the sound of explosions put a final grin on our faces as the coaster made its final exit back into the loading area. Unfortunately, we went on a busy day and did not have Fast Passes, so the wait was brutal. There is virtually nothing of interest to look at while standing in line for this ride, making the wait seem a little more boring, compared to rides like Indiana Jones, where the scenery is amazing. If this were an outdoor coaster, it would probably not impress. But not being able to see the track in front of you changes everything and makes this a ride every coaster enthusiast should experience.

Indiana Jones Adventure

Along with Space Mountain and Star Tours, Indiana Jones is the other attraction that you absolutely must experience while at Disneyland. It’s took 100 million dollars and 7 years to complete. As you wait in line, you are surrounded by statues, ruins, and jungle landscape. There is plenty to look at, and even some things you can interact with.

Indiana Jones Adventure

As you get closer to the ride, the line moves indoors, and becomes more like a secret passage or underground tomb. Eventually, you’ll take a seat in a “Jeep” which takes you on a wild ride through various scenes and different terrain. You narrowly escape giant beetles, snakes, mummies, lava, poison darts, rats, and more. We don’t want to give away too much, but the big finish at the end involves narrowly escaping a very large, round object. We all loved this ride and wanted to do it again.

Matterhorn Bobsleds
Sometimes, a rough, jerky coaster can be a lot of fun. But this ride was a disappointment to us. It’s a very jarring ride that requires you to sit in an uncomfortable position on what feels like an unpadded plywood seat. Instead of enjoying the ride, we were holding a tense, uncomfortable stance to try and lessen the impact on our backs and tailbones from each forceful slam back down into the seat. We think this coaster is probably more fun for a child or smaller (and lighter) person than it is for a full sized adult. The animatronic yeti creatures with glowing red eyes added little to the ride. The annoyance of the ride’s harshness made it difficult to be immersed in the scenery.

Pirates of the Caribbean
The two mild drops near the beginning of this water ride gave us hope that we were in for something spectacular at the end (like Universal’s Jurassic Park ride). Not so much. This ride is all about the pirate scenes. There are many of them, and they’re loaded with animatronic characters. Lots of money was spent creating this ride, and the visuals are quite remarkable. If you’re into that sort of thing, there is little out there to compare with Pirates. But after waiting in line for almost an hour, we were a bit “ho hum” about the experience. “Oh look, another scene with more drunk pirates having more fun than we’re having. Hey, that pirate has rum – can we get some of that?”

Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
This is definitely one that you’ll want to do more than once – if you can. This 3D spaceship “ride” is built around military-grade flight & motion simulators. You’ll be taken to different planets and scenes, get attacked by Darth Vader, participate in a podrace, and narrowly escape various other dangers. The adventure is partially randomized so you won’t necessarily get the same ride every time. On our ride, we were attacked by a sea monster underwater in Naboo.

Splash Mountain
The ride broke down while we were in line, so we decided to have lunch instead. The food was pretty good.

Haunted Mansion
If there is no line, or a very short line, this is one you might want to check out. The entire mansion is very artistically crafted, and there are some very interesting visuals. You will start off in a room that mysteriously changes dimensions, and the paintings on the wall get longer. On the ride portion (it’s not much of a ride – it just takes you through various scenes), the most memorable part for us was a large room below where ghosts or spirits seem to be having a party. We’re not sure if they used mirrors or images reflected off angled glass, but whatever the trick, it makes for an interesting effect. Look for hidden Mickeys on the dinner table.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
This ride is basically a mobile shooting gallery with laser-sensing targets everywhere you look. You can spin your car to face the direction you wish to aim. The guns have red laser sights so you can tell when you’re on target. The challenge with this game is to compensate for the fact you’re constantly in motion with respect to the target. Many of the targets will react when you hit them. Some of the targets are already moving, making them even harder to hit (and worth more points). Yes, it keeps track of your points so you can have bragging rights at the end if you get the most hits. It’s a fun round of drive-by laser tag, and if the line isn’t long, we think you’ll enjoy it.

Jungle Cruise
On the day we went, the line for the Jungle Cruise was over an hour. Normally, this is not the sort of thing we’d even stand in a 10 minute line for. But we were with friends who wanted to do it, so we tagged along. We kept an open mind and hoped it would exceed our expectations. It did not. The tour guide had some mediocre jokes. A few people got splashed by things. Fake hippos came out of the water. We wished we were back on Space Mountain.

Enchanted Tiki Room
This attraction had mixed reviews from our party. The room was a small dark theater of talking and singing animatronic birds and flowers. The show continued to surprise with different parts of the room coming to life to entertain. If you don’t have children or have dear nostalgic memories of seeing this show when visiting Disney as a child, you may want to skip this attraction. Those in our group who did not like it found it corny and out-dated, while the others thought it filled with child-like wonder and sweet reminiscence.

Fantasmic! & Fireworks
If you enjoy the Disney characters, animated movies or any dancing water fountain shows, the Fantasmic! show will not disappoint. If it is cool, don’t stand too close to the water as you will get wet from the mist. Otherwise, the best places to stand are close to the water or further back. If you are in the middle of the crowd, you are likely to have difficulty seeing anything through all the parents holding children on their shoulders. The show is an amazing mix of music, characters, animation, dancing fountains, boats, and pyrotechnics.

Fantasmic! at Disneyland

It was loosely tied together with a plot, but even if you come late or are distracted, the show is worth watching. Interestingly enough, in our group the people who were into the Tiki Room were not as into this show and vice versa. Perhaps it was the late hour or just the type of show it was. Even if you do not have children or if you haven’t followed all the latest Disney offerings, this show was so well put-together and technologically advanced, everyone should find something to enjoy. The fireworks show follows this one, but at another location – it centers around the castle, which is impressive. You could stay where you are to watch Fantasmic!, but you will miss some of the lower pyrotechnics and the views of the castle. Both the Fantasmic! and the Fireworks shows happen every night. We were able to see some of the Fireworks from our hotel, but the closer you are, the better, obviously. Just like the Fantasmic! show, the Fireworks are set to a heart-warming Disney soundtrack. They are definitely worth staying in the park to watch.

Disney Food
Eating in Disneyland was very easy. Although the prices were a bit high, they did have many good options, including fruit in the morning, sweet potato fries, and even gluten-free burgers and other options at the burger place we ate for lunch. Of course, there were plenty of food carts throughout the park with plenty of fun options as well as the restaurants. Disney is definitely keeping current with food trends.

General Tips
If you’re staying in a nearby hotel on or near Harbor or Katella, you may want to consider walking or taking a shuttle. Our group drove, parked in the parking garage, and took the Tram from the garage to the park entrance. We felt that this was an unnecessary waste of time and money, and that simply walking to the park is less hassle, frustration and expense.

Booking your hotel:

We suggest calling the hotel directly to book your rooms, instead of using a 3rd-party travel website. These discount purchases come with a lot of fine print and disclaimers that protect both the hotel and the website from being responsible if something isn’t right. And when you prepay, they already have your money so you have no power to cancel and take your business elsewhere. Our friends were treated very poorly by the hotel they stayed at near Disneyland, and the hotel kept telling them that if they had a problem they should take it up with the travel website. The travel website did nothing to help them out.

We’ve stayed in four hotels in Anaheim (near Disney and the Convention Center). We had great service at the Hyatt Regency, and also at the Candy Cane Inn on Harbor. For a family trip to Disney, we’d probably go back to the Candy Cane as a good value that is a short walk to the park entrance.

Disney California Adventure – Guide for First Time Visitors
by Mark & Dawn

If you’re considering a trip to Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, CA, you’re probably wondering how to get the most bang for the buck from your time in the park. We hope you will get something useful from reading about our experiences at DCA.

Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure has so many impressive attractions that we found it impossible to rank them, so we’re just going to highlight our favorite things. The age range of our group was from 13 to 45, so this review is not geared toward those with young children. (Also see our Disneyland review.)

Radiator Springs / Cars Land / Route 66 (And Radiator Springs Racers)
This is currently the highlight of DCA, and the attraction that has everyone standing in line. If you take anything away from this article, it should be this: Get to the park early enough to be one of the first through the gates, and immediately get in line for the Fast Pass for Radiator Springs Racers. On the day we visited, the line was 180 minutes, but our Fast Passes cut the wait to about 25 minutes.

The Radiator Springs Racers ride:
The cars ride starts off slow, taking you through various scenes with life-sized animatronic versions of the movie character cars moving around and talking to you (with their bumper-mouths flapping as they speak). There are some close calls to generate a little excitement as you pass through the indoor portion of the ride.
Radiator Springs Racers
Although all of this is very well-done and amazing to look at, you can’t help but notice that you’re in a race car that isn’t moving very fast. But not to worry: Once you get outside again, the car next to you lines up for a race, and the real fun begins as you race over hills and through sharp turns like a roller coaster. This ride is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, but it did leave us wanting a little more than we got: The racing part of the ride seemed too short (unlike Space Mountain or Tower of Terror, which seem to give you more than you’d ever expect). We also felt that the cars should have gone a little faster, but maybe that’s because we used to race real cars. We’re not complaining – it’s one of the best amusement park rides we’ve ever experienced. But would we wait in line 3 hours to ride it? No.

The town of Radiator Springs:

Radiator Springs

Disney did a fantastic job of making the animated town of Radiator Springs into a real town you can explore. The most visually stunning part of Cars Land is the ultra-realistic mountain range in the background that seems to blend in seamlessly with the foreground landscape. It feels like being in Sedona, AZ, but knowing that it’s all man-made is awe-inspiring.

Tower of Terror
This ride truly lives up to its name. We knew there would be a vertical drop involved, but we were not expecting multiple vertical drops, and being launched upward just as quickly (which turned out to be just as insane and terrifying).
Tower of Terror
For those with height issues, this really is a tower of terror, and you may want to think twice about riding it. I have to give this ride an A+ for truly being the most pants-soilingly scary amusement park ride I’ve ever experienced. Most of our group wanted to get on it again. I decided that once was enough. For the rest of my life, I’ll have vivid memories of hanging on to my seat for dear life and hoping it would end. Despite my love-hate relationship with the Tower of Terror, I must also give it an A+ for amazing visuals and sounds leading up to, and during the ride, which build suspense and add to the intensity of the experience. The immersion into the Twilight Zone world is so well executed that I can’t think of anything they could have done to improve the experience. The attention to detail given to the “Hollywood Tower Hotel” is staggering, both inside and out. Tower of Terror will blow your mind make you fear gravity. Enjoy!

Mickey’s Fun Wheel (Ferris Wheel)
This is not an ordinary ferris wheel! There were mixed reviews among our group. Some of them loved it, while some of them couldn’t wait for it to end. In either case, it was much more of a ride than they expected, due to the way some of the cars ride along a small track. The incline of the track changes as the wheel turns, causing the car to move and start swinging. This movement can be rather intense for some riders, especially if they aren’t comfortable with heights. But one thing everyone agrees on: The view from Mickey’s Fun Wheel is fantastic.

Soarin’ Over California
For those who aren’t good with heights (like me), this one can make you feel uncomfortable at the start. This flight and motion simulator puts you in front of a huge screen and gives you realistic sensation of flying. At first, I had the same unsafe feeling as when we took a doors-off helicopter tour over the island of Kauai – a very uneasy feeling that you easily fall out of your seat and fall to your death. But after about the first minute of Soarin’ Over California, I was able to get comfortable and enjoy the beautiful scenery and the ride without the vertigo sensation I had at the beginning.

World of Color
The nightly production of World of Color is a huge production of sight and sound that happens in the evening. We highly recommend viewing this impressive display of water, fire, lasers, high-powered lighting, and music. Motion picture images are projected on a wall of water, while choreographed jets of water shoot upward and move back and forth, in time with the music. It’s a great way to end the day, but do get a fast pass for this to get a better location to view it closer to the water.

Muppet Vision 3D
During our visit, the Muppet Vision show was temporarily replaced by a 3D preview of the Great and Powerful Oz. There was no line or wait, so we decided to check it out. We got to see some of the best scenes from the movie on a huge 3D screen, which was impressive. But our friends told us the Muppet Vision 3D was a better show.

Toy Story Midway Mania!
This is a fun 3D shooting gallery, in which you wear 3D glasses, and a car transports you to different screens full of animated targets to shoot at with your “toy gun.” This is a well-executed interactive video game, in which you compete against everyone else riding in the same car. We had a lot of fun with this one, and we think you will too.

California Screamin’ Roller Coaster
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to ride, but our friends did, so we will pass along their review: It’s worth standing in line for, and a lot of fun. The coaster starts out by accelerating you forward toward the first hill. The ride is somewhat similar to Cedar Point’s Blue Streak, but a little better, longer, and smoother. So it’s not a super coaster, but it gets the job done, and we regret not being able to join our friends for this ride.

Animation Academy in Hollywood Land
If you have the time, be sure to check out the creative offerings you’ll find when you walk through the door of the Animation building. We didn’t get to see everything in here, but what we did see was fascinating. The Toy Story zoetrope is a must-see! It’s a giant spinning turntable full of characters that come to life when a strobe light is flashed on them. Hard to picture? You just have to see it to understand.

It’s Tough to be a Bug 3D Adventure (A Bug’s Land)
This was a nice break in the day; A short movie that is quite interactive and full of surprises. It’s a chance to sit down, and an attraction with a short wait. The entire theater room comes to life beyond just what you see on the screen. You’ll not just see the show, but feel it, smell it, and find out what it’s like to be a bug.

Grizzly River Run
This is a very fun water ride, but not all riders are treated equally with this one. It simulates a white water rafting adventure, and it’s a complete blast. Some riders will get a little wet. One or two riders will get completely soaked. The ride has two significant drops in which a big splash occurs, and the forward-most rider (who is also facing the wrong way) gets the majority of the splash. Fortunately, this ride has a short wait, so if you like water rides, you can do it a number of times.

General Tips
If you’re staying in a nearby hotel on or near Harbor or Katella, you may want to consider walking or taking a shuttle. Our group drove, parked in the parking garage, and took the Tram from the garage to the park entrance. We felt that this was an unnecessary waste of time and money, and that simply walking to the park is less hassle, frustration and expense.

Booking your hotel:
We suggest calling the hotel directly to book your rooms when traveling, instead of using a 3rd-party travel website. The (usually small) discount you might be able to receive is not worth it if there is a problem. These pre-paid discount purchases come with a lot of fine print and disclaimers that protect both the hotel and the website from being responsible to help you out if something isn’t right.

We’ve stayed in four hotels in Anaheim (near Disney and the Convention Center). We had great service at the Hyatt Regency, and also at the Candy Cane Inn on Harbor. For a family trip to Disney, we’d probably go back to the Candy Cane as a good value that is a short walk to the park entrance.