As a native Floridian (whose parents live near Orlando), I felt a bit like a traitor when my neighbor suggested we add on the days to our trip through Los Angeles to accommodate a quick Disney vacation.
I had visited DisneyLand once before when our children were almost two and three years old and remember feeling disappointed and unimpressed by the quick visit.
But my neighbor, whom I trust, was insistent, so I went along with her suggestion and bought three-day park-hopper passes online for myself and our three children, ages four, six and eight years. And I am so glad I did. (And I’m glad I bought them on-line in advance– much cheaper!!)
Sure, DisneyWorld is much bigger, encompassing four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom) in addition to the dining and entertainment complexes of Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island. But DisneyLand’s ‘greatest hits’ collection of rides and attractions and convenience sure won out for us this trip.
Rather than being exhausted from walking from one end of the park to the other, battling crowds and waiting in long lines, we found ourselves reveling in the sunshine and breezes, skipping from ride to ride with only one long wait (Toy Story Mania. It was worth it.).
Right from the start I noticed several differences, yet similarities between the parks.
If you’ve visited DisneyWorld, you have experienced the sheer ‘wow’ factor which hits right as you near the park, with billboards and exceptional signage.
DisneyLand doesn’t have all that.
But as one of the older kid visitors on our trip pointed out, “If you visit DisneyLand first, you’ll still be impressed.”
And I’ll take the trade for the convenience in arrival.
Less than two hours after our plane touched down at the Orange County airport, we were in Disney’s California Adventure eating lunch. Orlando’s airport is much larger, with longer lines, and the drive to Disney is at least 45 minutes alone.
I was amazed at how quickly we were in the park, ready to have fun. (And yes, we did check in to our hotel before venturing out to the park.)
Unlike the parks in Florida, which require boarding some sort of transportation device to park-hop, the two parks in California, California Adventure and DisneyLand, are very near. They are joined by a courtyard that takes about 45 seconds to walk from one end to the other. We weren’t traveling with a stroller, but this factor alone would have made pushing a stroller much easier than having to empty it, fold it, and stow it to move. I’ve had to do it in Orlando. Many times.
Perhaps this is part of why I had not been much of a park-hopper in the past. But the close proximity of the parks and the adjacent Downtown Disney changed my frame of mind. The two mornings we were there we grabbed a Jamba Juice from Downtown Disney on our way into the park. At lunchtime, we took a break from the park and relaxed (while being served) at Naples Restarante E Pizzeria, a delightful Italian restaurant also in Downtown Disney.
DisneyLand just felt much more convenient to me, especially with small children. They didn’t mind the walking, perhaps because we didn’t do nearly as much as our trips to DisneyWorld. And yet I know we rode many, many more rides each day we were in the parks than we ever had during a day in the Orlando parks. (And this even includes or final day, a Saturday morning, where we rode 10 rides in less than 3 hours.)
So what does DisneyLand have to offer?
We enjoyed these rides at DisneyLand:
- Alice in Wonderland
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- King Arthur Carrousel
- Mad Tea Party
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough (Loved this excellent use of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle! Why don’t they do this in Florida?)
- Storybook Land Canal Boats (Boat ride through fairytale settings.)
- Astro Orbitor (Much like Dumbo, but spaceships.)
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (The ‘new’ 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Get there early to beat the crowds.)
- Captain EO show (featuring Michael Jackson. This took me waaaaay back!)
- Space Mountain (Love this one! We rode it several times back to back!)
- Star Tours (Star Wars adventure ride.)
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Super fun roller-coaster. My four-year old rides it with her hands up, giggling the whole way.)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (Boat ride)
- Gadget’s Go Coaster (Kid-sized roller-coaster in Mickey’s Toontown.)
- and dinner and a show at Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue (lots of delicious food!)
and these at California Adventure:
- Soarin’ over California (In California, I could smell the scenes. I don’t remember that at Epcot.)
- Disney’s Aladdin A Musical Spectacular (love, love LOVED this show!!)
- Turtle Talk with Crush (amazed by how Crush had a live Q&A with the crowd from his tank. Very impressive!)
- Toy Story Midway Mania (My neighbor was a bit competitive on this one, as we shot all sorts of things.)
- California Screamin’ (My first ‘real’ roller-coaster ride since becoming a mom!)
- Mickey’s Fun Wheel (Ferris wheel with gondolas that rock and sway)
- King Triton’s Carousel (Four year old request. She loves carousels.)
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (Playground through the trees and tunnels)
There were many more rides we didn’t ride at both parks.
Yes, in all honesty, there are tons more in the Florida parks. But I didn’t miss them at all.
If you are indifferent to the travel time and cost for either park, and you have smaller children, I would highly recommend you giving DisneyLand your first chance. It’s easier to get around, more manageable and the weather is milder, too.
Save all the trekking and older experiences of Epcot and Animal Kingdom for when your kids are older and can choose to stand in lines rather than not understand why they are waiting so long. (And this is written by a girl who LOVES DisneyWorld, has taken her children there at least 5 times and whose whole honeymoon was kicked off by a trip to the real Norway after being inspired by the film at Norway in Epcot.)
I love DisneyWorld, but was amazed at how easy the Disney experience could be in California. And it’s not just because my children are older now… we just took them to DisneyWorld this past November and thought we had a fantastic time. This trip was easier.
And that’s not just because I had a glass of wine in hand while waiting in line for Toy Story Mania. (Ummmm….. you can’t do THAT at DisneyWorld! Swing by the tasting room of the Wine Country Trattoria on your way and grab a glass to go. You can also get beer and margaritas across the way if that’s more your style.)
This Florida native hates to write it, but with younger children, DisneyLand really is the way to go.
Bring an almost-empty backpack for souvenirs, your camera, comfy shoes and, of course your wallet, and be prepared to experience the Magic.