Ok, not a typical subject for a trip report, as the overlap between Rick Steves devotees and Disney park goers is probably fairly slim. And I have an unfinished Rome report from October and haven't even started on Vienna in November or Krakow in January! BUT I thought it might be fun/helpful to explore my "reverse culture shock" as an American expat living in Germany, and to see how the travel skills I've learned in Europe might apply (or not apply) to a radically different destination.
The backstory: I visit my place of origin (Northern California) once a year to see family, and we usually do a short trip within California. This time my mom offered to take myself, my brother, his wife, (aged 30-40) and my grandmother (age 85) to Disneyland.
I was something of a Disney fanatic in my teens and early 20s, but my last visit was in 2006 and while I knew I'd still enjoy the parks, the cost had put me off say, visiting Disneyland Paris, since I could easily afford a luxurious, longer trip to somewhere like Greece or Italy for the price of 3 nights at Disneyland Paris.
I'll now go over how some common forum advice applied (or didn't) to my trip:
RS Forum Advice: Avoid driving shortly after long flights
Verdict: Good advice! 2 years running I've attempted long drives within 48 hours of landing in CA from Germany. It was a very poor idea both times. Not only am I no longer used to the difference in style of driving or driving for very long stretches, but there's the sheer exhaustion/afternoon slump that hits me hard. Frankly, the Sacramento - Orange Country drive starts to go against my "driving/train versus flying" rule.
RS Forum Advice: Location should be the primary concern with a hotel.
Verdict: Absolutely, if you can afford it. We were lucky and my mom chose to splurge on Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. All 3 Disney hotels are the closest to the parks and the easiest to reach, with the Grand Californian being the closest (it has it's own entrance to California Adventure Park). It's invaluable to be able to take afternoon breaks (naps, for some of us) within a 20 minute walk instead of a 20 minute walk plus 20 minute tram ride plus another 10 minute walk (as it would be for people staying at off-site hotels). The price is very, very high - which is why we were 5 adults in a double queen room with a sleeper sofa, which wasn't ideal, but the convenience made up for it.
That said, one of the draws of this hotel is it's beauty and amenities, such as fine dining, beautiful pools/spa, glorious lobby, and we spent almost no time in any of them because no one goes to Disneyland to hang out in their hotel lobby. So rushing past all that beautiful architecture felt like a shame, which now that I think about it, is often how things go when I splurge for nicer digs when traveling in Europe - they're lovely, but we spend most of our non-sleeping time outside of the hotel for good reason!
RS Travel Forum Advice: Pack light!
Verdict: While always good advice, a little less relevant on a road trip to a luxury hotel that assists with luggage and parking. It was nice to be freed from this burden, although I still packed relatively light.
RS Travel Forum Advice: Utilize technology
Verdict: Not just good advice but necessary to make the most out of your visit. The Disneyland app lets you check opening times, showtimes, and if you pay extra ($15 per person/per day) you can use the "MaxPass" on your phone, which lets you digitally reserve your place in line and at shows in advance, have professional photographers throughout the parks take pictures which are delivered to you free digitally, and most important, reserve your place in line for the newest "ride" "Rise of the Resistance" - spots sell out within 30 seconds every day. This is the Last Supper of Disneyland and missing it would have been devastating.