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A First For the Forum?! DISNEYLAND

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.

Posted by
2909 posts

RS Forum Travel Advice: Plan Ahead
Verdict: Absolutely essential. You're paying a lot of money to be here, and if you don't plan ahead you'll miss out on seasonal specialities, rides, and dining experiences.

For example: 2 of the nighttime shows were only playing one of our two days in the parks; One iconic ride (Haunted Mansion with it's "Nightmare Before Christmas" overlay) was only open the first day, the opening hours (including the early mornings for each park) varied significantly both days, popular restaurants and the Star Wars cantina experience sell out at least a week or more in advance, and so forth. Frankly I wish I'd started making reservations earlier, but we still managed to do most of what we wanted because we started making reservations a few weeks in advance.

RS Forum Advice: Be realistic about how much walking is involved and of your capabilities.
Verdict: Always true. You walk about as much at Disney parks as you would in a busy day in Paris, Rome, or London. Fine for me, but not my mobility-impaired mom. Unlike Europe, everything is ADA-compliant, so we rented my mom her first-ever electric mobility vehicle and that enabled her to see all the sights whereas she simply wouldn't have been able to otherwise. Unfortunately too much walking and standing watching shows on the first day meant my grandma had to spend much of her second day resting in the hotel room (similar to our last trip to Paris together). I wish we'd been more cognizant of her limitations in that regard, but once again, we "broke grandma." (Unfortunately she's also stubborn and doesn't know her own limits!)

As for the experience itself...we spent 3 nights, arriving mid-afternoon on Sunday, and had park-hopper tickets for the 2 parks Monday (MLK day) and Tuesday, and we departed Wednesday morning. A lot was new to me at the park since I'd last been 13 years prior. California Adventure had an entire redo with a ton of Pixar theming, the whole Star Wars and Marvel acquisition happened, creating entire new "lands" resulting in many changes. Suddenly, Disney parks are also taking food way more seriously (which is good!), the whole "Downtown Disney" area creates a great nightlife atmosphere that wasn't previously present , and creates a better-rounded vacation experience for adults. It was nice to walk 5 minutes from my hotel after the parks closed to sample some truly amazing and unique beers at the Ballast Point Brewing Company, for instance,

It was bizarre going from real Europe to an artificial world, where everything is bigger, brighter, nosier, and more distracting. I have this issue when returning to the US in general but Disneyland ramped that up exponentially! The commercial crassness seemed worse than I'd remembered, which might be partially just forgetting and partially that the park and the stuff they sell is as targeted as adults (with money) as kids these days. It used to be unusual to see adults decked out in ears and gear - now you almost feel strange if you're not wearing a collectible, limited-time mouse ears (starting price - $30!)

That said, it is possible to resist the urge to buy stuff, get by on cheaper food like turkey legs and churros as opposed to the expensive sit-down places, and in our case, the celebration for Lunar New Year (complete with a special nighttime show addition and a whole pavilion of themed interactive experiences) meant several carts were selling asian street food specialties that were delicious and good value by Disney standards.

The final verdict in the next post...

Posted by
2909 posts

Are Disney parks a worthwhile destination?

That really depends on you. The first question is, can you afford it? I mean it is shockingly expensive. Getting to Europe for North Americans is expensive, but in most countries you can have a fantastic time in decent lodging and good food and experiences for a fraction of the cost.

That said, if you've never been to a Disney park, and particularly if you have an interest in art, architecture, Americana, or just enjoy the sensation of the rational part of your brain being completely overridden by illusion, it's a unique and remarkable experience that is continually improving.

The new Star Wars area, for example, for all intents and purposes is like throwing yourself into a Star Wars movie. An R2-D2 droid I was trying to get video of saw the "Baby Yoda" on my T-shirt (Ok, maybe I went for a bit of merch) and I was so stunned I stopped filming it and started interacting with it as it if it was real before I knew what I was doing (The droid's handler said, "Yes, I haven't seen that species before either," which is part of the lore of the universe). Any Star Wars fan pretty much has to go experience this area and the two rides, both of which are best experienced without spoilers, but utterly manage to completely short-circuit that "cynic" mode in my brain that's present most of the time to experience something totally new.

There's other highlights - the "World of Color" nighttime show at California Adventure was mind-boggling in it's effects, and I'm not a huge "stand around and watch the show" person (I'd rather be on rides). The flight simulator "Soarin over California" has been remade into "Soarin over the World" with a few noteworthy European sights - Neuschwanstein and the Eiffel Tower seemed far grander than even real life, which is I guess the paradox of what Disney theme parks do! And despite having no interest in the Pixar "Cars" franchise, the Cars Land is not just cool, but downright amazing at night as a cartoony neon ode to the American small town and southwest.

The real takeaway is that RS travel skills actually apply in almost all circumstances! Given the cost of a Disney vacation, it's imperative that you plan in advance effectively to make the most out of your time and money, and my approach to this trip wasn't unlike how I approached say, Rome; having a morning, afternoon, and evening plan of what areas we'd be in that would be convenient to avoid backtracking if possible; avoiding crowds based on time of day and traffic patterns; making note of closures and making reservations for major sites.

The worst thing is, I very much want to do Disneyland Paris now, but of course I'll be going back and forth about "Disney...or Greek vacation" in my head for the next several months. And I'll probably choose Greek vacation because ultimately, I do prefer the real, but it's really fun to get lost in make-believe once in a while!

Posted by
2071 posts

Sarah,

You are a skilled writer. Thanks for the Disney report. My last Disney trip was 36 years ago when I was 11 years old. I had a same-age, professional, cynical peer go to Disney World last year, and she loved it — especially “breakfast with the princesses.” She said everything was done well and made for a very enjoyable experience for her.

Posted by
1612 posts

Sarah, what a great and fun writeup! Yesterday, my friend was telling me how much she loved her trip to Disneyland, and it got me counting the years.... decades... since I've been there.

Your post is perfectly timed. I had no idea that 2 days at Disneyland could be the ultimate test of all my Europe travel skills ... possible exception, packing, especially since I can drive. Sounds well worth it to go back!

Posted by
364 posts

Loved this report!

As someone born and raised in southern California, Disneyland has always been close to my heart. Even now as an adult who has been privileged and lucky enough to travel more widely (in particular to France several times, but also solo through Southeast Asia), I'll always have a fond spot for Disneyland.

I'm actually returning solo to Paris in early May and am thinking of doing Disneyland Paris! As I've been to Paris several times, I don't feel the need to do any of the major tourist attractions -- which to be clear I enjoyed, but have done. Since I'll have nearly a week in Paris (taking the general advice to stay longer in one place) I don't feel so "guilty" about fitting in DLP among my other planned activities. I'm curious to see how it differs from Disneyland in California, which is the only other park I've been to.

Posted by
1861 posts

Sarah, thank you for posting this wonderful report! You are a gifted writer and I love the way you made the criteria I use for traveling in Europe relevant to exploring the Wonderful World of Walt Disney! My Dad was stationed at March AFB when I was a youngster and my first time at Disneyland soon after this wondrous place opened was when I was very young. It was the most wonderful place I had ever seen, more than I ever dreamed it could be! Through several more visits through the years, I have continued to think of this amazing venue with wonder and awe at the talent to took to create such a place. I loved taking this visit with you and how fabulous you were able to make it a generational vacation! What a great start to my day!

Posted by
1909 posts

Great trip report, very in depth, I can definitely relate to this:

it was bizarre going from real Europe to an artificial world, where everything is bigger, brighter, nosier, and more distracting. I have this issue when returning to the US in general but Disneyland ramped that up exponentially!

When I first moved to Los Angeles I went down to visit Disneyland (the one in Anaheim I think?) for the first time, your description is spot on to my experience. Coming from Europe all this "in your face" commercialism was very overwhelming for me. Only within the first hour of walking around, I was so mentally exhausted, that I decided to actually just leave, and have not been back to Disneyland since lol!

I much preferred Universal Studios Hollywood or the Safari Park down in San Diego :)

Posted by
5010 posts

Not a first by any means. Lots of posters have asked (and even answered) questions about Euro Disney over the years (admittedly, not as many who have posted about CT or ZTLs - so yes, a minority). Personally, not my cup of tea (IMHO when you have limited time in Europe, I think it makes most sense to focus your time on things that are unique to Europe, and I'm undoubtedly biased as I'm not a huge fan of such attractions anyway), but obviously plenty of folks have an interest. An interesting read that I'm sure will be useful to those who do.

Posted by
1567 posts

Love your post Sarah! Count me and my kids as Disney fans. The world can be a frightening and scary place sometimes, and so being in the happiest place on earth is a much needed break. Yes, Disney is expensive, but it is the vacation my kids adore and we never argue or fight when we are there. We also love Disney cruises. We can’t wait to go again!

Posted by
2494 posts

We just went to DisneyWorld in early Dec. Every time I go (the last time was 18 years ago), I think what a rip-off it is-until I get there. And they really do things well. If you can afford it, the experience is worth the money. My husband and daughter are still raving about their Star Wars experiences. One suggestion: if you go in Dec, skip the Magic Kingdom during the day and pay for Mickey's Christmas party. The park is much less crowded during the party because they only sell a certain number of tickets. A ride for which we waited over an hour on the previous day had less than a 5 minute wait during the party.

Posted by
248 posts

I love Disney. I go to Disneyland from Utah a lot. I’m going on 2 years since my last trip and it feels like forever.

One point that often comes up that you didn’t mention. Disney (and European) vacations are not for sleeping in. Your most productive hours will be first thing in the morning. You should be at the gate in line well before the park opens.

Posted by
1343 posts

This is one of my favourite posts on this site-ever. Laughed at your comment about breaking Grandma;

I wish we'd been more cognizant of her limitations in that regard, but
once again, we "broke grandma." (Unfortunately she's also stubborn and
doesn't know her own limits!)

We did a family trip to Disney World a couple of years ago with my wife, my 2 kids (early 20's) my Mother-in-law and my Mom-86 years old at the time of the trip. She too thinks she's younger than she is and my kids accused me of breaking her after I had to leave early from the park to take her to the hotel for a rest.

We made multiple Disney trips to both coasts as my kids were growing up and when I think back on it, our planning as you described to beat the crowds and get the best bang for your buck was early practice of what I routinely do now when planning a European adventure.

Posted by
3385 posts

Great report, Sarah, and glad you had such a good time! First, and only time at Disneyland was back in 1983, when “Honey, I Shrank the Kids” was the new, cutting-edge ride. On a Florida trip almost 20 years ago Epcot was really enjoyable.

As for your Disneyland Paris vs. Greece decision, do you have the time and money to possibly fit in both? I’m reminded daily anymore that “you can’t take it with you,” so getting experiences and enjoyment while you can are what life’s about. As long as your resources don’t run out before you do, fulfill your dreams.

Posted by
6963 posts

An interesting, compelling read. Bravo Sarah.

Posted by
1348 posts

Great post, Sarah, thanks.
I like your labelling of "The Last Supper of Disneyland" and will steal that going forward whenever I am describing a place. What do you think would qualify as "The Last Supper of Sacramento" or Sausalito, and so on?

I'm anti-Disney but I have to give them credit for landscape engineering. I was at one of the FL resorts for a business conference and was very pleased by how the layout allowed me to avoid seeing cars and roads for the entire time I was there.

Posted by
5401 posts

Sarah, I am told that Disneyland Paris is less expensive than Anaheim.

Posted by
3517 posts

Sarah, this was very entertaining, and I am definitely a person in the overlap of both RS & Disneyland. My first trip to Disneyland was my 40th birthday. I’ve been back 8 times and have ridden the Indiana Jones ride over 115 times, as just an example - yep, love the rides; parades keep people off of the rides!

I agree with everything you mentioned and relate to so much of it, except that we always stay at the Tropicana Inn which is across the street from Disneyland. MUCH cheaper than the inside park hotels, yet don’t need a tram or bus.

I do really miss the traditional paper fast-pass method vs. the apps, etc. I would purchase a 3-day ticket for my husband and me. Some days, he would leave to go golf mid-day, and I could really utilize our two sets of fast-passes! I do know that I could save a lot of time by riding the same ride multiple times, utilizing the queue time and fast-passes. Let’s just say that I’ve found out that when you’re completely drenched on the Grizzly River ride, my clothes and my Keen Rose sandals that I also wear in Europe could dry overnight in the bathroom just like they do in Europe!

Posted by
2909 posts

Wow! I really hesitated on making this post as I thought I might be laughed off the forum so thank you everyone for all the kind words, it's really touching.

I'm on my phone so I don't have an easy way to address individual comments by name but a few responses:

-The "Maxpass" system is still superior to the old ticketed fast pass system because you can use it for your whole party. My brother and I both had all 5 in our party in our apps, so we could both reserve individual fast passes for anyone in our group and use them - as grandma and mom were often back at the hotel. Frustratingly, in theory we could have ridden the new ride "Rise of the Resistance" twice has we got fast passes for mom and grandma. There's a whole nail biting drama about that experience that I may explain later. Suffice it to say, they don't check your name when you use your phone fastpass with the Maxpass system so we were constantly reserving as things became available. We didn't wait in any traditional line for more than 15 minutes the whole time - we'd fastpass the waits and jump into short lines when they made sense. The only big rides we didn't go on were the water rides because it was a little chilly to walk around with wet shoes.

-Great info about the Tropicana hotel. The landscape around the area has shifted so much in the last 15 years that as someone who used to know the parks well that its hard for me to get my bearings now.

-My husband would say the California Train Museum is the "Last Supper" of Sacramento but I spent an afternoon at the Crocker museum and it was wild to have a new appreciation for California impressionism and see some old Dutch and Italian and German friends that I definitely didn't appreciate on field trips as a kid.

I know I'm forgetting to respond to something here - I will say that the walking at Disneyland didn't phase me at all which may be the ultimate test of my European travel skills. I broke in a new pair of boots - unwise for most but I'd owned the same pair before. Thanks, Target!

Posted by
1343 posts

I really hesitated on making this post as I thought I might be laughed
off the forum so thank you everyone for all the kind words, it's
really touching.

I love these outside the box topics that can still have that required European touch. Hopefully you'll think of many more.

Posted by
48 posts

I loved your post! I too am a huge Disney fan. When our kids were still home, we planned a few trips to the one in FL and then we took them when they were teens to DL. I saved for a year or two for each trip and it was well worth it each time. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time in each country in Epcot meeting the folks there from each country and talking about their impressions of their own country (and shopping for their food in the attached store!). Now that the kids are out of the house, I enjoy using my Disney planning skills and combining them with the RS skills to travel Europe. That being said, both my husband and I have mentioned wanting to go back to experience the Star Wars rides-maybe in the next two years ;). Thanks for sharing!

Posted by
364 posts

Sarah, I am told that Disneyland Paris is less expensive than Anaheim.

I was quite surprised to discover this. It's hard to compare prices, because there are different types of tickets (there's pricing based on expected demand) and it varies based on how many days you want to stay, but as a comparison:

  • Cheapest 1-park, 1-day ticket (for days with low demand, such as midweek winter days): starting at US$104 for Anaheim vs. US$62 for Paris
  • 'Anytime' 1-park, 1-day ticket (valid on all days): US$149 for Anaheim vs. US$105 for Paris
  • 2 day ticket: US$225 for 1 park in Anaheim or US$280 for both Anaheim parks, vs. US$205 for 2-day, 2-park ticket in Paris

I pulled these prices today as an FYI. So it varies but in general it's fair to say that Disneyland Paris is cheaper than Disneyland Anaheim, if you try to compare similar ticket types. Whether of course the parks are equivalent is a different story (the feedback I've read about Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris is not exactly unanimously positive...)

Posted by
172 posts

I go to Disney World approximately every 2 years with 11 visits in total over a 20ish year period. We've also managed a trip to Paris Disney and Disneyland in there too. We've gone to Europe every year since 2015 and a smattering of times before that. We were in WDW last month and road Rise of Resistance twice [WDW got it before Disneyland]. Despite the price, my heart always finds a way back there. So I'm proof it's possible to be both an RS devotee and a Disney fanatic! :) Loved you trip report.

Posted by
785 posts

My husband and I also went to Disney World in early December, primarily because of Star Wars. We hadn't been in several years. It will probably also be our last trip for a good long time because it was terribly expensive and the ol' bod suffers from being beat about on rides more than it used to! We might go back if the recently announced Marvel world turns out to be amazing - but we have many more international trips lined up before that happens!
For anyone planning a Disney trip, the Touring Plans site and forum are an ideal resource for the super type-A, over-planners who frequent this site.

Posted by
679 posts

Living in Florida and raising kids here, Disney World was just what you did. I have not been for several years and we get free passes due to close family members working there. Your report may urge me to go take another look. I am a Star Wars nut so maybe a visit would be in the stars. I really enjoyed your report and can't wait to read the others when you get around to them LOL!

Posted by
157 posts

We went to Parc Disneyland in late May 2017. Although he doesn't remember where he found them, Denis got us tickets that allowed admission to both parks for that day. For the two of us, it was less than a single day admission for one person in Florida. I think the downside was that both parks closed at 6pm that day. Having been to both US parks, I'd have to say that Paris is the prettiest. It was all decorated for its silver anniversary.

Donna

Posted by
708 posts

Hey Sarah,
I've clocked multi trips to Disneyworld and once to Paris Disney, and don't ever plan to visit the CA version, but I love reading anything you want to write about! A fun read. Thanks!

Posted by
7700 posts

Great trip report, Sarah!
Going to Sacramento next month, but don't have Disney in the plans. May have to think about Disney Paris though since it is close to me.

Posted by
12139 posts

Certainly some very nice memories in Disneyland. My first visit there was in 1959 when I was nine, we took the Southern Pacific (They ran then) train from SF to Santa Barbara, my father had no desire to drive down US 101 or 99 to reach the LA area and beyond.

The next visit was in August 1965. Interesting to see are what changes and what remains the same in Disneyland....can't remember the most recent visit there.

Given a choice I much prefer Knotts Berrry Farm over Disneyland.

Posted by
965 posts

I live about 30 minutes from Disneyland and was so pleased to read your very thorough trip report! I think it’s been at least 8 years since I was there last when I was signed in to enter for free by a friend that worked there. I remember back in the early 90s when my kids were little and an annual passport cost $99!!! These days, the price of a one day admission costs more than that. They do offer payment plans for annual passes with the cheapest plan starting at least at $400 with lots of blackout dates. Sometimes I think to myself that I should get one because I do love Disneyland but then that my travel conscious and addicted brain reminds me that $400 can easily go towards airfare to Europe. Guess which part of the brain wins 😉