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5 Tips for First-time Disneyland Resort Guests

July 10, 2014

My husband and I live on the East Coast, so naturally Walt Disney World is our “home” park. I have been visiting Florida’s Magic Kingdom since childhood so my love for all things Disney has been ingrained in me since before I can even remember. My husband, not so much. By his early 20s he had still never visited a Disney park, but once I met him I quickly resolved that issue and he was bit by the bug.

The hoopla of Disney California Adventure’s overhaul peaked our interest and a year and a half after it’s Grand Re-Opening, we found ourselves headed west to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle – Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Do Your Homework, but Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy – Honestly, Disneyland Resort vs Walt Disney World is kind of the same, but different. The Disneyland Resort’s visitors are made up mostly of locals, which I think makes the California parks a little more spontaneous. There seems to be less focus on planning. Having traveled to the Walt Disney World Resort plenty in my adult lifetime, and currently planning a trip, I will be the first to say that the Walt Disney World Resort is an absolute blast, but requires some prep work. Between planning your park days, FastPass+, and dining reservations there is a lot of work to do before you even leave home. I found the the Disneyland Resort offers much more flexibility. There are 2 parks, instead of 4, and they lie within 3 minutes walking distance, so park hopping at the Disneyland Resort doesn’t require bag checks or buses. If one park feels too busy, you can quickly find yourself at the other. This removes for us most of the reason we plan. Do your homework, look at maps, know which rides you want to go on, and what your must-dos are, but don’t let it make you a crazy to-the-minute planning machine for this trip.

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

You Don’t Need to Make Dining Reservations, but do it anyway – Disneyland Resort restaurants do not fill to the same kind of capacity that Walt Disney World restaurants do. Reservations are only taken 60 days in advance at DLR compared to 180 days in advance at the Walt Disney World Resort . If you can go with the flow, you will probably still get to eat where you want, albeit maybe not at a peak hour. If your friend’s friend told you that Napa Rose is phenomenal (and it is!) and you know you want to eat there, save yourself the wait and make the reservation.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel's Napa Rose Restaurant. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel’s Napa Rose Restaurant. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Try the Counter Service – This may come as a given, but if you are used to the Walt Disney World Resort counter service locations, you may be like us. We know which ones we like and try to avoid all the others. Counter service at the Disneyland Resort is made to serve the locals may not always be interested in wasting time at a full-service restaurant. We were impressed with the Disneyland Resort’s counter service at both parks, even finding some locations to serve their meals on actual dinnerware with real silverware (similar to Be Our Guest lunch)! Some locations also have live musical performances, so you have some lovely background music and entertainment while you eat.

Corn Dog Castle at Disney's California Adventure Park. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Corn Dog Castle at Disney’s California Adventure Park. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Hotels, Hotels Everywhere – Many hotels in the Anaheim area will market themselves as “close to Disneyland.” They are, but only if you want to drive. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you don’t mind driving, paying for parking, and taking the tram to the gate. This may be worth it if the room rate is right. Other hotels will clearly market themselves, “walking distance to Disneyland”, and generally these are within 2 or 3 blocks. Those hotels that are farther out usually offer the option of purchasing an Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) pass. The ART system has several stops near hotels and could be a viable option if you need to stay farther out. Disneyland Resort has 3 resorts of it’s own, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. The walking distance for some of these is similar to other non-Disney hotels, but the theming is great, just like the Walt Disney World resorts. These can be on the pricier side, but offer early morning entry, similar to Extra Magic Hours at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The Villas at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

The Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Prepare for Lines – Don’t freak out yet! It is not that Disneyland lines are out of control or that we waited 2 hours for anything. It’s that being Walt Disney World Resort vets, we found that the Walt Disney World Resort parks have more efficient loading and queues. RFID has not arrived at the Disneyland Resort ticket booths, so someone still scans your ticket, checks for your picture, hands it to someone who scans your ticket again, and when you want to leave, you need to get your hand stamped with ink that will make you glow under blacklight. This makes getting into the park at the Disneyland Resort a little less efficient than the Walt Disney World Resort parks, but nothing we could not handle. As far as rides are concerned, some rides were just not built with queue space, either because of it’s age, or because of space restrictions. Some lines looked daunting for us, but in reality there is just no queue space inside the building. As soon as you’re in the door, you are almost on the ride. Don’t let what looks like a crazy line deter you.

Radiator Springs Racers. Photo Courtesy Tom Bricker

Radiator Springs Racers. Photo Courtesy Tom Bricker

Oh! Don’t Forget! This is Walt’s park. – The one his own hands touched. Walt walked down this Main Street. All Disney Parks are great, but Disneyland started it all. Take a moment to take it all in and enjoy the connection to the man who made it happen. It is hard to say which Resort I love more, but the connection to Walt gives the Disneyland Resort a special place in my heart.

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