Road Trip South: One Great Day at Disneyland

I did it. I overcame my fears by going to Disneyland during the summer. I’ve been to Disneyland during the summer many times before, but not since having kids and becoming old. As a parent, I’m a huge advocate for school year vacations. I’d rather take the kids out of school for a few days then spend most of my vacation in a massive, never ending queue. Not to mention, Disneyland is perfect in the off season. The weather is perfectly warm, plus in the fall, the park is decorated for the holidays. A win for everyone.

But, it’s pretty much inexcusable to take kids to Southern California and not go to Disneyland. We had one day for Disneyland – on our way to San Diego – which was another concern: is one day really enough? I’ll be honest, only Kevin was saying that, mostly because he is an example of what happens when parents refuse to take their kids to Disney parks. He likes – he needs – to be in the park as much as possible.

The super happy exciting news is that Disneyland was awesome during the summer. FastPass has revolutionized waiting for rides, so even though it was August and both Disneyland and California Adventure were full of people, everything moved smoothly. With everything moving smoothly, we had a full, fun day that wasn’t overstressed, and looking back, I only remember waiting in one big line. Even Kevin said that one day at Disneyland was much more “satisfying” than he’d thought.

Here was our plan: check in Monday afternoon, sit by the pool, eat dinner at Downtown Disney, and Tuesday, hit the park from opening until sometime post fireworks, leaving for San Diego Wednesday morning. The plan was simple, and it was even easier in execution.

We drove away from our house at 6 a.m., and we made it to Los Angeles before noon where we made a brief stop at the Harry Potter store (Whimsic Alley) before heading to Anaheim. Soon after our stop, we made it to the Disneyland Hotel before check in time, so while we waited for our room to be ready, we walked to Downtown Disney for a snack at Marceline’s Confectionery, then back to the Disneyland Hotel pool.

The Disneyland HotelI’d never stayed at the Disneyland Hotel before, but I’ve always been intrigued because as a kid, I thought of it as where the rich people stayed, while my family crammed into a single motel room across the street. As an adult, we’ve always stayed at the Grand Californian because it’s nice and it’s convenient location cannot be beat. I like the pools at the Grand, but I’d heard great things about Disneyland Hotel pool too and since we’d have an afternoon at the pool, I decided to mix things up a little. Kevin was unsure. “How much is the price difference?” he asked, as the DH is generally priced less than the Grand, but Kevin was skeptical. “Is it really worth it?” Kevin is a huge fan of the Grand.

Ha! It was totally worth it! The pools – even while under construction – rocked. I told the kids there was a pirate ship, but that was the part under construction, yet the waterslides more than made up for it. It felt like we were at a water park. There are three slides, well staffed, that appealed to all ages. Did I mention well staffed? Because here’s what I did:

We left the pool after receiving a text that our room was ready, and we were really surprised by how large the room was. By now, we’d pretty much forgotten the Grand existed.

The Disneyland Hotel feels more quiet and less bustling from the Grand, probably because the Disneyland Hotel is broken up into towers, instead of being on one building with one giant lobby.

Later that night, after the kids had finally fallen asleep, we could see fireworks from our room. Mind you, it’s not a fireworks viewing room and the show was partially obscured by one of the hotel towers, but it was a marvelous surprise. We tried to wake up Clover, but she was sound asleep, and when we said, “We can see fireworks!” she responded, full of annoyance, “I know,” gave a giant huff and rolled over. Of course, she didn’t remember any of that the next day.

Rainforest Cafe
We had dinner at Rainforest Cafe, which the kids love. They’d only been to the one in San Francisco, so they thought this was a nice surprise. We ate at Goofy’s Kitchen – the character themed dining at the Disneyland Hotel – on our last trip, and while we liked it a lot, I thought we’d try something different.

Rainforest Cafe was really convenient and perfect for the kids. I made the reservation the week before our trip, which was wise, because the walk up line was pretty long. The kids were entertained by the decor, and I nearly drank my weight in water. It was a win.

The Parks
We had one must-ride: the newly designed Star Tours. That was our main target. Once through the gate, I gave Kevin all our tickets and he power walked (no running in Disneyland!) to the ride to get us a FastPass. I walked behind with the kids, taking in all the fun of the park opening. I love how many of the workers line Main Street and wave while welcoming the guests. It gives me a warm, homey feeling. We made it to Star Tours and the line looked relatively short, plus there was no sign of Kevin, so we took our place. The line for the FastPass looked longer than the line for the ride, but Kevin eventually got our passes and joined us in the ride line. It was about a 45 minute wait, which I didn’t mind because nearly all of it was inside with air conditioning and some entertainment for the kids (including the big kids – I was astonished how many people recorded the entertainment, including the 18 year old girl behind us, who knocked Rocket a few times, as she leaned forward to take pictures). We loved the ride, but I felt a little queasy, which benefited Clover and Kevin, because later they rode it twice using the FastPasses while Rocket and I rode the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride a few times.

Once our main objective had been met, our day was wide open. We got FastPasses for Thunder Mountain Railroad, then for the first time ever, we stopped to let the kids play the Shooting Exposition in Frontierland after Rocket kept asking to go on the “gun ride.” I’ve seen the shooting range forever, probably my whole life, but I’ve never walked over there to try it.

After that, we went on the Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and took the train to Main Street, where we left for California Adventure.

California Adventure
We started with an early lunch, which is always a must because it prevents a meltdown, and we eat without a crowd or a lengthy table search. Next we grabbed a FastPass for Tower of Terror, and went into A Bug’s Land for a few rides until it was time for the tower. The Tower of Terror was the best ride. We had so much fun, although Rocket was a little freaked out. I clutched on to Clover as we lifted and dropped, all of us flying out of our seats the entire time. My eyes were closed from laughing so hard.

Next was California Screamin’ FastPasses while we went to the Toy Story ride, then back to California Screamin’, before heading back to Disneyland. The kids are eager to experience Cars Land, which should be awesome when it opens next summer.

Pool Break
By this time, the kids were begging to go back to the hotel pool, which says so much about how much they loved the waterslides. They love Disneyland, so if they were willing to forgo some rides to go into the pool, that meant the pool rocked. I was hot too, so I decided a pool break was in order, even though we’d plan to use our one day in the parks to the max. Kevin was disappointed, so I politely said he could go back to the park while I took the kids to the pool. Like a cartoon, he left a plume of smoke in his wake as he bolted away so fast. He did offer a polite, “Are you sure?” before he started to run.

Kevin loves Disneyland. This is what happens when you don’t take your children: they grow up to be adults who cannot stand to be out of the parks. When we met up two hours later, he rattled off the number of rides he went on. Being a single rider has advantages. (For the record, Kevin told me he went once in first grade, but his memory is only because he’s seen a few photos of the trip. He clearly remembers not being allowed to go to Disney World while in high school.)

But, back to us at the pool: it was a wise decision to take a break. We cooled off, the kids had fun, and we returned to the park recharged for the night.

Finishing at Disneyland

Once back in the park, we met Kevin (“I’ll meet you right at the gate!” when he really meant down on Main Street after he did one more ride) and got an early dinner. Once again, no lines or problems finding a table. After dinner we finally rode Thunder Mountain and a few other rides, including Dumbo, my perennial favorite, before grabbing dessert and heading to It’s a Small World for a night time show. The kids begged for ice cream the entire day, but after dinner, when I was ready to give in, the ice cream vendors had transformed into light up toy vendors. It wasn’t nearly as easy to find dessert as it was during the day, but we did it and grabbed a place to watch the show.

The Magic, The Memories, and You Show
The show was a lot of fun. I like the projection technology – it was just like the traveling World of Color show at the Legion of Honor. The kids liked to see all of the different photos, but I thought it was fun even without the photos.

After the show, we were quickly herded to a spot to see the fireworks. No one does fireworks better than Disney. This time there wasn’t only a flying Tinkerbell, but a flying Dumbo too. Love, love, love!

After the fireworks, we should have gone on a ride or two before leaving the park, but we joined the mass crowd exiting down Main Street because Rocket was tired and with an early morning ahead, both kids needed to go to bed. I regret not staying another half hour or so to get one more ride in while the crowd died down. Once again, I asked Kevin if he wanted to stay and he said no, but then politely offered to let me stay while he took the kids back, but I was just as tired as Rocket.

One day at Disneyland worked beautifully. I loved having one day at the hotel without park passes because we could relax at the pool without any tug to get back into the park. Kevin’s solution is that we should stay four days, with only a three day park hopper, but he agreed that we were able to do so much in one shot. Driving from the Bay Area was much easier than we’d ever thought, making more frequent trips to Disneyland likely. The one downer is that I barely took any photos and we didn’t take one picture with a character. I was trying to be in the moment of the day, but now, three weeks later, I wish I had some pictures! Instead, I have this action shot of Clover and Kevin on a Toon Town ride, taken with my iPhone:

Oh well. It’s a good reason to return soon.

Disclosure: Disneyland Resorts provided us with complimentary park passes, reserved seating for the night time shows, and some swag that came in handy because Kevin’s old backpack fell apart while in the park, so a new Disney backpack could not have been timed better. The opinions are my own.

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  1. August 22, 2011
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