This review of Disneyland California is written by guest blogger Amanda Nash:
We just returned from our Southern California vacation that included 4 days in the 2 Disney parks, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
We actually stayed on Disney property for 7 nights at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa. Anaheim is a great location to stay if you are interested in exploring the San Diego area too. We liked staying in the comfort of a Disney resort since we are familiar with the Disney way. We flew into LAX airport in Los Angeles and we spent a few days in Los Angeles to do all of the tourist/sight-seeing things there before we drove to Anaheim. The traffic from L.A. to Anaheim was ridiculous! We were in very heavy traffic until we were about 10 minutes from Anaheim. If you are doing a Disney only California vacation I would highly recommend flying into Orange County (John Wayne) airport because you will be much closer to Disneyland and have less time in the traffic mess.
The Grand Californian Resort reminded me a lot of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort in Florida. The hotel has an arts & craft design with a gigantic lobby. There is a massive fireplace in the lobby with rocking chairs. There is also a grand piano playing in the lobby. It is quite lovely and peaceful. Our check in process was short & simple. We spent our first 3 nights in a regular hotel room. We have 3 children so the room we were given had a queen size bed with bunk beds. The bunk beds had a trundle bed under them so all three kids slept in the bunks. The room had a flat screen t.v., a small refrigerator, and a desk. The bathroom sinks (double vanity) were separated from the toilet/bathtub which was nice for getting everyone ready and out of the room quickly. The space was a bit small for 5 people although we had a nice balcony with a great view of Disney’s California Adventure theme park. We found that there were not enough electrical outlets for us all to charge our electronic devices at the same time, I would definitely pack a power strip next time.
After three nights we moved to a one bedroom villa at the Grand Californian. We are Disney Vacation Club members but anyone can book a villa with cash, based on availability. If you are traveling with a large group a villa can end up being more affordable than booking several different rooms. There are studio villas that can sleep up to 4, one bedroom villas that can sleep 5 and include 2 full bathrooms with a full kitchen, 2 bedroom villas can sleep up to 9 which include 3 full bathrooms and a full kitchen, and 3 bedroom Grand Villas that can sleep up to 12 people.
The one bedroom villa was much more spacious. All villas include a washer and dryer so we purposely packed lightly knowing we would be able to do laundry in our room. Our villa was not ready at the promised check in time (4:00 p.m.) so the Cast Member at the check in desk gave us vouchers for free dinner at any Disney restaurant while we waited for the room.
There are two sit down restaurants at the Grand Californian, Napa Rose and Storyteller’s Café. One of the biggest differences between Disney in Florida and Disney California is that you can actually walk up to just about every restaurant and get seated. That does NOT happen in Florida, you must make dining reservations six months in advance or you are taking a risk of not getting in. We went to Storyteller’s Café for dinner and it was delicious. You could either get the buffet or order from a menu. We all chose the buffet. The price was $30 per adult (ages 10+) and $14 for ages 3-9. We had not planned to dine in this restaurant at all but since Disney paid for it, we went.
In addition to the two sit down restaurants there is a lounge at the Grand California, the Hearthstone Lounge. There is a bar and also a large area with tables & chairs. My husband and son enjoyed watching World Cup soccer games in the lounge. There is also a location to buy some food items, White Water Snacks.
Everything is priced similar to Disney World in Florida, which is to say that everything is priced way too high!
If you have a rental car there are several grocery stores and restaurants that are within a few blocks of the Grand Californian so you can easily avoid paying the theme park prices for food. The Disney dining plan is not the same in California either. Essentially you pay for your dining up front but it doesn’t really offer any savings.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are so close together I would definitely recommend buying the park hopper tickets. You can actually get a Fast Pass in one park, leave the park to go on rides in the other, then return for your Fast Pass. The entrances to the parks are approximately 100 yards apart. Everything is very close in California!
Disneyland is the original Magic Kingdom park and it definitely reminds you of Magic Kingdom in Florida. Everything is smaller, closer together, the lines are much narrower. There are no Magic Bands in California they still use paper tickets. In an effort to prevent ticket fraud the Cast Member at the entrance gate took our pictures on a hand held device. Each time you went in a park you had to get the ticket scanned by a person with the camera device to be sure it was you before you handed the ticket to the gate agent. This process really slowed down the line and it seemed like we had traveled back in time. The old Fast Pass machines are still in place in California which seemed very strange too.
The Cast Members in California do not seem to be as well trained as the workers in Florida. Multiple times we asked questions to Cast Members and we were told things like “I’m not really sure” or “I don’t know”. For those of you who have been to Disney World you know that that will not happen! If they don’t know the answer to a question they will find out for you. The workers in California seem to just be local people and high school kids, not people who have dreamed of working for Disney.
There were noticeably less strollers and scooters in the park in California. It was a good thing though because the walkways are so much smaller there would be nowhere for people to move.
There are some things that are better in California than in Florida….Pirates of the Caribbean, Small World, and Fantasmic. Fantasmic is done on the Rivers of America so you are very close to the show, Small World has Disney characters added to the ride, and Pirates of the Caribbean is a much longer ride. You can watch all of these on YouTube.
There are also attractions that are not in Florida….Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Indiana Jones (roller coaster in California), Bug’s Land (rides for little ones based on the movie A Bug’s Life), Car’s Land, the Paradise Pier area (includes Mickey’s Fun Wheel).
The princesses are also prettier in California (probably aspiring actresses) and the entertainment in the parks is incredible, so much talent!
California Adventure park is the home to the newest addition, Cars Land. It is amazing and feels like they have actually put you in the movie Cars. It is nice that Disney has started doing something more for boys but Cars Land is enjoyable to everyone. The main attraction in Cars Land is Radiator Springs Racers. This is a must do, even if there is a long line. Our wait first thing in the morning was about 30 minutes but the line kept moving so it wasn’t too bad. There is a very long line to get a Fast Pass for Radiator Springs Racers so I would recommend going to this ride first thing in the morning and waiting in the line.
There isn’t as much to do at Disneyland Resort in California as in Florida, but I think this makes it a great trip for young children. You can easily do both parks in just a few days and everything is within walking distance.
While I highly recommend the Grand Californian Resort, there are many good neighbor hotels that are also very close and much more affordable than the Grand Californian. Our airfare was $305 roundtrip on Southwest from Indy to LAX, so comparable to the airfare for a trip to Orlando.