So I had to good fortune to travel to Disneyland this month with girlfriends for the Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon weekend. Really any excuse to travel to Disney is good in my book, but for my very first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, it made it all the more special to experience it with good friends (who also know a thing or two about planning for Disneyland!)
When asked if I enjoyed Disneyland as much as Walt Disney World, I got the sense that the people asking were expecting me to be underwhelmed or disappointed given that my benchmark is Orlando. Quite the contrary—I found Disneyland to be more accessible and a bit more intimate (if that can be said about a theme park!)
Let me break it down for you and see if you agree with my “findings.”
What I Liked:
So easy to go everywhere! The parks are within walking distance to each other, and Downtown Disney is right there, too. While some might say that makes it seem small, I found it to be more charming and manageable because of the close proximity. Brings a whole new meaning and value to “Park Hopping” when you can literally move from Disneyland to California Adventure in 5 minutes or less!
The food. We didn’t play when it came to dining: Napa Rose, Carthay Circle, Blue Bayou, Café Orleans, Carnation Café, and Flo’s V-8 Café just to highlight a few. Napa Rose absolutely blew my mind! The food and service were exceptional. We had a divine pappardelle appetizer recommended by our servers Isaac and Roberto, followed by the duck and filet mignon. We were in hog heaven!
The novelty of everything! I felt like a kid riding Alice in Wonderland and Pirates of the Caribbean. Indiana Jones Adventure and California Screamin’ thrilled, while we chilled in It’s a Small World (and enjoyed the Christmas overlays still present). At my first view of Radiator Springs, I was simply in awe. And I’m a grown woman! Overall, Cars Land had an attention to detail that was amazing.
The character access and interactions. I mean, they were just walking around…this NEVER happens at WDW. None of them even had “handlers.” I just love the whole spirit around being able to walk up and interact with Mickey or be walking and have a random conversation with Peter Pan about his shadow as he walks up beside me!
Trader Sam’s. Yes, it deserves its own spot on the Best List! The bartenders are fun-loving and engaging, and the theming and design is thoroughly entertaining. Loved making Mount Krakatoa erupt and my shrinking bar stool—want to know more, you’ll have to just go!
Mickey beignets at Mint Julep Bar. Pure powdered sugar and dough bliss.
More Laid Back Atmosphere. It felt that Disneyland is far more flexible and you don’t have to make reservations 180 days in advance. Granted, we had a Disneyland expert in our midst who maximized our time with FASTPASS (kicking it old school with PAPER ones) and making dining reservations for us. But the sense I got was that not having to be so structured just made the trip feel less hurried and more relaxed.
What I Didn’t Like:
All the attractions that were closed. Seriously, no World of Color? That alone was my biggest bummer. Plus, Haunted Mansion, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Splash Mountain were also down. At some point I wish they could have offered discounted tickets since so many of the marquee attractions were not open. Yeah, I’m clearly delusional!
Sleeping Beauty Castle. OK maybe it’s a bit unfair to place this on the Least Liked List, but compared to Cinderella Castle, it was woefully lacking in making the statement that “You’re in the Happiest Place on Earth.” Aurora needs to get Disney to spruce up her digs! Not the focal point that Disneyland deserves in my humble opinion.
Blue Bayou. I will probably make a few enemies for saying this one, but I was really underwhelmed by this experience. To be fair, it had to follow Napa Rose and that would be difficult position for any restaurant. But both the food and service just weren’t up to snuff. Our server was largely absent and near the end of the meal, he nearly pulled my friend out of her chair by accident by moving by too fast. For $ 40, my Jambalaya was overpriced and not a great dish. But I will have to admit that Blue Bayou has a purely delightful ambiance reminiscent of being outdoors in the South in the summertime. (Only without the dang humidity!)
Guess I just have to go back and visit Disneyland again to give some of these attractions a second chance and hit my favorites. Chime in and let me know-am I on the money here or way out in left field? Let me know your favorites and why!