Because you can’t attend a conference at the Disneyland Resort without actually visiting Disneyland, I decided to spend a day checking out the parks before heading home. It turns out there are now two parks at the Disneyland Resort, the original Disneyland itself, and Disney California Adventure. The latter is a bit like Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida or the Universal Studios parks, with lots of larger themed thrill rides and shows as opposed to the more themed rides for the younger audience at the original Disney parks. A family can certainly fill more than a day at each park, with more time needed to visit Downtown Disney and other area attractions, but being by myself, I speed-visited both parks in a single day. Having grown up going to the Disney World parks in Florida, I was anxious to see what the original park had to offer.
Getting to the parks is pretty easy from most hotels in the Anaheim area. There are a number of hotels within walking distance, and a few actually on the property. The City of Anaheim also provides shuttle busses that run at regular intervals all day from most hotels in the city for $5 a day per person. You will generally buy your ticket in the lobby of your hotel in the morning before you head out to the bus stop. When staying at the conference center Hilton, the ticket window and bus stop are actually across the street at the Marriott. The wait was minimal and I was able to get to and from the parks easily, even though the parks were reasonably crowded on the Friday I was there.
Whether walking or taking the bus, you will enter on the East side of the Disneyland parks block. There is a large promenade with Disneyland on the right or North side, and Disney California Adventure on the left or South side. Straight ahead is the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment area, as well as the on-property resort hotels.
I decided to head to Disneyland first and made a beeline toward the Rivers of America area to grab the first FastPass that I could get. One rule about visiting any Disney park is to make full and frequent use of the FastPass system. You get a FastPass by inserting your park ticket into a machine near the entrance of a ride. The machine then prints a special ticket for an hour or two in the future with an hour window. You then return during this time and enter a special FastPass Lane that is generally much shorter than the normal line. It’s not always a real quick line though. Sometimes I had to wait 20 minutes or more, even with the FastPass, though the normal line was usually over an hour in that case so it’s still faster.
One additional note on FastPass is that some rides (but not all), also allow single riders in the FastPass line without a FastPass. This means that you can ride as many times as you want, whenever you want, as long as you’re willing to split up. If there are two or more of you, your entire group can enter the FastPass/Single Rider line without a FastPass, but you will have to accept being split up to fill empty seats. The attendant at the entry who validates FastPasses will hand you a Single Rider ticket (in lieu of a FastPass ticket), so when you get to the end of the queue they will know your a single rider instead of a FastPass and will seat you accordingly.
After exhausting the major attractions in the Rivers of America area like the Safari Boat Ride, Indiana Jones Adventure, and of course the River Boat, I briefly walked through Fantasy Land to have a look at the kids rides.
Most of Disneyland is laid out similarly (and has similar rides and attractions) as the Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Florida, but it’s not the same. I was surprised actually how new and fresh it was. Being decades older than the Magic Kingdom, I expected it to look outdated and show its age. However, it was exactly the opposite. Disney has definitely spent the effort to keep the older park renovated. In fact, it also feels nicer, everything has a higher quality and more solid look and feel, and more attention to detail compared to the newer parks. It’s hard to describe, but after experiencing the original Disneyland park, I now feel like my beloved Disney World parks in Florida are a cheap knockoff of the original, as if they cut too many corners and optimized the new parks overly much. I suppose one might compare this to Apple without Steve Jobs…without Disney himself to oversee everything, commercialization and profit margin become more important than quality.
Tomorrowland is similar in some ways to its newer counterpart in Florida, but in the details it’s quite different. Space Mountain in fact is a completely different ride. It is still an indoor “rat race” roller coaster, but that’s where the similarity ends. Where the Space Mountain in The Magic Kingdom at Disney World is a narrow single-file train, the older ride at Disneyland is a two person side-by-side coaster. It is also a much smoother ride. I was surprised to find that I liked the original much better. Maybe it is because I grew up riding the new version and this one was just different, but it was definitely more enjoyable, for me at least.
By this time, the park was filling up and most of the larger and popular attractions were filling up with waits exceeding an hour or even two. I decided to ride the train once around the park. The train runs one large circle, just like at the Magic Kingdom, around the outside of the park, with stops in several locations.