A Floridian visiting Disneyland...what should they know?

December 3, 2014, 7:02 AM

So, as a Florida resident who has visited the Orlando Disney resort on countless occassions, I've always been curious to plan a trip to the Disneyland resort in California to see "the park that Walt built". A few questions always spring to mind when I daydream about this potential trip...

1. What rides that are in both Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in California are considered different enough experiences that they would be a must do in Disneyland, even if I've already ridden their counterpart in Orlando. I know Pirates of the Caribbean is the obvious one, but what others? For example, is Splash Mountain in Disneyland THAT much different from the Florida version that on a tight schedule I'd want to ride it to compare the two?

2. What airport should I fly into? Assuming avoiding LAX is a good idea. I would think if you were just going to visit Disneyland, you could fly to a nearby airport, take a cab to the resort and not have to drive anywhere. Thoughts?

3. Which hotel to stay in? On site or offsite? And is it really that much of a difference in California since the actual area is really not as huge as the Orlando parks.

4. How many days? Could you do it all (Disneyland and California Adventure) in 2-3 days? Or would it be better to have four. Again, this would assume I'm making my one and only trip to Disneyland California to check it off my bucket list, so obviously I'd want to take it all in and experience as much as I can.

5. Aside from attractions, what are some of the spots that really speak to Walt Disney the man...sort of the spots you can stand and reflect and know that Walt had his hands on this particular area/attraction/building,etc...

Those are the main questions that spring to mind...this would be a dream trip for me, howevever it's probably not in the near future.

Replies (13)

December 3, 2014, 7:33 AM

Hi Derek, I'm not an actual Floridian but have been going to WDW from the UK since 1989. This year we finally made it to California!
My goal at DL was to do all the rides not at WDW (or not there anymore *points at Mr Toad*)
I found myself loving Space Mountain in DL more than WDW - and was lucky enough to ride it 'normally' and as Ghost Galaxy.
Must admit that we didnt make it on things like Dumbo, Teacups - anything that is your stock standard 'fairground' ride in favour of Pinocchio, Alice, Snow White, Toad, Roger Rabbit...
A must ride in my opinion would be Indiana Jones.
I really loved California Adventure too. I couldnt help but whistfully think - this is what DHS should be. Aladdin, World of Color, Cali Screamin', ToT (I think different enough to warrant a ride or three like me) and in particular Cars Land were all outstanding. The Carsland neon lights coming on to Sh-boom at dusk - beautiful!

We had 3 days but I would have loved 4. As 1st time SoCal visitors we kind of didn't want DL to monoplise our time. We hit WB tour, Universal and wanted to be tourists in Santa Monica, Hollywood etc too. But we missed the Storybookland Canal boats, Casey Jr, a 3rd ride on Screamin'.....
I clearly just have to go back! I think its a must for any Disney fan - you can feel Walt's influence. I blew him a kiss goodnight to his apartment when we left the last time.

(We stayed offsite near Knotts as we had a car and were going to lots of places - took us maybe 20 minutes to get to DL)

December 3, 2014, 7:52 AM

And - I'm harping on. But you can FEEL the difference in the parks. I read that while WDW is huge, DL gives you a hug... it does. And I 'felt' Walt everywhere! I walked under the train tunnel and burst into tears!

Edited: December 3, 2014, 2:58 PM

1. Disneyland Resort must-dos for Florida visitors:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Haunted Mansion Holiday (if you're here from Sept-Dec.)
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- The Enchanted Tiki Room (the original, and much better staged than in Orlando)
- Big Thunder Mountain (for the final scenes special effects)
- Sailing Ship Columbia or Explorer Canoes (two ways to get around the river not in Orlando)
- Matterhorn
- It's a Small World
- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
- Storybook Land
- Alice in Wonderland
- Autopia (much more scenic than the Tomorrowland Speedway)
- Space Mountain
- Buzz Lightyear (better guns)
- All of Cars Land
- Monsters Inc.
- Toy Story Midway Mania with no Fastpass and a short standby wait, just because you can
- Fantasmic (much better than in Orlando)
- Soundsational parade
- World of Color

I'd also try to eat at the Carthay Circle and the Blue Bayou, or the Cafe Orleans if the Bayou is too expensive. If you go to a quick-service restaurant, try not to faint when you get real plates and metal flatware. ;^)

2. LAX, unless you're flying here from somewhere else on the west coast that has direct service to John Wayne/Orange County. Get the Gray Line shuttle to Disneyland if you are not renting a car. (You won't need a rental car if all you are doing in SoCal is visiting Disneyland. Unlike WDW, DL is a completely walkable resort.)

3. On-site hotel preferences: Grand Californian, Disneyland.... stay offsite, Paradise Pier. Use Google Maps to confirm how far off-site hotels are. You can find plenty within easy walking distance. Maybe go with whatever chain with which you have points?

4. To do both parks, a first-time visitor needs at least three days if visiting on days when APs are blocked out, and maybe four days if visiting on "shoulder season" days when they are not.

5. Splurge and take the "Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour. That's exactly what you're looking for.

Hope this helps!

December 3, 2014, 3:34 PM

Disneyland Hotel was recently renovated and you can use the new pool, which seems very nice. You're within walking distance to the main entrance and the monorail for easy access. I recommend at least 4 night stay so get a 5 day pass.

Don't pass up Universal Studios Hollywood as an extra day visit. Walt Disney's Burbank studios is nearby. You can see it from the street. Walt Disney's influence is around other landmarks around Southern California like Griffith Park. You should buy a book about this. I get enough Walt Disney from just visiting Disneyland/DCA. That's recent movie about the the making of Mary Poppins "Saving Mr. Banks" should be required viewing.

December 3, 2014, 4:55 PM

Robert's opinions are pretty much right on, but I'll add my thoughts as well.

1. I haven't been to Florida so my knowledge of WDW's attractions is based on photos, videos, and descriptions, but Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain are the only two I would say are so different they are absolute must rides at both parks. However, numerous attractions are similar but still worth doing even if you've done them in Florida, including:

-Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
-Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
-Disney Animation
-Disneyland Railroad
-The Enchanted Tiki Room
-Haunted Mansion (if the Holiday version is in effect, this joins the absolute must ride attractions)
-Mark Twain Riverboat/Sailing Ship Columbia
-Soarin' Over California
-Splash Mountain
-Star Tours
-Toy Story Midway Mania
-Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

With the exception of carnival spinner attractions and walk-through attractions, I would also consider anything that doesn't currently exist or no longer exists in Florida to be a must ride at Disneyland.

2. If you can fly into John Wayne Airport (SNA) without having excessive stops en route or spending a lot more, that is definitely the better option. Otherwise, if you fly Jet Blue you'll be able to use Long Beach (LGB), but otherwise LAX is the most suitable choice.

3. If you've got the money for Grand Californian, it is worth it. If not, either stay at the Disneyland Hotel or off-site. The main benefit from staying on-site is early entry, but you only get in one hour early and the benefit is pretty limited unless you've only got one or two park days.

4. If you want to be sure to do everything, three days. If you get to the parks at opening, stay until closing, move at a reasonable pace, and have a touring plan it isn't too difficult to do 20 or more attractions in a day (my one day record...37 during a 16 hour day). You would only need four days if you're visiting during an extremely crowded period, you want a lot of re-rides, or you intend to take it slow. Two days is satisfactory to do all the major attractions but you may have to skip the smaller ones.

5. Like Robert said, take the tour. It's hard to note any specific area when I haven't visited WDW and am so used to Disneyland, but I did visit Disneyland Paris a couple years ago and even areas with a similar look and theme just felt different than they did at California's Disneyland.

December 3, 2014, 6:33 PM

I am planning a trip there in May, but have been there before:

1. Robert pretty much covered it all. Just remember, Disneyland is like the Magic Kingdom, but much smaller. Even if they are the same ride, Disneyland has some charm. These are mostly the original copy. Probably the most alike attractions would be Splash Mountain and the Haunted Mansion, but still not to miss. I do not see a difference in Fantasmic...weird

2. LAX is really the only viable option, bite the bullet!

3. This is where Disneyland is different than Disney World. There are a ton of outside companies that have great rooms. You really do not get much of a perk staying at a Disney resort, except proximity. Grand Californian is very similar in style and feel to Wilderness Lodge at WDW. We also really liked the Paradise Pier hotel. It doesn't scream Disney, but the rooms were really nice.

4. I would make it a cool four days. That gives you at least two days per park. Disneyland Park has a lot of really cool hidden gems that are lacking at the MK.

5. Unfortunately, the Disney Studios is not open for tours so you need to find Walt's hand prints all over the orignianl Disneyland Park. There is the petrified tree that he gave his wife, the rides that HE rode, and the vision he had.

I am a WDW guy myself and I found DLR a bit clastraphobic, but to understand Disney Parks, you need to go to the first. There you can see all of Disney's "mistakes" when building a park. I do not say "mistake" in a bad way. He seriously did not think that the park was going to be this popular and it shows!

Case in point: Think of MK's Main Street USA. If you were to put the Sleeping Beauty's Castle on MK's Main Street, it would be situated right around where Casey's is. DL is that short!

Edited: December 3, 2014, 10:30 PM

1. Others have pointed out that Space Mountain at Disneyland is better, which is definitely true - the soundtrack is one of the best parts. The Haunted Mansion is great at both locations, and quite different at DL vs MK. However, as a newbie to DL, make sure you see Indiana Jones, the Matterhorn, and Carsland. All 3 have similar rides at WDW (Dinosaur, Space Mountain, and Test Track, respectively), but the DL attractions are quite different - and in the case of Indy, quite better!

2. If you want to avoid renting a car, consider Burbank. The Bob Hope airport is located directly adjacent to the Metrolink / Amtrak station, which can take you straight to Anaheim. From there, it's an easy taxi / shuttle ride to DL. If you want to rent a car, LAX will probably have the cheapest rental car rates and airfares.

3. For your hotel - have you ever looked into renting DVC points? Being a Florida resident, you may not be familiar with the Disney Vacation Club, but renting points can be a cheap(er) way to stay at places like the Grand Californian. Several companies now offer rentals, two of which have very good reputations.
If you do decide to stay offsite, distance to the park won't really be an issue - you can get to DL from anywhere in Orange County fairly easily.

As to the other points, I think the previous posters have said all I could think to say. Have fun!

Edited: December 4, 2014, 6:56 AM

Having grown up (and worked the College Program) at WDW, Disneyland is now my favorite. There's something to its intimate scale and Walt's thumbprint. Plus, they just put more effort into keeping things fresh and doing even the small things, really well (see: real plates and silverware).

1. Agree that Robert covered it. Would add:
- Ride Dumbo! You can't fly near the Castle at WDW anymore (I like the circus, I miss the view).
- Try Fantasyland first thing in the morning, after grabbing a FastPass to a must-do like Space Mountain. Or go around parade time. You usually can ride many rides quickly. Be thankful there's no FastPass+ inflating standby times here!
- Fantasmic! at DL is grander yet more intimate. With a Pirate ship!
- The Mansion experiences feel different, even if much is the same. WDW has the edge; both are great.
- Skip Splash unless you love the ride.
- The Monorail! Try both directions, but the ride back from DTD is really cool once in DL. Perhaps sneak out to DTD for dinner, and ride back?
- DL Entertainment: if you like shows, there are many big and small. Look at calendars. Small things like the Fantasy Faire stage are quite charming, and Aladdin is a lot of fun.

2. Agree on LAX and the shuttle, especially if you get a walking distance hotel.

3. Hotel: Disney is really, really expensive for what you get. There are many hotels within walking distance, and there's also the ART shuttle. It's a resort bus, with a small fee, that runs to/from DL. When visiting for the D23 Expo and staying at the convention hotels, I've both walked and shuttled, depending on mood, tiredness, etc. Takes about the same time, actually.

Most hotels are Good Neighbor and offer some WDW-resort like benefits, including early entry. Other than Grand Californian, non-DL hotels are often closer, too. Paradise Pier is really far away, actually.

Save that money for other things: dinners at DL hotels or Downtown Disney, souvenirs, the Walt tour, etc.

DL Hotel highlights: Trader's Sam's Tiki Bar at the DLH (amazing experience that is coming to the Polynesian). Sit and relax in the lobby at the Grand Californian.

4. If a once-in-a-lifetime, 4 days. But you can see it in 3. Remember, it's amazingly easy to park-hop--just 100 yards away. Dedicate one day to each park, and park hop on the 3rd. You can check out calendars and make plans to go back and forth. Just don't try to do that with nighttime events like fireworks and World of Color.

5. Walk In Walt's Footsteps is worth it, especially if going for 4 days. Disney Visa cardholders get a discount. (If you have one, check out their perks page for DL before visiting.) D23 members may also get a discount.

Also, the WDW Studios does offer tours, through D23, so if you're there at the right time and are a member, you may be able to schedule one.

One more: many folks call DL (not DCA) small; it's cozy. The castle is tiny, yet delightful. And has a walkthrough! It's simple, yet feels cramped and dark, like a real castle. You will also be a bit disoriented at times, expecting a WDW/DL land/ride to be in the same place; takes a while to get used to.

As I live in NYC, I'm sort of used to the crowds and the scale reminds me of walkable neighborhoods like the West Village, with nooks and crannies. Take your time, sit down a bit, and take it in.

Have a great trip!

December 4, 2014, 11:28 AM

I don't recommend Burbank and then taking the Metrolink / Amtrak station to Anaheim. It's a mistake to use public transportation for a first timer to Southern California. In fact, it is a mistake to use it as a local resident too. The schedules for the trains outside of rush hour traffic is unreliable. Unless you have carry-on baggage, using a shuttle to get to your hotel is faster and less hassle.

Best to arrive at LAX and then take shuttle to Anaheim. LAX is closer to Anaheim. Alternative airport is John Wayne in Orange County. I highly recommend a rental car since there will be opportunity to see outside attractions. Disneyland Resort is way too small compared with Disney World in Orlando. You won't be confined to Anaheim no matter how much you try.

December 5, 2014, 12:36 PM

In addition to what everyone has already mentioned, here are a couple of things that are different from WDW that I feel shouldn't be missed at Disneyland and DCA (I think they sometimes get overlooked).

1. At Disneyland, I really thought Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-though was neat. It was cool to go inside the castle easily and without reservations.

2.At Disneyland, Main Street Cinema. This is a cute "standing" theater with 6 screens showing classic Walt Disney Cartoons, such as Steam Boat Willie. It's a great place to step into for a little break.

3. At Disneyland, there is a walk up window off to the corner of Cafe Orleans called the Mint Julep Bar. They serve the BEST beignets along with coffee and virgin Mint Juleps. Great for a rest and refreshing snack.

4. At DCA, the Animation Building. Such a cool place...not to be missed!

5. I agree with Robert to try and eat at Carthay Circle in DCA.

December 5, 2014, 3:42 PM

I agree with everyone. I do like the often missed Animation building. Pretty cool and the Aladdin show is right down the street. We always fly into John Wayne to avoid the business but we are flying from the west coast and can get a direct flight there. You may not be able to from the east.

December 5, 2014, 6:45 PM

Okay a few extra things:

1) Splash Mountain at WDW is much better than its DL counterpart. I was pretty underwhelmed with the ride. WDW's version has quite a few things going on as you float around the outside of its mountain. The DL one, not so much. There was no music or theme-ing to be found. Really surprising.

Space Mountain at DL mucho better than WDW's version. One reason, it doesn't break down every twenty minutes like it's Orlando counterpart. Plus I liked the queue better for some odd reason. It didn't feel as dark and claustrophobic as WDW's is.

The Matterhorn - The only ride in existence with a working Yeti. Definitely ride it.

Big Thunder Mountain is a toss up. The enhancements made on the DL version with the explosions is cool, but I almost feel that the WDW version is a bit more of a wilder ride.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - Ride it. It's the only place you can...

This hasn't been mentioned before, but riding the train round trip is entertaining and I thought worth it. Now I haven't rode the train at WDW since I was a child, but I had the chance to ride DL's this year. Although it may seem cheesy to some, I really liked seeing the diorama of the Grand Canyon and the Dinosaur area. Even though the dinos were not politically correct. If I recall, the dioramas were used at the World's Fair and brought back to DL after.

2.) If you're flying Southwest Airlines, depending on where you're coming from you can fly into Ontario or Anaheim. I flew into Ontario and rented a car. I had no problems driving from there to Anaheim, plus you skip the West LA traffic debacles. Ontario's rental lots are offsite, but I didn't have any problems with that.

3.) There are plenty of options other than Disney's hotels to stay near the parks and still be able to walk to them. That is one of the big advantages with DL. It's definitely not something Walt intended to happen, but I would much rather stay at similar accommodations as DL's hotels and pay less. Most places are within a half mile of the entry gates. If you're okay with walking a half mile, then it shouldn't be too big of an issue. Some places also provide shuttles, but I depended on my own two feet. I stayed at the Holiday Inn near DL. Nice place, weird layout, but great rooms for the price.

4.) I spent three full days at the parks and saw almost everything. I still haven't rode the Alice in Wonderland ride, Storybook Land, the monorail, or Finding Nemo (it was down for maintenance), but I felt that I was able to see the majority of both parks.

A few other notes- if you've never been to California or the LA area, it might be worth your while to check out the Hollywood and Highland area (watch out for the peddlers and weird folks in torn up Spiderman costumes). The Santa Monica Pier is a cool area. If you like movies, take the Warner Brothers Studio tour. If you're an obvious theme park junkie, trips to Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm might need to be added to your itinerary. At least Knott's since it's so close to DL.

Hope this helps too!

December 12, 2014, 2:41 PM

My reply is a bit late, but I've got a few more tips to share. I grew up on the West Coast and live in Orlando, so I know both Disney's pretty well.

1) Don't forget to thoroughly explore ToonTown. It's so much better there than what they put into Disney World, and there's a Roger Rabbit ride in it! It's a Small World is also better at Disneyland, though if it irritates you here, it will still do so there.

Pirates, Indie, Space Mountain, Mr. Toad, Storybook Land, Casey Jr., Alice in Wonderland are all must-dos. The only real difference with Splash Mountain is there is less comfortable seating.

As someone mentioned, you can actually walk into Sleeping Beauty's Castle there.

Most of the rides in California Adventures have enough differences with theming that you'll want to ride them all. Don't worry if you miss out on ToT, though. They tried to do the ride on a smaller footprint, and it just isn't as good as the HS version. You may as well ride Toy Story and Soarin', as well, just so you can enjoy the novelty of going on exactly the same rides that they have in Florida without waiting for hours in line!

2) If you're taking a shuttle, LAX is fine. If you're driving, try to fly into SNA. Traffic is much lighter, and it's easier to get to the car rental places.

3) I used to stay at the Alpine Inn. It's cheap and nearly as close as the Disney resorts. Now I stay at Best Western Stovall's Inn, which is on the corner across from the Disney hotels. The price is comparable to Alpine Inn, but you get a hot breakfast included with the price. Parking is free at both locations.

4) Off-season, 3 days is plenty. California Adventures doesn't usually take more than one day.

5) Remember, Walt was all about the trains. If you want to see his personal stamp, that's where you'll find it. Also, remember to look for the unassuming Club 33 in New Orleans Square. There's a tour that gets you into the club for a quick peak, but you can catch a glimpse of the upper floor above the Blue Bayou dining area while you ride Pirates.

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