As many of you probably know, I recently made my first trip to the Disneyland Resort in California as part of TouringPlans #Everywhere. A few months back, I wrote a post here about what I expected to find when I traveled to Disneyland. Well, now I’m back and will attempt to address all of my previous impressions, which were almost all made from a position of ignorance (as most of my impressions are). If you are planning a trip out west and do not want to be spoiled (like I didn’t) please read no further.
I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say, so let’s just get right into it:
Things I Expected to Be Better at Disneyland
- Fantasmic! – First one out of the gate and it’s not going well. Not that I didn’t like the show…I didn’t see it. I know it’s supposed to be fantastic (or fantasmic? No, that’s terrible.), but the crowds were just so unwieldy. Plus, with the kids it was impossible to stay for the later shows, so we decided to skip it. The good news is that this was the only thing we skipped.
- Pirates of the Caribbean – Holy cow, were people right about this being better. Walt Disney World got totally ripped off with their version of Pirates. The Disneyland version is quite a bit longer, with some fantastic, mood-setting scenes. It still has many of the same scenes as the WDW version, but with many more prior to the Barbosa-on-the-boat-attacking-the-fortress scene. There is a beautiful cave, a few extra skeleton scenes, and of course the fantastic bayou. It is considerably more atmospheric and something I would ride all day long. Unfortunately, it may have ruined the Disney World version for me forever.
- Space Mountain – It is true that Space at Disneyland is much smoother and more like a modern roller coaster than the Wild Mouse that the WDW version is. I still didn’t love it, but I am not a fan of the herky-jerky style of coaster and, even though it’s smoother, it’s still jerky. The Ghost Galaxy images that they add for Halloween time were cool and much scarier and more intense than I expected, which is a bonus for me. Unfortunately that was not a bonus for my daughter who did not enjoy the screaming flame-alien too much.
- General Wait Times – I expected there to be no wait times that got into the plan-hindering, multi-hour waits found at Walt Disney World. While it was true that there were no waits over about 75 minutes that I noticed (with the exception of Radiator Springs Racers which was regularly over that), what I did find was that many attractions had waits in the 20-60 minute range. While each one is not too bad to wait in, when you are trying to do as many attractions as possible, those medium-length waits became tedious. My final impression is that the waits are really not that much different between coasts. Oh well, at least I had a good Touring Plan.
- Food – Due to the close-proximity competition, I was expecting (hoping?) that the food would be better at Disneyland. For the most part I was right about this, although there were ups and downs. We specifically sought out well reviewed places, but overall I was impressed with the variety and most of the quality. More details about my food exploits will come in future posts.
Things I Expected Were Better at Walt Disney World
- Tomorrowland – Okay, the WDW Tomorrowland is probably better, but if this was a European soccer league they would both get relegated. The WDW version has more neon, a little bit better layout, and the PeopleMover. The Disneyland version felt a little complicated to navigate and was often very crowded around the giant path-blocker that is the Astro Orbiter. Frankly, I don’t really enjoy spending time in either one.
- Splash Mountain – This is another marginal victory for the Florida version. Much of the story and a few of the scenes are exactly the same, and where they differed, the Disneyland scenes were comparably enjoyable. Where the west coast version suffers is in its uncomfortable seating and ride. I found that the log banged into the walls at a high frequency, which required a lot more bracing than the WDW ride.
- Tower of Terror – Great attraction and the boiler room area is more detailed and interesting than the Disney World edition. Other than that, the Florida version is either the same or better in every way. The lack of the 5th dimension, where the car moves out of the elevator, robs the California Adventure version of an amazing scene.
Things I Expected to be Shockingly Different
- Haunted Mansion – I was pretty excited to see the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay that is placed in the Disneyland Haunted Mansion despite not being a fan of the Tim Burton stop-motion film. I was very surprised at not only how much I enjoyed the different take on the Haunted Mansion, but how much work is put into the overlay. I was expecting to see a few extra set pieces and some Santa hats on suits of armor, but there were changes to almost every scene, some fairly extreme. Another surprise was that my children loved it even more than the regular version (despite not making it more than 10 minutes into the movie) and we ended up riding it 4 times.
- The Castle – I was right, it’s so tiny! Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is so cute and petite that it’s almost unnoticeable sitting at the end of Main Street. It’s a beautifully proportioned structure, but I’m so used to the towering Cinderella Castle that I couldn’t get past the micro-sized fortress.
- Size and Space – I expected to find the compact size of the Disneyland Resort “both exciting and disorienting.” As much as I hate (love) to say it, I was totally right. In five days at the resort I never managed to get my brain to accept that I could see both the Matterhorn and Tower of Terror (which are in different parks) from the street outside. On top of the proximity of the two parks to each other,Disneyland itself was incredibly disorienting to Magic Kingdom regulars. Everything is smaller and closer together, which is great for touring and helps make it more atmospheric, but makes the walkways pretty crowded with even moderate attendance levels. It also seems super-weird that rides such as Peter Pan’s Flight and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride are literally 18 inches from either (okay, maybe not literally). I now understand why people love the scope of Disneyland and the entire resort. I also understand why Walt decided he wanted more space all those years ago.
Thoughts About Things That Are Incomparable to Walt Disney World
- Cars Land – Spectacular. I could go on at length about how well Cars Land was done and how pleasantly enjoyable it is, but it’s easier to say that I can’t think of a single thing wrong with it. It gets crowded, but even the crowds don’t detract much from the atmosphere. The neon lighting at dusk is charming and amusing, even if it isn’t much of a ceremony. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the movie, the small Route 66 town that is stuck in the 1950s is wonderful. It is busy for good reason.
- Paradise Pier – I was expecting this section of Disney’s California Adventure to let me down since I’m all-too-familiar with second-rate seaside carnivals. It was better than I thought it would be, but not by much. I will admit that it is a pretty area that is quite photogenic, but most of the attractions are loosely-themed carnival rides like a wild mouse (Goofy’s Sky School) and swings (Silly Symphony Swings). The very cool California Screamin’ roller coaster is worth the trip over to this section, but there may not be much of a reason to stay.
- World of Color – I wasn’t sure how much I’d like California Adventure’s nighttime spectacular, but the answer was “quite a lot.” The project-stuff-on-sprays-of-water technology (scientific term) has been improved greatly since Fantasmic! was installed in Florida and the water spouts are well used. I still feel like the movie clip show portion was a little too long (I’d rather see more fountains), but it was moving and beautiful. I respect that the show is unique compared to other Disney night shows and I fully understand why there are constant rumor about bringing it east.
- New Orleans Square – I love New Orleans, I love Port Orleans-French Quarter, and I love New Orleans Square. Sitting in the French Market eating red beans and rice and listening to live jazz music is something I would do over and over.
- Toontown – I was amazed at how large and how detailed the Toowntown in Disneyland was. That said, we really only visited it once to ride Roger Rabbit and Gadget’s Go-Coaster, so I feel under-prepared to go into much about it. I wish we had more time to explore it because it looked very fun.
- Fantasyland – Medieval village > medieval carnival. The lovely stone buildings and cobblestone that Disneyland’s Fantasyland was remodeled into far exceeds the Disney World version. We should all hope that the Magic Kingdom receives the same treatment someday.
My final conclusion surprised me a little bit. It’s that the two American parks are much less comparable than I thought they were. Sure, there are similar, and sometimes identical, attractions, but the parks themselves are fairly different. Obviously Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom are the most closely related, but there are such stark differences between them that I feel it does each an injustice to compare them directly. Each one is a unique experience and worth the time and effort to visit. I am very glad I have finally gotten to visit Disneyland and hope to again someday.
Thanks for reading.