My parents took me to Disneyland when I was about 4 years old. They lugged around a heavy VHS camcorder to record the memories. They endured repeat rides of “it’s a small world” for me (Sorry, Mom and Dad). I got scared when I heard the ticking clock of Tick-Tock the Crocodile outside the Peter Pan ride and my hand slipped out of my Mother’s hand as I ran to escape. She found me moments later. I remember seeing all kinds of animals on the Jungle Cruise that I believed were real. A small swing band played a song and called out to me by name. (I didn’t remember that my name was written on the front of my hat). Disneyland felt like a magical place where my imagination could fill in the gaps.
One of the perks of working for ILM, owned by Disney, is you can receive a pair of Disneyland tickets each year. I hoped to give my son a similar experience to my own (and also had to book the trip before the tickets expired). Thanks to a generous friend at ILM for sponsoring our second day in the parks. I’ve loved dreaming up new theme parks or ones based on my interests for a long time, which are usually translated into a messy sketch. This can be fun activity with kids: to imagine and draw a map of their own theme park.
Disneyland is the first Disney theme park ever built, opening in 1955. It has more history and arguably more charm than any other Disney park. Because it’s located in Anaheim, California, I recommend flying into John Wayne Airport or Long Beach Airport rather than busy LAX if you can, for less stress and about a 30 minute shorter drive to the park. While Disney World in Florida is larger and contains more attractions, the California location has some exclusive ones (notably Indiana Jones Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers, and Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure) and more mild weather year round. Disneyland’s smaller size makes it easier to get around with younger children, though more difficult to navigate around crowds in tight spaces.
One Ride in One Day
Our flight arrived in the afternoon and I made the silly assumption that we’d want to go straight to park after checking in to our hotel. I fell for marketing and paid for the extra Genie+ for that day. After a quick meet with two lovely friends at our hotel lobby, we headed to the park. A parade was about to start, my son saw Minnie, and he gave her a high-five. A very nice mother let us resume our place in line to take the Disneyland Railroad while we were deciding what to do. Riding the train first was a good way to see an overview of the park. But my wife and son were so tired that we ended up doing a round-trip, leaving the park, going to bed early after I grabbed us dinner. So I paid for day passes with Genie+ for 1 ride. Silly me. I don’t think Genie+ or Lighting Lanes are essential, but can be helpful if you have limited time.
Attractions at Disneyland
I’ve created an interactive webpage on Notion that you can sort, filter, search, and duplicate as a template for your own trip planning. Of the attractions we experienced, my favourites were: Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, Autopia (my son liked this one so much he cried when we were getting off), Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the Mark Twain Riverboat. From previous trips, I also enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, Indiana Jones Adventure, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. What I particularly appreciate about most of the rides at Disneyland is that they are immersive stories with characters rather than simply thrill rides designed to be thrilling or stimulating. I think this is why the park is particularly enjoyable for children.
Tips: Rope drop (go first) to the ride you most want to do in the morning. Prioritize your preferences over efficiency. There is more to see and do in Disneyland than in DCA, so I’d plan a minimum of 1 full day here and a maximum 2 full days for DCA. The park-hopper pass is useful if you have limited time and want the flexibility.
Food at Disneyland
I wrote more about food and the benefits of Mobile order in Disneyland in general in my DCA post. Of all the lands in Disneyland, I think Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has the most fun food, since they try to make it look exotic and sci-fi. I would plan on getting meals from Docking Bay 7 and Ronto Roasters next time. Hard to find Asian food options in this park, yet many of the food options in Galaxy’s Edge are Asian-inspired. I tried the blue milk: it had a strange taste and wasn’t worth the price. The Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country has plenty of covered seating. The Dole Pineapple whip from Tiki Juice Bar in Adventureland was delicious.
I’ve been eager to see this land in person ever since it was announced and later opened in 2019. The set design and world-building is top notch. While it has too few rides and shows (I hope this increases), there is a lot of exploring to do, and it’s an excellent space for cosplay photo shoots. The lighting and mood is different and extra special once the sun has set, so I do recommend visiting it at before and after dark. They play sound effects of spaceships landing and taking off that is so convincing, you’ll see gullible people looking up to try to spot them flying overhead (guilty). Rise of the Resistance was closed when we tried to go on, but I have that ride to look forward to next time, having heard it is top notch.
Andrew’s Midnight Run
On our last night in Disneyland, I quietly rolled out of bed once my son was asleep. The plan I had discussed with my wife earlier that day was that I would go back to the park after we put him down. We whispered goodbyes and I tip-toed out the door. It was 10:30pm. Drowsiness was replaced with energy as I power-walked to the park in the cool night air, after exiting the Grand Californian hotel. I made it from our hotel room to the entrance of Smuggler’s Run (the Millennium Falcon ride in Galaxy’s Edge/Star Wars land) in 22 minutes. I think that’s less than 12 parsecs? Disneyland is open to midnight, and less crowded around that time too (though not every part is open). But instead of waiting an hour to get on a one ride, I was able to go on 3 rides in 2 different lands (Smuggler’s Run, Star Tours, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters) and check out some gift shops. While exploring the park solo was less enjoyable than with my family, I appreciated the opportunity to experience the park at closing time and those rides.
Best Age to Visit
From what I’ve read and experienced, age 4-6 will be able to enjoy more at Disneyland than younger toddlers. They’ll meet more ride height requirements, recognize more characters, and are young enough to enjoy meet & greets. But potentially the best age is between 7-12, as height restrictions no longer apply, tantrums aren’t a thing anymore, and you can skip Mickey’s Toontown and some of the more crowded areas and rides. For teens and adults, it really depends on your interests.
This is part 4 of my blog series about our trip to Disneyland in June 2023. You might also enjoy reading: Disney California Adventure Park: A Mixed Bag, Our Stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, and 10 Tips for Flying with a Toddler. Thank you for reading!