First Time at Disneyland… For a Long Time Disney Fan

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When I was a young child I have very vivid memories of watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on the television with my grandfather.  Inevitably, our favorite episodes were those that were about a new attraction or some event that was taking place in Disneyland.  My grandfather and I talked often about the time when we would visit Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and see everything for ourselves.  Sadly, that trip never occurred due to many reasons.  Many years have passed and oddly, I never made that trip to the world’s most famous theme park.

The “Partners” statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

The “Partners” statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

This year my daughter, Liz, and I were talking about a place to spend a few vacation days, and I suggested that maybe both of us should meet up at Disneyland.  I would travel from the East Coast of the United States and my daughter would make the journey from the West Coast.  This would be a first-time visit for both of us.  We were not newbies to Disney parks.  Both of us have been to Walt Disney World so many times that we cannot even remember the exact number.  Somehow the lure of seeing Disneyland intrigued us.  Perhaps it was its mystical history or maybe even its direct link to Walt Disney, but visiting Disneyland seemed like a brand new adventure.  So we asked ourselves, would Disneyland be any more special than any other Disney park?

Disneyland Resort

We booked a trip to the Disneyland resort for the middle of November.  The resort is made up of the Disneyland theme park, Disney’s California Adventure amusement park, an area of restaurants and shops known as the Downtown Disney District, and three Disney themed hotels.

Pixar Pier and the Incredicoaster at Disney’s California Adventure Park

Pixar Pier and the Incredicoaster at Disney’s California Adventure Park

We decided to stay on-site at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel so that we would be able to walk to the parks each day.  We anticipated that this would be a time of the year when the weather would be predictably warm and the skies sunny.  Furthermore, we also knew that the Disney properties began decorating for the December holidays shortly after their Halloween celebration.  All of our assumptions proved to be true, and we delightfully arrived two days after the beginning of the annual Disney Festival of Holidays.

The Mark Twain Riverboat cruising along the Rivers of America in front of Tom Sawyer’s Island

The Mark Twain Riverboat cruising along the Rivers of America in front of Tom Sawyer’s Island

We purposely didn’t make many plans or even set up a day-by-day agenda.  We just wanted this experience to be a relaxing, joyful discovery.  One goal that interested me was finding the Disneyland I remembered seeing on television in my youth.  I wanted to find those things that were directly related to Walt Disney.  I remember watching television episodes about the Haunted Mansion, the Pirates of the Caribbean, Main Street U.S.A., and Tom Sawyer’s Island.  I had seen these at Walt Disney World, but I was interested in finding out if the experience was different at Disneyland.

The Disneyland monorail in front of the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland

The Disneyland monorail in front of the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland

Furthermore, I was also looking forward to attractions that were unique to Disneyland such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Radiator Springs Racers.

The “it’s a small world” attraction at Disneyland

The “it’s a small world” attraction at Disneyland

There were other unique things about Disneyland that I was also excited to explore.  As a very young child, I had the opportunity to attend the New York World’s Fair of 1964-1965 on multiple occasions.  Four attractions at that exhibition were designed by Disney Imagineers.  To this day I have vivid memories of seeing Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the State of Illinois Pavilion, sailing through “it’s a small world” presented by Pepsi-Cola/UNICEF, marveling at the General Electric Progressland presentation, and riding a Mustang automobile through the Ford Magic Skyway.  Some of those attractions made it back to Disneyland, and I was fascinated by what I would remember.

A recreation of a scene along Route 66 from Car’s Land at Disney’s California Adventure Park

A recreation of a scene along Route 66 from Car’s Land at Disney’s California Adventure Park

My daughter and I spent four days going back and forth between Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure park.  We attempted to see as much as possible at a reasonable pace.  We were never bored and developed a strategy of using Disney’s Fast Pass system to see the most popular attractions and looking for the shortest wait lines at others.  Eventually, we saw almost everything we wanted to see.

When you go

Some observations immediately caught my attention.  Disneyland seemed smaller and more compact than Walt Disney World, but it also seemed more comfortable.  Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland was noticeably less soaring than Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World.  Surprisingly, it was often not visible from many areas of the park.  None of this was disappointing, just different than I expected.  Many of the people appeared to have been to the park many times before.  We marveled that almost every visitor except us seemed to have a unique Disneyland shirt and hat to wear.  The variety of mouse ears and character-themed hats was amazing.  We were also struck by the fact that even though we knew there was a major city outside the boundaries of the park, we never saw or experienced it.  Disneyland is well designed to make visitors forget about the outside world and just enjoy a magically designed world of fantasy and fun.

Overall, our four days turned into a wonderful adventure.  We enjoyed all the traditional Disney rides and attractions such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain.  We liked the specially adapted holiday versions of It’s a Small World and the Haunted Mansion which was decorated with scenes from the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”  We marveled at how coasters such as Hyperspace Mountain and the Incredicoaster had a storyline attached to the ride that added a little extra excitement to the experience.

A pop-up Mary Poppins musical celebration in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

A pop-up Mary Poppins musical celebration in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

Pleasantly, we found ourselves in the middle of a pop-up Mary Poppins musical event in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

A well-positioned geyser on the Grizzly River Run rapids ride at Disney’s California Adventure Park

A well-positioned geyser on the Grizzly River Run rapids ride at Disney’s California Adventure Park

We even laughed when I got incredibly wet on the Grizzly River Run rapids ride due to an unexpected geyser that strategically appeared.  Overall, even though we found the parks more crowded than expected, the wait times were manageable, and we found that we were able to easily find seating at all the restaurants we visited.  One thing we appreciated was being able to walk to both Disney parks from our hotel.  The short stroll from the hotel through the Downtown Disney District to the entrance of both parks was a great way to begin and end each day.

The Disneyland Railroad

The Disneyland Railroad

Amazingly, I did find remnants of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.  I was pleased to see how prominently “it’s a small world” was featured in Disneyland.  Even though it had been refurbished, it still rekindled those feelings I experienced the first time I rode the attraction in New York.  I found some of the dinosaurs from the Ford Magic Skyway while riding the Disneyland Railroad.  To satisfy my curiosity, we rode the train around the park twice so I could see the Primeval World Diorama and Audio-Animatronics dinosaurs.  All of this brought back fond memories.  I remembered that the General Electric Progressland exhibit was repurposed as the Carousel of Progress in Walt Disney World, so I knew I wouldn’t find any of it at Disneyland.  Sadly, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was closed most of the time we were there, so revisiting that experience will have to wait for a future visit.

The Millennium Falcon in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

The Millennium Falcon in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

Galaxy’s Edge

One new attraction that wowed us was the new Star Wars-themed area called Galaxy’s Edge.  We found ourselves visiting the simulated planet of Batuu multiple times.  The attention to detail and the immersive experience was a remarkable surprise.  Every time we visited the area there seemed to be a different scenario being acted out with the visitors that involved Storm Troopers and other Star Wars characters.

A TIE Echelon fighter in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

A TIE Echelon fighter in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

The droid DJ, R-3X, at Oga’s Cantina in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

The droid DJ, R-3X, at Oga’s Cantina in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

There were multiple spacecraft around such as a full-sized TIE Echelon fighter and a very large, detailed Millennium Falcon.  Even the food and drinks in this part of the park were unique and made us feel like we had walked right into the village of Black Spire Outpost.

A unique Diet Coke container and popcorn from Kat Sak’s Kettle in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

A unique Diet Coke container and popcorn from Kat Sak’s Kettle in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

We sampled the brightly colored popcorn from Kat Sak’s Kettle that was sweet, savory, and spicy all at the same time.  We puzzled at the food options at the Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, and we ended our last night, by having exotic drinks such as Jabba Juice, Blurgggfire, and a Fuzzy Tauntaun in Oga’s Cantina.

Town Square decorated for the holidays in Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland

Town Square decorated for the holidays in Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland

What I enjoyed so much about Disneyland was the way it created an environment for family members of all ages to share an experience and have fun.  We loved the holiday celebrations and thoroughly enjoyed the international options at the Holiday Food Festival.  We were so impressed with the nighttime fireworks show “Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Spectacular that we watched it three nights in a row.  It was just as magical the last day as it was on the first.

So to answer my question, was it worth flying across the country to visit Disneyland.  The answer was a resounding, “Yes!”  The experience was more than I could have expected.  Even though many attractions were the same or similar to those at Walt Disney World, Disneyland felt different.  There was a lot of tradition, history, and pride in the park that was modeled by the cast and crew members who worked there.  Even though I have been to Walt Disney World many times, I enjoyed every moment at Disneyland.  My grandfather would have loved the place.  Even though I felt some sadness at not being able to experience Disneyland with him, I felt a uniquely extra special joy and pride at being able to experience it with my daughter.

Barry Kramer enjoying a drink and the music at Oga’s Cantina in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

Barry Kramer enjoying a drink and the music at Oga’s Cantina in Black Spire Outpost, Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

While there, I often found myself wondering why Disneyland seemed unique and special, but I couldn’t exactly figure out what it was.  A park employee saw that I was wearing a “First Time” visitor pin and welcomed me to the park.  She asked how I was enjoying my visit, and I took a few moments to tell her my story.  I also explained that I felt something special and unique about Disneyland that made it feel different than the other Disney parks I have been to.  Her feeling was that what makes Disneyland unique is that amidst all the crowds, excitement, and noise, you can still feel and see touches of Walt’s presence here.  I have to agree because I felt it too.

First Time at Disneyland... for a Long Time Disney Fan | #disneyland #anaheim #los-angeles #california #southern#california #socal #theme-park #tips #secrets #christmas #rides #for-adults First Time at Disneyland... for a Long Time Disney Fan | #disneyland #anaheim #los-angeles #california #southern#california #socal #theme-park #tips #secrets #christmas #rides #for-adults

by Barry Kramer

Barry S. Kramer is an elementary educator who developed a love of travel after attending an educational technology conference in Beijing in the year 2000. Since then he has returned to China eight times to experience many popular attractions, national parks, and out of the way places often not visited by Westerners. He has also traveled to Russia, Japan, Tibet, northern Africa, Europe, the Middle East, as well as many places in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. His travel partners are his wife, Liping, and his daughters, Liz and Jessica.

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