article and images by Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Best known for its world-famous amusement park—the original Disneyland in Anaheim is filled with family activities and familiar fast-food restaurants. Knott’s Berry Farm is next door in Buena Park, and downtown Los Angeles is just 28 miles away. Beach towns are close by, with plenty of spots where kids can play tag with gentle waves, and opportunities to commune with nature are also plentiful--whether in tide pools or on a boat journey out to sea. Bike paths abound. The mountains are also close, with hiking trails and other facilities, and several venues are available for miniature golfing and ice skating.
DISNEYLAND RESORT (866) 43-DISNEY, (714) 781-4565. For complete vacation packages, call (877) 700-DISNEY. this 500-acre complex includes Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park, Downtown Disney, and three hotels: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.
When the “happiest place on earth” opened in 1955, it had 18 major attractions. Today it has 60--more than you’ll be able to experience in one day. So it doesn’t hurt to have some idea of what you want to see most.
The fairytale village of Fantasyland appeals to the child in everyone, but its tame rides are especially popular with younger children. Snow White's Scary Adventures, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan's Flight, Pinocchio's Daring Journey (be warned, pre-schoolers sometimes exit this ride crying), and Alice in Wonderland (My all-time personal favorite. I loved the iconic song as a child and still have my original record. Ahaded and moving line, good people watching, and glimpses of the ride keep you going. I even saw a few real butterflies flitting about!) are all enhanced with the original movie soundtracks.
Also here is the Mad Tea Party, a wild, spinning teacup ride.
Children 6 and under love It's a Small World, while many adults find it very boring though redeemingly cool and relaxing. Small tykes also like Country Bear Jamboree--a sort of Pizza Time Theatre show of singing hillbilly bears. Disneyland has three well-disguised rollercoasters, all of which can be scary for younger children. They are designed to go fast but they don’t have any steep drops. Even people who say they hate roller coasters often find themselves enjoying these. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad mimics, with appropriate scenery, a runaway mine train. It is fast but stays low to the ground. The Matterhorn is a more traditional coaster whipping through a series of tunnels; riders don't see its skeletal frame and don't reel from the sensation of being up high.
Space Mountain, one of the park's most popular rides, is a speed demon of a coaster flying eerily through dark, starlit space inside a man-made mountain structure. It is not for the timid, weak of heart, or pregnant. Newer rides include Star Tours, a simulated ride through space designed by movie mogul George Lucas that cost more to build than the entire park did in 1955!; Mickey’s Toontown, where everything is askew and the rides are mostly for pre-schoolers; and Indiana Jones Adventure, a jeep ride that is so like the movie as to be eerie. To get a sense of Disneyland's awesome 80-acre size, ride either the Monorail or Disneyland Railroad. In summer, you’ll want to stay around for the nightime parade and fireworks.
As would be expected, all restaurants at Disneyland have children’s items, and, of course, no alcohol is served anywhere on the premises. Breakfast is a piece of cake, or a pancake, because the lines haven’t started yet. You can have a buffet breakfast with the Disney Characters at Plaza Inn on Main Street, or grab something quicker and get a jump on the rides. At lunch, Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square, has a pleasant terrace overlooking the main waterway. Carnation Café serves brightly colored cherry milkshakes and Walt’s favorite chili, as well as a Mickey waffle and fried pickles. The River Belle Terrace in Frontierland has cafeteria service and offers a good view of the action. For dinner, the best restaurants are the priciest and the the most crowded. Avoid the rush by dining before 6 p.m. or after 8 p.m. Or take the Monorail to Downtown Disney and choose from among the plethora of restaurants there. In New Orleans Square, the popular Blue Bayou Restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride re-creates a starlit Louisiana bayou and serves up jambalaya as well as classic chicken, fish, and beef entrees. Also here, the French Market has chicken, ribs, and shrimp as well as some Cajun-oriented specialties, and a Dixieland jazz band plays on the terrace throughout the evening.
When potty time rolls around, rejoice. You are going to encounter convenient and immaculate restrooms equipped with changing tables and diaper machines. A Baby Care Center is available for preparing formulas, warming bottles, and changing infants, and baby paraphernalia is also available for sale here. Strollers can be rented just outside the main entrance.
●DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE PARK
This newer reality-based park, built on Disneyland’s former parking lot, celebrates the spirit of the California dream. It features three themed lands focusing on the beach, movie-making, and the state’s natural wonders, and many rides are designed for older visitors. Among the regional adventures are California Screamin’, a colossal inversion roller coaster patterned after the world’s great wooden coasters, and Soarin’ Over California, a really fun virtual ride over the state’s wonders. New-addition Cars Land features Radiator Springs Racers, a speeding-car thrill ride with elaborate 3-D cartoon movie enhancement.
The popular Carthay Circle Restaurant is modeled after the L.A. theater where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937. You can sit in a comfy booth here and order Walt Disney’s favorite Scotch Mist cocktail, and reservations are advised. The Cove Bar has outdoor seating and is famous for its lobster nachos and blue Glow-tini cocktail.
●DOWNTOWN DISNEY DISTRICT The two parks are connected by this free-entry public promenade lined with shops and restaurants.
●Catal 1580 Disneyland Dr., (714) 774-4442. With floor-to-ceiling windows and patio terraces offering a spectacular view from its second-story location, this fine-dining spot offers Spanish items such as paella, squid ink pasta, and steaks, as well as more complex items such as scallops with applewood-smoked bacon risotto and pistachio-pineapple compote.
●La Brea Bakery Cafe 1556 Disneyland Dr., (714) 490-0233. Daily 8am-9pm daily. The counter-service Bakery opens at 7am and offers pastries, giant cookies, and grab-and-go sandwiches. The adjacent patio Cafe offers sitdown service and a more substantial menu that includes eggs Benedict.
●Rainforest Cafe 1515 S. Disneyland Dr., (714) 772-0413. L-D daily. Robotic gorillas, live birds, really big aquariums displaying tropical fishes (diners don’t get to eat these!), and a 2-story waterfall with a generous smattering of real and faux greenery make for one fabulous decorating job. “Safari Guide” waiters serve up the eclectic menu.
●Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen 1590 S Disneyland Dr., (714) 776-5200. Operated by a third-generation cousin to the owner of the New Orleans Brennan’s, this spot sports a traditional French Quarter atmosphere--think courtyard fountain and a piano hand-studded with Mardi Gras beads—and offers up both good southern cuisine and live jazz. Appetizers include crispy coconut shrimp with sweet pineapple salsa, pork-rice Boudin Balls, and blackened chicken turnovers. A tall Hurricane is the perfect cocktail to help you start digesting. Dinner selections include blackened mahi mahi, bourbon-glazed salmon, and southern fried chicken, but you can also make a meal with a roasted beet-and-goat cheese salad plus a flavorful traditional gumbo. Those with room can try the house specialty double-chocolate bread pudding souffle or Bananas Foster flambeed tableside.
●Tortilla Jo's 1510 Disneyland Dr., (714) 535-5000. Savor Mexican specialties in this vibrant family-friendly environment. Start with guacamole prepared tableside and margaritas, then continue on with additional authentic Mexican dishes.
●Build-A-Bear Workshop In this two-story shop, you can make the perfect bear.
●Lego Imagination Center You’ll know you’re here when you see the gigantic Lego dinosaur draped over the entrance.
●Sanuk shoes This shop sells popular cloth-topped sandals.
●World of Disney This gigantic wonderland of Disney souvenirs has a fantasyland of stuffed characters.
●DISNEY’S GRAND CALIFORNIAN HOTEL & SPA 1600 S. Disneyland Dr., (714) 781-4565. 948 rooms.
With art deco touches, this deluxe Craftsman-style hotel resembles a massive national park lodge. It features a vast open lobby dominated by a faux boulder wall and brings to mind Yosemite’s Ahwahnee, only even bigger. Some rooms have balconies overlooking Disney California Adventure Park (a special entrance is located within the hotel), and some have bunk beds. All have smooth white cotton bed linens (ironed and with a subtle rose motif), elegant green Italian marble double vanities, and Bambi shower curtains, and all are equipped with a portable crib and bathrobes (children’s sizes are provided upon request). Subtle mouse ears are woven into the capet. Facilities include two heated pools (one with a water slide), two hot tubs, a children’s pool shaped like Mickey Mouse, and a fitness center. Pinocchio’s Workshop entertains kids ages 5 to 12 with games, dinner and snacks, crafts-making, and Disney movies, so parents can enjoy an evening to themselves.
Storytellers Café features breakfast with classic Disney characters. The food is good, and the happy procession of children and characters singing and marching through the restaurant led by a "park ranger" is delightful. In addition to a buffet, an a la carte menu served in the afternoon and evening offers hearty fare as well as flatbread appetizers and more exotic items. Napa Rose persents adult-oriented creative fine dining.
●THE DISNEYLAND HOTEL 1150 W. Cerritos Ave., (714) 956-MICKEY. 973 rooms. The first-class "Official Hotel of the Magic Kingdom" offers the convenience and fun of entering and leaving Disneyland by Monorail. It is modern, luxurious, and also expensive. Located on what was formerly an innocuous grove of orange trees, the huge resort complex could easily qualify as a vacation destination in its own right. Your kids will love the huge, lushly landscaped Never Land Pool, with its wood-and-rope suspension bridge, bubbling spa with mermaid statue, and 100-foot-long waterslide through Skull Rock. Another quieter pool features real sand and palm trees. A 165-foot waterfall is part of the landscaping, and at scheduled times each day both children and enthusiastic adults can take a fistful of fish food and put their hands right into the koi pond and let the fish suck up their meal in a feeding frenzy. It is a fantastic, memorable, and very photogenic experience! Room TVs are hooked up to the Disney Channel, and Mickey Mouse provides the morning wake-up call. Basically family-oriented, the hotel has supervised recreational activities for ages 4 through 12 each night from 6 to 11 p.m. A babysitting referral service is also available, and children's menus, highchairs, and booster seats are provided in the eight restaurants.
Goofy’s Kitchen features appearances by Disney characters during a buffet breakfast and lunch in the summer and during holiday periods. Your kids can collect autographs, and you can take pictures in between tanking up on made-to-order omelettes and Mickey pancakes and waffles. Disney music classics play in the background, and kids can eat and stare freely in awe and wander. But whatever you do don’t mix up Pluto and Goofy, or you might suffer a noisy lick. Reservations advised. Steakhouse 55 serves a Classic Afternoon Tea from 12 p.m. to 3p.m., and ribeye after. And this upscale restaurant offers something no Morton's or Ruth's Chris could ever match: an Old Hollywood ambiance that includes vintage photos of Walt Disney hobnobbing with movie stars. In Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, you can sip rum drinks and eat a Hawaiian cheeseburger or slow-roasted Kalua pork sandwich by torchlight.
●DISNEY’S PARADISE PIER HOTEL 1717 S. Disneyland Dr. , (714) 956-MICKEY. 481 rooms. Located next door to the Disneyland Hotel, and part of the resort complex, this hotel offers spacious and comfortable rooms with either two double beds or a king-size bed plus a sofabed. It also offers easy access to the Monorail ride into Disneyland, which can be used once you have entered the park via the main gates, and has a pool and a hot tub for a refreshing afternoon dip. A fully equipped fitness center is also available. Some rooms in this hotel have a great view of the Paradise Pier section of Disney’s California Adventure park.
The PCH Grill offers sophisticated California-style family dining in the evening, with a menu that includes appetizers such as spring rolls and Szechwan chicken lettuce wraps as well as main courses such as baby back ribs, wood-fired designer pizza, and fish and steak items. There are even some very trendy vertical presentations. And you can order wine by the glass to wash it down. But the best item in the place is on the kid’s Magical Meals menu. A popular Pluto’s Pizza option lets kids shape a ball of pizza dough, select and place their toppings, and then deliver it to the chef for baking. Some parents find themselves barging in to help. Don’t you be one of them; order a cocktail to keep you busy during this creative time. Kids’ drinks are served in souveir cups that they can keep, and the wait-staff here has the best dispositions you’ll ever see in one place. This is really one happy, happy place. And in the morning, you can have a buffet Breakfast with Minnie & Friends here.
HOT TIPS FOR YOUR DISNEYLAND VISIT
•Friday is generally the lightest attendance day. Saturday is the heaviest. The week before Thanksgiving is said to be the lightest of the year, with the week before Christmas also said to be light. Plan accordingly.
•When you make your lodging reservations, inquire about packages.
•To save money, take a room in a nearby motel with shuttle service to the park.
•Be aware that not all shuttles are the same. Some hotels provide dedicated shuttles that service just their guests. Others subscribe to a service that stops at a series of hotels on the way to and from the park.
•Be aware that Disneyland keeps changing its gate location. Booking into a motel that is across the street from the entrance is only helpful if you’re sure it won’t be moved again before you arrive.
•Arrive at the park when the gates open, then return for a nap or a swim when the park gets hot and crowded in the afternoon, and then return to the park refreshed for dinner in the evening.
•Go on as many rides as is humanly possible before 11 a.m., when everything starts getting crowded.
•Plan to eat at off times as food lines can be ridiculous.
•Pack along bottled water. You can purchase cute souvenir straps to hold them.
•Disneyland does have a lot of lines. Plan to use the waits to engage in some of that "quality time" we parents hear so much about but usually have so little time for. To paraphrase John Lennon, life is what happens while you’re waiting in line for the ride.
•Trying to beat the system here is a thankless, hopeless task. You’re better off just making a plan and then altering it as you go.
•Don’t miss Disneyland at night. The atmosphere then is totally different and features a fabulous fireworks display and a very popular parade of Disney characters--a don't-miss for pre-schoolers. Live music for teens is also often scheduled.
•Accept that in one day you can't possibly see and do everything. You will simply have to save something for next time.
•For a special thrill your children won't soon forget, secretly purchase a postcard depicting their favorite Disney character. Compose a message from the character and mail it to your home before you return.
DISNEYLAND AREA HOTELS
These listings are just to give you a start in finding a lodging. All are close to Disneyland, but be sure to check all details that might be important to you:
•Do they operate a shuttle and the details related to the shuttle (cost, frequency)?
•Is there a charge for parking?
•Is there is complimentary breakfast?
•Does the room have a refrigerator and/or coffee maker?
Motel Row Motel after motel after motel is found along Katella Avenue and Harbour Boulevard.
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Anabella Hotel 1030 W. Katell Ave. 358 rooms. 2 pools; fitness center; restaurant. Located directly across from Disney’s California Adventure, this Mission-style hotel has 7.5 acres of lanscaped grounds. I offers a central garden with pool, an indoor-outdoor restaurant, and lavish amenities.
Anaheim Marriott Hotel 700 W. Convention Way. 1,033 rooms. 2 heated pools; 2 hot tubs; fitness center. Just two blocks from Disneyland, with shuttle service provided, this hotel has a game room with video and pinball machines. Pizza Hut delivers for room service.
Anaheim Plaza Hotel & Suites 1700 S. Harbor Blvd. 300 rooms. Pool; hot tub. Continental breakfast; restaurant. Located right across from the Disneyland entrance, this well-priced hotel has spacious grassy grounds and a video game room. Some large family suites can accommodate up to eight people. Seven 2-story buildings are spread over 9 acres landscaped with flowers and mature palms. A complimentary breakfast, free shuttle to Disneyland, and free hook-up to the Disney Channel is included, and a small refrigerator and coffee maker is in each room. The Parkside Grill operates off the lobby and features a view of the park.
Anaheim Portofino Inn & Suites 1831 S. Harbor Blvd./Katella. 190 rooms. Heated pool; hot tub; fitness center. Restaurant. Situated just across from Disneyland, this contemporary-style hotel provides you a bargain-priced room. Or you can pay a little bit more for a Kid’s Suite that sleeps up to six, giving your kids their own private room with bunkbeds and you a separate room with a king-size bed. Facilities include a video arcade, free parking, and a free shuttle to Disneyland.
Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn 1630 S. Harbor Blvd. Pool; hot tub. Continental breakfast. This hotel is closest to Disneyland’s main gate and includes a complimentary breakfast.
Best Western Plus Raffles Inn & Suites 2040 S. Harbor Blvd. 122 rooms. Pool. Breakfast. Located just one block from the park, this relatively small motel offers a good price and includes a complimentary breakfast.
Best Western Plus Stovall’s Inn 1110 W. Katella Ave. 290 rooms. 2 pools; children’s wading pool; 2 hot tubs. Full breakfast. Kids especially like this basic motel because of its topiary gardens with Disney characters. Though it has no restaurant, it does serve a complimentary breakfast, and a family-friendly Coco’s coffee shop is next door.
Candy Cane Inn 1747 S. Harbor Blvd. Heateded pool; children’s wading pool; hot tub. Continental breakfast. Located across from the park, this hotel offers some style at bargain rates: old-fashioned street lamps; flower-filled gardens; rooms with two queen beds, down comforters, and plantation wood shutters. A complimentary continental breakfast buffet is served in the pool courtyards and a shuttle to park are included.
Castle Inn & Suites 1734 S. Harbor Blvd. 200 rooms. Heated pool; children’s wading pool; hot tub. Located across the street from Disney’s California Adventure, this colorful motel resembles a medieval castle. The whole family will feel like royalty here. Some two-room family suites are available, and you get complimentary coffee in the morning and a courtesy shuttle to Disneyland.
Desert Inn & Suites 1600 S. Harbor Blvd. Indoor heated pool; indoor hot tub. Continental breakfast. Located directly across from the Disneyland entrance, this lodging can accommodate up to 10 people in a room. Facilities include a game room, a deck to view the fireworks at Disneyland, laundry facilities, and a complimentary breakfast.
Hilton Anaheim 777 Convention Way. 14 stories; 1600+ rooms. Pools; hot tubs; fitness center. 6 restaurants. Situated just two minutes from Disneyland, this mega hotel has a 3-story atrium lobby, a rooftop recreation deck with an outdoor pool and hot tub, and a fitness center on the fifth floor with an indoor pool, four hot tubs, basketball court, and health spa. It is the second largest Hilton in California, the largest being in San Francisco. If you’re in town for a convention, it is conveniently located adjacent to the striking Anaheim Convention Center. Though it has all the family comforts, it is so big that even adults can get lost, so keep an eye on your children. In summer, kids age 5 through 12 qualify for the Vacation Station program. A shuttle to the park is available.
Howard Johnson Hotel 1380 S. Harbor Blvd. 5 stories; 320 rooms. Restaurant. This very attractive hotel features decorative arches, gardens, and a fountain. Rooms in front can see the fireworks at Disneyland; rooms in the back suffer freeway noise. The Castaway Cove pirate-themed water park area is the only one in Anaheim outside of the Disney hotels. It includes a 30-foot pirate ship with slides, water cannons, fountains, toddler wading pool, 200-gallon drench bucket, and more—a 15-person hot tub, pool, and separate secluded area for swimming. Though the hotel is just an 8-minute walk to the park, a shuttle to the park leaves every half hour.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers blogs at Travels With Carole.
Ms. Meyers is also the author of “Miles of Smiles: 101 Great Car Games & Activities”
copyright 2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers