“That’s the real problem with the world, Too many people grow up.”Walt Disney
So you’re in your 30’s, in Disneyland, without kids, and have two days to act like one again without being judged. What do you do?
You drop cliches all over your blog talking about how amazing Disneyland is, and how it really is the happiest place on earth, and that calling it the “Magic Kingdom” is an understatement, and so on, and so on… But let’s face it, Disneyland isn’t for grown-ups without kids, it is for kids. Children wander in, wide-eyed and dumbfounded by every sight and sound, every taste, every glimpse of one of their favourite princesses or on-screen companion. Still unable to fully comprehend fantasy from reality, they feel truly taken away on every ride and experience they’re exposed to.
Unfortunately, as an adult, that blissful ignorance is lost. Our cynicism has opened our eyes to notice the artificial, to make mental notes regarding cheesy animatronics, to catch the wires and speakers and projectors hidden only well enough to fool the kids.
Or so one would think.
Disneyland really is the best.
In May of 2008, both in our mid-20’s, Kylee and I were returning home after our first full year overseas. To save money, our flights bounced us around a little more than normal, and we ended up sitting with a 36 hour layover at LAX. Now I’m not sure what any other people might do given a full day to kill in Los Angeles; maybe head into town and see the sights, do some shopping, hit up some trendy new restaurants. Kylee and I on the other hand? Disneyland was the only option. And it was absolutely spectacular.
Fast forward to a few months ago, and we thought “Hey, this will be the last time we have extra cash to even consider doing that again, so why not?!”.
Returning with High Hopes
So there we were, two thirty-somethings planning this astounding trip to who-knows-where, and all we can talk about is how excited we are for Disneyland. The only problem (I use that word very lightly), was that it was really difficult to find much information for two adults visiting Disneyland. Nearly all of the articles we came across were specifically for families, and the remaining few more specific posts seemed geared towards locals who visited the park regularly, and might need some tips to change-up their regular routine.
Put the Budget on Hold
So while the first two full days of the trip were meant to be somewhat of a holiday between one life and the next, and hadn’t planned on writing a piece about it, I thought I could throw my own two cents into the mix. Maybe someone else is in our shoes looking for a few tips for a quick blast through Disneyland, hopefully this can provide a little help!
So first of all, this is by no means a post about ‘budget’ travel to the parks. I’m sure it’s possible, but if you’re putting in the effort to spend a couple days there, you’re already throwing money, so don’t stop when you get there. Spend a little, enjoy yourself.
Buy a Park-Hopper Pass
Disneyland is one thing, but Disney’s California Adventure is another park altogether. Separated by an outdoor shopping/dining area known as Downtown Disney, both parks require their own entry ticket. And trust me, you’ll definitely want to visit both parks. So while it would be possible to buy a ticket for one park on one day and the other park on the next, if using the Maxpass (more on that later) you won’t ever really know when you’ll be able to skip the lines on certain rides. Spend a few dollars more than a single park entry and buy a Park-Hopper pass, which allows you to bounce between the parks as frequently as you desire. Worth every penny for the freedom.
Get a Hotel Close to the Parks
We stayed at Best Western Stovall’s, which is across the street diagonally from the backside of California Adventure Park. It was a nice, clean place; pool, breakfast included, fairly standard hotel. Priced very reasonably too, depending on the room and the time of year, it should roughly 130 US a night. While that might seem a little steep, being only a 20 minute walk door to park gate, it’s definitely a great deal.
There are quite a few closer spots, but the price jumps significantly. You can definitely stay further away at a lesser cost, and take a shuttle into the park, but that little extra bit of walking can help you justify that extra corn dog.
Bonus tip: If staying at Stovall’s, you book your breakfast time at check-in, every room gets a one hour window. Book early, 6-7; the first day we had 7-8, and the dining room was packed with screaming children and their flustered parents.
Eat Everything, and Feel no Shame
This might be the closest thing to a “budget” tip you’ll see in this post. While there are a ton of (so I’m told) fantastic restaurants scattered throughout Disneyland, California Adventures, and Downtown Disney, we avoided them. They all looked amazing, but while we accepted the fact that we would be spending a fair bit of cash, we still had our limits. As many great restaurants there are, there are even more small stalls and snack carts at every turn. Now don’t get me wrong, you aren’t going to find any Michelin-starred meals this way, but you’ll definitely get the carbs you require to power through roughly 20km of walking per day.
Some of our Top Picks
Churros; any stall will do, they have all kinds of variations, but we’re purists.
Bengal Barbecue; near the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. Several varieties of grilled meat on a stick with some out-of-a-can sauces. The beef was pretty rad.
Corn Dogs, several stalls serve them, but we were advised to head to the Corn Dog Castle, in Cali Adventure. Tried both the regular, and the hot link version, and while both were great, the kick of heat from the hot links was a preference for both of us.
Soup in a bread bowl, from the Pacific Wharf Cafe, also in California Adventure. A few choices, including a daily special. We went old school with clam chowder, and the sourdough bowl was actually quite a high quality. (share the bowl, eat the bowl, it has a lot of fuel for two people in it)
Dole Whip Float, this is an absolute must! I wasn’t aware of this in the past, but it was brought to my attention through a friend. It’s a cup of pineapple juice, topped with pineapple frozen yogurt. Again I say, an absolute must; and do yourself a favour and sit in the Tiki room behind the stand for a little quiet from the chaos.
A couple of things we didn’t get to, but are apparently equally as amazing:
Turkey leg. Just as it sounds.
Lobster Roll, from the Harbour Galley. Came highly recommended, but we simply ran out of time.
Bonus tip: The Corn Dog Castle serves the dogs with a side of either apple slices or a bag of chips. Tell them only want the dog, no side, and save a couple bucks!
Buy the Maxpass
THIS is probably the best thing you can spend a little extra on, that will help you maximize your time in the parks. It’s somewhat advertised while you’re there, but without clear explanation, and in all our research, the only time we heard about this was from a friend who had recently visited.
Skip the Lines
First, download the Disneyland app and sign up for an account (it’s free, and if you buy your tickets online, you will already have an account). Now we couldn’t find out how to pre-pay for the actual Maxpass ahead of time, but you can either set up a payment within your account, or pay while on site through your phone or a wifi spot in the park.
Many people are aware of the fast-pass option for avoiding the ridiculous line-ups for the most popular rides, but you’re forced to physically scan your card at the ride, and then are given a return time when you can skip the line.
With the app, you pay $10 per person, per day, but can then use the app to pre-book fast-pass entry to said rides. You’re only able to do a couple at a time, but as soon as you redeem one pass, you simply book another one at that time. While wait times claimed throughout the day to upwards of two hours for the most popular rides, the longest amount of time we waited for ANY ride the entire two days we were there, was no more than ten minutes. I cannot emphasize enough how important that little bit of extra money will go towards cramming in as many rides into the shortest amount of time.
While the cost to save line-up times is absolutely worth every penny, you also get access to park photographers who take your photo either in front of famous landmarks, or with the characters around site. Once the photo is taken, they scan your app, and the photos automatically show up on your account. This also works for any of the rides that take your ridiculous facial expressions at the best times on certain rides, simply write down the number shown on your photo at the end of the ride, and input that into your app later on. Hilarity ensues.
*Just remember to download your photos soon, as they are only available for a week or two.
Prioritize the Rides
That’s why you’re going right? Ok, so some rides are definitely definitely designed much more towards little children than others, but that being said, even the most cynical adult will very quickly be taken away by the amazing fine details that Disney puts into these experiences!
The obvious classics
Spash Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones. Do all of these, do them twice, even three times. Indiana Jones especially. Use the app for these, they have some of the longest lines of all (other than Pirates, no fast-pass option here, so go early in the morning!).
Star Tours (a 3D motion-simulated Star Wars ride), Grizzly Rapids (short, but will get you soaked on a hot afternoon), Jungle Cruise (not so much for the ride, but for the snarky and hilarious commentary), and California Screamin’, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Breakout.
For kids, but Still Great
Well done and make for an entertaining few minutes of childhood nostalgia. They typically have shorter lines, so great for killing time if you’re waiting for a fast-pass to kick in: Peter Pan’s Flight, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Mr. Toad’s Wild ride.
If you Only do One…
And probably the greatest ride in both parks: Radiator Springs Racers, the ride based on the ‘Cars’ movies. Do not miss! The fast-pass for this one disappears quickly, so book this one as soon as you can.
So there you have it, a few tips to help maximize a short visit to the parks. Keep in mind, while this was written with childless grown-ups in mind, all of this information will apply to people with children as well. I just wanted to emphasize the fact that this place really is amazing at any age!