Welcome to Disneyland! By the way, if you’re running in the races at Disneyland, make sure to get your picture with finishers medal by Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I didn’t actually go in the theme parks after the Disneyland Half Marathon last year and had to take my medal with me the next time I went. Anyways, I want to start off by saying that this post is NOT going to be like the Virtual Disneyland postings I’ve done. If you want to get a feel for each part of Disneyland, then click on the links below to experience the wonder of Walt’s theme park.
This post is designed to give you some tips and fun facts about Disneyland to help you plan your visit. I will not be recommending or commenting too much on Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, the Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain, or Star Tours. I assume you don’t need me to convince you to include them as part of your trip. So, let’s start the tips with what a lot of people like the most about theme parks…the other rides. Now, Disney Legend Marty Skylar would not be happy if I let this section be called “Rides” because at Disneyland, they are “Attractions.” However, since attractions covers both rides and shows, I’ll call this section….
Disneyland Attractions – The Rides
One of the brilliant inventions of the Imagineers is this thing called the FastPass. What is the FastPass? Well, it allows you to more efficiently organize your day. Instead of waiting in the long lines, the FastPass holder is allowed to show up and walk through a much shorter line between the times shown on your FastPass. For more information about the FastPass system, visit Disney’s web site here. Or, you can visit our friends at Touring Plans here. If you’re a Walt Disney World regular, you already know about FastPasses and the new MagicBands. At Disneyland they do not have the MagicBand. So, we’re still on the old system in regards to FastPass. Here’s a list of FastPass Attractions at Disneyland:
- Star Tours
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
- Haunted Mansion (usually only during the Halloween and Christmastime Seasons for the Nightmare Before Christmas Overlay)
Touring Plans has a wonderful bit of advice on the FastPasses here. What I like about this page is that it tells you where the FastPass machines are located. I agree with the advice given on this page. It’s a good strategy to start your day heading off to Star Tours, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye to get your FastPass for these attractions first. If you’re in a group, I say…divide and conquer. Like the article says, Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin Fast Pass will likely not save you much time. Therefore, it’s not entirely necessary to get a FastPass for this attraction.
Here are a few notes regarding Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. First off, this is a MUST DO attraction for a Disneyland first timer. Why? This attraction is not at any other Disney theme park. So, it is unique to Disneyland. Secondly, the ride is tons of fun. Third, the details in BOTH the queue line and the attraction itself is unparalleled at Disneyland. This is one attraction where they have a queue line that is Walt Disney World quality. Even though FastPasses are recommended, if you have to stand in the long regular line for this one, you will not feel like your life is wasting away. The queue line has so many hidden fun things. Go to my Virtual Disneyland blog on Adventureland and New Orleans Square to see the video I posted for this attraction. This is my second favorite attraction at Disneyland.
- When you ride on this attraction, try to ride it at least once without holding on to anything. This ride will toss you around pretty good and going through the entire ride without holding on to anything is soooooo much fun. On one of my birthdays a friend told me to do this and I can’t ride this ride any other way since.
- If you can’t get a FastPass for this attraction and don’t want to wait in the long lines, wait for the first showing of Fantasmic to begin. Then, head over and you’ll find some of the shortest waits for this ride all day long.
By far, my favorite attraction is Pirates of the Caribbean. There are no FastPasses for this one. However, it’s totally worth the wait. To be honest, the queue line at the Magic Kingdom for the same attraction is way better than the queue line at Disneyland. However, once you get on the loading docks, Disneyland takes the prize. The attraction is longer than its counterpart at the Magic Kingdom and has a different order that it tells its story (which I prefer), and it has 2 drops (vs. 1 at the Magic Kingdom). Add that to the ambiance of the Blue Bayou in the beginning and the Disneyland version of the attraction can’t be beat.
Sadly, the Haunted Mansion will most likely not be open for the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. They typically have this attraction closed to install the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay that will open in time for Halloweentime at Disneyland and run through the end of the year. So, if you’re coming in for the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon, this is a MUST SEE attraction. The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay is something they don’t do anywhere else. I love the regular version of the Haunted Mansion. However, the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay is something that is even more amazing. Check out my Virtual Disneyland blog post from Adventureland and New Orleans Square to see videos of both the regular and the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay and you’ll see why this is a MUST SEE attraction with the overlay. I’m not sure if the overlay will still be on for the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend. If it is, check out this amazing attraction.
Another attraction that you’ll want to experience is It’s A Small World. Whether you’re coming out for the Disneyland Half Marathon and Tinker Bell Half Marathon (with the regular version of It’s A Small World) or the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon and Star Wars Half Marathon (with the Holidays version), you’ll want to ride this attraction if you’re a Walt Disney World regular. Our version of It’s A Small World is different from the one at the Magic Kingdom. We have Disney characters inserted at various points of the ride which the Magic Kingdom does not. If you’re here for the holidays, I highly suggest riding It’s A Small World at night when it’s all lit up.
While it doesn’t always run, go to City Hall on Main Street U.S.A. and see if you can set up a ride on the Lilly Belle car in the Disneyland Railroad Train. As you can see, it’s not your average car on the train. You can also ask the cast members working the Disneyland Train at the Main Street U.S.A. station how you can go about getting to ride in this car.
The last Attraction – Ride I want to highlight is Buzz Light Year Astro Blasters. In my humble opinion, the Disneyland version of this attraction is simply better than the Magic Kingdom version. I love that, at Disneyland, you can remove the guns from their holster. It gives you more freedom when aiming at the targets. Also, at Disneyland, the picture they take is FREE. All you have to do is find the screens as you exit the ride to send your picture to you via email. If you have a smart phone, you will even be able to see the picture while you’re at the park! Free is always better than paying for the picture like you do at the Magic Kingdom.
Attractions – Experiences
If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies, you absolutely MUST include a trip to Innoventions. Due to contractual obligations, Disney does not have the rights needed to do much with the Marvel universe at Walt Disney World. They do have some limited rights at Disneyland. At Innoventions, you can see the Ironman Suits and even virtually suit up…
You can head off to Asgard to meet Thor. Although, be prepared for a rather long wait. There are all sorts of cool props that were used in the Thor movies to help you deal with the wait. However, it will seem like a really long wait.
The newest addition is a meet and greet with Captain America. The wait times for the Marvel characters aren’t quite as long as waiting to see Elsa and Anna from Frozen. Plus, if you’re if you’re running in the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon races, how can you pass this up?
One of the hidden gems of Disneyland is the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle Walthrough. Because it’s a walk through, you can go through this as fast or slow as you please. You can check it out quickly or take in the details as they tell the Sleeping Beauty story. We don’t have Cinderella’s Castle, like the Magic Kingdom. So, this is another unique attraction. ***As a side note, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is much smaller than Cinderella’s Castle. If you’re a Walt Disney World regular, just let yourself know this beforehand. It’s okay that it’s smaller. ***
If you’re willing to pay a little extra and give up some time playing in the theme parks, the Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps tour might be up your alley. The above photo was taken by Karen from Just Me and My Running Shoes. If you click on the photo, you can check out her experience on this tour from last year’s Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. While I’ve never done this tour myself, her report makes it sound like something I should do one of these days. In this tour, you get to see the lobby of the legendary Club 33 and even get to venture up into Walt’s apartment over the Disneyland Firehouse on Main Street U.S.A. Although Karen’s blog post does have the link to register for this tour, you can also click here.
Quick tip…Above the Disneyland Firehouse on Main Street U.S.A. is the apartment where Walt would stay on occasion while Disneyland was being constructed. Back in the 1950’s there was not the massive amounts of freeways that Southern California now enjoys. So, the drive from where Walt lived to Disneyland would quite a journey. Walt was even staying here the night before Disneyland Opened in 1955.
Looking for a spot to cool down when it’s hot outside (like it will be for the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend)? Head into the lobby at the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln Theatre. You don’t have to go in and see the show to enjoy this space. Right inside the theatre is the bench where Walt came up with the idea for Disneyland. To be honest, they have another bench at the Walt Disney Family Museum. So, I’m not sure which one is for real and which one is a replica. However, there are lots of cool things to look at in the lobby. And…it’s air conditioned! Not only are there some interesting things to look at (like the original map of Disneyland that Walt had up on the wall for the Disneyland Television Show), but they have the video that was made for the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland. It’s a fun movie starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck. While you’re there, you might want to consider watching the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show. If you like the American Adventure show at EPCOT or the Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom, you will love Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
Attractions – The Shows
You absolutely MUST see Fantasmic at Disneyland! If you’ve seen the version at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you need to see the original version of Fantasmic. The Disneyland version of this show is way better. I mean, look at our dragon! He’s awesome! The show is a little different from the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version. My favorite scene in the whole show is the Peter Pan sequence on the Pirate Ship Columbia. That whole sequence is missing from the DHS version and replaced with a Pocahontas sequence. Plus, we have the Mark Twain Riverboat at the end.
Pro tip…if you can, wait until the second (or if they have it the third) showing of Fantasmic. Crowds will begin to line up around the Rivers of America up to 3 hours before the first show to get their seat staked out. You might want to avoid this area altogether as the first show time approaches as crowds get a little crazy. So, if you can wait until the second show, you can get better seating and show up much closer to the start of the show. I’ve been able to have water front seating for the second show arriving 10 minutes prior to the start of the show. If you want to know more about the best viewing spots for Fantasmic and how to take great photos of the show, check out this Disney Tourist Blog article.
Mickey and the Magical Map at the Fantasyland Theatre is a wonderful show. It sparkles with all the Disney magic you would expect at a Disney theme park. I loved this show when I saw it a few weeks ago and highly recommend it. You will want to arrive early for this show. I was surprised that even with 5-10 minutes left in the previous show, a line had already formed.
The above map is courtesy of Tom Bricker from the Disney Tourist Blog. He gives a very good map of where the best spots are to stand for viewing of the fireworks at Disneyland. Click in the image above for Tom’s article about viewing the fireworks at Disneyland. It’s an amazing article with photos from various points of view. Keep in mind, however, that people will start lining up in the best spots 1 or 2 hours early. So, if you want those spots, plan accordingly.
Random Fun Facts
- Have you ever noticed the names on the windows of the buildings as you walk down Main Street U.S.A.? Well, every name is of a Disney Legend. If you want to look incredibly smart, check out this article at Daveland for all of the names and why they are important to Disney.
- When Disneyland was in its design stages, Walt wanted a gigantic curtain at the main gates to open up for each individual guest. It was his intent for you to leave the outside world behind you when you entered Disneyland. Of course, this idea is not exactly realistic with the crowds Disneyland hoped to have. So, instead, you walk into that beautiful area with the train station. There are two archways which you will walk under to get into the parks. Once you get through them, you will no longer see the outside world.
- I’m not sure if they still do this. However, there is a merchandise stand that has one opening inside Disneyland and one opening outside of Disneyland. When I worked at Disneyland, you could purchase a newspaper in the opening outside of Disneyland. However, the opening inside of Disneyland would not sell you the same newspaper.
- When you come into Disneyland and get onto Main Street U.S.A., the buildings are scaled in such a manner to give the optical illusion that Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was far away. It gives you the feeling that you are entering this vast, huge place. However, when you come back up Main Street U.S.A. from Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, the illusion is that the front entrance is not so far away. The reason they did this? When you enter the park, there is a lot of anticipation as to what you will do while in the park. At the end of the day, when you have to walk back up Main Street U.S.A. to exit, you don’t want to feel like you’ll never get to the entrance. You want the entrance/exit to feel close by.
- As you walk up Main Street U.S.A., on the left side you’ll see a candy shop. In the window, you can watch Disney cast members making candy. If you walk up to the window, it seems like you’re able to smell what they are making inside. After all, you do get a nice smell. That scent is being piped up from a vent below the window. Sorry to ruin the magic.
- The drawbridge in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is a working drawbridge. It does have the ability to open and close. However, it’s only been closed twice in the history of Disneyland. They opened the drawbridge for the Opening Day in 1955 as part of the televised special. The second time, I believe, was when they re-opened Fantasyland in 1983. Before the 1983 redesign of Fantasyland, the facades of the rides looked like the ones at the Magic Kingdom.
- Admission to Disneyland on opening day was $1 and parking was 50 cents. Today, a 1 day, 1 park ticket is $96 for adults, $90 for children and parking is $17. Have you heard the term “E Ticket Attraction?” Well, here’s an article from Yesterland that explains the birth of the E Ticket. Very interesting.
I’m sure that there are things I’ve forgotten to say in this blog post. However, it should give you a good launching point as you prepare for your trip to Disneyland. One last thing I should mention. Make sure to wear your finisher medals when you’re in the theme parks after your races. You’ll gets lots of congratulations from random strangers and Cast Members and it’s fun to do. However, I would recommend that, if you’re running multiple races, to only choose one medal to wear for the day. The clanking of the medals will get old. Feel free to bring all of your medals in the parks for special pictures. So, don’t forget the medals and that you have them. After all, this isn’t an ordinary trip to Disneyland. You’ve just finished a 5K, 10K, and/or Half Marathon. So, make sure to commemorate the occasion.
Remember that, if you’re here to run a 5K, 10K, or Half Marathon (or a 10K/Half Marathon Challenge), crossing the finish line at your race(s) should be something you consider. Does that mean you need to spend less time on your feet at the parks before the race? Does that mean you need to leave the parks early for those oh so much fun wake up calls? Then do it. Don’t wear yourself out at the theme parks before your race. You’ll regret it later. Also, the BIGGEST thing…KEEP HYDRATED! While you can’t carry an opened (but still containing liquid) bottle of water or any other drink with you in the theme parks. However, you can carry an unopened bottle of water and a water bottle with nothing in it that you can fill up at the drinking fountains for free. Or, you can always purchase water in the theme parks. The second biggest thing to remember while at the parks (especially during the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend) is to wear plenty of sun screen. They sell it in the parks and at the hotels. If you have a car and want to buy it cheaper, there’s a Target right up Harbor Blvd. So, there’s no excuse to suffer through a race sunburned because you didn’t use sun screen.
Other than that, have a blast! Enjoy yourself at the only Disney theme park that Walt Disney himself walked in. I got some great additions to my post about Disney Dining Tips. So, those of you who have been to Disneyland before, do you have anything to add? If so, please share your words of wisdom. I’m sure that those who have never been to Disneyland will thank you.