I wanted to give my take on the southern California theme park scene.
I took my 15 year old niece on a trip to southern California from June 8 to June 13 in celebration of her upcoming Sweet Sixteen in August. She had not been since she was a pre-schooler, so it was all new to her. I had been a couple of years ago, when Disney California Adventure (DCA) was pre-transformation. So, this would be relatively new for both of us. I was also wanting to get the perspective of a teenager on some of the parks and attractions that are offered in SoCal.
On our first day, we took the earliest flight possible from Dallas on Southwest and arrived in LAX just before 9am- gaining time rocks! (Side note: SNA- Orange County/Santa Ana/John Wayne airport is the closest to Disneyland, but there was a $99 1-way fare to LAX, which was much cheaper this time around... ) I had arranged for passage to Disneyland aboard GO (Prime Time) shuttle. At first we could not locate them and they had not provided instructions on where to go. The volunteers at the information desk had never heard of them and the shuttle service's phone number was not working. At last we saw one of their burgundy colored shuttles drive past and followed it. It was located with the other ground transportation at the airport and was the last provider in the row. They put us on a van to Anaheim and we were on our way.
Despite being the last to board, we were the first dropped off. We were staying for 3 nights at the Best Western Park Place Mini Suites. This hotel is located at the pedestrian crosswalk that leads to the entrance of Disneyland. This hotel and the Park Vue hotel, located on the other side of the crosswalk, are the closest hotels to Disney's entrance other than Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa. That hotel is pretty much located inside Disney's California Adventure park. But beyond that, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Paradise Pier are both actually further than we where we stayed and cost twice as much. With my AAA discount, and by not bringing a car, I paid $96/night. Paradise Pier & Disneyland Hotel, by contrast cost about $250/night, and Grand Californian was even more. (I must admit, there were a couple of times when leaving DCA that I would have been willing to fork over $300+ to be back in my hotel room resting my feet without the additional 5-10 minute walk.
The Best Western is basically a motel. It is only a place to rest in between park touring. It is not a place to explore and has no Disney magic. But we had limited time- 3 days in Disneyland (DL) and lots to try and see in that short time. For a more relaxed tour of the 2 parks and Downtown Disney, 4 days would be recommended... As it was, we raced from park to park on this trip. Our room had 2 double beds a coffee machine, refrigerator, microwave, dining table w/ 2 chairs and a bathroom with sink outside the door. The last time I stayed here i was in a mini-suite (for the same price) with 2 Queens and a pull-out sofa. They also have King rooms available.
I had ordered the Southern California CityPass ticket which included a 3 day park hopper to Disneyland w/ one extra magic hour morning; a 1 day pass to Universal Hollywood; and a 1 day pass to Sea World San Diego. The cost was about $250 each with my work discount (regular price $279)... about the same as a 5-day WDW base ticket and about $100 less than a 5 day WDW park hopper ticket. I really wanted to see Universal Studios Hollywood and the new Transformers ride, so the price of the 3 day DL ticket plus the Universal ticket individually added up to more than buying the CityPass, which had SeaWorld added in. So i viewed SeaWorld as a bonus. Additionally, Sea World had the pay for a day, play for a year promotion going on as did Universal... So in essence with this pass, you got 2 annual passes in addition to the 3 days at DL. Excellent deal!
On our first day, we checked in, but our room was not ready. The hotel is usually full and rooms are generally not ready until around 3:00pm. We left our bags with the front desk and headed to the parks. We went first to DCA because it was just after 10 and that park had just opened. I like to get to parks at opening b/c you can avoid crowds that way. The problem with DCA is that since it opens so late, most of the crowds are waiting there with you, and the benefit of touring early is somewhat lost. We picked up our passes from guest services along with our tickets to the Fantasmic Dessert Party (more on that later) and went into DCA. We headed straight for California Screamin', the gigantic roller coaster that dominates the landscape of the Paradise Pier section (the very back) of the park. If you like Rockin' Roller Coaster, you will love this one. It is also a launch coaster, although as my niece pointed out, it does not launch quite as fast. Nevertheless, you feel it. It also has the added bonus of being much longer than the 2 1/2 minute Rockin' Roller Coaster. You get a lot more bang for your buck. It is not inside in the dark, so you don't get that thrill factor, but you get awesome views of the pier and the rest of the beautiful Disney park. I enjoy them both but I give the slightest edge to Screamin' just for the additional time- it makes a difference.
We then made the huge mistake of heading to Mickey's Fun Wheel, the gigantic ferris wheel with Mickey's face emblazoned on the front (replacing the odd looking sun that had previously adorned it). The ferris wheel has stationery buckets and swinging ones. I had not gotten the chance to ride this on my previous trip, so i wanted to cross this off my list. My niece headed toward the right fork in the line- toward the swinging buckets. Fine by me as it looked tame enough. She had not read the sign and did not realize it until we were just about to board. Those things swing rather wildly and after 2 go rounds, I thought I might need to use the barf bag that was discreetly placed on the side of the seat. My niece found it and had dibs on it as she was feeling sick too. I have NEVER gotten sick on a ride and do not get motion sick, so I was kind of surprised at how this thing affected me. This is one of those rides that looks tame enough but will eat your lunch. I pointed out that since we hadn't eaten lunch, it was eating a lunch we hadn't even ingested yet. Not sure if it would have been worse if we had eaten first.
We staggered off of the ride in search of food, hoping that would calm our stomachs and heads. Note: never eat corn dogs or battered fried meat on a stick AFTER being nearly ill. We went to Corn Dog Castle and got the Link Corn Dog... it was spicy and good, but greasy- and kind of made us feel a little worse. We ate sitting on one of the planters near a merchandise cart. A couple of little mini parades came by with Phineas & Ferb and later with the Green Army Men from Toy Story. After relaxing and giving ourselves time to recover, we headed off in search of less taxing entertainment. We toured the Boudin Bakery and the newly opened Ghirardelli's chocolate fountain where we experienced the bliss of the free chocolate square filled with luscious gooey caramel. Sweet!
We headed towards a Bug's Land, the mini park with lots of kiddie rides and It's Tough to Be a Bug, the 3-D movie. There was very little wait, maybe 5 minutes. The attraction was actually better than the one at WDW's Animal Kingdom, which i have experienced several times. There was an additional animatronic to our left and a couple of additional effects. I was quite surprised as I had skipped this on my last visit, considering that it would be an exact clone. It was slightly better, plussed just a little bit. We headed to Hollywood Land and caught the Monster's Inc Mike and Sully to the Rescue ride- which was OK. Very well themed and the animatronic at the end had my niece asking me how they did that.
We then went to see the Aladdin Show, a musical in the vein of Beauty & the Beast at Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS) in FL and Finding Nemo at Animal Kingdom (AK). Not to keep banging the drum but... it was better! I love Beauty & the Beast at DHS & Lion King at AK, but Aladdin was superior. It is held in the Hyperion Theater in the Hollywood Land section of DCA. The theater has 3 sections: orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony. If you do not arrive early, you will be in one of the upper sections. We arrived about 20 minutes before the start of the 2 o'clock our show and ended up in the mezzanine section. This means we had to climb stairs outside of the theater. I counted 50 steps! The balcony section required even more. The inside is beautiful and reminds me of the Walt DIsney Theater on the Disney Cruise Line ships. The show was great, the music was wonderful, the acting and singing were amazing, and the Genie stole the show! My niece said she wanted to see it again, this time from the floor! Note: if my teenaged niece is any indication, Aladdin is an awesome show for teens and the main character is a cutie
We explored the new fountain at the Carthay Circle Restaurant and took pictures of the beautiful new building, a throwback to the original theater that first premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and other classic movies. We then left the park to go get our room and put away our luggage. Oh yeah, and rest.
After about a 3 hour break and naps, we headed over to Disneyland. We ate dinner at the Plaza Inn restaurant. At WDW the Plaza is a full service restaurant. At Disneyland, it is a counter service (of which there are an abundance). I had heard much of the chicken dinner- lots of praise. So we went in, grabbed plates, ignored the yummy looking desserts walking by and headed to the line for the chicken. The meal came with 4 pieces of chicken- an entire half- plus mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and a biscuit. The price was $13.99- not bad for theme park and more food than I could eat. Although, my niece managed to finish hers somehow. We washed it down with free water that they provided. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. The decor reminded me of Crystal Palace at WDW.
We left there to check in for the Fantasmic Dessert Party. Fantasmic at Disneyland on the Rivers of America, so there is no dedicated theater like in Florida. People, therefore, grab pavement extra early and sit along the banks, sometimes for hours. I had no intention of doing this and also considered this a special trip- my niece's sweet sixteen trip. So I paid for the Dessert party, which gives you prime viewing in seats along with a little dessert tray for the price of $60. Check-in for the Dessert Party begins at 8pm, but people begin lining up at about 7pm. We headed over after our dinner, so it was about 20 minutes until 8pm. There were 2 Fantasmic shows that night, one at 9pm and one at 10:15pm. I had booked the later one, but both check in at the same time. I figured the second would be less crowded, and I was right. We were able to get 2 front row seats for the second show. Once that was done, we headed over to It's a Small World to see the new Magic Memories and You Show for the summer season. It was great, but I think the 2 previous versions may have been a little better. Nevertheless, Disney Imagineers are AMAZING with what they can do.
We then staked out a spot for Magical, the fireworks show. They announced there would be a delay, and I began to think we might be late for our Fantasmic seats, so I made the bone-headed decision to leave our spots in the Hub and start heading back to Frontierland. As soon as we reached Frontierland it started. So we only got a side angle view. Still good, but not as good as what we had. Once it was over, we were held behind a rope in Frontierland as cast members allowed people exiting the 9pm Fantasmic show to file out of the area. One girl was rather anxious as she had dinner reservations at Blue Bayou and her family was waiting. It was inconvenient, but I do understand the reasoning. The last time I was at DL and the early Fantasmic let out, it was a MADHOUSE of people and movement of seemingly only a few inches at a time. This was much more oranized and orderly.
Fantasmic was fantastic! Murphy the dragon (Maleficent) worked just fine, Mickey triumphed over the bad guys, good won over evil, the effects were brilliant. The hot chocolate, of which I had two cups, was wonderful. My niece opted for tea. Our dessert trays are handed to us once we reach our seats before the show starts and our drink orders are taken. The tray included 5 or 6 cheeses, 2 packs of water crackers, a brownie, a cheesecake square, a key lime tartlet, 2 chocolate truffles, a macaroon (American), a jelly filled tea cake/cookie, and grapes/fruit. To drink they had lemonade, bottled water, a large variety of hot teas, coffee, soda, and hot chocolate. It was chilly, so we both had warm drinks. My niece was unaware that SoCal, unlike Florida, can get chilly at night. She was so cold that she was actually rooting for the dragon and her fire, so as to keep warm.
We headed to our temporary home and made preparation to be at Disneyland at opening. So ended day 1.