Ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper, my dream was to go to Disneyland – the happiest place on earth. I can’t tell you how many dinner times I grudgingly downed cold Brussel Sprouts under threat that children who didn’t eat all their dinner would never make it through the gates of the magical kingdom. Yet, the parents never fulfilled their part of the bargain.
Fast forward a lot of years and the odd grey hairs, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands.
So before you start planning your trip to Disneyland, Anaheim, here’s what the brochures won’t tell you.
1 Extra hour magic mornings
It feels like an exclusive deal getting to sneak into the resort one whole hour before the gates open to the public. As part of staying at the Disney resorts, magic morning admissions are included as a perk. They are also available to the public. Getting up early and heading through the quiet Downtown Disney precinct before it awakes, there’s an electric buzz in the air. Apart from street sweepers, there aren’t many people around. You have visions of an elite number of resort guests enjoying the theme park rides queue-free. This is not the case.
Swarms of people arrive via monorail and shuttles from the carpark. The gates open and you are herded along Main Street where Disney Cast members bring you to a halt. Here you will wait for a good 45 minutes before they let you into the rest of the park. Meanwhile the crowds still arrive in thousands. Who knew so many people were even awake at this hour?
There is pushing, shoving, kids screaming because they can’t see or they are getting squashed and sick of waiting. Get used to the waiting, you will spend most of your day doing it.
The Star Spangled Banner crackles over a PA signalling the park is now open for magic morning and once the barrier is removed, it becomes manic. People start running like their lives depend on it. Word of warning, do not get in the way of mums with strollers, you will get mowed down in the prime of your life.
A lot of attractions aren’t open until the official opening time, so don’t count on getting two or three rides out the way before the rest of California arrive. Chances are unless you can sprint like Usain Bolt you will still be in a queue waiting to get on your first ride of the day. My top tip is head straight for Space Mountain.
2 The queues
It’s Disneyland, it’s busy and queues are to be expected. If you think you are prepared for queuing because you have been to Movieworld on the Gold Coast during school holidays, you ain’t seen nothing. It is nothing to queue for up to three hours on a busy day, which can be a tedious wait if you have kids in tow. You can speed up the process by jumping in the single riders queue.
3 The rides
If your after thrills and spills, then there are other parks in California more suited to adrenalin junkies. Space Mountain is the most thrilling ride and the most modern. The rest of the rides, with the exception of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which has recently been revamped, and the Jedi Experience the rides haven’t really changed since Walt Disney built the park. The Matterhorn Bobsleds, despite having a makeover is one of the roughest ride in the park. If you want to know what shaken baby syndrome feels like, jump on board. After spending two and a half hours in the queue due to breakdowns, a badly bruised bum from no seat padding and a ‘we waited two and a half hours for that?’ was all I took away.
4 Thrills and spills
If you are an adrenalin junkie, Disneyland is not the park for you. Cross the road to California Adventure Park to up your excitement level, but most of the rides are still very family friendly. For the real white-knuckled rollercoasters, head north of Los Angeles to Valencia, the home of Six Flags Magic Mountain. This theme park has some of the scariest rides in the world.
A little closer to Anaheim in Buena Park is Knotts Berry Farm. America’s very first theme park is cheaper than Disneyland, less crowded and has some very cool rides. An annual pass will cost you the price of one and a half day tickets, a fraction of the price of Disneyland tickets.
5 There isn’t really a non-busy period at Disneyland
The husband and I tried to time our visit to California to coincide with the end of school holidays. What we didn’t realise is while locals might be back in the classroom, schools in other states are starting their vacation. And guess where they are headed? Disneyland!
The Disneyland resorts and good neighbour hotels (located in the Disneyland precinct), while advertised as within walking distance to the theme parks, are not that close after you’ve spend close to 11 or 12 hours on your feet. At the end of the night when the fireworks have finished, every step back to your hotel will feel like a mile. To be right in the heart of the action, stay at the Disney California Grand.
6 Mobility scooter fraudsters
Disabled or elderly and need a wheelchair or mobility scooter? Don’t count on being able to hire one. I couldn’t believe the number of able-bodied people renting mobility scooters. The basket in the front acts as a carry bag for all their spare jumpers, jackets and merchandise, while whole families are crammed on to the scooter or take turns having rides.
7 Ride closures
Of course there are bound to be some ride closures occasionally, due to regular maintenances, but during our 10-days the Matterhorn was constantly breaking down and Space Mountain broke down shortly after we’d been on it. Indiana Jones Adventure, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and It’s A Small World were all closed.
While Disneyland is still described as being the most magical place on earth, for me it was a bitter disappointment. While it may be the original Disneyland, by no means is it the best. Save your money and head straight to California Adventureland.