If you’re an animal lover, you’ll be in good company at Disneyland. It all started with a mouse, after all.
In this blog I’ll cover the can’t-miss attractions for those of you who can’t get enough of anthropomorphized critters, fish, and more. This isn’t a post covering the conservation-focused efforts of the Disney Company. Rather, this post takes a light-hearted approach for animal lovers of all ages to ooh and aah at live, animatronic, or otherwise animated animal characters in the park.
We’ll start with Main Street and take a trip around the park. In the words of Peter Pan, here we gooooo….
1. Take a ride down Main Street U.S.A. in a horse-drawn carriage
Main Street U.S.A. represents an idyllic turn-of-the-century American town, complete with the transportation options of that time. From park opening until early afternoon, you can take a ride in one of these horse-drawn carriages from Sleeping Beauty Castle to plaza in front of the train station. One-way trips only.
Fun Fact: In case you were worried, the horses only work four-hour shifts, four days of week. They spend the rest of their time in a Disney ranch.
From here, we’ll head to our right into Tomorrowland…
2. Dive under the sea with Nemo and friends
Ever wonder what it’d be like to ride in a submarine with fish who talked to each other? Of course you have; we all do!
At Disneyland, you can find out on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.
Fun Fact: In the original iteration of the ride that operated from 1959 to the mid-1990s, there were live mermaids that sunbathed and swam around the lagoon.
Now let’s walk past the Matterhorn into Fantasyland…
3. Encounter animals around the world on a boat cruise
It’s A Small World isn’t just full of 300 smiling dolls singing the same song over and over (did I mention that some people find the ride creepy?), it’s also full of animals from their respective countries!
Some of my favorites are the drowsily-blinking hippo by Simba and Pumbaa and the alligator enjoying the rain.
Fun Fact: In 2008, the ride was refurbished so the boats and water system could support the growing waist bands of Americans. While they worked on the ride system, the imagineers also added in nearly 30 characters from the animated films, including Cinderella, Lilo and Stitch, Ariel, and the Toy Story gang. See how many you can spot!
Now let’s head to Toon Town!
4. Drop in on Mickey and pals in their homes
It doesn’t get more anthropomorphic than Mickey’s Toon Town. Here you can visit the homes of your favorite Disney characters and see how wacky things can be in a cartoon world! This is a primo spot for photos and meet and greets with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, and Chip and Dale.
Fun Fact: The Disneyland fireworks are launched from right behind Toon Town, which is why this land closes early. If you catch a ride on the train and happen to pass by during the show, your ears will be in for quite an experience!
Back into Fantasyland…
5. Fly the skies of Fantasyland with Dumbo
The Dumbo ride in Fantasyland ranks right up there with Peter Pan’s Flight when it comes to childhood favorites. The elephants can fit a parent and child, two children, or one adult. You use a joystick to control how high or low you fly.
Just like the teacup and the Mr. Toad car on the other side of Fantasyland, this ride also features a stationary ride vehicle behind the queue so you can enjoy a photo op.
Fun Fact: Before Fantasyland was redone in 1984 with a medieval fantasy theme, it had a circus theme. Given that Dumbo was born a circus elephant, this ride always fit in.
On to Adventureland…
6. Encounter animals around the world on a boat cruise
Wait a minute – didn’t we already do this in #3?
Yes, but this version doesn’t have dolls or air conditioning. Ride the Jungle Cruise to view the famous backside of water and hear such classic Disneyland jokes as:
“This is the longest river in Africa. And if you don’t believe me, you’re in denial!” (say it out loud if you didn’t get it)
“Aww, look at those nice lions watching over that sleeping zebra.”
Fun Fact: This ride was inspired by The African Queen movie and Walt’s True Life Adventure films.
Let’s make our way into Critter Country…
7. Sing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah with a blue bird on your shoulder
This is your typical log ride, but with a Disney twist. Enjoy two smaller drops (one of which is in the dark) before you reach the big one. Sing along with Brer Rabbit and various woodland creatures as he tries to outwit the villainous Brer Fox and hapless Brer Bear.
Fun Fact: This ride was launched during the era of Michael Eisner, who was all about synergy. The mountain was named “Splash” to help market the film of the same name featuring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah.
After all these rides, I’m working up an appetite, aren’t you? Let’s grab lunch right here in Critter Country.
8. Eat lunch alongside Disney’s gang of feral cats
Yes, these infamous cats are real. I’ve had plenty a hamburger with a tortie or tabby sitting near my feet. You’re most likely to see them at the Hungry Bear Restaurant next to the Winnie the Pooh ride, although they’ve been spotted in other places throughout the resort.
These cats are so beloved by locals, there’s even an Instagram account dedicated to capturing their whereabouts:
Fun Fact: Walt and team first discovered these cats on a walkthrough of Sleeping Beauty Castle prior to park opening. They were infested with fleas and as far from the Disney look as possible. However, there was also a rodent problem at the park (yes, Walt saw the irony), and who better to help eradicate rodents than hungry cats? The cats have stayed in the park ever since, doing their duty to ensure that Mickey Mouse remains the only mouse the public sees.
Let’s take a trip back around the park to head home…
9. Learn about North America’s native wildlife
Ride the Disneyland Railroad to imagine what life is like in the Grand Canyon, today and in the time of the dinosaurs. Between the Tomorrowland and Main Street stations, you’ll pass through a long tunnel featuring a peaceful Grand Canyon diorama with mountain lions and bighorn sheep, followed by a much more dramatic Primeval World diorama where a T-rex and stegosaurus face off against each other.
Fun Fact: The Primeval World diorama premiered at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York as part of Ford’s Magic Skyway. Other rides that got their start at the fair include It’s A Small World, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and the Carousel of Progress.
10. *Seasonal* Watch baby ducklings grow up
If you happen to be visiting the park in the spring, you may be lucky enough to find yourself walking beside a proud mama duck and her new brood of ducklings. Here are some photos I took in May 2016. Even Goofy was delighted!
Fun Fact: Speaking of waterfowl, swans used to swim around the moat of Sleeping Beauty Castle. It’s fitting, really, considering the castle is modeled after Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, which translates to “new swan castle.” Once Disneyland started shooting fireworks off the castle itself in the mid-2000s, the swans were removed for their own safety.
Which is your favorite animal-themed attraction? Have you ever seen real wildlife (ducklings, cats, otherwise) at the park? Please share in the comments!