Despite the Imagineers’ best intentions, sometimes waiting in line can be excruciating. I’m talking about those middle-of-the-afternoon-on-a-crowded-summer-day-waiting-in-line-for-Radiator-Springs-Racers times.
If you come to Disneyland on a busy summer day and/or if you want to go on the most popular rides, you’re likely to find yourself waiting in line at least 30 minutes.
There’s only so much conversation to be had. If you still wish to maintain interpersonal relationships and aren’t willing to succumb to browsing on your mobile phones, here are seven games you can play while waiting in line at Disneyland.
1. Disney Acronyms
I used to play this game in high school with a fellow Disney buff. We would create obscure acronyms of the rides and see how long it took the other person to guess correctly. IASW, for instance, stood for It’s ASmall World.
This game gets more complicated – and more fun – the longer you make the acronyms. So stick to Disney movies, song titles, and rides rather than character names if you really want to up the ante.
TLM = The Little Mermaid
JASOS = Just A Spoonful Of Sugar
IJCWTBK = I Just Can’t Wait To Be King
2. 20 Questions
To make a Disney-fied version of 20 Questions, simply replace the opening question “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral” with “Character, Ride, Place, or Movie.”
Then your friends or family can ask you up to twenty questions to figure out what it is you’re thinking of!
3. The Name Game
Whenever we went to Disneyland in groups in high school, my friends and I would often end up playing this game.
With the name game, you can choose actors, singers, writers, directors, characters, etc – anyone within the Disney universe (real or animated) that has a first and last name.
As you go around in a circle, each person has to say a name that uses the first letter of the previous name’s last name in the first name of the new person. For example:
Player 1: “Robin Williams” (beloved actor)
Player 2: “Wendy Darling” (mother of the lost boys)
Player 3: “Donald Duck” (the original angry bird)
Whenever a player chooses someone whose first and last names start with the same letter, they reverse the order of play. In the case above, the turn would go back to Player 2 instead of proceeding to Player 4.
Modifications to the game could be: allowing only first names and the next player has to start with the last letter of the previous name, or restricting to individual categories (animated characters, movie titles, etc).
4. The Alphabet Game
For this game, you choose a category such as movie titles, and each player names an item for that category starting with the next letter of the alphabet. For example, using movie titles:
A – Aladdin
B – Bambi
C – Cinderella
The game can come to a hard stop when an unlucky player reaches the letter Q, so you may want to just skip over that one altogether.
5. I Spy
Now, this one will only work if you are in an extremely slow-moving line, or if you’re playing quickly enough in a large queue area. Another pro tip is to choose something (or someone) moving along with you throughout the queue.
Choose an object within eyesight and say, “I spy, with my little eye, something…”
6. Play Imagineer
This is my favorite game. Pretend you’re all Disney imagineers. If you’ve been on the ride before, discuss how you would do it differently. If you haven’t been on the ride, talk about your ideas for the ride you just went on.
Or choose a movie and brainstorm potential rides that could be themed off of it. I always wish they had made a roller coaster that appeared to be powered by fire extinguishers a la WALL-E.
7. Look for Hidden Mickeys
If you’re not aware, Hidden Mickeys are the Disney Parks’ version of easter eggs. They’re nods to the famous mouse himself, or references to films or even past attractions, designed and placed by the Imagineers themselves. They range from the subtle…
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.
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!
Let’s face it. The crowds, the heat, the excitement… a day at the Disneyland Resort can be exhausting. Even if you’re not traveling with young children, a nap can be essential. And sometimes the idea of walking or riding the Monorail back to your resort hotel seems impossible.
For those of you valiant souls planning to spend the entire or better half of a day at Disneyland or California Adventure, here are the best places to grab a cat nap in the parks.
1. Animation Academy
Location: Disney California Adventure, Hollywood Land
It doesn’t get better than this. This is my personal go-to resting place in the Disneyland Resort.
Animation Academy is a hidden gem in DCA. It looks like a shop from the outside, and it’s easy to miss the entrance.
Upon entering, you find yourself in an expansive dimly lit and well-air-conditioned room, beautifully illuminated by screens of different shapes and sizes circling the top of the walls. Different famous scenes, typically accompanied by the corresponding hit song, from the various Disney animated films play on a loop across these screens. What really makes it fantastic, though, is that some screens display the final version of the film, while others show a prototypical hand-drawn version of the scene or sketches and mockups from the brainstorming process. It’s a beautiful way to illustrate the process the animators go through as they craft the films.
There are several offshoots from this room to explore, where you can sing karaoke to your favorite animated films, enjoy Turtle Talk with Crush, or play with old animation techniques like rotoscoping. If you’re at the park for more than one day, or are a fan of animation or film, I definitely recommend spending time here.
But back to the big room. This is your napping place. You’ll see plenty of other people using it for the same purpose, so there’s no reason to feel awkward about lying down for a nice bit of shuteye. Sweet dreams!
2. The Disneyland Railroad
Location: Disneyland, Main Street USA, New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toon Town, Tomorrowland
The Disneyland Railroad travels around the park on a continuous loop all day long. You’ll be sitting in a covered car, enjoying the breeze of movement or the air conditioning of the Grand Canyon or Splash Mountain tunnels. It’s relatively quiet, as most people listen to the voice narration. With the steady movement of the train rocking you to sleep, what’s not to love?
3. Main Street Cinema
Location: Disneyland, Main Street USA
This space is small, but so few people recognize it as an attraction, that it’s almost a secret spot. It’s as dark as a movie theater, and air-conditioned as such. Sit down on the floor and let the early black-and-white cartoons of Mickey Mouse lull you to sleep.
4. Fantasyland Theater
Location: Disneyland, Fantasyland
Fantasyland Theater is located in between It’s A Small World and the entrance to Mickey’s Toon Town. Currently showing Mickey and the Magical Map, you can rest your eyes while your family enjoys this audience favorite (Stitch steals the show!). Unlike the Frozen musical in DCA, which requires a FastPass to reserve your seat, you can always stroll in to find a seat somewhere here. The show runs for 20+ minutes and has multiple showings during the afternoon. The theater is outdoors, but shaded and breezy.
5. Mark Twain Riverboat
Location: Disneyland, Frontierland
Enjoy a cruise around the Rivers of America on Frontierland’s very own steamboat. There’s plenty of seating on the paddler wheeler inspired by the ships that famously traversed the great Mississippi River. The round trip itself is less than 15 minutes, but you can board ahead of sailing time to sneak in some more shut eye.
6. For Small Kids Only: Any Long Line
Location: Both parks, as long as you have a sleepy child and a willing adult
If you’re visiting with young children, chances are they’ll need a nap. As long as you’re willing and strong enough, any long line is a perfect place to carry your kids around as they sleep in your arms.
This is also a good way to optimize your FastPasses. Unless you’re extremely lucky and skilled, you’re not going to be able to get a FastPass for all of the popular rides. You’ll end up waiting in line for one or two of them. The key is to be as strategic as you can about which rides you get FastPasses for and at which times. If you’re going to have to wait in line, you might as well choose a ride with an interesting queue, or one that will allow your child to get some much-needed rest.
Below is a list of the rides that tend to have the longer wait times. This is also a short list of the rides worth getting a FastPass for (although I’ve noted in parentheses which rides do not have FastPasses):
Options in Disneyland:
Fantasyland: Peter Pan’s Flight (TOP CHOICE): This is a can’t-miss attraction, and most Disneyland locals will tell you they’ve never seen the wait time below 45 minutes. If you’re not going to get to the park within the first hour of opening and run straight to this ride, you’re going to have to wait at least 45 minutes. There’s no FastPass, either, and the queue is boring and narrow. Regardless, I promise you the wait is worth it, especially if you have little ones.
Adventureland: Indiana Jones Adventure (First Runner-Up): This ride can have wait times of 30 – 75 minutes on busy days. I recommend getting a FastPass, unless you plan on riding late at night after the Fantasmic rush. The queue was built specifically with anticipated long wait times in mind, so it’s meant to keep your mind and senses stimulated.
Tomorrowland: Space Mountain or Star Tours (Second Runner-Up): Both of these queues do a great job at theming, and they’re mostly air-conditioned, which can make carrying a sleeping child much more bearable.
Critter Country: Splash Mountain (Honorable Mention): This ride has short wait times at night (for good reason), so if you can, ride it then. The queue is pretty boring, but it is mostly shaded.
Options in Disney California Adventure:
Soarin’ Over The World (TOP CHOICE): The bulk of this queue is indoors, air-conditioned, and very quiet. It’s perfect for sleeping and you can even lean your back against the wall in some places.
Toy Story Midway Mania (First Runner-Up): This ride is the equivalent to Peter Pan’s Flight in Disneyland. It’s an awesome ride that everyone loves, and it takes a small miracle to see a wait time under 45 minutes. Oh, and there’s no FastPass either. The queue is all outside, although shaded, and it’s a boring zigzag queue with virtually no in-line entertainment (you only pass by the audioanimatronic Mr. Potato Head for a few minutes).
Tower of Terror (Second Runner-Up): This will probably only work if you have a child that can sleep through thunderstorms. While the first part of the queue is relatively quiet, in the middle you enter a pre-boarding room where you watch the video that explains the backstory of the ride, which typically elicits good-natured laughs. After that, you enter what is supposed to be the basement of the hotel, complete with large pipes and lots of steam noises. It’s worth including in this list, however, because it’s cool and air-conditioned, and the theming is decent enough to keep you entertained while you wait.
7. Bonus Spot: Fireplace Lounge
Location: Downtown Disney, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel
You have to actually physically leave the parks for this one, but it can be a welcome respite for anyone shopping in Downtown Disney, especially during the cooler months. The Grand Californian Hotel is accessible from Downtown Disney or from Disney California Adventure across from the entrance to Grizzly River Run. There are two fireplace lounges in the lobby with chairs and wraparound wall seating.
What do you think? Have you napped in one of these spots? Did I miss any good napping places? Let me know in the comments!
Main Street U.S.A. is the first themed land you enter within the park. This land contains the most pedestrian “attractions” of the whole park, along the lines of horse-drawn carriages and classic cars. This area of the park has an extreme focus on theming (to the detriment of rides, some might say) so that’s most of what you’ll get out of it.
It represents a turn-of-the-century typical American town, and is modeled in particular after an idealized version of Walt Disney’s home town of Marceline, Missouri.
Before we enter Main Street U.S.A., it’s important to give some background to the layout of Disneyland in general.
Walt Disney was an animator for the majority of his life. His experience in the film industry didn’t just give us the cinematic Disney renditions of classic fairy tales; it also colored how Walt designed his theme park. The entire park evokes the movie-watching experience.
After your ticket is scanned, you enter a “preview” area of sorts, akin to the lobby at a movie theater. On your right is a stroller rental and to your left is a small shop with souvenirs, but ahead of you is a beautiful flowerbed beneath the elevated train station for Main Street U.S.A. Fun fact: this photo-famous flowerbed is replanted nine times a year.
To the right and left of the flowerbed, beneath the elevated train tracks, are two tunnels. Both tunnels contain posters featuring the Disneyland rides you’ll soon get to ride, just the way your local movie theater displays posters of upcoming movies.
Finally, you enter Main Street U.S.A. This land, like all the other lands, represents a major scene from the film that is Disneyland. At the end of Main Street U.S.A. is the hub, from which all the other lands make the spokes. You’re not supposed to view attractions from other lands in any land, as it wouldn’t jive with the particular “scene” of the movie you’re currently in.
The lands are furthered differentiated by other elements. Each land has a different themed trash can, and cast members are not supposed to wear their land-specific costume in other lands. The ground is also different in each land, and it should be noted that the “lobby” area has red stone, evocative of the red carpet film stars walk on before a movie premiere.
Okay, back to Main Street…
Main Street Windows
With Main Street being the first true “scene” you walk through, it should only make sense that this is where you view the opening credits, right? Remember that in Walt’s time, the credits for a film were shown during the beginning of a movie, versus the end like they typically are today.
This is where the Main Street windows come in. Look up to the second floor of the buildings and you will see names. These names all represent people who helped Walt design his dream park, including the Imagineers (Disney’s clever name for the engineers who develop the rides). So that they fit in seamlessly to the Main Street theme, the names are presented as professional offices, perhaps a local dentist or photographer. Often times, the professions match the person’s true profession, as in the case of Herb Ryman. As the art director for Dumbo and other films, and the guy who drew the first illustrations of what would become Disneyland, it only makes sense that he be memorialized as an instructor at the fictional Plaza School of Art window above the Photo Supply shop.
Names are still added to the Main Street windows today as part of the Disney Legends ceremony, such as former head of Imagineering Tony Baxter.
In honor of Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration, six of the windows surrounding the Emporium shop were transformed from basic dioramas from the popular animated films into “enchanted” windows that include set changes, music, and logic-defying special effects (or, at least, they seem that way to the untrained eye).
These are definitely worth a viewing, especially if you are a fan of Aladdin, Peter Pan, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story, Cinderella, or Frozen. Words can’t describe these, so I’ll let YouTube take it from here:
Main Street Theming
One reason Disney is such a standout in the theme park industry is because they spare no expense when it comes to theming. Before Disney, there were just amusement parks, and there are many of these still today. An amusement park is a random, or at best loosely connected, assortment of rides and attractions for amusement. A theme park, on the other hand, is a fully immersive, thematic experience where all of your senses are engaged and you enter mini-worlds where attractions tie in to the constructed atmosphere. Consider the difference between Six Flags and Disneyland, and you’ll see what I mean.
In my opinion, Main Street is the best representative of the theming in Disneyland (in DCA, it’s Carsland). It’s irresistibly charming, and it doesn’t even have any impressive rides to help win you over. It wins you over because it’s themed so well. Main Street is my favorite land in Disneyland, and this is why.
Main Street truly feels like a fantasy version of a turn-of-the-century American town. You have your bank, your City Hall, your fire station, your local shops and eateries.
Why did Walt choose to design his introductory land to his theme park this way? Walt loved America and the American dream. He was a man of many passions, and one of those passions was America. In Disneyland, almost half of the lands are dedicated to American ideals – Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland, and New Orleans Square. Even the original Tomorrowland was heavily inspired by the U.S. space program.
Main Street U.S.A. Attractions Guide
What are the best attractions on Main Street? Below I highlight some of the standouts, as well as suggested itineraries for your first trip to Disneyland.
Main Street Fire Station
One of the municipal buildings on Main Street is the Fire Station. This is a fun spot for kids as they can talk to a “real” fireman and take photos on a fire truck.
Before you enter, look up in the window on the second floor. You’ll see a lantern burning. Any time of day or night, it’s on. This lantern stays lit in memory of Walt Disney, keeping his presence alive in the park. It’s all very similar to John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame.
Walt’s burning homage is in the Fire Station for a reason – when they were building Disneyland, Walt had them build an apartment for him above the Fire Station so he could monitor the construction. He stayed many nights there once the park opened, too. There are countless stories from Cast Members who recall seeing him before the park opened strolling up and down Main Street or cruising around in one of the vehicles with a smile on his face and a cigarette in his mouth.
That wasn’t the only planned apartment in Disneyland…
In the 1960s, when they were building New Orleans Square, Walt and his brother Roy included a plan for an apartment for the two families above Pirates of the Caribbean to abut Club 33. This is why the railing above the ride has their initials engraved in the middle. Walt died before they finished, so their shared apartment never realized. However, this area was used as a Disney Gallery for many years (showing a backstage peek at Imagineering projects past, present and future) and today operates as the Dream Suite.
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
One of the first attractions you encounter on your right as you enter the park is the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction. This is a longish show, so if you have kids that get antsy, I wouldn’t recommend it. It is worth it if you love American or Disney history, though.
The genesis of this ride, along with other classics like It’s A Small World, came with the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. Around this time, Walt was testing the viability of the east coast as a location for his second theme park. Naysayers worried that east coasters wouldn’t “get” Disneyland. As usual, Walt wouldn’t be deterred.
He and his Imagineers designed four attractions to debut at the World’s Fair, and secured mega sponsors for each one. Fittingly, the State of Illinois sponsored the Abraham Lincoln attraction. The attraction consists of a short film providing background to the Abraham Lincoln story and the Civil War. At the end, the curtain lifts, and you see a lifesize Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair. To your astonishment, he then stands up on both feet and talks and gesticulates like a person would.
In today’s world of virtual reality and caregiving robots, an animatronic president might not seem all that fascinating. But when you realize that Walt Disney invented animatronics, and that this was one of the first ones the team ever made, it’s groundbreaking. We’re not talking about an animated bird that moves its beaks and blinks its eyes (which you can view plenty of at The Enchanted Tiki Room). This is a full-on human being. In the mid-1960s, this would have blown your mind. When you take it into context, it still has the power to take your breath away today.
Pro Tip: if this individual performance by Abraham Lincoln impresses you, I highly recommend visiting the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World. It’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln times 43. Yes, every single U.S. President is represented in animatronic form as they have a town hall with each other. It’s quite a show.
Main Street Cinema
This spot on Main Street is often overlooked. From the front, it looks more like a fake vintage cinema storefront. The main clue that you can actually enter is if you see someone else entering or leaving. On a hot day, this cool dark room is a welcome respite. On most days, it’s a great secret spot to get a break from the crowds.
Walk behind the ticket taker (you’ll see her Cast Member name tag claims she’s from Marceline, MO, just like Walt Disney), and enter on either side. Inside you’ll find a dark circular room with six black-and-white Disney cartoons playing on loops on the walls. You can watch as many as you like and stay for as long as you want.
Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy are always playing, while the other four films get rotated in and out. Steamboat Willie was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon ever released. If you ever see 1928 on Disney clothing or merchandise, it’s referring to the year in which this film was released. A clip of Mickey turning the steering wheel and whistling is now included before the Disney animated feature films, in addition to the castle. Plane Crazy, which is my personal favorite, was actually completed prior to Steamboat Willie, but it was the third film released.
Both films are classic examples of early Disney animation. They’ve got the slapstick gags and goofs you’d expect in any vintage cartoon, coupled with the budding romance of Mickey and Minnie. You also get to hear the original voice of Mickey Mouse – Walt Disney himself!
At the time of writing, the Disneyland Railroad is closed to allow for the construction of the highly anticipated Star Wars Land. Since we don’t know how the railroad route will be changed once it reopens, I’ll keep this short and update it later. In its previous iteration, the Railroad stops in four lands, starting at Main Street and circling the park through New Orleans Square/Frontierland, Mickey’s Toon Town/Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland stations. Walt Disney was such a huge fan of trains, he built a railroad in his very own backyard, with an accompanying barn to monitor it from. You can visit Walt’s Barn today – it’s open to the public and located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, CA.
Main Street U.S.A. Shopping, Dining, and Entertainment
Enough about the attractions! No other land does shopping and dining better than Main Street U.S.A.
Shopping on Main Street U.S.A.
Spend the last hour of the park shopping for souvenirs here. Main Street is open for one hour past park closing specifically for this reason.
For the largest selection of general Disney merchandise in the park, head to the Emporium. It takes up half of the west side of Main Street and is the only shop on that side. (While you’re there, look above and see if you can spot the window honoring Walt’s dad, Elias Disney!)
The shops on the east side of the street all have some selection of general Disney merchandise, but you’ll also find more unique fare on this side. You have the magic shop, which has fun and quirky magic gifts. Then there’s the music shop, where you can buy the soundtracks from your favorite Disney movies and your favorite rides from the parks. My personal favorite is the art gallery, where they sell books geared toward the Disney and animation fan. There is also a glass shop selling beautiful crystal constructions representing your favorite Disney characters.
Disney Character Meet and Greets
If you want a photo (or photos) with Disney characters, the flowerbed area and the flag pole area on either side of the train station are sure bets, anytime from park opening until the afternoon once the parades start. This land almost always has one of the Sensational Six (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, or Goofy). I’ve also seen Genie, Captain Hook and Smee, Peter Pan, Alice and the Mad Hatter, the Evil Stepmother, Ariel, Aladdin and Jasmine, and Cruella De Ville out here, to name a few. A secondary location where I’ve seen characters are listening to the piano at the Coca Cola shop at the end of Main Street on the west side.
For help finding specific characters, you can always ask at City Hall. Here’s an excellent guide for finding characters in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
The Castle Photo
If it’s your first trip to Disneyland, you’ve got to take the obligatory photo in front of the castle. You can get a souvenir one done with Photo Pass from one of the photographers (you can’t miss them). If you want to get your own photo, it is possible to get one without other people in it. You just need to be a little clever with your angle, get there early in the morning where there are less people around, and have a LOT of patience. These blogs have some great tips for taking your own photos at Disneyland:
On par with the shopping, Main Street U.S.A. has some of the best food in the park.
This is where you’ll find the Starbucks in Disneyland, on the east side of the street. People are of mixed opinion on how they feel about Starbucks “invading” Disneyland, but I’m addicted to Starbucks, so I love it. If you’re the kind of person who gets excited every fall when the Red Cups arrive, you should stop in to get a special Disneyland cup. Otherwise, this is just a regular ol’ Starbucks.
There are a few notorious Disneyland foods – these include the churro, the cinnamon bun, the turkey leg, and the Dole whip. You can get the churro anywhere, but the cinnamon bun is only available at the Main Street Bakery. The other two foods are available in Frontierland and Adventureland, respectively. This cinnamon bun is famously good, and I think it’s a reasonably nutritious way to start off your day if you’re there in the morning 🙂
There are two sit-down dining options in Main Street. One is attached to the bakery and has nice outdoor patio seating. The other is the Plaza Restaurant, which serves American home-style foods like fried chicken and mashed potatoes, buffet-style.
Now let’s talk about my three favorite places – the ice cream parlor, the candy shop, and the Coca Cola cafe. The ice cream parlor is inspired by the Gibson Girl, and serves the kind of ice cream one dreams about. Yes, this is one of those parlors where you can get an ice cream float, or you can get your ice cream in one of those delicious dipped-in-chocolate-and-sprinkles waffle cone bowls. Bravo, Disney.
Next door is the arcade, which connects to the candy shop. Here you can enjoy a variety of carmel apples, and you can actually see them baking these and the other goodies, which include chocolate-dipped marshmallows, strawberries, and rice krispie treats. I love walking by just to check out the latest carmel apple designs. They’re sure to give you a smile. There’s always a Mickey and Minnie, something seasonal, and usually a random one inspired by a trendy character. Check out these Halloween-themed ones featuring Maleficent and a jack-o-lantern:
Finally, the piece de resistance! In my opinion, no Disneyland trip is complete without a Mickey Mouse cream cheese-filled pretzel. They are so delicious, I even wrote a haiku:
Cream cheese filled pretzel
with a Mickey Mouse smile…
Sweet Treat of Main Street!
You can buy these at the Coca Cola cafe. Sit for a spell and enjoy the live pianist if you have a chance!
Disneyland Trip Planning: Suggested Itineraries for Main Street U.S.A.
Honestly, for most people, I would advise you walk straight through Main Street to get to the rest of the park. This may surprise people given that I revealed above that this is my favorite land. However, for most people who are traveling to Disney for a day or two – you need to get to the rest of the park to enjoy the most rides and get the best return for your money.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Review the chart below to choose a Main Street itinerary for your visit.
Americana Fan/Walt Disney History Buff
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Main Street Cinema
Do it all. Ride the train (once it’s open again), and stroll up and down each side of the street, exploring the window displays and enjoying the shops and attractions. Chat with the Cast Members to ask them if they can share any neat trivia – they’re almost always game.
Family with Kids
Character Meet & Greet
If you don’t want to get sucked in to the arcade (and the attached ice cream shop, both of which are money pits), enter through the righthand tunnel and stay on that side of the street until you reach the hub, where you can snag your castle photo. When you leave, you’ll want to stay on your left.
I also don’t recommend watching any parades from Main Street for this reason – as a kid, it’s too easy to get distracted and want to go play arcade games or get souvenir pennies. You’ll have access to ice cream, balloons, and other snacks and souvenirs from carts located all along the parade route, so you may be better off watching elsewhere.
Character Meet & Greet
Grab a cinnamon bun for breakfast and enjoy your stroll down Main Street as you find the perfect spot for your castle photo or run into a character for a photo op. If you need a break at some point during the day, you can take the Disneyland Railroad for a trip around the park (there are stops in New Orleans Square, Toon Town, and Tomorrowland).
Main Street U.S.A. Hidden Mickeys & Fun Facts
1. During the summer, the scent of vanilla is pumped through the vents onto the streets. In the wintertime, you can smell peppermint.
2. Just like the turn-of-the-century horses on King Arthur’s Carrousel in Fantasyland, Main Street has its own authentic historical artifacts. The cannons are real French cannons from the 1800s, and the gas lamps are over 200 years old, sourced from various American cities.
3. Disney may be as wholesome as apple pie, which is why you might be surprised to learn that there used to be a lingerie shop on Main Street! You can tell which shop it was because it’s the only one with a porch. This was designed to place the storefront and the “racy” merchandise back from the family-friendliness of the street.
4. Speaking of surprising shops, there used to be a tobacco shop, too. All that remains today is the cigar store Indian, who has a twin in Frontierland.
5. There are a ton of Hidden Mickeys on Main Street. You can find a list of them here, but my favorite one is the Fruit Cart Mickey.
About halfway down Main Street, on the side with the lockers and the Starbucks, there is a fruit cart. Look underneath to reveal…
These are my favorite types of Hidden Mickeys – ones that are truly hidden and so clearly pointless that you know the Imagineers put them in there just for fun and for the fans!
So, there you have it! Everything you need to know about Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.
Thank you for reading! Let me know in the comments if I missed one of your favorite attractions, Hidden Mickeys, or fun facts. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Budget-savvy vacationers have their work cut out for them when it comes to being wallet-conscious at the Disneyland Resort. Even die-hard Disney fans and Annual Passholders acknowledge they’re hemorrhaging money on any park visit.
Whether you’re planning a trip, want to convince someone the Walt Disney Company isn’t best represented by Scrooge McDuck, or are simply curious (or shocked) by this blog’s title, here are 5 ways to get something for free in the Disneyland Resort. Yes, absolutely free!
1. FREE BUTTONS
Is it your first trip to Disneyland? Did you just get engaged or married? Maybe it’s your birthday!
If any of the above apply, you can head straight to City Hall to claim your free button!
For those who are casual or first-time visitors to the Disney parks, let me back up. Upon entering Disneyland, the first land you walk through is Main Street U.S.A. This charming street is based on turn-of-the-century idealized Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney’s hometown. There are shops and eateries like you would expect in any small town’s Main Street, and also municipal buildings like a Firehouse and City Hall.
City Hall operates like a fantasy version of a real-life City Hall. All ride elevator permits are on file at Disneyland’s City Hall, and you can go there for questions, or to file compliments or complaints about Cast Members, just like you would go to discuss civic issues in your own city.
Once they realize it’s not a ride or show, many people pass by City Hall without entering it. If you’re a Disney fan, I highly encourage you to go inside and chat up the Cast Members if it’s not busy. They’re usually thrilled to talk with non-tourists and gab about Disney lore. They’ve got some cool stuff in there, too – old photos and the like.
What’s especially awesome about City Hall, though, is they give out a variety of buttons to celebrate certain occasions. For free. And if you wear the button, Cast Members and park guests will acknowledge the happy occasion that earned you the button or spark up a conversation with you! (If you don’t want to encourage conversations with Cast Members or questions from strangers, then grab the button and put it in your pocket or purse and secretly relish that you just got something for free.)
So, if you want one of the buttons below, be sure to tell City Hall on your next qualifying visit. All you have to do is walk in and say, “Hi, I’m on my first visit/celebrating my birthday” or “Hello, we’re engaged/married/celebrating our anniversary/enjoying our family reunion”
2. FREE CHOCOLATE
Who doesn’t love free chocolate? Other than dieters or vegans, probably no one. In Disney California Adventure, you have the ability to get two free food items. With Disney park food prices being what they are, that’s a steal!
Even better, both are located just a few footsteps away from each other.
In Disney California, head over to the Fisherman’s Wharf area in between Cars Land and Paradise Pier. Approaching from the Cars Land side, you’ll see a Boudin Bakery and Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory sign. This is your stop.
Enter the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory and greet the Cast Member who will smile and hand you a free sample of chocolate. Then you can grab a menu and order, or just walk straight through the shop (and back into the front door to grab another free piece of chocolate, like I usually do!)
3. FREE BREAD
After you’ve enjoyed your free chocolate, head next door to the Boudin Bakery for some free sourdough bread!
Once you enter, you’ll receive a torn-off piece of freshly baked sourdough bread. Delicious! You can stop and chew while you watch the intro video of Rosie O’Donnell explaining Boudin Bakery’s sourdough baking process, or you can continue walking to watch bakers in real-time baking the bread!
I find this interactive peek into the baking process much more exciting than what the Ghiradelli shop offers, but I suppose if you have chocolate, you don’t have to try as hard.
Before Ghiradelli, Mission Tortilla used to sponsor the spot across from Boudin Bakery. That was awesome because you got to see how they made tortillas, similar to the Boudin walk-through. However, I think they probably sold a lot less than the Ghiradelli soda fountain does today, which may be the reason why the sponsorship wasn’t renewed. The Fisherman’s Wharf area is more aptly themed now, too, with two San Francisco originals instead of just one.
4. FREE STICKERS
If you ever see a Cast Member in a white shirt and/or a navy jacket holding a device that looks like an iPad, they’re probably a survey taker.
You’ll see these folks scattered through Downtown Disney, Disneyland, and Disney California Adventure. They’re supposed to pick people at random, so if you go up and offer to be surveyed, they’ll kindly let you down. (I love taking surveys so this embarrassing scenario actually happened to me.)
If you just stand around, or maybe walk away and then walk back and smile or appear inviting, you may get chosen! (Just like the little green aliens in Toy Story!)
You’ll chat for a few minutes, with the Cast Member asking you questions. For a Disney fan this process is neat because you get some insight into what things the Disney Company cares about at the moment.
Once you finish the survey, the Cast Member will thank you and give you a free sticker!
5. FREE PHOTOS
In my opinion, one of the biggest tourist scams is outrageously priced souvenir photos. They’re so ubiquitous, even those of us who know they’re a ripoff have bought a few (which are now likely lost somewhere under a bed or in a closet stuffed in a long-forgotten box).
As expected, Disneyland loves charging you for photo opportunities. They have free-standing photographers located at primo locations throughout the park, and several of the thrill rides snap a photo of you at one point. You have to pay for all of these… except for one.
How Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters escaped the paid photo frenzy, I have no idea. Maybe Disney put these in for free, and planned to make us pay for it later, but forgot. Either way, when you exit the Buzz ride in Tomorrowland, you encounter some photo kiosks where you can flip through the most recent photos to find yours and email it to yourself, completely for free. In rare form, Disney even set these up before they make you walk through the gift shop.
If you’re wondering where the photo opportunity is, it’s in the last and largest room of the Buzz ride. Right as you enter the room with the huge Zurg animatronic, your ride vehicle will no longer let you spin it around. This is to slow you down and face you towards the camera.
Bonus: Free Refills?
Although I didn’t include it above, I have heard of a hack to get a free soda refill.
My high school chemistry teacher, who will remain nameless to protect his or her identity, was a former disgruntled Disneyland Cast Member. He told us that if you accidentally spill your drink, Cast Members will give you a refill for free. It’s the least Disney can do to ensure your trip isn’t completely spoiled. So even if you “accidentally” spill it, if you go and whine to the nearest Cast Member, you’ll get a refill for free. (No promises whether that refill won’t come with some free spit, though, depending on how convincingly “accidental” your spill was).
This is no big deal to Disney, either, considering that they get the soda free of charge from Coca Cola. In the Coke vs. Pepsi battle, the chance to convert or confirm that many millions of people into Coke drinkers is worth it for the company to provide the drinks to Disney for free.
I’d like to know if anyone has tried this and can share whether or not it worked for them?
Do you have any special tips for getting freebies in Disneyland Resort? Please share in the comments!
It’s a common question Disney fans are asked when they reveal their love of Disney.
Better that, than the all-too-often, and cringeworthy, follow-up of “Which one is Disneyland again? Is that the one in Florida?”
Perhaps I’m overreacting (I almost certainly am), but it kills a little part of me inside each time someone confuses Disneyland with Disney World. And that’s mainly because it assumes the idea that Walt Disney World could be considered on the same plane as Disneyland, that the parks are interchangeable, that one is essentially as good as the other.
And they’re not. Walt Disney World has some pretty great things, but there’s nothing like Disneyland. On this blog I plan to write on a variety of elements within the Disney universe – the parks, the films, the merchandise – but my main focus will always be Disneyland. Walt’s original park holds a dear place in my heart. I’ve been hundreds of times, with friends, with family, and alone.
The judgment of whether Disneyland or Disney World is better is a personal one for many, but in this post I plan to lay out seven objective, irrefutable reasons which explain my stance, and also give you some insight into why I’ve chosen to dedicate my blog, my heart, and a large part of my memory storage to the original, humble park that has sat on 1313 Harbor Blvd in Anaheim since 1955.
Reason #1: Walt’s Touch and that O.G. Style
There’s a reason why people hate on chain restaurants, and groan every time a new reboot of a movie franchise is announced. You can’t beat an original. There is something inherently endearing about the first version of anything. The creators cared more than anything about wanting it to be the best, and still goofs and gaffs were inevitable. Plus, an original has the nostalgia factor.
With every Disney park, you get Disney magic. At Disneyland you also get a distinct Walt magic. It shows up in the subtle lantern above the firehouse (always brightly aflame in his memory), in the originality of areas like New Orleans Square (the last land he worked on) and rides like the Matterhorn (a ride unique to the Anaheim park based on Walt’s trip to Switzerland), and in the entire layout and theming for the park. Walt dreamed up every bit of the original Disneyland, and you can feel that just a little bit more when you’re strolling down Main Street USA in Anaheim than when you’re in the copycat version in Orlando.
Reason #2: More Bang for the Buck in a Single Park
For many visitors, this should be the most compelling reason. Yes, at WDW, there are four different parks, two water parks, a much larger Downtown Disney district, and too many themed hotels to count. (In fact, the WDW complex is so large, that Disney has its own water district, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.)
However, Walt Disney World was built in the sixties, and by this time, the Disney execs were wearing their how-do-we-make-the-most-money-possible hats we’ve all come to expect. With Disneyland, Walt had 85 acres within to work, and the Disney company has continued to cram as many rides into that space as possible, with the number now nearing 50. Magic Kingdom, the park’s equivalent in Florida, is 105 acres.
Yet Magic Kingdom has under 40 attractions. So what are they doing with all that extra space? You can bet they filled it with shops and restaurants. To be fair, the walkways are also roomier in Florida, which is nice for crowded days.
Granted, some people enjoy shopping on their vacations. But when you’re already shelling out $100 a pop to get into a theme park, I expect it to be filled with rides, not more ways for me to spend my money.
Reason #3: Ease of Access/Transportation
Speaking of getting into the park, it’s much, much easier to do that at Disneyland than at WDW. At Disneyland, you can hop off the 5 freeway, drive a few miles up to one of the many parking areas (Mickey & Friends, Downtown Disney, Simba Parking Lot). At this point, you will actually be able to see the park (if you didn’t already catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn or Tower of Terror from the freeway). You then board a tram for a 5-minute ride, and you’re at the security bag check.
In Florida, on the other hand, you drive, you park in a single, immensely large parking lot, and take a tram to the Transportation Center. At this point, you have the option to either ferry or monorail to get to the Magic Kingdom. Yes, I said ferry. The park is still an entire lake away from you at this point.
The ferry goes at ferry speed and the monorail takes a stop at the Disney Contemporary Resort. Essentially, you add a whole other leg to your journey, after you’re already exhausted from the parking. Did I mention that you drive for several minutes after the parking lot entrance before you actually see any parking space?
So that’s just getting there.
What about once you’re in the park? Let’s say you bought a Park Hopper (a wise decision) and you want to visit another park during the day.
At WDW, you have plenty of options. You can ferry back, and hop on the monorail to Epcot. Or take the monorail back, switch to the one heading to Epcot. Oh, you wanted to go somewhere other than Epcot? Sure. Just ferry or monorail back, take the tram to your car, find your car, drive to the other park, and repeat the parking and tram steps. This should only take you 30 – 60 minutes or so. No big deal.
Conversely, at Disneyland, you can literally walk across a plaza from Disneyland to Disney California Adventure. We’re talking less than 5 minutes from gate to gate.
One more thing worth touching on – Disneyland is in the heart of Anaheim, urbanized mostly thanks to Disney. As a result, there are tons of hotels in the blocks immediately surrounding the parks. At WDW, there are also plenty of parks, but unless you’re staying in one of the privileged few across from a park entrance, you’ll need to factor in 20-30 minutes of extra transportation time getting to the park, be it by car, taxi, or shuttle.
Reason #4: California Weather
There’s a reason California will always have better weather than Florida, and it’s called humidity. It may be sunny in the Florida summer months, but it’s that dripping, damp, sweaty kind of sunny. In California, Disneyland will be just as packed with tourists in the summer season, but at least you won’t be at risk of sweating all over each other, thanks to the dry Mediterranean climate.
When it’s not warm in Florida, it can actually get cold, and rainy. California, on the other hand, has much more temperate weather year-round.
Anaheim, CA enjoys 280 sunny days each year. The average high in July is 84 degrees and the average low in January is 47. It sees 13 inches of rain per year.
Orlando, FL enjoys 233 sunny days each year. The average high in July is 92 degrees and the average low in January is 50. It sees 54 inches of rain per year.
Overall, WDW offers a wetter experience than Disneyland, be it due to humidity, sweat, or rain.
Reason #5: Locals
Part of what adds to the Disneyland vibe is the local flavor, which is distinctly missing at the Florida parks where the tourists overwhelm the crowd population.
Locals and Annual Passholders (AP) hold a special place in their heart for Disneyland. It’s not at all unheard of for people to stop by for a few hours after work (something that’s easy to do thanks to the superior ease of access cited in Reason #3). This lends a sense of coolness and relaxation to the park, not to mention the larger sense of a fan community. Locals know each other through meetups and clubs. They get to know the Cast Members.
Having locals around also means that there are significantly more people who know what they’re doing who are typically happy to help out the real tourists, rather than everyone walking around being lost.
Reason #6: Cast Members – California People vs Florida People
Speaking of people, there’s another advantage Disneyland has over WDW, and it’s one that I realize may get me in hot water. Disney park employees are known as Cast Members. This harkens back to Walt’s background in the movie industry, and his vision for Disneyland as a whole to be a cinematic experience.
Cast Members are the ones who put on the “show” that we recognize as Disney magic. This role means they have the power to make or break someone’s trip. Their onboarding is intense and involves graduating from Disney University. Disney puts a lot of thought and effort into dictating how it wants its employees to interact with the public. If they deviate from Disney’s guidance, a cast member can shatter the illusion for park guests.
Before I get started, let me address the issue of bias. I recognize that having grown up in California may make it appear that I would have an inherent bias in favor of Californians. However, I strongly dislike a lot of what Californians are known for, especially the shallow materialism, hence why I moved to Texas.
However… Californians are more efficient than Floridians. Efficiency is a hugely important trait to have in a cast member. Interacting with efficient cast members makes your day at the park run more smoothly.
Some may disagree with me on this. In some ways Florida embodies that southern way of life that moves a little slower, and there are people who find that charming. I can find it charming as well, but in the right situation. Scanning my ticket, loading the ride vehicles to move through the line quickly, and serving me food are not examples of the right situation.
I’ve also had multiple instances at WDW where I’ve dealt with cast members Walt and team would have been embarrassed by. I don’t know if it was that these individuals were just mean, or simply didn’t share the love of Disney (see Reason #5: Locals), but it put a major damper on my experience, enough to take me to City Hall to file a complaint. (Yes, this is a real thing you can do!) At Disneyland, I’ve also been to City Hall a few times to report on cast members, but it’s always been to compliment the awesome job a cast member is doing, or a Jungle Cruise skipper’s rockstar comedic performance.
Reason #7: Other Parks – DCA vs Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom
Before 2012, this reason would have been much more difficult to argue. From its birth until the 2012 revamp, Disney California Adventure was firmly in the half-day park zone. The addition of Cars Land, the remodel of Sunshine Plaza into Buena Vista Street, and the general Disney-fication (and un-Californication) of the park in 2012 has earned it a solid full-day status that is no longer an embarrassment to Disney theme parks.
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are still languishing in half-day status. Epcot is the only other full-day park option at WDW, and it’s mostly a full day of shopping and eating. Also, let’s not forget that the hassle of transportation in Florida (Reason #3) severely cuts into your park time in Florida.
Some Caveats – The Few Things That Florida Does Better
In another attempt to prove I’m not biased, I’ll close by pointing out the few things in Florida that stand out as truly magical.
Their Space Mountain is the original, and it’s definitely better.
They still have the Country Bear Jamboree, the beloved childhood attraction which was unjustly removed from Disneyland in 2001 and replaced with the far less superior Winnie the Pooh ride.
They also have the Carousel of Progress, which is the ultimate ride for any Walt Disney fan, or simply anyone who loves time-travel with a flair for the nostalgic. However, it should be noted that this ride originally debuted at Disneyland Park and was moved to Florida in the mid-1970s, so I believe Disneyland deserves the credit for the ride’s ideation.
Partly because it has both Space Mountain and the Carousel of Progress, but mostly because they haven’t let it turn into a wasteland of abandoned rides, the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland is infinitely better than Anaheim’s. This one is a sore point for me because Tomorrowland was my favorite land growing up, and ever since the rehaul in 1998, it’s just been terrible.
So there you have it. 7 reasons why Disneyland beats Walt Disney World. Do you agree with me? Did I leave anything out? Let me know! Think I’ve got it wrong? I’d love to hear from you too. Please share your thoughts in the comments!