One year ago I had never been to a Disney property and only had a scant few theme park experiences in general. It wasn’t from a lack of desire; I’ve always enjoyed theme parks and Disney as a company has always fascinated me, as a relative recently reminded me. For whatever reason though, I just had never been until I found myself in Anaheim with some free time and I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity. Nearly a year later, I’ve been to Disneyland in California on four separate trips, some planned and some unplanned and each experience has been just as fun and magical as the first. Since it’s the only Disney theme park that I have any experience with, today I thought I’d share my thoughts about the park and what I think are some key features that aren’t to be missed.
Perfect for adults
When Walt Disney first conceived the idea of Disneyland, the intention was always to create a safe place where visitors of all ages could have an incredible experience. Not satisfied with making a kids park where adults were largely bored, the result is an entertainment experience that has stood the test of time since 1955. At the time, it was a concept well ahead of its day and almost every resulting theme park that has opened since Disney first cut that ribbon to Disneyland has copied the model. With only a few exceptions, most of the rides in Disneyland, even the original 1955 attractions, are just as much fun for adults as they are for kids. Over the course of my visits I’ve tried to experience as many of the rides as possible. After many hops in between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, not one attraction is a “miss.” Everything I decided to try was fun, really fun, and not once did I feel out of place or odd for wanting to enjoy the rides. Far from it, I was one of thousands of adults in the parks out and about wearing Mickey ears and reveling in the pure and unbridled joy that is Disneyland.
Special tours are worth the price
Many guests aren’t aware of this, but Disneyland offers a variety of special interest tours led by extremely knowledgeable cast members covering a variety of topics. They come with an additional charge of course, but I was very curious about them. During the holiday season they feature a special holiday tour, but I instead booked the Grand Circle Tour. The tour provides a behind the scenes look into Walt Disney’s love for trains and provides an opportunity to see how it defined Disneyland. It was an incredible experience and easily one of the best walking tours I’ve ever been on.
Food is an integral part of the experience
Sure, if you eat every meal in Disney then the costs can easily skyrocket, but be sure to enjoy at least a few of the park’s many iconic menu items. Mickey shaped everything from pretzels to beignets are fun snacks, as are the park’s now famous churros and ice cream treats. One of the most popular snacks though in Disneyland has also attracted a cult following, the Dole Whip. It’s a simple enough concoction, a soft serve pineapple treat served in a cup. You can also get a Pineapple Float, but the purists go for the original. I’ve also tried a few of the sit-down restaurants and, in general, the experiences have been good. Reservations are a necessity, so plan in advance, and not all are made the same so definitely do your research. So far, my favorite experience at a table service restaurant in Disneyland was at Carnation Cafe on Main Street where I enjoyed a special Mickey shaped waffle with fried chicken. It was the perfect brunch to start my day in the park and a great example of how dining at Disneyland can add to the experience.
Make use of tools to access attractions
With no kids in tow and mostly on my own, I have been able to do almost everything I’ve wanted and at a speed that would impress a cheetah. I realize that traveling solo has its advantages, and larger families don’t have the flexibility that I have enjoyed, but the mechanism for maximizing one’s time in the parks is the same. The FASTPASS system helped, no doubt there, but the biggest advantage I had were the Single Rider Lines. Many of the attractions in both of the California parks feature these special lines, meant to allow those traveling or riding alone to skip the long “normal” lines and wait for their opportunity to go as a single rider. When the attractions have a seat or two that need to be filled but the groups in line are too large, they go to the single rider line to fill the gaps. Overall, using this system saved me hours of waiting collectively, although the experience did vary from ride to ride. As an example, the single rider line at Space Mountain is easy to miss, but since the normal line was very long I was keen to find it. When I found the entrance for single riders, I was shocked to find that I was the only one in line and I walked right into the attraction and into the next car. Instead of an 80-minute wait, I only had to stand in line for about 30 seconds or so. That’s amazing and was the only way I was able to try Space Mountain. The lines though depend on the popularity of the attraction and time of day. At the Matterhorn I waited for 20 minutes or so, which was the norm on average. But in general, the single rider lines were usually just as useful to me as the FASTPASS access. You can enter these lines as couples or small groups, just be aware though that you won’t be seated with your companion. As long as you’re ok waiting for a few minutes for them to finish the experience, then this is a fantastic option for any adult visiting the parks.
Where you stay matters
In four trips to Anaheim I have stayed at four different hotels and, without a doubt, the experiences have varied greatly. Within walking distance of Disneyland are any number of properties, from the three Disney hotels to a whole host of other hotels and motels. Some go back decades and, I fear, little has changed inside. Others may look nice from the outside, but the guest experience sadly leaves a lot to be desired. Still others claim online that they’re an easy walk from Disneyland when, in fact, they’re just too far to be manageable. So far one hotel has met all of my expectations, the Anaheim Marriott. Yes, I am working with Marriott this year but their hotel near Disneyland honestly has been my favorite hotel experience so far. The walk from Disneyland is an easy one but, if you prefer, you can also take one of the shuttle buses available. Even better, both the public spaces and the rooms have been recently updated. That’s one of my major problems with the hotels in Anaheim, they’re too busy to be updated and the guest experience is terrible. That’s not the case at the Anaheim Marriott that features a design that is modern and comfortable. Add in delicious food at the bar and restaurants and it honestly is a perfect choice for your Disneyland adventures.
When Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1955, he never intended it to be a static destination. No, the park has always been in a near-constant state of change with new attractions popping up and others disappearing throughout the years. Although I understood that intellectually, it has been another thing to experience it in person. Of course, the most recent addition has been making the headlines, the introduction of an entire new land – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Galaxy’s Edge twice, and have written a blog post and produced a podcast all about this immersive new experience. It far exceeded my expectations and certainly the hype surrounding it, and I think it’s a great new addition to the look and feel of Disneyland. Aside from Star Wars though, rides are always being tweaked, smaller ones added, new foods introduced and even the items available for purchase change at a breakneck speed. No, Disneyland is always looking towards the future, which means the experience for the visitor will always be different and I love that.
Disneyland and the related parks that have since emerged have always been places for kids and families, we know that. But they are also wonderful places for adults, traveling solo or as a couple, to get away from stress and anxiety and instead believe in the magic that is Disney. I’ve always been a big Disney fan, as I imagine most of us are, whether it’s watching the movies and shows as kids or appreciating the many other ways they’ve impacted our lives. To live in that universe, even for a short little while is a special experience the likes of which truly is unparalleled. Before my first visit I was pretty sure that I would enjoy the experience, I just had no idea how much. I returned to a time in my life when things were all puppies and unicorns, and that’s where the Disney obsession for so many starts. We all want that, we all want to be free from stress and anxiety and visiting a Disney park is honestly one of the few ways I’ve found to accomplish that. So if you’re wondering if visiting as an adult on your own is worth it, wonder no more. The experience is so much more robust than you might think and I know that after your first visit, you’ll be just as eager to return as I am.