I fell in love with Disney parks after my very first visit to Disneyland Paris where my husband proposed to me.
Ever since we have been regular visitors to both the Disney parks at Paris and Orlando, but California had always been a distant dream.
But this dream became a reality when my husband noticed that we had enough BA Avios miles along with some clever use of British Airways 2 for 1 vouchers (a perk of using the British Airways Credit Card) to be able to travel to California at a fraction of the cost of the normal airfare.
What this meant was we had our flights booked less than a week before our trip. This was our first time at the Disneyland California and we didn’t really know what to expect.
Apart from knowing that we didn’t need to book Fastpass+ slots months in advance like you have to at Walt Disney World Orlando, the rest remained a mystery.
In many ways it was so nice to have the element of surprise when we visited the two Disney California parks, as our trips to Disney Orlando typically entails months of researching and planning.
Having travelled up from San Diego to LA, we stayed for the first night at the Hyatt Regency Orange County which is one of the top rated offsite hotels, but nothing can come close to the Disney experience of staying onsite.
That’s why for the other 3 days we booked to stay in Disney at the original Disneyland Hotel. Yes it’s expensive, but the memories created there and the benefits it offered us as a family, were worth every penny.
The monorail stop was literally outside the entrance to our hotel which can whisk you into Tomorrowland area of Disneyland.
However we opted to take the pleasant early morning 5-10 minute walk through Downtown Disney window shopping for Disney gifts on the way. If you like a little Disney retail therapy like us, then you will love this area of Disney.
The girls’ favourite store, the huge World of Disney store, contained nearly every Disney gift imaginable and if it you couldn’t find it here, there was a good chance it was in one of the other Disney themed stores at Downtown Disney.
It isn’t just Disney theme stores here. We came across one of my favourite stores Sephora and the delicious Sprinkles Cupcakes – you definitely need to stop off here as their cupcakes are amazing. They even have their own cupcake ATM!
What I love about Disney is the magical feeling you have whatever your age, especially when you first set foot through the turnstiles and catch your first glimpse of the Disneyland railroad station (and if you are lucky its iconic steam train).
It’s the attention to detail which makes visiting a Disney theme park so special and unique from most other theme parks. When you cross through the turnstile, you really are transported into a magical bubble, which is why as a family we love visiting Disney so much.
Holly 7 and Chloe 10 are still at the height of Disney princess and character affection and seeing the delight on their faces as they met them was real Disney magic.
They found Goofy as soon as we entered the park and the challenge was on to try and fill their Disney autograph books with as many signatures as possible.
You are never really too young or old to visit Disney – your experience simply differs dependent on your age. As it was our first time at the park, we called in city hall where the girls picked up their ‘first time visitor’ badges.
It wasn’t just the girls who couldn’t believe that they were actually in Disneyland California. We were just as in awe walking down main street USA for the first time and seeing the Sleeping Beauty Castle.
It’s just spectacular, especially at night, when all the storefronts turn on their lights!
After stopping for the obligatory family photo in front of the castle, we headed to Mickey’s Toontown soaking up the unique Californian twist to the park.
This area of the park is totally different to what you would find at Disneyworld Florida and Disneyland Paris.
Although the park was very busy, the queue for Gadget’s Go Coaster wasn’t as busy as expected and after a short wait we were soon zooming around the track at speeds up to 22mph in this family friendly coaster.
Next up we took a spin on the teacups followed by the iconic boat ride at It’s a Small World. At every Disney park we have visited we just love this ride, spotting the countries ( including my home country Scotland) on our journey. The music is so catchy it’s hard not to leave the ride signing ‘It’s a small world after all”
Food is a big part of the Disneyland experience and it’s hard to resist the delicious Disney inspired treats throughout the park, ranging from Mickey Mouse shaped lollies to candy floss.
We wandered through the castle – then over to Alice in Wonderland, before taking a cab ride on Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and visiting the houses of Mickey and Minnie.
Unlike the Orlando Disney parks you can walk into Downtown Disney from the exit of Disneyland. You are spoilt for choice for restaurants here, the only problem was getting a reservation at peak times.
And that was only day one.
Staying onsite at the Disneyland hotel allowed us to enter Disneyland a full hour before they open to the public at 9am, and that counts for A LOT when it comes to visiting a Disney park.
Holly’s excitement levels went through the roof as we climbed aboard our bobsleigh on its way to the Matterhorn whilst avoiding the clutches of the abominable snowman.
This fast-paced thrill ride was the perfect way to start our day, we enjoyed it so much we took on the Matterhorn again using our Fastpass later in the morning – the benefits of doing so is that the two tracks that run around the mountain offer a different experience.
It’s surprising just how much you can get done in this hour without the crowds, as we managed to ride some of the busiest attractions such as Alice in Wonderland, Star Tours, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Astro Orbiter and Peter Pan’s Flight.
As much as I love Disney what I don’t love as much is having to wait in long lines. So the best way to get around this is the Disney Maxpass, which we used extensively during our four days.
The benefit of the Maxpass $10/day per person over the standard free fastpass is that instead of having to make fastpass selections at the ride entrance we were able to make our selections from our Disney mobile app.
This saved us so much time plus it covered any photographs that we had taken throughout Disneyland on that day.
Two of my personal favourites were Storybook Land Canal Boats and Casey Jr. Circus train. I loved Casey Jr at Disneyland Paris so I was so excited that it was also in the Californian park.
Later we caught up with some of the girl’s favourite princesses and princes before visiting Star Wars and coming face to face with Darth Vadar – this is one of Holly’s favourite characters and the look on her face as she met him was priceless.
Next up after using the Maxpass system wisely we covered more of our favourites including Big Thunder Mountain before catching the monorail back to the Disneyland hotel.
After a busy morning at the park we recharged our batteries and took in some of the Southern Californian sunshine back at the monorail pool in the Disneyland Hotel.
We decided to have a character dinner at the hotels Goofy’s Kitchen restaurant before going back into Disneyland at night.
This was amazing and allowed us to beat the crowds, have a nice meal and more importantly for the girls to meet characters as we dined. Holly had Chip and Dale and the rest of the Disney characters dancing with her around the restaurant.
As the sun went down we made our way back into the park to catch the Fantasmic and Remember…Dreams Come True shows. As we waited for the shows to start we headed through charming streets of 19th century New Orleans Square.
This area of the park is home to the Haunted Mansion which is spectacular at dusk and even though it was a little scary for Holly we all still enjoyed it, but one of our highlights was the delightful ride “Many adventures of Winnie the Pooh” in critter country.
Fantasmic, a waterfront retelling of Fantasia was better than anything I could have ever imagined. It is busy and crowded as people congregate around the lake but the show which consisted of special effects, pyrotechnics and video projected on the water was as spectacular as the world of colour show at the Californian Adventure park.
To end our Disneyland adventure, after exploring Tarzan’s Treehouse we took in Remember…Dreams Come True – a light and firework display that unless you have been to a Disney park before is something unlike you have ever seen before.