MOUSE AND DUCK TALES
Welcome to our blog, where we share our tips on the latest Disney, Universal and Cruising trends, treats and tours.
Welcome to our blog, where we share our tips on the latest Disney, Universal and Cruising trends, treats and tours.
There are three resorts to choose from if you wish to stay on Disney property in California. We stayed at the Disneyland hotel in August 2018. We choose this hotel because it is the original on-site hotel and therefore, has extra-large hotel rooms with their magical singing headboards. We were also attracted to the two waterslides that look like monorails. But when we went to visit the Grand Californian hotel, its ambiance and luxury made us wish we had stayed there. It had the same kind of luxury feel as Animal Kingdom Lodge or Wilderness Lodge. The restaurants at the Grand Floridian are nicer and the pool area looked just as fun, plus you can walk from here right into the middle of the Boardwalk, putting you closer to the parks. (When you leave the Disneyland hotel, you are at the far end of Downtown Disney and have to walk about 10 minutes to get to the entrance of the parks). The Paradise Pier hotel lobby did not impress us; we think spending more to stay at either of the other two hotels would be worth it.
Of course, everything is better when you see it through your kids’ eyes, but we can’t deny there were hiccups and in-fighting. A long line seemed to bring out the worst in our crew. That is what made the short walk back to the hotel so exceptional. Perhaps the best thing about the entire experience was the ease with which we could walk everywhere. We explored all three resorts, shopped along the Downtown Disney area and park hopped many times over the four days. We loved that we didn’t need to worry about a shuttle bus, parking or rental car at all!
Dining plan: One thing that might surprise those travelers familiar with the "World" in Orlando, is that Disneyland California does not offer a dining plan option. We would love to see Disney add this in future. We find the dining plan can help you budget and let pay for most of your meals before travelling. Because the dining plan wasn’t an option on this trip, we came away having spent significantly more on food than we expected. California’s “fast food” restaurants have delicious, fresh ingredients but the prices reflect that and it was hard to eat lunch anywhere for less than $40US.
One of the best things about staying on property is the many character interactions that happen in the resorts. We could almost always wander around the hotels and find a character or two to take a photo with. Our kids really enjoyed collecting signatures in their autograph book and almost filled it because there were so many characters to meet. Plus the character meals seemed to have more characters as well. This is so much better than standing in line to meet them, as you often have to do in the “World.”
Overall, we are very glad we stayed on property: the quick walk back to our room, the monorail ride from near our hotel to Tomorrowland and the excellent pool areas made this an extra special immersive experience. Check out our review of Disneyland's Parks and Rides.
Our recent trip to Disneyland and Southern California was truly a trip of a lifetime. Not just because we checked off so many destinations on our bucket list but also because our children will never be 5 and 9 again.
Swimming in the Pacific Ocean, watching surfers seek the best waves, soaking up the sun and experiencing the incredible nature California has to offer meant we already want to go back. Disneyland was the reason we first decided to make the four-hour flight and the original Disney park was better than we remember from our trip 11 years ago.
Disneyland is actually divided into two parks with three onsite hotel resorts and it is certainly much smaller than the Disney World property in Florida where there are four parks, two water parks and many on-site resorts. The two California theme parks, Disneyland and California Adventure Park are each smaller than Magic Kingdom. However, they are right beside each other, which makes park hopping much easier. There is a lot of nostalgia built in here; the people that made Disneyland knew Walt himself and they had a different understanding of his vision.
Many of the same rides are located in Florida and California (Slash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tea Cups & Small World, and more). The fun thing about Disneyland is that many of these duplicates have subtle differences. For example, there are celebrity dolls in Small World, different animatronics in Splash Mountain, explosions on Thunder Mountain and a longer ride for Pirates of the Caribbean.
Then there are the rides that are exclusive to the Land and we think some of these are the best rides and attractions on either coast – World or Land.
The Guardians of the Galaxy (formerly Tower of Terror) was expertly refurbished. We loved walking through the Collector’s Fortress to see his oddities and that an animatronic Rocket came down to say Hi. The views of the park were incredible from the top and even our five year old survived the drops. There are six different random experiences that you can get each time you ride, complete with music from the movie, plus hidden homages like Rocket stealing the famous Walkman.
Another favorite ride was the Incredicoaster. We thought this was a fantastic coaster when we rode it in 2007 and the recent refurbishment to fit with the Incredibles movie was really well done. From the cookie smell pumped in, to the featured moments for each character, this would have been great to ride multiple times to see all the nuances
Cars Land might be our family’s top choice. Starting when our oldest was 2 years old, he made us watch Cars the movie hundreds and hundreds of times. He would even fall asleep with a Mater in one hand and a Lightning McQueen in the other. Since then, it has been on our bucket list to check out Cars Land, and as we have already gushed about on our Facebook page, it did not disappoint. Cars Land is so well done, from the Stanley statue, to the Cozy Cone Motel, everything was spot on. We loved the Radiator Springs Racers ride (perhaps one of Disney's top 5 rides). It combined a tour through Radiator Springs to see all your favourite characters with a fast race at the end. Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters is so clever (your car participates in a line dancing routine). The shops, food and character interactions were all perfectly themed. This area is so amazing that after many years watching the movie, we felt like we were characters in it.
A few more honorable mentions include, the Indiana Jones ride, which lived up to our son’s high expectations with its daring and scary animatronics. We also loved the sweet little Storybook Land Canal Boats that glide by miniature replicas of familiar fairytale lands.
Both Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Pinocchio’s Daring Journey were pretty scary and dark - I’m not sure what preschooler you should take on these two rides. We’d love to see Disney come out with modern remakes of these classics and update the rides to be a little happier even if that makes the Disneyland purists upset.
MaxPass is Disneyland’s version of the "Fastpass” system. We think this ride booking system is simply superior. If you want to take advantage of it, you pay $10 per person per day. It allows you to pre-book a ride pass one at a time, but as soon as your first pass opens, you can book a second pass for the next ride. We were able to ride everything we wanted multiple times. One downside is you will be on your phone a lot, trying to score the next ride and that will use up your battery power, but it felt like we made it on many more rides because of this system. The MaxPass also includes the PhotoPass (which costs $169 per week in Orlando). If you are only visiting for a few days but still want the photo pass, the "Land" allows you a much better option.
Most out of town guests only visit the “Land” once or twice in their lifetime so the California park relies on its neighbors to visit frequently. This means they do more unique things to bring people in, such as new food items, ride updates and loads of character interactions. These extras are often rated better than those that the “World” has to offer. Overall, we think Disneyland California is worth a trip at least once, especially when paired with a Southern California tour.
As travel agents specializing in Disney, we booked our Disneyland vacation and then looked for other attractions to extend our California vacation to days ten Disneyland was a fantastic experience that we enjoyed even more this second trip with our kids (right is a photo of us in San Diego as newlyweds 11 years ago). Read more about our Disneyland experience here. However, there is so much else to see and do for families in Southern California that we wanted to explore.
Ryan and I have a bad habit of trying to do too much (in travel and in life). Our kids, aged 5 and 9, forced us to slow down. This meant we didn't come close to doing everything on our itinerary, but we did manage to include a few things to satisfy everyone.
We flew from Detroit to San Diego with Spirit airlines. While Spirit has a bare-bones approach to air travel, with no in flight entertainment or snacks, we did leave and arrive on time.
We started the trip staying for three nights at the Courtyard Marriott, 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego in Solana Beach. We enjoyed this spot so much! It had a little low-key beach town vibe even though housing costs here are astronomical. The large fairgrounds and race track in town boasts an awesome music festival in September with top acts like Katy Perry and other concerts throughout the year. While Solana is right on the famous Pacific Coast Highway it didn't feel busy. Our hotel had a nice courtyard pool area with pool view balconies, but the best feature of this hotel was the short walk to the incredible beach. We accessed the beach via a huge staircase which provided iconic Pacific coast views. The waves were 2ft while we were there, plenty big enough for us, and the water temperature was 77 degrees. We all really enjoyed splashing in the waves and watching the surfers. We generally hate shopping with our kids so the local outdoor mall deserves a special mention - it was designed with kids in mind, has multiple kids' play areas, unique stores and a yoga and art studio just for kids.
La Jolla Beach, famous for its seals that have taken over the original children's beach, is so fun. La Jolla itself spreads up to the freeway with many large hotels and a huge, very posh, mall. We enjoyed the walkable area closer to the beach with its great little shops and restaurants. We arrived early because we were still on East coast time, this made parking no problem; later in the day parking became a nightmare. There are actually a few beaches where families can swim away from the seals. We wanted to snorkel, but we thought the water in the calm bay might have too much bacteria from the birds and seals, so we headed over to the larger children's pool and splashed in the waves. We visited the Cave Store, which had a very steep and rickety staircase down into a cave that delighted us with a seal that at first appeared to be a statue. Kayaking tours and scuba diving are available here. I think I enjoyed taking photos of the beautiful scenery and wildlife the most; I even caught dolphins on video. Overall this was a great way to start our trip.
Torrey Pines state park
An early arrival worked in our favor again when we snagged a free parking spot next to the beach right off the highway. This state park was recommended by a friend; the guidebook didn’t do it justice and had me worried the kids wouldn't be able to climb it. Indeed, after a lot of crying and whining, our five year old was pretty proud of herself for making it up the hill. Turns out, we should have driven to the top so she'd have energy to hike around the trails and visit a few of the lookout points. This site struck me as so special. It is clearly extremely environmentally sensitive with incredible plants and animal species. The views are outstanding and the landscape, where the dessert and coast meet, is so unique. We arrived before the lodge/nature centre opened (at 9am) but we still enjoyed some of their outdoor kids' activities. I was only sad we didn’t have more endurance to keep hiking.
Belmont Park in Mission Beach
This outdoor amusement park is not exactly a must-see, but it certainly provides a time-honoured California experience. The “park” has a 100-year old roller coaster, lots of carnival games and rides and some new additions like rock climbing (free) and laser tag (additional cost). We took advantage of the Thursday evening summer discount, which helped make this somewhat affordable. Perhaps more worthy of a visit is the beautiful flat beach right beside the carnival, the real parks by the water and the town of Mission Beach itself. SeaWorld is also right across the highway
San Diego Botanical Gardens in Encinitas
Really these botanical gardens were as good as any we have visited and impressive with the variety of truly unique plants – lots that we’ve never seen before. Where else could you see huge bamboo, down the path from a Balboa tree and across the way from giant cacti? The gardens are organized by hot climates around the world – Australia, Africa, etc. Unfortunately, a visit in August was not the best timing – it was hot! We loved the simple water-stream play area, the awesome tree house with real plants growing on it, the butterfly and edible gardens and the art throughout the gardens. But these Canadians weren’t able to see everything or really appreciate what we did see because of the heat. At an admission price of $50US for a family of four, this would be a better trip at another time of year.
This high end and busy beach town gave us a run for our money. We stayed at the Costa Mesa Marriot east of Newport. The Costa Mesa area reminded us of Brampton outside Toronto, with its many office towers and huge roadways. We really liked our suite at the hotel and its lovely pool area, but wished we could have walked or easily bussed down to the beach. Parking was at such a premium we had to reschedule our whale watching tour because we couldn’t find a parking spot after driving around for two hours. The next day we tried again and found a spot that were happy to pay the $21 daily rate for. The whale watching tour hosted by Davey’s Locker exceeded expectations and became one of the highlights of the whole trip! We saw at least 100 dolphins, including babies that swam alongside the boat. The water was 10 degrees hotter than normal so the whales had moved north, but we thought the dolphins and sea lions made this worth the $144US price tag for the four of us. The beach itself had a big pier, playground and lots of sand. We were also impressed by the variety of restaurants and enjoyed excellent crepes steps from the beach
Waves the size of mountains (or so it seemed), surfers by the thousands, beach stretching as far as you can see in both directions, warm sun, beach bums and volleyball pros – Huntington beach lived up to its reputation! After a kind fisherman let the kids reel in a mackerel off the pier, we spent the rest of our time at the beach playing in the waves, so it is hard to say what downtown Huntington looks like. Ryan is still disappointed that we didn’t make it to the chicken and waffle restaurant, but sometimes plans need to change, like when the waves knock of your (my) glasses.
There were certainly some places we are sad we didn't make it to: Bolsa Chica Eco reserve, Annie's Canyon Trail and the Sunset Cliffs. We were also surprised that we didn’t make it back in to San Diego as we really enjoyed the Old Town, Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego on our 2007 trip. Then there are a few places we are happy we saved for a future trip - we certainly didn't have the energy to brave the traffic of LA even though we really wanted to visit Griffith Park where the Hollywood sign is. Traffic congestion meant we had to plan when we drove anywhere. Overall, this trip was incredible and we would highly recommend it – not least because Disneyland was also great – check our Disneyland blog post about that part of our trip
In the end, we can't claim that we actually made it to all these places. Our intentions were good but sometimes fatigue or traffic forced us to readjust the agenda. There is a real advantage to having a list of activities pre-planned that includes meals when you are traveling with little ones and it certainly doesn't hurt to have wi-fi and a GPS that allows you to adjust on the fly.
Check out our other posts about Disneyland and California