An April 2004 trip
to Anaheim by SFPhotocraft
Quote: Spring Break 2004. We went to Disneyland -- are we crazy? We fought the lines, battled the crowds, and put up with some testy employees. However, even with all the trials, Disney still is full of magic.
So flash forward; here I am as an adult and an older parent. I have two kids that have to see the world. We go to Disneyland. It is forty years later. Would it at all be like the slide on the playground that used to look SO HUGE and now looks like nothing? No, the magic never left. There it was all over again in the faces of Patrick and Breana. The same feelings of awe and excitement swept over their faces that were on mine forty years ago. It was magic to me, the magic is still there in this jaded old world.
Okay, you can be a skeptic and poo-poo Disneyland as just another tourist trap. I may have even been with you five years ago. But, it's on the must-do list for every parent and every kid. The magic is real and the sense of imagination lives on.
I also suggest staying at the park at either the Grand Californian or the Disneyland Hotel. When you stay in the park, you don't lose time coming and going. You can even go back to your room to do a quick change or wash up and not miss a beat. It's the only way to go.
My one suggestion to everyone is see Fantasmic. You can see my review about tickets and seating. But it's worth repeating here, it's well worth it!
The Disneyland Hotel is much older. It does not have a theme. It is a high-rise hotel consisting of three towers built around a large pool. The Marina Tower is the main part of the hotel and the tower all guest check into, The Sierra Tower (the tower we stayed in) has the best pool views and is in the middle of the two towers, the Bonita Tower has either pond views or parking lot views and is the furthest away, most people try to avoid this tower.
Our check in was painfully slow. The check-in line was long and very slow moving. Thank goodness they have a TV with Disney movies in the lobby or the kids would have gone crazy. Check-in was extremely unfriendly and un-Disney in feel. The woman checking us in seemed like she had just had her fill with spring break crowds. They have a strict 3pm policy of going up to your room, but the bell desk is happy to check your luggage and you can go enjoy Downtown Disney or one of the parks until it's time to check-in.
Our room was large. It over looked the pool. Pools views and higher floors cost more money. It was clean and you can tell great care is given to make sure the rooms look fresh and not worn. It had some fun Disney features like a Tinker Bell on the wallpaper border or Mickey hands holding our bathroom lights.
The hotel is near a Monorail station and you can beat the lines by grabbing the Monorail and landing in the middle of Tomorrow Land. The lines at the park were endless, and we seldom had to wait a few minutes at this entrance! However the Grand Californian does have a backdoor right into California Adventure!
The pool has a Peter Pan theme. The slides were fun (although for some reason don't open until 11am) and the pool was huge. The only way into the pool is with your hotel key. However we did feel the pool showed a bit of wear and tear and a good make over wouldn't hurt. I wasn't as impressed by this hotel as I am with the Grand Californian. It's pretty plain and the staff seemed a bit off and flustered. The room was nice and the pool was fun; you have to understand that the room is over $200 a night and you should expect a bit more for that price. I think next time we will be back at the Grand Californian.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 25, 2004
1150 West Magic Way
Anaheim, California 92802
Restaurant | "Ariel's Grotto"
It's right on the water (where else would Ariel have her eatery?).There is seating both inside and outside on a covered patio overlooking the water and park. If you have a nice California day, no question, opt for an outside table!
It's Disney so it's all about the kids here. Ariel's has the usual cast of character's roaming the restaurant. We had Goofy, Pluto, Minnie, Chip and Dale, and, of course, Ariel herself. They all make the rounds and visit the tables, all except Ariel who only has fins, thus you are required to go to her for a visit. There are plenty of games and congo lines for the kids.
The food is adequate. The kids had chicken fingers (shaped like Mickey's head) that comes served in a take home pail. We had a pretty good meatloaf and fish and chips. They have sundaes and free cotton candy for dessert.
The restaurant has a full bar upstairs with a great view of California Adventure and the fake bay. Remember that not all places in Disney serve booze, so this in itself is a big plus.
Our waiter was nice and friendly, but not a great waiter. He had no idea what a scotch and water was and had to ask the bartender if he could make such an exotic drink! But he got our food out and made sure the kids were happy.
There are some last minute reservations here if you wait around. The wait can be long or they can tell they won't accept any more names on the waitlist so I strongly suggest advanced reservations by calling 714-781-3463 well in advance. The kids love the food and all the crazy characters. The parents will love the view a chance to have a cocktail at Disney!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 25, 2004
Ariel's Grotto Character Dining
1313 South Harbor Boulevard
Anaheim, California 92802
You will almost always need reservations. Breakfast is popular, although this time we did dinner. The look of the restaurant is very plain and could be a large Denny's.
The check-in process is slow and there is always a line and even with reservations a wait for a table. This visit all the help seemed a bit overwhelmed and a little like one of Snow White dwarfs: Grouchy.
The food is buffet and has some wild items like peanut butter and jelly pizza or a chocolate pudding crawling with hundreds of gummy worms. Don't fret they have buffet items for grownups as well, like cut meats and Mexican fajitas. The food isn't great, but it's okay. We have learned Disney is easy on the spices and things tend to be on the bland side anywhere in Disneyland. Also, the food all seemed lukewarm.
The wait staff was a bit off and it took them a while to take drink orders or refill empty glasses. It was spring break and I think everyone had finally had their fill of kids; it was hard to find a smile among the staff.
The kids love the characters and they come by for a visit often, almost too often! During different times of the meal the kids are invited to do the Macarena or a conga line with Goofy, Minnie, Belle, Aladdin, and the rest of the crew. It's full of activity and the kids adore it. The grownups can't wait to get through the meal although the smiles from the kids are worth the so-so food and spotty service.
One thing I was shocked to find at any Disney property was a filthy bathroom and the bathroom at Goofy's was just that -- filthy. . . Walt would not have been pleased!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 26, 2004
1150 Magic Way
This is not part of the Disney park as it's a Downtown Disney store and part of the Rainforest chain throughout the USA. It fits in perfect with the Disney theme and it's animation. It's a huge two-story restaurant with both inside and outside seating. Inside you have large aquariums with lots of exotic fish and sharks. The ceiling is covered in vines and flora. You also have the gorilla and elephant animation that turns off and on during your meal at random times. I found it annoying, but the kids couldn't wait for them to turn on again. Every 20 minutes they have a fake rainstorm with lighting and thunder. I found the second time sitting by the aquarium much more relaxing.
The food is okay. We had lunch and breakfast. They salads and burgers are fresh and good and my salad was huge, so big you may want to split it with someone. For breakfast we had a wonderful breakfast pizza that had scrambled eggs and bacon on it, again large and you may consider sharing. We walked in both time and got seated right away; however, when we left, we learned the wait was about an hour at that point! We felt lucky.
They have a large gift shop and the staff does live bird shows outside. The staff was great. Both meals we had waitresses who were attentive and great with the kids. They kept the glasses filled up and checked back often to make sure everything was all right. I actually felt they were more into their jobs than most of the Disney employees we were running into at the park
The location is great and is a good pick for breakfast or lunch, especially with kids. It has a full bar and seems to be a popular meeting spot for friends and families.
1515 South Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, California 92807
Restaurant | "Blue Bayou"
It's so popular I can't urge you enough to book a table in advance. They do have some stand-by tables, but the wait can be long if the waitlist is even open. We went for lunch. We had reservations. When we were seated, we had the first table by the entrance door and it was bright and the whole atmosphere was lost. We asked our hostess for a new table and she was very sweet and gave us a wonderful table right on the bayou -- it pays to ask!
When seated, you are fooled to thinking you are dining outdoors in a little patio somewhere in Louisiana on a bayou. The frogs croak, the sky is dark, and they even have fireflies flickering. Brightly colored paper Chinese lanterns hung between Spanish moss draped trees provide the only light. It's dark and the boats heading off to the Pirates ride passes you by. It's all Disney magic and great fun! Extremely effective!
The food was just okay. I had pasta -- it was lukewarm and not very flavorful. The kids had the standard chicken fingers and those too were only slightly warm. Chris had a Monte Cristo sandwich and that may have been the best bet. As it's in the park they do NOT serve any booze, which is funny as this place has a New Orleans theme -- where in the Big Easy can't you find a cocktail?
The food was so-so, but it's all about the theme here and the illusion of being somewhere else. It's a wonderful show and you don't for minute care the food is so average and bland. I highly recommend you request a table on the water or wait a bit for one that is. You really will have to remind yourself you are NOT outside in the evening having a meal on a bayou.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 26, 2004
Blue Bayou Restaurant
Anaheim, California 92802
When we arrived Disneyland at 8:30am and found we had a half-hour to wait until the gates opened, we were thrilled to see a La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney and knew this would be a great spot for breakfast while waiting for the gates to open.
The bakery has two sides, one is a takeaway counter where you can order any of their tasty sandwiches or baked goods and eat them at one of their numerous outdoor tables. The other side is a sit-down patio with waiter service. We opted first for the takeaway side, but the long line never seemed to move. There was only one employee working the counter, and he seemed to have his hands full. We opted for the waiter-service area, as there was no line and plenty of empty tables.
The tables were outside and had a fun view of the main walkway at Downtown Disney. It was a great spot for people-watching, as everyone going to Disneyland had to parade right in front of us.
The breakfast menu looked tasty. It had lots of fresh bakery items. Our waiter came in a flash. I ordered yogurt and fresh fruit, and the kids each ordered French toast.
Our food came quickly. My yogurt looked great. It was a large bowl full of sliced bananas and ripe strawberries. The berries were fresh and at their peak, and there were plenty of them. The kid's French toast was only one slice a piece. I understand it was a kid's portion, but even the portion was sparse. The toast was tasty, made with the famous La Brea bread, but not a lot of it.
We were in and out in less than 30 minutes. Our bill was $30 for one adult and two kids. I thought the price was very high for the light breakfasts we had ordered and since the French toast was just a single slice of bread.
The location here is one of the best things about this café and bakery. It's the closet business at Downtown Disney to the gates of Disneyland or California Adventure. The gates can be seen from the tables. It's a good choice for getting breakfast prior to opening or leaving the park for a healthy lunch. The one thing I did find odd was that the bakery does not open until 8am, which, by bakery standards, is very late, missing a lot of the early birds.
I am sure the sandwiches at lunch are first-rate. If I do eat here again, I will probably order the express takeaway. We enjoyed our breakfast, but felt it was overpriced for the meal we got.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 10, 2005
La Brea Bakery Restaurant
1556 Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802
Attraction | "FANTASMIC"
The show makes no sense and uses lights, fireworks, water, multimedia, and Mark Twain's Riverboat to do a show that will hit all your senses. It's colorful and has lots of movement and sights. The dancers are pretty good, and the last sight is the Mark Twain Paddle Wheeler rolling past, with every Disney character you can imagine dancing to a disco beat! It's fast-paced, like watching a three-ring circus (where should I look now?)
It's fun for the kids, but the choreography will awe the grown-ups as well. If you sit down on the river, the show is free. Some seats are good, but fans will claim those seats at least 1 hour prior to the show. The VERY best seat in the house is on the balcony at the Art Gallery above New Orleans Square. Only 17 lucky folks get these prime seats at the cost of $41; you not only will have the best seats in the park, but you also get all the rich desserts and beverages you can consume. Two servers take care of the groups every need. This is a true value and there is no reason not to do it. However, reservations are only taken 30 days in advance and you MUST call early 714/781-4400 to get one of these prime seats. This is the best deal in Disneyland and they do go quickly. It sells out in advance every night.
One fun trivia fact: The gallery was to be Walt Disney's private apartment overlooking the rivers and New Orleans Square. He has a small apartment on Main Street, but this was to be his new deluxe pad. Sadly, Walt died before it was finished, so it became offices and then the art gallery that it is today. You can still get that feel that it was to be a luxury apartment.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 26, 2004
1313 South Harbor Blvd.
Anaheim, California 92802
Attraction | "California Adventure"
We like the shows here a lot. Bugs Life, Soaring over California (use a Fast Pass here) and anything on the Hollywood Backlot is fun to watch. It's Disney - you won't be disappointed!
The pier area is like an old boardwalk similar to those found in Santa Monica or Santa Cruz. The area is fun but less creative and less imagination than Disneyland.
One of the rides everyone does loves is Grizzly River Run, which is a raft trip down a rapids. One drawback, we did it in the late evening and you will for sure get soaked on this ride. The sun had gone down and we were all freezing cold and very wet - we went into the Grand Californian and sat by the roaring fire to dry off! Stick to this ride in the middle of the day when the sun is blazing and you want to get wet!
We enjoy California Adventure. It is growing, the Tower of Terror is opening this May. Of the two parks, I still feel Disneyland is the one with the most appeal, but California Adventure does have its moments.
Disney California Adventure Park
1600 Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, California 92802
Attraction | "Disneyland"
Having said that, we still had a wonderful time. I suggest using FASTPASS wherever and whenever possible. It's the pass where you are givien a time to come back and use a special faster line. Some rides had a 90-minute wait in line -- who would waste 90 minutes for a 10-minute ride? Someone must be doing it, because the lines were all full! It seems you would spend the bulk of your day waiting in lines and not riding the rides!
One other tip we found was to go late. The park stayed open until midnight and between 11pm and midnight we walked right on Pirates, Haunted Mansion, and Indiana Jones -- three rides that during the heat of the day, we have had to wait over an hour for each! The same can be said for the first hour or so the park opens - hit the popular rides first and come back and do the smaller less popular rides during the day. It pays at Disney to make a game plan or a plan of attack!
We did note that the service level is slipping all over Disney. A lot of employees seemed to have had their fill and it was not as clean as in years past. I am chalking a lot of this up to the time we went. The park was on maximum overload and I think some employees were getting burnt out. The crowds were overwhelming and it was hard to move at times.
Even with testy employees and crowds the magic is still there. We shared a lot of smiles as a family and look forward to our next trip back -- maybe at on off time! We hear the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas or January have the lowest park attendance and are the best time to visit. Shhhhh! Keep that tidbit our secret we don't want the crowds following us!
This year, the kids had off on a Monday in May. It was a day when most schools in the area did not have off, and I felt maybe we would try visiting the park on an off-day. So we loaded up the van and headed to Orange County.
I quickly learned we were not the only ones who hated going to Disney and fighting the lines. There are entire web pages dedicated to fighting the lines and planning your day at Disney to avoid the lines. There is one called RideMax
that will actually map out your day a Disneyland to hit the fewest wait times!
We arrived at the park about a half-hour prior to opening (8:30am). Disneyland opens at different times on different days, so check the Disneyland webpage for the times on the day you plan to go. When we arrived, parking was a breeze. We zipped in and got a prime spot near the escalator on the second level! I bought a day-hopper ticket at the booth--again, NO LINES! The lady selling the tickets was delightful. She gave us a discount, as were Southern California residents, and then gave us an insiders' tip to do California Adventure first, as the lines will be much shorter here in the morning. She then gave us a big smile and a cryptic message, "You are in for a real treat later today, Welcome Home!" I wasn't sure what she meant by this, so I smiled and moved on.
We had breakfast and waited for the gates to open. We took our ticket seller's advice and did California Adventure first. The gates opened, and we were one of the first families to enter. The kids were picked to march with the rope and right behind Mickey, as the opening is very organized and you are not allowed to run ahead of any group.
The kids were dying to try the new Tower of Terror ride, and we headed right to the tower. Surprise - we were the first ones there and got right on the first elevator. The elevator drops 13 stories and is well-named - The Tower of Terror! The kids loved it and wanted to do it again. Normally the line would go around the block, but there was NO line, and the kids got a second go at it by walking right in.
We found the same thing at California Screaming and Soaring over California. We went to the rapids ride and again - no line. We had so much fun, we got off and got in another raft and went again. They were sending out empty rafts, as nobody was in line for this popular ride. There was a short line at the small roller coaster called Mullholland Drive. It was a pleasure not having to wait in line and going up to the ride you pick and just go on. We felt spoiled and did what usually takes us a full day to cover in just one morning!
We had no reservations for lunch but walked right into Ariel's Grotto. We got a beautiful table on the patio and had a fun-filled lunch with Goofy, Max, Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, and Chip and Dale. This was unheard of to walk right in and get a table without reservations; they even had empty tables all during lunch!
After a fine lunch, we headed over to Disneyland. Again, the lines at the gate did not exist, and we marched right in. I went to Customer Relations to pick up a map and again got the cryptic message. "Boy, are you in for a treat tonight!"
The lines were a little longer at Disneyland, but again, our wait times were less than five minutes. We walked right onto both Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. It was a pleasure being able to pick your rides and get right on!
The one thing I did notice was that some rides were closed. The Aladdin show was canceled today, The Jungle Cruise was being worked on, and Space Mountain was still not open.
The two rides that did have very long lines were Autopia and Matterhorn Mountain. Both lines were almost a half-hour. We left Matterhorn to come back later in hopes the line would be less, but the kids insisted on the wait at Autopia. We soon found out only half the lanes were open, and cast members were complaining openly to guests that the rides was grossly understaffed today and could not move any quicker. It seemed very UN-Disney that the staff was complaining about work rules to the guests, but it explained the long waits here.
Soon we learned tonight's surprise. It was an unannounced dress rehearsal for the 50th birthday party, and cameras would be filming for commercials. There would be the birthday parade and special deluxe fireworks tonight. We were thrilled! We felt like we had hit the jackpot - no lines, and we would get to see the 50th birthday celebration with no crowds! The bad news was that at that time, several rides closed down for the night unannounced, such as Matterhorn Mountain.
The parade and fireworks are not to be missed. I wish I had the words to tell you how magical these birthday party events are, trust me when I say they have to be seen to be believed! The park closed at 8pm, and we headed home, happy. The only way to see and really enjoy Disney is without the crowds, and we made the promise never to go over Spring Break again!
The only disadvantages we found were that some shows and rides were closed or canceled. These are the less busy times they use to make repairs. The park was somewhat understaffed. The park closed early, at 8pm on off-peak days, and some rides close even earlier. However, the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages, even though the workforce was happier and more cheerful.
Busiest Times (in order):
President's Day Week
Mid-March to Late April (spring break)
Memorial Day Weekend
Mid-June to Labor Day
Least Busy Times (in order):
The month of January (after New Years)
Labor Day to Thanksgiving
Week after Thanksgiving
Week before Christmas