Today, Disneyland turns 65… as an empty park. It’s a rather strange birthday for those of us who love Walt’s original Magic Kingdom. Since I can’t be there in person, I thought instead I’d share with you some of my favorite things that are unique to Disneyland. If you’re missing the parks like I am, I hope these will bring a smile to your face. If you’ve never been before (or it’s been awhile), then let these inspire you to start planning your next trip!
New Orleans Square
Close your eyes and think about all the things you love about New Orleans’ French Quarter - the unique architecture, the delicious food, the toe-tapping jazz music. Now imagine you could enjoy all of them without the dirtiness or er… scent of wandering through the French Quarter, especially at night. (Sorry, NOLA, but you know it’s true!)
You’ve just conjured up an image of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. This little corner of the park houses some truly ornate theming plus two of the best feats of Imagineering - the original Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.
It’s also home to three fan-favorite restaurants. At the Mint Julep Bar, you can dine on Mickey Beignets (think a glazed donut with thicker dough and topped with oodles of powdered sugar instead of glaze) while listening to a live jazz band. The nearby Cafe Orleans serves the infamous Monte Cristo Sandwich, a deep-fried ham, turkey and swiss sandwich that’s sprinkled in powdered sugar and served with raspberry dipping sauce.
And finally, there’s the Blue Bayou, a signature, waterfront dining experience inside Pirates of the Caribbean. When you step inside the building, you feel as though you’re enjoying a relaxing evening meal on the bayou, watching pirate boats drift by. The boats are real - the beginning of Pirates floats by the dining area of the Blue Bayou - but the rest of the ambiance is pure Disney magic.
Speaking of lands with impeccable theming, let’s hop across the Esplanade to Disney California Adventure. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the Cars franchise (I’m certainly not), you can’t help but fall in love with Cars Land. This is your chance to visit Radiator Springs and walk down Route 66 to the beat of classic rock n roll from the 50s and 60s.
Radiator Springs Racers is one of the best Disney attractions out there. It’s enough of a thrill to have the adults in your group grinning with glee but not so scary that the little kids in your party will be afraid to ride.
And of course, the food in Cars Land is delicious. One of my favorite park traditions is to get brunch at Flo’s V8 Cafe (their Brioche French Toast with Salted Caramel Sauce and Bananas, to be specific) and sit out on the back patio to watch the cars on Radiator Springs Racers whiz by.
If you can time it right, don’t miss the Nightly “Sh-Boom” Lighting Moment at Cars Land. It’s never published in the official times guide, but it happens every evening at dusk. You can always ask a Cast Member if they know precisely when it will be that day. The song “Sh-Boom” plays over the loudspeakers as the fluorescent lights for each building along Route 66 come on one by one. It only lasts a couple of minutes, but it’s a magical way to start your evening in the park.
It’s a Small World Holiday
This ride gets a lot of hate, but I find it charming and relaxing. During hot months, it’s a nice, long break in the air conditioning. At any time of year, Disneyland’s Small World distinguishes itself by being the only one in the US Parks to feature stylized versions of 29 Disney characters throughout the ride. They fit in thematically with the original dolls’ costume designs by Imagineer Mary Blair, so it’s something of a game to spot them.
During the holiday season, Small World gets a beautiful holiday overlay complete with a new soundtrack and a beautifully decorated exterior. It puts you in the holiday spirit, and if you ride it at night and time it correctly, you can walk off the ride and into the rest of Fantasyland just as it starts to “snow.”
Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!
I never thought the Tower of Terror could be improved upon. Ever. I even signed the petition going around back in 2016 when it was first announced that Disney planned to retheme this ride. I left angry Facebook comments too. Yeah. I was that fan.
A couple of years later, after just one ride on the Guardians of the Galaxy version, I was hooked. All the things I loved about the Tower of Terror are still there. The building and queue area are very immersive and full of Easter eggs for Marvel and Disney parks history. The cast members don’t act as creepy as they do in the Tower of Terror, but they still really get into the role and add to the fun of the attraction.
You still enjoy the thrill of a controlled free fall, because the basic premise of the ride hasn’t changed. Only now it comes with the benefit of an awesome (get it?) soundtrack for every ride. That’s right - you’re free falling to tunes from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks. My favorite is “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” How about yours?
I still love the original Tower of Terror, but I also really like the fact that there’s something different out on the West Coast. It means I get truly different experiences when I’m in Disneyland versus Walt Disney World. Now if only Disneyland would permanently restore the original Soarin’ over California out here…
The Disneyland Churro
Of course I can’t write about Disneyland without mentioning its food! Yes, I know the churros there are overpriced for what you get, but at the end of the day, I don’t care. There’s something satisfying about eating a freshly toasted churro while strolling through the park.
And, true to form, Disneyland always has at least a couple of specialty churros for you to chase down. The last time I was there at Christmas, they actually had eleven different churro flavors across the two parks. I specifically remember a churro bites sundae with eggnog gelato and caramel drizzle. YUM!
One of my current personal favorites (assuming it will be there upon reopening) is the Fluffernutter Churro, found at the cart across the street from Carthay Circle in Disney California Adventure. It’s a regular churro drizzled with peanut butter and marshmallow creme, then sprinkled with mini chocolate chips. Please and thank you!
What about you? What are your favorite things about Disneyland? If anything in this post has piqued your interest, we would love to help you plan your next trip. Why not join our Base Camp and schedule your free Embark Session today?