Disneyland in a Day

A trip to Disneyland has been on our bucket list for some time. We’d heard our favorite ride at Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean, was longer and better at Disneyland, so we made it a goal to find out if this was true. When a work trip to Vegas presented itself, I was inspired to do a little research: how far is Anaheim from Las Vegas? When we determined it was an easy day’s drive, we rented a car and made plans to drive to California. Free tickets to the park for myself and Tim made the trip even more necessary. (Shoutout to Sister, a former Disney cast member!) When my sister procured tickets for Tim’s brother, niece, and parents to join us, it was game on!

We had a single day to visit California Adventure and Disneyland both, so I was determined to do it right. I read tons of blogs and sites about how to maximize a day in both parks. One blog even had a spreadsheet of what rides to ride at what times of the day, with suggestions for FastPass procurement. Tim and I have long disliked the new FastPass system at Disney World, so when we discovered the old system was still in place at Disneyland, we did a little dance. I was determined to maximize our day and follow all the advice I’d read.

We took into account the age range of our group (6 to 72), so we recognized the speed of our day wouldn’t be quite what we’re used to when it’s just the two of us at a theme park. I was still optimistic that we’d hit all the rides on my “must see” list: classic rides that got the ax at Disney World and rides unique to Disneyland. But most of all, Pirates.

We started in California Adventure, where our niece was immediately captivated by the carnival rides in the Bug’s Life section. She probably could have stayed there most of the day and been content. We rode Soarin’, which she also loved, but on which my mother-in-law nearly had a heart attack. My MIL is not a fan of heights, so she definitely wasn’t a fan of a ride that imitates a flying experience. Despite my advice to close her eyes if she got nervous, she was eager for the ride to end. The rest of us decided that was our favorite ride at California Adventure.


We moved over to Disneyland where the crowds were thicker and the lines were longer (but not as bad a second I expected, considering it is the weekend before Thanksgiving). I was a bit of a drill sergeant moving us from one ride to the next, trying to keep everyone on my imagined schedule, and keeping my eye on the prize (my “must see” list). For the majority of the day, everyone kept up and no one called me out for my drill sergeant ways. I think they understood my drive and tried to accommodate me.

But as the day wore on, everyone started to get tired. I made every effort to push through and keep going, but right before fireworks, a poorly chosen ride put an end to the day. After ground-pounding all day long, our niece’s little legs were about at their limit. After a ride on the Matterhorn, she was done. A complete collapse and tears meant we were walking out of the gates before the final parade.

A lesson from this day? My “suck the marrow out of the experience” approach doesn’t work in certain crowds (okay… maybe MOST crowds). I wore people out, and the final feeling of the day was disappointment and unhappiness, not joy and exhilaration. My niece’s take-away was that every ride at Disneyland was scary (which is surprisingly true–there’s a scary element to almost every ride there, from The Little Mermaid ride to the Matterhorn) and that she would rather go to Legoland. I’m a selfish traveler when it comes to agendas and plans, and I steamrolled everyone else in my efforts. Another lesson from this day? Don’t try to do both parks in one day thinking you will never be back that way again. I felt behind from the start and stressed trying to complete my self-imposed list.

Despite my neurotic efforts, the day wasn’t a complete loss. We had several laughs, our niece had a look of wonder more times than one, and we all forgot about the stresses of the past few months for a minute or two. If there is ever a next time, I’ll be sure to stop and appreciate those moments, smell the roses, sit down to eat, and not push so hard.

p.s. Pirates IS longer at Disneyland–two drops instead of one, an extended skeleton gallery at the beginning, and an “open air” restaurant at the ride entrance similar to Mexico in Epcot! I wish we could have ridden it over and over!

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