The Good, Bad, and Ugly-My Disneyland Review: Is Disneyland the Superior US Theme Park?
Let’s get into it, shall we? Now that I’ve returned from the West Coast, I’m ready to give my full Disneyland Review, and settle the “who does it better” debate once and for all! Well, maybe not once and for all, but at least for this moment in time. Ok, maybe you won’t be swayed until you take your own trips to compare. Whatever. So for years, I thought Disneyland was tiny and trashy and not at all interesting after visiting Walt Disney World. But we are big Avengers fans and wanted to visit Avengers Campus, so we decided to head out to Anaheim and check things out. Let’s get into it!
HOW TO GET TO CALIFORNIA
First things first, you will obviously need to get to California. You could drive, like the Griswolds, across the country, but we decided the convenience of a flight was a much more appealing option, so we booked our flights on Southwest, our preferred airline.
But first, we had to decide which airline we wanted to fly into. There are five or six viable options in Southern California: Santa Ana/Orange County/John Wayne (SNA), Los Angeles (LAX), Long Beach (LGB), LA/Ontario (ONT), and Burbank/Bob Hope (BUR). There is not really a “bad” airport, per se, but there are some that will be better for your sanity than others. Ultimately, we chose to go with John Wayne.
- SNA/Orange County/John Wayne: this is the only airport in Orange County, which happens to also be the home of Disneyland. It is a short 14 miles from Disneyland and, by far, the most convenient. We landed at 10:50 and were in our hotel room by 11:45. It does not get any better than that! John Wayne is smaller, easier to access, has a fast TSA checkpoint, and car rental available right at the terminal. There is also an overabundance of cabs and ride share. Disneyland is a $60 cab ride or $30 Uber/Lyft away! Two thumbs up! Highly recommend!
- LAX: if you like big, massive, chaotic airports, or really wanna catch the Hollywood sign, this is where you should go. Located 30 miles northwest of Disneyland, this is the number one origin and destination airport in the world. It is massive, chaotic, crowded, and you have to deal with LA traffic to get anywhere. But it may offer more flexibility with your flights. But be warned!
- LGB/Long Beach: a short 22 miles from Disneyland, this might be the second-best option for fans of quiet airports with fast and efficient TSA checkpoints. JetBlue usually offers great deals for LGB.
- ONT/LA-Ontario: 33 miles away from Disneyland, this airport is incredibly small, quiet, and, again, a fast TSA checkpoint. About 20% of the time, you will get a deal to fly into this airport, especially with Delta and Southwest.
- BUR/Bob Hope: if you REALLY want to see a Kardashian, this is your best bet. This airport is 40 miles away and you will have to go THROUGH the LA traffic to get to Disneyland. I would say this is the airport of last resort.
Where to Stay
While there are not as many Disney properties available, there is no shortage of hotel options. Whether you choose a Disney Resort or a Good Neighbor Hotel, you’re not likely to be disappointed.
Disneyland has three “on site” properties: Paradise Pier, Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, and the Disneyland Hotel. Paradise Pier is considered the “Value” Resort, and rumor has it, it’s being rethemed. Currently, there are no open restaurants and the pool is being refurbished. It is also the furthest from the parks. So right now? I’d say that’s a hard pass.
Up next, you have the Grand Californian. This is as Deluxe as you get at the Disneyland Resort. I would say this is the Wilderness Lodge bumped into the Grand Floridian category. You will have a private entrance into California Adventure (with valid theme park admission AND park pass reservation) and Downtown Disney. This is the closest Disneyland Resort to the theme parks. If you can afford it, I say go for it! This is also home to Princess dining, which you can, of course, attend without a resort reservation.
And finally, the Disneyland Hotel. Not gonna lie, I love it. Even with all the construction currently happening. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Even the bathrooms are perfectly themed! But, even with this being the flagship hotel and the moderate resort, it’s still a bit of a walk to the theme parks. This hotel is on the other side of Downtown Disney.
Disneyland Review: for on-site hotels, the edge is obviously with Walt Disney World. There are some 27 on-site hotels to choose from, value to Deluxe Villa. HOWEVER, with the hotels ALL within walking distance to the parks? Game changer. The edge in convenience goes to Disneyland.
good neighbor hotels
What if you can’t find a reservation at one of the Disneyland Resorts? Or what if you just can’t afford them? Not to worry, there are a TON of great hotels near Disneyland, and most of them are a short walk away.
In fact, many of the good neighbor hotels are actually CLOSER to the parks than the Disneyland Resorts. We stayed at the Anaheim Hotel, which recently went through a complete overhaul (which is still somewhat in progress) and I can honestly say it’s closer than the Contemporary is to the Magic Kingdom. You can see Guardians of the Galaxy from the hotel and it is LITERALLY across the street. We were able to take an hour break one day that was actually almost a whole hour spent in our room napping, instead of at a bus stop.
There are literally a bunch of great hotels within the Disneyland area, and, again, many are walkable and closer than the Disneyland Resorts. There are water parks and free breakfast (locations vary, of course) and even views of the fireworks. While they are quite plentiful, they are not nearly as nice as the Disneyland Resorts. But if you’re just looking for a place to rest your head at night? They’ll do just fine.
DISNEYLAND REVIEW: the edge is obvious. With Good Neighbor Hotels, Disneyland wins. While Walt Disney World has much larger and much nicer Good Neighbor Hotels, they are not walkable, the transportation to the parks is very sketchy, and you do not feel like you are “at” Disney. For lodging overall, I put Walt Disney World as the better option. There are nicer, more affordable on-site hotels, and enough of them that you don’t actually need to consider Good Neighbor Hotels. But the WDW point only applies if you’re there for more than just theme parks!
I don’t even need to think about it. Disneyland wins AND IT ISN’T EVEN CLOSE. Unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland is a pedestrian resort. Other than to and from the airport, I didn’t get in any vehicles at all, and it was amazing. EVERYTHING is walkable. There is only ONE checkpoint to get through for both theme parks and Downtown Disney. The parks are so close to each other we saw the projections from Disneyland Park while getting off of Radiator Springs back in CarsLand. I don’t feel like any time on my vacation was wasted waiting on a bus. GAME, SET, MATCH: Disneyland.
Theme Parks and Downtown Disney
Let’s start with logistics. Disneyland is absolute PERFECTION. Completely walkable. Park Hopping takes SECONDS, not hours. If you want something to eat in Downtown Disney? 5 minute walk, tops. If you want to take a SHORT break midday for a power nap? No waiting over an hour for a shuttle bus. It’s as amazing as it sounds.
Starting with Downtown Disney, and I have no complaints. It is much, much smaller than Disney Springs, but there are plenty of options. For food options, I do give the edge to Walt Disney World, because it has the Boathouse, Erin McKenna’s, Polite Pig, and more. But the dining options in Downtown Disney are nothing to laugh at! We ate three meals here and they did not disappoint. And I don’t remember ever seeing a massive pickle dog at Disney Springs!
Disneyland Park. Alright, the 100% honest Disneyland Review: it’s the same but so different. But right off the bat, what is that castle? I feel like I’ve built things with legos that are more impressive. Castle hands down goes to Walt Disney World. And, again, it’s not even close. Moving on, though. My first impression was literally awe. I was walking where Walt Disney had walked and that is a bit overwhelming. Problematic as he may have been, without him, we do not have these places. So, thanks Walt.
Next up, can we talk about the SIZE of Main St? Amazing. Even when it’s packed full of people for fireworks or rope drop, YOU CAN BREATHE. It is what? Double the size of the Magic Kingdom? And, unlike Florida, it wasn’t 100% built in the sun. There is actually shade! AND TREES! There are trees in California! Magic Kingdom really lost something when they took all the trees out of the Hub area. Yes, it opened up the visuals for nighttime spectaculars, but it was visually amazing. Main St USA goes to Disneyland. It’s fantastic. All of it.
California Adventure gives off Hollywood Studios vibes IMMEDIATELY, which I love, because Hollywood Studios is my favorite park. But DCA was the most shocking part of the trip for me. I. Love. It. For starters, it is MUCH bigger than it looks. When you walk in the gates, it looks like it’s all squished together, but it is really quite large! Secondly, you could easily get through all the rides here in no time, but this park, like Hollywood Studios, is SO MUCH more than just the rides. Take time to explore the details, the shows, the shops, the exhibits….it’s all magnificent. CarsLand is HANDS DOWN the best land in any American Park. And, shockingly, IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE. Do NOT miss this place at night. You WILL feel like you’re in the movie. It’s incredible. For the purposes of this Disneyland Review, I was pleasantly surprised.
How do the rides compare?
Can you have a Disneyland Review without talking about the rides? Not a chance. Everything you’ve heard is true. The duplicate rides in both parks are superior in Disneyland. Except maybe Peter Pan. It’s still overrated in BOTH parks (sorry, not sorry. It’s not worth it unless you have a lightning lane). Disneyland’s unique rides are fantastic. Things you should NOT skip: Indiana Jones, Guardians of the Galaxy, WebSlingers, IncrediCoaster, Monsters Inc, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Matterhorn, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and Storybook Canal Boats. You can pass on Snow White, she was better when it was scary.
I think Disneyland would be PERFECT with EPCOT. That’s the only thing that is missing. The California Food & Wine Festival was delicious (AND full size drinks, not shots for $8), but EPCOT is SO much better.
Final thoughts, on this, my Disneyland Review: while both parks are amazing, I really love Disneyland. I was not run over by a stroller once. The people were so chill and nice, not overly entitled at all. When I did get hit by an ECV, the person apologized (I thought I was dreaming). Disneyland was a vacation. Yes, we were exhausted. Yes, we walked about 10 miles a day. But we were able to relax. We could sit down and enjoy ourselves. Everything being walkable is the complete difference. There’s no feeling of “IF WE DON’T GO NOW WE’LL MISS THE BUS!” I will most definitely go back!
Ready to book your trip? Contact me today!!!