If you’re looking for the more ‘classic’ Disney characters and attractions, Disneyland Park is a great way to start your visit to Disneyland California. The park first opened in 1955, so expect to see lots of old fashioned fairground rides and attractions that you remember from your own childhood – we’re talking teacups and flying elephants, weirdly dark and creepy fairy tale rides, and the fabulous It’s a Small World. It’s hard to describe how it feels to walk up to the iconic castle even as an adult and to meet Mickey and friends, and for the children it’s simply magical. Here’s a round-up of our favourite attractions, shows and rides, plus a few tips for your visit.
We were 5 adults (including Grandma!), visiting Disneyland California with one 6 year old girl, two 5 year old boys, and one 9 year old boy with severe autism, a love of fast rides and a tendency to bolt.
Our favourite rides, attractions and experiences at Disneyland Park:
Mickey and the Magical Map
This energetic and brilliantly produced live stage show features appearances from King Louie, Rapunzel, Tiana (Princess and the Frog), Mulan and Pocahantas. It absolutely blew us away – go see it.
Character Meet and Greets
We got to meet Goofy, Rapunzel, Belle, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Mickey, Pluto, Tinkerbell, and one of Tinkerbell’s many friends. Some were just wandering about saying hi, and some were at special ‘Meet the Character’ events such as the Princess ones in Fantasy Faire. Our favourites were visiting Tinkerbell in the magical Pixie Hollow and meeting Mickey after checking out his weird and wonderful house.
As expected, all the characters were really perky and friendly, and said a special ‘Happy Birthday’ to Elliot when they spotted his birthday badge. What really impressed me, though, was that we never waited more than about 5 minutes in the queue, and were never rushed – the characters took their time to chat, pose for photos and sign autographs for each of the families. There is a professional photographer posted near each character, so you can get them done on your Disney PhotoPass, OR just hand over your phone or camera and they’ll snap it for you.
32″, approx age 3+, no scary stuff, no steep inclines or sudden drops. Fastpass recommended.
A classic ride from 1955 where the kids get to steer the car (guided by a track) while mum/dad controls the gas and brakes. It’s great fun and the kids loved it. Be warned that this was designed in 1955 when people didn’t worry so much about sun exposure – there is zero shade so please make sure you slather on sunscreen and slap on a hat, or visit firs thing in the morning.
40″, big thrills, dark creepy bits, and you’ll get a bit wet
I somehow got tricked into going on the front of Splash Mountain, and had a wonderfully exhilarating (if quite wet) ride. It starts with a slow ride in the dark through the tales of Brer Rabbit, and then there are some pretty thrilling drops. The log/boat you’re riding is quite narrow so each person has their own seat, which meant we found it difficult to help Madeleine feel secure. I’ll be honest – she was absolutely terrified, in that ‘I will never forgive you for making me go on this ride‘ sort of way, but has since decided it was her favourite part of the holiday.
40″, big thrills, completely pitch black
What an incredible experience! My nephews (5 and 9) dragged me onto this ride, and I have to say I was really, really scared, especially when they made me sit at the front. Thank goodness they did though – it’s ultra-fast, pitch black and utterly thrilling.
Jedi Training Academy
This is a fab experience for any young Star Wars fans and their parents. Kids age 4 to 12 are randomly selected from the crowd to join the Jedi Master on the stage and undergo training. Make sure your kids are standing right at the front, ideally wearing/doing something that makes it obvious they are a genuine Star Wars enthusiast.
All ages / any height. No fastpass needed – just hop on at any station.
This is supposed to be for getting from Land to Land, but we just went for a sightseeing ride to get out of the early afternoon heat and it was ace, not least because the kids were lulled into a much needed power-nap. There is a really cool animatronic dinosaur section just after Tomorrowland (some younger kids might find it a bit scary) and around Adventureland there are some beautiful glades with (pretend) deer which the kids really loved.
Indiana Jones Adventure
46″ (big kids), very scary, very bumpy and very excellent! Fastpass recommended.
My 9 year old nephew made me go on this one! As far as rides go, I found it a bit too tame – I kept hoping my cart might break away and feel like it was freewheeling along the track, but instead it just shakes you around a bit. Saying that, the design of this attraction is absolutely incredible, and nothing that I write could possibly do it justice. An absolute must.
It’s a Small World
All ages / any height
The best known classic Disney attraction (from the 1960s), this ride treads that fine line between weird/creepy and utterly magical. The attention to detail is phenomenal and it’s a lovely celebration of peace and harmony. The kids looooooved it, but are a little nervous now that their own dolls might come to life and start singing.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Any height, dark with some scary and very loud bits.
Grandma took 5 year old Elliot on this ride while we tricked 6 year old Madeleine into coming on nearby Splash Mountain. He found it a little “spoooooky, creeeepy and ghoooooosty” but loved it nonetheless (it was his favourite ride), and thought the animatronic Pooh was hilarious.
Our least favourite attractions
Children’s entertainment has changed a lot over the years, and in the same way classic fairy tales are dark and gruesome, the older rides are pretty dark and creepy. My kids are total softies with overactive imaginations, so a lot of the classic attractions were just far too scary for them. They were especially scared of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (so much so that they ran out), and Pinocchio’s Daring Adventure.
Where to eat
There are so many places to eat so you will have no problems finding someone for everyone, even the fussy eaters.
My brother is a big fan of the bacon-wrapped asparagus and the spicy chicken skewers (they have sweet too) to take-away at Benghal Barbecue in Adventureland. Our family had a really fun and filling lunch at The Golden Horseshoe, which combines basic American fare with an immersive Wild West style experience. I had to wear a special neckerchief marking me as a Baddie while I ate my crispy chicken salad – and I count myself as lucky since one of the mums was carted off to jail! The kids giggled their way through chicken and chips. Tip: Ask for the secret menu.
What should I do first?
1) Head straight to Fantasy Faire in Fantasyland to meet the Disney princesses – first thing in the morning you’re likely to have very short queues (like 5 minutes) and be able to spend the most time chatting with the princesses, taking photos and getting autographs. The buildings in Fantasyland are gorgeous so you might want to grab a few photos too before the crowds arrive.
2) While you are walking to Fantasyland with the kids, dispatch one of the adults to Autopia to pick up a Fast Pass. It’s a really popular classic ride so it had the longest queues by far, and you’ll want to enjoy it before there’s too much heat in the sun.
3) Take advantage of the most popular attractions and rides, such as It’s a Small World, and stop in to meet more characters while it’s still fairly quiet in the park.
4) Once you’ve been on Autopia, send someone off to grab a Fast Pass for Splash Mountain as this will get really busy mid-day, then Space Mountain after that.
5) Just after lunch, take a little ride on the Disneyland Railroad or have a paddle on the Mark Twain Riverboat in Adventureland – the kids will be getting a bit overexcited by now, so it’s a great way to force a quick powernap in the shade.