Monday, March 31, 2014

The Disneyland Resort ~ At Night

Disneyland Resort at night is another level of fun for every member of the family. With small children, who are use to early bedtimes, it can be a hard night to stay late enough for the fireworks show. The presentation usually begins at 9 pm and some kids will be sound asleep by then, or wavering on cranky legs. This is one more reason why going later in the year is a great idea, because the days are shorter and the kids will get to see the Parks light up in time for even the little ones to see them!
 Neon is a Southern California institution and you will see lots of displays of this art form in California Adventure. You can see this beautiful marquee right inside the entrance to Hollywood Land .
In fact, Hollywood Land is fun to explore after the sun goes down. It is also the pathway to get to the Tower of Terror! I'm more of a Monster's Inc kinda girl and that is also located in Hollywood Land!
  And there is always shopping. Sitting in front of the theater, where Disney Jr. Playhouse shows are presented, you can see the whole street from one end to the other...and all of the shops and places to get snacks too!
But the Carthay Circle, new since they renovated the street, is just breathtaking at night. For the grown ups there is a wonderful 1940's style bar and for the families there is a very nice fine dining restaurant upstairs. Just Beautiful!
Carthay Circle is a little jewel that many people just walk right past. As I was taking this photo I had 4 other people stop and exclaim about how beautiful this was. It's easy to get caught up in the rushing here or there in the Parks, especially if you have kids, but try to slow it down and really catch all of the wonderful details that Disney is known for. Even I didn't go slowly enough. I'm betting there is a Hidden Mickey in those tiled stairs and I didn't even think to look! If you go and find one make sure to shoot me a photo of it over on Facebook!
But the real treasure in California Adventures, daytime or nighttime, is Cars Land. It is amazing how they have made this movie just come to life. I couldn't get over it.
 The Cozy Cone is a place to meet up with the characters like Lightening, Mater, Red, as well as grab a snack.
Shopping is available behind some familiar landmarks on the main street of Cars Land. 
But nowhere is the neon more amazing than at Flo's! You will be amazed. Great place to get dinner but just a wonder to see at night.
 Right next to Flo's is Ramone's. This cute little shop is filled with clothing that you will want to bring home with you. As with all Disney merchandise, it is expensive, but if you are looking for one shop to get Cars clothing then this is the one.
But if fun is what you are looking for then head over to the Radiator Springs Racers. I, highly, recommend you riding this ride during the day and again at night. It's totally different and totally cool...and yes, I'm totally a SoCal girl! LOL!
 Here comes one of the most important tips of this three part blog. If you are even thinking of seeing World of Color then go to this park at 9am and head straight for the Grizzly River Run and get your Fast Pass for World of Color. It doesn't matter if there is almost no one in the park, doesn't matter if it's pouring rain and everyone is leaving. If you do not have a Fast Pass to this show you WILL NOT SEE IT FROM THE FRONT.  Guaranteed. Ok, there's one other way. Pay for one of the dinners at the nearby restaurants but even those you have to reserve. And they are very, very...did I mention, very expensive. So get to the park early and get your Fast Pass. Because it is stunning. 
Yes, we learned this the hard way. We didn't get the Fast Pass since the park was nearly empty and were still not allowed to watch the show from the front. Now the show includes projected movies onto the water so watching it from the front is a pretty cool thing. BUT, if you forget, or the Fast Passes have all been given out, there is a place with lots of seats on the Boardwalk behind the Ferris Wheel where it's still really cool to watch the show from the back. There are benches where you can relax and enjoy it.
If you go midweek after the World of Color show the park is closed down so you walk out at a time when the park is nearly deserted. This is a very cool feeling. Like you have your own private park.
 That's when you head back over to Disneyland! I'll happily take this resort at any time of the year (altho' summer is a bit too hot for me) but Christmas time is definitely my favorite. Not only is there an incredibly tall tree in the middle of the Main Street square but there are all sorts of extra lights that are not up the rest of the year.
 It's a Small World is simply stunning at night. Check with your hotel or at the Town Hall on Main Street and find out when they turn the lights on. We sat, impatiently, on benches outside of the little shop near the ride and waited for them to go on and believe me, it was worth it. Stunningly beautiful. The words are inadequate for what the feeling is truly feels like.
 All year round there are lights on at the park. Any outdoor ride that you ride during the day is a completely different ride at night. Even the Tea Cups are more magical once the lights go on.
And, of course, there are the fireworks. Yes, I know this isn't the best photo but it's the one and only time I caught The Mickey on film! I've been going to Disneyland since I was 6 months old. Back then fireworks were saved for the 4th of July. That was it. Then they added New Year's Eve and they were off and running from there. Now, it seems, that they set them off every night that the weather permits. If you are watching in the park then stick around It's A Small World for the best viewing. By "best" I mean you get to see them clearly and there is less of a crowd. If you are ok with crowds and waiting then head for the Castle at about 8pm. Settle in and wait. It is, by far, the most magical place to see them. It is also, by far, the most hectic and crowded places to see them. We actually watched from the upper deck of our hotel this time.

And speaking of the Castle. It really is magical at night. You can see it from several different vantages including from Tomorrowland. Just catching it at Christmas time, all decorated up and adorned with thousands of lights makes this the best time of the year to see the Castle. 

So that's what I'll leave you with before we continue our tour of Los Angeles. A view of the spectacular Castle at night. 

Next week we'll head off to the BEACH! Yup we are headed to Venice Beach next week! Can't wait to share it with you.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Disneyland Resort ~ California Adventure By Day

This is Part Two of our tour of the Disneyland Resort. The Disneyland Resort isn't as big or spread out as Disney World but there are 3 distinct areas. Disneyland, Downtown Disney, which lies between the two theme parks, and California Adventure. Last week I covered Disneyland so this week we'll cover California Adventure. As previously, I'll only cover parts of the park because it is so big!
 If you have been there before but not in the past few years then the first thing you notice is that the giant letters spelling out California are gone. Instead these new gates, placed where the letters use to stand, greet you and welcome you to the park.They also set the "retro" feel that you will have in all sections of the park.
 Once you pass through the gates the 1930's/1940's era feel is definitely apparent. They have renovated, or retro-vated, the whole area to this look and feel. I'm a huge old car buff so I was very pleased to see this beauty waiting at a shop (disguised as a gas station) in the front of the park.
Even the Trolley is a vintage style vehicle. All dressed up for Christmas it's even more beautiful. You can hop on it at the front gates and it will take you for a tour down and around the main square, through Hollywood Land and to the back gate of Bug's Land.(This photo courtesy of Tory Bright.)
 Walt and Mickey are right there too. The huge sunburst fountain is gone but there are additions here that are truly wonderful. Walt is just the beginning. This is the center of "Buena Vista Street" and if you turn left here you head to Hollywood Land. We'll go there later. Right now we'll head straight forward.
 And one of the treats you get is the Carthay Circle Restaurant. This circa 1940's eatery looks like a California Mission and inside it's a gorgeous fine dining option for you in the park. This look is just SO Californian that it lets you know where you are as much as a Pagoda lets you know you are in Japan.
 A little walk from the restaurant is Bug's Land. Everything is on a big scale there so you feel like you are on a small one. Even at Christmas they bring out the giant decorations to help set the mood!
 All year round there are plenty of wonderful details from the Disney movie to enjoy like these Bug Lights.
 Although it's a "kiddie ride" we still love Heimlich's Chew Chew Train and go on it every time we visit the park. It's a very slow train ride that meanders through items like giant Animal Crackers that smell like real cookies and a tunnel that is actually a giant slice of watermelon that smells like real watermelon. SO cute!
 If you walk through Bug's Land you can hang a right and walk through a back passage to Car's Land. You can also walk down the main street way to get there but this is a nice way to take a short cut. It lands you right in the middle of Car's Land where you may end up face to face with one of the characters, like Red, just as I did!
 At the Cozy Cone you will find your favorite characters such as Lightning McQueen or Mater posing for the cameras!
 The little things from the movie are everywhere. Disney always "gets it right" but they truly out did themselves this time. Every single detail in Car's Land is spot on.
 The premier ride, Radiator Springs Racers, is also my new favorite ride in this park (not that I don't still love California Soaring, I do) and one we went on 3 times during our brief time there. It starts off with a leisurely tour of area and characters of Radiator Springs and ends with a race to the finish. It does have high speed and steep corners but this is not a rollercoaster.
 We hoped on over to Flo's for lunch and, once again, they have done it up right. The inside does, indeed, look like a 1950's Diner.
As with all of the park's menus, it's not exactly Happy Meal priced but for about $13 we got a roast beef dinner that was simply amazing! Homecooked style. We were all fairly impressed!

 There is a balcony to the back left hand side of Flo's that looks out over the racecourse of the Radiator Springs Racers and having the cars come zooming by every few minutes really entertained the 2 year old with us!
 Our most surprising ride was Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. When you are watching the ride from the outside it looks so "kiddie ride" that you may consider not going on it. GO ON IT. It swings you around and twirls you and slides you from here to there...truly just a barrel of laughs.
 We knew we were doing World Of Color later on in the evening so as the afternoon wore down we headed back to Hollywood Land for Playhouse Disney instead to see the Disney Junior - Live on Stage show. This features Mickey and Friends but also covers a lot of the more popular shows on Disney Junior right now.
 Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Doc McStuffins and Princess Sophia were all there to entertain. Most of the families sit on the floor for the show, and the best view, but if the floor isn't your thing...or getting back up from the floor isn't your thing...there are benches all along the sides of the auditorium.
 We stepped back outside and headed over to Monster's Inc and found ourselves right in time for the Parade!
 Many of the "non-Princess" characters are in the California Adventure Parades so you get so see your favorites from Monster's University, Toy Story and Bug's Life.
We ended our afternoon at Monster's Inc. This is another one of the "kiddie" rides that we simply can not resist going to each time we visit the park. If you've seen the movie then you'll remember the great "doors" scene in the warehouse and get a big kick out of it on the ride like I do!

This isn't where our day ended at the Park...just where the daylight ended. Next week I'll share with you the Disneyland Resort After Dark. See you then!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Los Angeles ~ Disneyland

As a traveler I travel within the United States as well. This past November we spent a week in Los Angeles which is about 300 miles South of where we live in California. I'll be honest and say that, usually, when we travel to Southern California it is to go to Disneyland. You see, we are a "Disney" family and it's almost unheard of for us to pass through LA and not least at Downtown Disney...for the day. But this time we decided, since we were celebrating my husband's 50th, that we would really explore LA for a change. Of course, we started with Disneyland! I came very close to not covering that part of the trip for all of you when I realized that there are millions who have never been to Disneyland and many who have never been there during the time of year when they have the park decorated up for Christmas. So we'll start of our tour of Los Angeles with a 3 part trip to the Disneyland Resort!
 The entrance gates are one of the very first places you see "Christmas" in the park. With Frozen in the theaters there were several places where they used decorations themed to the movie, including over the front gates.
After you step through the gates you come face to face with the most popular spot, other than the castle, to take family photos...the floral Mickey in front of the Main Street Train Station!
 The gardens of Disneyland are truly beautiful. This year they were filled with poinsettias and a small rain shower made them look like they were encrusted with jewels! 
And, of course, we met Mickey (all dressed up for Christmas) outside of City Hall!
 In the center of the square on Main Street is a HUGE Christmas Tree. I'll show you how it looks all lit up at night but I wanted to share the close up of the tree and ornaments first. This nutcracker is not a mini ornament! It's a full sized nutcracker that is about 2 feet tall! 
 Each building on Main Street is decorated for the Holidays as well. Even those buildings, like the Penny Arcade, which are normally colorful and bright get the extra boost from the decorations.
 But it is the castle, located in the center of the park, that is really the Christmas focal point. Decorated with boughs and bows and millions of lights, the castle is a thing of beauty.
 Even on a cloudy Southern California morning, the castle was just gorgeous. The television show, The View, was taping shows that week so the path into the castle, which leads to Fantasyland and is usually very crowded with visitors, was totally empty and that allowed me to take this photo of the castle, the bridge and it's reflection in the "moat" around the front of it.
This is what you normally would see walking into the center of the park. Lots and lots of people and the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in front of the castle. 
 To the left of that statue is one of the nicest places to get breakfast, The Jolly Holiday Bakery & Cafe, and one of the most beautiful. It overlooks the Main Street/Castle square and it the perfect place to people watch! 
 If you go in the middle of the week, especially if it's a little rainy, you will see something not everyone gets to see...EMPTY lines! We usually go the week before or after Thanksgiving to beat the crowds.
 There is a new little section of the park called Pixie Hollow where your kids can meet the faeries of Peter Pan. There is always a line so they decorated that line up for you so you have lots of pretty things to look at while you wait.
 A beautiful peek-a-boo look at the castle can be seen from this line as well since Pixie Hollow is located to the right of the castle entrance from Main Street.
 Inside the Hollow are some really beautiful decorations. If you get to go then take the time to stand in the line and enjoy the little touches that the Disney team added to this attraction.
 Fun and beautiful details can be found all through the park. These beautiful light fixtures are at the Plaza Cafe which is located off the Main Street/Castle square on your way to Tomorrowland. This is one of the places where you can enjoy "Character Dining" which means that the dressed up characters walk from table to table and greet the guests and happily pose for photos with them!
 Framing the Cafe are these fun lions. Yup, I even find lions here in the US!
 It's A Small World is an iconic ride at Disneyland and it's one of two rides that completely changes during the Holiday Season. 
 You get on little boats and float through the ride, usually, to the song of It's A Small World After All. During the Holidays they change the music to Christmas Carols but they are sung in all the different languages of those countries that celebrate.
They try to represent the entire world in the display and those countries that do not celebrate are still represented but those who do celebrate are decorated for the Holidays.

From It's A Small World you can hop on the train that encircles the park and take it back here, the Main Street Station. It stops at Tomorrowland and New Orlean's Square as well as Main Street and Toontown.
We decided to head for Fantasyland instead and ride the Teacups! This iconic ride has been here for as long as I can remember and I've been going for about 50 years now! (my first visit was when I was about 6 months old!) There is a center wheel inside the teacup and if you turn it you can get the cups spinning around very quickly!
 It's a short stroll from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland where you find The Matterhorn Bobsleds, a sled-based rollercoaster ride, which has been part of the Park since the beginning.
You will also find the newest addition, which is actually a renovated ride from back in the 60's, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. This ride use to be a Mermaid submarine ride and for many years it was shut down while they decided what to do with it. Now it's Finding Nemo and a wonderful ride for the entire family!
 Head on over to Frontierland and you will find yourself at The River's Of America and see the gorgeous Mark Twain paddlewheel ship. You can board this ship for a short tour around Tom Sawyer's Island. There is also The Columbia Sailing Ship and the Davy Crocket canoe's that are available to take for a spin around the island!
 And you can take a run all over the island. This is a great way to get a bit of energy out of the kids but it's also a little beautiful bit of nature as well for you!
This area was beautifully planted to look like a real river so as you stand at the dock or from the deck of a ship, you get this gorgeous view.
 From there you take a short walk to The Haunted Mansion and the second ride that is completely changed for the Holidays. While, normally, a really fun ride with ghosts and goblins, starting with Halloween, The Haunted Mansion is transformed into The Nightmare Before Christmas with Jack Skellington and all of his pals.
Walk past The Haunted Mansion and you will find Splash Mountain and Pooh's Corner. The Winnie the Pooh ride is perfect for the under 5 set but, even as adults, we love it too!
Walk the other way from The Haunted Mansion and you will find yourself in New Orlean's Square which is home to The Pirates of the Caribbean as well as lots of shops and some really good food at restaurants such as The Blue Bayou. Set inside The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, it feels like night time on the Bayou at any hour of the day. 

Walk back towards Main Street and you will pass the Indiana Jones ride and then The Jungle Cruise...or "Jingle" Cruise during the Holidays. They don't decorate it up as much as we hoped but we love this silly little ride.  
You board a "Safari" boat and gently cruise past hippos and lions and even piranha. But it's the witty script that makes the Jungle Cruise a fun thing to go do with your family.
Lines like "And here stands Sam. This headshrinker is running a deal today...two of his heads for just one of yours!" or "If you had a great time today on your cruise my name is Joe, if you had a bad time today, my name is Mike." will keep you chuckling throughout your entire tour of this little river.

I barely touched upon all of what there is to see on the Disneyland side of The Disneyland Resort. A ride or two in each land doesn't come close to summing up this huge park. While you can do it in one day we have found that, to see both Disneyland and California Adventure sides of the Resort, you really need to have at least 4 days. 

Today I featured parts of Disneyland during the daytime at The Disneyland Resort. Next week I'll feature the California Adventure part of the Resort and then we'll finish up our tour of the Resort with Disney at Night from both sides of the park as well as Downtown Disney. Hope you can join us back here next Monday!