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Lou’s Inbox: How many days does it take to visit Disneyland?


“I’ve just got back from two weeks at Walt Disney World. Had an amazing time with my family and soon to be extended family. We’re from the UK and haven’t been in 5 years, so we made sure we took a lot of your tips including all those food related which resulted in some wonderful meals at O’hana, Boma, and the California Grill to name a few! I’ve been to WDW 5 times and would like to visit Disneyland in California at some time in the near future. So my question is, as visitors from across the pond, how long would you recommend would be required to sample the best of Disneyland and California Adventure?  It mostly like just be the two of us, both 26. Thanks for all that you do that keeps me close to the magic. Steve – Birmingham, UK.”

Hey Steve, This is a great question.  My name is Matt, and I live in California so Disneyland is my “home” park.  I was also part of the WDW College Program and lived in Orlando for a year working as a
Cast Member in WDW, so I have had lots of experiences in both Disney destinations.

Some people might assume that Disneyland is simply a smaller more condensed version of a similar vacation experience at Walt Disney World. But aside from some similarities in shows and rides, there is much that sets these two places apart and separate vacations to each are justified just to find out.

While Walt Disney World sits on over 30,000 acres (the size of San Francisco) with 4 theme parks, 26 resorts, 3 water parks, and 1 sprawling shopping/restaurant district, Disneyland is more modest with 2 theme parks, 3 resort hotels, and a smaller shopping/restaurant area spanning a mere 160 acres. Walt Disney World may be set on a much bigger stage, but it’s the grand moments experienced on a more intimate level which makes Disneyland such a unique experience.

Speaking about Disneyland, Walt said:

“Physically, Disneyland would be a small world in itself – it would encompass the essence of the things that were good and true in American life. It would reflect the faith and challenge of the future, the entertainment, the interest in intelligently presented facts, the stimulation of imagination, the standards of health and achievement, and above all, a sense of strength, contentment, and well-being.”

So, what is the best way to experience Disneyland? Considering you’re coming a long way, I’m assuming this kind of trip doesn’t happen frequently, so here’s my ideal experience . . .

After recent renovations to both the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel, now all three Disneyland resort hotels are rated 4 stars. And while all three are unique in their own regard, my ideal trip would be 5 full days staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort. I love the location and design, showcasing the architectural style of Northern California. It also doesn’t hurt that it has a private entrance to 1 of the 2 theme parks (Disney’s California Adventure); it’s hard to put a price on the ability to roll out of bed, grab a coffee, and be ready to ride Grizzly River Run in 5 minutes – literally, 5 minutes. The Grand Californian also has an entrance to the middle of Downtown Disney, so if your style is waking up late, grabbing brunch, grabbing gifts at World of Disney, you can also be there in 5 minutes. With everything on a smaller scale, crowds are large and the value of time is a premium. Staying at the Grand Californian gives you the most control of your time throughout your trip.

(If you’re looking for a value hotel, there are no Disney”s All Star Resort hotels at Disneyland, but keep in mind that because Disneyland is so much smaller than WDW, a nearby hotel is not necessarily an inconvenient option. If your budget is more modest, there are plenty of “Good Neighbor” hotels nearby on Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave. that offer cheaper room rates and are within walking distance or a quick shuttle ride. Check out: The Candy Cane Inn, The Annabella, or the Doubletree Inn and Suites).

Here is my general ideal itinerary for 5 days . . .

Day 1: Disneyland – Use early morning entrance if you have it. You have the most energy on Day 1. Go as hard as you can and as long as you can.

Day 2: Disney’s California Adventure – Tends to be less crowded, although it has evened out some since the opening of Cars Land and the World of Color Show. Hit everything in Cars Land first; then the day slows down and you have time to get in Soarin’ Around the World, Toy Story Midway Mania, and California Screamin’.

Day 3: Rest Day – Relax at the Grand. Hit the pool. Experience the hotel atmosphere and uniqueness. Hit Downtown Disney in the afternoon, do your shopping and check out the restaurants.

Day 4: Disneyland – Round 2 at Disneyland is to make up for anything you missed on Day 1 because of the crowds. This is the time to slow down and do some of the less popular attractions and shows. Get a Dole Whip and relax at the Enchanted Tiki Room, ride the Disneyland Railroad around the entire park, take your time going through Tarzan’s Treehouse, and relax on the Mark Twain.

Day 5: Bonus Day – Anything you need to do again! You won’t be back soon, so take this day to experience all your favorites one more time. Soarin’ Around the World, Pirates of the Carribean, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, World of Color, Main Street Electrical Parade — anything that you NEED to do again, this is your chance.

In no particular order, here are some things at Disneyland that are not at WDW:

  • World of Color – California Adventure
  • Blue Bayou – Disneyland
  • Indiana Jones Adventure – Disneyland
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats – Disneyland
  • Haunted Mansion (Jack Skeleton Holiday Makeover) – Disneyland
  • “it’s a small world” (Christmas Makeover) – Disneyland
  • Matterhorn – Disneyland
  • Cars Land – California Adventure
  • Walt Disney’s Apartment – Disneyland
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and Pinocchio’s Daring Journey – Disneyland
  • Anna & Elsa’s Boutique – Downtown Disney

My Personal Favorites:

  • Have breakfast at the Carnation Café and ask for Chef Oscar. A true Disneyland Original.
  • Check out the magic shop on Main Street, U.S.A. where Steve Martin got his start.
  • Enjoy Dinner at the Napa Rose at the Grand Californian.
  • Save time by investing in nighttime show reservation/package experiences for World of Color and Fantasmic.   There are no stadiums like Fantasmic has at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so why wait 4 hours to reserve a good seat or spot to watch.
  • The atmosphere in the Blue Bayou is a MUST DO. Enjoy a meal (cooked in the same kitchen as Club 33) set in the atmosphere of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Finally, when you enter Disneyland (and before entering Main Street), take a look above the fire station and imagine Walt himself gazing out the window of his apartment at his own personal creation. The wonderful uniqueness about the small world Walt created at Disneyland is that while it has grown and evolved over the years, it has remained true to the essence of things good and true in American life, just like he wanted.