I want to share a trip report from our family’s trip to Disneyland out in California.  This trip took place back in January 2013.  The vacation was 4 nights, Saturday to a Wednesday. We learned many things on this trip and the main one was that we LOVE Disneyland.  Can’t wait to get to back!

At the time of this trip, my boys were 6 (Evan) and 5 (Joel).  We traveled with just the 4 of us, Ryan, me and the boys.  We chose to go to Disneyland instead of Walt Disney World in Florida for a couple of reasons.

We knew we wanted to travel in either January or February.  My day job is an accountant and this is typically a busy time of the year.  We figured since Disneyland only had 2 parks we could have a great vacation and not feel pressured to take a full week off of work.  This goes into the lessons learned section. While you may not need a full week for a Disneyland Resort vacation, you should plan more than 4 nights.  There is a lot to see and do in these parks.  If you are coming from the East coast then you will have jet lag to some extent.

Saturday:  we flew from Milwaukee (MKE) to Los Angeles (LAX) on Southwest .
Monday-Tuesday: we had 3-day park hoppers and these were our park days.
Wednesday: fly home.

As Disney Vacation Club members, we decided to stay with our timeshare and were able to book at the 7-month window to get a studio room at the Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian.  For those DVC owners out there, staying here means booking exactly at the seven month window.  The Villa portion of the hotel is small and there is not a ton of rooms available.   The resort is spectacular. Its design is from the late 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement with wood and metal work.  The location of this resort can’t be beaten.  It is in the heart of the Disneyland Resort area.  There is a guest only entrance into Disney California Adventure Park and an entrance into the Downtown Disney area.

Disneyland Resort Area Map PDF

To get from LAX to the resort we chose the Disneyland Resort Express.  This is operated by Southern California Gray Line and there is a cost.  For our family of 4, it was less than $100 round trip.  There is no free transportation from the airport to the resorts like in Florida.  Using the Disneyland Resort Express worked out nice for us since we didn’t want a rental car.  We bought our round trip tickets in advance, but you can buy them when you get there.

We decided to rent a stroller for the vacation.  Both of my boys have special considerations and we wanted a stroller for each of them.  We brought our regular stroller with us from home and then we decided to rent a stroller from City Stroller Rentals.  When we rented the stroller I was debating purchasing their insurance.  I called and I talked with the lady on the phone.  She was a hoot, telling me all sorts of tips on how to keep someone from walking off with my stroller. The funniest one was putting chocolate pudding in a diaper and leaving it laying on the seat!   Anyway, she talked me out of the insurance. I thought that was nice because I am certain that is a huge money maker for her.  Even though our vacation was 4 nights, to save money I only had the stroller for 3 nights.  I regretted that.  We really needed the stroller the 1st day of the trip and we didn’t have it delivered until the 2nd day.

Trip Details

Travel day!  It was a pretty busy day.  We should have known it was going to be an interesting day when the shuttle bus driver from the off-site parking in Milwaukee tracked us down in the check-in area of the airport to give Ryan back his car keys. Ryan was wearing a different coat than he normally does, so he figured he put it in the pocket and they just fell out. Ryan tipped the driver well when we initially got off the shuttle, so Ryan was thankful for that. It is one of those things. If we would have been cheap with a tip would he have hunted us down? Like to think so, but who knows?

Our flight went well and using the Disneyland Resort Express to get from LAX to the hotel was easy.  Check-in at the hotel went smoothly, but here is the one item we forgot about in planning arrival day. Rooms aren’t technically ready until 4:30. We arrived at 2pm and the hotel would then text us to let us know our room number. We then had 2.5 hours to kill with tired boys.  This is where having the stroller would have really helped.

We spent about 30 minutes in the lobby where the TV was set up to entertain the kids during check-in. They have the cutest little rocking chairs there. Evan and Joel became entertainment for the lobby as they were rocking as fast as they could. When the rocking quit and they were actually watching the TV they were giggling like it was the funniest cartoon ever made. Several people commented to me how much they enjoyed watching my boys have fun.

Since Downtown Disney is literally right outside the hotel doors, we walked around there. This was a good and bad strategy. The good is that we got out and about. The bad is that tired boys want to buy everything and didn’t understand that we shouldn’t spend all our money the first day.  There was an Air Force Band playing and Evan and Joel danced around while they played.

The room was ready at 4pm. The accommodations are nice as all Disney hotels are. Studio villas contain a queen bed and a pullout sofa.  Joel went into meltdown and we couldn’t understand why. We finally realized he wanted to go home and didn’t want to be here. Some cookies and cuddles made him feel better.

By this time we had scheduled to meet up with our cousins Jason and Bernadette for dinner at Storytellers Cafe. We don’t get to see them much and this was their first time meeting our boys. This restaurant offered a buffet and a menu if you didn’t want the full buffet.  All the adults got the buffet and the kids ate off the kid menu. The food was good. We enjoyed our evening with family.

A 4am wake-up call from Joel started the day. “Mommy…Sleep all done.” OK, I guess it is then. I looked in the mirror to confirm what I already was feeling, which was pinkeye. Day 2 started off with a bang, to say the least.  I, of course, had pink eye medicine at home that I didn’t bring with me.  I checked with the hotel if there was an urgent care near or what my medical options were.  They had the name of a doctor that would visit your hotel room.  I called and checked their prices. It was around $300 if my memory serves and they wanted to be paid up front.  You could submit to your insurance once you returned home from vacation.  I decided to see if the pinkeye would get worse.  I didn’t touch my face and did plenty of hand washing.  Actually, we had so much hand washing Evan almost washed his return entry stamp off one theme park day towards the evening. The cast member scanning his hand was nice and could tell we weren’t pulling a fast one to sneak someone into the park, but she was searching for his stamp for a while.

Back to Sunday morning.  Since we were up bright up and early we made our way over to 7am early entry to California Adventure. Even though this was a last minute plan, we entered the park at about 7:10. We got to ride the main ride Radiator Springs Racers with only a 10-minute wait. The weather was cool and sprinkling so maybe that kept the crowds down even more. We got to ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree 2 times with no wait. The boys loved it! We then went back to the hotel for a 20-minute break (our hotel is right next to the park)  and to check on a couple of personal items.

Now we headed over to Disneyland to start the princess picture hunt.  Our boys love princesses  and our goal was to meet as many characters as we could.  We met Periwinkle in Pixie Hollow, then Aurora, Cinderella, and Snow White at the Princess Fantasy Faire. After that, we met Merida. You would think with all this princess action the boys would be ready for some rides. Nope. Joel was screaming for Rapunzel, but she wasn’t open for her meet and greet yet. Then at the Princess Fantasy Faire, we saw Ariel and Belle walking over. A big difference in Florida and California is that the characters get to their meet and greets walking through the park with the rest of us.  So then Joel screamed for Ariel. We held firm and headed over to ride the teacups, then Dumbo, the carousel, and Mr. Toad’s Wild ride.

So being extremely exhausted at having accomplished so much and it only being 10am, we went and ate a 2nd breakfast at the Carnation Café on Main Street.  Again, I thought this place was only OK. The place wasn’t crowded but it took FOREVER for our food to come. It was nice because I needed the rest, but the boys can only sit nicely in a restaurant so long.

At this point, the sun started coming out and I think so did the rest of Anaheim. It was 11:30am and the floods entering the park were crazy. We went to see the New Orleans Bayou Bash with Tiana. It was cute and the boys liked it. With the park getting crowded, we headed back to the hotel room for an afternoon rest.  I love those.

After our rest, we then headed back to Disneyland and watched the Soundsational Parade. We watched it on Main Street and it was the perfect viewing location. The boys loved the parade!!  We debated whether to go further in the park, but ultimately decided we were still tired from the 4am wake up. We went up the room for dinner.

We ate dinner at Tortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney. It was the best meal and service we have had. Ryan and I stuffed ourselves and the boys did OK. I think they would have eaten more, but ultimately were too tired.

We headed back to the room. Joel was asleep within 10 minutes and Evan within the hour.   Ryan headed out to meet up with his cousins at Disney California Adventure. They were planning on the thrill rides and World of Color.

We got the 4am wake up call again, this time we wouldn’t let him up until 5am. So much for sleeping in on vacation.  My pink eye seemed to be the mildest pink eye I have ever had and was quickly clearing up. Ryan, however, seemed to be fighting a sinus infection. He wasn’t 100% and I think staying out late with his cousins last night may have been a bit much on his immune system

This day was California Adventure day.  We decided to try the park entrance at the resort.  Is it a perk after all?  Not really.  This is a popular entrance and had a long line by the time we got there.  We would have been much better off going to the main gates where there are more turnstiles for entrance.  Since we had hit Carsland yesterday morning we took the road less traveled this morning. We went and rode The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure ride. I think we were the only people on it. We got to go around again without getting off. They asked us if we wanted a third time around, but we decided we needed to go see some more sights. We headed over and rode Toy Story Midway Mania. We walked on. Ryan rode California Screaming and said I needed to also, so I did. It was great. I love roller coasters, but my Pooh size prevents it on most coasters. This one was fine. There was plenty of room. Joel, then,  went into meltdown mode. At first, we thought it was because I had taken off by myself to ride, but then we had realized that he was mad that he couldn’t ride the roller coaster.   My no fear little boy.

Today was about as near to perfect as we could want. We rode everything we wanted and had a minimal wait. Evan, my more reserved child in the thrill department, LOVED Soarin. I thought he would freak, but he kept trying to look down to see the ground and how they were doing it. We caught Minnie Mouse and Joel loved it. I don’t think I mentioned this but Joel’s souvenir for the trip is the mouse ears with a Minnie Bow. He likes her a lot.

The street entertainers around the park were awesome.  We caught a show over by the Carthay Circle fountain with a jazz singer and her band.  The boys loved it.  Here is a video of the performance.

We saw the Aladdin show and it was amazing. We road all the kiddie rides in a Bug’s Land and then went and hung out some more in Carsland, looking thru the gift shop, and eating at the Cozy Cone.  They also had a dance party show with the children.  One of the cars played the role of a DJ and played songs and there were a couple of dancers.  The kids came out a couple of times to dance with the dancers.  It was super fun.  We saw that show twice during the trip because the boys enjoyed it so much.

We finished off the day playing in the Wilderness Adventure area. The boys loved it. This is a large play area for kids to climb, there was a cave, and I believe a zip line for children of certain ages.  Ryan was manning Joel and I had Evan watch. Well, Evan and I got separated.  It took several minutes of me running around like a crazy lady to get re-connected with him. I decided then we would wait by the strollers for Ryan and Joel.

We then had the exciting evening of dinner in the room (leftovers) and me running up and down to the laundry room doing our laundry.   I don’t know why but it is a vacation tradition. I always do laundry at some point on a trip. Since we were in a studio I had to use the common laundry room, but at least it was free since I was staying in a DVC studio.  I just had to go to the front desk to get tokens for the machines.

Yeah for a 5:45 wake up time. I can’t believe we slept in so late!!!

Today has been about as perfect as we could hope. We ate a pre-breakfast in our room of some leftovers we had accumulated. Mostly Chicken nuggets and grapes.   We headed out to Disneyland for early entry. We had breakfast at La Brea Bakery.   It was good and I think a very good option for the mornings.

We were at the gates to Disneyland 20 minutes before opening. They let us into the parks about 10 minutes till. They held us at the end of Main Street for the actual opening. Our plan for the day was to use the Lines app and the “Dumbo or Die” one-day touring plan, which only lasted for the first hour and then we quit and did our own thing.

The park was more crowded than I expected, that being said, we still didn’t wait more than 20 minutes to ride any rides. However, we waited 45 minutes to see Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. We got there 15 minutes before her scheduled time and waited for a little over 30 minutes then to see her. It was worth it. They were great and I love their set-up. Flynn was so nice and really encouraged my shy boys to talk to Rapunzel.

Another fun story I wanted to share is Ryan lost his iPhone after meeting Rapunzel.  The meet and greet lines had you exit into a fast food place. Anyways, we sat and had a good lunch. Ryan went to the bathroom while I cleaned up the table. Then we all met outside. We were using the Lines app, so he wanted his phone to see what the next step was.

He looked everywhere in our stuff…strollers….backpacks….kid’s pockets… Couldn’t find it! So, of course, I said you left it in the bathroom. Nope, not in there. He then said was it on a tray. Did I throw it out with the food? Maybe. He went back in and was literally digging through the garbage. An employee said for him to stop and she would do it since she had gloves. He was like NO I am looking for my iPhone. It wasn’t in there. Glad we ate lunch early because the trash can be fairly empty.

He came back out defeated. We decided we would just report it to Guest Relations. Well, we remembered I did have my phone on me even though the battery was close to being dead. We turned it on and called the other phone. Nope. Not on us. Couldn’t hear it. Then he called again and someone answered and said, “I think you lost your phone!” LOL. The Cast Member had it!!! When he called the first time, they heard it and picked it up.

It all worked out and Ryan and the iPhone were reunited!  That was a tense 20 minutes of our vacation.

We wanted to end our day at California Adventure to see the lighting of Carsland. I am so glad we did. It was the most awesome end to our trip. We got to ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree one more time.  Then about 15 minutes later the NEON CAME ON! I loved it!! My heart lit up and we just sat on the bench listening to the song “Life Could Be a Dream”, bouncing and cuddling my boys.

We walked out the back side of Carsland via the Pacific Wharf entrance.  That view is just spectacular and made even better with the night lighting. We walked on to The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure  again. After the ride, we went back to the hotel. Ryan went to get us Earl of Sandwich for dinner from Downtown Disney and I got the boys ready for bed.

Travel home was uneventful.  We had a fairly early flight and pretty much just got packed and went to the airport.

To wrap up the trip report:

Here are my tips for things I wish I would have done differently on this trip (very few).

– I should have only ordered 3 meals for the 4 of us. We had leftovers at every meal. I had a stash of grapes and chicken nuggets by the time we left, and that was even after eating leftovers a couple of times for breakfast.

– I would have eaten more at La Brea Bakery and skipped a couple of our White Water Snacks meals.

– Added at least one more day, maybe 2. We didn’t factor in 4am wake up calls. We didn’t realize how much was different from Walt Disney World and that we would want to see it all. I am OK because I definitely see another Disneyland trip in our future.

– I wish I would have packed more medicine in my travel bag. I had at home 3 bottles of prescription strength eye drops for pink eye. For Ryan with his sinus and cough issues, it would have been nice to have something. We bought from the gift shop but paid a pretty penny for it.

My favorite items from this trip.

– Carsland.  The best themed Disney park land I have been to.  You could easily spend half a day lingering and enjoying the area.  It is our main reason for wanting to go back.

– Downtown Disney being so close to the parks.  If you have been to the Universal Orlando Resort with CityWalk being the connecting area between their 2 parks, that is similar to the set-up out in Disneyland.  Downtown Disney is the leading area that funnels guests to the park area.  The entrance to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure is maybe a football field apart.  They are so close.  Park Hopper tickets are a must.  You can easily jump between the 2 parks effortlessly.

– Experiencing attractions that are at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  The attractions are different, and I hate to admit it most were better in the Disneyland version.

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