This report comes from Josh who is sharing about his recent family vacation to Disneyland in California.
Josh works in Air Force Public Affairs and has shared a very popular Disney Cruise Line trip report with us previously.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share this Josh!
Has Disneyland lost some of its magic?
By Joshua Strang
Let me begin by saying that we are not Disney snobs. I think of us more as well-versed Disney travelers. Over the years, we have been fortunate enough (thanks to military discounts) to be able to go to Disneyland, Walt Disney World and even take a Disney cruise. We have become pretty good in planning and executing a Disney vacation and have even helped a few people plan theirs.
We were fortunate enough to visit Disneyland for the first time since going there post-deployment in 2009. Since that time, we have done about 4 WDW trips and one cruise. We love the magic of Disney and were really looking forward to our trip. In the end however, it left us slightly disappointed, magic wise. Here is our trip report and observations from our adventure.
Our troop on this trip consisted of myself, my wife, our two daughters (9 and 5), and my mother-in-law. Our adventure really began on the drive. We are stationed a two-day drive away and most of the drive went pretty uneventful. When we were about three hours away my youngest bit into an apple and lost her first tooth. We told her this was a good thing because Tinkerbell would take over tooth fairy duties at the hotel. She seemed pretty happy about that, we just needed to make sure Ms. Bell knew she lost her tooth…
Additional Parking Cost
We arrived at the Grand Californian Hotel and check-in went well. One big thing I noticed right away was that Disneyland charges for self-parking. I was informed that parking would be $17 a day for our stay. I thought that was a bit pricey since we already paid a good amount to stay there but, it is what it is.
Note: The parking is across the street in a gated parking area. I felt it was secure but you do need to cross two cross-walks to get to and from the hotel. This was definitely a change from WDW. As a comparison, WDW does not charge for parking and Disney Cruise Line charges based on the length of your cruise.
Grand Californian Hotel
The hotel overall was as nice as it was the first time we stayed there many years ago. I did notice that a number of the large lights were out. This is something I haven’t noticed at a WDW resort before. Sure, there may be a random light bulb out here and there but these were in the large chandeliers hanging overhead.
Another thing I noticed is that one night when we were at the pool, the pool bar had closed well before we arrived at about 5pm. This was new since the last time we went to WDW, the bar was as late as the pool.
Overall, the hotel was still great and our kids enjoyed the pool and the nightly movie outside.
Disneyland Resort Theme Parks
One of the things I really like about DL is the proximity of the parks. You can easily walk to all hotels, Downtown Disney and both parks with little to no trouble. In WDW, you are at the mercy of the bus/river/monorail system which can waste a lot of time in your day if you are there with a lot of other people.
We were excited to get our first look at Cars Land and we were not let down. That area is very well done! Overall California Adventure is very well done and we had a lot of fun there. At Disneyland Park, we were sad that a few of our favorite rides were closed but we had looked that up online well in advance so we already made our peace with that.
One thing we noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be as many characters roaming the parks. It seems that at WDW, you can’t turn around without a celebrity sighting whereas at DL, we only saw a few walking around. I did however thoroughly enjoy that Storm Troopers were checking people through the Star Tours ride.
Earlier that day, my youngest had completed the Jedi Academy which is a must do if your child loves Star Wars. When we were standing in line for Star Tours, a couple of Storm Troopers were trying to give people some trouble but when they tried to pass through my 5-year old, she stood her ground. Their “handler” told her she was very brave for standing up to them. When we went inside to board the ride, they were in there moving the line along and checking people out.
Another good experience we had was Chip and Dale’s breakfast at Storytellers Café in our hotel. Those characters did a good job with interacting with people and spent a lot of time playing around. Dale caused the most trouble though as he came over and pretended to pour our bottle of hot sauce in my wife and mother-in-law’s coffee and then stared them down and made them drink it.
One location in Disneyland that we feel needs a major makeover is Toontown. The whole place feels really dated. Not many of the younger generation know Roger Rabbit or Gadget and those are two of the main rides there. The entire area seems old and the paint has faded. It almost seems like they don’t even care about the condition of that area. Personally, I would love to see that entire place torn down and rebuilt as the Mos Eisley spaceport. The Roger Rabbit ride could be replaced by a T-47 Airspeeder ride as you repel AT-AT walkers on Hoth…are you listening Disney?
Toontown isn’t the only area in need of paint as we noticed a lot of areas around the park had chipping paint and needed a bit of an overhaul.
Disneyland also doesn’t do as good of a job of integrating Fast Pass users with the Stand By people. They would let an entire line of Fast Pass people in while the rest of us waited. At WDW, they let a few Fast Pass through, then a few Stand By and both lines seem to move with a nice flow.
MDT Note: Disneyland uses what Disney World regulars call the legacy FastPass system with paper tickets you have to go to the ride to get.
Disneyland Cast Members
We noticed a difference in the cast members working at Disneyland vs. those at Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line. First off, about 90% or more of cast members all had California as their home of record on their name tags. This was a huge difference for us.
WDW and DCL do a great job of hiring cast members from all over the U.S. and the globe. I understand that with DCL and WDW’s Epcot World Showcase, but even in the other WDW parks and hotels you find people from all over. I think this is a great and have always had fantastic attitudes and service.
At DL, it almost seemed like most of the people just thought of their job as, just another job. I think the diversity that WDW and DCL has really adds to the experience. DL may benefit in hiring people other than just California locals.
One cast member actually made me complain! I am really easy going and never really complain about anything. If I get bad service, then I just don’t go back. On the first evening, we went to explore our hotel and to stretch our legs from the long two-day drive. We went in to the hotel store to check out the goods. We were looking at the Dooney and Bourke bags when the cast member working there came over. Our conversation quickly went from talking about the bags to being a protective dad. It then quickly went to him mentioning multiple times how he used to be a Marine sniper (which I highly doubt) and how he liked to hunt deer. This then went to how most people shoot them through the chest which causes them to bleed out but the way he shoots them, they die quickly. He also told us about telling his kids he was bringing a bunch of Bambi’s home. All of this was in front of my kids who, by the way, 30 min earlier had been excited to see Bambi on our shower curtain in our room. I quickly ushered my wife out the door and was left kind of thinking, did that really just happen? I was pretty tired at that point but just let it go. After sleeping on it, I decided that I handled that incorrectly and really should have said something to him and then guest services. After getting myself ready for the day, I headed down to report it to guest services. The look on the three 20-somethings faces lead me to believe that they had not heard that one before.
Over all, most of the cast members were very friendly but didn’t quite have the magic that we have experienced on other trips.
I’m not sure what it is, but we noticed a lot of people leaving their trash everywhere at Disneyland. In general, we never really notice it much at WDW.
One lady dropped an entire container of cheese on the ground which splattered everywhere. She looked at us, looked at her mess, and just walked away. Accidents happen, but don’t just leave it for the cast members to clean. Take some responsibility.
Everywhere we went, people routinely left their trash like Disney owed it to them to clean it up for them. We chose to use it as a teaching opportunity to our kids. See that kids? Don’t be rude. You made the mess, you clean it.
MDT Note: A very high percentage of Disneyland’s daily guest population are annual passholders. Something like 80 to 85 percent of attendance have APs.
In the end, we still had a great vacation. We just feel that Disneyland as a whole felt a little tired and worn.
At first we thought we were being too hard but throughout our trip, we overheard many other couples in the park and our hotel say the same thing we were saying, there didn’t seem to be as much magic at Disneyland compared to WDW.
It is still worth the trip but we felt our money could be better spent at WDW or on a Disney Cruise first.
Thanks so much for the trip report Josh!
How about you?
Have you visited Disneyland recently?
Share your experiences in the comments below!
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