As many of you know, I try to visit Disneyland once per year - so much of my review is going to focus on anything new since the last time that I visited. To get a variety of information regarding the parks and resorts, you will want to read all of my other Disneyland reviews.
First of all, traveling to Disneyland. We did our usual flight into Long Beach and I will recommend this over and over again to people who want an easy in & out experience and to avoid the hassles of John Wayne or LAX airports. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a great deal of their renovations were complete. When I last flew in in 2012, the airport was quite the construction zone. Now the terminals are no longer "portable buildings/trailers"- it's an actual building with some real dining venues. They did a very nice job of it, yet still kept is small and quaint which makes for a very easy travel experience. Departing today though we left from LAX because I am en route to a conference in Orlando and only non-stop flights were from LAX. I will say that LAX is a dump. This airport has a lot of remodeling, renovating and updating to be had- it's still stuck in the 70's, not to mention the 90 minute drive from Anaheim to LAX, although some of that was the time it takes Super Shuttle to pick up a few more people. We did have some traffic but arrived about 90 minutes prior to my flight time.
We decided to try Super Shuttle this time from our Anaheim hotel to LAX. We had no need for a rental car and the cost for private limo transport was going to be pretty outrageous, we decided to spend a bit more time getting to the airport to save on cost. For $40, the two of us were transported safely to the airport. Our pick up window of time was 545am-6am and the driver was there at 540am. Of course, at the next stop the passengers overslept and had to rush to get ready and made it to the van at the end of their 15 minute window. We then had two more stops- again with an unprepared/late rider and then the last stop with two people ready and waiting. I think we ultimately left the last stop "on time".
LAX security looked to be a nightmare and I am pretty sure that if I didn't have a Priority boarding pass with my First Class upgrade, I might not have made my flight and I did have a fair amount of time to get through security. TSA of course can only go so fast, but they clearly needed more agents, more stations to move people through. The priority line person was working two lines- one of Priority and the other "common folk", most airports I've seen the Priority TSA agent focus just on Priority line passengers unless they don't have any and then they work the other line intermittently.
Currently, flying Virgin America to Orlando and did spring for the 6 hours prior upgrade to First Class- which I highly recommend. It's super affordable- price based on length of trip, so in this case about $140 one-way and when you consider the free checked bag, the free food, drink and entertainment available to you, the comfort factor, the priority security/boarding, it is money well spent.
Usually, when I travel to Disneyland I visit when they are offering their Travel Agent Appreciate Days; however, they have not offered that since February of 2012. I weighed out the options and we decided to stay off-site at a good neighbor hotel this time. It has been awhile since I stayed at one and it was good to experience this because not all of my clients can afford to stay at the Disney Resorts and plenty of those who can afford it, don't want to spend the money on that. We stayed at the Sheraton Anaheim Resort, also known as "The Castle" hotel. This hotel has been around for decades, I remember staying there over 20 years ago. I had some clients stay here recently and they complained that their room smelled musty, but we didn't experience that ourselves. When we first entered our room it felt a bit stale, but once we circulated the air it was fine. The hotel is a bit dated in some areas and could use new carpets in the hallways and rooms. The room itself was huge. The bathroom was VERY small. They could have easily taken a chunk out of the room and added it to the bathroom for more functionality. There is no way two people are getting ready at the same time in this bathroom. Furnishings were nice and there was a large sofa that pulls out along with a sitting area to accommodate more guests in the room. The lobby restaurant and bar were both very good. Cynthia, the bartender was so friendly and had so many good stories to tell. She looks, talks and has mannerisms that reminded me of Barbra Streisand and when I commented on that she broke out in a quick chorus of "People" and she nailed it! So clearly, she has been told this before. The pool area is nice and kept clean, you can order pool service from a house phone and they will deliver to you. We did get to enjoy a few hours by the pool on our last day since the parks were crowded and we were DONE! It was also the nicest weather day of our stay.
This visit was for our 7th Wedding Anniversary and I must say that it was my first time visiting the parks for a "celebration". It's pretty cool and Disney knows how to make anyone feel special when celebrating an occasion. We were given "Happy Anniversary" buttons to wear, which my husband obliged with a grin. Gotta say that I do have a wonderful husband and for him to wear the button two days in a row says volumes to how much I am loved. Every time we came into contact with a cast member, we were wished a Happy Anniversary and in some cases given preferential treatment for an attraction. For example, when going to Star Tours, they gave us a special fast pass that allowed us to get in the speedy line and bypass quite a few people in the normal line.
We had purchased two day park hopper passes and now in hindsight we really could have gone with one park per day passes and saved a bit of money, but you just never know how your plans are going to lay out. We went to Disney's California Adventure on our first full day, which was a Sunday. We arrived at the park a bit before 8am and waited by the roped off area that would lead us to CARS LAND once the park officially opened at 8am. We made our way to Radiator Springs Racers and waited about 30 minutes. What a great ride! We then spent time doing the other two rides in Cars Land. The Luigi's Flying Tires were a complete waste of time. Boring ride and in my opinion it just didn't cut it. I am hoping in the years to come that Disney decides to can this ride and do something different with the Luigi Tire theme. Tow Mater's Tractor Ride was pretty fun- best part of that was hearing Mater give the safety announcement in Spanish- HILARIOUS. I would actually go on this ride again and again just to hear that announcement. Once we were done in CARS LAND we thought we'd go to get a Fast Pass for Radiator Springs Racers for later in the day- but they were already sold out for the day. They go QUICK. So now in hindsight- I would recommend going straight to the ride and enjoy it once, then go directly to the fast pass distribution to get that for later in the day. We did return around dinner time and waited 2 hours to ride it again. There were times during the day that it was up to 150 minute wait.
We spent the rest of the day going on our favorite rides and most of the lines were pretty decent and/or we played the Fast Pass game correctly. We went to see "Aladdin" at the Hyperion Theatre which I've never seen- it was very, very good. TIP: arrive early to get best seats. The theatre is HUGE and if you get there late you have to climb a gazillion stairs to reach the balcony - seriously- a gazillion.
Some other new things going on at Disney's California Adventure - with the opening of CARS LAND, the entire entrance to the park was revamped and is now Buena Vista Street- a "Main street" of sorts and takes you back to the beginning days of Hollywood. There is a new restaurant Carthay's which is a table service venue with a pretty expansive bar/lounge on the lower level. The décor inside is intended to replicate the famed Carthay Theatre, with the addition of a painted mural on the ceiling of Sleeping Beauty's Enchanted Forest. It's a beautiful venue and we had an excellent lunch. Definitely a place for "foodies" or anyone who wants something other than traditional amusement park crap food.
Alcohol is popping up in more places in Disney's California Adventure- which for many parents is a welcomed sight. You can now purchase beer from several beverage stands around the park, there is a stand for margaritas and then there are the few restaurant venues with bars: Ariel's Grotto, Carthay's and Wine Trattoria.
Second day we spent at Disneyland and arrived just after it's 8am opening and the park was relatively empty. Within the first hour we had gone on Space Mountain, Star Tours, Buzz Astro Blasters and the Matterhorn. Our longest wait was the Matterhorn which was about 20 minutes. We then took a break for Character Breakfast at the Plaza Inn and when we were done, it was like the crowds had unleashed on Disneyland. We managed a few more hours going on some favorite rides and taking a look at the new Royal Theatre where there are daily stage shows of "Princess" Fairy Tales, then next to it a place to meet & greet your favorite Princesses throughout the day. We never made it to Toontown or to It's a Small World. We left the park at 230pm and headed back to the hotel for fun by the pool. Great decision- a place where no strollers, wheelchairs or motorized carts exist.
Our notable meals were of course the lunch at Carthay's that I mentioned above and then dinner at Napa Rose inside Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. Since it was our anniversary, we wanted to have a special meal and Napa Rose did not disappoint. It was an amazing evening with great presentation of food, great preparation and food that simply melted in your mouth. They took very special care of us. The meal was about 2 hours long and you never felt rushed. Definitely a 5 star experience.
A great time celebrating our Anniversary. We could have done without the crowds on Monday (actual anniversary day). We have gone on Mondays before and it's been fabulous, but we never go in the summer (mistake one) and there were quite a few school groups with matching t-shirts, so I think it was a bad time with graduation groups, end of year field trips, etc. It probably get better after 3-4pm as I suspect many of these school trips had to get back to school for dismissal.
Since we are country dancers, we usually try to visit a Country night club whenever possible out of town. We knew that a place had opened up just minutes from Disneyland a few years ago and wanted to check it out. It's called The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon and WOW, what a place. The Restaurant is 5 star, beautifully decorated, very attentive service. What I noticed was that they had several managers and assistant managers making the rounds and checking on guests. We had several people wish us Happy Anniversary and they gave us a special dessert on the house. They knew we planned on going dancing next door, so they escorted us over afterwards and we did not have to pay the cover charge since we had just dined with them. Cover would have been $10 per person, which is reasonable; however, the drinks were quite pricey. A round of drinks was $18- this was a glass of champagne and a jack on the rocks. Service by the dance floor was not very good, we had to go get drinks from the bar ourselves several times. But otherwise, it was a great place. They call all of the dances so there is no confusion about what you need to be doing if you're on the dance floor and the band was excellent, probably one of the best cover bands that we've ever seen at a Country Bar.