DisneylandTrip Reports

Trip Report – Disneyland – October 2023

Disneyland Trip Report - October 2023

There is a right way to visit a Disney Park for the first time. 

In 2010, I entered the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. I went in without any expectations, research, or plan. Impressive – yes. Magical – eh, not so much. See, we treated our trip like we would traveling to Kennywood (regional theme park near Pittsburgh). We attended the park for the day – without any knowledge of everything else that was available to us. I left the park that day saying “that was cool”…not saying “that was the most magical place on earth”. My lack of planning robbed me of the first experience I should have had.

Disneyland would not be the same.

Trip Details

  • Dates: October 20, 2023 to October 25, 2023
  • Location: On-Property – Disneyland Hotel
  • Party Size: 5 (39, 39, 16, 13, 6)

Planning Our Trip to Disneyland

Since 2014, we’ve become super fans. Thankfully my second trip was on property and we booked the proper amount of time (5-days). Since my experience was drastically different, I knew that I wanted to do it “right” for Disneyland.

Travel Agent

Even before we booked the trip through a travel agent, we enlisted our internal travel planner – Lauren. I won’t lie, I’ve stepped back years ago with planning. She knows our family well enough to know what we like, what we can tolerate, and how to make our trip the best. And for prices, she’s far wiser when it comes to air travel, hotel rates, and food budgets. She could give us a price and I can run our household numbers to see if it makes sense.

But even with her abilities, we just didn’t know Disneyland from a traveling perspective. I know the parks, lands, and attractions – but I’ve always ignored the specifics and rules on how to plan for the park. In my eyes, I would learn this when I needed it… Sadly, I was far too busy this year to do the deep dive.

We decided to work with Storybook Destinations from the glowing reviews and advertisements from the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network. Lauren did all of the talking. With their help, Lauren learned the do’s and don’ts of booking a flight, using Genie+, reserving dining, and maximizing our enjoyment. I think we saved time, money, and stress because we had an advisor on our side.

Hersey family at Pittsburgh Airport

Flights and Getting to the Resort

The genius of Lauren booked us an early flight and the 3-hour difference would cancel out our flight time. We could land in John Wayne Airport and head right to the park and get a full park day. That’s what we did.

We flew out of Pittsburgh with a layover in Colorado. Our six-year-old did great at the airport and in the plane. This was our initial worry, but the worst part of the travel was the fact that I needed to sit next to the “stranger” each trip. This created unnecessary conversations, when naturally I just want to be left alone and listen to a podcast. Yes, I tap into my super introvert when I travel.

A huge win for this trip was the fact I didn’t need to drive at all. Lauren had a car service pick us up at the airport and drive us directly to the hotel. Southwest lost our luggage during the layover – but we were lucky and they had them to us by the time we entered our room that night. 

It was crazy to hear about how things work in California. At the time, the cost of gas was over $6 per gallon (it was $3 in West Virginia). The driver told us all about the layout of Anaheim and pointed out all of the major landmarks from the airport to the Disneyland Resort. 

The Disneyland Hotel

We booked five nights at the original hotel – The Disneyland Hotel. Yes, this decision is what cost the most money but if we were traveling across the county, let’s do it right. Both Lauren and I were probably most excited to stay and explore the hotel – on equal level of visiting the park. We were dropped off at the front of the hotel and never left property. 

Kids at Disneyland Hotel

The Disneyland Hotel was a different vibe than any other Disney Hotel I’ve visited. It was 100% Disney, but just felt special. I guess it would be most similar to walking into The Contemporary – but a little more Disney. There were full sized tea cups in the lobby, a retail shop right off from the entrance, and a hallway leading to a whole section that was a convention center. 

We checked in and explored the area slightly. Our room wasn’t quite ready so we dropped off our luggage and made our way through Downtown Disney so we could visit Disneyland Park. Ten minutes later, there we were. Standing in front the famous entrance of the “Happiest Place on Earth”.

Disneyland Day 1

We entered the park around 11:00 AM and I was pretty deliberate that I didn’t want to rush down Main Street. I wanted to take it all in. Mind you, Main Street USA is my favorite land in all of the parks. The park was decorated for Halloween, so we had the giant pumpkin at the front of the park. 

It was quite crazy to see Sleeping Beauty Castle for the first time. I’m used to Cinderella Castle, so at first you are taken back by the size. I will tell you, after a few times seeing it, I became accustomed. 

Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle

And what was our first attraction? Mr. Toads Wild Ride. We were all excited to experience a new dark ride and one with such history. We immediately followed up with the Storybook Land Canal Boats. Although this ride was a bit of a let down, I was happy to experience a classic.

We made our way towards Toontown, a land we were all excited to experience, but headed to “it’s a small world” first. This was when the family and I realized that we would be comparing WDW and DL attractions the entire trip. The Disney characters in “small world” was cool, but I’m not sure it was 100% better than our WDW version. 

We made it to Toontown and cashed in on our first Genie+ Lightning Lane – “Roger Rabbit Cartoon Spin”. The ride was fun and new. We didn’t explore Toontown at this time, but did get a taste and we would surely come back for more.

We were going to rock the Lightning Lane for the next few attractions and booked our way to “Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters” followed by a trek to New Orleans Square and witnessed the famous “Haunted Mansion Holiday”.  “Haunted Mansion” in WDW is my absolute favorite and the Disneyland experience was equal in greatness. Walking by the portraits and busts were unique and different. Of course, the entire attraction had a holiday overlay, so I wouldn’t compare. This was the first time I saw the Hatbox Ghost – and that was an amazing addition.

We made our way back to Tomorrowland and hoped on the Submarine Voyage. We were all excited to experience this classic, but it was dark and I started to nod off. We need to go for a walk – so we made it through the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough. Was it amazing? No. But it was a nice and different. These little attractions are welcomed in my eyes. Not everything needs to be an E ticket.

We used our last Lightning Lane of the day and the kids and I took a trip on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. It lived up to the hype…and was as rough as one described. 

We saved the best for last and finally got to see what the hype was about. We waited in line and board the “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Yes – this attraction is the superior version. Personally, I love the queue at Walt Disney World, but the additional scenes on the attraction certainly added to this attraction. 

We finished the night off with a dinner at the Blue Bayou. The food was great. The atmosphere was just as great. It also lived up to the hype.

Our room was waiting for us and we decided it had been a long day and we would check in and call it a night. We landed in the Frontierland Tower and crashed. Tomorrow we would take on DCA for the first time and take full advantage of our early park entry. 

Disney’s California Adventure Day 2

I just remember hearing that John Hench preferred DCA as a parking lot, so I was slightly nervous when it came to trying the “other” Disneyland resort. Unlike Mr. Hench, I loved Disney’s California Adventure. Mind you, a lot had changed since opening day. Including the addition of Cars Land and Avenger Campus. 

We arrived at 7:30 AM for early entry. The east coast hack is that it felt like 10:30, so we were still well rested. We rope dropped “Web Slingers” and then jumped in line for “Radiator Springs Racers”. Well, we found ourselves stuck in line while there was an issue with the ride plus we had someone pass out. After a longer than expected wait, we witnessed what some would call the main attraction of this park. 

Using our Lightning Lane, we ventured to Pixar Pier and rode the “Incredicoaster”, which might be my favorite coaster of all time. Intense enough for a good thrill, long enough to feel value in your wait, and more entertaining than any other coaster that I could remember. 

While hanging out in that area, we hit up “Emotional Whirlwind” and “Silly Symphony Swings”. We also sampled the “Voyage of the Little Mermaid” which was easily the most identical attraction we rode during our entire trip. Besides the load, it was just like we were at WDW.

As much I dreaded doing a drop ride, I had to experience “Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout”. The queue was fun and the reshot was great. It was a great attraction, given my fear of heights and anxiety when it comes to surprise drops. We were hoping for Elvis, but maybe next time. The absolute best part was seeing the squid and abdominal snowman in the queue (we were told to take pictures by my 6-year-old).

While the big kids and I rode Guardians, Miles and Lauren hit up the animation area and met Olaf and Elsa. Our Lightning Lane for Mike and Sulley to the Rescue was up and we boarded this DCA exclusive. 

Next up was to meet some superheroes. We just so happened be walking by when Iron Man came out for pictures…followed by Ant Man and then Doctor Strange. Speaking of Ant Man, we had lunch at Pym’s Kitchen. This was an amazing concept and the food was so-so. The overall Avengers Campus land was fun and something new for WDW visitors who’ve rarely witnessed the MCU in the park.

We wanted to stick around for the Spider-Man stunt show, but had to wait an hour or so before the next launch. In the interim, we experienced the “Jumpin’ Jellyfish” – which seems pretty innocent. Although not in a panic, the fear of heights was still slightly triggered. It’s a bit humorous. 

The lands at DCA seem so close together. We could jump from one to the other without feeling like it was all the way across the park. We used a Lightning Lane on “Midway Mania” and then “Goofy’s Sky School”. While in line, Lauren pointed out Jeff Lewis, so there was our first celebrity sighting. 

We were having one heck of a day and just hammering out attractions. We added to the list by riding the Halloween overlay of Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. This was also a great time to explore Cars Land and take all of the Halloween decorations in.

Before finishing up for the night, we had to visit the original Soarin’ – which was playing the same “around the world” as in WDW. That was a bummer (but we did manage to do “over California” one month later in WDW). 

And finally, we experienced the pixie dust a family could only wish for. Clueless about how to view “World of Color”, we asked a cast member where we should go to view and she said “come with me”. She walked us down to the front and placed us in a perfect location (one reserved for those who booked a special entry). This version was called  “World of Color One” and was quite amazing. There was a scene that depicted Star Wars lightsabers using lasers and water that was simply spectacular. This was a fantastic way to end the night. 

Disneyland Day 3

It was our first time hitting up Disneyland first thing in the morning – and it paid off. Well, kind of. Turns out most of the attractions were not open during early entry. We went jetting towards Toontown, only realizing that our first choice “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway” was not open. Instead, we jumped in some tea cups and experienced “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey”. Tea Cups – loved this version. Pinocchio – I loved this dark ride. 

After finishing, we went over to Toontown that was now open. Honestly, “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway”’s queue was amazing. The attraction was the same as in Hollywood Studios – but the queue with the classic Mickey props were worth any wait. In fact, we were actually upset later in this trip when we skipped due to Lightning Lane. Miles, our six year old, watched some online videos earlier that week and wanted to show us all of the Easter eggs and props he learned about. Such a great queue.

After “Railway”, we jumped over to “Gadgets Go Coaster” and did it back to back. It was fun to look for our friend Jim Shull’s drawing on the wall near the entry that had his name. Just in general, knowing Jim designed most of this ride made it special for my kids (who are always excited to hear about rides Jim worked on.)

Toontown was great this morning. We were at the right place at the right time when Pete came out and started meeting some guests. Next came Mickey and he grabbed Miles and walked him in to his house (the first guest of the day). How amazing to have Mickey personally escort Miles to his dressing room. This morning has already been amazing and only going to continue.

One, if not the, ride I was most excited about was “Indiana Jones Adventure”. As you can tell, anything that’s “new” and not similar to a WDW attraction excited me. It’s not just the attraction, but the queue and everything surrounding these attractions. There’s something about trying something new or for the first time. We truly enjoyed this attraction – even though the 6-year-old was a bit terrified. 

Next door, we jumped on the World Famous “Jungle Cruise”. It was fun to think that this was indeed the same route that Harper Goff sketched out with a stick. 

Now the “Winnie the Pooh” attraction might not seem like much, but both Miles and I were excited to see the remnants of the “Country Bears” on the ride. I managed to snap a photo of Buff, Melvin, and Max.

As you can see, the morning was just jammed packed with attractions. We hit up the original Tiki Room, Snow Whites Enchanted Wish, Autopia, and a new favorite of mine – Alice in Wonderland. We maximize our Lightning Lanes and experienced Big Thunder Mountain and our second time on Haunted Mansion Holiday.

At this point, we wanted to use the monorail but not just as an attraction. We took a trip back to the hotel to take a midday break. Although it was indeed a monorail, it was far different than WDWs. Folding the stroller was a bit of a pain, but we needed to experience this classic.

We returned to the park after a few hours of a break. During our downtime, we stacked our Lightning Lanes, so we made our way back on to Runaway Railway. We finally journeyed to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and step foot on the Millennium Falcon. It’s funny to think that I literally did not care if we saw the west coast version of this land. Why spend time in a land that was nearly identical to what I’ve witnessed dozens of times in Florida? 

At this point, we were getting tired and running out of energy. We tried our best at Buzz Lightyears Astro Blaster (using another Lightning Lane) and finished up the night with an epic round trip train ride. Let’s acknowledge how amazing the scenes from the 1964 Worlds Fair. We were only able to take the train once this trip; I regret not doing it several times.

California Adventure Day 4

This being our second time visiting California Adventure, we had the lay of the land and a game plan – rope drop “Radiator Springs Racers”. And that we did. We utilized that early entry and found ourselves with a very minimal wait to see our friends from the “Cars” franchise. This was truthfully an amazing attraction and there’s no wonder why it always has a long wait.

It was still early and we were still beating most of the guests in the park – which took us over to “WEBslingers”, followed by the “Monsters Inc.” attraction. Unlike many of the Disney Parks we’ve visited, jumping from land to land was so easy at California Adventure. For this reason, we made the jump to Pixar Pier and were going to hammer out most of these attractions.

If I haven’t already said it, I’m a big fan of the “Incredicoaster” – so, of course, we rode this attraction again. While waiting with Miles (we did a rider swap since he didn’t want to do the attraction again), we went on “Jessie’s Critter Carousel”. I mean, carousel’s are somewhat all the same – but we checked it off of our list. 

While in Pixar Pier, we took advantage of our Lightning Lane service and checked out “Toy Story’s Midway Mania”. Afterwards, we took advantage of the actual midway games next door. We purchased some of the coins that were required to play the game and the kids took their stabs at winning some plush Disney characters. There were several games, one including the characters from the Pixar short “La Luna”, “A Bugs Life”, Bullseye from “Toy Story”, and “Wall-E”. 

We all walked away with a stuffed animal – which I would need to squeeze after our next attraction. Although I hate heights, I felt we needed to ride the giant Mickey Ferris Wheel – also known as “Pixar Pal-A-Round”. This attraction has two options: one that swings and one that is stationary. Not really thinking about my own sanity, we jumped in line for the swinging option. And for the next 7-10 minutes, I tried not to look anywhere but straight ahead. 

Over the next few hours, we managed to jump all around the park using Lightning Lanes and popping into queues that were short. We checked the “Golden Zephyr” off of our list, while also hitting up “WEBslingers” and “Incredicoaster” again.

Even though the waits were long, we needed to ride “Mater” and “Luigi”. I know “Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree” is the same ride system as “Alien Swirling Saucers”, but as a completist, I just had to experience this version. This time around, the attraction had a halloween overlay and aptly renamed to the “JamBOOree”. “Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters” was a new attraction type and was quite fun – although nothing to write home about.

We had enough of the theme park for the morning and had a scheduled DVC appointment to view their new hotel tower. While the kids went swimming, Lauren and I explored the tower and several of the rooms. The tour guide also took us behind the Frontierland Tower to a mock-up of an Aulani room. 

It wasn’t extraordinarily hot, so I did not join the kids in the pool. I did, on the other hand, decide that I must try the Monorail themed slide, just once. 

After cleaning up, we went back to the park for the evening, making a dinner reservation at “Wine Country Trattoria”. Before we went to our reservation, Hunter and Lauren grabbed a Lightning Lane for “Mission Breakout: Monsters After Dark”. Even with a LL, they waited nearly 45-minutes and showed up a bit late to our reservation.

We all enjoyed our meal and decided that it was time to take a nice trip around the park on the Trolley – which we did from the park entrance, to Hollywood, and back to the front of the park. We needed to venture to one part of the park we’ve yet to explore – Grizzly Peak. No, we did not check off “Grizzly River Run”, but we all explored the “Redwood Creek Challenge” – until it closed down. 

We circled our way out of “Grizzly Peak” and was near “Goofy’s Sky School”. We took one last ride and went back to rest for the night.

Disneyland Day 5

It was our final day and I had a few additional attractions I needed to mark off of my list, while also wanting to enjoy some of our favorites again. We knew that if we were going to do “Peter Pan’s Flight”, we would need to get there early. So we did – at 7:30 AM. 

We hammered out Fantasyland this morning – “Peter Pan”, “Snow White”, “Pinocchio”, “Mr. Toad”, “Alice”, “Dumbo”, and even “King Arthur Carrousel”. It really is quite amazing how many attractions you can do if you get up early and don’t have to walk across the entire park. 

We jumped over to New Orleans Square to experience a few of our favorites: “Haunted Mansion Holiday” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. We even decided to take the trip over to “Tom Sawyer’s Island” and Miles and Hunter explored the caves. Lauren had enough of that and we took a boat back over to the mainland for our “Indiana Jones” Lightning Lane. 

It was now getting towards midday and were going to take a break, but first we nabbed a LL for “Star Tours”. Even though we’ve done “Star Tours” a hundred times in Florida, we needed to experience the queue and see the show building of the California version. Once finished, we jumped on the Monorail, but not to go back to the hotel, just for the ride. And we said we needed a break, again, not to the hotel but to check out the DVC Lounge. 

We weren’t actually even aware that the old “Star Wars Launch Bay” was converted to a lounge. We saw a cast member standing near the ramp and asked. Next thing you knew, we were being escorted into the building and I was sneaking my head around every corner to see what was all hidden in there. 

The lounge was rather large and actually very quiet. In Florida, there isn’t an empty seat and usually a waiting list. This version had maybe two families – which I am not complaining about. The open space had amazing artwork and furniture that fit a mid-century modern, early Tomorrowland vibe. We could have literally stayed there for hours, but we had Lightning Lanes calling.

We voyaged back to ToonTown for “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway”. Once finished, we let Miles play in Goofy’s house. At the time, there was still construction on some of the area (maybe Chip and Dales house?), but Miles had plenty to explore. 

Next up was “Big Thunder”, followed by the moment I was waiting for. For the last several months, I was touting “Casey Jr. Circus Train” as one of the main attractions I wanted to experience. Was it a joke or was it real? Oh, it was real. Something so simple, yet we didn’t have one in Florida AND it’s an original attraction. We got in queue, as the park started to fill with guests, and waited 10-15 minutes. As we advanced, we had a chance the best vehicle – the cage! The whole family jumped in the cage and experienced “Casey Jr.”. This cute attraction was much longer than I expected and probably the highlight of my trip. Yes, the highlight. It was the last “ride” we would experience.

At this time, Miles fell asleep in the stroller as we chugged down Main Street USA. Lauren camped out in front of the train station, thinking this would be a great spot for the fireworks. After a while, we realized no one else was camping out. Turns out fireworks only happen on the weekends, but we would get a Halloween projection show. 

As she waited, the kids and I went to see Mr. Lincoln. Tired and probably not recovered from such thrill on “Casey Jr.”, we weren’t quite in the mood for “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and a few of us might have nodded off a bit. 

We finished up the day watching the Halloween projection show, which was as expected. Would have we loved to see the fireworks to end our trip? Absolutely, but a projection show was fine enough. 

We were quite exhausted from the day (and possibly the trip) and tomorrow we would do hard part and travel back to West Virginia.

Leaving Disneyland

After packing up and getting our things together, we spent a few last moments on property. Our driver wouldn’t be arriving for an hour, so we ordered breakfast from “Tangaroa Terrace”. This bar and grill had Polynesian vibes – especially with the food. We ate inside and once finished camped out at the entrance of the Disneyland Hotel – which had couches and comfortable chairs. Soon, our transportation arrived and we waved goodbye to the Disneyland Resort. 

Traveling home was just like any other plane ride. We had one stop in Las Vegas and then a direct flight to Pittsburgh. We sat towards the back of the plane and just watched our iPads and phones. A few hours and timezones later, we were in our van, heading to Wheeling. 

Overall Thoughts of Disneyland

Before our trip, I had people giving us all types of opinions. Some would say “you won’t like Disneyland because it’s so small”. Others would suggest “You will love Disneyland”. I was actually a bit scared that I would go and not be impressed. It’s possibly a reason why I pushed this vacation off for so many years. 

The Disneyland that was in my “head” was amazing. What if the real thing didn’t live up? It’s kind of like what people say “Don’t meet your heroes”. What if the Disneyland hype wasn’t real? For years, I would rather believe in the hype and not jeopardize my feelings. 

No surprise here (after nearly 4000 words documenting my trip), I loved Disneyland and it was actually even better than what I dreamed of. It wasn’t even the history that really drove me to this decision. I loved everything being associated with Walt, but more so, I loved how everything was so convenient. Walking from land to land – or even from the hotel – was so easy. Bag check was easy. Transportation was easy. Getting to your room was easy. Getting on attractions without waiting was easy. 

Granted, we paid for some of this ease. Since I thought this would be our once-in-a-lifetime trip, we paid for Genie+ each day. We also stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, offering easy access and early entry. If we came all of the time, I imagine we would have to wait longer and there might be more pains (parking, trams, etc…). 

The question I got was “was it better than Walt Disney World”? If the person was asking me had children, I found the best response was “it’s like picking between your kids”. You love them for different reasons. It certainly was fun to compare the attractions and take notes on what you liked more or less, but overall, it was just an entirely different vibe. It was still busy and expensive, but it was new. This makes it really hard to know if I viewed everything with rose colored glasses because every turn was a new experience, attraction, or thing I’ve never encountered. It would be interesting to see on our next trip.

And yes, I said next trip. It will be impossible for me to make this a one-and-done. There are still a few attractions (looking at you ‘closed’ “Space Mountain”) that I must experience. There are still tons of shops and eateries we have to try. There are even more hidden easter eggs and historical artifacts that I need to explore. 

Thankfully, we did Disneyland right for our first trip. We spent the time, the money, and energy into ensuring that we would know if this was a park we wanted to visit again. The conclusion was: it is the Happiest Place on Earth. 


Eric Hersey

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