The California Disney parks (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure) have been my favorite theme parks for some time with the true magic of Disney, but a little bit smaller than Disney World in Orlando. It’s been nearly four years since I was last at Disneyland, so I figured while in Southern California, I may as well check out the new Star Wars area of the park. I was also excited to finally see Disneyland with Christmas decorations.
While there were definitely some ups and downs (while trying Disney’s Genie+), I really enjoyed being back in the park, though I’m not sure how much more Disney can raise prices before they stop being able to sell tickets.
I visited on Friday December 16th, so I did not know whether to expect crazy holiday crowds or more of a standard weekday crowd.
This review is part of my Trip Report: Southern California 2022:
- The Final Companion Pass Flight: DCA-SNA
- Hotel Review: Sheraton Park Hotel Disneyland
- The Happiest Place on Earth: My One-Day Disneyland Experience
- Lakers vs. Nuggets: Box Seats
- Hotel Review: Hilton Checkers Los Angeles
After having some breakfast at the Sheraton, I walked roughly 7-8 minutes over to the entrance of the park, a nice and simple process. I entered at 7:45ish in order to be in the park for rope drop so I could get to some of the busiest rides before the lines grew far too long.
First thing I did was hustle to Rise of the Resistance, one of the most popular rides in the Star Wars land part of the park. Somehow, despite my early start time, when I arrived there was a 40-minute wait for the ride. Knowing it would only get longer, I chose to ride, and the line only ended up taking about 25 minutes. It was WELL worth it; I really did enjoy the ride, which was well designed.
From there, I made my way to some of the other popular rides such as Indiana Jones’ Adventure and the Haunted Mansion’s Christmas experience.
Rather than list out all of the rides I went on, I will summarize that I started with typically long-wait rides before going on more classic rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Pinocchio. From there, I started using the lighting lane (fast pass) I got from paying for Genie+. This helped on rides such as Big Thunder Mountain.
After making my way through those rides, I went on the rides that have single rider lines quite a few times since there was really no wait. From there, I used some more lightning lanes and then called it a day at about 4pm. I know the park is open until midnight, but I needed to make my way up to LA for a Lakers game.
In total I spent about 8 hours in the park and went on 23 rides, including almost every ride and doubling up on my favorites. This worked out to be a ride just about every 20ish minutes, not including the time I spent walking around or eating. Overall, I find this statistic impressive relative to the fact that many of the rides stated await time of easily 45–60-minute, ballpark.
The mix of arriving early, using lightning lanes and single rider lines allowed me to do pretty much everything I wanted to do in the park. I have more thoughts on the use of these strategies, but I will save that for another story.
Most people think that theme park food is theme park food, but Disney definitely tries to do it differently. And while a Mickey-shaped pretzel is still a pretzel, I am a firm believer that the way they present the food plays a large role in making the Disneyland experience that much better.
I could write a pretty sizable comparison of the sugary treats in California Adventure from the last time I visited (and looking back somehow tried to taste every ice-cream option they had), but this visit was more focused on the rides than the sweets.
Since I was not in the park for that long, I knew I was only really going to have two things to eat: lunch and a sweet treat. While there were quite a few options for lunch, I wanted to try something Star Wars themed since this area was a major driver in my decision to go to Disneyland in the first place.
For lunch I had Endorian Roasted Chicken Salad at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t anything super special. To be completely honest, I was just happy that I found something gluten free and that was on the healthier side.
It did the trick for lunch and was a perfect stop before going on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. I was able to quickly order on the Disney mobile app, and it was ready for pickup within 5 minutes.
I have to give credit to Disney for their allergy awareness. I have never been to place that is more transparent and straightforward about certain food-related allergies. The app made it clear which options had a special gluten free menu, and although it was limited, it made the experience easier. The same holds true for the other common allergies.
For a snack later on in the day, I went with Dole Whip, after all, how could I not? The sweet, pineapple treat was the perfect snack and patrons have the option between a float and just a bowl of this vegan dessert (isn’t it crazy that there is no dairy in it).
While the food at the park wasn’t anything over the top or too special, I enjoyed the taste and ease of my dining experiences and would happily choose the same options on a return visit.
I am not typically a parade goer at theme parks. I would much prefer to go on more rides while the lines are shorter by distracted park guests. However, since the Christmas parade was at 3:30 and I was leaving at 4, and my goal was to see Disney during Christmas, I figured I would check out what the magic was all about. If I am being completely honest, I was also somewhat trapped by the parade route and unable to make it to the next ride.
People lined the streets of the parade route early in order to get a front row spot. While I usually would never do this, I did end up enjoying the parade. The Christmas music was enjoyed by adults and children alike. It was fun to see classic Disney characters dancing to catchy songs as they marched down the street.
Some, like Santa, made appearances, and although it wasn’t the highlight of the park for me by any means, I can see why so many people enjoy the parades at Disney theme parks. The downside is that it was very restrictive in terms of getting around and it did prevent me from walking towards the next ride I wanted to go on.
This is the part that packs the punch: the price. Disney does offer a number of decent discounts if you are a California resident, but, unfortunately, I am not. Additionally, multi-day tickets come at a good discount on a per-day basis, but I only needed a 1-day 1-park ticket, and the price was steep.
I’ll cut to the chase; I spent $169 on a one-day ticket, which is shockingly high, especially for a college student. The day I went to Disneyland was a Tier 5 day so the prices were similar to those endured during peak season. Figuring lines near the winter holidays would be outrageous, I also bought Genie+ for $25.
After shopping around, I saw some good options such as buying a 2-day ticket through AAA for $265, which really is not too bad for use on busier days. You can also do Disney much cheaper by not going around the winter holidays.
At least I was able to put it on our Capital One Savor card and gain 4% cashback on entertainment, but another option would be to purchase discounted Disney gift cards and then purchase the Disney tickets with the gift cards.
In summary, would I have preferred to not spend $194 for the day in a theme park? Yes, but did I still enjoy my time? Absolutely. I guess I am just concerned Disney ticket prices are making Disney magic cost inhibitive for many families.
The Last Point
I had a magical time at Disney, and I would happily do it again, but my concerns are two-fold: the prices are outrageous, and the park experience is too tied to mobile phone use. I already explained my worries with the pricing, but I wish that lighting lanes were more like the former fast pass that did not require strategic phone use in order to enjoy shorter lines.
I am aware that these aspects should theoretically make the experience better in the park by limiting crowding and shortening lines, but I feel like Disneyland is becoming more and more of a strategic game rather than a leisurely vacation. You win some, you lose some, but I am happy with my time in the park.
I will write more about whether or not I believe Genie+ is worth it as well as strategies to save time from lines, but I nonetheless had a good time at the happiest place on earth.
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