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“Most of all what I want Disneyland to be is a happy place—where parents and children can have fun together.”
– Walt Disney
As I read those words on the iconic “Partners” statue in the heart of the happiest place on earth, my eyes welled with tears. Walt wanted to create a place where everyone – old and young, rich and poor, sick and healthy, could come and have fun together. And he’d done it – I truly believe that everyone, no matter how sick, will have fun here. Plus, it’s affordable, and offers some amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences just for the holiday season.
As soon as I arrived, I knew I’d made the right choice. As we walked through the gates, the music from The Santa Clause where Tim Allen sees the North Pole for the first time was playing.
And I burst into tears right then and there! I hadn’t even seen the castle yet, and this was already the most magical place I’d ever been to.
After half dragging his sobbing wife past the two parks and through Downtown Disney, we found the Disney Travel Company and upgraded our Disneyland tickets from one day to two. We had thought we’d spend our first day exploring the hotel and the free-of-charge Downtown Disney area, but as we arrived early in the morning, we realized we had PLENTY of time for another Disney day. The process was quick and easy, and before we’d even woken up all the way we found ourselves on the monorail.
Of course, we could have walked the length of Downtown Disney again and entered through the main gate, but there’s a monorail entrance right outside the Travel Company. We wouldn’t get the ooh ahh walk up to the castle, but we would conserve some energy and “spoons” by taking the monorail. And really, the monorail is just as iconic and Disney as main street.
Taking the monorail in, a voice over directs your attention to the various attractions you’re flying over. It’s a great way to get your bearings as you arrive, and decide what to do first!
Before I get in to the various attractions and their unique aspects that may encourage or deter certain guests with specific conditions, I do want to say that I think 2 days is the perfect amount of time to explore everything Disneyland has to offer. We did everything we wanted to do, and, as we visited mere days before Christmas, it was fairly crowded. If you want to get the whole Holiday experience, but without the crowds, I suggest going in early December or after Christmas. The park stays Christmasified from the day after Thanksgiving up until the new year.
On to the attractions!
Alright, I understand that most adults don’t come to Disneyland to “meet Mickey,” but I do! I adore character greetings. They’re a free souvenir if you bring a camera – my pictures with the characters are always my favorite. The wait times are generally very low, and of course, it’s a fun experience that doesn’t require a lot of energy.
This is a good time for me to mention a side note on wait times – if you never want to wait more than 15 or 20 minutes for an attraction, it’s totally do-able. I only waited in one line longer than that, and it was completely my choice to do so – I’ll tell that story when we get there though.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of Characters you can meet. “Human” characters, like my favorite, Mary Poppins –
And non-human characters, like Goofy!
If you have any kind of chemical sensitivity, you may want to stick to the non-human interactions. You know those Disney Princesses are wearing all the makeup in the kingdom. And hairspray. And glitter. So be aware.
But if you can, the human interactions are some of the funnest because you can finally TALK to the characters! In fact, a little girl in front of us asked Rapunzel what happened to Mother Gothel (SPOILER ALERT) and Rapunzel thought about it and said “You know, the last time I saw her, she was falling out a window, and I guess she walked away after that because I haven’t seen her since!”
But, if you can’t tolerate the makeup, the non-human characters can interact just as much! Minnie here didn’t even have a human cast member with her, and she kept her line orderly and made people take turns and be nice without having to say a word.
Oh yeah! Guess who else hangs out around here during the holidays?
Single-file bobsleds take you through a mountain full of yetis, weaving in and out of darkness and fresh mountain air. It’s a fast, fun roller-coaster. I get anxious if I ever feel that falling sensation in my stomach, and this ride was freefall-free I’m happy to say. Did you know that this was the first steel roller-coaster ever?
What I love most about roller-coasters is that it takes you on a crazy adventure with lots of thrills, but requires no physical strength and leaves you winded but energized. You can see my video of this classic ride here.
The Dark Rides
Alice in Wonderland, The Many Adventures of Whinnie the Pooh, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures – these are the Disney dark rides. They’re all located in a strip-mall fashion in fantasyland (except Pooh, which is in Critter Country). These rides are slow-moving, and take you through various classic Disney stories using anamatronics and light tricks. Think of it as a ride and a show combined.
The dark rides are a great thing to do when you’re tired. Lines are usually short, and the rides themselves are whimsical and relaxing. If you’re with a non-sick friend, they definitely won’t mind taking some time to check out these classic attractions. Mr. Toad was one of my favorite rides in the park! You go to HELL at the end. And that’s how it ends! Pretty edgy for Disney! So don’t ever say the dark rides aren’t thrilling!
If you’re totally worn out and need a big break, but don’t want to stop the fun, tour the dark rides!
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
This is like, the funnest ride ever. It’s a roller-coaster that looks like a train, and the story goes that Big Thunder Mountain is chock full of GOLD, and a few other surprises…. this is another roller-coaster with no alarming free-fall feelings, just speed and a rootin’ tootin’ good time. Also, if you’re a southern gal like myself, all the hootenanny will make you feel right at home.
Big Thunder Ranch
This is a neat little area that has a petting zoo, a barbecue restaurant, live music, and even arts and crafts for the kiddos. But here’s a helpful hint if you’re going around the holidays – THIS IS WHERE SANTA IS. I know, it wasn’t the first place I looked, either.
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro-Blasters
This ride has a lot going on, but I’ll explain it the best I can. Picture the dark rides, okay? Slow moving, lots of anamatronics….now, give yourself a steering wheel. Now you can spin around the whole time if you want, and control what parts of the ride you see and don’t see. Now add a RAYGUN, and things just kicked into awesome. It’s a ride that’s also a videogame. AND I WON, hahahaha!
Yeah, you can’t argue with those numbers. What we have in our hands are essentially laser pointers, and throughout the ride there are targets all over the Evil Emperor Zurg and his fellow nogoodniks. The only thing that could cause an issue is the flashing lights. There’s not an excessive amount, but there is one part of the ride that has an optical illusion using lights to make it look like you’re going very fast, even though you’re still going slow. So, if you get motion sickness easily, just close your eyes for that part.
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
You may not know, but I love Abraham Lincoln. He’s one of my heroes. So I was shocked when I walked into this show and found that me and my husband were the ONLY PEOPLE in the whole theater! Even with the holiday crowd! But this became an experience I will never forget. We sat down front row center, and a cast member came up and asked if we had seen the show before.
When we said no, she made herself comfortable and told us that Walt had directed this show himself. Lincoln was a hero of his, and he wanted to pay tribute to our country’s history. Lincoln was the first anamatronic Walt built, and every time there was any advancement in the field, Lincoln was the first to get the new technology. The imagineers have continued this tradition today, making Lincoln the most advanced anamatronic in all of the Disney parks, and perhaps in the world. Walt had been sincerely passionate about this attraction, and to me, it seemed like some lost treasure that people must just not know about.
The show took my breath away. It was inspiring, educational, and seemed to be just as much a tribute to Walt as it was to Honest Abe.
In this same building is a great museum where you can see some beautiful models of both the Disneyland attractions and historic American landmarks such as the White House, continuing the feeling of this simultaneous tribute to Walt and Abe. It’s a great place to get out of the hustle and bustle and experience something truly unique.
The Enchanted Tiki Room
This was one of the last things we did on our last day. I was pretty much literally dragging myself along with no energy left, and this is the perfect attraction for that kind of energy level (it’s also warm in there…it got pretty cold at night). Unlike it’s counterpart in Disneyworld, this version of the attraction has not been modified since it’s opening, making it a unique and very classic experience.
This is a good time for me to address the differences between Disneyland and Disney World. Yes, many of the same rides exist in both parks, but even those attractions are notably different in each park. Some people think that Disneyland is a smaller, lamer version of Disney World – not true at all. They are each very much their “own thing.”
IF YOU ARE EVER IN A DISNEY PARK, DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW.
Seriously, this is the most amazing thing you will ever see. Yes, it may be very crowded, and yes, it’ll be late, and yes, in Disneyland you do have to stand to watch it (Disney World has stadium seating for it – it’s also a very different but equally awesome show). But it is so, so worth it.
How can I sum it up in one sentence? Hmm….Mickey takes on every Disney villain in a fight involving fireworks and waterworks, pirates, princesses, and a giant fire-breathing dragon that can light a whole lake on fire. WHO DOESN’T WANT TO SEE THAT?
Having seen the show in Disney World, I knew just how worth it it was to suffer all that to see it. But Disneyland has a unique option for how to see this glorious glorious show – a little thing called Premium Viewing.
For a pretty penny, you can get seats, dessert, and unlimited cocoa, tea, or coffee to keep you warm and cozy during the show. You have your own private area away from the crowd, and a really great view. It’s well worth the extra charge.
You will still need to endure a rather long wait, though, to get “checked in.” After checking in, though, you have a couple of hours to yourself before the show with no need to fight the crazy crowds that will amass just before it begins. While they clamor, you can take another spin on the haunted mansion – not bad. We just grabbed dinner and ate while we waited in the check in line, so it didn’t really feel like a wait at all.
For me, the extra money was buying me a few more spoons – a chance to sit, relax, and have some chocolate, when I would otherwise be on my feet trying to see over people’s shoulders. You will not regret seeing this show, so why not see it in style?
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
This ride is pretty awesome. You get into a real submarine and see real fish and real reefs, with some occasional appearances of the stars of Finding Nemo.
I did feel a little anxious at first on this ride – there is not much room in that sub. You get your own seat and your own window, but it is a tight, dark space for sure. Once the ride got going, and I focused on my little window into the aquatic world, I forgot I was in an alarmingly small space. The bubble-like glass gives it the same effect an IMAX theater has, essentially a wide angle of view. There’s a lot of space outside the submarine, and it made me feel much less claustrophobic.
The Haunted Mansion Holiday
This was one of my favorite experiences from the whole trip. The Haunted Mansion is an awesome ride already, but add in Jack Skellington and his own special brand of Christmas cheer, and it is on a new level of awesome. Imagineers were allowed to remake the haunted mansion for Christmas on one condition – that they make it different every year.
I don’t know how to communicate what it was like. The music was thrilling, the story fantastic, the effects amazing….it was unlike anything I have ever experienced. This is a big bucket list item for a lot of people – as you can imagine, it’s one of the most popular holiday attractions. The wait was crazy, but by using Disney’s free Fastpass service, we were able to ride it three times with little to no wait at all.
SCENT ADVISORY: This ride used scents in one scene. In the ballroom, the smell of gingerbread whirls around you, presumably from the handmade gingerbread house on the long table. I guess it could actually be the gingerbread, but let’s err on the safe side. Note: To the best of my knowledge, the non-seasonal Haunted Mansion ride does NOT use scents.
Indiana Jones Advendure
This ride is truly unique. It’s like a rollercoaster, sort of. Though it never actually goes too fast. You’re in sort of an all-terrain vehicle, and it feels like your car is careening over boulders and rocky tombs. This ride is based on a new archaeological site in which Indiana Jones is trapped, and needs rescuing. Oh yes, you heard me right – YOU rescue HIM. I know. All your childhood dreams just came true.
Unlike the other roller-coasters I’ve mentioned, I must note that this ride is particularly intense. It’s quite thrilling, and that’s a good thing! But it is scary. Which, for some may not be a good thing. I loved it and went back for seconds, but I know it’s not for everyone. From almost-too-hot fire, to having air shot at you to simulate darts just missing you, this ride has a lot of one of a kind effects that make it one of the best. I know a ride was good when I can’t stop laughing once it’s over – I get that weird trait from my dad.
I don’t have pics from the ride, but you can get this little number in the gift shop. Bonus points if you can spot Donald!
It’s a Small World Holiday
This was probably my favorite thing we did, and I’m saying that after trying to explain the awesomeness of Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones. The Holiday version of this ride plays Jingle Bells in different languages, along with a few other holiday favorites from around the world. Each room is decked out in the seasonal flair unique to each corner of the globe, and I was oohing and ahhing the entire time. Until the end, when I couldn’t help but sing along to the finale – Fa la la la la, la la la LAAA!
SCENT ADVISORY: This ride uses scents throughout! Note: I do not believe that the non-seasonal version uses scents.
Pirates of the Carribean
Okay, I don’t know if this ride just hit me differently than the one in Disney World, but I thought this one was way scarier. The opening seemed dragged out, slowly sailing through underground caves with baleful echoes of “Yo ho…yo ho….a pirate’s life for me…..” and the deep distant bellow of “Deeeead Meeeen Tellll Nooooo Taaaaales.” I found myself cuddled up very close to my husband. Of course, they’ve added in Captain Jack Sparrow, but the ride remains as classic as ever.
Roger Rabbit’s Car-Toon Spin
This ride, located in toon town, is basically a dark ride like the ones in fantasyland, except that you can spin your car around a lot. It’s pretty fun, but the more familiar you are with the movie, the more you’ll like this ride. Some of the things went a bit over my head. But my husband, who knows it much better than me, had a fantastic time.
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
This is a very magical experience. Once you walk through the castle gate, if you go to the left you can enter through a door and climb the tower stairs and explore the dark dungeons. Interactive dioramas throughout show the story of Sleeping Beauty, and it’s really, really cool. Here’s a series of pictures that I took of one:
Now, this is a good time to mention that almost all Disney rides are wheelchair accessible, but this is one of the few that is not. Do not despair though, because to the right of the castle gate is a small room where you can view a filmed version of the walkthrough. Clever!
While we’re on the subject of accessibility, I’d also like to mention that all shows do offer closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing. 🙂 In fact, I came in to contact with so many deaf guests, that later I plan to do an entire post just on Disney with deafness. Spoiler alert – they all had a great time.
This is a thrilling, high speed roller-coaster that is indoors and in the dark. It was the first dark roller-coaster. It’s a classic, and it’s fun for everyone. Also, no free fall! Unlike…
This may shock you, but I hate this ride. I think it’s by far the scariest ride in the park. Not only is that 60ft drop into giant thorns a little off-putting, but I’m not too fond of the mean vultures who tell you to turn back when you obviously can’t, or the little mouse lady who sings about how Brer Rabbit is facing certain death. For a ride that seems so innocent and fun, it’s surprisingly horrifying. But I knew all that getting on (we got stuck on the Disney World version on our honeymoon for about an hour), but here’s what I didn’t know:
First, unlike Disney World’s version, it’s single file. That meant I had to ride alone. Husband would be right in front of me, but after all the nightmares I’d had about this ride, it was not that comforting.
Second, unlike Disney World’s version, they ain’t kidding when they say you may get wet! See, you may be wondering why we’d ride a wet ride when it’s really really cold. Well, in Florida, you might get sprinkled on a little, at most. Here….you apparently get wet. Really wet. I was pretty miserable for the rest of our first day. Luckily, we rode it at night, so it didn’t spoil the entire day, but still. I was not far from giving in and buying an entire overpriced outfit and changing.
I conclusion….I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re very brave and don’t mind having nightmares later.
We were really excited about this one. I’ve ridden the original Star Tours so many times that I had it pretty much memorized, but Disney just opened their new 3D multi-adventure version of the ride. With over 50 destinations, no two rides are ever alike. We only got to ride it twice, but we got to see Yoda, Darth Vader, Leia, the Death Star, Jango Fett, Hoth, and, unfortunately, Jar Jar. But even that wasn’t so bad.
Storybookland Canal Boats
I really didn’t know anything about this ride, but it’s one of the most unique things I’ve ever done. This slow moving boat ride is a tour through a beautiful model-sized land of all the Disney princesses. The little models even had tiny decorations for Christmas! Your tour guide will give you the background on each fantasy location, and at the end you even get to see Atlantica without getting wet! It might seem like a kiddie ride at first glance, but I’m so glad we happened to ride it!
Christmas Fantasy Parade
They show this every year on TV, but for some reason I’ve never watched it. It. Was. Amazing. Way more magical that I ever thought a parade could be. However, please learn from my mistake and plan to go get a good spot to watch it! Not only am I invisibly ill, but I’m also visibly short. I actually had to sit on my husband’s shoulders to see. I’m lucky to be married to a big strong man, but he would have appreciated us getting better spots in the first place.
Believe in Holiday Magic Fireworks
I was ready to say I was too tired to stay for this, but I’m glad we did. Disney firework shows are always amazing and always make me cry tears of wonder and joy, and the Christmas version did not disappoint. I didn’t love standing, or how crowded it was, but the lights captivated me and I was in my own world. At the end of the show, it snows. We didn’t know that there were only certain areas that actually got snow, but we at least got to see it. And it was lovely. Plus, it gave me a chance to stop my emotional sobbing at how beautiful and wonderful everything was.
The Candlelight Processional
We sort of walked in to this on accident, and I hadn’t heard anything about it’s existence in our trip planning, but this is a must see. They have this huge choir and live orchestra outside on main street, and they have a special guest star read the Christmas story from the Bible. We saw Molly Ringwald read, and the choir would sing a song for each part of the story, like “We Three Kings” after we read about the Kings. At the end, the choir sang Silent Night a Capella, and asked the audience to sing along as well. I was truly moved to see everyone around me singing, especially a father who sang with his son singing on his shoulders.
This really reminded me about the real reason I was there, the meaning of Christmas, and I got to worship my Lord in DISNEYLAND, and it’s just all the best things about the universe all at once. After singing and watching even the littlest children singing around me, we were then led in a prayer for the little children lost in Connecticut. It was a deeply emotional experience that I am so glad to have been a part of.
It was a little crowded and stressful, though not nearly as crowded and stressful as the fireworks, but I got so caught up in the beauty of it all that I hardly noticed the people around me until we all sang together.
I wanted to give dining it’s own section, as I, like many of my readers, have digestion problems and it’s truly a guide of it’s own.
This is where we ate lunch on our first day. It’s a great place to get a quick over the counter meal. I got a hotdog, and it came with a side of apple slices. Plain but filling, and it kept my tummy happy. My non-sick husband got a pizza, and they had a good variety of quick food.
Mint Julep Bar
This was a great stop for my midday medicine break. I can’t swallow medicine without food, and it’s nice to have a cold drink and sit down for a bit in the middle of the day anyway. I had never had a mint julep before, but mint is my favorite food (things only people with bad digestion say, right?) and I had to try it. When we got there, we found out they also had Mickey beignets! I was in snack heaven.
The Plaza Inn
We shuffled into this place, wet and cold, after Splash Mountain on our first day. I was not hungry, but needed to eat, so we had a challenge on our hands. Husband insisted on finding me something I at least chose, so we walked around a bit and nothing sounded good, then I spotted the Plaza Inn. More precisely, I spotted people with bone-in chicken and mashed potatoes. My tummy rarely says no to potatoes, and the chicken smelled pretty good, even to a girl who didn’t want to eat.
When we got in, they also had Disneyland’s famous Yule Log for dessert. I had seen this cake on a travel channel special that basically inspired this whole trip – more on that in the next post. So, my motivation to eat was to be allowed to have some of that Yule Log. It took me forever to finish my meal, but that was probably in part because my cold wet self didn’t want to leave the warm restaurant.
The Blue Bayou
This is that infamous restaurant inside Pirates of the Caribbean. We made reservations well in advance, and I am so glad we did. It’s a bit pricey, but well worth it. We waved at the people in the boats as they passed, and they had great Cajun-inspired food. I got chicken, but it was reeeally citrus-y, so I traded husband for his delectable steak. Don’t worry, there were no hard feelings. I only asked about a million times if it was really okay. Hubby loved it, and the steak didn’t upset my tummy the way I knew the acidy citrus all over the chicken would. It is Cajun-inspired, and though my true Louisianian friends say they got it totally wrong, I still thought it had a bit of a kick. Luckily it wasn’t too spicy, and my stomach played nice.
Also, we simply requested waterside seating when we arrived, and it was all ours. All you’ve got to do is ask.
The extra bit of magic to pull it all together.
This very exclusive club was recently outed on a Travel Channel special, but I still have no idea how you get in. It’s still fun, though, to hunt around New Orleans Square for the inconspicuous door marked “33.” If you’re as audacious as my husband, you can ring the bell and get a quick peek at the lobby before being politely shooed away.
We knew about Disney buttons from our honeymoon, but at Disneyland you have to go get them in the Town Hall on mainstreet – they aren’t just magically in your room like in Disney World. But that’s alright! I got a button that said it was my first visit, and Husband got one that simply said “I’m Celebrating!”
Later, when we were on It’s a Small World, a cast member asked if I had just graduated, since I had my tassel on my ear hat. I said yes and she said congrats! Then, when we got off, another cast member was waiting at the exit with a “Just Graduated!” button for me! How magical is that?
Shops that have more than Shopping
We stepped into the magic shop because my husband loves magic tricks, and boy, was that an experience. There was an old timey phone in there that you could talk to Houdini on, and the shopkeep did some very impressive card tricks for us. I told him he was very talented, and he said “Not at all, why even you little lady could pull this off!” and then he had me doing card tricks! Lol I don’t know how I did any of it, but it was still really exciting.
Another fun thing to get in to is Vinylmation or Pin trading. I’ll write a whole post at a later date about how awesome Vinylmation collecting is, and what a good hobby it is for a sick person, but for now, just know that that is some fun, addicting stuff to collect and trade. You might even get a cast chaser, a vinyl that can only be attained through trading with the cast members.
We were extra lucky – we got two.
Phew! I think that was my longest post yet. I’m very tired and my fingers hurt. BUT, there you have it, a travel guide to the happiest place on earth for the invisibly ill! If you have any questions I’d love to hear them in the comments below, and stay tuned for our next Chronic Travel Bug on Disney’s California Adventure!