Anaheim, California, USA
“The original… the one and only… the best Magic Kingdom”
It’s nearly impossible to imagine the world without Disneyland Anaheim. It’s safe to say that this is the mother of all theme parks. This may not be the oldest amusement park on Earth, but it’s definitely the most influential one. Every mine train roller coaster is loosely based on Big Thunder Mountain and Haunted Mansion has inspired many parks. Dark rides with pirates and burning facades? They probably would not exist if Walt Disney had never built Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s why I always get goosebumps when I walk through Main Street USA. That’s the moment I realise that I’m walking through the Disneyland that was inaugurated by Walt himself. I’m experiencing legendary theme park history at this moment. Live. Right here, right now.
Disneyland is obviously not the most suitable destination for a coaster junkie. However, five credits are waiting to be ridden here. The most unique roller coaster is Matterhorn Bobsleds, a legendary ride which brought permanent snow to Southern California. Matterhorn Bobsleds isn’t the smoothest or most thrilling ride on Earth, but its iconic scenery makes it a true beauty.
Mountains provide thrills at many Disney parks. That’s also true in Anaheim, thanks to Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Both rides are very likeable and re-rideable. Especially Space Mountain just keeps getting better and better with each ride. I’ve always adored this coaster because of its smoothness, its remarkably long lay-out and its tight curves. Michael Giacchino’s fantastic soundtrack makes the ride even more memorable, but the Star Wars overlay is quite amazing as well.
In a previous trip report, I nicknamed Disneyland Resort the Dark Ride Capital of the World and my opinion didn’t change. It’s not just about quantity, but I’m also amazed by the high level of quality. Two Grande Dames of the dark ride world can be found in New Orleans Square. I’m talking about Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, which opened in 1967 and 1969, respectively. It’s quite an achievement to keep dark rides running for more than 50 years, but it’s even more incredible to keep these attractions in perfect shape. Both rides provide world-class experiences and they refuse to reveil their age. Respect.
In comparison to Haunted Mansion and Pirates, Indiana Jones Adventure is a relatively young dark ride. Still, the Temple of the Forbidden Eye has been a part of Disneyland for 25 years now. You wouldn’t expect it to be that old, because it’s one of Disney’s most immersive attractions ever. This is an exciting tour through a cursed temple with several fabulous scenes and special effects. It’s fast, it’s intense and it’s incredibly good. An elaborately themed queue and a mysteriously-looking temple facade certainly add to the excitement.
The newest masterpiece in Disneyland’s dark ride collection is Star Wars – Rise of the Resistance. The ride can be found in a somewhat remote corner of Galaxy’s Edge, a Star Wars-themed land that opened in 2019. The theming level of the area is world class, and so is this attraction. Rise of the Resistance combines several different ride systems: it consists of two pre-shows, a walk-through experience, a trackless dark ride and an elevator-style free fall segment. The Imagineers really outdid themselves when it comes to storytelling, so this definitely counts as one of the world’s most immersive dark rides. I’m not into Star Wars, but the ride blew my mind in a very unexpected way. Be prepared to queue, though. Although west coast Rise of the Resistance doesn’t create the same mass hysteria as the one in Orlando, it isn’t uncommon to see a 60+ minute line for the ride. An early arrival (or a $15 Lightning Lane) may help to reduce the wait.
Disneyland Anaheim is the mother of all Disney parks. Therefore, most classic Fantasyland dark rides are present at this park. The original It’s a Small World (which once stood at the World’s Fair in New York) and Peter Pan’s Flight are here, for example. Besides, Disneyland also offers attractions that don’t exist in other Disney theme parks. The first one is Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, a hysterical and quite pointless trip to England. Fortunately, the second unique dark ride is a lot more interesting. Alice in Wonderland reminds me of Roller Coaster Tycoon, although theming is nicer in real life than in the computer game. This ride got a pretty big upgrade in 2014 and it features some modern projections since then. It used to be a classic and simple blacklight ride like Pinocchio and Snow White, but nowadays it’s obviously superior.
Mickey’s Toontown is a zone that could be described as a cartoonish extension of Fantasyland. It’s certainly not my favourite area in the park, but it features an attraction that I love: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. This character is practically unknown in Europe, but the ride proves that you don’t need to understand a story line to enjoy it. It’s hysterical and loud, but it’s also fun and long waits are quite rare here. This is, by far, the most underrated dark ride at the Disneyland Resort.
Disneyland Railroad, Mad Tea Party, Storybook Land, Mark Twain Riverboat and Jungle Cruise… if you love classic Disney attractions, you’ll probably love Disneyland. Splash Mountain deserves the ‘Disney classic’ label as well, but this one’s obviously more thrilling. Every aspect of this attraction is gigantic. It features 3 splashdowns, the ride lasts approximately 10 minutes and we meet more than 100 animatronics. During the construction in the late 1980’s, everybody knew that Disney wouldn’t just build an ordinary log flume. But I guess that very few people expected it to become this huge. Thanks to its size and the high level of theming, every water ride lover should be amazed by this ride. And so am I.
Over at Tomorrowland, we notice another ride in which water plays the lead role. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage has been a beloved ride since 2007. I understand why it’s so popular: it’s the only ride of its kind in the world and the Finding Nemo theme works surprisingly well. I hope that you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, though. The submarine’s seats are cramped and you need to stare through a tiny window for 15 minutes. This long duration and the minimal comfort create a low repeat value, but Submarine Voyage is a fine family attraction nevertheless.
If you lover simulator-type rides, Disneyland offers two different options. Interestingly, both rides are inspired by the Star Wars universe. The oldest one is Star Tours – The Adventures Continue in Tomorrowland. I never really considered this as a must do, but the attraction’s 2011 reboot has changed my mind in a positive way. Nowadays, Star Tours treats its passengers to better special effects and the story line is different every single time. At Galaxy’s Edge, Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run offers an experience which is similar to Star Tours. Six guests board the cockpit of the legendary Millennium Falcon and they’re sent on an interactive mission by Hondo Ohnaka. Honestly, Smugglers Run was a little underwhelming to me. The ride’s exterior is nothing less than spectacular, but the actual experience felt rather simple and predictable.
Disney is well known for its world-class entertainment. Here at Disneyland, the main show is set at the Fantasyland Theatre, right next to It’s a Small World. This theatre was home to Mickey and the Magical Map and I liked it a lot. At first, the show seemed a bit childish and flat, but afterwards there were some amusing scenes with impressive live singing. Apparently, this performance will not return after the park’s covid closure and that’s a shame.
Daytime parades are hit or miss at Disneyland Anaheim. I adored the cheerful SoundSational Parade, but Pixar Play Parade (which ran in 2018) was a bit of a misfit for Disneyland. Both parades have been retired and the park is home to Magic Happens nowadays. YouTube videos didn’t convince me, but the experience in real life may be totally different. I hope that I’ll be able to find out soon. The most popular entertainment offerings take place after sunset, when Disneyland is transformed into a huge open-air show stage. The park’s fireworks displays are usually very impressive and New Orleans Square is the home of Fantasmic. Honestly, I found the Florida version of Fantasmic overrated, so my expectations for the show were low. However, the West Coast version turned out to be considerably better. The viewing location has an intimate atmosphere and the performance is nothing less than spectacular.
BEAT THE CROWDS
If you have visited Disneyland during Spring Break or Christmas, you know that crowds can be immense. This isn’t a surprise for a theme park that attracts 18 million visitors annually, but it can ruin your day… if you aren’t prepared. Luckily, there are many ways to cope with the crowds. Genie+ is a great way to minimise your time in queues, if you’re willing to pay $20 per person per day. This virtual version of Disney FastPass allows you to make and adjust ride reservations on your phone. It’s comparable to its namesake at Walt Disney World, but it works a lot better here in Anaheim. Thanks to Genie+, it shouldn’t be a problem to ride every major attraction in one day.
Genie+ is one good way to handle the crowds, rope-dropping is another one. This expression means that you enter the park as early as possible. This allows you to visit multiple E-Ticket rides with minimal lines. Many local guests tend to arrive in the late afternoon, so the early hours are usually the sweet spot for attraction lovers. In fact, arriving early is considerably more productive than staying late at the Disneyland Resort.
WORTH A VISIT?
Warning: Disneyland isn’t the most relaxing travel destination. You have to deal with big crowds, crying babies and long queues for rides and restaurants. But despite these disadvantages, Disneyland definitely is one of the world’s best theme parks. A major strenght is the willingness to improve. This park has reached a considerable age, but they’re constantly evolving towards the future. Good examples are the upgrades Alice in Wonderland and Pirates of the Caribbean received. Disneyland certainly isn’t the most perfect theme park on Earth. It has grown to something a lot bigger than Walt probably envisioned, so some places in the park feel cramped. That’s okay, though. Disneyland makes up for that with an indescribable charm which can only be found here in Anaheim. If you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, then please book a flight to Southern California and enjoy the splendour of the Disneyland Resort. This truly is The Happiest Place on Earth.
MAIN STREET U.S.A.
STAR WARS – GALAXY’S EDGE
NEW ORLEANS SQUARE
DOWNTOWN DISNEY & DISNEYLAND HOTEL
BACK IN TIME
Is Disneyland Anaheim the best Magic Kingdom-style theme park on Earth? Do you agree that it’s a dark ride paradise? And which parade is your favourite? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.