1-Day Disney California Adventure “Daily Trip Blueprint”


If you’re visiting Disneyland Resort, chances are that you will have one day to spend at Disney California Adventure, the park across the Esplanade from Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom. If we had one day to enjoy at Disney California Adventure these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants where we’d dine, and the metaphorical roses we would stop to smell. This post continues our series of single-day itineraries designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We call this series our “Daily Trip Blueprints,” or DTBs for short. 

These Daily Trip Blueprints aren’t touring plans or strategy guides for doing as much in a single day in Disney California Adventure as possible. In fact, if you follow this guide, you won’t come close to doing every single attraction in the park (just the ones we like best). However, as we view Disney California Adventure as the “atmosphere park” at Disneyland Resort, we think this is a good thing. Plus, a lot of attractions at DCA are off-the-shelf filler that are best skipped. Most park strategy guides focus solely on number of attractions, and totally ignore the great things that make Disney Disney. If you’re only after our ride ratings and reviews of each attractions, read our comprehensive Best Disney California Adventure Attractions & Ride Guide post. If you need comprehensive help for planning every aspect of your visit to Disneyland Resort, from where to purchase discount tickets to transportation from the airport and more, read our Disneyland Resort Trip Planning Guide.

Instead, this is a rough blueprint of our favorite things to do in an “ideal day” at Disney California Adventure with low to moderate crowds (adjust expectations downward on busier days), and when you should do them for the ‘best experience,’ but not necessarily the most efficient experience. In other words, this strives to be subjective rather than objective. If you’re looking to develop a plan of attack for visiting attractions in the most efficient order, you should consult TouringPlans.com for Disneyland, which has years of experience and the statistical expertise in terms of “attraction order.”

If budget is no issue, we recommend staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel for your visit. Note that we recommended Disneyland Hotel in our 1-Day Disneyland Plan, and that’s because we think that hotel is a better “fit” for Disneyland. If you’re visiting both parks, we don’t recommend changing hotels…that would be excessive and unnecessarily time consuming. Staying at one of these hotels puts you in a good position to utilize Morning Extra Magic Hours to see more (make sure to consult the official Disneyland Calendar to see when these are offered). Plus, these hotels have great location and are just flat out fun. If these hotels are outside of your budget, our pick is the Anaheim Desert Inn, an off-site hotel that is about a 10 minute walk from the parks.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do… (more…)

Epcot ‘Frozen’ Over – Rumors & Wish List

There was a time when Disney characters in World Showcase seemed less likely than pigs flying or…uh…certain ‘things’ freezing over. Well, it seems Epcot’s Norway is about to be Frozen over. Rumors are indicating that Maelstrom will close on September 28, 2014 to make way for a Frozen attraction, which would essentially be a quick conversion of Maelstrom into a Frozen attraction, rather than an entirely new attraction in its place. These possible plans have already proven quite divisive among Disney fans. The consensus among EPCOT Center fans is that Maelstrom should not be replaced by anything-Frozen, which is not set in Norway and is disrespectful to World Showcase. Fans of the addition are generally excited about anything coming to World Showcase, which has had plenty of restaurants and shops added over the years, but hasn’t seen a new attraction since Maelstrom in 1988.

I’m a big fan of movies, and one thing that really fascinates may is how the critical consensus of a film can radically differ from the audience consensus. In terms of Disney attractions, I think the same often happens in terms of the fan consensus versus the average guest consensus. If I had to guess, I would say Maelstrom is in the top 5 in terms of the differential (sadly, it’s probably right there with other favorites of mine like Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, and the TTA) between the hardcore fans and the average guests. For many Disney fans, Maelstrom is quotable, campy fun–even a classic attraction. For average guests, it’s a puzzling look into a land inhabited by trolls, anorexic polar bears, and oil rigs.

I love Maelstrom, but I also don’t think it’s a well-done attraction. For me, it’s so bad it’s good. Perhaps I’m not winning any friends with this sentiment, but if you’re a fan of Maelstrom, why do you like it? Do you really think that it’s a well done attraction, or is it just nostalgic fun?

Since I already am not making friends with this blog post, I’ll go a step further: I don’t mind Frozen being added to Norway in World Showcase. Before you throw your shoe at your computer screen, there are some caveats to this, so hear me out… (more…)

Cinderella’s Royal Table Review

cinderella-sarah-tom-bricker

Cinderella’s Royal Table is a table service princess character restaurant inside Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This review features food photos and our thoughts from dinner at the restaurant. Disney considers Cinderella’s Royal Table a “Fairytale Dining Experience,” which I think just refers to the fact that you can meet Cinderella and other visiting princesses here. The meal also includes a print of your party and Cinderella taken by PhotoPass photographers. The menu consists of American cuisine that is almost fine-dining caliber. This is actually quite a surprise given that it’s a character meal. It’s arguably the flagship restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, and the most uniquely “Disney” restaurant in all of Walt Disney World.

Due to some ADR-hoarding a number of years ago by a group called “Howie’s Angels,” (nothing surprises me in Disney fandom anymore) Cinderella’s Royal Table requires prepayment in full for secure an Advance Dining Reservation. Despite this, it accepts Tables in Wonderland for a 20% discount  (you receive a refund when you present your card in the restaurant for the amount of the discount), and participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a 2-credit Signature meal. Due to its status as a Signature Restaurant, it is not a good use of a Disney Dining Plan table service credit if you’re trying to maximize your value on the Disney Dining Plan.

With Be Our Guest Restaurant now being the top draw in the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Royal Table ADRs are now easier to score. For years we had no chance at dining here as the restaurant booked up a full 180 days in advance, and we never make ADRs that early. I found this reservation a month before our trip, so we figured ‘what the heck,’ it would be awesome to dine in Cinderella Castle. We had previously been inside the Castle, but that was for a tour of the Cinderella Castle Suite, so…not quite the same.

We cringed at the cost and the idea of paying for a photo package we didn’t really want, and for meeting characters we didn’t really have an interest in meeting. Still, we booked it because it was something new to try, and I really wanted to photograph and see the inside of the restaurant, which I’ve always thought was really cool. I can still remember looking in the Walt Disney World book I had as a kid and seeing the star-filter enhanced photo of King Stefan’s Banquet Hall, and thinking how awesome it would be to eat inside Cinderella Castle. We further justified eating at here despite the price in the name of research, as many people have asked us about this restaurant. 

So, although we figured it wouldn’t be worth the money to us, we convinced ourselves to give it a try anyway. We were downright shocked by the restaurant… (more…)

Disney Magic Cruise Ship Planning Guide

This guide to the Disney Magic provides tips for the newly re-imagined Disney Cruise Line ship, which is especially popular because it’s frequently used on Caribbean itineraries. This Disney Magic Cruise Ship Planning Guide covers the basics of things to know before you go, plus our recommendations for activities, dining, and other things you should try to do once you’re on board the ship.

Originally debuting in 1998, it was the original ship in the Disney Cruise Line, and likely built at a time when there was some uncertainty as to how Disney would do against established cruise lines. Disney Cruise Line was a smash success from the beginning, as evidenced by the 3 additional ships that have joined the fleet in the last decade, with each one also being larger in size. Oldest and smallest is problematic when it comes to cruise ships, so the Disney Magic received a fairly comprehensive overhaul in 2013 to, in a way, keep up with its sister ships.

We had the chance to sail on the Disney Magic a few months after its re-imagining, and we can safely say that it feels like a brand new cruise ship. By way of overview, the ship is 964 feet long and holds 2,700 passengers (plus ~950 Cast Members).  This is a fair amount smaller than the newest ship, the Disney Fantasy, which is 1,115 feet and holds 4,000 passengers (plus ~1,500 Cast Members). Because of its smaller size, the Disney Magic mainly sticks to itineraries in the Caribbean. While the re-imagining couldn’t make the ship longer, it could improve the overall look and freshness of the Disney Magic.

This overall look is evident the moment you step aboard the Disney Magic, when you walk into the Art Deco lobby. The lobby is a signature area of each Disney Cruise Line ship, with each having a one-of-a-kind chandelier, beautiful design and detail work, and great use of color and lines. Now, this isn’t new to the re-imagined Disney Magic–the original design was stunning, too–but it just goes to show how well-designed the Disney Cruise Line ships are.

We will cover other elements of the Disney Magic’s gorgeous design in the sections that follow. Let’s get started with planning your voyage aboard this great Disney cruise ship! (more…)

Miguel’s El Dorado Cantina Review

miguels-el-dorado-cantina-tokyo-disneysea-063

Miguel’s El Dorado Cantina is a Mexican restaurant in the Lost River Delta port-of-call at Tokyo DisneySea. This is the only restaurant with a Mexican menu at Tokyo Disney Resort, so if that’s what you’re after, this is your only choice. Styled like a weathered cantina in the remote jungle, Miguel’s El Dorado Cantina is aged to look as if it has seen better days. Like most of the Lost River Delta, it seems like nature is slowly reclaiming the land occupied by the restaurant. We’ve heard that a mariachi band performs at Miguel’s El Dorado Cantina, but we have not witnessed this the two times we’ve visited.

The backstory here is that the owner Miguel went to El Dorado (the “City of Gold”) with dreams of finding a mountain of gold, but was unsuccessful in his quest for riches. I guess the logical alternative was to open this Mexican restaurant for other explorers?

One thing that boggles my mind about Tokyo DisneySea is that it has so many large restaurants with insane capacity. I understand that the park draws a lot of guests, but there are at least 6-8 counter service restaurants here with more capacity than most restaurants at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Miguel’s is one such restaurant like this, with two levels of seating, plus outdoor seating. This is really something given that it’s located deep in the Lost River Delta, the port-of-call farthest away from the park’s entrance.

Add to that the fact that it’s one of two counter service restaurants in Lost River Delta with Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe-level capacity (the stated capacity of Cosmic Ray’s is significantly higher than these, but there restaurants appear larger to me), and you’ve really got to wonder why there’s so much capacity. We dined here on a weekend when Tokyo DisneySea was near hitting capacity, and even then the majority of tables here were empty. (The same cannot be said for Cape Cod Cook-Off a/k/a “The Duffy Restaurant,” which has a huge seating area, but had an hour-plus wait.) (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2

big-grizzly-mountain-night

Whenever we get off a new-to-us attraction, I always ask Sarah what she thought of it, first thing. I want to get her take before sharing mine, as I am very opinionated (to put it mildly), and I don’t want whatever I have to say to color her opinion. After she shared why she was blown away by Mystic Manor, she asked me what I thought. I was completely inarticulate, stringing together words like “music,” “monkey,” and “magic” along with a series of wows. In my defense, I was still on a bit of a high from the crazy sunrise that morning (if you missed that, make sure to go back and start from the beginning of our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report), and actually experiencing Mystic Manor just pushed me over the top. Like I’ve said, it’s really an amazing attraction–one of Disney’s bests ever.

That really set the tone for the rest of our visit to Hong Kong Disneyland. After experiencing Mystic Manor, there was no chance that Hong Kong Disneyland would be a letdown, or that we would regret visiting. It’s crazy to think that a single attraction could justify a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland–and we’re not saying that it does. For us, though, that attraction alone legitimized the park and gave it credibility. Unless the rest of the park were laid out like the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris (since I had already seen it that morning and knew it was not), it would not be a disappointment for us.

Mystic Manor exits through a gift shop, and what a gift shop it is. I don’t often go crazy for Disney merchandise (I’m not sure I purchased any merchandise last year in the US parks), but I love some good attraction-specific merch. Mystic Manor has this in spades. That shop had more Mystic Manor merchandise than I’ve ever seen for any attraction, anywhere. Rivaled only by Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, and Tower of Terror, to my knowledge. I was about to start going nuts in there before Sarah reminded me that we should do Mystic Manor a few times before the crowds got worse.

We did Mystic Manor a couple more times, seeing new details each time. One of the great advantages of the trackless ride system is that there’s the potential for it to be a slightly different ride experience depending upon which ride vehicle you’re in. The vehicles enter and exit the show scenes at different times, and in one case, take different paths. This adds re-rideability, and is really a smart move. It seems like there’s a bit of a trend towards ‘varied’ experiences like this, with Star Tours: the Adventures Continue probably being the best example.

At this point, we didn’t really take the time to explore the rest of Mystic Point, so I’ll come back to it later for my impressions of the mini-land as a whole. After a couple more times on Mystic Manor, we decided to see some of the rest of the park. Crazy idea, I know. We headed to Grizzly Gulch, where the wait for Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars was only 5 minutes. After seeing the trains fly around the track, Sarah decided to sit this one out. Although she’s fine on all of the Magic Kingdom coasters, Expedition Everest makes her nauseous. (more…)

Tips for Finding Good Beer At Disney World

walt-disney-world-food-031

Walt Disney World offers a number of craft beers and microbrews in its parks and resort hotels. This post offers tips for finding delicious beer at Walt Disney World, which can be a bit of a challenge. In addition to the normal BMC options you can find just about anywhere (besides the Magic Kingdom), there are some exceptional beers throughout Walt Disney World…you just need to know where to look.

Unlike wine, which (I’m told) Walt Disney World does pretty well–even touting things like their selection of South African wines at Animal Kingdom Lodge–the same effort isn’t put into having high quality beers. Most outdoor vending carts that serve beer at Walt Disney World have Bud Light, plus maybe a token alternative. Nothing against Bud Light–they are great at convincing people their beer is worthwhile with their astronomical marketing budget–but Bud Light is awful. Okay, so everything against Bud Light. BMC are sort of like the fast food of beers: okay options in a pinch, but probably few beer drinkers’ favorites if they had to choose. If Bud Light is your favorite beer, I’d encourage you to try a variety of other beers and give them a chance.

If you haven’t gathered from the remarks towards BMC, I’m sort of a beer snob. Coming from Michigan, I came of drinking age right around the time of the big explosion in craft brewing, with Bell’s opening its brewery ~10 miles from my house about a decade ago. Add to that other great options like Founders (every craft beer aficionado should attend a Kentucky Breakfast Stout release party at some time in their life), Arcadia, New Holland, Dark Horse, and many more, and my opinions of beer have really been shaped by living in one of the greatest beer state. Not really sure how this is relevant to the topic of the post, but I like giving props to my home state when I have the chance. Moving on…

When we first started visiting Walt Disney World as adults, there was a serious dearth of craft beer options, and the selection was laughable. If you wanted a good beer, you pretty much were stuck going to Le Cellier for some Unibroue. While that’s still a great option, Walt Disney World has recognized the growing discontent with BMC, and has incorporated better options into their menus. Things have improved substantially almost every year for the last ~5 years, and continue to get better. So props to Disney for that.

If you’re looking for great beer at Walt Disney World, here are some tips… (more…)

The Beauty of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa

One thing that struck me about Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa on our recent visit was the sheer beauty and detail of the resort. Part of this was to be expected–Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World is striking–but Aulani takes this to the next level. Overall, Aulani exceeded our expectations with its amazing collection of art (one of the largest private collections of Hawaiian art in the world), its “Disney Details,” and its incredibly engaging design.

As I was organizing and editing Aulani photos this morning, the beauty of the resort continued to strike me again and again. While Aulani certainly has its fans, I think it’s relatively unknown to a lot of Disney fans beyond the basic look of the buildings. This is understandable, as a trip to Hawaii is very expensive, and tough to justify solely for a Disney resort.

Still, I thought it would be fun to share some photos from Aulani to showcase the beauty of Disney’s new resort on Oahu in Hawaii. This article is sort of a change of pace from the norm here, as it really doesn’t offer and tips, commentary, attempts at humor (that’s probably a good thing!), or really anything useful. It’s just some photos that illustrate why we loved Aulani so much.

Let’s take a look at the beauty of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa… (more…)