I remember the first time I went to Disneyland as a child.  I just turned 5 years old.  (And I know I date myself here in the process.)  My parents took my brother and I for a relatively inexpensive outing into the park.  The real expense, aside from the parking cost, was the ticket booklet that you would purchase.  These booklets came with tickets for the various different rides.  And as everyone knew, the “E-tickets” were for the more popular, exciting rides in the park.  We were going to try to use one on the new Thunder Mountain Railroad ride but the line was ridiculous and broke down.  That meant finding some other thrill ride to try out.

After much cajoling, my parents convinced me to try out the Matterhorn ride.  It was before they had individual seats and you had to ride tandem, which meant riding in someone’s lap half the time.  And it had the old cute and huggable version of the abominable snow man, who had ironically just been installed.  I remember getting on the ride and having a great time, but I ended up with a strange burn on my arm when I was finished.  So I got my E Ticket’s worth of thrill, plus an added burn bonus.  So it was strange when I came back a couple of months later and the E Tickets were gone in lieu of a larger admission price but access to all of the rides.  (Can you believe $20 dollars?!?!?)

I would have years and years of memories worth of rides in the future.  I remember my first time purchasing an Annual Pass.  (Ninety-Nine dollars if you can believe that.)  There would be Jazz Bands, reunions, grad nights, Halloween Parties, stage shows, and eventually, I would have my little girl experiencing her time in the Magic Kingdom as well.  Every time at Disneyland was the opportunity to experience something entirely new.  Every adventure had something a bit different about it.  And I wouldn’t trade any of those memories for anything in the world.

So when I knew I was going to Disneyland this week with my daughter and her friend, I knew that I was going to have an amazing time.  We were able to see new people they had out there to take pictures with, and entirely new attractions to catch our eyes, along with all of the standard attractions of years past.  As I was out there with my daughter and her friend, I started to hear them talk about their favorite rides at Disneyland and California Adventure.  They had developed a whole rating system for themselves.  They could rank their top ten favorite rides without even breaking a sweat.  (I think if I were trying to list ten I would be afraid I would leave something out and then the “top ten” police would be after me.)  They spent a good half hour arguing about what the top three rides should be on their list.

Aside from enjoying their amusing banter, it got me to thinking about what my favorite things at Disneyland were.  I started thinking about what makes the Disneyland experience for me more memorable than other theme parks.  It’s not that I don’t love other theme parks, but Disney does just something so special that they are one of a kind when it comes to your experience.  Sometimes it’s hard to put your fingers on.  But there is just something there that takes you away.

And because you know I couldn’t pass up creating another top ten list, despite my fear of the “top ten” police, I decided I needed to write about my top ten favorite things about the Southern California Disney Theme Parks.  Of course, this means I include both California Adventure and Disneyland.  While this may be region specific, I would venture to guess that whatever place you visit a theme park that Disney created, you will find the same kind of magic there that I find here in Southern California.  So without further ado, let me present to you:

The Top Ten Best Things About California Disney Theme Parks

10) Main Street –

There is something about that first walk underneath the bridge where the train stops and having Main Street open up before you.  There is just something about feeling like you are being taken back in time.  They have old crystal shops, toy stores, ice cream shops, arcades, coffee shops, and so much more as you walk through the old school Main Street.  You can see a horse drawn cart or old school cars.  You get the old firehouse above where Disney’s original office used to sit.  And you pass by the ice cream parlor where they pump the scent of vanilla out into the street, where you stare longingly at ice cream sundaes and root beer floats.

9) Sleeping Beauty’s Castle –

There is no greater iconic site than the site of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle sitting at the end of Main Street.  It’s a magnificent structure that is at once beautiful and breath taking.  You have the draw bridge leading you in and as you pass through you enter Fantasyland.  The castle itself you can do a walk through and you get to the whole story of sleeping beauty.  From Aurora’s birth where she is cursed by Maleficent to the pricking of her finger upon the spindle, to being awakened by a kiss you can walk through and experience the magic.  And there is nothing like seeing the beauty of the castle during the winter where it lights up in colors that are a wonder to behold. And who can forget the look of the castle when it is surrounded by the next Disney favorite?

8) Fireworks Show –

At the end of every night, weather providing, they shoot off the fireworks above Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  I love fireworks shows.  But sometimes they can seem rather dull with a couple of interesting fireworks thrown in.  With Disney, the show is a cut above.  Not only do you get to watch the amazing show with fireworks you will not see anywhere else.  It is truly a show.  And now they have taken it one step further where the show goes on all around you, even at the end of Main Street.  The Buildings light up, the Matterhorn can explode and blow its top, and who can forget Tinker Bell or Even Dumbo flying down around the castle.  It is unreal and happens nightly.  Just spectacular.

7) Themed Eating Establishment –

Go to any theme park and you have hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and salads.  If they are nice they throw in a few ethnic foods there for your palate.  You might get the odd pasta or Chinese food sprinkled in.  Disney does so much more than that.  You have the character dining experiences at Ariels Grotto or Goofy’s Kitchen.  You can go to a Pizza place at Red Rocket’s Pizza Port.  Or you can get Italian and the Trattoria. Get yourself some Cajun food in New Orleans Square.  Or go to Carnation Cafe and get yourself some classic American fare.  And if nothing tempts your palate inside the park they have amazing fine dining sitting outside the park at the Hotels or Downtown Disney.   If you haven’t been to Trader Sams at the Disneyland Hotel, you are missing out.  Go to Disneyland and you get ambiance above and beyond the amazing food that they serve.

6) Downtown Disney –

I would gladly get into all of the marvelous places in Downtown Disney.  From waterfalls to Easter Egg hunts Downtown Disney has it all.  I would spend more time about it, but I spent a whole post covering ten marvelous things about the place.  And even that is limited.  Check out many of the amazing things about Downtown Disney here.

5) Character Meet and Greets –

I love going to see characters when I go to the parks.  Maybe that makes me like a child.  But there is something just so cool about meeting characters out of my childhood or out of history.  Disney does it far better than anyone else.  Where else can you go and meet Darth Vader, Mickey Mouse, Tinker Bell, Buzz Lightyear, Oswald the Rabbit, and the Black Widow?  They just have so many different people to meet and have your picture taken with them.  This last time my mouth dropped as I saw the life sized Groot out there taking pictures with people.  That’s Disney dropping the mic right there.  After all, we are all Groot.

4) Parades –

Every day at Disneyland they have Parades going down through Main Street or in the case of California adventure, right through Buena Vista Street.  They create these parades like no one else.  From a parade that might have to do with a particular movie to Pixar’s fabulous Play parade that delights in getting its audience wet (not a bad thing in California), to the Electrical Parade they display in the evenings you need to park yourself on a curb for a while and enjoy the fabulous goings on in a Disney Parade.  They are unlike anything else including beauty and grandeur, with the exception of maybe Macy’s or the Rose Parade during Thanksgiving and New Years.  Definitely, must watch entertainment.

3) Animation Academy –

I know this is a bit strange but I just love the Animation Academy at California Adventure.  Yes, they have some cool things about how they put together cartoons frame by frame or the Beasts library where you can find out what Disney Character you are.  In addition, they have a meet and greet with Anna And Elsa.  They also have Turtle Talk with Crush and Dory where the audience can interact with the animated creations.  But for me, the best thing is going in to learning how to draw all sorts of different Disney Characters.  They started by teaching people to draw the fab five.  They then branched out to the Winnie the Pooh Characters.  But now they have anything from Jack in Nightmare before Christmas to Baymax in Big Hero 6.  You will be amazed at the creations you can make for yourself all at this amazing Academy.

2) Stage Shows –

The stage shows at Disneyland are far superior to anywhere else I have been when it comes to theme parks.  They do have some great things at Knott’s with Snoopy or the stunt shows. They may have some fun shows at Universal Studios.  And Six Flags does try to do a show or two.  But Disney does something that’s far more than anything else.  Disney does small cute shows at the Princess theater.  They do larger shows with singing and dancing along with some cool special effects at the Mickey and the Magical Map show or Fantasmic.  But they even go beyond that with Broadway level productions at the Hyperion with Frozen or Aladdin.  Disney does more than anyone else. And they do it better than anyone else.

1) E-Ticket Rides –

Don’t get me wrong, if you like thrill rides, you might like some of the other places better.  You might like Superman at Six Flags.  You could love the Silver Bullet at Knott’s better.  But the brilliance of Disney is somehow they mix the thrill ride with themes to catch your eye and add to the whole experience.  Their latest adventure where they changed the Tower of Terror Ride moving to a Guardians of the Galaxy Ride is a prime example of what makes their rides so much more.  You can go into the building where you see all of the Collector’s items he holds in line.  Then you go in and the Collector gives you an introduction, where Rocket takes over and lets you know what is going on with the Galaxy Gang.  You then get into your car and go on the amazing ride.  It holds up well to any free fall ride out there AND you get to help out the Galaxy gang free themselves from the Collector’s clutches.  Not only does your stomach get a good workout but the visuals are incredible.

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  You have Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, the Matterhorn, and so much more. And they keep adding.  They are going to be introducing Star Wars land with another “E Ticket” type ride to the amazing thrill rides they already have.  But in truth, Disney does excellent rides throughout the spectrum.  From the kids rides at Fantasy Land to intermediate adventures like Pirates of the Carribean, there is nowhere on earth that mixes thrill and fantasy like Disneyland.

Continue The Conversation

Whatever you think about it, Disneyland does amazing things in its parks daily.  And there are just so many things that make Disneyland amazing that ten hardly seems enough to talk about the wonder of the Disney theme parks.  But I would love to hear what things make Disney amazing to you.  Whether that is the original parks, or you love the ones in Florida, Paris or Hong Kong, please let me know what you love about Disneyland the most.  I always love hearing from you.

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If you loved this post, please check out some of my other Disney or Disneyland themed posts.  Also, follow me here at the Guide.  Email subscribers will get access to the Dad Rules.  These are ten rules that every dad should know about and follow.  Or else I might just have to send Rocket after you, and you will not want to find out how that ends up.  He does like to torture so . . . if you don’t mind that I suppose you know what you should do.  Once again, thank you for stopping by here.

Until next time, this is me signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life