Destinations

Disneyland marks diamond anniversary

Peter Mitchell - AAP

The visionary Walt Disney made a promise when he first opened the gates to Disneyland in 1955.

He said his theme park would never be completed.

New rides, attractions and restaurants would continue to be built on the grounds in Anaheim, located about an hour’s drive south of Los Angeles.

Disney, who died in 1966, had his wish granted, with the iconic park he called his “happy place” growing each year, including the opening of the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park in 2001.

To mark this year’s 60th, or diamond, anniversary Disneyland has introduced some amazing new attractions, with the highlights major updates to the night time spectaculars at Disneyland and California Adventure.

At Disneyland the grand finale parade down Main Street has been significantly upgraded with Paint the Night – All-New Electrical Parade, featuring all of the favourite Disney characters on floats with more than 1.5 million LED lights.

It’s capped off with a fireworks spectacular above Sleeping Beauty Castle that’s interspersed with some more iconic Disney characters.

Over in California Adventure the $75 million night time World of Color show, featuring more than 1200 fountains, animated imagery, live-action films, lasers and special effects, takes place on the Paradise Bay lagoon.

Disneyland, following the huge box office success of Frozen, has also introduced the past 12 months numerous attractions featuring Princess Anna and Queen Elsa.

Yes, you’ll have to listen to Let it Go again, and again, and again.

I’m lucky.

My kids are luckier.

As a child growing up a Pacific Ocean away in Australia I dreamed of going to Disneyland, but never did until on a holiday in my late 20s.

In 2001 I moved to Los Angeles and when my children were born Disneyland became our second home, with annual passes allowing us to enter the magic gates whenever we had time off.

We’ve become experts, with Cinderella knowing my daughter’s name and Darth Vader giving my son a nod of approval when they lightsaber battle on stage at the Jedi Training Academy.

Disneyland and California Adventure are huge parks with long lines and it would be impossible for an Aussie family visiting for just one or two days to experience everything on offer.

Three days would give you a good taste, while five days would be enough … you’d be ready to take your Mickey Mouse ears off at the end of the fifth.

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF DISNEYLAND IN TWO OR THREE DAYS

* Plan for long days. To maximise the experience get there when the gates open at 8am. Many people, particularly locals, don’t get to the park until after midday, so identify the most popular rides you want to go on and head straight for them between 8am and noon. You’ll beat the lines. Later in the day it can take two to three hours to get on some rides.

* Use FASTPASS. You’ll see FASTPASS machines near the entrance of rides. Insert your admission ticket and it will give you a time to return to the ride. Print it out and go back to the ride at the stated time – you’ll bypass the huge lines.

* There are three Disneyland hotels – Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel and Disneyland’s Paradise Pier Hotel. Grand Californian and Disneyland Hotel are the best, although they can be pricey. As well as being located close to the parks (Grand Californian has a side entrance into California Adventure), when you stay at the hotels you can get into the parks at 7am so can really beat the lines.

WHAT TO EAT IN DISNEYLAND

It’s expensive to eat and drink in the parks, but you’re allowed to take your own in so definitely load up on water and drinks and snacks and sandwiches if you’re on a budget.

But, there are some fun options including restaurants where Disney characters visit your table.

In Disneyland, if you want a good buffet breakfast the quaint Plaza Inn has Breakfast in the Park with Minnie & Friends.

My son’s favourite is the brunch or dinner buffet at Goofy’s Kitchen (he likes the peanut butter and jelly pizza) at the Disneyland Hotel where a cavalcade of characters visit the table for photos.

My daughter’s pick is Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure where Ariel, Cinderella and the other princesses drop by the table.

My wife and myself love the Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure (where you won’t be bugged by a Disney character). It has great, healthy Italian food and cold beers and wine. It’s also a chance to force your children, who have been living on fairy floss and giant chocolate Mickey Mouse head cookies, to eat something decent.

But make reservations at the restaurants to ensure you get in.

The are other good food options in the Downtown Disney District just outside the parks. Our favourites: Catal, Naples Ristorante, Rainforest Cafe, Tortilla Jo’s, La Brea Bakery and Earl of Sandwich.

If your legs are weary and you’re in need of a sugar burst go to the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain in California Adventure. As you walk in you and each family member will be handed a delicious free chocolate. If you want to buy extra, go for it but if not head for the exit with your free chocolate.

TOP TIPS

* Disneyland and California Adventure tickets aren’t cheap. A one-day ticket for an adult or child 10 years or older is $US99.00. For kids aged three to nine it’s $US93.00. Kids under three are free. That ticket will only get you into one park – Disneyland or California Adventure – although for an extra $US56 per ticket you get a “Park Hopper” that’ll get you into both on the same day.

If you’re there for only two days I’d concentrate on Disneyland one day and California Adventure the next.

Go to the Disneyland website to see the multi-day options.

* When is the best time to go? Weekdays it’s less crowded. Try to avoid US public holidays.

* Another tip is visit the park on days when LA locals who have certain annual passes aren’t allowed in.

One of the most popular annual passes is the cheapest one for southern California residents which has a lot of blocked out dates.

Go onto to the Disneyland website annual pass section, click on “Southern California Select Annual Passport” and it’ll show you “blockout” dates. You want to go on a blocked out date that isn’t a weekend or US public holiday. The parks are never empty, but the lines are smaller because the popular annual passholders are kept out.

* Disneyland hosted the reporter as part of the park’s 60th anniversary.

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