The most thorough guide to Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure
Filled with revolutionary, field-tested touring plans that can save 4 hours of waiting in line in a single day, The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2020 is the key to planning a perfect vacation.
Get up-to-date information on Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Each attraction is described in detail and rated by age group, based on a survey of more than 20,000 families. Whether you’re visiting Disneyland for a day or a week, there is a plan for any group or family. Enjoy the rides, activities, and entertainment instead of wasting time standing in line.
About the Author
Seth Kubersky is nationally recognized as an authority on theme parks and amusement attractions. He has worked for more than 20 years as a theatrical artist, culture critic, and travel journalist. In addition to writing The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando and coauthoring The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, Seth also contributes to the Unofficial Guides to Walt Disney World and Las Vegas. A resident of Orlando since 1996, Seth is a former employee of Universal Orlando’s entertainment department. Named Best Arts Writer in The Daily City’s 2013 readers’ poll, Seth covers arts and attractions for the Orlando Weekly newspaper, Attractions Magazine, AAA’s Via Magazine, and other publications. You can find Seth online at sethkubersky.com or on Twitter @skubersky.
Bob Sehlinger, a Lowell Thomas Award–winning journalist, is best known as the creator and producer of The Unofficial Guide series.
A contributor to several top-selling guidebooks, Len Testa leads the team at TouringPlans.com, a research arm of The Unofficial Guides.
Guy Selga Jr. is a passionate Disney fan, a blogger, and a researcher at TouringPlans.com.
Read an Excerpt
Part 3: Disneyland with Kids – Disney Characters
For years the costumed, walking versions of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and others have been a colorful supporting cast at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Known unpretentiously as the Disney characters, these large and friendly figures help provide a link between Disney animated films and the Disney theme parks.
Audiences, it has been observed, cry during the sad parts of Disney animated films and cheer when the villain is vanquished. To the emotionally invested, the characters in these features are as real as next-door neighbors; never mind that they are simply cartoons. In recent years, the theme park personifications of Disney characters have likewise become real to us. For thousands of visitors, it is not just some person in a mouse costume they see—it is really Mickey. Similarly, running into Goofy or Snow White in Fantasyland is a memory to be treasured, an encounter with a real celebrity.
About 250 of the Disney animated-film characters have been brought to life in costume. Of these, a relatively small number (about 50) are greeters (the Disney term for characters who mix with the patrons). The remaining characters are relegated exclusively to performing in shows, usually in holiday parades or Disney anniversary celebrations.
Character watching has developed into a pastime. Where families were once content to stumble across a character occasionally, they now pursue them armed with autograph books and cameras. For those who pay attention, some characters are more frequently encountered than others. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy, for example, are seemingly everywhere, while Thumper rarely appears. Other characters are seen regularly but limit themselves to a specific location. The fact that some characters are seldom seen has turned character watching into character collecting. Mickey Mouse may be the best known and most-loved character, but from a collector’s perspective, he is also the most common. To get an autograph from Mickey is no big deal, but Daisy Duck’s signature is a real coup. Commercially tapping into the character-collecting movement, Disney sells autograph books throughout the parks. One Unofficial Guide reader offers this suggestion regarding character autographs:
Young children learn very quickly! If they see another child get an autograph, then they will want an autograph book as well. I recommend buying an autograph book right away. My 4-year-old daughter saw a child get Goofy’s autograph, and right away she wanted to join the fun.
Preparing your children to meet the characters
Because most small children are not expecting Minnie Mouse to be the size of a forklift, it’s best to discuss the characters with your kids before you go. Almost all of the characters are quite large, and several, such as Br’er Bear, are huge! All of them can be extremely intimidating to a preschooler.
On first encounter, it is important not to thrust your child upon the character. Allow the little one to come to terms with this big thing from whatever distance the child feels safe. If two adults are present, one should stay close to the youngster while the other approaches the character and demonstrates that the character is safe and friendly. Some kids warm to the characters immediately, while some never do. Most take a little time and often require several different encounters.
Part 5 – Disneyland Park
Star Tours—The Adventures Continue
DESCRIPTION AND COMMENTS
When Disney’s first modern flight simulator ride debuted in 1987, guests lined up for hours for their hyperspace voyage into a galaxy far, far away. But time and technology march on, and Star Tours received a top-to-bottom overhaul in 2011 with cutting-edge-digital 3D screens (the sharpest and clearest that we’ve ever seen) and in-cabin-Audio-Animatronic figures of C3P0, your golden droid pilot. During your inevitably turbulent travels, you’ll bump, twist, and dive into a who’s who of Star Wars icons, with heroes Master Yoda and Admiral “It’s A Trap!” Akbar on your side, and villains Darth Vader and Boba Fett on your back. Jedi junkies will want to know that the ride takes place between episodes III and IV, so you’ll be visiting planets from both the classic trilogy—such as icy Hoth and arid Tatooine—and the not-so-classic prequels, including Geonosis (home of the dreaded Death Star) and Naboo (home of the equally dreaded Jar Jar Binks).
The big twist is that the six possible cosmic destinations and five celebrity cameos are randomly combined into 54 different story variations, giving the attraction unprecedented re-ridability (though you may see all 11 potential ride elements in as few as three voyages). Fans of the former ride will be thrilled to find a wealth of references (along with hidden Disney characters and Star Wars inside jokes) inside the detailed queue, and those made uncomfortable by the old ride’s jerkiness will be surprised at how smooth and well-synchronized the reprogrammed experience now is.
Demand for the ride has died down since its grand reopening. But with only two-thirds the carrying capacity of Walt Disney World’s version, Disneyland’s Star Tours still sees hour-plus waits on busy days, so ride as early in the day as possible or grab a FastPass. If you have young children (or anyone) who are apprehensive about this attraction, ask the attendant about switching off. You can track the ride combinations you’ve seen on your phone at startourspassport.net.
Paint the Night
Disneyland’s newest nightly parade, Paint the Night, is patterned after the processional that debuted at Hong Kong Disneyland in 2014 (with a few new additions) as part of Disneyland’s Diamond Anniversary entertainment additions. Inspired in part by the original Main Street Electrical Parade, these brand-new floats are covered in 1.5 million LEDs. Each float represents a classic Disney or Pixar film, as scenes from Monsters Inc., Cars, Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and (wait for it . . . ) Frozen are brought to life by a cast of more than 75 performers, who bounce down the route to the upbeat sound track of Wreck-It Ralph’s “When Can I See You Again?” by pop artist Owl City (your kids will know who that is). Keep an ear out for musical nods to “Baroque Hoedown,” the old Electrical Parade’s synth-tastic theme song.
These super-bright displays go far beyond earlier nighttime pageants and include character puppets with digitally animated faces, a tractor-trailer full of floating 3D designs, and a kinetic Sorcerer’s Apprentice sculpture whose twisting motion defies description. In our opinion, Paint the Night is one of Disney’s best nighttime parades ever—not to be missed.
On nights with two scheduled Paint the Night parades, the first performance will start at It’s a Small World, travel past the west side of Matterhorn Bobsleds, go around the Tomorrowland side of Central Plaza, head down Main Street, and then circle Town Square counterclockwise. The second performance will begin at Town Square and run the route in the opposite direction. Most guests watch from Central Plaza or Main Street. The viewing area in front of It’s a Small World will fill up last, so we recommend checking there if you need a spot. Keep in mind that this is a new parade for the 60th anniversary celebration and has already proven very popular with guests. On busy days, you may need to devote more than an hour of time to make sure you secure a good spot for the parade.
The parade route will fill up a couple of hours early for the first showing, so we recommend grabbing a spot for the fireworks and then immediately getting a spot for the second performance of Paint the Night. Any spot along the parade route will offer the same experience, so you shouldn’t worry if you can’t see the parade on Main Street. Once the parade has started, count on gridlock all along the route, especially on Main Street. Due to aggressive crowd-control restrictions on the sidewalks, you’re best off entering or exiting the park via the backstage breezeways (if open) or Emporium shops.
Part 6 – Disney California Adventure
Cars Land is the crowning capstone on DCA’s transformation and the first major “land” in an American Disney theme park devoted solely to a single film franchise. Tucked in the park’s southeast corner on 12 acres of repurposed parking lot, Cars Land’s main entrance is across from the Golden Vine Winery, though there are secondary gateways in A Bug’s Land and in Pacific Wharf (the vista through the latter’s stone archway entrance is especially scenic). A massive mountainous backdrop topped with 125-foot high peaks patterned after 1950s Cadillac Pinnacle tail fins, known as the Cadillac Range, cradles Ornament Valley, home to a screen-accurate recreation of Radiator Springs. That’s the sleepy single-stoplight town along Route 66 populated by Pixar’s anthropomorphized automobiles. Along its main drag, in addition to three rides, you’ll find eateries themed to the film’s minor characters and souvenir shops selling Cars-themed and Route 66 merchandise.
Cars Land represents a considerable investment in capital and creativity for the Disney company, resulting in a rare example of complete entertainment immersion. Walking through the aesthetically astounding area is uncannily like stepping into the cinematic universe, and well worth the wait even if you weren’t particularly enamored of the merchandise-moving movies. Since opening, the area has attracted massive crowds all day and has dramatically increased DCA’s overall attendance. As striking as Cars Land is by daylight, it is even more stunning after sunset; the nightly neon-lighting ceremony set to the doo-wop classic “Life Could Be a Dream” is a magical must-see (showtimes are not publicized but occur promptly at sundown, so ask a Cars Land cast member and arrive early). Finally, a word to the wise from a Dallas, Texas, family:
Tip: Cars Land has NO shade. Literally none. Wear a hat.
Table of Contents
List of Maps
- Why “Unofficial”?
- How This Guide Was Researched and Written
- Disneyland Resort: An Overview
- Critical comparison of attractions found at both parks
- Attractions found only at Disneyland Park
PART ONE: Planning Before You Leave Home
- Gathering Information
- Timing Your Visit
- Anaheim convention and special event calendar
- Getting There
- A Word about Lodging
- Walking times to the theme park entrances and swimming pool ratings
- Hotels and Motels: Rated and Ranked
- The Top 30 best deals
- How the hotels compare
- Hotel information chart
- Making the Most of Your Time
- Touring Plans
PART TWO: Essentials
- The Bare Necessities
PART THREE: Disneyland with Kids
- The Brutal Truth about Family Vacations
- Mental and Emotional Preparation
- Basic Considerations: Is Disneyland for You?
- The Age Thing
- About Inviting Your Children’s Friends
- A Few Words for Single Parents
- “He Who Hesitates Is Launched!”: Tips and Warnings for Grandparents
- How to Childproof a Hotel Room
- Physical Preparation
- Developing a Good Plan
- Logistic Preparation
- Remembering Your Trip
- Trial Run
- Disney, Kids, and Scary Stuff
- Small-child fright-potential table
- Waiting-Line Strategies for Adults with Small Children
- Lost Children
- The Disney Characters
PART FOUR: Dining and Shopping in and around Disneyland
- Dining in Disneyland Resort
- Disney Dining 101
- Theme Park Counter-Service Restaurant Mini-Profiles
- Disneyland Resort Restaurants: Rated and Ranked
- Disneyland Resort restaurants by cuisine
- Dining outside Disneyland Resort
- Anaheim-Area Full-Service Restaurants
- Anaheim-Area restaurants by cuisine
- Shopping at Disneyland
PART FIVE: Disneyland Park
- Arriving and Getting Oriented
- Main Street, U.S.A.
- New Orleans Square
- Critter Country
- Mickey’s Toontown
- Live Entertainment and Special Events
- Unheralded Treasures at Disneyland Park
- Traffic Patterns at Disneyland Park
- Disneyland Park Touring Plans
PART SIX: Disney California Adventure
- A Most Anticipated Sequel
- Arriving and Getting Oriented
- Buena Vista Street
- Hollywood Land
- A Bug’s Land
- Paradise Pier
- Cars Land
- Pacific Wharf
- Grizzly Peak
- Parades and Live Entertainment
- Unheralded Treasures at DCA
- Traffic Patterns at DCA
- California Adventure Touring Plans
PART SEVEN: Universal Studios Hollywood
- Gathering Information
- Timing Your Visit
- Universal Studios Hollywood small-child fright-potential table
- Arriving and Getting Oriented
- Universal Studios Hollywood Attractions
- Live Entertainment at Universal Studios Hollywood
- Dining at Universal Studios Hollywood
- Universal Studios Hollywood One-Day Touring Plan
- Readers’ Questions to the Author
- Accommodation Index
- Restaurant Index
- Subject Index
- Clip-Out Touring Plans
List of Maps
- Southern California at a Glance
- Around Disneyland
- Disneyland-Area Hotels
- Hotels near Universal Studios
- Downtown Disney
- Disneyland Park
- Disney California Adventure
- Universal Studios Hollywood