Theme Parks

nullResidents and visitors of southern California can enjoy several theme parks in the area. Whether you like thrilling rollercoaster rides or you prefer a relaxed stroll among sea creatures you will find the right park for you and your family.

If you are visiting southern California for the first time, Disneyland is probably on the top of your list to see. But don't forget about the other great attractions like Sea World, Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.

During the long California summer, don't forget to visit one of the great water parks like Raging Waters and Knott's Soak City.

Pick your destination from the menu and go exploring.

Disney Land
California Adventure
Downtown Disney
Knott's Berry Farm
SeaWorld San Diego
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Universal Studios Hollywood

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Family Fun Centers

Bommers, Irvine - Bumper BoatsTake a tour of Southern California's best family fun centers. Those fun centers are usually full of go-kart racing, arcade games, laster tag and other thrilling rides. Some will have some water rides and most will have minitaure golf.

There is something for everyone in the family. 

Do you have a favorite fun center? Please share your experiences with us. Write an article or add a comment.

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Boomers Fun Center

Bommers, Irvine - Go-kartsBoomers is a family fun center in the city of Irvine and offers rides and games for the whole family. It ismainly geared towards children up to age 16, but older teens and adults can find a few rides and games to enjoy.

During our last visit we spent several hours playing golf, racing cars and trying to win a laser gun battle. 

The park has 2 go-kart race tracks - one for small children and the other one is for all ages. The main track is a good length and has many curves and sharp turns. The go-karts are mainly in good condition. The speed is just right for this type of track but some of the karts would hesitate at sharp turns and then pick up speed.

Bommers, Irvine - GolfThere were a lot of karts available so the wait in line was not too long. Small riders can try this exciting race with a parent or an older sibling in a 2-seater kart. The track would be much more fun if the attendants announced the winner of the race – to create more competition.

Local tip: You have to wear closed toe shoes (no sandals or flip-flops). If you have long hair plan on tying it before your ride.  

The smaller kids in your group can try “Lil’ Thunder Road” – a go-kart track that is just right for their age and size. They can ride by themselves while you are watching.

The miniature golf course at Boomers was lots of fun. It has 4 courses with a lot of green, water, castles and windmills. It could be a little challenging if you never golfed. The biggest challenge is when you hit the ball too hard and have to go hunting for it in the bushes. If it goes into one of the streams, you will have to go back to the ticket both and ask for a replacement. 

Bommers, Irvine - Bumper BoatsLocal tip: The best way to enjoy this fun center is to get a 4-hour pass ($30) which includes unlimited rides and $5 of video games. (Batting cage not included). 

Other fun rides are: Bumper boats; Rock climbing; Sidewinder; Flame thrower; King Arthur’s Carnival (spinning tea cups); and Batting cages. 

The last attraction we tried is the Laser Tag. The laser tag area is in the back of the video game arcade and usually there is a long line, but we lucked out. We went in with Bommers, Irvine - Laser Tagthe first group. It was smaller than other laser tag places I have been to, and very crowded. We still had a blast shooting everyone and everything in our way.

On our way out we spent some time playing video games. The arcade area is very large and has many new games, but the prices per game are very steep. A lot of the games are play-for-prizes games. You win tickets and redeem them for a cheap prize from the shop. Small kids love this idea and spend most of their time trying to win tickets.

Boomers is adding a new water ride area right next to the bumper boats. The new area will open this summer (2013). There aren’t a lot of details available yet, but I noticed several slides and tubes in the construction area. This addition will probably make the fun zone more attractive and a better destination for the whole family.

If you really love this place and live close by, try the season pass. For $50 you get 3 months of unlimited rides, video games, laser tag, golf and batting cages. 

Boomers, Irvine CA
Irvine, CA 
(949) 559-8341
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Knott’s Berry Farm

null It all started as a berries stand next to a family farm in Orange County CA. Soon the Knott’s family added preserves and pies then the very popular Mrs. Knott’s chicken restaurant. To keep customers waiting to be seated entertained, the Knott’s added some shops and attractions then built a ghost town.

Now the property is owned by a major entertainment company and has grown into a major theme park with several themed towns and many rides to satisfy every taste.

On our recent visit to Knott’s the kids and I had blast. We went on a Friday and we were lucky that the park was not crowded. We went on many rides and we were able to ride more than once on some of the popular ones. The high summer temperatures did not discourage us. Whenever we started to feel overheated we would go on a water ride (Bigfoot Rapids, Perilous Plunge or Timber Mountain Log Ride).

The park has several main areas of attractions and shops. It is very large and it is almost impossible to see and try all the rides and shows in one day. One way to try and accomplish this impossible feat it to buy Fast Lane tickets. Fast lane ticket holders have a separate queue and it is usually empty. Another way is to go during the week, but crowds and queues on any particular day are unpredictable.

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

Ghost Town

null Step back in time and experience life as it used to be in the old west. Ghost town has many shops and relics from a long gone era. You can find craftsmen working on their crafts, a one-room schoolhouse, a museum, a jailhouse, a few shops and food stands and a stagecoach that takes you around the park.

Within the boundaries of ghost town, you will also find Wild Water Wilderness with several rides.

Bigfoot Rapids

nullThis is a typical water ride in which you ride a circular raft and go through a river with twists, turns and plunges.

The ride is easy with no sudden movements or deep plunges, but you expect to get wet. That is the whole idea of a water ride.

If you want to enjoy it without getting wet, buy or bring a poncho. Remember to keep your cameras and other water sensitive items in the compartment provided in the middle of the raft.

Pony Express

nullPony express is a fast rollercoaster ride with a quick launch. The seats are designed to simulate a galloping horse but to me, they felt more like motorcycles. You straddle the seat and sit leaning forward, which adds to the excitement of the ride.

Like any rollercoaster, it goes through several twists and turns and ups and downs. This one is considered easy and appropriate for young children. It was fun to ride but ended too quickly.

Ghost Rider

nullGhost rider is one of the longest and tallest wooden rollercoasters in the world. It is a long and thrilling ride (about 2 minutes).

The lines are usually very long, but the wait is entertaining. You will start by going through a mining tunnel then you will go through a mine-themed structure. One your wait is over you will board gold, silver, and copper colored trains and start your climb to your first big drop. The whole experience feels like a runaway mining cart.

Silver Bullet

null This is another very fast and thrilling rollercoaster ride with a twist. The ride lasts 2 minutes and 9 seconds and is full of vertical, sideways and corkscrew loops. Expect to be tossed around and flipped upside down 6 times during this ride.

A lot of people are afraid of upside-down loops, but I noticed that when you are in the loop you really don’t feel you are upside down. You just feel that you are smashed into your seat – which is one reason why they warn pregnant women and people with back problems to avoid those types of rides.

If you want to see Silver Bullet in action watch the movie “Knocked Up”. It is prominent in the opening credits.

Timber Mountain Log Ride

null One of the classic water rides at Knott’s. You will ride a boat shaped like a log and tunnel through darkened mountain waterway. The highlight of the ride is the big plunge through a rushing water flume at the end.

Dining at Ghost Town

If you are very hungry go to Spurs where you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat BBQ. Other options include Sutter’s; Ghost Town Bakery.

Fiesta Village

Fiesta Village is a Mexican pop-culture area with several Mexican themed rides and restaurants.

Here you find heart-stopping rides like La Revolución, Jaguar, and Montezooma's Revenge along with more relaxed rides like Dragon Swing; Hat Dance and Merry-Go-Round.

La Revolución

Whatever you do don’t go on this ride after a big meal. You may lose it. This a fast-spinning ride – and while you are spinning, one side is lifted up to 120 degrees. So you are going up and down and spinning at the same time.

Jaguar

nullJaguar is one of the oldest rollercoaster rides at Knott’s. It is easier than most of the other rollercoasters but it is still a lot of fun.

Your fun starts when you get in the queue by entering an ancient Aztec temple shaped like a pyramid. Throughout the temple, you will see drawings and paintings from the Aztec empire. On one side of the bottom floor, you will see skeletons of long-dead prisoners. While on another side you can see a giant Aztec idol. To add to the eerie atmosphere, you will be hearing the beat of drums and other sound effects.

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

Once you complete your journey through the temple you will ride on one of 2 trains and start your first ascent. After that, you go several typical twists and turns and a few bunny hills and a second hill. The ride goes through or close to several other rides and rollercoasters which adds to the excitement.

The ride takes about 2 minutes. 

Montezooma's Revenge

nullThis rollercoaster also have been around for a long time at Knott’s but still very popular. The ride only lasts for 35 seconds but it will feel much longer.

You first get launched from 0 to 55 miles per hour in 3 seconds. Then you go through a giant 7 story vertical loop and keep going, almost straight up, until you run out of tracks. The train then starts falling backward, going through the loop in reverse, passing the boarding station and going up to the other end of the track. Finally, you will be sent forward to disembark. A very thrilling 35 seconds.

Dragon Swing

It is always fun to ride on a dragon swing – if you can handle the feeling of being weightless for a few seconds.

The ride is shaped like a giant pirate ship. Once everyone is seated and properly secured with the lap restraint, the ship will start swinging. The angle of swinging will keep getting sharper until you almost vertical to the ground. For a few seconds, while the wing is switching from up to down motion, you will feel weightless.

I am not sure if this is myth or truth, but people say that the middle seats are easier than the last seats on either side. Maybe you can try both and let us know. I picked the middle seats, but my kids went for the side ones.

Hat Dance

Hat dance is very similar to the mad hatter at Disneyland. You basically pick your sombrero and start spinning to your heart’s content. The ride usually turns into a contest between kids or kids and their parents to see who will say uncle first.

Merry-Go-Round

This is one of the oldest running merry-go-rounds. It has on duty for more than a century. While riding the large assortment of animals you can enjoy the music of the old organ.

Wind Seeker

nullThis is one of the newest rides at Knott’s. The ride is a very tall tower 301 with long swigs attach to it. The ride starts while the swings are close the ground. Once you are safely sitting in your assigned seat and the restraint bar is in place, the swings start rising to the top of the tower.

The whole swing assembly starts spinning with increasing speed. By the time you reach the highest point the swings will be spinning at 30 miles an hour.

Along with the thrill of being so high up and quickly spinning you will have the added advantage of a great view of Orange County.

The ride has a different feel at night when the specially designed lighting effects are let up.

The ride is about 3 minutes long.

Dining options

Fiesta village has only 2 main dining venues: La Victoria Cantina and Pancho's Tacos. Both offer Mexican food. La Victoria has a better selection and a nice shaded area to enjoy your food.
If you don’t like Mexican food, you can get a Fries snack at Papa Loca.

The Boardwalk
This is where you can find most of the thrill rides along with many arcade games. This includes physical challenges like rock climbing, basketball and rope ladder crawl.

Boomerang

nullIf you didn’t get enough of being tossed around forwards and backwards in Montezooma's Revenge then jump into this Boomerang.

On this rollercoaster you will start your trip going backwards through some loops then reverse directions to go back to through the station for another set of loops. You will then be sent backwards yet again to come to rest at the station.

Your ride will last about 1.5 minutes and you feel like a boomerang at the end of the ride.

Perilous Plunge

Have you ever fantasized about running the Niagara Falls in a barrel? Probably not, but if you go on this ride you will come very close to doing so.

It starts as a typical water ride, riding a log through a stream of water, but the final plunge is nothing but typical. Your log boat will be plunging from a height of 115 foot in a very sharp 75-degree angle. This is 34-foot shy of the Niagara Falls height.

Note: Perilous Plunge will be closing for good on Sept 3 to make way for a new ride.

Sky Cabin

If you would like to experience the great views of Orange County without the adrenaline rush of Wind Seeker, this is the ride for you. Just sit down and relax while the rotating cabin climbs the high tower to the top. Enjoy the view from the top for a while before descending slowly to the ground.

Supreme Scream

If you are not a thrill seeker or if you are afraid of heights then avoid this ride. Otherwise, enjoy the thrill of being propelled at high speed to a height of 254 feet and then being rendered weightless while you are dropping back to the ground level. You will bounce a few times until you settle back down.

WipeOut

This is similar to La Revolución ay Fiesta Village but not as intense. The ride spins fast while undulating up and down.

Two riders can share one seat. The centrifugal force will make the inside rider crush into the outside rider. So hopefully you let the smaller of you ride on the inside.

The ride was exhilarating but I was happy when it was over.

Xcelerator

nullThis is probably the best and most thrilling rollercoaster at Knott’s to date. You start with a very fast launch that takes you from 0 to 82 mph in 2.3 seconds.

The train then quickly ascends a 205 ft loop (about 20 stories) – a 90-degree angle. After this epic climb, you will still have to navigate through several large loops before landing back at the station.

The ride is about 62 seconds.

Note: There are 2 different lines for this ride. If you want additional thrills, go to the line that takes to the first seats on the train. This line takes longer but it is worth the wait.

Dining options

Johnny Rockets is my favorite dining place at the boardwalk. It is a well-known chain that resembles 50’s diners and offer great American food. Hollywood Hits and Boardwalk Barbeque are other good options.

Camp Snoopy

nullIf you have young kids you are probably starting your day at camp snoopy. This is themed around the "Peanuts" comic strip characters. It has many rides suited for young children and their parents.

Some of the children rides are: Ca Bus; High Sierra Ferris Wheel; Snoopy Bounce; Joe Cool's Gr8 Sk8 and Charlie Brown's Speedway.

It also has one new rollercoaster that would be fun for all ages. It is the Sierra Sidewinder.

Sierra Sidewinder

The Sierra Sidewinder is a rollercoaster with a split personality. It has trains that run on winding tracks, but each car is actually freely spinning along the way. This makes the ride more interesting because you can never predict which way you will be facing after each turn or climb.

The ride is about 2 minutes long.

Dining options

The only diner here is Grizzly Creek Lodge. You enjoy hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, fresh salads or Snoopy's Kids Meals. They indoors and outdoors dining areas.

For a quick snack grab some dipping dots at Cave Inn.

New Year's Eve Celebration

nullKnott's Berry Farm puts on its festive decorations, rock bands and special shows to celebrate the new year. Everywhere you go you are greeted with bright colors and happy music. At 7 PM the cast start distributing free party favors to all (while supplies last). If are lucky you will get a hat and a noise maker.

If you are in the mood, you can dance to great music at the Calico Square. Every year Knott's presents different acts.

In 2015/2016 they had DJ Howly who played an eclectic mix of high energy music and the cover band The Reflexx who played 80's songs like "Send Me An Angel".

At the stroke of midnight, a spectacular fireworks show starts in western skies above Knott's. It was an exciting way to welcome the new year.

Knott's Berry Farm
8039 Beach Boulevard
Buena Park CA 90620

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The Disney Resort

nullWhen visiting Anaheim, you are guaranteed to have fun. The obvious primary destination is The Disneyland resort area. This includes Disneyland, California Adventure, Downtown Disney and the Disneyland hotel.

You will need several days just to explore the Disney resort area. But if you have more time you can visit other attractions in the area like Knott's Berry Farm; Universal Studios and Seaworld.

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

Read the more detailed articles about the Disney Resort included under this heading. They are full of information and tips that you can't find anywhere else. They also include links to special admission deals.

Once you have done the amusement parks or if you need a break, visit one of the great parks, play golf, play tennis, go hiking, explore the mountains or have fun at the beach - all in Anaheim or within a short distance from Anaheim. Find articles about those other places under the "Back to Nature" section.

Anaheimer Tip: You don't need to spend a lot of money to have fun in Anaheim. You can take the kids to a park or for a hike. You can go for a stroll in downtown Disney or at the Garden Walk.

Books about the Disney Resort:

Disneyland Anaheim Vacationland
Everything Family Guide to the Disneyland Resort
Birnbaum's Disneyland Resort 2009

List of Disney Resort articles:

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California Adventure

California Adventure park at duskCalifornia Adventure opened its doors on February 8, 2001. It is a totally separate theme park from Disneyland, but they both reside within the Disney Resort complex.

The park started with five areas but was remodeled recently to include 7 distinct areas. Each area represents various aspects of California, its culture, landmarks and history. It is home to Disney’s only real rollercoaster, a must see hang-glider ride and a unique Ferris wheel. 

Visit Paradise Pier or Pacific Wharf to relive summer times at a California beach town. Or go to Hollywood Land for a look into how Disney movies are made and to live inside the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. And for a trip into California's wilderness, visit Grizzly Peak. Finally, for a thrilling race through Radiator Springs go to Cars Land. 

To learn more about the history of the park, go here.

nullThis park is full of rides, shows and parades to enjoy - so plan your visit ahead of time. Your plans should take into consideration the ages of your kids, the length of your stay and your endurance power.

To make your experience more enjoyable and stress-free, plan your visit by going to Disney’s website. The site allows visitors to filter for attractions by “Thrill Type”, “Interests” or “Age”. For example, you can choose “Big Drops”, “Slow Rides”, “Teens”, etc. But before you go there, stick around and learn about the park from a local.

I live practically around the corner from the Disney Resort and spend a lot of time at the parks. I would like to share my experiences with you. Hopefully, it will help get the most out of your visit. 

The park is usually open from 9 AM to 8 PM on weekdays and from 8 AM to 11 PM on weekends and holidays.

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

Tip: Most rides offer a single rider line. Even if you don't see a sign indicating "Single Riders", ask the attendants. They will direct you to the "secret" line. You can take advantage of this feature even if you are with a group. If you don't mind being separated during the ride, just go for it.

nullSo, what is the best way to enjoy the park? What are the best rides? It really depends on your preferences, but here one way to experience the park:

Buena Vista Street

As you enter the park you will be on Buena Vista Street, which was named after the actual street in Burbank where Disney studios sit.

As you walk down this street you will notice many shops and snack stands. Restrooms are to your right as you walk in. 

The street leads to the central plaza that represents Los Angeles in the 1920’s. 

Before you reach the plaza, turn right onto Grizzly Peak area for some great fun.

Grizzly Peak

nullTake a hike through California’s national parks with Redwood trees, whitewater rapids and high mountain peaks.

Soarin' Around the World

I always like to make this my first ride of the day. If you are anything like me, you will end up going on it multiple times. 

The ride simulates flying in a hang-glider above iconic world sites like the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. It also flys over Swiss Alps, Greenland, Sydney and Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa - to name a few.

nullThe ride ends with a flight over Disneyland right in the middle of the fireworks display.

The amazing scenery passing right under your feet is so realistic and the smells (yes! You heard it right: Smells) are so invigorating that you can very easily forget you are in a simulator.  <FastPass Available>

Tip: Some rides offer FastPass. It is a way to avoid long lines at some rides. For example if you go to Soarin' Over California and find out that the wait time is too long, get a FastPass. It will specify an appointment time for you to come back. When you come back you will go through a different line which is usually very short. 

Books about the Disney Resort

The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2016 

Disneyland Secrets  

Grizzly River Run

As you exit Soarin' Over California turn right and walk towards Grizzly River Run. This is a California Adventure Grizzly River Runwhitewater rafting ride. 

The attraction's name comes from Grizzly Peak, the bear-shaped mountain that the rapids flow around. You are guaranteed to get wet on this ride so go during warm weather, or you can buy one of the plastic smocks and avoid the worst of the drenching. If you brave the cold weather and get wet, there are drying booths right outside the ride's exit. <FastPass Available>

Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

nullRight opposite to Grizzly River Run, you will find this wilderness themed play area. This place can be great fun for both kids and adults.

You can climb the rocks, glide on rock slides, climb up wooden lookout towers with rope bridges or slide down a rope in a suspended tire.

Don’t forget to go through the Spirit Cave to discover your mystical animal spirit. 

If you prefer to relax and let the kids run amuck, benches are available.

Tip: this play area is very large with many fun things to do. On the way in, inspect the large map to decide which way to go.

Paradise Gardens Park

nullAfter your adventure at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, turn right into Paradise Garden Park. Step back in time and walk into a carnival full of rides, parlor games and fast food.

The area surrounds a large manmade lake where the “World of Color” show plays.

Goofy's Sky School

This is a crazy rollercoaster ride where Goofy will "teach" you how to fly. It is based on Disney's animated cartoon "Goofy's Glider".

nullThe ride has a lot of turns, drops and sudden stops, but it is not very fast. The sides of the tracks are wide open. This gives the rider the feeling of falling off on sharp turns. The open sides and the sudden drops may be unsettling for small children.

As you fly in your gliders, billboards on the sides of the tracks show Goofy giving step by steps instructions on how to fly. <FastPass Available>

Jumpin' Jellyfish

nullAt the Jumpin’ Jellyfish, the younger kids can enjoy a parachute jump through a Kelp forest. The secure seats will take them up to a height of 40 feet and then drop them gently to the ground. On the way down they can enjoy a nice view of Paradise Bay.

Tip: If you have loose shoes or slippers on, take them off before the ride or you will lose them.

Silly Symphony Swings

nullHuge spinning swings rock you back and forth as they spin you round and round - synchronized to the music of "The Band Concert". 

As you spin, you have a great view of Paradise Bay and the other rides around you.

 

 

World of Color Show

nullTo end your day at California Adventure with awe and wonderment, you must plan to view this spectacular show. 

The show projects various movie clips from the vast Disney and Pixar collections on a giant screen of water and mist – with a fiery display of pyrotechnics. Accompanying the spectacular display is a magical musical score.

The show also utilizes lights, water, fire, fog, and lasers. Expect to see clips from The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Fantasia 2000, WALL-E, Toy Story, Aladdin and many more.

Tip: The show plays 2 times on the weekend and one time on weekdays. It is immensely popular so you will need to plan ahead.

nullThe best way is to head straight to Grizzly River Run ride and get FastPass tickets to the show. Those free tickets run out quickly, so make it your first stop when you arrive at the park. You can combine those FastPasses with other ride FastPasses.

Another option is to reserve a dining package at one of the sit-down restaurants surrounding Paradise Bay (Ariel's Grotto, Carthay Circle Restaurant, Wine Country Trattoria). Dining at those places is a little pricey, but if you were planning to have dinner anyway, this it is a good way to catch the show too. <FastPass Available>

Pixar Pier

Continuing with the California theme, Pixar Pier is just like any beach town pier with lots of rides, food and entertainment. 

Incredicoaster (California Screamin)

California Adventure IncredicoasterThis is the only real rollercoaster at the Disney resort. It is currently the fastest steel roller coaster in the US and features a full loop. 

The ride starts with very quick acceleration through the water in Paradise Bay and splashes California Adventure Incredicoastermost of the riders. 

The 55 mph speed and all the twists and turns make this ride the most thrilling ride in the Disney parks.

Recently, Disney reimagined this ride with a Pixar Incredibles theme. As you zip through the twists and loops you get to enjoy sights and sounds from the movie series.  <FastPass Available>

Tip: Another way to beat the lines and Disney parks is the single ride line. If you are traveling alone (or willing to pretend you are alone) you can go the single ride line which goes faster than the regular line.

Lunch Time

California Adventure offers many dining options. You can get a quick snack from places like “Corn Dog Castle” or “Cozy Cone Motel” or you can get lunch for a casual dining place like “Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill” or “Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta”. If you really want to enjoy an upscale experience, try “Carthay Circle” or “Wine Country Trattoria. My favorites:

Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill

Grab your authentic Mexican tacos, burritos or tamales and take them to the shaded outdoor patio. 

Smokejumpers Grill

nullRight next to “Soarin' Over the World” you can enjoy cheeseburgers, chicken and ribs. You can customize your burger by adding your own toppings.

Carthay Circle

A fine dining restaurant that offers mouth water dishes like “Crisp Duck Confit” or “Herb-Crusted Lamb Scaloppini”.  For dessert, you should try the “Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée tart” or the “dark chocolate mousse bar”.

Paradise Pier Ice Cream Company

Tip: Disneyland and CA Adventure now offer the Max Pass. For $10 extra you can book your FastPasses from the mobile app - avoiding the lines. 

For a snack, you have to visit this soft serve ice cream stand. The lines are long, but it worth the wait. They serve the usual cup or cone – vanilla, chocolate or swirl. But they also serve coke or root beer floats. 

Cars Land

nullThis is the newest addition to California Adventure park. It spans 12 acres and contains 3 rides and several dining places. 

Radiator Springs Racers

This is a car driving experience through the town of Radiator Springs. After you board your 6 passenger car, you will cruise through town and be greeted by familiar faces from the “Cars” movie. 

nullPassing through an Archway, a valley and under a waterfall, you will end up at the race starting line. Expect some surprises along the way as you pass through a dark and mysterious area.

At the start line, your car will race another car to the finish line going through some exhilarating sharp turns and steep drops. The cars in this section of the ride can go up to 40 miles an hour. 

nullWhile you race away, notice the “Cadillac Range Mountains”. The peaks resemble the tail fins of classic Cadillac models from 1957 to 1962. <FastPass Available> <Single Rider Line>

Tip: At one of those sharp turns with a drop - towards the end - your photo will be taken. Be ready to make your goofiest pose for the camera.

Cars Land also has 2 additional attractions that are more appropriate for smaller children:

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree: Ride a trailer that is pulled by a funny looking tractor. 

Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters: You sit in your vintage cars then the cars start dancing around the yard.

Pacific Wharf

Like any respectable Wharf in California, expect to find a variety of dining experiences and snack shops here. You can also take a tour through a functioning bakery. The main attraction is Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar where you will get a glimpse on how ideas turn into reality.

Hollywood Land

nullStep into the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s and enjoy the magic of cinema and theater. Stroll through Hollywood streets and catch a show at the Hyperion Theater or go on a terrifying ride at the “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror”.

Frozen – Live at the Hyperion

If you loved the movie, you will enjoy this theatrical rendition of the story. This show replaced the Aladdin show at the same theater.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout!

California Adventure Guardians of the GalaxyThis ride is not for the faint of heart, pregnant women or people with back problems.

This should give an idea of what to expect on this thrill ride.

Be prepared to be flung up high and then dropped in fits and starts. 

The ride used to be called The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror but it was engineered recently with a Marvels Guardians of the Galaxy theme.

Your mission, if you are willing to take it, is to rescue the guardians from the evil collecter Taneleer Tivan who imprisoned them at the top of his tower. Your assistant on this dangerous mission is Rocket. 

The ride uses the latest visual and audio special effects with clips from the movie series.  <FastPass Available>

Animation Academy

nullDid you always want to draw Disney characters but didn’t know how? Then join this session with a Disney animator to learn the basics of animation. At the end of the session, take your creation home with you. No talent is required and all ages are welcome.

Dinner Time

The gang must be hungry after all this excitement.

Casual Dining

If you are in the mood for something casual, go to “Award Wieners” where they serve delicious sausage and hotdogs.

For food truck experience, try the “Studio Catering Co.” for some corn dogs, chips or caramel popcorn.

For dessert head to “Schmoozies” for some great fruit smoothies.

Full-Service Restaurants

For a luxurious sit-down dinner, try the "Lamplight Lounge" with seats on the lake and overlooking Paradise Pier and the Roller Coaster ride. 

The view is great but the food is even better. During my last visit, I had the Cheddar Burger with fries. The burger was cooked to perfection and fries were seasoned and very tasty. For my drink, I chose the Open Ocean - a frozen raspberry and rum drink. 

Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!

Based on the 2001 Pixar movie, the ride takes passengers through the dark streets of Monstropolis where they encounter all kinds of monsters.

In a cavernous space with doors leading to children rooms, Randall the angry monster tries to destroy Boo's door to trap her in Monstropolis forever. 

Mike and Sulley find the door and save the day as usual. 

Disney Deals

Southern California Pass

If you are staying in the area for a week or more, you can purchase Southern California Pass. It includes 3-Day Disneyland Tickets, tickets for one day each at Universal Studios, SeaWorld and your choice of a ticket to the San Diego Zoo OR San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park:

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com! 

Multi-day park hopper

You get a better value for your dollar when buying multi-day park hopper passes. They come in 2, 3, 4, 5-day packages.

California Adventure FASTPASS Attractions

FastPass is a way to avoid long lines at some rides. For example, if you go to space mountain and find out that the wait time is too long, get a FastPass. It will specify an appointment time for you to come back. When you come back you go through a different line which is usually very short. Be aware that you can only have one FastPass at a time (per rider).

Rides that offer FastPass:

  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark
  • Incredicoaster
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • World of Color.

California Adventure Single Rider Lines

Another way to beat the lines and Disney parks are the single rider lines. If you are traveling alone (or willing to split from your group when you reach the ride) you can go to the single rider line which goes faster than the regular line. On a recent visit, the wait line for my ride was 75 minutes. I was able to get in within 5 minutes through the single rider line.

Rides that offer single rider line:

  • Incredicoaster (California Screamin')
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Radiator Springs Racers (distributed near It’s Tough to Be a Bug)
  • Soarin’ Over the World.

Rider Switch (Swap) Rides

Do you have small children but you don't want to miss out on the thrilling rides? Line up with the whole group and when you reach the attendants let them know you would like to swap. One adult will stay with the young children and the other adults can go on the ride. When the first ride is done, the adult that stayed with the children can now enjoy the ride while the others wait.

Rides that offer rider swapping: 

  • California Screamin'
  • Goofy's Sky School 
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Silly Symphony Swings - Single 
  • Silly Symphony Swings - Tandem 
  • Soarin' Over California
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 
  • Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies.
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Disneyland

null Disneyland opened its doors to the public on July 18, 1955. Since then over 500 million people visited the park from all over the world. It is considered the most visited park in the world, second only to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. If you really want to know the history, go to Wikipedia

I live practically around the corner from the Disney Resort and spend a lot of time at the parks. I would like to share my experiences with you. Hopefully, this will make your visit more enjoyable. 

The park is usually open from 9 AM to 11 PM, but times may vary. Go here for the latest schedule. Disney hotel guests can enjoy an extra hour of fun before the usual opening time. 

The park is very large. It sits on 85 acres of land with 60 attractions in 7 themed lands. So it is very easy to get overwhelmed by all choice. To make your experience more enjoyable and stress-free, plan your visit by going to Disney’s website. The site allows visitors to filter for attractions by “Thrill Type”, “Interests” or “Age”. For example, you can choose “Big Drops”, “Slow Rides”, “Teens”, etc.

nullYou can also download the new Disneyland mobile app (https://disneyland.disney.go.com/guest-services/download-disneyland-mobile-app/) which is very useful for locating rides and checking wait times. 

Disney Admission Deals: See bottom of this article for special admission deals.

Tip: Avoid going on the weekends and major holidays. Disneyland is a very crowded place during those times. Expect long lines.

So, what is the best way to enjoy Disneyland? It really depends on what you like and the ages of your kids – if any. Yes. you don’t have to have kids to enjoy Disneyland.

Here is one way to enjoy the park. It is most suited for a family with older kids (teens and pre-teens).

Starting your day

nullThe main gate opens 15-30 minutes before the official opening time. Don’t forget to pick up your park map and entertainment schedule.

Tip: If you are staying at one of the Disney hotels, then your opening time is 1 hours earlier. Take advantage of this perk

Once the main gate opens rush through Main Street. Do not stop at any of the shops. There is plenty of time for shopping later. Go all the way to the ribbon and wait until the actual opening time.

As soon as they open the final obstacle between you and fun, rush to your first ride.

Tip: Some rides offer FastPass. It is a way to avoid long lines at some rides. For example, if you go to space mountain and find out that the wait time is too long, get a FastPass. It will specify an appointment time for you to come back. When you come back you go through a different line which is usually very short. Be aware that you can only have one FastPass at a time (per rider).  

Tomorrow Land

Tomorrow Land is a futuristic themed area full of thrills and discovery. This land offers a lot of new and original attractions.

Space Mountain

nullThis is one of the most popular rides in the park. It is part roller coaster and part Disney magic. Waiting in line is part of the fun. You enter a spaceport – with a huge starship in the center, receive your instructions from Admiral Ackbar, ride your rocket ship and blast off into outer space. 

Your spaceship rockets through space with sharp turns and steep drops while avoiding near-collisions with asteroids and enemy spaceships. The ride is dark on purpose so you can enjoy the cosmic background. 

Tip: For the physically challenged visitors, Disneyland provides powered wheelchairs when needed and a special appointment system so they won’t need to wait in line. The appointment system works for everyone in the party.

Recently, the ride was renamed “Hyperspace Mountain” in honor of the “Star Wars” movie franchise. The ride itself was upgraded to simulate a dogfight between Rebel X-wing starfighters and Imperial TIE fighters. <FastPass Available>

Tip: See full list of FastPass attractions at the bottom of this article.

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

nullThis is the new and improved version of the old submarine ride. It is very popular and the lines could be very long, especially with younger kids. 

It is basically a submarine ride through the famous animation movie “Finding Nemo”. Once you dive into the depths of the “Tomorrow Land Lagoon”, you will be helping Marlin and Dory to find Nemo.

Breakfast 

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

After enjoying a few rides, take a break and enjoy breakfast at one of those places: 

River Belle Terrace: This is my favorite spot for breakfast. They serve great eggs and bacon breakfast, but they are famous for their Mickey Mouse Pancakes and the great view from the terrace.

Carnation Café: Is another great spot for breakfast. They are famous for their Apple Granola Pancakes.

La Brea Café: If you planned ahead and decided to have breakfast before you enter the park, this nice cafe in Downtown Disney offers good coffee and pastries.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

nullAnother ride based on a popular movie: “Toy Story”. On this ride, kids of all ages can become junior space rangers, ride the XP-40 space cruiser and use laser guns to help Buzz Lightyear destroy the evil villain “Emperor Zurg”. 

During the ride, you have full control over your cruiser. You can spin around to locate and shoot your targets. Score a lot of points and become a "Galactic Hero".

Tip: To score a lot of points, keep firing at all times, try to find the targets with the highest points (like Emperor Zurg), and even when the ride stops, keep firing.

Star Tours

This is a flight simulator ride based on the “Star Wars” movies. Riders will start on a leisurely trip to the “Endor Moon” and end up in the middle of a space battle between the forces of the empire and the rebels.

The ride is now upgraded with scenes from the latest “Star Wars” movie in amazing 3D.<FastPass Available>

Star Wars Launch Bay

 nullThis section of Tomorrow Land used to house the rotating showcase “Innoventions”. Now it is home to Star Wars - The Force Awakens props, characters and memorabilia. Enjoy the spaceship models and take a peek at some behind the scene video clips.

The kids and diehard fans can line up for photos with Chewbacca or the fierce warrior Kylo Ren. At the theater, you can watch a 10-minute behind the scene film celebrating the movie franchise and offering glimpses of future releases.

In the hands-on area, you can play the latest Disney video games line “Infinity 3.0”.

Right outside the Launch Bay, you can see “Storm Troopers” terrorizing civilians.  

Star Wars Path of the Jedi

Take an exciting 12-minute tour of the Star Wars saga. Starting from episode 1 and including the latest blockbuster “The Force Awakens”, relive the thrilling moments of the movie franchise with special effects and motion simulation. Your seat would move in sync with the action on the large screen.

This show is located right under Space Mountain – where Captain Eo used to play. The show is not a 3D show, but you will not miss the glasses. The action on the screen and around you in the theater makes up for the extra dimension.

Autopia 

nullYou can’t have an amusement park without a car ride, and this one was around since the opening of Disneyland in 1955.

The adventure starts while you are winding through the long lines. You will pass through the Grand Stand where cars discuss the world from their point of view. 

Then you will get on one of the Honda-powered cars and drive through a maze of roads. Although you do control the gas pedal and the steering wheel, the cars are on a track. So you can’t go too fast or veer off the designated road. 

As you cruise down the highway, enjoy the quirky road signs and the views of other rides.    null

Astro Orbiter

Take a ride on a rocket that spins around the solar system. This is the ride the greets visitors as they enter Tomorrow Land. 

Lunch

Tomorrowland Terrace: Conveniently located next to Star Wars Launch Bay, this fast food restaurant serves fried chicken, burgers, salads and more.

Tip: Time your lunch with the “Jedi Training Academy” show right there on the terrace. There is usually a showing every hour

French Market Restaurant: If you feel like something more substantial, then walk across to New Orleans Square and have your lunch at this great restaurant. This cafeteria-style eatery serves Cajun/Creole dishes. On weekends, you can catch some Jazz or Dixieland tunes on the onsite stage.

Matterhorn Bobsleds

nullA fast rollercoaster/water ride that tumbles through the iconic Matterhorn mountain. Jump into your alpine sled, climb to the top of a snowcapped mountain then plunge through the caves and waterfalls. Along the way, watch out for the scary Abominable Snowman.

This ride is located in-between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. It doesn’t belong to either land. It also has 2 different entrances. If you pick the Fantasyland entrance will get a slightly longer with some sharper turns.

The Matterhorn is a real mountain in Switzerland with a 14,700-foot summit.

New Orleans Square

nullNew Orleans Square is a themed land based on 19th-century New Orleans. Along with nice riverfront restaurants, it offers two of the most popular rides:

Pirates of the Caribbean 

This ride was always very popular and became even more popular after the release of the movie series with the same name. 

In case you didn’t know, the movie is based on the ride. But the ride benefited from the movie with new upgrades and new characters. 

It is basically a boat ride through Caribbean towns with scenes of pillage and destruction – just like the movie. <FastPass Available>

Haunted Mansion 

nullIf the lines are not too long, this attraction might be worth a visit. Using Disney animatronics and visual effects, you get to see various ghosts and goals in action. 

I am not going to describe this ride in detail because part of the fun is the surprise, but watch out for unauthorized ghostly riders in your buggy.<FastPass Available>

Tip: Another way to beat the lines and Disney parks is the single ride line. If you are traveling alone (or willing to split from your group when you reach the ride) you can go to the single rider line which goes faster than the regular line. On a recent visit, the wait line for my ride was 75 minutes. I was able to get in within 5 minutes through the single rider line.

Disneyland Fireworks

nullIt is not a ride, but it deserves its own section. This amazing fireworks display happens every night at Disneyland and you can’t miss it. Along with the spectacular fireworks show, Disney recently added visual projections throughout the park – best along Main Street.

The display changes with the seasons, with special shows for Christmas and the New Year.

You can view the display from 4 main areas inside the park as well as admission plaza between the two parks. 

Best viewing area, in my opinion, is Main Street. Try to get to Main Street before or during the Paint the Night Parade. Wait until the parade ends then move to the center of the street. Make sure you can see sleeping beauty castle from your vantage point. When the show starts, you will enjoy the fireworks straight ahead and the beautiful projects on both sides of the street. An added advantage is being closer to the exit – if you plan to leave right after the fireworks.

If you prefer to be closer to the fireworks, then try to find a spot in front of the castle – maybe in the center circle between the lands. You will probably have to go very early and wait a while.

Another good spot is at “Small World” ride. It is even closer to the fireworks, but you will not be able to see the castle and Tinker Bell. 

You can also view the fireworks from the Rivers of America area. Not the best location, but it is convenient if you are coming out of Pirate of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion. 

Adventureland

nullAdventureland is designed to take the visitor to a tropical jungle full of surprises and adventure:

Indiana Jones 

This ride is based on the Indiana Jones films. Riders are taken on an adventure in a military transport vehicle through a lost temple with Indiana Jones as your guide. 

The ride is bumpy with a lot of sharp turns. It doesn’t exactly qualify as a roller coaster but comes close to it. <FastPass Available>

Tip: The line for Indiana Jones is usually very long, so if you can, get a FastPass and come back later. Alternatively, you can make it your first ride and avoid the lines

Tarzan's Treehouse

nullIn between rides take the kids to release some energy at Tarzan's Treehouse. Let them climb the tree, cross the ramp to Tarzan’s secret hideaway and bang on the various musical instruments

Books about Disneyland:

The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2016

Disneyland Secrets  

Jungle Cruise 

The attraction simulates a riverboat cruise down major rivers of the world. Visitors board steamer ships and take a voyage past many different jungle animals.

Frontierland

Frontierland recreates the era of trailblazers and pioneers in the wild west. Running through this land is “The Rivers of America” where steamboats, sail ships, rafts and canoes float by.

Tip: Part of the Rivers of America was recently drained to allow for the new Star Wars Land expansion. The steamboat and raft rides were closed, as well as Tom Sayer’s Island.   

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 

nullThis is a fun rollercoaster ride through mine shafts, bat caves, falling rocks and waterfalls. The rider gets the feeling that they are riding a runaway train. <FastPass Available>

The Golden Horseshoe 

If you haven’t had your lunch yet, this is a good time to stop for lunch or dinner. The dinner and show style restaurant offers fish and chips, chicken breast nuggets, Chili cheese fries and chili in a bread bowl. For entertainment enjoy the silly shenanigans of the Laughing Stock Co.

Critter Country

If you continue your stroll along the rivers of America, you will end up at Critter Country, the home of Splash Mountain and Winnie the Pooh.

Splash Mountain 

nullThis ride is part log ride and part movie production. The theme is based on the Disney movie “Song of the South”. At the end of the ride expect a steep drop and a big splash. Most riders will get wet! So only go on this ride when the weather is warm. <FastPass Available>

Hungry Bear Restaurant 

Is it dinner time yet? Have a picnic at this riverside haven is nestled among the pine trees. Enjoy cheeseburgers, chicken sandwich or a healthy salad while watching the ducks swim by. 

Fantasyland

nullAfter you experience some adventures in Frontierland, Adventureland and Critter Country, skip back to fantasyland. Pass through the majestic Sleeping Beauty Castle, fly with Peter Pan, tumble into Alice's Wonderland, ride the flying elephant Dumbo or take a trip around "it's a small world".

Tip: Do you have small children but you don't want to miss out on the thrilling rides? Line up with the whole group and when you reach the attendants let them know you would like to swap. One adult will stay with the young children and the other adults can go on the ride. When the first ride is done, the adult that stayed with the children can now enjoy the ride while the others wait.

It’s a small world 

nullThis ride never gets old or boring. Children and adults of all ages will enjoy it. You ride a toy boat through several world destinations, with singing and dancing dolls representing the peoples of those countries. The music is great and it mixes several famous Disney tunes. Once you pass through the lines, it is time to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Peter Pan's Flight 

Fly with Peter Pan over London and onto Neverland and through skull rock. Witness a duel between Peter Pan and Captain Hook. You will get a chance to see many more characters from the movie.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant 

The kids get to fly with Dumbo and his friends over fantasyland. They get to control the flight and decide how high to go.

Other Rides 

Fantasyland is full of other small rides for the whole family. You can spin as fast as you can at the Mad Hatter Tea Party, go as slow as you like at King Arthur Carrousel and visit Alice in her Wonderland.

Enchanted Cottage, Sweets and Treats 

The kids are screaming for ice-cream? Desert or dinner time, you will find good snacks in this cottage located in Fantasyland.

Mickey's Toontown

nullMickey's Toontown is inspired by 1930s cartoons. The buildings, roads and rides all look cartoonish. It is targeted towards younger kids. If you have very young one, they will enjoy Gadget's Go Coaster and Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. They can also visit Mickey Mouse house and Minnie Mouse house.

Tip: From several locations throughout Disneyland, you can take the Disneyland Railroad for a trip around the whole park, or just to hop to another faraway land. The train ride takes you through many of the park’s attractions. This is a good way to explore the park before you visit the actual rides. You also get to see a hidden area that is only accessible by train: The Grand Canyon/Primeval World diorama. This is the longest diorama in the world showing live size prehistoric animals in their natural habitat. 

Disney Deals

Disneyland FASTPASS Attractions

FastPass is a way to avoid long lines at some rides. For example, if you go to space mountain and find out that the wait time is too long, get a FastPass. It will specify an appointment time for you to come back. When you come back you go through a different line which is usually very short. Be aware that you can only have one FastPass at a time (per rider), with one exception: If 2 hours passed since you received your last FastPass, you can get another one.

Rides that offer FastPass:

  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Space Mountain
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Splash Mountain
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds (when it reopens on April 28, 2017)
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin.

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

Disneyland Single Rider Lines

Another way to beat the lines and Disney parks are the single rider lines. If you are traveling alone (or willing to split from your group when you reach the ride) you can go to the single rider line which goes faster than the regular line. On a recent visit, the wait line for my ride was 75 minutes. I was able to get in within 5 minutes through the single rider line.

Rides that offer single rider line:

  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Splash Mountain
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds.

Rider Switch (Swap) Rides

Do you have small children but you don't want to miss out on the thrilling rides? Line up with the whole group and when you reach the attendants let them know you would like to swap. One adult will stay with the young children and the other adults can go on the ride. When the first ride is done, the adult that stayed with the children can now enjoy the ride while the others wait.

Rides that offer rider swapping: 

  • Autopia  
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad  
  • Gadget's Go Coaster  
  • Indiana Jones Adventure  
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds 
  • Space Mountain  
  • Splash Mountain 
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue  
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Disneyland Hotel

nullDisney owns three properties in the Disney Resort area. The Disneyland hotel is the original hotel, which was opened along with the park opening. The other two are the Grand Californian and Paradise Pier. Each hotel has its own distinctive theme.

The Disneyland hotel was remodeled recently and capacity reduced to allow for the Downtown Disney and California Adventure expansion. One of the original towers was tore down, but any lost capacity was made up by the new Grand Californian hotel and by acquiring Paradise Pier hotel.

nullIf you are visiting from outside of Southern California, staying in one of the Disney Resort properties is expensive, but it affords you great advantages.

Along with the usual amenities, the Disneyland hotel offers the following experiences:

For hotel guests

Rooms

The rooms are comfortable with nice Disney touches everywhere. The headboard lights up and plays music – a hit with kids and adults. 

If you want to splurge, try one of the themed suites like Pirates of the Caribbean or Mickey’s Playhouse. 

Pools

nullAs a hotel guest, you can enjoy 3 pools and 2 waterslides. The water slides go through retro monorail replicas. 

Children’s Activity Center

Children ages 5-12 can use their imagination to create and build or they can play video games. You can leave your children with the experienced staff while you enjoy some adult time.

Magic Hour

Guest staying at any of the Disney hotels can enter the parks one hour before opening time. They can also join a power walk through California Adventure at 6 am while the park is empty.

Fun and Dining for all

You don't have to stay at the Disney hotels to enjoy some of the activities and dining. Here are a few that are available for all.

Tours

nullThe hotel now offers several free tours. You have to reserve a spot at guest services counter next to check-in. 

One of the tours is called “The Happiest Hotel on Earth”. It is a one-hour narrated walk through the hotel in which the tour guide talks about the hotel history. 

Another tour is the “60 Years of Magic” tour that takes about 90 minutes. The walk takes through all 3 Disney Hotel properties. 

Note: Offered tours and schedules are subject to change. Always check with guest services for the latest offerings. 

The park also offers paid tours to help first time visitors explore the parks and the hotels for best experience. Some of the tours are “Disney California Story Tour” and “Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps”.

Goofy's Kitchen Restaurant

nullEnjoy a delicious meal with Goofy and friends. Expect a visit from Disney characters to each table and make sure the Camera is handy. Some of the buffet choices are Mickey Mouse shaped waffles, Omelet made to order, Peanut butter & jelly pizza!

Tangaroa Terrace

This is a great place for casual dining and drinks. Grab a table at the terrace and enjoy the views. You will feel like you were transported to Hawaiian island. 

For lunch or dinner, check out their Hawaiian cheeseburgers and Shrimp Tacos. 

nullFor drinks, try their “Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum” – a coconut, pineapples and rum iced drink.

The food prices are reasonable, but the alcoholic drinks are on the expensive side.

Steakhouse 55 

This is an upscale restaurant with premium beef and seafood. They are famous for the bone-in rib eye and the filet mignon.

The steakhouse also serves a great brunch to start your day. Try their New York steak and eggs, eggs Benedict or the build-your-own omelet. For the young ones, don’t forget the Mickey-shaped pancakes.

Disney Deals

Southern California Pass:

nullIf you are staying in the area for a week or more, you can purchase Southern California Pass. It includes 3-Day Disneyland Tickets, tickets for one day each at Universal Studios, SeaWorld and your choice of a ticket to the San Diego Zoo OR San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park: Find City Pass

Multi-day park hopper

You get a better value for your dollar when buy multi-day park hopper passes. They come in 2, 3, 4, 5-day packages: Get Disney passes.

Books about Disneyland

The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2016

Disneyland Secrets  

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Downtown Disney

nullDowntown Disney district sits in between Disneyland, California Adventure and Disneyland hotel. The area is full of entertainment venues and restaurants.

The best things are free at Downtown Disney: You can stroll around, enjoy the scenery or listen to street performers. At around 9:30 PM you can catch the great fireworks display right from the district. The fireworks are launched above the sleeping beauty castle, but very prominent from several locations in the district.

If you feel like a big spender, you can indulge yourself with fine dining and happening shows.

Some of my favorite venues:

null Rainforest Cafe: The restaurant is decorated as a rainforest with plants, trees, waterfalls, robotic animals and insects. This place is very popular with families. You should expect a long wait, but while waiting you can enjoy the huge aquariums. Members of your party can shop in the souvenir shop connected to the restaurant. The menu is extensive and includes tropical treats along with traditional American cuisine. While enjoying your meal you will witness a simulated thunderstorm. Kids of all ages love to eat here, and they do have their own menu. Some examples from the menu: Alaskan King Crab Legs, Amazon Fajitas, BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, Caribbean Coconut Shrimp, Fish and Chips. Reservations are accepted and suggested.

AMC Theatres: You can catch the latest movie releases at Downtown Disney’s AMC theaters.  You can pick from 12 different movies to watch. The theater uses stadium seating and offers digital 3D movies when available.

Build-A-Bear Workshop: This store is part of a worldwide chain in which kids and adults can stuff their own teddy bear then dress it up and officially adopt it. The store has a large selection of teddy bears (or other animals). You start by selecting your favorite bear/character. Then you go to the stuffing machine. You will get help in stuffing the bear. The next step is to pick a heart for your bear. Now that the bear is alive, you need to dress it up. You can get lost in the 2 story shop trying to find the right outfit for your bear. With the right outfit in hand, you can now pay for your purchase and print a birth certificate for your new friend.

Tip: Each May, there is a weekend known as Stuffed For Hugs Weekend. Guests at Build-a-Bear are given the opportunity to stuff a preselected animal for charity. The entire process is free, and is very popular. Some people even dress up the donated animal before sending it to charity. There is also a similar weekend that occurs in late October known as "The Spirit of Giving".

nullHouse of Blues (Restaurant and Night Club): This a great place to catch the hottest bands and enjoy good food and a few drinks. You dine at the restaurant or take advantage of the food and beverage service at the music hall. Some of the menu items are Southern-style favorites such as Pan Seared Voodoo Shrimp, Rosemary Cornbread, Tennessee Style Baby Back Ribs, Creole Jambalaya, and White Chocolate-Banana Bread Pudding. The house of blues at Downtown Disney is famous for its unique quilt decorations and rose terrace. Local Tip: If you are planning to attend a concert at HOB, go to dinner first. When they open the music hall doors, you can be first in.

The LEGO Imagination Center: If you never played with Legos raise your hand. Well, you must be the only one. This store is a unique interactive experience where the whole family can try out different Lego construction or just drool about the latest Lego sets. Don’t forget to take a picture with the 23-foot Giraffe.

Disney Deals:

  • Southern California Pass: If you are staying in the area for a week or more, you can purchase Southern California Pass. It includes 3-Day Disneyland Tickets, tickets for one day each at Universal Studios, SeaWorld and your choice of a ticket to the San Diego Zoo OR San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park: Find City Pass.
  • Multi-day park hopper: You get a better value for your dollar when buy multi-day park hopper passes. They come in 2, 3, 4, 5-day packages: Get Disney passes.

Tip: The Disneyland Monorail has a station at Downtown Disney. You take the monorail from Tomorrowland or Toontown and stop at Downtown Disney for lunch. Also, when you are first starting your day at Disneyland, you enter the park from this station and land straight into Tomorrowland.

La Brea Bakery Café: Another great place to eat. It offers sandwiches, pastries and delicious desserts. Sit in the outdoor patio, watch the herds of people going by and if you time your dinner just right you will be able to watch the fireworks from your table.

World of Disney: If you are really dying to buy that Disney souvenir before you head home, then this is the store for you. It is one of the largest World of Disney stores, second only to the one in Florida, with a huge selection of character merchandise. You can find backpacks, books, boxers, children’s apparel, clocks, collectibles, costumes, dolls, figurines, gifts, hats, jewelry, luggage, photo albums, plush toys, sleepwear, slippers, socks, souvenirs, stationery, sunglasses, sweatshirts, T-shirts, ties, videos, watches and other items branded with Disney characters and theme park icons. Even if you are not ready to buy, browsing through this huge selection is an entertaining experience by itself.

Other places worth mentioning: Get a snack on the go at Häagen-Dazs, Marceline's Confectionery (watch Candy being made) or Jamba Juice (take your snack next to one of the fountains). Watch a game and dinner at ESPN Zone. Find more souvenirs or a unique gift at Disney's Pin Traders, Illuminations, Sephora, or Something Silver.

Books about the Disney Resort:

Disneyland Anaheim Vacationland
Everything Family Guide to the Disneyland Resort
Birnbaum's Disneyland Resort 2009

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Universal Studios Hollywood

nullDuring my latest visit to Universal Studios I learned a lot about how movies are made and had a great time doing it.

When my family and I decided to go on a Sunday morning the temperature was expected to reach 95 degrees and we were debating whether to go or stay at home in the pool. I am glad we decided to go.

In spite of the high temps, we had a great time. Universal created an environment in which high temps will not be a hindrance to having fun. There is a lot of shade everywhere and a lot of fans blowing cool and wet air (mist). It feels like they created their own weather.

nullWhat made our experience even more memorable is the “Express Pass”. Every ride and show has a special line for pass holders where there is little orno waiting. Just look for Express Gate signs everywhere. Also most shows have special reserved seating for “Express” pass holders.

Universal Studios Hollywood is actually the longest running still active movie studios in the world. If you are lucky on your visiting day you will see crews filming some of the new movies or your favorite TV shows. While we were visiting, the Nickelodeon Kids Awards were filming. Of course, we couldn’t get in – you have to have an invite long before the filming.

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

The park has three distinct sections: Upper Lot; Lower Lot and the Studio Tour. I recommend that you start with the tour to get acquainted with the park and to see the main reason for its existence: Making movies and TV shows.

Studio Tour

nullThe studio tour was about 60 minutes long and was full of movie trivia, behind the scenes looks at how movies are made and few surprises sprinkled in.

You ride a tram and start driving down the hill to the various locations in the back lot. The back lot is where the actual filming happens. The back lot experienced a large and destructive fire in 2008 that left many buildings burned to the ground but soon was rebuilt and modernized.

The tour will take you through generic towns and buildings that can morph into any major city like New York or London – or a Mexican sleepy town. You may see crews filming a scene from an upcoming movie. You will also pass by many sound stages where some of your favorite movies or TV shows are being filmed.

nullSome of the tour highlights are:

  • City streets and buildings
  • Courthouse Square from the "Back to the Future" movies
  • A sleepy Mexican town with a sudden thunderstorm and a flash flood
  • Desperate House Wives neighborhood with all the nice manicured houses
  • A scene from War of the Worlds – a Boing 747 airplane crash in a suburban neighborhood
  • The "Bates" motel from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho – Watch out for Norman trying to stuff a corpse in the truck then attacking the tram riders with a knife
  • Amity Island from Jaws – where you are the bait
  • Transformers Autobots performing a dance
  • Fast and Furious 3D chase
  • King Kong 3D.

Some of the films and shows filmed at the back lot: The Sting; The Great Outdoors; How The Grinch Stole Christmas; Bruce Almighty; CSI; Battlestar Galactica and Transformers.

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The most impressive part of the tour is King Kong 360 3D. The tram will take you into “Skull Island” where you get trapped in the middle of a fierce battle between King Kong and T-Rex. Unlike other 3-d movies or attractions, the action is all around you (360) and your tram rattles and shakes like a toy in King Kong’s clutches.

Waterworld

nullThis show is based on the 1995 Sci-Fi movie Waterworld. If you are a Sci-Fi fan you probably already watched it. If you haven’t, here is a short synopsis (my very short take): Planet earth is covered in water due to global warming and polar cap melt. Humanity tries to survive on floating cities (Atolls). Everyone is looking for dry land. The heroine (Helen) and a young child know the way. A warlord (the Deacon) and his gang (called Smokers) want to be the first to find it so he can control the destiny of the human race. And, of course, the hero (the Mariner) will stand in his way – and saves the day. Find more details at IMDB.

The show picks up where the movie ended. Helen returns from "Dryland" to get her friends from the "Atoll". The Deacon captures her, but the Mariner shows up in time to save the day again – after an intense sea battle.

The show is full of stunts, pyrotechnics, flying jet skis, power boats, gunfire, splashing water, hot flames and a crashing seaplane. Actors from popular shows usually participate in the action. The first (blue) rows of seats are designated as the “soak zone”. If you sit in the soak zone you are guaranteed to get wet from boat and Jet Ski splashes. If you really want to avoid getting wet, head to higher ground.

Shrek 4D

This is another show based on a very popular movie series. Universal created another short movie with the main characters (and voices) from the original – with a twist. Now you can be part of the fairy tale with stunning 3D, moving seats, wind puffs and sprays of mist timed to the movie action.

The Simpsons Ride

nullThe fun starts while you are waiting in line and in the staging area. You are supposed to be visiting Krustyland for a fun-filled day with the Simpson family. While you are waiting for your ride to start, the villain Sideshow Bob appears and takes over the park and causes all kinds of destruction and mayhem – and you are caught in the middle.

The big HD dome screens and the motion simulators make your ride on the extreme rollercoaster seem very realistic. And, of course, you can’t watch a Simpsons movie without coming across giant baby Maggie - “Walking” through Springfield. Just when you think you and the Simpsons are safe at their home all hell breaks loose again.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

This latest addition to Universal opened its doors in April 2016. The area is on the upper lot, close to the entrance and Waterworld. It is dedicated to the Harry Potter series of books and movies.

nullStep through the portal at the train station and into the world of wizards and muggles at Diagon Ally. Along the ally, you can visit Ollivander's to be outfitted with your wand then go to Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment to buy your house robe. If you are thirsty stop by a vendor to have a mug of butterbeer. 

If you are looking for that special item for someone special, go to Filch’s Emporium™ of Confiscated Goods to find all kinds of interesting souvenirs. 

The main attraction at this world is the imposing Hogwarts Castle home to "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride. On this ride, you take flight on your magic broomstick through the castle grounds while being chased by a dragon and a few nasty spirits. Harry Potter will guide you through this maze back to safety after you unwittingly join a Quidditch match. Watch out for Lord Voldemort.

null Tip: No bag, purses or any loose items are allowed on the ride. If you have any of those you will be directed to a longer line for the free lockers before you get to the ride. So if possible place your stuff in a locker ahead of time and use the shorter line. Also, this ride offers single rider line. 

At night a spectacular special effects show is projected on the castle walls celebrating the house spirit with music and laser lights. 

Tip: The first show of the night gets very crowded. You can avoid the crowds by going to the last 2 shows instead.

Across the street from Hogwarts, you can find the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster. This is a mild adventure good for families with small children.

Special Effects Stage

They film the movie at the Sound Stage, but it is not a movie yet until they add the sound and special effects (during post-production). On this stage, you can witness how those effects are created using various mechanical devices and more modern digital techniques.

The performers present some interesting sound effects and cinematic tricks. In one presentation we got to see how to film a burning man - with real fire. In another presentation, we got to see how a floating astronaut's image is superimposed on a solar system background. 

Where to Eat

There are quite a few dining options at Universal, but for a better selection, you can visit restaurants on Universal Walk.

If you are at the upper lot, you can try:

  • For a variety of Pizza pies, go to Luigi's Pizza
  • For burgers or hot dogs, try Krusty's Burgers
  • For a treat or snack go to Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream

The only dining option at the lower lot is Jurassic Café. You can also find a few snack and drink stands throughout the park as well.

Jurassic Café is cafeteria style dining. Pick your main entrees from the display (roasted chicken, burgers, salads, personal Pizzas or Turkey legs). Grab deserts and drinks – if you like – then pay at the end of the queue. There is a large seating area next to the queue, but it gets full very quickly. So, if you can’t find a place, head upstairs to an open dining area that is mostly empty.

Save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions! Shop Now at CityPASS.com!

Jurassic Park

Universal Studios - Jurassic ParkThis ride is one of the most thrilling rides I was ever on. It starts with a deceptively tranquil Jurassic habitat with life-size animatronic dinosaurs.

The raft you are riding gets attacked by parasaurolophus which diverts the raft from its intended course into the Raptor containment area. You will know that your tranquility is over when you pass by destroyed vehicles, damaged electric fences and a Dilophosaurus eating the remains of a poncho. Then, the raft goes into a series of mishaps and dinosaur attacks culminating in an 85 ft. plunge into the water. 

If you didn’t already get wet while dinosaurs and waterfalls try to get you on the way, you are guaranteed to get wet at the end of the ride. Automatic Cameras will try to catch you during your plunge. Check them out as you are exiting the ride.

Revenge of the Mummy

nullAs with all the rides at the lower lot, this is not your average rollercoaster. The ride will start with an accelerated and sudden takeoff taking you through tombs and treasures while you are getting attacked by scarab beetles and worrier mummies - all while you are twisting and turning, rising and falling through a maze of caves.

Cinematic special effects and bursts of air at the right time and place make this experience even more thrilling and creepy.

Just when you think you survived the experience, everything starts over – in reverse.

Transformers: The Ride-3D

null This is the newest attraction at Universal. The ride is a fusion of HD 3D imaging, motion simulation and vehicles moving on a track to achieve a high-level of realism.

When you first get into the ride it is obvious to you that you are entering a simulator. But you will soon forget that fact and become immersed in the non-stop action. YourAutobott (EVAC) will take you from one intense battle to another while actually moving between streets and buildings. You will actually feel like you are flying next to Optimus Prime or the Devastator or crashing through buildings. You will basically join the battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons and help in achieving the final victory over Megatron.

This ride was so exhilarating and realistic, I am left wondering how great it would be to watch a full-length movie using this technology.

The Walking Dead

For fans of this popular TV show, this attraction is a must. Get in at your own risk and face your fears. 

This is basically a haunted house with zombies (Walkers) jumping at you when you least expected it. 

The walk through this apocalyptic world ends too soon, so take your time and walk slowly and try to spot the 18 hidden artifacts from the hit TV show.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

This series of movies is very popular with the whole family. The minions are so cute and dangerous all at the same time. If you aspire to be a minion and assist Gru with his nefarious schemes, then line up and prepare to be converted.

As a new minion, you will undergo training and then be launched into a series of adventures and mishaps. The 3D simulated ride will put you right into the mayhem. 

Universal Grinchmas (Holiday Celebration)

nullDuring the month of December Universal Studios upper lot is transformed into a festive holiday destination.

Starting from the front gate you will be delighted with classy Christmas decorations.  As you walk through the park you will encounter the Grinch and all his Who-Ville friends. Some characters will approach you and interact with you, but in most cases you have to wait in line to take a picture with your favorite character.

The main attraction is “Grinchmas Winter Wonderland”. Kids of all ages (yes that means me too) can enjoy playing in real snow, build a snowman and have a snowball fight – without having to drive to the mountains. If you prefer to stand back and watch, you can sit on the bleachers surrounding the play area.

nullWhen we visited the snow area the snow wasn’t as soft as it should be because the snow gets made every morning. By 3 PM it gets to be more like ice, but we enjoyed it anyway.

Looming high above the snow is a huge Christmas tree filled with large and beautiful ornaments. This is also where the tree lighting ceremony is held. There are five tree lighting ceremonies to choose from – starting from 4:45 PM. If you don’t have a "front of the line pass", get there early to reserve a spot.

Right at the Grinchmas Winter Wonderland you can also enjoy your favorite celebrities reading Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

If your main goal is enjoy the Christmas spirit then you can skip the lower lot and get on the tram for the Studio Tour. Along with all the great tour and exciting King Kong 3D you will also enjoy sing-alongs at Who-Ville. 

Universal City Walk

nullRight outside the park gates you can walk through a 3-block long promenade full of dining and entertainment venues.

What are you into? If you like live music, clubs, movies or great food - You will find it here. If you prefer shopping, choose from 30+ unique shops.

This is also a good alternative for dining inside the park. You can find many casual dining places like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, Johnny Rockets or Hard Rock Café. Or if you prefer you can go to a fast food place like Panda Express, Antonio's Pizzeria or Subway.

Universal Walk - Dancing WatersFor a great adventure go to iFly where you can actually fly. This is an indoor skydive place. You will go through some basic training, get outfitted into your jump gear and then launch into the flight chamber. 

Walking around at night, you can enjoy the lights, the dancing waters and the street performers. 

Parking

The best parking option is Valet Parking. For $23 you get to park in the covered parking structure – very close to the entrance. General parking is $20, so for an additional $10 you can avoid long walks or tram rides.

100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608
818) 622-3801

http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/

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iFly - Skydiving

iFly Skydiving - Universal City WalkWhen I decided to go skydiving in Hollywood I did not expect to come back with sore muscles. Skydiving turned out to be a real workout and a great thrill.

Well, I didn’t really jump out of a plane. My wife would kill me even if the jump didn't kill me. Instead, I went to iFly at Universal City Walk – adjacent to Universal Studios. This is an indoor skydiving facility in which they use a huge underground propeller fan to simulate the feeling of skydiving.

You can't miss the place as you walk along the city walk. It is behind the Hard-Rock restaurant with a prominent cone-shaped glass enclosure. 

iFly Skydiving - Universal City WalkI booked my flights ahead of time on their website www.iflyworld.com and signed a waiver online to save some time. You can do that on-site too and they do accept walk-ins.

Upon arrival, I had to go through an orientation and some basic lessons on posture, safety and hand signals. The hand signals are very important because once inside the flight chamber, you can’t hear anything except the propeller. 

I was also outfitted with my flight gear which consisted of a jumpsuit, helmet, goggles and earplugs. 

I bought 3 flights online but upon checking in I was asked if I want to buy an addon for a high flight. I accepted right away. I want to experience it all.  

When it was my turn, I was happy to find out that an instructor will be with me all the time.iFly Skydiving - Universal City Walk This is all new to me so I needed all the help I can get. 

So with the help of the instructor, I jumped into the flight chamber and I felt the strong wind pushing me up. I was able to go up or down and change direction by adjusting my posture and moving hands. 

I didn’t realize it while I was having fun flying around, but I was basically doing a plank on air all this time. So when my 3 flights were done, I was sore all over. 

For the high flight, I got an assist from the instructor. The air pressure was increased which pushed me all the way to the top of the chamber. The instructor was there to make sure I kept my balance and didn’t nose dive.

What a thrill! I am definitely going back for more flying.

Universal Studios
1000 Universal Studios Boulevard #1
Universal City, CA 91608
 (818) 985-4359
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