Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel Review: Anaheim Desert Inn & Suites

Anaheim Desert Inn & Suites is a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel that is about a 5-minute walk to Disneyland. We recently stayed at this hotel and thought it was perfectly suitable for our needs. In this review, we’ll cover the rooms, amenities and location of Camelot Inn and Suites.  As you can see below (thanks to Google) the hotel is directly across the street from Disneyland.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-1-12-24-pm

Desert Inn and Suites is in the bottom right corner of that photo.  The IHOP is about where the cross walk over to Disneyland is so, as you can see, the walk to Disneyland is very short.  That is the biggest positive to the Desert Inn & Suites.  From what I can tell this is one of the three closest hotels to the parks.  Going back to our room in the middle of the day was no problem at all and didn’t waste much time.

Harbor Boulevard is full of motels/hotels and all of these are fairly close to Disneyland. Some are absolutely nicer than others but the main thing all of these hotels have going for them is location.  Over the last decade many of these hotels have received renovations, making Harbor Blvd. much nicer than it used to be.  That trend will continue as Disney has bought some land in this area and is planning on building a parking garage plus more.

Desert Inn sign sunset

In case you missed my recent trip report, our stay here involved a lot of people.  While there are plenty of basic rooms at this hotel, we had six people in our room and could have fit another 3 or 4 comfortably.  This was a nice accommodation for those looking to fit in a big group.  Those rooms ranged from $180-$250 per night, based on the time of year.  Basic rooms start around $100 and go up to $150 during peak times.

Hotel room 2

This is a basic room with 2 queen beds, a bathroom and TV.  The sink is outside the bathroom, which I always appreciate when sharing a hotel room with others.  As you can see, there’s a refrigerator and microwave.  There’s also a table and chairs out of the shot in the entrance to the room.  The TV isn’t very big but was nice enough and had the usual channels.

The beds were fairly comfortable.  The mattresses weren’t too hard or soft, either way. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in but I had absolutely no problems with it.  The bedding was fairly average.  The sheets weren’t scratchy but they weren’t the softest.

Hotel Room

I there’s one complaint with the room, it’s that I think it’s fairly ugly.  There’s a whole lot of brown here and the room wasn’t very bright.  While I don’t tend to care very much about the color scheme in the room, I definitely wouldn’t give this room high marks as far as being pleasing to the eye.  Still the room was perfectly comfortable, had adequate space and comfortable bedding.  It was also very clean and taken care of.

Couch hotel room

Here is the front room (there were 2 bedrooms attached to this) that had a couch and TV.  The couch was not comfortable at all, but it did pull out to a bed.  We didn’t try the bed.  The TV here was the same size as in the bedroom.  Still quite a bit of brown going on in this room and while it was nice to have a separate space from the bedrooms, this room didn’t add a lot for me.

The bathrooms (2 in this room, 1 in the standard) were run of the mill motel bathrooms.  There was a shower/bath combo and, as I mentioned the sink was outside of the bathroom.  There wasn’t a ton of space in there but again, it was adequate.

pool

As far as amenities, there was a pool and hot tub.  Both were indoors so it’s protected from those 10 days a year it rains in Southern California.  The pool was a normal size, as was the hot tub.  The pool was fairly cold but I don’t know if it’s consistently that way.  The pool was very clean.

The hotel served a continental breakfast that had very limited options.  There was some fruit, cereal, pastries and bread.  That’s about it.  If you want to grab something for your way to the parks, then this is suitable.  If you want a good breakfast, go somewhere else.  This is a nice way to save a few bucks though.

Anaheim Desert Inn sign

There was a Denny’s right across the parking lot from the hotel.  A Cold Stone, IHOP and the dreaded Captain Kidd’s were also very close by.

What you ultimately think about Anaheim Desert Inn & Suites will come down to how much you care about location.  I care a lot about it and therefore I think this is a pretty good hotel in terms of value.  If you’d rather stay somewhere nicer then you’ll be sacrificing location or cost for that need.  Take out location and relative value, and Desert Inn & Suites is nothing special.  Add it in and it becomes one of the better Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels.  Out of the three we’ve stayed at, I would place Desert Inn & Suites.  Melissa like the Camelot Inn a little bit more, which I think is fair.  Both are very close in my mind.

If you have any questions about this hotel, or Disney Parks in general, please let me know in the comments!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

August 2016 Disneyland Trip Report – Part 4

If you missed any or all of the first 3 installments of this trip report, here are parts 1, 2, and 3.

If you are reading this blog, I’d say there’s a decent chance that you have felt ‘the Disney rush’.  What is that?  It’s a term I’ve just coined (trademark pending) that defines the extra energy your body seems to have when you go to a Disney Park.  The most incredible part of this feeling is being aware of your own exhaustion yet you race from attraction to attraction with the gusto of a bull chasing a red flag.  Some people have this gift (curse?) more than others and my wife is definitely one of those people.

Melissa spinning

After a night of getting back to the hotel shortly after midnight and falling asleep after 1, Melissa and I were back in Disneyland by 7:30 the next morning for our last day of vacation.  She is one of those people who wants to complete almost every attraction each and every trip, no matter how many times she’s done it before.  That may sound like complaining on my part but I promise that it’s not.  Without her, I wouldn’t experience some of my favorite attractions.  I admire her tenacity.  While we have a hard time picking what to have for dinner most nights at home, she knows what she wants to do at the parks and knows what makes her happy.  I think it’s good to go to Disney Parks with someone like that.  I’m very laid back and like to relax, and that brings a nice balance to our park experience.

Casey Jr Circus Train

That morning found us in Fantasyland taking in a few attractions.  We rode through the Storybook Canal and took a spin on the teacups and carousel.  While my favorite time in the parks remains late at night, I have to admit that I do love being there early in the morning.  The park feels fresh with the extra clean walkways, the low crowds and cooler weather.  I would have never known I liked the parks at this hour if it weren’t for my wife as I’m not a morning person.  See what I mean?  Balance!

After a while the rest of our group joined us.  We got FastPasses to HyperSpace Mountain and then took the monorail from Tomorrowland en route to breakfast at Steakhouse 55.  I reviewed that meal earlier in the week, which you can check out here.  In short, I think breakfast here is one of the better values at Disneyland Resort.

bacon sausage steakhouse 55

After breakfast we rushed back to redeem our FastPass for HyperSpace Mountain.  If memory serves, Cassie (another writer here) wrote about the Space Mountain layover back around the time it debuted and was not impressed.  I’m late to the party, but I disagree with her for the most part.  HyperSpace Mountain was a fun change to a classic, in my opinion.

In case you don’t know, HyperSpace Mountain is a Star Wars themed layover of Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain.  Is it a life-changing ride experience? No, it’s probably not even as good as the regular Space Mountain.  Where it does succeed is being a nice place holder until Star Wars Land takes flight in about 2 years.  I enjoyed the basic story of fighting against the empire while flying through space.  I thought the props and projections looked pretty good.  All in all, I thought the layover provided something fresh to Tomorrowland.  As long as it doesn’t stick around for years then this is the type of layover Disney should do.  It in turn will make the return of Space Mountain feel somewhat fresh as well.

Sand speeder

The Star Wars Launch Bay, on the other hand, was not much of anything aside from a cool place to sit.  There were props from the films, places to play video games, and meet & greets.  I didn’t do the meet & greets, as the lines were fairly long.  I have heard good things about the Kylo Ren meet though.  The video games are a complete waste of space.  People can do that at home.  The props were okay but nothing that was very exciting.  All in all, this could have been much better.  The concept isn’t terrible but there really isn’t much of interest in this space outside of meet & greets.

We then went over to the Tiki Room.  The last day of trips is full of eating all the things we hadn’t got to earlier in the trip so Melissa and I shared a Dole Whip Float, which is always a quality snack.  We also had a skewer from Bengal Barbecue and a surprisingly good drink called Pomegranate Piranha Lemonade.

Sebastian 2 M&TMM

Cassie was also at Disneyland that day and we were able to meet up with her that afternoon and later that night.  Cassie and I went to high school together but hadn’t seen each other in years, even though we’ve both been writing on this blog.  It was fun to be reunited with an old friend at one of our favorite places on Earth.  We watched Mickey and the Magical Map together, which was fantastic as usual.

Castle side day

I was pretty exhausted at this point so our group headed back to the Motel for a nap.  Naturally, I needed a chimichanga on the way out of the park.

After a much-needed nap, we headed back to Disneyland for dinner at Cafe Orleans.  I told you all we did that day was eat!  I’ve already reviewed Cafe Orleans, but I’ll update that soon to reflect this meal.  The food as a whole wasn’t quite as good on this trip but I did enjoy my entrée (the famed Monte Cristo) more than last time.

Monte Cristo close

After dinner our group grabbed a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain and then went over for a spin on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  That attraction was as fantastic as ever.  Most of the group went back to Big Thunder while my mom and I hunted for a place to watch Paint the Night one last time.

Columbia Mark Twain evening

We eventually settled in a spot about 4 people deep across the path from the Matterhorn.  While the location wasn’t great, it wasn’t bad considering we had tried to find a spot for 8 of us about half an hour before showtime on a busy Saturday night.  We watched the show one last time as a group.  We all enjoyed seeing my nephew react to the floats, especially the big Mack truck.  While the viewing wasn’t great, I enjoyed seeing the parade one last time as a group.

I’m not sure what the fate of Paint the Night will be.  Once it’s refurbished I’m sure it will be back at Disneyland on a fairly consistent basis.  It was a hit for the 60th but does it have the staying power of other classic Disney parades?  I honestly have no idea.  I loved the upbeat feel of the parade and the technology involved but I’m not sure there is an extremely memorable float in it like the America and Pete’s Dragon float in MSEP.  Still, I think Paint the Night will enjoy a nice run over the next few years.

Disneyland Forever was next on the agenda and that show likely doesn’t have the same exciting future as Paint the Night.  Disneyland Forever is gone because it costs too much money to do every night.  Which I frankly think is an absurd move by a company who has increased ticket prices at least once a year for the last decade.  I wouldn’t be upset if they decided to show Disneyland Forever twice a week and a cheaper show the other nights.  Instead we’re stuck with a show that is inferior to not only this one but the show that preceded it, Remember… Dreams Come True.  Rumor has it, a Star Wars firework show is coming next summer and that’s a topic for another day.  Spoiler alert for that post if the news ever becomes true: I hate the idea.

Anyway, I’ll miss Disneyland Forever.  The plot and soundtrack were good but the show’s tech side absolutely astounded me.  We had a good spot for our last viewing, albeit crowded, and I soaked it in.  Maybe someday, when the parks aren’t so focused on profit margins and franchises, Disneyland Forever could return.  I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

Swing dance

On a more upbeat note, I thought this band playing at the Fantasy Faire theater was a nice touch.  I’m all for live entertainment.  While I’m not much for dancing, I enjoyed listening for a few minutes and watching others out on the dance floor.

We met back up with Cassie after the fireworks and spent a few hours going on attractions.  The crowds finally died down after an extremely busy day and we were able to go from attraction to attraction without wait times.  We saw the Hatbox Ghost on Haunted Mansion, enjoyed a long ride on Pirates of the Caribbean and then decided it was time for Splash Mountain.

I love Splash Mountain.  It’s probably my favorite ride in Disneyland.  I don’t mind getting soaked on rides so I voluntarily took the front seat this time.  Now, usually you get soaked on these type of rides by water coming over the side of your log or raft.  That night was different.  Maybe it was a full moon or maybe some sneaky Cast Member was out to get me.  Whatever it was, the fate’s aligned to soak me like never before.  We were coming down the drop on the inside of the ride and our log hit the water.  Right at the moment, it looked like the Lochness Monster was jumping out of the river.  Instead it was just a giant wave coming straight over the boat.  The wave was a good 3 feet above my head as it came down and splashed me with a vengeance.  I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t entirely appreciate getting soaked at 11 PM at night but I sure will enjoy that memory over the years.

Astro orbiter night

Before long it was time for Cassie and her friend to part ways but we had a great time that night.  We had about half an hour left until park closing so we took a spin on the Astro Orbiter.  Earlier in the trip report I cautioned against having 3 adults in one Big Thunder seat.  The same holds true for 2 adults in an Astro Orbiter seat.  Don’t do it!

Our last ride of the trip was defeating Zurg’s evil empire with Buzz.  I was as heroic as ever, shooting down enemies with ferocity.  Feeling pretty good about ourselves, Melissa and my cousin Tyler went to shop for souvenirs while I took some nighttime photos.

There’s something so peaceful about ending my night taking photos in a nearly empty park.  The previous night I was in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland so I went over to Frontierland and New Orleans Square to take some photos.  All in all, I think I enjoy that side of the park more.  It feels more charming than and well put together than the other half of Disneyland.  We’ll see if that authenticity lasts once Star Wars Land comes on-line.  I’m hopeful that it does and that Star Wars will be far enough away to not affect the charm of New Orleans Square.  I had a wonderful last hour in the park taking photos.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Mark Twain night

Petrified Tree

 

Haunted Mansion night

New Orleans Square night

I exited through Adventureland and took a few more photos.  I paused near the Jungle Cruise and saw one of the famed Disneyland cats who come out at night to help clean the park.  You can see it in the picture below on the bottom right under the doorway.  The cat paused and watched me, while I stared at it.  Eventually he went on his way to, I assume, enjoy a journey along the river.

Jungle Cruise cat night_edited-1

Tired and sore, it was time to call it a night and head back to our motel.  While I’m always sad to end a vacation, this one felt satisfying.  Going with my whole family and cousin was pretty special to me and something I’ll cherish for a long while.  We were able to experience the 60th anniversary celebration one last time to boot.

For all of my frustration that I lamented about Disneyland Forever and budget cuts, I think Disneyland is in pretty good shape going forward.  The next year may be a little slow until the river is back open but the park seems to be a priority for the company right now.  There is entertainment sticking around like Paint the Night and Main Street Electrical Parade will be back for one last go around.  California Adventure’s future is slightly murkier but there will be new attractions popping up around there over the next 5 years.  Disneyland Resort is in pretty good shape moving forward. I wouldn’t recommend visiting right now, with the river closed and 60th entertainment gone, the summer of 2017 will start a fascinating (and possibly great) time for Disneyland.

Thank you for reading this trip report! If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave them in the comments.

– Andrew

Steakhouse 55 Breakfast Review

Steakhouse 55 is a fine-dining restaurant in the Disneyland Hotel.  During the evening, Steakhouse 55 is the premier (and only?) steakhouse on Disneyland property.  This restaurant is also a nice place for breakfast, serving traditional American breakfast dishes.  We’ve dined here twice for breakfast and this review will include our thoughts on those meals.

Disneyland Hotel is where Steakhouse 55 resides.  I always enjoy seeing the pool area of that hotel which sits under Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam’s.  We came to Steakhouse 55 after a morning in Disneyland so we took the monorail from Tomorrowland to the end of Downtown Disney to arrive faster.  This was an incredibly quick way to get there, and one I would highly recommend if you are already in Disneyland or coming from Harbor Boulevard.

Walt Steakhouse 55

Steakhouse 55 is in the Convention Center wing of the Disneyland Hotel and sits right across from Goofy’s Kitchen.  The theme here is pretty straight forward, it’s an upscale steakhouse.  There are pictures of Walt Disney and other leaders of that generation hanging on the restaurants wall.  The steakhouse celebrates the year 1955, the year Disneyland opened, and is a throwback of sorts to that historic year.

Both times we’ve dined here the restaurant hasn’t been busy at all.  Our dining experiences were both on Saturday mornings at peak breakfast times.  I’m not sure why Steakhouse 55 isn’t attracting more guests outside of it being quite a ways from the parks, but the restaurant not being full adds to an already relaxed meal.

Steakhouse 55 menu

The menu is fairly large, especially for breakfast.  There are 10+ items on the breakfast menu with a wide variety of flavors.  While the choices won’t wow you with anything out of the ordinary, there are plenty of items and something for everyone.

I settled on the Eggs Benedict on our most recent visit and Melissa went with the Two Times Four, which is bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes and potatoes.

Eggs benedict steakhouse 55

The Eggs Benedict here were some of the best Melissa and I have ever tried.  The Canadian Bacon was fresh and the english muffin was delicious.  The eggs were poached perfectly and the hollandaise sauce was fantastic.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.  The dish filling yet light and, as you can see, came with potatoes.  I would definitely recommend this dish.

sausage pancakes steakhouse 55

This was the Two Times Four.  It’s a lot of food.  Melissa said the pancakes were good but nothing out of this world.  Everything else was fresh and well cooked.  While the dish was somewhat ordinary, if this is your type of breakfast choice then you can’t go wrong with this.

On a previous visit, I tried the steak and eggs.  The steak was well cooked, as you’d expect from a steakhouse.  Like the Two Time Four though, the dish was good but not incredible.  I’d recommend it but the steak and eggs were definitely not on the same level as the eggs benedict.

Steakhouse 55 sign

As far as prices go, everything is between 10 and 20 dollars, with the steak and eggs being the most expensive at 20 dollars.  Breakfast is never as expensive as dinner but I do feel that this is a relatively good value to eat at a nice restaurant.  When you consider a hearty breakfast dish in the park costs around 10 dollars, these prices seem absolutely fair.  The quality here is definitely a step above what you’d find in the parks (at least in most cases) and the theming is just as good, if not better.

Overall, I really enjoyed our breakfasts at Steakhouse 55.  Everything we’ve tried is fresh and cooked well.  If you want to take an hour-long break from the parks and have a nice leisurely breakfast, go to Steakhouse 55.  I think breakfast here is one of a few hidden gems left at Disneyland.

Overall Rating – 9/10

August 2016 Disneyland Trip Report – Part 3

If you missed part 1 or 2 of this trip report, just click on the number and find the first two installments!

Thursday found us getting a little extra sleep and then heading to Knott’s Berry Farm.  I hadn’t been to Knott’s Berry Farm in years and wasn’t sure of what to expect.  I was excited about the history, chicken house, and seeing something relatively new to my eyes.  I didn’t have many expectations and didn’t do much research on the park, outside of seeing what the most popular attractions were.  I won’t go into full detail here on our day but I’ll hit some of the highlights (and lowlights) from our day there.

Transportation was absolutely no issue.  A round trip bus ticket from Disneyland to Knott’s was less than $5 a person and got us there in less than half an hour.  The driver was a bit crazy but we arrived in one piece!  We used public transportation a fair amount on this trip and I have no problem with recommending it.  Uber may be a better option as far as overall value, but if you don’t want to separate a big group the busses worked well.

Knotts waterfall

We started in Knott’s on the right side of the park, also known as Camp Snoopy.  This area had its downfalls but overall was beautiful.  I liked the landscaping and some of the mountain lodge theming.  I’m not sure what any of that has to do with Snoopy, outside of Snoop’s love for the outdoors.  I’d love to go camping with Snoopy.  Questionable names aside, this area really was beautiful and comparable to the Grizzly River Run area of DCA (although not quite to that level.)

Knotts stream

Unfortunately after that I wasn’t very impressed with that side of the park.  There was a lot of pavement around and rides that were seemingly thrown down to take up room rather than placed within a theme.  In other words Fiesta Village and the Boardwalk areas felt like amusement parks.  Sure, there were some areas that followed theme but the majority didn’t.  I did like this fountain but the tower behind the building takes me out of any immersion in the environment.

Knotts fountain

The rides in this area were pretty impressive.  I’m by no means a roller coaster aficionado so I rely on my wife for reports on the more thrilling (terrifying) coasters.  Some real winners in her opinion were the XCelerator and the Silver Bullet.  I enjoyed the Jaguar as it was somewhat tamer, although it felt like the track needed to be redone.  Moving towards the middle of the park, and into Ghost Town, I loved the Timber Mountain Log Ride.  GhostRider, with its redone track, was terrifying but an excellent wooden coaster.  I didn’t expect it to go that fast and I was.. umm… startled?  I think that’s a nice way of saying it.  The Pony Express is weird but I liked it being somewhat different.

We saw the wild west stunt show in Ghost Town and the Blockbuster Beagle ice skating show.  They were both interesting to put it politely.  If I’m being honest, they were both really bad.  I remembered very few things about Knotts but I did have a memory of the stunt show.  My fond memories and the show did not match up.  The plot was muddled, the stunts were unspectacular and the show itself was fairly boring.  Blockbuster Beagle was definitely more interesting.  This was a mind explosion with no discernible plot.  Whatever plot there was had my mind in a deep state confusion when the plot reared its unorthodox head.  The ice skating seemed nice?  I don’t know.  I’m sure that it’s hard to combine an ice skating show and the Peanuts characters but this was very strange.  Thinking back, it’s pretty amazing the power that the Disney name holds.  I’m sure the performers at both parks earn similar wages.  Sure, the Disney Parks are more heavily attended but Knott’s is still a popular place.  Still the difference in their productions and acting were shocking to me.  Mickey and the Magical Map and Frozen are top-notch stage entertainment.  Shows at Knott’s Berry Farm were far from that, at least the two I saw.

I’ll end on a positive not and that is Ghost Town.  The oldest area of the park is most definitely the best.  Aside from it’s two great rides, the log ride and GhostRider, the theming is up to par with Disneyland’s Frontierland.  It takes you back to the old west and has many layers to it.  If I went to the park again, I’d love to spend a good share of my time there.  Here’s a few of my favorite shots from that area.

Knotts train

Knotts Calico Saloon

Knotts flower tree

After the park, we went to Knott’s Chicken House and I enjoyed my meal there.  I’ll most likely do a review of the restaurant in the future.  My Cliff Notes version is that the restaurant is beautiful and the food is above average but not much more.

This all leads to the question, is Knott’s Berry Farm worth visiting on a vacation to Southern California?  The answer is not clear to me even after going.  Disneyland’s two parks are surely better.  Universal Stuidios is a better theme park now, as well.  If you want to stay close to Disneyland and already have 3 or more days planned at that park then I’d say that going to Knott’s Berry Farm is a good choice.  If you love roller coasters or theme park history and have never been then it’s also a good choice.  Otherwise I’m pretty hesitant to recommend it.  The value is decent, with plenty of rides there and a cost point of around $40 if you look for discounts, but I’m not sure that this is a great option compared to what else Southern California offers.  I’m glad we went but that’s mostly because I hadn’t been there in a long time.  If you have more questions about Knott’s please let me know in the comments!

DCA Band car

The next morning saw us back in DCA, grabbing a FastPass for Frozen.  We went back to Paradise Pier after that and enjoyed a few rides around there.  Later that morning we saw Frozen – Live At The Hyperion.  I already covered that in a review last week, so check it out here if you haven’t already!

Frozen Sven_edited-2

After the show we crossed the promenade and had a corn dog at the Little Red Wagon for lunch.  It did not disappoint.  I typically try new items when at Disney Parks so I can review them or add to existing reviews but I always make an exception for the Disneyland Corn Dogs.  We ordered a Raspberry Macaron and a Matterhorn Macaroon from the Jolly Holiday Bakery for dessert.  The Raspberry Macaron was maybe the best item I tried all trip.  It was fresh and absolutely delicious.

After lunch we did a few attractions around Disneyland.  The parks got more crowded throughout the week but the weather was much cooler.  It was a pleasant afternoon to wander around the park and enjoy a few attractions.  We eventually went back to the hotel for some rest but not before a relaxing, fun afternoon in Disneyland.

Astro Orbiter castle

That evening found us dining at Napa Rose.  Last time we ate there, I had the best meal I’ve ever eaten anywhere.  This time was nearly as good.  The food is outstanding and the service impeccable.  I didn’t like my entrée as much this time as I did on our previous experience but it was still delicious.  I ordered the macaroni and cheese as a side and I thought that was incredible.  We had a great meal and loved the experience.  I’ll update the Napa Rose review soon accounting for our meal.

Napa Rose steak

Napa Rose Peach dessert

After dinner it was time for our final ride around the Cadillac Mountains.  This is my favorite way to end my time in California Adventure.  Radiator Springs Racers is definitely a highlight of the park and riding it at night is something everyone should try at least once.  We were all happy that night.

Cars Land group

After our ride, my nephew got to meet Mater and then we headed over to Disneyland to watch the fireworks.  We watched from the start of Main Street this time, near the flag pole.  I mainly stayed back here for photography purposes.  The view was different and unique.  While it’s nowhere near the best spot to watch fireworks, if you’re looking for something different then this spot is fun.

I did like taking photos back there.  Aside from a rather tall human on my right, the photos turned out pretty well.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Red gold fireworks

Fireworks castle off centered

Fireworks projections

After that we went for one more late night showing of Paint the Night back near It’s a Small World.  We knew we wanted to go on rides the next day, so we saw quite a few shows this day and enjoyed all of them.

Genie Lumiere PTN

Weird butterfly Rapunzel

Throughout the night, our group got smaller and smaller.  Once Paint the Night was over I was left to me, myself and I for a little bit of nighttime photography.  I was pretty tired but thoroughly enjoy the feeling of being one of the few guests left in the park.  I wandered around the Matterhorn to take some photos and took a few in Tomorrowland.  The problem with taking photos of Tomorrowland is that I don’t think many places really grab my eye.  There are a few interesting spots at night but I always end up feeling that I wish the land was more vibrant and bright.  Instead we’re just left with neon lights that don’t do much for me.  Nonetheless, I had a great time taking photos that night and was one of the last guests out of the park.  Security, as usual, was very accommodating and wasn’t rushing anyone out.

Matterhorn at night

Tomorrowland lagoon night

Tomorrowland entrance night

That’s it for this installment.  Next week I’ll be back with a final portion of this trip report, discussing our last day, the future of Disneyland and adding some final thoughts from our trip.  If you have any questions or comments about Disney, please leave them in the comments and I’d love to get back to you.  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Frozen – Live at the Hyperion Review

This summer, the Aladdin stage show at Disney California Adventure gave way to Frozen.  I was recently able to view the show and this post will cover my review, thoughts and a few tips about Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.

Frozen ice diggers

I’ll start off by saying that I loved the Aladdin production that they put on at DCA.  The show was really well done and was a nice ode to a classic Disney film.  It’s a shame that all the parks now have to remember Aladdin is a bad spinner ride and a few parade floats (unless I’m forgetting something obvious.) I’ll miss the show, as it was a great retelling of the movie but still felt fresh and new.  With that being said, I wasn’t very sad to see it go.

Aladdin had a nice run at the Hyperion Theater for roughly 13 years.  Since it was so well done, the show never got old.  But, stage shows like that aren’t meant to go on forever.  Typically, I think stage shows should last around 5 years before being swapped out.  There are great ones, like Aladdin, that can live on for a decade or so but even those can get a little long in the tooth.  For example, Beauty and the Beast in Disney’s Hollywood Studios has grown stale for me, even though I love the film and think the production value of that show is decent.

All that to say, I think Disney made the right move to steer away from Aladdin.  I’ll miss it but I was ready for something fresh.  Now, whether we can call Frozen ‘fresh’ is an entirely different topic.  While I may have been more excited to see a production of a different Disney film, Frozen was an obvious choice that turned out to be the right one.

We had mezzanine tickets for our early afternoon showing of Frozen and I thought the mezzanine gave us a nice view.  There really isn’t a bad seat in the Hyperion Theater, as it’s small enough to not put off any guests.  Even before the show started I was blown away with the projections they did as a backdrop.  The theater went through some serious upgrades before Frozen debuted which made the technical side of this show jaw-dropping.  More on that later.

Frozen pre show

Almost all of the classic Disney animated films are musicals to a degree.  Frozen is truly laid out like a musical though, while others just have songs throughout.  Frozen has overtures and a wide array of orchestration.  The musical side of it has always reminded me of the Broadway hit Wicked, both having show stopping songs in the middle (Let It Go and Defying Gravity) as well as other similarities.  This made the show an exceptional choice for a stage performance.  Even with having to cut off about 45 minutes of the movies run time, Frozen Live at The Hyperion covered every plot point and used nearly every song.

If you didn’t figure this out already, this is going to be a pretty positive review.  Let’s get the negatives out-of-the-way… I didn’t love Anna’s character as I thought the script (and possibly the actress, although that’s speculation) made her a little over the top.  She was louder, goofier and perhaps a little dumber than she was in the film.  I understand why they did this, as she’s in practically the whole performance and has to be used as comic relief when Olaf isn’t around.  Still, I think they overdid it in parts.  I’ve talked to several others who disagree with me but, hey, they can get their own Disney blog and write about this 😉 Another sticking point was that I didn’t love the choreography.  Big Broadway productions tend to have a huge dance moment and I thought that type of moment could have brought a unique element to the stage show that the movie didn’t have.  Admittedly, I’m way out of my league when talking about choreography.  I just didn’t think the movement or dancing was memorable.

Those are the only two complaints I had.  The show flowed extremely well.  The cast was Broadway caliber.  The music was fantastic.  My two favorite aspects of the show get their own paragraphs…

Frozen ladder

I briefly touched on this but the technology was fantastic.  Mainly the projections were what stood out.  Some people may complain that Disney was a little heavy-handed in using the projections instead of sets but they looked so good that I didn’t care.  They projected costumes on to people.  I’ve never heard of that done before and this show pulled it off seamlessly.  Just as Disneyland Forever was a technical marvel, this show takes everything they’ve mastered with projections and used it.  That also makes me excited for the future when they could use this technology on rides.

My other favorite part of the show was the use of puppets.  Both Sven and Olaf are puppets where you can see the real life actors controlling them.  Friends and family know that the 4th love of my life is The Muppets and I’m a sucker for anything puppet related.  If you haven’t seen this but have been to Animal Kingdom think of these puppets as what you’d see in Finding Nemo the Musical (or just look at the picture of Olaf below.)  While it’s clear that Disney was on top of their game technology wise, I love that they decided puppets were the way to go with these characters.  Granted, the puppets looked fantastic but the puppeteers/performers controlling them gave the show an extra boost.  I think the simple use of puppets combined with the use of projections gives the show a more balanced look.

Frozen Olaf

I’m trying to write this review without spoiling any of the big moments.  There were definitely quite a few of them.  Aladdin saw its stars fly around the theater on a magic carpet and while nothing in this show gets quite that big, there are some outstanding moments.

The show I went to, which was the first show of the day, was completely packed.  We went over to the theater at park opening to get FastPasses and the line was very long.  There will certainly be less crowds for the later shows, so if you don’t mind going later I’d recommend that.  The workers there also told us to show up to the theater at least half an hour before the show started, even with FastPasses.  We did that and I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be any later.  While it was a pain to wait out in the hot sun, the line was already pretty long.  With a FastPass your section is predetermined but once in that section it is general admission.  The earlier you arrive, the better your seat will be.  Like any stage show, I’d recommend the middle of your section and close to the front row.  The last piece of advice I’d offer is to definitely get a FastPass for the show.  Like World of Color, this doesn’t prohibit you from getting another FastPass immediately and it will guarantee you a seat at the show.  Again, show up later if you want a later showing.  When we were waiting for FastPasses, Cast Members were very helpful in telling people an estimated time to come back if they wanted a FastPass for a different show.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as that’s what the CM’s are there for.

Overall, I couldn’t rate this show highly enough.  I think it’s a top-5 experience at Disney California Adventure and is definitely worth your time even though it’s an hour-long.  The easy question to ask is, ‘Was Frozen Live better than the Aladdin show that preceded it?’  I’ve thought about that a lot since I saw this and I still don’t have an answer.  I’m fond of Aladdin due to nostalgia, the actors performances and how much I like the film.  Without a doubt, Frozen kicks things up a notch on the technical side.  I don’t think one’s better or worse than the other, they’re just different and they are both great.

Frozen cast

If you have any thoughts or questions about Frozen Live at The Hyperion (or any other Disney related topic) let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!

– Andrew

August 2016 Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2

If you missed part 1 of this trip report, you can find it here.

After a pretty full day on Monday, we spent Tuesday outside of the parks.  Since this is a Disney blog I won’t spend much time recapping what we did, but I will hit some highlights.  In the morning we walked over to the Marriott Hotel by the Convention Center and had breakfast at the restaurant there.  My dad had been raving about this restaurant’s waffles and caramel syrup for years (after staying there on business) so we had to discover the legend for ourselves.  We sat down for breakfast and there was no waffle on the menu, which would have been sad if it wasn’t so funny.  They did have waffles at the buffet portion of the restaurant and we all opted for that.  While I’m not a big fan of buffets, this one was top-notch and I would highly recommend a nice breakfast here if you are staying close by.

Packing House outside

Later that day we took a bus to the Anaheim Packing District.  Yes, all we did this day was eat.  This was a fun place to get lunch.  The Packing House opened a few years ago and is full of different restaurants.  There was a good variety and many appealing options.  I ended up getting catfish from a Cajun restaurant (Georgia’s) and really enjoyed it.  I also enjoyed my popsicle from PopBar.  While this isn’t the most appealing area of Anaheim, the Packing House was worth visiting.  I will be going back for lunch or dinner here in the future and think this is a nice change of pace from the parks.  This is about a 15 minute bus ride from Disneyland.  One word of warning: Don’t go here when it’s extremely hot outside as the air-conditioning was either non-existent or not very powerful.

Food Packing House

That evening we went to Angel Stadium to see my hopeless addiction, the Seattle Mariners, play an unfortunate baseball game.  While the game itself doesn’t need to be brought up (nor the last 15 years of baseball in Seattle) I will comment on the stadium.  In all honesty, I was underwhelmed by the stadium.  That’s not completely Angels Stadium’s fault as the only other baseball stadiums I’ve been in are Seattle’s and San Francisco’s, both of which are masterpieces.  Anaheim’s stadium pales in comparison as it feels dated and somewhat trashy.  The field itself was nice enough with the rock-work in center field but the concourses were ugly and crowded.  If you are a fan of baseball then, sure, go to a game if you want.  But I wouldn’t call this a ‘must-do’ experience.

The next morning we arrived at California Adventure around park opening to get our FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers.  DCA has improved leaps and bounds over the last decade but it could really use one more great attraction (or several more).  Even with Radiator Springs Racers opening 4 years ago there is still a long backup each morning to get a FastPass for the attraction.  Maybe the upcoming superhero land will have something to offset this.  Or maybe they should have put Star Wars Land in this park.

Anyway, after getting our FastPass it was time for our inaugural ride on Soarin’ Around the World.  I’ll have a review of the attraction in the next week or two but I do think this is still a classic.

Potato Head TSM

After Soarin’ was a trip around Paradise Pier while we waited for our FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers.  It was fairly easy to take advantage of the FastPass system even with our big group.  Before heading over to Cars Land, I got us all FastPasses for California Screamin’.  One of the keys to taking advantage of FastPasses is to always get a new one before you use the one that you have (unless you’re on the other side of the park).  While I’m sure most of you know that, it’s a simple tip to pass on.  We rode Toy Story Mania and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.  The reason I wrote that sentence was because I wanted to use this photo.

Bird Little Mermaid

I’m an average photographer at best, so it says more about the ride than me that I can consistently get decent photos on Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.  It’s too bright on that ride, especially in the big show scene.  When it’s too bright, my eyes start to wander instead of focusing where the imagineers want them to.  Also the attraction is just a book report of the film and that makes it somewhat boring to me.

Something that never gets boring is Cars Land.  We rode Radiator Springs Racers and the new Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters.  Luigi’s is the debut of the trackless ride system in the U.S.  Unfortunately, the system is more impressive than the actual attraction.  While the ride is fine and needed as a third attraction in Cars Land, it will never be seen as anything great.  They did well with the limited space they had and I’m eager to see the first use of a trackless system in a great ride instead of just a simple one (I’m looking at you, Star Wars Land).

Luigi's in ride

After Luigi’s we went to ride Screamin’ and then headed to lunch at Storytellers Cafe.  You can read my review of that restaurant here.

After lunch we went for a wet ride on Grizzly River Run which might earn the coveted honor of Wandering in Disney’s Most Underrated Attraction.  I think it’s incredibly hard to theme a raft ride but there are no issues with this one.  Raft rides may need simple stories and this one has that while fitting in seamlessly to the Grizzly Peak area. There are fun paths around the area and plenty of beautiful architecture and rock-work to admire.  While Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom bites off a little more than it can chew, Grizzly River Run is nearly perfect because of its simplicity.

River Grizzly RR

After Grizzly River Run we took my cousin for his first stay at the Hollywood Tower Hotel.  Let’s say he didn’t enjoy his experience as he doesn’t like dropping.  While I’ve never loved the feel of dropping, I do love the Tower of Terror for its wonderful story and theme.  I’ll be sorry to see it rethemed to an attraction that doesn’t fit the area.

We spent this whole day in the park without going back and resting at the hotel.  This is much easier to do when you have a sit down meal, at a restaurant that’s inside, during the day.  The rest of the day was filled with minor attractions and relaxing.  We spent a good portion of our time in the Animation Building.  We took drawing lessons at the Animation Academy, an attraction I plan to review soon.

Animation Building

We went to Cars Land at sunset for the lighting following another trip along the Cadillac Mountains via the single rider line.  When you want your family to understand your Disney addiction, take them to Cars Land at night.  They fill the air with addictive, invisible pixie dust making guests want to go back every few weeks.

That night I waited a little too long to have dinner and by the time I made it over to Paradise Garden Grill it had just closed.  Why that place is closing at 8 (I literally showed up at 8:01) when the park’s nighttime spectacular right by it at 9 is beyond me but I digress.  I ended up at the Pacific Wharf Cafe and had an Asian Chicken Salad in a Bread Bowl.  I thought it was a decent meal but not something I’d ever get again.  If it hadn’t been so hot I would have gone for the soup.

Purple Fountains WOC

World of Color – Celebrate was better than I remembered.  While there were some problems with its pacing, the show had heart.  The Frozen song and the Star Wars preview felt like a commercial but the rest of the show was really good.  With that being said, I’m happy to see the original World of Color back in the parks starting today!

Pacific Wharf bridge fireworks

Cozy Cone Cars land night

We slowly exited DCA after the show, catching Disneyland’s fireworks from the Pacific Wharf bridge and walking through Cars Land.  Disneyland was open for another hour and a half so we went over there and rode a few rides.  It was that night when I found out that you can fit 3 adults into a seat on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  Can you fit comfortably?  No.  Will you feel safe with 3 people in that seat?  No.  Will it be as enjoyable as a normal ride on Big Thunder?  Probably not.  But we fit nonetheless.

We headed back to our hotel that night after 14 hours in the parks.  I don’t typically recommend that but we had a great time.  We sat and relaxed enough in the evening so that we weren’t overly exhausted and the sit down meal during the day was also helpful.

That’s where I’ll leave this portion of the trip report.  Part 3 will have some thoughts on Knott’s Berry Farm, as well as our 3rd Disney day.  Thank you for reading and if you have any questions about trip planning or Disney in general leave them in the comments. Also, if there’s something you’d like me to include in these trip reports please let me know!

– Andrew