Columbia Harbor House Review

Columbia Harbor House is a counter-service restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  Residing in Liberty Square, Columbia Harbor House serves American fare and specializes in seafood.  The restaurant does take part in the Disney Dining Plan as a counter-service credit but doesn’t accept any other discounts.  We recently had dinner at Columbia Harbor House and this review will cover that meal.

Magic Kingdom’s dining options have historically been a sore spot for an otherwise thriving park.  Over the last few years, the dining has been trending up with the addition of Be Our Guest and Skippers Canteen.  Those aren’t the only improvements though as several counter-service places have improved.

Columbia Harbor House wall

Even when dining was at a low in Magic Kingdom, Columbia Harbor House was still a decent place to go for a meal.  Part of that is due to the atmosphere inside.  The restaurant is two stories and is crammed with details.

Due to its spot in Liberty Square, the restaurant feels like a little, cozy spot you might wander into in New England.  I find the restaurant to be very welcoming.  I think the design fits a seaport town.  The restaurant also flows well from the European-inspired Fantasyland to the colonized Liberty Square.  The architecture and story fit the thought of traveling from Europe to the American colonies.  Once reaching the colonies, Columbia Harbor House is the type of warm restaurant that you’d want to find.

Columbia Harbor House lady

There are plenty of seats on both floors.  The top floor used to be one of the hidden gems in Magic Kingdom, a quiet respite with some fun views out the window.  Now, both floors are usually typically pretty busy but I still recommend sitting upstairs.  At times that area can still be fairly empty.

As for the food, the menu mostly serves seafood.  Here’s a link to the menu.  I think there’s a nice mix of fried food, home style food and fresher food.  Speaking for myself, I don’t typically love the breading that Disney counter-service puts on fried food.  That’s not a hard and fast rule, but just personal preference.  I haven’t had anything fried here in years so maybe Columbia Harbor House has the best fried fish around!  Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried it.

Columbia Harbor House lobster roll

For my entrée I decided to go with the Lobster Roll.  This came with house made chips.  As for the Lobster Roll, I was pleasantly surprised.  There was not very much filling in the sandwich and a ton of lobster.  The flavor wasn’t as rich as some lobster rolls I’ve had but this was still delicious.  That’s mostly thanks to the amount of lobster in the sandwich.  I thought the chips were a better alternative than your run of the mill french fries.

At $14.99, the Lobster Roll is a decent value especially considering the amount of lobster in the sandwich.  There are other lobster rolls around Disney World but they are more expensive and this one isn’t much worse, if at all.  I would happily recommend the Lobster Roll here.

Columbia Harbor House salmon

Melissa went with the Grilled Salmon and we were both really happy with this entrée.  The salmon was cooked perfectly and had a somewhat sweet glaze to it.  The portion size was, as you can see, fairly large and filling.  This isn’t your typical counter-service entrée, it was very fresh and delicious.  The green beans tasted fresh as well and weren’t overly seasoned.  We were somewhat split on our opinion of the couscous.  I liked it pretty well while Melissa wasn’t a big fan.  There wasn’t much flavor in it but I thought it was a nice starch to finish off the dish.  All in all, this was a great option and at only $13.99 is a relatively good value.

Columbia Harbor House cobbler

We went with the seasonal cobbler for dessert and thought it was pretty average.  The addition of the cream that you can see on top was nice.  Otherwise there was nothing that stood out about the cobbler.  I regret not getting the Boston Cream Pie as I think that’s a slightly more original counter-service dessert.  Maybe next time!

Columbia Harbor House offers some surprisingly fresh and delicious entrees and decent prices.  The salmon was on par with some table-service restaurants and at significantly better prices.  The same goes for the Lobster Roll but there wasn’t quite as much value there.  I do think that the restaurant could benefit from having nicer plates and cutlery instead of paper and plastic.  Be Our Guest (and most Disneyland quick-service restaurants) utilizes this and it makes the meal feel a little nicer.

Columbia Harbor House lobster roll close

If you enjoy seafood then Columbia Harbor House is one of the better counter-service options.  While the menu isn’t extremely diverse in its offerings there are different selections that could fit the whole family.  I’d be reluctant to recommend anything aside from the two entrees I reviewed here because I think they could be overly greasy.  But, as I mentioned, it has been years since I’ve tried the fried food here.  All in all, Columbia Harbor House is only second to Be Our Guest when it comes to Magic Kingdom counter-service restaurants.

Overall Rating – 8.5/10

Have you tried Columbia Harbor House?  Let us know your thoughts on the restaurant in the comments!If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

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Star Wars 5K (The Dark Side) Report

Sorry for the slow last week or two here on the blog.  I’ve been traveling and my laptop crashed so that ended most of my writing efforts.  On that note, the photos in this post aren’t edited to the usual degree (my laptop is in the shop) and they’re taken with my iPhone while walking (instead of my camera) so sorry for the poor quality in those.

The main reason behind our travel is Melissa and I took part in our first half marathon, doing the Dark Side Half Marathon at Walt Disney World.  More on that later in the week, as well as the whole trip.  In addition to the half marathon, we walked the 5K a couple of days before.  My parents joined us for this trip and my mom wanted to walk the 5K so the three of us did it together (my dad might be the smartest between the four of us as he decided to stay in bed).  This post will cover our experience doing the 5K and some thoughts on the RunDisney 5K’s in general.

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As with any RunDisney event, the actual experience started the day before our 5K at the Expo.  I’ll write more about the Expo when we get to the actual trip report but I will mention how it applies to the 5K.

I think most RunDisney Expo’s are run efficiently and should be praised for the most part.  For runners just doing the 5K, that may be a slight exception.  All of the 5K’s are on Friday’s (or Thursday’s for the Disney World Marathon).  That means people have to go the Expo on the prior day no matter what.  For those making a week trip, that’s not a problem.  But if you’re flying in that Thursday then I could see that being pretty inconvenient.

We spent some time at the Expo and has absolutely no trouble getting our bibs, shirts and souvenirs.  The rest of the day was spent at Animal Kingdom, which may have been a slight mistake as we stayed pretty late, checked in to Old Key West, and got to bed around midnight.

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The next morning came with a 4 AM wake up call.  We’d never done any RunDisney events at Disney World before so we weren’t sure of when to catch the bus.  The 5K started at 6 AM.  The event guide told us to be on the bus by 4:30, even though it ran until 5:30.  After some compromising we decided to catch the bus at about 4:45.  We did and we were so early.  Not quite as early as most everyone else but still an hour early.  The motto of this particular story is use common sense when deciding when to catch the bus for you races.  If you will stress about when to catch the bus all morning, get there when the guide says to.  If not, sleep a little longer and get there a little later than everyone else.

We got into corral C and waited for a while.  The MC’s are always entertaining, if not a little boisterous at 5 in the morning.  I also enjoy people watching and seeing all the costumes around.  There weren’t as many people at the 5K race as there would be at the half marathon, but a higher percentage of them were dressed up.  As I mentioned, these were Star Wars themed races and some of the costumes were pretty impressive.  There were more Reys than you could imagine and a few people dressed as very obscure characters.  To my disappointment, I didn’t see any Nien Nunb‘s but maybe that burden fell to me and I didn’t pick it up.

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The race got going before too long.  They broke down the corrals into smaller waves to help spread out the runners.  This seemed to work pretty well, even if the course was only a 5K and there were close to 10,000 runners.  We got started with a our race at about 6:30.  Each corral was sent off with a burst of fireworks.

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The race was mostly through Epcot and started (and ended) in that parking lot.  The first mile was mostly backstage though and making our way into the park.  While I typically enjoy these sections, I didn’t find this one particularly interesting.  There was a little structure here.

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There were also Ewoks that I couldn’t get a good picture of, since I didn’t want to wait in the huge line.  They were undoubtedly the highlight of the first mile.

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One mile done!  Congratulations to this nice couple, who were complete strangers.  I’m just in this for the mile markers!  Runners/walkers are supposed to keep a 16 minute/mile pace.  We were slightly under that but it wasn’t an issue because we didn’t start at the back of the corrals.  There were plenty of people slower than us too.  If you are afraid to do a 5K because you think your speed is an issue, I really wouldn’t worry about that.  We even stopped a few times for photos or restrooms and had no issues with pacing.

After the first mile, we passed Test Track and I took this terrible photo.

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It was fun to walk under that attraction.  We came into Epcot right in between the Mexico and Norway Pavilion.  The sun had just risen and the light was really beautiful for the majority of the morning.  Since there isn’t a lot to update you on walking, there will be a lot of photos for a while.

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We started our walk around World Showcase.  I had yet to see Epcot on our trip so this was my first look at the Flower and Garden Festival.  That was a special treat to see all the topiaries and flowers for the first time.

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R2D2 was out for meet & greets and had quite the line.  I thought they fit in a good amount of characters into a relatively small amount of space.  R2 was definitely one of the funnest characters out.  Here’s a terrible photo to prove it.

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As I said the morning light was beautiful.  We hit the western side of World Showcase at the perfect time to see the sun rise above the China Pavilion.

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I do like that PhotoPass is out at all of the races and the photos they take are readily available.  With our annual passes, we get the photos for free.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t post this photo of me walking and looking at something.

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Mile 2!  And some more strangers.

We crossed the bridge after the France Pavilion and exited out towards the Boardwalk.  There waited Chewbacca and about a hundred people waiting in line to see him.  Hence no photo of him.  Instead you get a picture of this weird building that sits behind the UK Pavilion!

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You can Google a photo of Chewbacca but I’m guessing only a few of you knew that there was an L-shaped building back here!  That’s what you get here at Wandering in Disney.  Photos of buildings that you truly have no connection to and do not care about.

We came back into Epcot after the weird shaped building.  We walked past Canada and into Future World.  where the flowers were especially beautiful.

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Flowers on the left and intimidating Storm Troopers on the right!

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We headed to the left, walking towards the Imagination Pavilion.  The sun was up at this point and it was getting pretty warm.  Otherwise there was nothing to complain about.  Everyone was in good spirits, which is one of the best parts of these events.  People are proud of their accomplishments and are proud of you, as well.  The events are just a big celebration of people achieving their goals.  It was a beautiful morning and everything felt right, even on 4 hours of sleep.

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A photo to prove our happiness.  Although, anyone would be happy if they were walking next to a lady dressed as Chewbacca.

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We circled around the west side of Future World, walking past Imagination, The Land and The Seas.  We ended up walking past Spaceship Earth and exiting just to the east of that.

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We were on the homestretch at this point and really kicked it into gear.  That was a joke.  We walked the whole thing and were happy to do so.  I don’t think the 5K may be a good warm up for those running a half marathon later in the weekend, but many people just walked the whole race.  There were others who ran/walked with their young kids. I’ll touch more on that in a bit.

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Mile 3 and no strangers!  Just the top half of my mom’s head… The last tenth of a mile was through the Epcot parking lot where they had set up bleachers and there were people cheering us on.

We reached the finish line and were ushered through the medal and refreshments line.  As always, this was well-organized and easy to get through.  I was proud to finish and even prouder to do it with my wife and mom.  I know it meant a lot to my mom and she worked hard to accomplish the 5K.  Walking across that finish line was an accomplishment and a fun moment for the three of us.

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As for the whole experience, I enjoyed it.  Doing it with family was a good move and really fun.  I’m not sure that I would do another RunDisney 5K alone or even just with Melissa due to the relatively high cost and lower amount of actual time spent doing the race.

With that being said, I think a 5K would be a perfect introduction to RunDisney for families or for someone who’s really apprehensive about the whole long-distance running thing.  The Dark Side 5K would be especially fun for young boys and their parents, as it’s a little more action themed than the other races.

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Once the race ended, we sat down for a bit and then headed to breakfast.  I had a cold for the early part of the weekend so I was more than ready for a nap.  Still, we had the glow that these events give you all through breakfast.  We wore our medals proudly and then I promptly went back to bed for a few hours.  Nearly a perfect morning.

If you have any RunDisney questions, please let me know in the comments.  I’m no expert, but I’d love to help as much as possible.  Thank you for reading, we’ll be back with a half marathon and trip report soon!

– Andrew

Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival 2017

Ah — Food and Wine, my two favorite words in the English dictionary. If there is an event with food and wine in the name, you can bet your bottom I will find a way to be there. Needless to say, my visit to The Food and Wine Festival at Disney’s California Adventure was definitely a blast. I have been talking about visiting the festival for several years, and finally made the time to do so. I can safely say visiting this festival will be something I will look forward to in the coming years.

I was able to visit Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival a couple of weekends ago on a Sunday with my Disney Pal Dom. We arrived at the park at open, and were able to jump on a few rides before heading over to see the many booths at the festival. For those of you who don’t know, the Food & Wine Festival is an ongoing event that takes place March 10th through April 16th at California Adventure. Dozens of booths are set up throughout the park with California-themed dishes and beverages. The festival also holds various demonstrations; cooking classes, live music, and seminars revolving around food and wine. The event also hosts a variety of pop-up shops, which sell special merchandise. We had a nice time at the Saucy Lips shop, enjoying samples of their varieties of hot sauce.

There are several options of how one can participate in the festival. One option was to buy a ticket costing $45, which allowed you to sample a select number of the food items. I can’t recall exactly how many food items you were allotted with this ticket, but we passed on the ticket deal, opting instead to simply purchase items at the booths individually. Separately, the Wine and Beer Seminars cost $15-$20 to attend while the cooking classes cost $10 to attend. We did not attend these seminars this year, but will make sure to do so in the future.

One of my favorite parts of the festival was the themed marketplaces set up throughout the park. Each had a California food based theme, which I found really wonderful and helpful when deciding where to eat. I  Artichokes, Garlic Kissed, Nuts About Cheese, The Onion Lair, and Off the Cob were among my favorite themed booths. I loved that each place stuck to one idea and saw it through. I didn’t get to try a lot of items, which looked amazing, but I am most disappointed I missed out on Brie toast with fig jam and the Baked ham and swiss roles at Nuts about Cheese booth.

We hit up the food booths right at 11am when they opened, wanting to beat the crowds later in the day. We meticulously wandered by every booth, wanting to only try a couple of the best-looking bites. My first food item I purchased was the cream cheese deviled eggs with smoked trout and chives at the Seafood Sustained booth. The eggs were light and delicious and I popped them back in about 10 seconds. The very tasty eggs cost $4 for two.


Next, we hit up the Sweet & Sourdough booth and both got the item we had our eyes on all morning, the white cheddar lager soup topped with bacon, served in a mini sourdough bowl. The soup was $6 and my biggest regret was that I didn’t order more! My friend and I were both totally blown away by how delicious this soup was. I mean, liquid cheese + beer, how can you go wrong? Dom also ordered the milk chocolate sourdough bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce, which we shared. It was pretty tasty, but we were both very full after the rich soup so didn’t finish the whole portion. I did not actually drink any alcohol at the event, but Dom enjoyed a crisp coconut lime beer from a local brewery.


While I definitely think the Food and Wine Festival appeals more to adults than kids, there were several kid-friendly booths set up as well. There was a “Kitchen Crafts” booth where children could create their own chef hats. Is there anything cuter than kids running around pretending to be little cooks? Adorable.


Our intention was to make our way back to the festival in the evening for more tastes and treats, but sadly we ended up staying at Disneyland for the remainder of the day and did not make it back. Next year, I will definitely plan more trips to ensure I get to try more of the classes and food/beverage options the festival has to offer. I would highly recommend this festival for anyone who enjoys food and drinks as much as me!

– Cassie

If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!

Question of the Week (4/18/17)

Every few weeks our writers get together to answer a Disney related question.  Here is this week’s question and answers.

Question of the Week: As Easter weekend comes and goes, what holiday would you like to see the U.S. Disney Parks celebrate more?

Andrew – I’ll kind of cheat here by picking more than one. I would like to see more foreign holidays celebrated at Epcot and California Adventure. This has already started to a degree as Chinese (Lunar) New Year celebrations are apparent on both coasts. I’d like for this to be taken a step further and Epcot is an obvious gateway to doing that. Golden Week celebrations in the Japan Pavilion and Boxing Day parties in the Canadian Pavilion. Cinco de Mayo in Mexico and Bastille Day in France. Those are the best examples off the top of my head but those could easily be integrated there and in California Adventure, as California is a melting pot of different cultures. I think this would add to the culture of Epcot and could entertain while informing on both coasts.

Leslie – I’m not certain there are more holidays personally I would like to see, instead I would like to see certain holiday celebrations stretched out a bit more. 4th of July and Valentine’s Day are the two that come to mind. While it might not be reasonable to do such a huge fireworks display more than two nights (once for the tester and once on the 4th) I feel the park to embrace these holidays a bit longer. Perhaps more Americana theming the week of the 4th. As for Valentine’s Day it would be nice to see the character couples more available than simply on Valentine’s Day. More theming and perhaps a specific midday show for both would be lovely in my humble opinion.

Friendship Faire Mickey Minnie bowing

Melissa – Hmmmm I would agree with all of the above! I think it would be great to start celebrating the American Holidays other than just Christmas, New Years and Halloween for a month. But maybe around Memorial Day bring back out the patriotic items. And like Leslie said make these other holiday.

Cassie – I’m gonna go way out there and say Thanksgiving! Eating at the parks is one of my favorite things to do and I think if there was some sort of feast dinner it would be really fun. Maybe also a pie cook off or something along those lines.

Sam with flag

What holiday would you like to see more of at the Disney Parks? Let us know in the comments!

If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!

Rating Disneyland’s Quick-Service Dining

Disneyland is arguably the best Disney Park when it comes to counter-service food.  Maybe some of it has to do with most of these restaurants using actual silverware and making you feel slightly more welcome than typical counter-service options.  But, I think the quality in the cutlery (I hate myself for typing that phrase) is just a bonus compared to the quality of the food.

Deciding on which counter-service option to eat at in Disneyland is always a difficult proposition.  With that in mind, I present to you… The Disneyland Counter-Service Restaurant Ratings!  Now when you’re trying to decide where to eat in DL you can just pull up this post and find out what some blogger you’ve never met thinks.  How exciting!

I was initially going to rank these but the restaurants are a somewhat fluid situation with ever changing menus and locations.  There are also a few places we haven’t tried so if they aren’t on the list that’s the reason why.  We hope to get to them all at some point!

I’ll rank each restaurant on a scale of 1-10, taking into account several factors.  The biggest factors will be food and value.  Environment, originality and an interesting menu is something I’ll keep in mind for most locations.  I have reviewed several of these restaurants and will link that to the title of each.  I may go through each park and do this, if there is interest in this one.  As always, if you have specific questions about a restaurant (or anything Disney) just let me know in the comments.  On to the ratings!

Bengal Barbecue – This is one of Melissa’s favorite spots in Disneyland while I’m just lukewarm on the location.  Bengal Barbecue offers meat and vegetable skewers, typically in a teriyaki style sauce.  The food is decent but nothing out of this world.  I do like the pricing here though as all the skewers are under $5 and they’re a really good snack or light meal option.  The Pomegranate Piranha Lemonade is also delicious and not nearly as startling as it sounds.  Overall, this is a good and cheap option.
Overall Rating – 8/10

French Market Restaurant – The French Market is a Cajun-inspired stop in New Orleans Square.  The prices range from about $10-15 per entrée and the menu is pretty ambitious by counter-service standards.  While the food isn’t as authentic (or spicy) as some Cajun fare, it’s a great option for someone who wants something a little different from typical theme park food.  It is also tough to beat getting dinner here, sitting outside and watching the jazz band play.
Overall Rating – 8.5/10

French Market outside

Hungry Bear Restaurant – This is more along the lines of what people think of ‘theme park food’.  Sandwiches and burgers are offered here, but the food offered is quality and there are some interesting options.  It’s worth noting that there are funnel cakes here because funnel cakes are delicious.  The Hungry Bear also offers some of the best views of any counter-service restaurant with it being right along the river.  If it’s a sandwich you want, this is definitely a good option.
Overall Rating – 8/10

Splash Mountain trees

Jolly Holiday Bakery – Sitting on the corner of Main Street, Jolly Holiday offers some nice views of the castle.  Unfortunately, I don’t think their entrees live up to the views.  The menu mainly sticks to sandwiches, soups and salads.  Thankfully, the pastries and desserts here are delicious.  The Red Rose Raspberry Macaron is one of my favorite things to eat at any Disney Park.  The Matterhorn Macaroon is also delicious and a good cheap option.  If only those entrees were a little better!
Overall Rating – 7.5/10

The Little Red Wagon – This place offers one thing – corn dogs!  But they aren’t just your regular corn dogs as these have a wonderful breading that makes them delicious.  This is also a Disneyland classic, a sort of rite of passage among Disney fans.  You could pick nits about paying a little over $5 for a corn dog but don’t think twice about it.  Go here.
Overall Rating – 10/10

Plaza Inn – This restaurant sits on the corner across the street from Jolly Holiday.  The prices are slightly higher here, in the $12-$18 range, but they definitely give you more than enough to eat.  The Plaza Inn is home to the best fried chicken in theme park history.  It is the restaurants renowned dish and I’d hesitate to recommend anything else, not because the other dishes aren’t good but because the fired chicken is so delicious.  Your thoughts on this will largely depend on what you think of homestyle, southern food but I really enjoy the restaurant.
Overall Rating – 9/10

Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante – This is a really good quick-service attempt at Mexican Food.  In fact, this might be the best quick-service Mexican Food you can find in a U.S. Disney Theme Park.  Now, that might not be as much of a compliment as it sounds.  This food isn’t authentic and it isn’t distinctly Californian style Mexican food either.  But, it’s a good, toned-down Mexican food option at decent prices ($11-$15).  They give you large portion sizes and I’ve yet to try anything I didn’t like here.  The menu is also pretty large for being a counter-service Mexican place.  If you aren’t a Mexican food snob then you’re likely to enjoy this place.
Overall Rating – 8.5/10

As you can see, there’s a ton of quality offered here.  While I don’t think there’s a true stand out (except for the corn dogs) I think there are four places that offer a good sit-down (once you order from the counter) dinner.  I prefer some of Disneyland’s counter-service to many table-service meals I’ve had.

That’s where we’ll leave this post for now.  There were a few left off as I don’t feel like Starbucks is worth rating and the food carts are a little too limited without being iconic.  I do like the chimichangas quite a bit though!  There’s a few places we either haven’t been to or I didn’t feel comfortable leaving a rating because it’s been too long.  We’ll get to them soon but if there’s one we left off that you have been to, let us know your opinion of it in the comments!

If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Pros and Cons of Visiting Disney Parks on Holidays

There has to be a better title than that for this blog post, right?  I tried to come up with a better one for about 20 minutes and finally gave up. With that auspicious start, let’s get to some actual content!

Holidays are obviously the most popular time to visit Disney Parks.  People have vacation time or school breaks that they can plan their vacation around, making a vacation more attainable.  While planning a visit during a non-vacation period may be more enjoyable, that is a subject for another day.  Instead I’m going to go through each holiday and tell you the pro’s and cons (in my opinion) of visiting during those times.

Grand Floridian christmas tree

I’m going to include the typical holidays that people have off work.  Sorry Groundhog Day and Valentines Day, you need more government support.  Columbus Day is left out because I don’t know when it is and also think that it’s kind of dumb.  If there are any other holidays that people have off work that I leave out, it isn’t intentional.  Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to add them in over the next few days.

I would rank the holidays in order of my preference on when to go but I don’t think that would do much good.  Opinions obviously vary on this depending on how much crowds, heat, and special events matter to you.  That’s why I decided to just go with pros and cons, so then you can make a judgement for yourself.

This post includes both Disneyland and Disney World, as their climates and crowd levels are fairly similar.  If there’s a big difference in the two resorts I’ll be sure to note it.  Alright, let’s get started!  I’ll be going through the year chronologically.

New Year’s Day (and Eve)
Pros:
Awesome Fireworks
 – New Year’s Eve is known for fireworks around the world and Disney is no different as Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and Epcot all typically do a special show to bring in the New Year.  These shows all have more pyro than the usual Disney nighttime spectaculars.
Other Special Entertainment – Each park will undoubtedly have some different events to celebrate a New Year.  Some events will be bigger than others but these do help add to the festive atmosphere.
Crowd Levels in the Following Week – Don’t get me wrong, crowd levels in the few days around New Year’s are terrible but as you progress into January (say around the 4th) people start to leave and the parks are really empty.  So, if you can start your trip on New Year’s through the following week then crowds aren’t all that bad.
Weather – The weather at both resorts would be pretty mild and probably a nice break from a cold winter if you’re living somewhere else.
Christmas Decorations are Still Up – This is a nice plus for those who can’t make it to the parks in December.  Christmas decorations tend to stay up at the Disney Parks through most of the first week in January.  It’s a nice way to see the decor without many of the huge crowds (again, assuming you can stay a few days after New Year’s).
Cons:
Crowds – Yes, this was a pro but on the actual New Year’s Eve and Day (and the week leading up to it) the crowds are terrible.  A few of the parks often close due to capacity being reached.  If you’re going at this time then don’t count on getting many rides in.  Honestly, this is one of the worst holidays to actually visit on if you want to go for the rides.
It can be Cold – Disneyland could especially get pretty chilly at night.  We were at Disney World around this time last year and were fine in jeans and a sweatshirt in the evening.  But it won’t be your typical hot southern California or Florida vacation.  Still pleasant enough for me though.
Overall – A New Year’s trip is fun for those of us who have semi-regular trips to the parks.  If you’re doing a once in a lifetime trip (or close to it) or hate crowds then I wouldn’t advise going over New Year’s because you simply can’t get very much done.

Wishes blue castle

Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Pros:
Crowds – Relative to most holidays the crowds here are low.
Weather – The weather is mild in January at both resorts.  I’m going to keep these short if I’m just repeating myself!
Festival of the Arts at Epcot & Lunar New Year at California Adventure – Both coasts have a special celebration going on at this time that have drawn pretty good reviews (Festival of the Arts more so).  This is a unique thing to that time and will probably add to your enjoyment.
Cons:
Not Everyone Has the Day Off – I almost didn’t include Martin Luther King Day because many people don’t have this day off work.  Still, schools have it off so I included it.
Attractions Down for Refurbishment – Around mid-January Disney starts to close down some attractions to get them refreshed.  Martin Luther King Day might fall before that but not always.
Overall – Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a good time to visit.  As I mentioned, it’s not always the easiest to get off work but if you can manage then the crowd levels are usually pretty good.  The refurbishments can at times be frustrating but that’s the biggest negative.

Carthay Circle

Presidents Day – This is the exact same as Martin Luther King Day but with more crowds and more refurbishments.  Many of the crowds are due to it being Mid-Winter Break for schools.  This is a decent time to go if you’re planning around a holiday but not great overall.

Easter/Spring Break
Pros:
Spring – 
I think Spring is one of the best times to visit the parks.  The flowers are in bloom and there are many colors to see.  Which leads us to…
Flower and Garden in Epcot and Food and Wine in DCA – More festivals!  Most notably Flower and Garden Festival taking place in Epcot.  The park is really beautiful and even more fun to explore than usual.
Easter Festivities – I know many Spring Breaks don’t fall in line with Easter but… There are some fun Easter celebrations at both resorts.  Brunch, Easter Egg hunts, and more are offered throughout each one, especially Disney World.
Weather – Again, still pretty mild but without a risk of being cold.  You could run into some rain though.
Cons:
Crowds – Spring Break crowds are pretty bad and much worse than Presidents Day (and Martin Luther King Jr. Day).
Refurbs are Wrapping Up – Some of those aforementioned refurbishments will still be going on at this point, though most should have wrapped up by then.
Overall – Easter can be pretty busy but the later you get in April the better.  Depending on when Easter falls, this can be one of the better times to visit.

UK Epcot day

Memorial Day
Pros:
Start of Summer – Disney has started to use Memorial Day as their kickoff to the summer.  New attractions have often opened around this holiday.  So, if you want to be one of the first to ride something new then this might be the time for you.
Longer Hours – Outside of New Year’s Day, all of the holidays that I’ve mentioned so far will usually have shorter park hours than Memorial Day.
Cons:
Weather – It’s starting to get pretty hot at this point in the year.
Crowds – While not as busy as Spring Break or New Year’s, this can still be a pretty busy time to go.
Overall – I think this is a decent time to go.  Many people can’t come at this time because it’s right before school gets out but if you can do a week surrounding Memorial Day then this holiday might be the right one for you.

Epcot Spaceship Earth Mexico

4th of July
Pros:
Great Fireworks – Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and Epcot all offer special fireworks for the 4th of July and they are all great shows.
Longer Hours – The parks are open early and late at this point in the year.
Cons:
Everything Else – It’s hot, super crowded, and there aren’t many great discounts available.
Overall – Yeah, I wouldn’t go at this time if given any other option.

Red gold fireworks

Labor Day
Pros:
Crowds
– The best holiday to go for when considering crowds.  Labor Day is the least busy holiday (so it’s like an average day) and the week surrounding it is relatively empty compared to all other holidays.
Start of events at Disney World – Labor Day now offers the start of the Halloween Party and Food and Wine Festival at WDW.  These are both fun events that can be a ton of fun.  Fall decorations are up around both resorts.
Cheaper – Labor Day is easily the cheapest holiday to visit a Disney Park at.  Hotel rates are cheaper all across the board and discounts are offered for many places.
Cons:
Weather – 
It’s really freaking hot.
School just started – It’s tough to take a trip right around the time school starts.  For some this isn’t an issue but I know many teachers couldn’t do this time.
Overall – Your view of a Labor Day trip will depend on how well you handle heat.  If it’s not a big deal to you then this is the holiday in which you’ll get the most done.

River night

Halloween
Pros:
There are Parties! – 
The Halloween Party is a really fun add-on (albeit maybe overpriced) and going near Halloween will only add to the excitement.
Crowds – Not a ton of people are at the parks around Halloween.
Weather – The heat starts to die down at this point in time.
Cons:
Not a Federal Holiday – No one is getting this day off school or work.  This should automatically be disqualified from this list but I think it’s a fun time to go!
Overall – 
It’s a fun time to go and not super crowded but again, this isn’t actually a holiday so I’m kind of missing the point here.

MK Hocus Pocus Oogie Boogie pot

Thanksgiving
Pros:
Christmas and Thanksgiving – If you go to the parks around Thanksgiving, you get two holidays in one.  Decorations for Christmas will be up around the resorts and there will also be a few Thanksgiving festivities throughout the parks.  Christmas Parties will be in full effect at this point.
More Days Off – This won’t be the same for everyone but many people get the Friday off after Thanksgiving, that leads to more vacation time or having to take less time off.
Weather – Very mild and pleasant at this point.
Cons: 
Crowds – Probably the fourth most crowded holiday behind Christmas, July 4th, and New Year’s.  On the actual holiday, you won’t be able to get much done.
Expensive – Not quite as expensive as a few other holidays but this will be some of the highest prices you’ll find.

Back Main Street MK

Christmas
Pros:
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – It’s a cliché but there is a little more magic in the air at this time and that is in full effect at the Disney Parks.
Special Events Everywhere – This is easily the time of year with the most events going on.  Each park has something special to watch or go to and most of them are more than worth your time.
Weather – You’ve figured this out by now.
Cons:
Crowded – About 4 weeks before Christmas is great but unfortunately not many of us have that day off.  Christmas is extremely crowded everywhere you go.
Expensive – This is one of the most expensive times of the year to visit, if not the most expensive.
Overall – Another case of it being fun for those who go more often but the timing will be a hassle for those trying to get in a bunch of rides.

Blur castle wreath

What holiday would you visit around?  Let us know in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Catching Up On The (Disney) News

We haven’t had a news update post in a while so I figured it was time for a catch-all news post about the U.S. Disney Parks.  By ‘catch-all’ I mean that I’m going to write about the pieces of news that I find interesting.  I’m going to go through each park and talk a little bit about what’s going on or coming up there.  Some parks I’ll be scrounging for news compared to others.  We’ll start on the west coast and move east because that’s the opposite of the sun and if you fly too close to the sun your wings will get burnt off.

Disneyland

The original Magic Kingdom is slowly making its way towards the reopening of the railroad and river this summer.  Those are set to open in July and with it will come a slightly reimagined Fantasmic!  Disneyland’s Fantasmic! is one of my favorite experiences at any park and new scenes featuring Pirates of the Caribbean and Lion King will keep the show fresh.  I’m somewhat sad to see the Peter Pan scene go but I think adding and dropping scenes from a classic show is a really good way to keep it fresh and still a crowd pleaser.

MSEP Turtle

Other newsworthy topics include Pinocchio’s Village Haus being rethemed to the Beauty and the Beast inspired Red Rose Tavern.  The food here has drawn rave reviews and the crowds have certainly increased.  We haven’t had a chance to try this place out but hopefully one of us (I’m looking at you, Cassie!) will make it there soon!  The last bit of news is that the Main Street Electrical Parade has been extended through August.  While I think the parade is more than ready to be retired, I’m glad to see it get one last ride into the sunset.  I fully expect Paint the Night to take back the Disneyland streets once the Electrical Parade is done.  Speaking of, Disneyland’s nighttime entertainment is banking hard on nostalgia right now as Remember… Dreams Come True is the nighttime spectacular.  This is my favorite Disney fireworks show I’ve ever seen and I’m glad it was brought back.  Summer there should be pretty fun with those two going, as well as Fantasmic 2.0.

Disney California Adventure

Not as much news at Disneyland Resort’s second park.  The food and wine festival ends next Sunday and has drawn mixed reviews.  Most of the food looks pretty good but the portion sizes don’t match the price.  Still, these festivals are a fun addition to DCA where as in Epcot they can just clog the park up.

Of course, there’s also Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!  The attraction that replaced Tower of Terror is set to open May 27th.  I wrote about it in my recent thematic guide to California Adventure so I won’t rehash it here.  If you don’t want to read that novella then my quick take is that I’m very skeptical of how Mission Breakout fits thematically.  Who knows though, maybe the attraction will surprise.

Magic Kingdom

Not a lot going on here, even as far as rumors go.  Halloween and Christmas Party dates were announced with (Halloween) dates starting in August!  I don’t have a huge problem with them being so early outside of Magic Kingdom closing down even more for guests who don’t want to pay extra.  We’ll have a guide to the Halloween Party up as the dates get closer.

Tomorrowland TTA night

I believe a makeover of Tomorrowland is coming to Magic Kingdom but nothing has been announced thus far.  The D23 Expo in August my be the time that we finally find out more.  Until then (if you enjoy following the rumors) keep an eye out on how much Stitch’s Great Escape is open.  I think this will be the first attraction to permanently close and be replaced.  Stitch is already running seasonally and it’s only a matter of time before it closes down for good.

Epcot

Nothing much news wise here either outside of rumors.  Future World will be redone to some extent by WDW’s 50th anniversary in 2021.  A few new attractions in World Showcase, or a brand new country, could come to fruition, as well.  WDW Magic forums seem to point to Epcot’s refurbishment being a fluid situation.  I would expect at least some plans to be brought up at D23 Expo.

Illuminations lights

The gondola rumors that I brought up a month or two ago still seem to be moving forward but time will tell.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The big news here is the addition of ‘The Music of Pixar Live!’ for the summer of 2017.  This concert will take place nightly at the theater that houses Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage (which will continue to run during the day).  The concert will be an orchestra performing some pieces from Pixar’s most memorable soundtracks.  There will also be a few characters who come out throughout the show.  This starts on May 26th and I’ve yet to see how long the show will run, although I imagine it will last at least through the summer.

Star Wars Darth Vader

I think this new show is step in the right direction for the Studios.  The park is in desperate need of things to do and, with this show running 3 times per night, the nighttime lineup here is pretty solid.  In fact, if you are planning a WDW vacation I would recommend a half day at the Studios but make it for the afternoon and night.  Spend the morning somewhere else and then try to see this show and the Star Wars Fireworks.  Fantasmic! is good too but not quite the experience that you get in Disneyland.  I’m hoping ‘The Music of Pixar Live!’ becomes a somewhat permanent addition to the Studios, even if it isn’t a smashing success.

Toy Story and Star Wars Land construction continues to progress.  I’m sure there will be numerous updates coming in August at the Expo.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

We’ll end with a bang as Animal Kingdom definitely has the biggest upcoming opening.  Pandora – World of Avatar is set to open on May 27th.  I would guess the land would start soft openings by the start of May.  We’ll have a full review of the land by the end of summer.

Pandora

Pandora is having an effect on the FastPasses here as Animal Kingdom has moved to a tiered system effective when the new land opens.  The two Pandora attractions are in Tier A, meaning you can only choose one of them.  Then the rest of parks attractions are in Tier B.  I think this was a good way for Disney to do this.  Speaking for myself, I would FastPass Flight of Passage and then head for Navi River Journey as soon as the park opens.  The land will draw big crowds through the summer, as the land looks beautiful and inviting.

Animal Kingdom has been more than deserving of attention for the last few years.  Now the park makes a full transition into both a beautiful day and nighttime park.  While I’m excited for many things in my upcoming Disney World trips, spending ample time at Animal Kingdom tops the list.

Tree of Life buffalo AK

That about does it for this news installment.  If I missed something obvious or you’d like to discuss one of these topics more in-depth please let me know in the comments!

If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Sleepy Hollow Refreshments Review

Sleepy Hollow Refreshments is a counter-service dining location in Walt Disney World’s Liberty Square.  Located just off the Hub, in Liberty Square, Sleepy Hollow specializes in American food, most of which are waffles.  The restaurant does take part in the Disney Dining Plan (as a counter-service credit and/or some snack options) but doesn’t accept any other discounts that I’m aware of.

Sleepy Hollow sign

For several years, Sleepy Hollow Refreshments was seen as a hidden gem.  They offered up delicious waffle sandwiches at a relatively decent price and people began to notice.  This little counter-service shop is a good case study on how places go from being a hidden gem to just popular.  Now, you’ll hardly ever find Sleepy Hollow Refreshments without a 10 or 15 minute wait.  It earned some of this popularity and also has taken advantage of Magic Kingdom’s somewhat lackluster, albeit improving, quick dining locations.  Is Sleep Hollow worth the wait?  That’s what we’ll cover today.

Sleepy Hollow is a guest’s first glimpse into Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom.  Liberty Square flows pretty well from the bygone era of Main Street so there isn’t a huge need for a transition piece into the land but that’s what Sleepy Hollow acts as.  The facade of the building is brick, which matches both Main Street and Liberty Square and the lettering on the menu is bold and old-fashioned.  The little seating the restaurant has faces the side of Cinderella’s Castle.  This is a beautiful place to sit as long as it’s not too hot or crowded.  If you’re eating here, I’d definitely recommend grabbing a seat somewhere in this area rather than moving to another location.  Even if you’re not eating here and are in need of a little rest, this is a wonderful place to sit and get your legs back under you.

MK Purple sky MNSSHP

With that being said, it’s not like there’s much of an environment here.  This is simply a counter that you go up to order at and then a nice view as you sit and eat.  There isn’t a ton of theming done and you aren’t going to go home and gush to your friends about the atmosphere at Sleepy Hollow.  Well, unless you’re like me and are writing a blog post about it.  This is a simple place and perhaps that’s part of the allure.  It certainly fits the thought behind Liberty Square – a simpler time.

You don’t go to Sleepy Hollow for the theming, you go for the waffles.  This dining location is known for their waffles, of which they have one savory and several sweet (menu).  They also have funnel cakes which should not be dismissed.

Chicken waffle MK Sleepy Hollow

I almost always go with the Sweet and Spicy Chicken Waffle, the savory option.  The one pictured above is the latest one I’ve had and that chicken portion was maybe slightly bigger than usual.  As you can see, the chicken doesn’t fit the length of the waffle but is wide enough to make up for it if you rip it in half or apart.  Speaking for myself, I just dig in.

The chicken has a nice sauce on it that is more sweet than spicy.  There is a small kick to the sandwich but nothing to be afraid of unless you can’t handle any spice at all.  The slaw is a welcome addition to the sandwich and adds a little depth of flavor.  This has a tiny bit of heat in it too and has a dressing on it that is light.  I think it all adds up to one of the better counter-service options in Disney World.  The negative is that the waffle sandwich used to be much cheaper but is now $8.99.  It’s not a terrible value relative to other items around the park but it’s not a steal like it once was.  This is definitely filling though or a good snack to share if no one is quite ready for a full meal.

Nutella waffle

The other item we’ve had here is the Fresh Fruit Waffle Sandwich.  This isn’t as filling but still pretty delicious.  The waffles, and I should have mentioned this above, are usually made really well.  They never get too soggy and they are crisp, yet not burnt.  The Fresh Fruit Sandwich has a chocolate-hazelnut (Nutella) spread on it and then, I would imagine, an assortment of fresh fruit depending on the season.  This version had blueberries and bananas, as you can see.  The fruit really was fresh.  They weren’t lying in the title.  The sandwich could have used a few more blueberries but the fruit was good overall.  I don’t really like nutella (this was Melissa’s choice) but I thought all the ingredients blended well here.  Melissa really likes this as a snack or dessert but it doesn’t quite crack her list of favorites.  This comes in at $7.99, which I think is overpriced.  Still, it’s a good snack or late breakfast.

Are these waffles good enough to make Sleepy Hollow a must-do?  As with most things in life, that depends.  If you like waffles and are trying to avoid run-of-the-mill theme park food, this is pretty good and worth going to.  Obviously, if you don’t like waffles then don’t go here.  Overall, I don’t think Sleepy Hollow is quite as exciting anymore since they raised the prices on the waffles and dropped a different savory option.  But, I still find myself frequenting this spot fairly often which speaks to the quality of the sandwich.  I wouldn’t put Sleepy Hollow as a must-do but it is very convenient and better than most counter-service options at Magic Kingdom (Be Our Guest Lunch is better, Pecos Bill’s is pretty even but very different).

Sleepy Hollow menu

Overall, I think Sleepy Hollow Refreshments is well worth trying.  Everything we’ve tasted there has been prepared well and tastes fresh.  The waffle sandwiches are a somewhat unique theme park food that is way better than the average burger or chicken nuggets throughout the park.  It may not be as good as it once was, but Sleepy Hollow Refreshments is still a delicious option.

Rating – 8.5/10

Have you been to Sleepy Hollow Refreshments?  What did you think of their food?  Let us know in the comments along with any Disney questions you might have.  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!

– Andrew

Disney’s California Adventure Thematic Guide and Ratings

As one series ends, another begins.  After our group of posts that ranked attractions at each U.S. Disney Park, I thought the natural progression would be to do a group of posts about what ties those attractions together.  That glue is thematic design.

Theme is the difference between a local amusement park and a… well, theme park.  Amusement parks would be a group of rides or attractions that are just thrown together while theme parks will usually have attractions with a cohesive subject or style that make up different lands throughout the park.  Those lands will then, in turn, fit together to make up an idea for the whole park.

I’m sure some of you are already bored with this post and I know this series won’t be as popular as the attraction rankings.  Theme doesn’t matter, or is of little interest, to some people and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Speaking for myself, I find thematic design in a park fascinating.  I love to see how well (or poorly) a park flows from one land to another.

I’m going to start this series in California Adventure and work my way through all of the U.S. Disney Parks.  I’ll give a brief overview of each land, how it correlates to the park’s theme, and how that land flows to the areas around it.  The goal of the posts are to give people who haven’t thought much about how all themes mesh a better understanding.  Also, because this is the internet, I will give a rating of the land based on these things below:

  • How well do the rides fit the area? There are rides that are great but do they fit the theme of the land?  We’ll see in this category.
  • Flow – I mentioned this above, but how well does this land flow into the areas surrounding it.
  • Does it fit the park’s theme? Not all lands fit into their park’s theme.
  • Is this a good idea? Sure, a land can have a nice theme but that doesn’t matter if the area looks terrible.
  • Cohesion and intangibles – Does the architecture match the inspiration? Does something stick out like a sore thumb? Does the land feel inviting? Do I feel like giving out bonus points? That’s what this category is for.

All of those categories are out of 10 points each.  The ratings are just my opinion and nothing serious so let me know where you disagree in the comments.  Alright, let’s get started with a brief overview of the theme behind California Adventure!

California Adventure’s Theme

As a fan of practical names, California Adventure nails it.  The park is a celebration of California.  The goal is to showcase the different aspects of California to park guests.  Is this a good idea for a theme park?  I’m still somewhat split on that.  I love California and gladly endorse a trip there (with a stop at Disneyland, of course) but a whole park built around the state it resides in is still pretty strange to me.  It’s not as if California doesn’t have enough in it for a whole park to be based around.  We aren’t talking about Kansas, Toto.  There are different climates, terrains and cultures all around the state.  But this is definitely the most close-ended theme of all the U.S. Disney Parks.  Hollywood Studios can go into any movie they want.  Animal Kingdom can take you to any place that has animals.  California Adventure is (supposed to be) stuck in California.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with that right now but we’ll see if they’re able to stick to theme down the road.  When it comparing it to all the other Disney Parks I think California Adventure earns points for being unique but loses some for not being very broad.  Whether you like the thematic design will depend on your personality.  I do like it although I tried to point out the flaws in it with this long paragraph.

Let’s get to the individual lands.

Buena Vista Street 

The entrance to the park takes its name from the street that Walt Disney Studios is located.  Instead of being present day, Buena Vista Street is set in the early 1900’s and leads guests to the park icon, a recreation of Carthay Circle, before dispersing to different lands.  The shops and dining stops along the way have facades to match the time period they are in, even if the merchandise inside of them don’t (that’s not a reasonable expectation).  The gas station in the front of the park is a fun little touch and I think the scale is done well.

DCA Band car

I really like this entrance to the park (probably my 4th favorite entrance after the two castle parks and Animal Kingdom).  There’s a little bit of hiding the park icon which always leads to a nice moment when it comes in to full view.  The street looks beautiful and the entertainment going up and down it fit the time period.  I think Carthay Circle is an understated icon but still great.  It does a good job of being Disney, this theater is where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered, while also being Californian.  It was a good choice and much less cheesy than the original park entrance.

Another of my favorite aspects of the entrance is the 4-way stop (hypothetically) that the park takes before jetting out to the different areas.  Because this is an actual street leading throughout California there is a 4-way stop right as you reach Carthay Circle.  Assuming you’re headed into the park, on your left will be Hollywood Land, on your right Grizzly Peak and straight ahead will lead guests back into the park.  All in all, I think the entrance does a nice job in setting the tone for the rest of California Adventure.  To the grades!

Rides Fitting the Land – 8/10
There are no rides so this isn’t really applicable.  The store facades look good as does Carthay Circle.  The stuff inside these places doesn’t fit the time period (again, unrealistic to think that it would) so I guess I’ll knock it down a few points.
Flow – 9/10
I already mentioned the flow with the 4-way stop because it’s a street.  I think it’s a really nice touch and gets guests effectively to other areas of the park.  Hollywood Land fits in really well with Buena Vista Streets Theme.  Grizzly Peak doesn’t fit in as well but it’s nothing egregious, I’ll knock off a point for that.
Does Buena Vista Street fit the Park’s theme? 10/10
Yeah, no doubt about it.
Is Buena Vista Street a good idea? 10/10
Yes.  As I said, it’s a nice blend of Disney and California for guests to enter to.
Cohesion and Intagibles – 7/10
The architecture here fits the time (although I’m no expert) and there are no eye sores at all.  The one knock I have of this land is that I don’t want to linger and soak up the environment here.  Sure, everything looks great but there isn’t as much to explore as some parks and not a lot of space to sit and enjoy the limited views.
Buena Vista Street Thematic Score – 44/50

Hollywood Land

We’ll go the left next because I’m left-handed.  Hollywood Land is inspired by the same time period as Buena Vista Street and celebrates Hollywood’s Golden Age.  The area itself is a hodgepodge of a Hollywood Street, a studio backlot and a theater.  All somewhat fitting until the icon of the land, The Hollywood Tower Hotel (Tower of Terror), was turned into some weird-looking structure that doesn’t match the rest of the land.  I think the land still has some of its appeal but it is a bit of a mess right now, at least thematically.

Frozen cast

Hollywood Land houses the Animation Building, Monsters Inc., Mike & Sulley to the Rescue, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout! and several theaters, most notably the Hyperion where Frozen Live currently resides.  Some of these rides fit, some of them don’t.  Eventually this area will turn into a Marvel Land and it remains to be seen what of Hollywood Land will stick around.  For now, the theaters and the Animation Building are on point, the other two not so much although Guardians is not yet known.

The shops and eateries (especially Award Weiners! – what a weird thing to put in their park) all fit the area.  The studio backlot section is more or less a disaster at this point, thematically.  The Monsters Inc. ride is thrown back there and doesn’t fit at all.  And the area has a funky stage that, again, doesn’t fit the theme of the land.  I’m guessing this is where the aforementioned Marvel attractions will take up and that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Animation Building

There are some cool details throughout the land, including the toilets!  The restrooms here are inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer House in Hollywood Hills.  I think it’s a nice nod to some of the architecture in the area.

Rides Fitting the Land – 5/10
Frozen and the Animation Building are great.  Guardians gets a skeptical TBD.  Monsters Inc. and the weird backstage area get a 2.  We’ll just call this a 5.
Flow – 8/10
The flow in between Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land is good.  It used to be great when you could see the Tower Hotel in the distance but the new structure somewhat throws this off.  Still the time periods really fit each other.  To no fault of its own, Hollywood Land goes into A Bug’s Land but it does seem to keep its distance so I can’t knock it for that too much.  With that being said, those two lands go together as well as lice and a celebrity’s hair.
Does Hollywood Land fit the Park’s theme? – 7/10
In theory, yes it absolutely fits.  In reality there’s too much not Californian stuff here from Monsters Inc. and Guardians.  Still the overall design fits.
Is Hollywood Land a good idea? – 9/10
Yes, Hollywood is in California.  In fact, it’s a big part of Californian culture.  One point knocked off because some of the stuff in the actual land isn’t a good idea.
Cohesion & intangibles – 4/10
I don’t think Hollywood Land has much cohesion right now.  One part has you walking through old Hollywood the next part has you hanging out with Mike and Sulley in Monstropolis.  The next area sees you in a weird dance party and then you’re defending the galaxy.  I don’t really get it.  Plus, I’m annoyed about it so this only gets a 3 from me.  Actually, I’ll give it a 4 because of Award Weiners.
Hollywood Land Thematic Score – 33/50

A Bug’s Land

A Bug’s Land is based on the movie A Bug’s Life.  I’m pretty sure you’re shrunk down to the size of a bug when you enter the land and am seeing things from that viewpoint?  I don’t know and don’t care much to find out about this.  There are a bunch of kids rides here and I still wouldn’t recommend it for parents.  I don’t have much to add other than that.  To the grades… This should be fun.

Rides fitting the land? – 8/10
I mean, I guess.  There’s nothing ambitious here but all of the rides fit in that they’re seen from the eyes of a bug.  Actually, I don’t know how the bumper cars fit.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Please advise in the comments.
Flow – 3/10
Going from the glitz of Hollywood to being a bug is humbling.  Maybe they’re trying to make a statement?  Likewise, you can go from here to a place where cars talk.  So, no this doesn’t really flow.
Does A Bug’s Land fit the Park’s Theme – 2/10
Well, there are bugs in California.  I don’t think there is a bug problem in California though.  I mean, the bug rate doesn’t seem too high whenever I’ve been in the state. I must admit, I’m not up to date on my bug rates though.
Is A Bug’s Land a Good Idea? – 1/10
Absolutely not.
Cohesion & Intagibles – 3/10
The only reason this gets a 2 is because one time my buddy and I were way too hot and we stood at the little splash park for about half an hour.  Only the splash park wasn’t working other than a big pole that just had water running down it.  We would take turns walking up to the pole and hugging it.  There were way too many kids around to be doing this but when it’s 100 degrees out my brain shuts off.  Actually, I’ll give this a 3 because the land is very green.
A Bug’s Land Thematic Score- 17/50

Cars Land

Cars Land is an area themed to Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie Cars.  That area is inspired by Route 66 which is a part of California so it fits in somewhat.  Cars Land also has a desert look to it, which you can find in eastern California.

Cozy Cone Cars land night

This land is known for looking so much like what you see in the film Cars.  All of the shops and food options fit the area and most serve items that are inspired by what their buildings facade is.  At night the land lights up in neon.

Cars Land is home to three different attractions, each inspired by the movie.  The land is known as one of the first to perfect the immersive environment that take guests into the movies that they have seen.  That has now become a trend in the theme park industry.

On to the grades!

Rides fitting the lands? – 10/10
I guess this is one of the benefits of having mini-lands inspired by movies.  The attractions have to come from the movie, therefore making them fit the theme of the land.  There are negatives to this but that’s a discussion for another day.
Flow – 10/10
The cool thing about being modeled after Route 66, or a road, is that roads can lead to anywhere.  In fact, one of my favorite parts of the park is the back road from Cars Land to the Pacific Wharf.  It’s a quiet, beautiful stretch, especially at night.  I was going to give this a 9 but I bumped it up to a 10 when I remembered the multiple ways Cars Land gives you in avoiding A Bug’s Land.
Does Cars Land fit the park’s theme? 8/10
I’ve already covered how Cars Land fits in with California Adventure.  I think the Route 66 thing is reasonable, as well as the desert aspect.  But, when you think of Route 66, California isn’t the first thing to come to mind.  Because of that, I’m going to knock it down a little bit but I think the land fits in pretty well overall.
Is Cars Land a good idea? – 10/10
On paper, no.  It’s one of the worst Pixar movies (in my opinion, of course) and a desert isn’t exactly the most inviting atmosphere.  But then they made the land and it was unequivocally a great idea.  One of the best ideas that Disney has executed in years.
Cohesion & Intagibles – 10/10
The land looks great, everything works together and I could stay here for hours.  An easy 10 here.
Cars Land Thematic Score – 48/50

Paradise Pier

Paradise Pier is inspired by the famous Southern California piers (like Santa Monica) that sit on top of the Pacific.  While not sitting no the Pacific, Paradise Pier offers up a fun roller coaster, boardwalk games and novelty rides.  At night, the area comes to life with World of Color as crowds gather around the pier to watch the show.

WOC Blue Fountains

As far as themes go the area certainly fits the Southern California pier inspiration.  In fact, this area does this almost to a fault.  There are some dark and uglier sections of the pier.  There are also some rides that are certainly not the most creative.  All in all, the area works well but that’s not to say it’s perfect.  Let’s see how the grades reflect this.

Rides Fitting the Land? – 9/10
Like I said, the rides fit the land almost to a fault.  The only blemish here is The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure doesn’t really fit in with anything else.  Sure, it has to do with water and that’s why I only knock it down a point.
Flow – 9/10
The flow is a little bit weird in that there’s only one way out of Paradise Pier.  That way out takes you right past Pacific Wharf which is a nice transition because that is a Northern California version of a pier.  By the way, no Pacific Wharf review because it’s a weird little sub-section of the park.  I like it, thematically, for what it’s worth.
Does Paradise Pier fit the Park’s theme? 10/10
Yeah, no doubt about it.  In a way it almost feels too easy but I won’t fault this category for that.
Is Paradise Pier a good idea? 6/10
This is a tricky one.  For the most part, I think Paradise Pier is a good idea.  But I think it led to some lazy designing that Imagineers have now been trying to fix since the park opening.  Once in a while, easy ideas aren’t the best ideas and that’s the case here.  Although Paradise Pier has become much better over the years.
Cohesion & Intagibles – 7/10
Paradise Pier flows pretty well, aside from the aforementioned Little Mermaid section.  There are also nice places to sit and enjoy the scenery.  There is some wasted space and ugly areas but for the most part Paradise Pier is pleasant.
Paradise Pier Thematic Score – 41/50

Potato Head TSM

Grizzly Peak

The last land we’ll cover is a beautiful, sprawling land inspired by northern California, as well as national parks..  The area holds Soarin’, Grizzly River Run, and the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.  There are references to Yosemite, the Gold Rush, and a restaurant named and paying tribute to smokejumpers.  More than anything, the area looks much different from the adjacent Hollywood Land and adds variety to California Adventure.

While much of California Adventure focuses on the southern half of California, Grizzly Peak does a beautiful job of showing off Northern California.  There are many places to explore and, while there’s not a lot of seating, the area offers many pretty sights.  Grizzly Peak itself is also the park’s second icon and a worthy one at that.  To the grades!

Rides fitting the land? – 10/10
Surprisingly well actually.  Grizzly Peak Airfield is home to Soarin’ as well as Smokejumpers Grill.  Then, you head up towards the national park segment of the land for Grizzly River Run and Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.  Beautifully thought out and designed.
Flow – 7/10
You could pick nits about this land coming straight from Buena Vista Street.  There are some details that lead us to believe Grizzly Peak Airfield might be set in the past but not many.  Still, I don’t think the transition is egregious.  I like where the land lets out better, by the Pacific Wharf and vineyard.
Does Grizzly Peak fit the Park’s theme? – 10/10
No question about it.  A beautiful tribute to California’s national parks.
Is Grizzly Peak a good idea? – 10/10
See previous answer…
Cohesion & Intagibles – 9/10
As I said above, the land comes together really well.  The area is beautiful, with many places to explore.  There isn’t one jaw-dropping moment, which keeps this from a perfect 10 but the area is absolutely beautiful and worth spending some time wandering around in.
Grizzly Peak Thematic Rating – 47/50

Closing Thoughts

Overall, California Adventure is a bit of a mixed bag thematically.  Cars Land and Grizzly Peak are some of the best lands you can find at any Disney Park, while  A Bug’s Land and Hollywood Land don’t fit in very well.  DCA has followed its thematic design pretty well overall though and has become a park with some substance to discover.

Soarin light

If you read this novel, I applaud you.  Also, you might be crazy but I still appreciate it.  I’d love to hear some feedback on this post and what you’d like to see in these thematic guides going forward.  We’ll move on to Disneyland sometime in the next couple of weeks.

If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Question of the Week (4/2/17)

Every few weeks our writers get together and answer a Disney related question.  Here is this week’s question and answers!

MK Once Upon a time

Question of the Week: Would you be interested in doing a Disney Park vacation by yourself for a few days? Why or why not?

Cassie – I would definitely enjoy a Disney trip by myself! I would love to go to Disney World by myself even for a few days and just explore everything I want to do. I think visiting the parks alone is awesome. I am a pretty social butterfly so I would probably try to make friends with people who were visiting and chat with people in lines. Plus, if you visit by yourself there is nobody to slow you down and you can do anything you want! The more I talk about it the more I just want to hop on a plane and go to Florida.

New Orleans Square night

Andrew – I think I’d enjoy doing the parks by myself. I have a very different pace at Disney than most people and think I’d enjoy moving leisurely to anything that I’d want to do. On the other hand, going without Melissa would be sad as that has become our favorite pastime. Maybe if I could go to the parks for 3 days and then Melissa joins me for another week. That would be perfect. All that to say, I do think I’d like going to the parks by myself.

Splash Mountain light

Leslie – As someone who essentially did this, yes I would go to the parks by myself. There is a different type of enjoyment from taking a solo Disney trip. Not being tied to a group frees you to make your own decisions. You are the ruler of your schedule, you want to be up for rope drop in the morning and stay until 2am? Done, no crying children who need naps, on the other hand if you’re the one who needs a nap you can dictate that however you wish. That being said I think I’d like to have company at some point. Part of the magic of Disney for me is enjoying it with people I love, be it friends or family I think a hybrid trip like Andrew’s choice would suit me best. A few days alone, then a few days with loved ones.

ToL Awakenings AK

Melissa – If My only option was to go by myself I would, but I would much rather go with Andrew or a friend. I mean I would never pass up an excuse for Disney. But for me, one of my favorite parts about going to Disney is being able to interact with someone and get to know them better as you walk down Main Street. So I don’t think I would enjoy going by myself as much as going with someone.

Would you do a Disney Parks solo trip?  Let us know in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading here at Wandering in Disney please subscribe to our blog and like our social media pages.  You can accomplish both of those things on the right side of this page.  If you have any Disney Parks questions please send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com or leave a comment.  We’d be happy to help!  Thank you for reading!