Disneyland Resort may be more than a ‘hop, skip and jump’ away from those of us here in the Midwest, but it that doesn’t mean that it should be discounted as a family vacation destination. While Walt Disney World is admittedly larger and within a much more reasonable driving distance, California’s Disney presence has quite a bit to offer, and in a very manageable way.
While I’d been to Walt Disney World in Florida both as a kid and also again on my honeymoon, I had never really expected to visit Disneyland Resort in California. After all, a Disney park is a Disney park, right? And since Walt Disney World is both larger and closer to home, I had totally discounted Disneyland as even an option for us when it comes to family vacations.
But after traveling to Disneyland Resort for a conference last fall, I am now realizing exactly why I was so totally wrong.
Yes, a Disney park is a Disney park. Which is why you still get the amazing ‘Disney’ experience at Disneyland. There’s the same feel to the parks (Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure), the familiar Disney sights such as a princess castle (Sleeping Beauty castle in CA, versus Cinderella castle in FL), Space Mountain, Downtown Disney, Main Street, and more – with the same characters we all know and love, plus parades, shows and more.
But there is something different about Disneyland, and that has to do with the fact that the parks are interconnected not only with the on-site Disney resorts, but also with each other and with Downtown Disney – creating a very walkable experience that feels very family-friendly. Staying at the Disneyland Hotel or Disney Grand Californian? There’s no need to worry about bus or monorail schedules to get to the parks. Simply walk out the door and you almost hardly even notice when you leave the hotel proper and enter Downtown Disney. Even if you stay at an off-site hotel, you can simply park your vehicle once and then enjoy an entire day at any of the parks without having to pack everyone back in the car.
And that’s the other thing I noticed about Disneyland – you really can see a lot there in only a day or two. While the families I know who’ve taken Disney World vacations in Florida end up either spending a full week at the parks and coming home feeling very overwhelmed, or having to make hard choices over which attractions to see and which to skip – I walked around Disney California Adventure (admittedly with no kids in tow on this trip) and saw just about every inch of it in one afternoon. It was a lot of fun and I found myself really wishing that my family were there to enjoy it with me.
Now while my family is still saving and planning for a Florida trip to Walt Disney World in the next year or so, I’ll no longer look at it as our only potential option to ‘do’ Disney. Both destinations have a lot to offer families and if all other factors were equal, I think I might just choose to head west rather than south for our first Disney experience as a family.