Stop everything and go to Disneyland!
I admit I didn't really know what to expect from Disneyland in Anaheim. With it being the original park that Walt Disney imagined all those years ago, I envisaged a rather dated, old park, full of rides that weren't relevant any more.
I couldn't have been more wrong if I tried.
Having been used to Walt Disney World in Orlando, the first thing that struck me was how close together everything was. I was lucky enough to stay as a guest at the Disneyland Hotel, which was just a short walk through Downtown Disney to both Disneyland Park and Disney's California Adventure. A walk! In Orlando you’d be looking at a ride in a car for at least 10-15 minutes and that’s if you were staying in a resort hotel.
I stayed in the Frontier tower, the rear of the three towers that surround a large pool area and bar. The hotel room was perfectly sized, with two huge beds, a bathroom with separate sink area, large screen TV and coffee maker and extra magic touches such as a headboard that lights up to reveal a fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty Castle that – with the help of the special Mickey glasses that are also waiting in the room – turns in to a scene of hundreds of Mickey's.
The second thing about Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure (the two parks based in Anaheim), are the amount of rides that are good, decent rides. All of the favourites are there: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and the like; but so are new rides you’ll only find here. Matterhorn, Cars and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout to name a few. And they're good too.
If like me you were worried that The Tower of Terror would not be the same as a Marvel themed ride, rest assured it's almost better than the original.. I won't spoil it for those of you that haven't ridden it yet, but the tower has been re-themed as The Collectors' Museum, and you're tasked with helping the Guardians escape.
The level of detail even in the queue is insane – and Disney have hidden a fair few Easter eggs for die-hard park fans to spot, including the uniform the cast members used to wear when it was The Hollywood Tower Hotel, and the old Yeti from the previously mentioned Matterhorn. Well he is a Collector after all.
Detail is something that's in abundance at Disney – as you turn a corner you're transported into a different place, like Radiator Springs from the Cars movies. Even the rock formations here are shaped to look like different parts of a car, and the main road through the town is perfectly formed tarmac with the side streets all cracked, – It's like being instantly transported in to the film itself.
California Screamin' was another fantastic ride – launching you from zero to 55mph in 4 seconds, before hurtling round the track and even completing a vertical loop. Despite first impressions it isn't a wooden rollercoaster, but it has all the thrills of riding one and it feels like a long ride, which is great considering the queues weren't that long. This is one of the fastest rides at any Disney park too, so well worth a ride!
In fact that's another great thing I liked about these parks – despite it being the start of the summer holidays, I didn't notice any queue that was excessively long which is great if you're planning a long day at the parks – more ride time!
I will definitely be returning to Anaheim to visit Disneyland and California Adventure again – especially with the news that 'Paradise Pier' is set to become 'Pixar Pier' – the home of all our favourite Pixar characters, and that Spider-Man and The Avengers will be joining the Guardians of the Galaxy to create a complete Superhero Universe. (Confusing if you're used to Orlando, where Marvel Superheroes are firmly based at Universal Studios!)
If like me you're a huge kid at heart, and at the age of 30 you're still obsessed with all things Disney, I would absolutely recommend visiting Disneyland and California Adventure – the parks feel more 'adult' to me, which must be thanks to the large amount of thrill rides at the parks. There seemed to not be as many children around too, when compared with Walt Disney World, which I guess is to be expected really – Disney World is after all the daddy of all theme parks – but that could be due to the time of year too.
The castle at the end of Main Street USA belongs to Sleeping Beauty here, rather than Cinderella at Magic Kingdom in Orlando, and if you're used to the spectacle at the latter you may be mildly surprised at the scale, or lack of, at Disneyland. Word has it that when Walt Disney built the original park, he didn't want children to feel intimidated by the size. Because of that, their aren't many projections on to the castle during the nighttime fireworks shows, but they somehow feel more immersive as fireworks shoot up from all around the central viewing area, and the nearby mountain from the Matterhorn ride is utilised instead for any projection work needed.
Things just seem to happen wherever you look here. 'Fantasmic!' doesn't need a special theatre like it does in Orlando, it just happens in what, by day, looks like a tranquil lake area which by night turns into a lake of fire, complete with full sized pirate ship (how they keep that out of view throughout the day I'll never know!). Black Widow from The Avengers will appear periodically with an armoured jeep to patrol the area and declare it safe, and the soldiers from Toy Story will hold an ad-hoc drill complete with audience participation (Tip: Don't wear blue if you don't want to be called a Smurf!)
Another must-see is 'World of Color' – a spectacular nighttime show combining water fountains, water sprays, projections, lasers and lights set to a soundtrack of the like only Disney can produce. All your favourite characters are there, including classics like Snow White, Sleeping Beaty and Simba, to modern classics like Frozen and Moana.
I can't believe I've not mentioned it yet, but – like at any Disney park – the fabulous array of restaurants serving top class food is incredible. Whether it be an authentic Burrito from the Mexican restaurant near Radiator Springs, to a slap up Steak at Carthay Circle, the food served at Disney is second to none – and the Provence Rosé is highly recommended (from what I can remember! 😉)
I really can't recommend a visit to Disneyland enough. It's perfect if you want to experience the magic and thrill of a Disney park on a smaller scale, with a great selection of thrill rides and not much queuing. It'd be perfect to combine with a longer trip along the west coast, like San Francisco or San Diego, and I for one can't wait to go back!
Virgin Atlantic flies three times daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles, and is offering return fares from £432 per person. For further information visit virginatlantic.com or call 0344 8747 747. This fare is available for selected departures during 2017/18. Prices given are correct as of today and are subject to change.