Disneyland – first impressions

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While I was in Anaheim for Educause this past October, my boss and I got to visit Disneyland on the Friday afternoon when the conference finished. Since we weren’t flying out until dawn the next day, we had an afternoon and evening to see the area. I had never visited a Disney park with a non-family member before, so this was a new experience for me.

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As many will say, Disneyland feels a lot like the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. However, it does have quite a few other rides – though we weren’t able to ride several due to them being down in order to decorate for Christmas – including It’s a Small World. This was such a shock to me. At Disney World, decorations seem to happen magically overnight. Disneyland had a much more hometown park vibe than any of the Disney World parks.

One of my goals in going to Disneyland on this trip was to decide if we should make a special trip here for vacation. Verdict – if we were ONLY going to do Disneyland, I would not fly across the country for it. But if we were going to combine that trip with Disney’s California Adventure, the beach, and a partial cross-country jaunt to see the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, or Carlsbad Caverns, I’d definitely include it.

I’m fairly spoiled when it comes to Disney parks. We usually plan our Disney trips months in advance, make sure we have meals and rides set up with fast passes. We expect to be able to adjust fast passes on the fly using the My Disney Experience app. Going to Disney World is like going to a park in the 21st century. Going to Disneyland is like stepping back in time to the parks I visited as a kid. It was quaint receiving a paper ticket to get into the park. The idea that they offer hand stamps to allow you to return to the park is old-fashioned. Fast Passes are handled by inserting your paper ticket into a machine and receiving another paper ticket with a return time on it for the ride. It left a good feeling to be able to hand a couple of kids our return tickets for Haunted Mansion at 9 p.m. when we realized we were both tired at 5:30 p.m. and needed to leave the park in order to get up before the crack of dawn the next day. That’s something you can’t do with the Disney World fast pass system.

Disneyland has the feel of a hometown park. And it’s obvious that the majority of people attending are locals. I’d read that you don’t want to visit Disneyland on the weekends. As soon as 5 p.m. came on Friday, the park went from comfortable to crazy busy within minutes. My boss and I both felt boxed in and too crowded. In the short 3 hours that we’d been in the park, we had been able to ride Star Tours, Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, listen to music on the Mark Twain Boat, listen to the Barbershop Harmony group, shop, and sing along with with a character in Frontierland.  We were not in a rush. We were ambling along and taking the time to look at the art and details. After the locals came, wait times tripled. The only thing we had really wanted to do that we didn’t have time for was ride Haunted Mansion, but between the locals and this being the Friday before Halloween, it was no surprise that fast passes for that ride were rarer than gold.

Just an aside – those who say Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland is better than the one at Disney World are correct. It was longer and had more details; I was impressed.

Can you compare Disneyland to Disney World? No. Can you compare Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom? Yes. And a day at Disneyland can be just as much fun as a day at the Magic Kingdom. But, if possible, go Monday through Thursday.

Legoland Review

Castle in Legoland HotelRecently, we went on vacation to Florida, and for the first time in years, did not go to Disney World. But, we couldn’t just skip parks all together, so we decided to try Legoland.

Legoland is certainly a better park to go to than Dollywood. On a scale of one to ten, where Disney World is a 10, I’d say Dollywood is a 3 and Legoland a solid 6.

Legoland is ideal for kids ages 4-8 years old. So if you are like many people with multiple kids, you may have one or two kids it’s great for, and then another kid who is bored.

The Boy driving a firetruck on a track for 3 to 4 year olds onlyIt does have good things for that age group. They even have some rides that only kids ages 3 to 4 can ride while older kids have to go someplace else. I liked this because it meant no older kids ruining things for my kid.
Other parents didn’t like it because it meant mom and dad having to split kids up into two lines at two different areas. Kudos to the employees who insisted on brothers and sisters splitting up too, even in the face of a couple of rude families who had obviously read the signs but felt they didn’t apply to them (or apparently the rules for kids to not climb on the rails, or not cutting in line). For those of us with one child, it was an advantage not having ill-behaved 7-year-olds running over my child in a car while he tried to steer.

The Boy riding as a Knight on a Lego horseYou can certainly tell that Legoland used to be a local amusement park. Just as you can still see the bones of Silver Dollar City in Dollywood, you can still see a lot of Cypress Gardens in Legoland. Some of the rides have obviously just been face-lifted to have Lego themes. Some newer rides, like in the World of Chima area, are much better made. But the employees are obviously proud of the history of the park and it made it feel more interesting.

We weren’t able to get to the water park section and I’ve heard that is a great area to visit. We’ll probably do that next time. Since we got to ride the water ride in World of Chima over and over (there were times where the employees just asked if we wanted to stay on) we ended up soaking wet as it was.

We liked Legoland.

We liked that we were able to find discounts on annual passes. We got The Boy the Awesome Pass and Mike and I got the special they ran on Cinco De Mayo of buy-one-Awesomer Pass and get-one free. That saved us $150.

The shopping, which seems to be a great deal of the park, doesn’t have anything that you can’t find online or a big Lego store. We did buy some Lego sets since the Awesomer Pass did get us a discount. One of the nice employees did spend quite a bit of time for me feeling all the minifig packs until she found me a Buzz Lightyear, Captain Hook and Peter Pan. So that’s something you don’t get in most Lego stores.

That brings me to the employees. They were not on par with Disney cast members, but they were running a pretty close second. Everyone was helpful. Everyone had a pretty good attitude. The young employees at the World of Chima water ride were the best. Taunting the riders to try to soak them with water from the guns as they pulled up from the ride. Laughing if they accidentally got hit as riders started the water guns up as they were leaving.

Legoland is not Disney. Where Disney would cover up the mechanics of how things work, Legoland was missing many of those touches. In the Miniland area, all the little tracks that boats, cars, etc. ran on were not covered up. Water in the Miniland area was stale looking. Miniature buildings looked like they needed a good scrubbing. It was neat to look at, but a little disappointing too knowing they could have taken that small extra step to make things, well, more magical. It was really these small touches that made it not feel on par with Disney. That being said, The Boy loved pushing the buttons in this area to get cars to move, pirate boats to squirt us with water, and smoke to come out of Star Wars fire-fights.

The family and the knight in the Legoland hotelThe Legoland hotel was a well themed hotel. We didn’t stay overnight, but we spent a few hours there letting The Boy play in the Lego pit, at the castle, and then had lunch in the bar area. We met the Knight; they also had a court jester to play Lego with the kids. The lunch we had there was pretty good, much better value and quality than the food we had in the park. I don’t think I’d stay at that hotel since the rooms were $300+/night. But it was nice to see and I’d definitely leave the park to eat in the bar area of the hotel. They even have non-alcoholic fancy drinks you can buy for your kids.

Legoland may not have all the magic of Disney, but, it also was a LOT cheaper than going to three days at Disney would have been. I think if we’d not been able to get a buy-one, get-one on our passes, I’d have been a bit disappointed. But we spent in total $270 on passes for three people for tickets we can use for a year. We get food discounts, we get free parking, we get discounts on merchandise. That’s not bad at all. As a comparison, a 3-day ticket for two adults and one child to Disney World is $852 and parking at Disney would be extra unless staying on property. Disney tickets get cheaper/per day the longer you go, but a Disney vacation is still a lot more than going to Legoland.

But, something to remember:  Disney World is the destination for your vacation. Legoland is the fun place you go to while you’re on vacation. I think we’ll be going back.

The Beaches of Charleston, SC

We got to take a last minute vacation recently and decided to visit Charleston, SC. I’ll probably write a couple posts on it, but today, I wanted to give a quick review of a couple of the beaches.

We visited Sullivan’s beach and the Isle of Palms.

Sullivan’s IslandSullivansBeachsmaller

Sullivan’s Island’s and Folly beaches are the most well-known of the beaches in Charleston. They are certainly large and Sullivan’s Island is a protected barrier island that has lovely sand, not many seashells and fairly tame waves compared to other beaches I’ve been to. Parking was fairly convenient and free. But you have to find it on the many side streets and hope to get within an easy walking distance of the beach. There were no restrooms that I could find. But after only going to this beach, I was seriously thinking it was one of the nicer beaches I’d ever visited. The only trash I found was a small piece that might have come from a cigarette filter, very little kelp washed up, the sand was smooth and easy to walk on. Just a lovely, restful place to spend a day. Sullivan’s also had more and possibly better restaurants than we saw at Isle of Palms. I can definitely recommend this beach. That being said, we tried Isle of Palms at the suggestion of a co-worker and again at another suggestion from the lovely lady serving us at Hello Deli in North Charleston (a deli so good, we ate there three times during our 5 days in Charleston) and that one became my favorite.

IsleofPalmssmallerIsle of Palms

Isle of Palms is smaller than Sullivan’s. But it is gorgeous. The beach was quiet– granted, we visited here on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, so I’m sure it was packed the day before. The waves here seemed slightly more intense than at Sullivan’s, perhaps just because of the day we came, but I got the feeling Sullivan’s always has comparatively tame waves. There were still very few shells on the very clean beach, but more than at Sullivan’s. On the beach was a beautiful pier that many people used for shade from the sun but also acted as a great little science show for The Boy on where seashells come from. The nicest thing about Isle of Palms, though, was the amenities. There is street parking for $1 an hour close to the beach, but because this is also a park, there was a public parking lot for $7/day extremely close to the entrance to the beach. Plus, the entrance to the beach included a large bathroom facility with separate changing rooms and an outdoor shower where people could at least rinse off the majority of the sand, and a lovely playground area for kids. To top it all off, the sand at Isle of Palms even made a much better sandcastle than Sullivan’s. This was a beautiful beach and we will definitely be back.

Truly, if you’ve got time to spend at the beach, either Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms would be great choices.