The Theme Park Commando's Guide to Disneyland

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Here.s a quick readout for the compulsive visitor who must develop a detailed plan of attack before visiting. Not for you the endless wandering, the frustrating lines, the standing around the map after every ride going "well, where do you want to go next?" But first, some definitions:

Cast Member (CM): The Disney employees who work "onstage" where park visitors can see them.

Disney's California Adventure (DCA): The new park, opened in 2001, sitting where the Disneyland parking lot used to be.

FASTPASS: A ticket letting you mostly skip the line at an attraction at a designated time (not designated by you, unfortunately). Look for a machine dispensing FASTPASSes at the attraction you want to skip the line for. The current ten-minute window the machine is dispensing FASTPASSes for will be displayed above it. (Actually, the FASTPASSes will be good for up to an hour after the start of the window.) Run your park ticket through the machine and you will receive a FASTPASS.

Warning: At the most popular attractions, particularly Soarin' Over California, the day's allotment of FASTPASSes may all get dispensed by midmorning on a busy day. Corollary: Always check the time before getting a FASTPASS-- just because it's 10am doesn't mean you won't be getting a pass for late that evening. Also, you can't get another FASTPASS until after the window for your current one has expired, unless you got your ticket as part of a AAA Vacations package.

New Tomorrowland: A complete makeover of Tomorrowland performed in 1998, and now in the final stages of being reversed. In many ways this was the smaller precursor to the opening of DCA.

Park Hopper: A ticket which lets you move freely between Disneyland and DCA. All but the most bargain-basement tickets have this option. Without it, you can only visit one park or the other each day.

The lay of the land

The Disneyland Resort today consists of three areas: Disneyland itself; Disney's California Adventure, the new park where the Disneyland parking lot used to be; and Downtown Disney, the hotel and shopping district.

Disneyland needs no introduction. Under its current management, it has finally emerged from the neglect of the late '90s and early '00s.

Disney's California Adventure (DCA) opened in 2001, touted as the culmination of the then-management's new cost-effective approach. Rides used off-the-shelf instead of custom-built parts. The attraction count was filled out with things like a tortilla-making demonstration and a window display about the history of the Monterey canning industry. Unfortunately, the public knew a bunch of dressed-up carnival rides when it saw them, and the California theme was not a big draw for the Disneyland crowd, two-thirds of whom were already coming from California. DCA's story ever since has been of an endless struggle to "fix" the park. Rumors now talk of ditching the California theme completely.

In between Disneyland and DCA is the Esplanade. There are bag checks at each end of the Esplanade, so that you can move freely between the two parks once passing them. The ticket booths are located at the center of the Esplanade.

Downtown Disney comprises the Disney-owned hotels (except for the Grand Californian, which is located inside DCA), a movie theater, and a group of upscale shops and eateries.

Key to rides

4 = Slow-loading or extremely popular ride; go first thing in the morning, after dinner, or use FASTPASS
3 = Not-so-fast-loading or middling popular ride; try before 11am, after 3pm, or use FASTPASS
2 = Fast-loading or not-so-popular ride; avoid only at peak times
1 = Go whenever you feel like it

4Exists at a level that only Disney can manage
3Good theming and detail
2A step beyond the average
1Nothing your local amusement park couldn't do


NameTypeThemeLandCrowdsDisneyness Recent historyNotes
Alice in WonderlandDark ride Alice in Wonderland movieFantasyland 33StablePeople with sensitive hearing, cover your ears when you see the birthday cake.
Astro OrbiterCarnival rideNoneTomorrowland31The former Rocket Jets, moved to ground level in the New TomorrowlandThe only reason for riding this one was the terrific view you used to get from three stories up.
AutopiaSimulated drivingNoneTomorrowland32Completely remade from the two previous Autopias for the New TomorrowlandMuch more interesting than the old version.
Big Thunder Mountain RailroadRoller coasterWild West Frontierland32Accident causing a fatality in 2003; maintenance procedures much improved sinceCoincidentally, the ride is much smoother these days.
Buzz Lightyear's Astro BlastersDark ride; first-person shooterToy StoryTomorrowland32Opened in 2005Design of guns makes it hard to tell exactly where you're aiming.
Casey Jr. Circus TrainTrain rideDumbo Fantasyland32Stable Different view of the same scenery as the Storybook Land boats
Chip 'n' Dale's TreehousePlay areaCartoonsMickey's Toontown1 1Stable
Davy Crockett's Explorer CanoesPaddle-powered canoesNone apart from the title Critter Country21StableCanoes can maneuver at will, overtake other canoes, and potentially capsize. Small children are required to wear life vests.
Disney GalleryArt galleryDisneylandNew Orleans Square11Exhibitions change from time to time
Disneyland MonorailTransportation to and from hotelNoneTomorrowland and Downtown Disney22Trains wearing out; new ones to be constructed soonClosed during the convention
Disneyland RailroadTransportation around the parkNoneMain Street, New Orleans Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland32StableLines at most stations make it no faster than walking when the park is crowded
Dumbo the Flying ElephantCarnival rideDumbo Fantasyland31Stable
Enchanted Tiki RoomAnimatronic showPacific Islands Adventureland13Major refurbishment in late 2004 Still the original show, not the "Under New Management" Disney World version
Frontierland Shootin' ExpositionShooting galleryNone Frontierland11Stable
Gadget's Go CoasterRoller coasterChip 'n' Dale's Rescue RangersMickey's Toontown22Stable
Golden Horseshoe RevueLunch/dinner showWild WestFrontierland 12Menu and reservation arrangements adjusted many times. Closes for refurbishment Sept 5.
Goofy's Bounce HousePlay areaCartoonsMickey's Toontown 11Stable
Grand Canyon & Primeval WorldAnimatronicsEducational Railroad between Tomorrowland and Main Street stations32Stable
Haunted MansionDark rideSpooky stuffNew Orleans Square24Effects and sound updated in 2004. Closes for more refurbishment Sept. 11.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience3-D movieHoney, I Shrunk the... seriesTomorrowland12StableOnly interesting because it contains Eric Idle
Indiana Jones AdventureDark rideIndiana Jones Adventureland44StableBy far the roughest ride in the park. To minimize the motion, try to get a middle seat in the second or third row.
InnoventionsTechnology expoThe Future!Tomorrowland11 Exhibitors come and goMore Sharper Image than Comdex; true geeks will not be impressed
it's a small worldBoat rideChildren of the worldFantasyland2 3StableThe more boats there are in the water, the faster they all move and the shorter the ride
Jungle CruiseBoat rideTerrors of the darkest jungle: vicious predators, bloodthirsty natives, and horrifying punsAdventureland32Shortened when Indy was constructed next door; guides got their guns back in 2005
King Arthur CarrouselMerry-go-roundSleeping Beauty, oddly enoughFantasyland22Stable
Mad Tea PartySpinning teacupsAlice in Wonderland Fantasyland31Liability concerns have slowed the top spinning speed
Main Street CinemaMovie theater with no place to sitOld cartoonsMain Street11 StableA nice, cool, dark place to retreat to for a few minutes in the middle of a summer afternoon
The Many Adventures of Winnie the PoohDark rideWinnie the Pooh Critter Country32Opened in 2004
Mark Twain RiverboatBoat rideOld-time riverboatFrontierland1 2Closing for refurbishment shortly after Labor Day.
Matterhorn BobsledsRoller coasterEncounter with yetisFantasyland3 3Holes for the Skyway have been closed up. Closed for refurbishment starting August 28.
Mickey's HouseWalkthroughCartoonsMickey's Toontown12 Stable
Minnie's HouseWalkthroughCartoonsMickey's Toontown12 Stable
Miss DaisyPlay areaCartoonsMickey's Toontown12 Stable
Mr. Toad's Wild RideDark rideThe Wind in the Willows Fantasyland32Stable
Peter Pan's FlightDark ridePeter PanFantasyland 33Stable
Pinnochio's Daring JourneyDark ridePinnochioFantasyland 33Stable
Pirates of the CaribbeanDark ride in boatsRetroactively, Pirates of the CaribbeanNew Orleans Square24A few references to the movie added in refurbishment in early 2006Don't let the drops put you off-- they're short
Roger Rabbit's Car Toon SpinDark ride with vehicle you can spinWho Framed Roger Rabbit?Mickey's Toontown23Stable
Sailing Ship ColumbiaBoat rideOld-time sailing shipFrontierland 13Refubished in 2004Recreation of the Columbia from period sources; check out the exhibits belowdecks
Snow White's Scary AdventuresDark rideSnow White Fantasyland33StableScares the pants off of many small children
Space MountainRoller coaster in the darkSpaceTomorrowland4 3Darker building, remastered sound, and new closing effect in 2004
Splash MountainThrill rideSong of the SouthCritter Country 44Liability concerns led to re-engineering ride vehicles, reducing capacity
Star ToursSimulator rideStar WarsTomorrowland44 StableFun queue area
Storybook Land Canal BoatsBoat rideMother Goose and Disney moviesFantasyland33Stable
Tarzan's TreehouseWalkthroughTarzanAdventureland1 1Formerly the Swiss Family Treehouse
Tom Sawyer IslandPlay areaTom SawyerFrontierland1 1Airguns removed from Fort Wilderness some time agoGreat place to let the kids run off some calories while you sit and rest


Animation BuildingShows and exhibitsEducationalHollywood Pictures Backlot12
California Screamin'Roller coasterNoneParadise Pier21 Accident in 2005 traced to design of automatic braking system, now corrected. May close for maintenance as early as Sept. 11.
Flik's Fun FairKiddie carnival ridesA Bug's LifeA Bug's Land 11
Golden ZephyrCarnival rideNoneParadise Pier11Stable
Grizzly River RunFlume rideNoneGolden State (Grizzly Peak)3 2StableThe sign says, "You will get wet... you may get soaked!" It is not kidding. Make sure your personal electronics are protected.
It's Tough to Be a Bug3-D movieA Bug's LifeA Bug's Land 12
Jumpin' JellyfishCarnival rideNoneParadise Pier11Stable
King Triton's CarouselMerry-go-roundThe Little Mermaid Paradise Pier11Stable
MaliboomerCarnival rideNoneParadise Pier11Stable
Mike and Sully to the RescueDark rideMonsters, Inc. Hollywood Pictures Backlot22 according to online reportsJust opened
Mulholland MadnessRoller coasterL.A. freewaysParadise Pier1 1Stable
Muppetvision 3-D3-D movie & animatronic showMuppets Hollywood Pictures Backlot13Stable
Orange StingerCarnival rideNoneParadise Pier11 StableOften closed due to wind
Redwood Creek Challenge TrailPlay areaOriginally none, but some references to Brother Bear nowGolden State (Grizzly Peak)11 Brother Bear additions in 2004DCA's equivalent to Tom Sawyer Island: the place you can let the kids run around while you take a breather.
Soarin' Over CaliforniaSimulated hang-glider rideCaliforniaGolden State (Condor Flats)43StableOne potentially disconcerting moment: when the ride goes from "boarding" to "flying" configuration, the room goes pitch black and you are abruptly yanked into the air.
Sun WheelFerris wheelNoneParadise Pier21Stable
Twilight Zone Tower of TerrorThrill rideTwilight Zone, kinda Hollywood Pictures Backlot44Opened in 2003 Even if the thought of the ride itself puts you off, take a walk through the queue and preshow to appreciate the scenery.

Hey! What happened to...?

Peoplemover? It was replaced in the New Tomorrowland by a ride called Rocket Rods. The new ride had so many mechanical problems that it was closed after a couple years. The return of the Peoplemover is said to have been approved in principle, but there is no timeline for it.

The Skyway? Closed in the New Tomorrowland makeover. The passageway through the Matterhorn has been closed up.

CircleVision? Turned into the Rocket Rods boarding area; the space is now occupied by Buzz Lightyear.

Submarine Voyage? Shut down for the New Tomorrowland, it will reopen in 2007 with a Finding Nemo theme.

Fantasyland Autopia? Combined with the Tomorrowland one in the New Tomorrowland.

Rocket Rods? See previous about the Peoplemover.

Country Bear Jamboree? Replaced by the Winnie the Pooh ride.

Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthough? Closed permanently.

Swiss Family Robinson treehouse? Now Tarzan's Treehouse.


Disneyland and DCA have a wide variety of entertainment going on throughout the day. A full schedule is available at each park entrance. Here we will simply deal with the giant headliners, of which there are three:

Fantasmic! is a multimedia show staged on the Rivers f America. It happens twice nightly though August 28th, and after that will only be available Friday through Sunday nights. The viewing area is the outer shore of Rivers of America; people may start picking out their spots up to a couple hours beforehand.

Remember... Dreams Come True is the current fireworks show, happening nightly through August 28th and Fridays and aturdays only afterward. While Disney makes much of the effects being viewable anywhere in the park, the only place to get the full treatment is in the hub in front of the castle. On crowded days it may not be possible to squeeze yourself in unless you get there an hour ahead of time.

The early showing of Fantasmic! and the fireworks are scheduled so that they happen back-to-back, thus guaranteeing gridlock afterward as all the spectators try to leave at once. If you are going to either of these shows, allow time for a long, slow extraction.

Disney's Electrical Parade is the exact same thing that used to be the Main Street Electrical Parade, moved over to DCA to keep the place inhabited after sunset. It will conclude its current run after Labor Day weekend, and won't happen on weekdays in the last week of August.

Eating at Disneyland

Don't. I mean that. Not only is the food overpriced, the ongoing Cast Member shortage means the food service locations are rarely fully staffed. Bring your own water bottles and have lunch elsewhere.

For further reading

For even more detailed information, I recommend you consult The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, which has its own ratings, plus survey results and reader letters, including the one that invented the term "theme park commando". For those who prefer to let someone else crunch the numbers, it also contains detailed touring plans to help avoid the lines. Your true theme park commando, of course, already has this book.

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