A Tour of the Disneyland Resort Toursby Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer
The small kiosk next to Disneyland Park's City Hall usually goes unnoticed to those coming to the park to ride the E-ticket attractions or nosh on the latest churro flavor. This location, "Tour Gardens," is in actuality the hub to all Disneyland Resort tours. For more than 60 years, Disneyland tour guides have shared secrets and history about the resort and the people behind the scenes, including Walt Disney himself.
Currently, the resort hosts four year-round tours, plus two seasonal excursions—all of which I've had the pleasure of experiencing. However, dozens of tours have rotated through the resort over the past decades, many of which I'm sorry to have missed.
WELCOME TO DISNEYLAND TOUR
This tour, which was popular about five years ago, is now a touch of a button on any smartphone—it's basically the Disneyland App minus all the walking and fun facts. A tour guide would lead guests on a journey throughout Disneyland's "lands" interspersed with fun tips to get the most out a visit.
DISNEY CALIFORNIA STORY TOUR
This excursion followed the story of Walt's journey to a 1920's Hollywood. Guests would have an in-depth look into the history of Buena Vista Street as well as Cars Land and (then) Paradise Pier. Capping off the guided tour was an exclusive look into Club 1901, Disney California Adventure's answer to Club 33 in Disneyland, which is located in Carthay Circle and still active today. This is the one tour I'd love to see brought back—maybe for the park's 20th anniversary in 2021? Just a thought.
CULTIVATING THE MAGIC TOUR
From topiaries to edible plants, this past tour took guests on a horticultural journey throughout Disneyland Resort. The resort's horticulture department is vast and there is a reason why—the plants and flowers all contribute to the storytelling of the "Happiest Place on Earth." For example, with almost 7,000 plants and seasonal changes, just the the Floral Mickey welcoming guests to Disneyland requires plenty of upkeep.
DISNEYLAND HOTEL: THE HAPPIEST HOTEL ON EARTH TOUR
Also about five years ago, this popular tour highlighted the historical story of Disneyland Hotel. Tour guides shared trivia and facts leading to the development of the resort's oldest hotel. Today, guests can take a self-guided tour to view black and white photos of Walt with special guests and dignitaries who visited the park. The photos are located in the hotel lobby as is the immense Disneyland memorabilia collection encased in glass. If you're headed to Goofy's Kitchen or Steakhouse 55, take some extra time to peruse these amazing historical items.
If you're looking for something "extra" to add to your trip, any of the present tours are worthy inclusions, but some might be more to your liking than others. Overall, reservations for the tours can be made up to 30 days in advance by calling 714-781-8687, with the exception of the Art of Craft Tour which is offered through Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa (more on that later). Now, on with the tours.
I can't believe I'm typing this in August, but with the quick approach of the holidays at Disneyland Resort (really?), the two seasonal tours fill up rapidly. A brief synopsis of both might help you determine if either or both are a possible addition to your itinerary.
DISNEY'S HAPPIEST HAUNTS TOUR
With the 50th anniversary of the iconic Haunted Mansion celebration this month, this tour might sell out faster than usual. The theme of the tour rotates slightly each year, but you can be sure there will be some inclusion of the history of the iconic New Orleans Square showpiece. When I joined in the tour in 2017, the theme was Halloween's origins and spooky stories and how Walt Disney incorporated many of those stories into the theme park. Tour guests will be provided with headsets and an audio guide as well as the tour guide who will lead you around the park to specific locations. In Disneyland, my tour stopped at Haunted Holiday Mansion (The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay) and the group learned about some of the inspiration in the development of the Haunted Mansion. The next stop was the Halloween Tree in Frontierland—a commemoration to author Ray Bradbury who was friends with Walt Disney.
The tour continued in Disney California Adventure Park where the group visited the Headless Horseman statue—a nod to the Washington Irving story Walt Disney adapted into the 1949 animated release The Tales of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. After two hours or so, the group met back at Tour Garden for a photo op with the Haunted Mansion ghosts and some spooky souvenirs and treats to take home.
Overall, this was not my favorite tour as a lot of the information shared I already knew and the fact the group never actually went on any attractions which made the (then) $85 price tag too steep to justify the tour. However, if you have a Haunted Mansion fan in your group, especially with the anniversary occurring, then you might want to allocate your extra funds for this tour. Disney's Happiest Haunts Tour is scheduled for September 6 through October 31 at a price of $99 per person (ages 3 and older). Annual passport discounts apply.
Note: Earlier versions of this tour included more attractions, including The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Snow White's Scary Adventures.
HOLIDAY TIME AT DISNEYLAND RESORT GUIDED TOUR
If you want to partake in a seasonal tour, Holiday Time at Disneyland Resort Guided Tour is the one I'd recommend. There's nothing as magical as the holidays at Disneyland Resort and the two-and-a-half hour tour is worth the money. Plus at the conclusion, you'll get front row seats for the parade and all the hot chocolate you can drink! Like the Happiest Haunts Tour, this walking audio tour does not give access to the holiday-themed attractions, but rather shares the historical viewpoint of many of Disneyland's holiday traditions. The tour zig-zags between the two theme parks with recounts of some of Walt's own memories which inspired animated classics as well as interesting aspects of how the grand trees are displayed throughout the resort. Did you know the showpiece tree in Main Street stands at 60-feet and is transported down the street in sections to be fastened together in place? The tour also includes a mouth-watering sweet surprise as the group stops in at one of the kitchens to hear about Disneyland's candy cane tradition.
The excursion concluded with an audio clip of Walt himself addressing VIPs during the 1962 Disneyland Christmas Parade. The group then pulled up designated chairs near "it's a small world" Holiday to enjoy the festive sights and sounds of the season and all that hot chocolate in a bonus take-home holiday coffee travel mug. Again, reservations for the tour can be made up to 30-days in advance. With the holiday time kicking off in early November, that means reservations for this tour can be made starting in early October. MousePlanet will have the updated holiday time dates as soon as they become available.
Note: Earlier versions of this tour included stops on Haunted Mansion Holiday, Jingle Jungle Cruise and "it's a small world" holiday.
WALK IN WALT'S DISNEYLAND FOOTSTEPS GUIDED TOUR
Probably the most popular tour for guests, this trip down Walt's memory lane is filled with his inspirations, dreams, and challenges which all contributed to the designing of his magical theme park. The tour also takes guests behind the scenes to places in the park few have had the opportunity to see including "Walt's Apartment" located above Main Street U.S.A.'s Fire Station. The tour concludes with a choice of lunch or dinner provided by Jolly Holiday Bakery. Tour guests will also receive special collectibles, including buttons and pins. This tour also runs at $99 per person but if you're a Disneyland or Walt Disney fan, then the tour may be worth the price.
The VIP Tour at Disneyland isn't just for celebrities, anyone can reserve the tour up to a group of 10. A friend of mine won a trip to Disneyland a few years ago and was granted the VIP tour, so I went along with her and the family to see what the VIP status entailed. The tour is a seven-hour excursion created by you. You get to choose what attractions to ride, shows to enjoy, restaurants at which to eat and so much more. She included the Walk in Walt's Disney Footsteps Tour but a curator was not available to chauffeur us into Walt's Apartment so instead, we visited the dead–The Haunted Mansion's pet cemetery–yes, it does exist. Other perks included VIP queue status, VIP parade viewing and reservations at Blue Bayou (her favorite). (I was hoping Club 33 but that bucket list item remains aloof.) It really was a fantastic way to spend the day; our tour guide made all the plans for us. The VIP tour starts at roughly $3,000 for the group, more if the size exceeds the 10-person limit. For more information visit the Disneyland website or call 714-300-7710.
GRAND CIRCLE TOUR
Walt's fascination with steam trains pervaded his theme park as seen in the elaborate Disneyland Railroad system. The two-hour Grand Circle Tour takes visitors on a journey through the steam locomotive's impact on Walt's creations, specifically Disneyland. Besides learning about the fleet of engines and the inspiration behind each one, guests will get to ride inside the Lilly Belle parlour car, decorated (and still preserved) specifically by Walt's wife Lillian. The tour also includes a specialty donut and souvenir. I did enjoy the tour as it was something for me to learn, but I would say this is geared more toward train enthusiasts. Currently, the tour is on hiatus and is scheduled to return early next year.
ART OF THE CRAFT TOUR
Saving the best for last, this architectural tour of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is not only filled with fun historical facts and trivia, but IT'S FREE! No need to be a guest of the hotel, but you do need to make reservations through the hotel's Guest Services. You can call the hotel at 714-635-2300 and ask for Guest Services. When I arrived for the tour, I was the only one scheduled so I received my own one-on-one and thoroughly enjoyed it. The tour covers the design and implementation of several styles reminiscent of California's art and craft movement. If it looks familiar to Walt Disney World guests, it should because the architect, Peter Dominick, who also designed the Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. This tour takes you through the entire hotel, the pool, and the adjoining restaurants including Storytellers Cafe, Craftsman Bar, Napa Rose, and Hearthstone Lounge. What I enjoyed most about this tour is the plethora of hidden surprises and trivia that await each turn on the tour.
- Did you know originally the monorail was scheduled to stop at the hotel to transport guests to and from the resort? The widened staircase leading up from the lobby to the second floor was built to accommodate a scheduled stop.
- Timothy Burrows, who designed several of the metal gates including the large one (Arbor Gate) connecting Downtown Disney, created the Sun Gate near the pool. It was artistically created to line up with the original Sun Wheel (now Pixar Pal-Around) in (now Pixar) Paradise Pier. Almost 20 years later, the trees have grown over, covering the line of sight.
Another fun fact is the entire hotel is built in imagery of a redwood tree. The bottom sections are brown giving way to various green tones as the building rises toward the sky. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.
The Art of the Craft Tour really is fascinating and I highly recommend it then enjoy a leisurely lunch afterward at Hearthstone Lounge or even Storytellers Cafe. This tour is best for guests ages 14 and older.
Once again, tours do cost extra, but annual passport holders will receive 15% off the price. Call for reservations at 714-781-8687 up to 30 days in advance to book your tour. Even if the tour is full, keep trying as there are always cancellations, even up to the day of the event. Don't forget some bottled water and comfortable shoes. Most of all, have fun! Happy touring!