Why Disneyland Park is Better than Disney California Adventure Park

by Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer
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This article is the first in a series of four that are following popular opinions as to which park is better at the Disneyland Resort: Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park. Then, I'll be jumping coasts to examine which of the two Resorts are better: The Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, and why. These articles are meant to be light-hearted (we could all use that right about now) and to spur friendly discussion.

Every Disney fan has an opinion about which is best, so I'll start off the debate with examining the rivalry between the two Anaheim locations—Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park. Which is the better? Let's start with the original.

A GROWING DEBATE

When a new California-theme park opened up almost 20 years ago guests weren't sure what to make of it. Was it another "land" in Disneyland? Why was it so small? Where were the characters? But hey—it had alcohol! To say Disney California Adventure struggled the first few years, even the first decade, is an understatement. As an original opening cast member, I lived those difficult days where the biggest merchandise sales were film and rain ponchos. Fast forward to present day and DCA is giving Walt's original park a run for its Disney Dollars. Between food festivals, some re-theming, and the addition of Avengers Campus, DCA is right up there with Disneyland in popularity. Or is it?

WALT'S FOOTSTEPS

Disneyland Park is the original. It has the unique distinction of being the only Disney theme park Walt personally touched. His family's apartment is housed above the Fire Station and, when guests walk down Main Street USA, they are following the same path Walt journeyed all those years ago. That's powerful magic! In fact, one of Disneyland's most popular attractions is "Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps Tour," which takes you on an audio walk-about of the life and legacy of Walt and his desire to create a theme park like no other. If the tour isn't in your price range or time frame, at least peruse The Opera House. Inside, you'll discover a park bench with an inscription on it telling the tale of Walt visiting Los Angeles' Griffith Park with his daughters where he sat on said bench and dreamt of an entertainment venue for families. Be sure to spend a few minutes watching The Disneyland Story, hosted by the unlikely duo of Steve Martin and Donald Duck. You'll be amazed at Disneyland's journey from conceptual design to opening day operations.


During the holidays, Walt's Apartment displays some festive decor. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

BETTER ATTRACTIONS

Disney California Adventure Park may have more thrill rides, but Disneyland has the nostalgia and magic. Some of these attractions comfortably fit like a well-worn white Mickey glove. Here are a few of my go-tos.

  • Jungle Cruise (1955): Coming soon to a theater near you! Oh wait, wrong one. Jungle Cruise has it all—it's an original opening day attraction, zany skippers with witty dialogue, and retro animatronics that add kitschy charm. Besides, where else can you find the "backside of water"?
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (1967): A boat ride through pirate-infested waters set to the earworm tune of "A Pirate's Life For Me" has guests returning to this treasured attraction. Pirates has stood the test of time over the decades with cosmetic makeovers (pirates chasing women with food) a theatrical re-theme (Jack Sparrow) and even turning a main Audio-Animatronic into a roaming live character (hello, Red). Now, if we can just get the dog to turn the keys over to the three jailed pirates.
  • Haunted Mansion (1969): The backstory behind the creation of Disneyland's most iconic attraction (yes, I said it), is almost as wild as joining the "999 happiest haunts" on a tour of their house. What started as a museum of the weird eventually morphed into Haunted Mansion complete with backstory of Bride Constance searching for her seafaring husband. (A nod to the boat weather vane on the top of the Mansion.) In 2001, The Nightmare Before Christmas cast joined the ghosts for a Halloween-Christmas mashup, adding another Disney detail to entice guests.
  • Disneyland Monorail (1959): The Disneyland Monorail initially was only in Tomorrowland but in 1961, more track was added to create a loop around the property. This attraction rides low on the radar for most guests but its a nice break from the hustle of the Park to sit and enjoy the Resort property as you're gliding along. And if you're first in line, you can ask to sit in the front compartment with the operator.
  • Mountains of Disneyland: Whether your holding onto your hats and glasses on the wildest ride in the wilderness or singing a "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" tune, the four peaks at Disneyland Park are the pinnacles of thrilling! Matterhorn Bobsleds (1959), Space Mountain (1977), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (1979), and Splash Mountain (1989) continue to attract long queues no matter what time of year. Look for the single rider lines at Matterhorn, Space and Splash Mountains. And for the most intense experience on Big Thunder Mountain, hop aboard for a nighttime ride.


The inspiration for Matterhorn Bobsleds came from Walt Disney's visit to Switzerland while filming Third Man on the Mountain. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

BETTER FOOD

Disneyland Park has established itself as the theme park for iconic foods- Mickey-shaped everything, Dole Whips, turkey legs, churros, and the list continues. Between my tenure with the company and 15-plus years as an annual passholder, I've eaten my way through, around, under, over, and into every food available—except I don't do Dole Whips. Sorry, not sorry. Here are my five foodie favorites only available at Disneyland Park.

  • Corn Dog at Little Red Wagon (Main Street USA): Fun fact about Little Red Wagon is it pays tribute to the original Red Wagon Inn (now Plaza Inn). The red cart is parked near the location of where the original red cart stood. OK, best corn dogs in the Resort and some say in all of California. You'll receive a side of chips or fruit with your order. Enjoy!
  • Matterhorn Macaroon (Main Street USA): Macaron or macaroon? Both are fabulous! Visit Jolly Holiday Bakery and Cafe for either (the raspberry rose macaron is a favorite). But the snow-topped crunchy, chewy, coconut mini-Matterhorn is the peak (get it) of deliciousness at Jolly Holiday. Plus it's a great bargain! Mobile ordering and AP discounts apply.
  • Mickey Beignets (New Orleans Square): Some guests swear that Downtown Disney District's Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen has the better beignets on property, but they aren't Mickey shaped. Get to the park early and head for Mint Julep Bar for a hot bag of fried dough—covered with an explosion of powdered sugar. Don't feel guilty eating Mickey's ears first—they're the best part! Bonus points for the seasonal flavors including pumpkin, lemon blueberry, and hot chocolate (found at Cafe Orleans).
  • Monte Cristo Sandwich (New Orleans Square): Speaking of Cafe Orleans, did you know the restaurant serves the famous Monte Cristo sandwich? No need to make reservations at the always busy Blue Bayou. Cafe Orleans still recommends reservations, but not only is the sandwich cheaper here ($8 less), but you can also choose from a three-cheese variety and a Thanksgiving special version (only available on Thanksgiving Day). AP discounts apply.
  • Bengal Barbecue Menu (Adventureland): It's simpler to just include the menu here than choose a specific item. Easy to transport, these veggie and meat skewers are nice break to all the sweet-laden treats found throughout the Park. I always go for the Outback Vegetable Skewer and the Chieftain Chicken Skewer, but you'll find bacon-wrapped asparagus, spicy beef, and delicious breadsticks also available. Mobile ordering and discounts apply here.


Not only are the corn dogs at Little Red Wagon delicious, they are portable! Grab a dog and head out to your next FASTPASS! Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

FANTASMIC!

Some guests love the various parades (Mulan for the win), while others incorporate the fireworks show into an annual tradition. For me, it's always been about the nighttime spectacular battle between good and evil on the Rivers of America. I was actually working The Disney Stores in Las Vegas when word got out about an exciting new light show at Disneyland. A group of us hopped in someone's car, drove the five hours for a weekend excursion at Disneyland (no DCA in the mid-1990s). After eating our way through Disneyland and riding on Splash Mountain 234,160 times, we plopped down in front of the waterfront ready to be entertained. There are no words to describe the first time seeing Fantasmic!. From the projections onto the water sprays, the princesses dancing on floats to their theme songs, to the grand finale of a FIRE BREATHING MALEFICENT we were entranced. Absolutely a Fantasmic! show. And we listened to the the Fantasmic! soundtrack all the way back to Vegas non-stop!. Fun memories and Fantasmic! will always be a part of those.


Daily preps and maintenance for Fantasmic! are noticeable scanning across the Rivers of America. Photo by Todd Pickering.

MAGIC

Disney California Adventure has the adventure but for the magic, Disneyland is home. Walt built the Mouse House with a berm (outside wall) to keep reality at bay, to provide a more immersive experience. That's what guests expect when walking through the gates—reality is gone for the day and fantasy and fun await. Everyone is a kid again at Disneyland, a magical place where we can be carefree and happy while stuffing our faces with churros, meeting favorite characters, defeating intergalactic foes, or just embracing the sights, sounds, and smells of nostalgia. Disneyland is home and we look forward to returning soon.

Next time: What categories give the edge to Disney California Adventure Park?

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