Our month-long vacation in USA was deliberately planned to culminate at Los Angeles. We chose to exclude all such activities which would not interest a twelve-year-old. The grand finale was all about making the trip special for our ‘princess’ and hence Los Angeles meant only Disney Park, Disney California Adventure Park, Sea World and Universal Studio.
Growing up with Walt Disney cartoons, I wasn’t averse to some carefree time at parks. In fact we adults too looked forward to becoming a child again along with our daughter. As they say “you are never too old for Disneyland” but making the most of the time at the theme parks is the biggest challenge. Much time is lost not only at the entrance turnstiles but also in the serpentine lines at various rides. It helps if you have an itinerary chalked out to enjoy to the fullest.
The parks occupy a vast area and involve a lot of walking. Besides the fun rides there are hundreds of small surprises and distractions for kids which will invariably deviate you from your well laid out plans. Life size cartoon characters roam on the streets at the parks and your kid will find it almost impossible to let go an opportunity of a picture with them. All these little activities leave you with less time to explore the entire park in a day.
The best way to hack a successful visit to these theme parks is to get a ‘SoCal City Pass’ preferably online or on the counters at the theme park. The SoCal City Pass works for fourteen days from the day it is used for the first time and allows three days of both Disney Park and California Adventure, one day at San Diego Sea World and one day at Universal Studios/Lego-land (I visited almost two years ago and at that time the pass included Universal Studio. The current pass has the option of Lego Land which we did not visit)
So here is how you can make the most of the three days at Disney Parks along with two additional days at Sea World and Universal Studio or Lego Land.
Head over to the Disneyland Park and glide in with your SoCal pass.
There are about 62 attractions at Disneyland Park divided into different zones namely Main Street, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Frontierland, Mickey’s Toon Town, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
While you may pick and choose attractions as per you and your kids’ preference but there are certain attractions which are most popular and it is horrendous task to negotiate a queue at these rides. But ‘Fast pass(at no extra cost)’ facility comes in handy for these attractions.
Fast pass lets you have a window of one hour to return for the ride. That means that once you collect a fast pass for a specific attraction, you can do some other ride or eat and come back within an hour and join the fast pass queue which has much less waiting time than the regular queue for that attraction. There are nine such attractions, almost one each in different zone.
We loved the ‘Splash Mountain‘. The cart hurtled down a steep slope through a large pool but surprisingly we did not get as much wet as we anticipated. It still is a good option to carry a change of clothes and towels though. At the exit of this attraction you can collect your free photograph of the ride. Fast Pass can be used for this ride.
But we were quite picky in choosing our rides and attractions; reason being at twelve years of age there were certain rides that were for kids younger to her and some which she simply wasn’t keen on. My daughter was however very excited to take pictures with Disney Princesses and other famous cartoon characters. So besides rides and food taking pics was the big activity.
Though I didn’t take a picture with princesses but I couldn’t resist the colorful Toon Town.
By the time you have finished a few rides, taken pictures, gorged on candies, coffee or hot-dogs and roamed about still deciding what to do next, it would be time for the Disney Parade. So stop all other activities and rush to main street to grab a spot on the footpath at least half an hour before the scheduled time of parade. Believe me, the road is so stuffed by the time the parade actually starts that if you are not on the nearest point on the footpath your child will never excuse you for being tardy in the first place!
The parade is worth watching.
And don’t worry about missing rest of the attractions on first day. You will still have two more days with city pass to spend at parks.
Keep next day for Disney California Adventure which is adjacent to the Disney Park. Use your City pass for quick entry in the park.
California Adventure Park has different zones as well like Buena Vista Street, A Bug’s Land, Hollywood Land, Car’s Land, Grizzly Peak, Pacific Wharf and Paradise Pier.
Eight attractions of the 36 attractions have the facility of Fast Pass. Not to be missed, California Screaming, a multi loop fast speed roller coaster ride at Paradise Pier is popular attraction and rightly so and best is that a Fast pass is available for this ride. We actually were screaming our lungs out as the ride literally put us upside down for few seconds and yet we wanted to do it again. Another Fast Pass attraction that we couldn’t get enough of was Radiator Springs Racers at Cars Land. Artificially created rocky land similar to one in the movie ‘Cars’ was the route for two cars race.
We also enjoyed the Twilight Zone Terror Tower where an elevator plunges suddenly vertically down. This attraction however is not listed for a fast pass. Again you can pick and choose the rides to your preference. Make time for California Adventure Pixar Parade at Buena Vista Street around five in the evening. We were so busy with other rides and reached late. We missed this parade.
Later in the evening after the parades are over, head over to the Paradise Pier again for Laser show and Musical fountains. And best part is while kids are busy with the little mermaid images dancing on the fountains you can get four different flavors of Beer from Cove Bar nearby.
The third day is when you choose to either repeat the rides you loved most or the ones that you missed at both the parks on first two days. We mostly repeated the best rides besides trying few different ones. The entire day we roamed the streets clicking pictures at spots which we missed in frenzy of making it to the attractions.
Keep the evening for the fire cracker show at the Disneyland Park and for exploring Down Town District located just outside the parks. It is a lively promenade for dining and shopping along with evening entertainment. Musicians give live performances and artists make your caricature on the spot besides mime artists and others. The promenade has some good restaurants. It is tiring while exploring the promenade so it is better to take rest in the day if you had enough of rides so you may feel fresh for the evening activities.
Head to San Diego Sea World on the fourth day. The SoCal city pass ensures a quick entry into the park. This park has some seriously thrilling water rides so it is mandatory that you be prepared to get drenched and have an extra pair of clothing or roam wet…the sun is hot and you will dry fast enough. Manta ride takes you down water channel in swirls and falls and obviously drenches you.
Beside a few other rides, the not to be missed events of the Sea world are the Seals show, Dolphin show and the Orca whale show. A visit to the large aquarium which has sharks and whales is a must too. There is separate place for penguins, polar bears and seals as well. You can touch Sting rays, feed and touch dolphins or get a fish spa right there!
The Sea World takes just about a little more than half a day. Once back, you can either rest and recuperate at your hotel or explore the nearby shops which are full of Disney curios and Disney printed tee shirts. these shops are slightly cheaper than the ones at Disney Down Town promenade.
Wake up fresh in the morning because Universal Studios is going to be one tiring affair with amazing rides and many more attractions.
First up don’t forget your pic at the entrance of studios with its iconic logo.
Next take a bus tour of the studio to find out how they sank the ‘Titanic’ or how the shark in movie ‘Jaws’ was filmed or the ‘Fast and Furious’ cars and many other secrets of Hollywood movie making.
Now you are ready for the different rides and other attractions. The adventurous Jurrasic Park Ride plunges you down a 84 ft waterfall. The water fall arrives unexpectedly as the cart floats around a water channel ride in slow speed and then you fall at heart pounding speed…it was extreme fun.
Let your kids have pictures with real Shrek, Dora and Minions while you go ahead and click yourself with Egyptian Pharaohs and the astronaut crew of ‘Apollo 13’. Set your heart thumping at the ‘The Mummy’ ride or sit back and see ‘Transformers’ in 3-D action.
Once you are done with all rides…splurge a little more at City Walk Universal Studios. Some sought after brands of food and shopping are lined up here to spoil you. You can find the likes of Hard Rock Cafe, Johnny Rockets, Billabong, Universal Studio Store, Wolfgang Puck Bistro and more here. There is even simulated skydiving experience, a little on the expensive side though…but then you don’t get to experience thrill of skydiving everyday and that too without jumping off a plane!!
So go offbeat to fly with instructors at iFLY Hollywood Indoor Air tunnel.
Our five days at Los Angeles flew away without we even realizing. Reliving the childhood days with Disney characters had made us as enthusiastic as our kiddo.
We made our itinerary based on age and choice of our twelve-year-old. You can make your own loosely based on ours. Remember however to get your SoCal 3-day Park Hopper City Pass and go ahead choose the rides you want.
- Find out more about SoCal Pass here.
- Rides valid for Fast Pass have display boards announcing the same.
- Get hold of map of each theme park at information center in parks to help in navigation.
- There are many eating joints both easy on pocket as well as expensive ones along with small kiosks.
- It is better to book a hotel closer to theme parks. We stayed at Hyatt Place. It is at walking distance from the Disney parks.
- Also have a heavy breakfast before leaving and carry some fruit to the parks.
Thanks to Shivani Shourie (read her Guide to 3 days in London) who tagged and goaded me to write for ‘Trip Expert 2017’ award. I am passing this responsibility to
- Shalini for 3 day guide to Krabi, Thailand
- Ramji Yagna for 7 day guide to Tawang
- Shivani Garg for 3 day guide to South Africa