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I love Dis­ney­land, so when my son and I were invit­ed to expe­ri­ence the 4‑day Adven­tures by Dis­ney: Dis­ney­land Resort and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Escape, I was  beyond excit­ed. But even I could nev­er imag­ine the amount of pix­ie dust that was about to be sprin­kled on us.

Good Morning, Disneyland! Photo by - Samantha Davis-Friedman

A Mag­i­cal Morn­ing © Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

The mag­ic start­ed imme­di­ate­ly upon arriv­ing at Dis­ney’s Grand Cal­i­for­nia Hotel & Spa when Chris­t­ian and Lori, our two amaz­ing adven­ture guides, hand­ed us Dis­ney­land park-hop­per tick­ets and then casu­al­ly men­tioned that they’d been pre-loaded with a few mul­ti-expe­ri­ence Fast­Pass­es – which will now and for­ev­er be known in our fam­i­ly as “Mag­ic­Pass­es.” These spe­cial Fast­Pass­es allowed us to ride almost any attrac­tion in Dis­ney­land and Cal­i­for­nia Adven­ture at any time, and most impor­tant­ly, they did­n’t pre­vent us from reserv­ing addi­tion­al timed Fast­Pass­es as we nor­mal­ly would.  It was minute one of the trip and we were already beyond excit­ed about this Adven­tures by Dis­ney perk.

That evening, we head­ed into Dis­ney­land for din­ner at Café Orleans in New Orleans Square where we capped off our deli­cious three-course meal with way more than a rea­son­able num­ber of Mick­ey-shaped beignets (AKA New Orleans-style dough­nuts). With a to-go box of beignets in hand, we then expe­ri­enced the spec­tac­u­lar “Fan­tas­mic” show from a spe­cial reserved sec­tion along the Rivers of Amer­i­ca. And with that, we end­ed day one of what was already an extreme­ly mag­i­cal trip.

cafe New Orleans donuts

© Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

Day two began with break­fast in Grand Cal­i­for­ni­an’s Sto­ry­teller’s Café with some Dis­ney pals. Even though my 18-year-old has out­grown tak­ing pho­tos with char­ac­ters, it was still fun to “chat” with Mick­ey, Min­nie, and Chip and Dale dur­ing the meal. Dale even helped one of our table­mates with his morn­ing emails. After that, we were on a coach head­ing to Bur­bank to vis­it Walt Dis­ney Studios.

Walt Disney Studios

Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios © Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

When we arrived, we were intro­duced to the sec­ond new word in our Dis­ney vocab­u­lary: Shop­por­tu­ni­ty. Accord­ing to Lori, “You see it; you like it; you buy it.” And we did. After a spin ’round the stu­dio store, we were ready to see where Walt Dis­ney and the orig­i­nal team of Imag­i­neers worked on clas­sic Dis­ney ani­mat­ed films like Snow White, but also where they came up with ideas for Dis­ney­land park. We even got to go inside the Dis­ney Archives to see some of the icon­ic trea­sures kept there, includ­ing Walt Dis­ney’s 1958 Acad­e­my Award for the Fea­ture Doc­u­men­tary called “The White Wilder­ness” (which we got to hold), and a cer­tain infa­mous red­head who recent­ly “retired” from her role in the Pirates of the Caribbean attrac­tion. We also had the chance to explore Leg­ends Plaza, com­plete with a pho­to op with Mick­ey and Walt.

Our next stop was Walt Dis­ney Imag­i­neer­ing, an oppor­tu­ni­ty only avail­able to Adven­tures by Dis­ney trav­el­ers because it’s not open to the pub­lic. Our guide, Imag­i­neer Dave Fish­er, explained how new attrac­tions are devel­oped using scale mod­els as well as an extreme­ly cool pre-visu­al­iza­tion tech­nol­o­gy in the Dig­i­tal Show­room – or DISH. We were able to stand inside the DISH our­selves and vir­tu­al­ly “ride” the Radi­a­tor Springs Rac­ers attrac­tion from Dis­ney Cal­i­for­nia Adven­ture to see how Imag­i­neers make sure attrac­tions are per­fect before they are actu­al­ly built. In fact, Dave not­ed that Imag­i­neers “rode” 30+ ver­sions of Walt Dis­ney World’s Slinky Dog Dash coast­er in the DISH before set­tling on the final attraction.

Imagineering

No pic­tures allowed in most of the TOP SECRET Imag­i­neer­ing Stu­dios — © Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

We also vis­it­ed the Imag­i­neer­ing mod­el shop, which was lined with floor-to-ceil­ing glass cas­es con­tain­ing mod­els for ani­ma­tron­ic char­ac­ters from attrac­tions includ­ing Walt Dis­ney World’s Hall of Pres­i­dents, the Haunt­ed Man­sion, and Pirates of the Caribbean (includ­ing the 3‑D print­ed mod­el of John­ny Depp for the Cap­tain Jack Spar­row fig­ure). We also posed for pho­tos with the orig­i­nal mar­ble stat­ues of Snow White and the Sev­en Dwarfs from the grot­to next to Sleep­ing Beau­ty’s Cas­tle in Dis­ney­land (spoil­er alert: the ones in the park are replicas).

Imagineering model shop

In the mod­el room at Walt Dis­ney Imag­i­neer­ing © Lori Coulis

On our way to the stu­dio, Lori had giv­en a crash course in Dis­ney his­to­ry, includ­ing the famous sto­ry about Walt tak­ing his daugh­ters to the carousel in Grif­fith Park. As we board­ed the coach to go to din­ner at the Tam O’Shanter (one of Walt Dis­ney’s favorite restau­rants and also the inspi­ra­tion for Snow White’s cot­tage in the ani­mat­ed fea­ture), Lori and Chris­t­ian announced a sur­prise: We were not only going to the Grif­fith Park carousel, we would get to take a ride! Even my teen was pret­ty hap­py about that.

One of the three original Griffith Park benches - Photo by Lori Coulis

One of the three orig­i­nal Grif­fith Park bench­es © Lori Coulis

The carousel’s own­er, Julio, said that every sin­gle thing on the carousel is still orig­i­nal from 1926, includ­ing all the hors­es. He also said the orig­i­nal park bench­es where Walt sat and dreamed of a place where par­ents and chil­dren could enjoy rides togeth­er were replaced, but that they’d man­aged to sal­vage three of them – one is in the Walt Dis­ney Fam­i­ly Muse­um in San Fran­cis­co, one is in the lob­by of the Great Moments with Mr. Lin­coln attrac­tion at Dis­ney­land park, and the third was still at the carousel, right where it belonged. After a brisk 10mph ride (though the carousel can go up to a speedy 25mph), we head­ed to our deli­cious prime rib din­ner at “The Tam” (there were also veg­e­tar­i­an options and kid-friend­ly items for pick­i­er eaters). With our heads still reel­ing from all the amaz­ing things we saw and learned, we returned to the Grand Cal­i­forn­ian in prepa­ra­tion for Day three in Disneyland.

We were up bright and ear­ly – like super ear­ly – for anoth­er char­ac­ter break­fast, this time at Dis­ney­land’s Plaza Inn. But first, we had anoth­er mag­i­cal Adven­tures by Dis­ney exclu­sive expe­ri­ence. After being gift­ed with per­son­al­ized mouse ears, we went into Dis­ney­land before it was open and lit­er­al­ly had Main Street, U.S.A entire­ly to ourselves.

Main Street Disneyland

First ones in the park © Lori Coulis

It was amaz­ing to be in the park just as it was wak­ing up, and even the teens in our group agreed it was worth the ear­ly wake up call. After a quick vis­it to the grot­to to say hey to the repli­ca Snow White and the dwarfs, we enjoyed our meal with an eclec­tic assort­ment of Dis­ney pals, includ­ing Rafi­ki, Win­nie the Pooh, Cap­tain Hook, and our old friends Chip and Dale. Dur­ing break­fast, we also learned that the Plaza Inn was orig­i­nal­ly an 1890’s home in the Boyle Heights area of Los Ange­les until Walt bought the house, had the front cut off and built the icon­ic Dis­ney­land restau­rant behind it. Who knew?

Our personalized Mickey ears - Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

© Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

After break­fast, we rode three icon­ic Dis­ney­land attrac­tions (with no wait­ing): the Mat­ter­horn, Peter Pan’s Flight, and of course, the carousel (which felt much slow­er after our spin in Grif­fith Park). At this point, it seemed impos­si­ble to top our pri­vate stroll down Main Street, but all of a sud­den, we walked through Adven­ture­land and right into the “back­stage” area for the Indi­ana Jones ride. Mark, a Dis­ney­land sound engi­neer, was wait­ing for us beside one of the mas­sive ride vehi­cles. He explained how the jeeps were designed and how they work – he even gave us a lit­tle insid­er info about the let­ters and num­bers on the back of each vehi­cle, which are actu­al­ly ini­tials and birth­dates of Imag­i­neers who cre­at­ed the attraction.

Fun Fact: One of the jeeps has George Lucas’ stats. It’s impor­tant to note that the only way to go back­stage at Dis­ney­land is with Adven­tures by Dis­ney (unlike at Walt Dis­ney World where back­stage tours are avail­able to anyone).

From Indi­ana Jones, we walked through the back­stage area and popped out in Town Square where we were escort­ed into Walt’s pri­vate apart­ment above the Fire­house – anoth­er Adven­tures by Dis­ney exclu­sive (and extreme­ly mag­i­cal) expe­ri­ence. Here, we learned that Walt and his fam­i­ly would stay in the apart­ment rather than dri­ving back to Los Ange­les after a long day in Dis­ney­land. Walt’s grand­son Christo­pher once said it was like going to sleep and wak­ing up to see all your dreams have come true, and since see­ing Walt’s apart­ment has been a long­time dream of mine, I under­stood exact­ly what he meant.

Inside Walt's apartment - Photo by Christian Cruz

Inside Walt’s apart­ment © Chris­t­ian Cruz

But the mag­ic did­n’t end there.

We crossed the esplanade to Cal­i­for­nia Adven­ture Park, and once again, stepped back­stage into the garage for Radi­a­tor Springs Rac­ers. Kris, one of the ride’s mechan­ics, showed us how they mon­i­tor all the cars on the track at all times. He also told us that there are tiny hid­den Mick­ey’s on the left tail light of each car, which were even tough to see close up. Then, we rode the ride – again, with no wait­ing – so we could com­pare the final prod­uct to the vir­tu­al ver­sion we expe­ri­enced in the Imag­i­neer­ing DISH, which was pret­ty cool. But the last – and in my son’s opin­ion, the very coolest – exclu­sive back­stage expe­ri­ence was at Soarin’ Around the World.

Soaring around the world

© Chip and Company

We first expe­ri­enced the attrac­tion as we nor­mal­ly would (you guessed it, with no wait­ing), but when it was over, we did not exit (through the gift shop or oth­er­wise); instead we went behind the screen – Behind. The. Screen. – and expe­ri­enced the whole thing again. It was amaz­ing, and cer­tain­ly some­thing nei­ther my son nor I will ever for­get. Soarin’ cast mem­bers Frankie and Mari­ah also offered anoth­er Fun Fact: If you look real­ly hard, you can spot Cap­tain Jack Spar­row on the beach in Fiji.

The last bit of pix­ie dust Lori and Chris­t­ian had in store was a spe­cial reserved view­ing area for the World of Col­or in Cal­i­for­nia Adven­ture. After being closed for refur­bish­ment for over a year, this water, light, and music spec­tac­u­lar looks more spec­tac­u­lar than ever and it was the per­fect “kiss good­night” to end our amaz­ing, mag­i­cal, and def­i­nite­ly unfor­get­table Adven­tures by Dis­ney adventure.

© WDW News

NOTE: In addi­tion to the 4‑day Adven­tures by Dis­ney Dis­ney­land Resort and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Escape that we expe­ri­enced, there is also a 6‑day Adven­tures by Dis­ney Dis­ney­land Resort and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia itin­er­ary that includes every­thing we did plus two days in Hol­ly­wood. And a trip to Dis­ney­land could be a great adult’s only trip too!

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