Anaheim’s Crowning Jewel

Arriving into Anaheim, some wise words came to mind. “Curiosity keeps leading us down new paths,” once observed that wondrous wizard of imagination, Walt Disney. And it was my inner-child curiosity that skippered me back to the “Happiest Place on Earth” for the first time in nearly a decade.

Disneyland Resort, the shining jewel of Anaheim, was already pumping with thick summer crowds in mid-June. It was hot, sweaty and heaving. If you’re planning a date with Disney over the summer months, you’ll definitely want to get a jump on the mid-morning mass-arrivals, by opting for the early magic hour admission, which will have you through the gate at 7am between Sunday and Thursday.

A vast range of passes are available, but a two-day park-hopper ticket, providing entrance to both Disneyland and the adjoining California Adventure Park, is the most popular option. Avoid the weekend if you can, because that’s when the locals add to the proverbial bulging of the seams. Upgrading to a fast pass will shorten the wait for the most popular rides, which can blow out to 90 minutes.

You can also use the new Disneyland app which allows you to mobile order food and the pick-up time, to dodge the food queues. From my observations, there’s plenty of people clearly going to Disneyland simply to binge on fried-chicken, churros and mickey-shaped beignets. Coinciding with the movie release of the Incredibles 2, Disneyland Resort is abuzz with all things Pixar Animation.

The Pixar Fest has unveiled a slew of new Pixar-themed attractions and neighbourhoods, primarily focused on the Incredibles and Toy Story. It’s particularly ablaze at California Adventure, where Paradise Pier has been reimagined as Pixar Pier and the California Screamin’ rollercoaster has been revamped as the Incredicoaster.

The Parr family races alongside you, trying to catch baby Jack-Jack! Great fun. One of Disney’s most popular ever spectacles, the “Paint the Night” parade is back in action, now staged at California Adventure, including a new float featuring characters from “The Incredibles.”

In the works is a fully immersive Super Hero themed area, anchored by the existing Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT attraction, which will soon joined by Spider-Man and the Avengers. California Adventure is also where you’ll find Cars Land, home to my runaway favourite ride, the Radiator Springs Racers.

It’s been a red-hot fixture for over five years, but I couldn’t get enough of it. The sheer size of the attraction, the high-octane speed of those cars and the artistry deployed in the desert setting is absolutely intoxicating. The queues can get biblical, so once you are through the main gates, make a beeline to Cars Land.

The next big thing at Disneyland is the colossal Star Wars development. The wait goes on for the force to be reawakened by the imagineers, but it’s destined to be epic. This is Disneyland’s biggest undertaking since the park first opened over 70 years ago and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will stretch over fourteen acres. Older areas like Big Thunder Ranch have already been wiped out to house this monumental new addition.

At last report, it’s all due to open next year, and I’m sure every Kiwi who identifies as Jedi at census time will be sizing it up like a grand pilgrimage. I must admit, I’m a kid at heart, and the chance to get a photo with Mickey Mouse inside his Toon Town House was eagerly taken! Ditto, with Minnie.

In fact, a veritable kaleidoscope of Disney and Pixar characters, who you can meet, greet and selfie with, permeate the resort. I took a ride on Dumbo, flew with Peter Pan, took a spin on the Mad Hatter Teacups and floated through that glorious old standard, It’s a Small World.

(After taking a ride, expect it to take a good five days before you finally flush that song out of your head.) Yes, Disneyland’s faithful time-tested classics still sing with goodness, escapism and heart-warming delight. https://disneyland.disney.go.com/

After a restorative swim at my hotel pool, I ventured back into Disneyland for the nightly fireworks show, which is currently another Pixar-themed spectacular, called Together Forever. Exploding into life every night at 9.30pm, across a variety of location, like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Main Street USA, it’s a deliriously dazzling fusion of pyrotechnics, projections, merry movie music and plenty of pixie-dust as Buzz Lightyear and Tinker Bell come together.

I stayed at Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel, a relaxing boutique-style resort and official Disney good neighbour hotel. With a Disney Desk in the lobby, purchase passes to suit, well in advance. Just a 15 minute walk from Disneyland (if you’re feeling virtuous), the hotel also operates a complimentary shuttle service, the “Dream Machine”, to the parks every 30 minutes.

Contemporary creature comforts are fully taken care of, from free WIFi, fitness centre, relaxing fountain-tinkling grounds and that fabulous pool. Fresh from a multi-million dollar refurbishment, the Tudor-style property is looking resplendent with bright décor and thoughtfully redesigned accommodations.

It’s a big winner with families, with the family suites boasting custom-made castle bunk beds and forest backdrops. A lively roster of on-site activities, spanning face painting, story time and seasonal celebrations, is an added extra. And if you’re feeling far too relaxed to head back to Disneyland for the nightly pyrotechnics, the hotel enjoys the distinct advantage of being one of the best places to see the fireworks spangle the sky. www.majesticgardenhotel.com

When you’ve had your fill of Mickey and friends, there’s plenty in the neighbourhood worth exploring. The historic heart of Anaheim, Center City, is also enjoying a rebirth with Center Street promenade brimming with buzzing of new eateries and bars. Top of my list was Anaheim House of Chimney Cakes.

This totally unique bakery churns out moreish ice cream flavours scooped into chimney cake cones, which are a traditional Hungarian pastry, that taste somewhere between a churro and a donut. Nearby, the Packing House is another great stop.

It was Sunkist’s former citrus packinghouse, and is now a two-level foodie haven with lots of artisan eats. Just down the road of South Anaheim Boulevard, the MAKE building, which was previously a marmalade factory, is enjoying a second lease on life celebrating makers, particularly libations.

The Unsung Brewing Company is particularly good, if you like your craft beers, while Anaheim’s only winery, Pali Wine Co is blissfully ambient. It’s all walkable from the hotel.

I made my way to and from Anaheim with Super Shuttle, who for over 30 years have operated ground transportation services to and from LAX. Their shared-ride van service is a cost-effective, reliable and efficient way to get to and from the airport.

I travelled with ExecuCar, Super Shuttle’s sister brand, who offer a higher-end, direct and private service, door-to-door between your accommodation and the airport, as well as point-to-point and hourly charters. Ed was my ebulliently entertaining driver who shared his loathing for Uber drivers snarling up LAX and the freeway gridlock besetting the route between LA and Orange County.

The locals call it Orange Crush. If you’re travelling during rush hour, you’ll definitely want to factor in two hours travel time to reach the airport. For best rates and bookings, head to www.supershuttle.com

Air New Zealand offers non-stop flights to Los Angeles from Auckland. With those well-timed overnight flights, after being supremely wined and dined on, I slept like a lamb across much of the Pacific. For added comfort and extra frills, Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy offering sets the benchmark in affordable extra-comfort. One-way Economy fares start from $939 (inclusive of taxes). Visit www.airnewzealand.co.nz for more details and to book.

By Mike Yardley.

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