A Halloween Disneyland Adventure – We visited Disneyland and California Adventure in October for the first time! From the decorations, to the amazing (gluten free!!!) food, and incredible attention to detail, we had an amazing time!
One of the things I love about social media is getting to enjoy and share in the joy of other people’s successes, joys, and happiness. It’s so fun to watch wobbly videos of my sister’s baby learning to walk, or seeing an amazing hike my brother went on. It’s fun to see that a friend’s business has just hit a new milestone, or someone I follow is having an amazing European getaway.
What’s tricky is that it’s easy to feel like everyone is having perfect, wonderful moments all the time. Most of us wouldn’t post things like “we’re facing a scary health challenge” or “I’m worried about my friend/child/family member” or “my marriage/education/job feels really hard right now” in their Instagram captions. But we’re all having those kinds of things pop up in our lives regularly.
In my own corner of the internet, I’ve tried to present a real-life version of myself. I feel like I’ve been open when I’ve been facing challenges, feeling overwhelmed, or struggling. I also make a constant effort to find the sunshine. We’ve had a very difficult few years together in our family. We’ve been through some serious diagnoses, a few moves, tight financial times while Michael went to grad school, and so much more. This year has been a turning point for us in a lot of ways. We still face regular challenges, but we’re striving for a place where we can turn more of our focus from surviving to enjoying our life together.
One small focus we’ve had as a family this year is creating NEW happy memories together. I’ve found that creating happy memories (big or small) is a HUGE happiness booster. It helps put some of the difficult memories in a softer perspective, and helps create the feeling of love, safety, and happiness we’re working for.
Almost all our new happy memories have been inexpensive (choosing a new pint of ice cream to share for dessert, baking together, or getting a new package of bath bombs for the kids’ baths) or free (watching a movie together on Friday night, riding bikes, or playing card games on Sunday afternoons).
What started as a “wouldn’t it be fun to go to Disneyland in the fall?” conversation unexpectedly grew into a “oh my goodness! I think we can make this happen!” conversation. And that eventually turned into a wonderful adventure I don’t think any of us will forget any time soon.
Here’s everything we loved about Disneyland and California Adventure at Halloween (including our gluten free recommendations!)…
We originally booked one of the less-expensive hotels in walking distance to the park assuming everything at Disneyland would be out of our price range. On a whim, I checked one morning and discovered that we could stay at Paradise Pier hotel (Disney owned) for only about $100 more total. We switched our reservation and LOVED being so close to the park. It was a short, clean, pretty walk to Downtown Disney and then through to the parks. We want to try Disneyland hotel and California Grand someday, but we had a great experience at Paradise Pier.
Upon check-in, they offered me an upgrade to a room facing the park, and it was totally worth seeing California Adventure all lit up. We could have watched World of Color or Fireworks shows from our room (there’s a channel on the tv with the music), but we fell asleep too early–ha!
We also needed dinner the night we checked in and the lobby restaurant chef came out to talk with us about our options. They were super accommodating, and every member of the staff was helpful and kind. We loved it!
I’m always impressed by how well Disneyland handles food allergies and intolerances. Many of their restaurants and dining locations have allergy-friendly menus available, and many times the chef will personally come out to help you. There was a wide range of prices, too, so we could pick something up at a more grab-and-go location, and also have a nice sit-down lunch at a pretty restaurant one day.
We wanted to try a lot of different things, so we’d usually split everything and have a little bit here and a little bit there. We also packed several things along with us (like trail mix, chia bars, pretzels, etc.)
A few of our gluten free Disneyland and California Adventure Faves…
- Cotton Candy
- Tiki Room – Dole Whip (I didn’t know this was dairy free!!!) & Dole Whip float (we preferred the plain Dole Whip)
- Frozen Lemonade & Slushies
- French Market – They had allergy-friendly menus available with quite a few choices. I ordered the Jambalaya (so good!), and my kids had chicken and rice with bananas and applesauce.
- The Refreshment Corner – We got hot dogs on gluten free buns, with chips and fruit.
- Ghirardelli Raspberry Sorbet (so good!)
- Fresh fruit stands – I love the giant pickles & the mango and pineapple
- Cozy Cone Motel – Apple Freeze & popcorn
- Cotton Candy (they had candy corn cotton candy for Halloween and my kids loved it!)
- Trattoria at Wine Country – I got the bolognese with gluten free pasta. They brought out a GF bread basket (my first in 4.5 years!), and a fruit and veggie plate for the kids. My kids had chicken and pasta with veggies.
- Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta – We ordered gluten free pizzas (we went with no cheese, but they do have vegan cheese), fruit, and salad.
*We tried to get reservations at Blue Bayou the week before we went, but they were booked solid, so we’ll do that far enough in advance next time. They have an allergen-friendly menu, but rumor has it you can even request to get things like a gluten free Monte Cristo sandwich if you contact them ahead of time!
RIDES & THE PARK
We discovered as we pulled into our hotel that we’d forgotten something very important: our stroller. We debated buying one from the hotel gift shop, but ultimately decided we’d see how the kids did without one at the park and rent one if we needed to. The kids completely BLEW us away by not needing one! I didn’t hear one complaint about walking the entire two days. The only comment at all was from Milo as we were leaving the park on day 2, saying matter-of-factly “my feet are tired. I had a good day!”
This was a complete and utter surprise since I often hear whining on the way to our mailbox. I couldn’t have asked for a happier surprise!
Both parks had SO MANY fun decorations out for Halloween. The attention to detail was amazing! There were pumpkins and jack o lanterns everywhere, spooky faces, webs, and even lots of the rides had different music or decorations out. It felt like fall! (Especially when the temperatures were so wonderful! It was 75 degrees compared to the 98 it was in Arizona!)
We had a great time doing rides at both parks. Neither of our kids is a huge thrill seeker, but we rode plenty of rides all the same. Milo loved Dumbo and all the trains (including the monorail which he can’t stop talking about). Sophie’s favorite was Pirates of the Caribbean, which she loved so much that she couldn’t stop singing “yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me” even for the picture she took with Jack Sparrow after her third time around. Our group faves in California Adventure were Ariel and Soarin’.
We saw a ton of characters (many in Halloween costumes!). We didn’t stop for too many, but Tinkerbell was SO great at giving personal attention, and Elsa/Anna/Olaf/Kristoff were all fabulous. We also loved seeing Mary Poppins (we even rode the carousel with her and the band), and spying people like Gaston on the move (he was SO funny!).
I’d never been to Downtown Disney before, but it was a REALLY fun place to poke around. They had the whole place decorated for Halloween, had fun music (including different live bands every day), and plenty of places to eat.
They have the 2nd largest LEGO store in the US (the 1st largest is at Disney World), and my LEGO-loving littles had to be pried away when it was time. They had lots of special displays (I couldn’t even get a picture of Aladdin’s genie because he was too big!) and TONS of LEGOS to buy, plus building stations to help you kill time.
We also loved visiting Marceline’s confectionary, where we could watch them decorating the Halloween caramel apples. I could watch that for hours. (I’d LOVE to do that job!)
Honestly, if you’re ever thinking of going to Disneyland and California Adventure in the fall, I *highly* recommend it. The attention to detail, the decorations, the changes in the music, the fun treats… it’s all magical. Now we’ll have to go at Christmas some year!