Everyone loves to be an insider. And if getting the low-down on all the wonderful secrets at The Happiest Place on Earth makes your visit even more magical, then all the better. From off-menu treats to special rides, these Disney secrets will make your family vacation way more awesome. Keep reading to see them all.
photo: Jeff Christiansen via Flickr
1. Hidden Mickeys
It’s hard to avoid seeing Mickey Mouse everywhere you turn in Disneyland, but did you know that there are a few Mickeys that are intentionally hidden? Disney theme park designers (Imagineers) left behind a treasure trove of hidden Mickeys. Created in the famous mouse’s image, and worked into the overall design of an attraction, there’s no definitive number on just how many Mickeys can be found. There are, however, dozens of blogs and even books dedicated to the subject. Print out a list, like the ones found at Hidden Mickeys Guide, and challenge your family to find as many as you can during your next trip—it’s a fun way to pass the time while you wait in those long lines.
2. Club 33
If you’ve ever strolled around New Orleans Square just outside of the exit from Pirates of the Caribbean you might have noticed a green door with a small placard that reads “33”. This spot is the holy grail of Disneyland secrets: an exclusive club that only a select few are members of. Becoming a member isn’t easy, you’ll need to drop a cool $25,000 to start plus an annual fee of $12,000, oh and you’ll have to clear the waiting list, which is rumored to be years long. If you’re lucky enough to know a member you can also join them as a guest. So what’s so special about Club 33? In addition to serving up five-and six-course meals that include dishes like rack of lamb and lobster paella, it is also the only place in the park where you can enjoy an adult beverage from the top-shelf bar. You can also enjoy character visits at the club, valet parking at the Grand Californian, and access to 1901, a private lounge at California Adventure.
3. Morse Code Message at New Orleans Square Train Station
Stop by the New Orleans Square Train Station and you’ll no doubt hear a mysterious morse code message being clacked out from the Telegraph Office next door. The message is actually part of Walt Disney’s original dedication he gave on Disneyland’s opening day. It reads: “TO ALL WHO COME TO DISNEYLAND, WELCOME. HERE AGE RELIVES FOND MEMORIES OF THE PAST, AND HERE YOUTH MAY SAVOR THE CHALLENGE AND PROMISE OF THE FUTURE.”
photo: HarshLight via Flickr
4. The Lilly Belle
Named for Walt’s beloved wife, Lillian Disney, the Lilly Belle is the Presidential Parlor car that trails the back of the Disneyland Railroad steam engine, where the caboose would be. Decorated in mahogany wood paneling and antique furniture and accents, the secret car was once only accessible to members of Club 33 and the few visitors who knew to request a special ride first thing in the morning. Now visitors can reserve a ride aboard the Lilly Belle by booking a two-hour train-themed tour. For $89 per adult, you’ll be loaded up with a drink and a donut first thing in the morning before heading out on a guided walking tour that ends with a grand circle ride aboard the Lilly Belle.
5. Dominguez Tree at Adventureland’s Jungle Cruise
High above the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland, stands a prominent palm tree that predates the existence of Disneyland. It belonged to the Dominguez Family who sold their Anaheim farm to Walt Disney so Disneyland could be built. The Dominguez’s one request was that their beloved family tree, which had been a wedding gift, remain untouched as part of the park. The sentimental man he was, Mr. Disney agreed, and the tree still stands tall today. In fact, one of the youngest members of the family, Ron Dominguez, worked his way up the Disneyland ranks, eventually becoming the park’s president. Can you find the tree?
6. Secret Menu
The delicious eats are a major part of the fun of a Disneyland visit, but did you know there are even more off-menu treats you can indulge in? You just have to know what to ask for. Some of our favorite selections include the Ice Cream Nachos at the Golden Horseshoe, which is a huge shareable feast of three ice cream scoops on top of waffle cone “chips” topped with hot fudge, whipped cream and chocolate chips. If you prefer something a little savory and are a fan of In N’ Out’s animal style burger, order a Galactic Style Burger at the Tomorrowland Grill to get it topped with French fries, bacon cheese, grilled onions and Thousand Island dressing.
photo: Ken Lund via Flickr
7. Walt’s Secret Apartment
If you’ve built a place as magical as Disneyland, you’ll never want to leave, which is probably why Walt Disney built himself an apartment where he could live, work and enjoy the view of the amazing place he created. The entire family used the apartment, and if there were special visitors in the park, Walt and his wife would invite them up for a visit. While no one lives in the apartment today, it acts as a time capsule of sorts, preserved as Walt left it. If you look up at the windows above the Main Street forestation you can see a lamp perpetually glowing.
8. Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Tour
Want to get a peek inside that wondrous apartment and an insider’s look at the entire park? Book a “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Tour” and get up close with parts of the park unavailable to most guests. Your knowledgeable guide will treat you to one incredible story after the other as you visit Walt Disney’s private apartment and ride some of the most classic attractions that have been around since the beginning. When the tour is over, you’ll be treated to an exclusive lunch on Main Street U.S.A. For advanced reservations, call 714-781-TOUR.
9. Beyond Tacos & Turkey Legs—Disneyland’s Vegan Options
One of the best things about a day at Disneyland is the delicious snack fest you and the kids get to indulge in. From pizza and chimichangas to corn dogs and giant turkey legs, it’s a foodie fairytale come true. And vegans or guests just looking for veggie options need not feel left out of the fun. A myriad of restaurants throughout the park offer a variety of vegan options to thrill any palate—you just have to know where to go. Here’s a great rundown to bring to the park. We like the vegan jambalaya at Cafe Orleans, and kids will devour the Veggie Tater Bake at Flo’s V-8 Cafe.
photo: Josh Hallett via Flickr
10. Front of the Monorail
Riding the monorail is a unique experience in itself, but for something unforgettable try nabbing a seat in the front with the conductor. While the monorail is mainly used as a mode of transport between the park and hotels, even guests not staying at the Disneyland Resort are welcome to take a ride. Just get on at the Tomorrowland station where you can take a full round-trip ride. When you arrive at the head of the line, put on your best smiles and ask very nicely if you can sit up front. If by chance someone has beat you to the punch, you can ask to wait for the next monorail car. If you’d prefer the view from the back, you can also request a seat in the rear pod. Either seat will give you an incredible unobstructed view of the park below.
11. Behold the Evil Queen
Mirror, mirror on the wall, the Evil Queen’s in the window, ya’ll (But only if you’re lucky enough to catch her.)! While you and your family are wandering through Fantasyland, be sure to visit Snow White’s Scary Adventures. In the window high above the attraction, the Evil Queen peers out from behind the curtains at random times throughout the day to survey her realm and judge tourists wearing fanny packs. Give the kids your phone and see if they can snap a picture of her evilness!
12. Pick Up Baby Essentials You Left at Home
Remembering all the essentials you need to bring from home for a trip to Disneyland is a wild ride in itself, especially with a baby in tow. Being the perfect parent you are, you think you have everything covered until the moment when … “No diapers?!” Luckily, Disneyland’s got your (and your baby’s) behind. Visit the Baby Care Center near first aid on Main Street, U.S.A. to purchase any important items you may have forgotten—diapers, formula, bottles, wipes, pacifiers—the works. You can also nurse or feed your tot in peace at this quiet spot.
photo: Harshlight via Flickr
13. Best Place & Time to Watch Fantasmic
The fact that your tots have reminded you a billion times today about tonight’s Fantasmic Show gives you a sixth sense they may like to attend (You’re very intuitive that way.). Though most guests vie for a viewing spot in the center, the show was actually designed to be watched from all around the Rivers of America. So we suggest snagging a secret spot near the Haunted Mansion where there’s a lot more breathing room. Also, consider doing the second Fantasmic show instead of the first. You can hit the rides with no lines as everyone catches show #1, and then park empties out a bit for the second show. You’re welcome.
14. Magic Moments
A little kindness goes a long way, and if a park employee happens to catch you being especially kind and positive, they might just reward you with a little fairy dust. According to a former Disneyland employee, park employees have the power to grant you with “spur of the moment acts of kindness.” Those gifts could be anything from front-of-the-line passes to free ice cream cones.
15. Park Bench Where Disneyland Was Born
“The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction is always a thrill for guests who stop by the Main Street Opera House. But the coolest of cool is getting to see the actual park bench where Walt Disney first conceived the idea of Disneyland. While watching his two daughters ride the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, Mr. Disney sat and contemplated a magical place where parents and kiddos could experience unimaginable fun together. Yep, it all started right here. Have your kids take a seat, and see if they get inspired…
—Shahrzad Warkentin with Jennifer O’Brien
Feature photo: Andy Castro via Flickr