Top five family-friendly things to do at SoCal’s largest theme parks this summer from the perspective of a former Disney Imagineer.
The kids are home for the summer, what to do? As a former Disney Imagineer, and father of five (now grown) children, I’ve lived designing and visiting theme parks. I’ve always found that the best things to do at the parks are those the entire family can do together; whether it’s enjoying the live entertainment or the rides and attractions.
This summer, there’s a festival based on Pixar movies at the Disneyland Resort, Knott’s Berry Farm “Ghost Town Alive!” returns with a new story line, and LEGOLAND will give families a chance to spend the night in a castle hotel, with rooms that look like they were made with LEGOs. With that in mind, here is a preview of what’s coming this summer.
There are two big Pixar-themed events coming to the original Magic Kingdom for the summer, a parade and a fireworks display, both as part of the park’s contribution to Pixar Fest.
“The world’s children and adults have made Pixar characters a part of their lives,” said Bob Chapek, the chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products.
That includes a retheming of Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port in Tomorrowland into the “Alien Pizza Planet from Pepperonia” based on the little Green aliens from the “Toy Story” movies.
There will also be a Pixar dance party at Tomorrowland Terrace. Here are recommendations on some attractions and entertainment for the entire family at Disneyland.
Autopia – Let’s face it, kids want to drive a car, and this is one that gave hundreds of thousands of kids their first chance to get behind the wheel. The kids have to be 32-inches tall to ride, and kids 54-inches tall can ride by themselves.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – The Evil Emperor Zurg from “Toy Story” wants to take all the battery power from all the toys, and the whole family takes him on to help out Buzz Lightyear in this interactive “shooting gallery” type of ride. Part of the fun is how the family can compete to see who gets the higher score.
It’s a Small World (photo above) – Yes, it has that song, but it also has a lot to look at, including Disney and Pixar characters throughout the attraction. Parents can challenge their kids to find their favorites throughout.
Pixar Play Parade – All Pixar, with some new floats, this parade ran at Disney California Adventure, but will run this summer twice a day down Main Street U.S.A. The new floats include 14-foot-tall Pixar lamp and the ball as seen in all Pixar movies. There’s also a float from “Inside Out” and the bird character of Kevin from “Up” is now a part of the parade.
Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular – A new fireworks and projection effects nighttime show based on many of the Pixar movies. It starts with Buzz Lightyear flying over Sleeping Beauty Castle and includes the house from the movie “Up” flying over the castle too. It lives up to the word “spectacular” and is definitely something for the entire family to enjoy.
Disney California Adventure
The younger of the two Disney parks is participating in the resort’s summer time “Pixar Fest” and some of its family attractions have a foundation in Pixar movies. In June, what was the Paradise Pier area will reopen as Pixar Pier, including an update to the California Screamin’ roller coaster. It will also get a new name: The Incredicoaster – based on the sequel to Pixar’s “The Incredibles” movie coming out this summer. World of Color will also return.
“We believe experiences are better when we share them with family and friends,” said Josh D/Amaro, president of the Disneyland Resort.
That includes fun performances around the park by a live band called “Triple Dent Gum presents the Pixarmonic Orchestra” that will play music from Pixar movies, but with a Spike Jones style. Beware, kids might want to start banging on pots and pans to a beat when they get home after hearing them.
Here are five other things the entire family can enjoy, with an emphasis on the younger members, this summer:
Disney Animation Building – This four-in-one family-oriented Hollywood Land area includes the Animation Academy, where parents and children can sit side-by-side while getting lessons in drawing a Disney character. Second is the Character Close-Up, which is a meet-and-greet with various “Frozen” characters. Third is the Sorcerer’s Workshop: The Magic Mirror and the Beast’s Library are featured here where guests can ask questions about how animation works, or which character a kid or adult might be most like. Fourth is Turtle Talk With Crush: Kids and adults can ask questions to Crush, the turtle character from the Pixar movie “Finding Nemo” and he will humorously respond.
Disney Junior Dance Party! – Definitely aimed for kids, particularly those who watch Disney Junior on cable. Also located in Hollywood Land, kids, under the watchful eyes of their parents, can dance and sing along with characters like Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and others. Your smaller tots will love it.
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters – Based on the character of Luigi from the Pixar movie “Cars,” and located in Cars Land, this attraction invites folks (at least 32 inches tall) to ride in cars that dance on the “dance floor.” During the ride, the cars spin, line dance and wheel around like they are dancing, all while Luigi sings his song.
Toy Story Midway Mania – A midway carnival high-tech game, the family, or at least four of them, can ride together. It’s also a friendly competition to see who gets the higher score. It will soon be in the newly named Pixar Pier area when it reopens in June.
Paint the Night Parade (photo above) – It ran as part of Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration and now it’s back at the sister park. There is definitely a Pixar bent for this nightly parade in its return as part of the Pixar Fest celebration at the Disneyland Resort. In mid-June, when the sequel to “The Incredibles” is released, a float based on the sequel will become part of the parade.
Knott’s Berry Farm
The farm has been on a roll the past few years, with updates to two of its classic rides, the Calico Mine Train and the Timber Mountain Log Ride, and the addition of an interactive “shooter” attraction: Voyage to the Iron Reef. This summer it will open “Hangtime,” a roller coaster aimed squarely at the teen and young adult market.
But that doesn’t mean it is ignoring families. For the third summer, Knott’s Berry Farm is bringing back “Ghost Town Alive!” building on the success of the last two years.
“We’ll pick up our story a year from last year’s Founder’s Day Celebration. Calico is in the middle of a gold rush, bringing to town lots of new characters and new adventures,” said Ken Parks, vice president of Entertainment.
Also appearing will be a variety of live shows throughout the day and evening, including the always-popular Wild West Stunt Show. Here are five recommendations for things to do this summer for families with younger kids.
Camp Snoopy – The entire camp is designed for parents and kids to enjoy together, along with a few rides just for the smaller kids. If you have smaller kids, head to this area first and plan to spend a few hours there. Don’t worry, there are lots of trees, shade and Peanuts characters.
Ghost Town Alive! – This decidedly low-tech attraction takes place during the day in the park’s Ghost Town. With the help of more than 20 actors, the town is “inhabited” by characters of the old west including the sheriff, mayor, deputies, and some villains. Visitors to the area are invited to take part in the day’s events by carrying telegrams to the town’s “residents,” even act as deputies to help arrest the villains. If you have a kid, make sure to stop in for a visit to the barbershop and get a mustache from the town barber.
Peanuts Live Shows – Knott’s always has a variety of live shows throughout the park, many of them featuring Peanuts characters like Charlie Brown and Lucy. Many of these shows take place on a stage in Camp Snoopy. There are other live shows including the Wild West Stunt Show, musical groups and more.
Soak City (photo above) – There are lots of activities that kids and parents can enjoy together, and with lots of award-winning lifeguards on duty, a very safe environment for water fun. Make sure to stand under the large bucket with the kids when it dumps gallons of water.
Timber Mountain Log Ride – This classic ride was updated in 2013 and is even better than ever. Visit a logging camp and see a logger dancing on a log. There is a height minimum of 46 inches if riding alone, or 36 inches when accompanied by someone of 46 inches or more.
Who would think that a park based on children’s toys could be so much fun for the entire family? What started as one park has grown into a resort that includes a LEGO-themed aquarium, a water park, two themed hotels as well as the original theme park, located just south of Orange County in Carlsbad.
LEGO’s owner Merlin Entertainment added the first themed Legoland Hotel in 2013, and a second one, with even more theming, is coming this year called “LEGOLAND Castle Hotel.”
“Staying in a LEGOLAND Hotel is an adventure in itself and only adds to the overall experience families are treated to when they visit LEGOLAND California Resort,” said its general manager Peter Ronchetti.
Models of all kinds of buildings, creatures real and fantasy, and more all made from LEGO bricks populate the entire park, making it fun to just walk around and explore.
The park has many surprises, and another new attraction coming later this summer called LEGO CITY: Deep Sea Adventure. It will take riders on a submarine ride under real water during which they will see out the porthole windows real sea creatures like sharks, rays and fish, living in an underwater LEGO area. But since it’s not open yet, here are five recommendations for LEGOLAND.
Driving School – A driving school at a theme park? Well it’s not what it seems. Here kids ages 6-13 can drive a car (battery-powered) at slow speeds around a Lego city – all by themselves! That’s right, no parents in the car with them. And there are no rails in the streets of Fun Town (the name of the area of the park). After completing their ride, kids can even get a LEGOLAND Driver’s License. My now grown kids still rave about this ride and how much fun they had.
LEGOLAND Castle Hotel – This new hotel takes theming to the extreme, turning each hotel room into a play area, along with its lobbies and restaurants. There are rooms based on knights, dragons, and other mythical realms.
LEGOLAND Water Park – This water park (a separate gated experience) puts a unique LEGO twist on water parks. Some of the fun things for kids include activities such as building dams and rafts out of LEGOs in the water. There are also other water slides for both the bigger kids, and for the small set, along with a LEGO-themed water play area.
Miniland – This large area contains a wide variety of models of cities, fantasy environments and even scenes from the Star Wars movies – all made out of LEGOs. This is a really fun area for all to explore. There are a number of photo opportunities ranging from the Millennium Falcon and Death Star, to the Las Vegas Strip, San Francisco, New York City and more.
Splash Battle – Take a trip matey on this pirate-themed ride. What makes this ride so fun is that each rider gets to shoot water at other riders and spectators on the shore. Of course, all of them can fire water back too so kids that can’t ride, can get their siblings or parents all wet without riding. Riders must be at least 36 inches tall to ride and, unless 44 inches or taller, accompanied by a person 44 inches or taller and 14-years-old.
Admission and other information
All the parks and resorts have annual passes, along with one-day passes. If a multi-day experience is desired, there are hotels within walking distance.
Details about each park’s experience, entertainment schedule can be found online. Hotel reservations can be made and park admissions can be purchased online too. Park admission prices can vary, so check that park’s website:
- Disneyland Resort – www.disneyland.disney.go.com
- Knott’s Berry Farm – www.knotts.com
- LEGOLAND – www.legoland.com/california
By Mark Eades