Downtown Disney is the name of the area just outside the gates to the Happiest Place on Earth and it’s full of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars with live music happening at any given moment. And the best part is, it’s all free!
A lot has changed here in the last year as a new Disney hotel is being built in place of the Rainforest Cafe (that served the most amazing cocktail I’d ever seen: the Corona-rita – a huge bowl of margarita with an upturned dinky bottle of Corona in it! It tasted better than it sounds – but ahh those were the days).
The new 700-room hotel will have the monorail rail running through it for quick and easy access straight into the park. It’ll boast water features for those hot summer days and lots of dining options. An upper level lounge will have views over the park and be the ideal place to watch the nightly fireworks – if you’re not sitting in the park in front of them!
That’s one of my top tips: if you arrive at Disneyland late in the day and you don’t intend to go into the park until the next day so you can make the most of your passes, head to Downtown Disney and even without this hotel, there is enough to whet your whistle for what is in store tomorrow with Disney-themed shops and lots of dining options.
You’ll also find one of my favourite stores, Sephora for makeup from a huge range of brands that could keep you busy for an hour, lots of Disney themed clothes and toy shops and several kids stores including the very sweet Build a Bear.
Your little ones will adore this store – plan to spend the best part of an hour here too – where they get to choose their own deflated bear, sheep, frog, Miss Piggy, or what-not, and have it stuffed and “come to life” in front of them. Then your little one is told to get a heart out of the box beside them and they do a little heart ceremony of kisses, rubbing the tummy so it’ll never be hungry and what ever else the creative seamstress can think of.
You can also choose a recorded sound of words or animal noises or the cutest one of all is, get them to record their own. One of my colleagues’ daughter did this 14 years ago and the bear still says, I love you mummy in her 5-year old voice, when she presses it.
There’s also racks of toy costumes and accessories like sunglasses and shoes to drop a few more bucks on too.
Next door to that is RideMakerz where kids (and their dads!) get to build their own race car. You start with the shell of the car you’ve selected (it could be Lightening McQueen or Mater or any one of a number of cars, trucks, fire engines) then you select your wheels, decide if you’re going to add a remote control or not (and extra $25), pimp it up with hood ornaments and huge engines and exhaust, get a micro chip of sounds (about $4 extra), grab a sheet of stickers and then take it to the assembly station where the guy will screw the body together and you click the wheels on.
It’s veery easy to drop a hundy here if you don’t keep your little lad on a tight reign, but his face will be worth it!
There’s a Lego store here with the iconic blocks about half the price you’d pay in New Zealand and Australia. I know this because there were several parents on this media trip to Disney’s Cars Land with me and they can’t get enough of it. Even Lord of the Rings is here and apparently that’s not (wasn’t at the time of writing) available at home.
There are lots of places in Downtown Disney to eat, drink, grab a snack ranging from southern cuisine at Ralph Brennans Jazz Kitchen to step into a little New Orleans time warp, pizza and pasta at Naples Ristorante & Pizzaria and cupcake shop Sprinkles.
Catch live jazz and Flambeaux Jazz Club with shows at 7pm and 11pm.
And if this is your first night in Anaheim, you should be entertained enough now to hit the sack and be up bright eyed and bushy tailed to take on the Park in the morning 😀