Take a drawing lesson at Animation Academy

I have a thick folder dating back many years containing a charming collection of Disney characters my children have drawn me. Secretly, these are my favorite works of art to receive from them. It’s been awesome watching the characters evolve over time from masses of colored scribbles to something (or someONE) I can instantly recognize. No surprise, they thought it was the coolest to be able to take their first drawing lesson at Disney California Adventure’s Animation Academy.

Disney animators are on hand at the attraction to guide families through a crash course in drawing Disney characters. The class is about 20 minutes in length, long enough that adults can pick up some good tips from the rough stage of a drawing to the clean-up, but short enough to work with young attention spans. We had two young artists in the studio that day ages 6 and 8 who came home with impressive sketches of a certain Disney VIP. Be sure to check the Animation Academy schedule board outside the building to find out if your favorite character is featured.

I’ve heard the pros can even work wonders with folks like me that can’t even passably sketch…regardless your skill level, you’ve got yourself a unique and free souvenir.


Location: Find the Animation Academy in the Animation Building, Hollywood Land section of Disney California Adventure, Disneyland Resort. Two to three characters are drawn each hour in classes lasting 20-30 minutes each.


Shoot the rapids on Grizzly River Run

Do you dare to shoot the whitewater rapids of Grizzly River Run? Better hope it’s a scorching day in the California parklands — because your chances of escaping without a massive dousing are slim.

Hands down the most beautiful log flume ride you’ll ever ride, Grizzly River Rapids takes you on a journey through caves and around mountain peaks, past geyser fields and stately pine trees. Exciting and unpredictable, the raft floats freely along the river and, in a unique fashion, is designed to spin as it plunges down the rapids. The final drop is a 22-foot thrill spill — so make sure any little ones are aware before they jump in line. Our three older children picked this ride as their favorite on a recent fall trip to Disney California Adventure Park.

For those who prefer dry land, there is an excellent viewing area that gets you close to the rapids without sweeping you over them. Perfect for getting that shot of your soaking wet loved ones!

Location: Find Grizzly River Run in the Grizzly Peak section of Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort.


Swingin’ with the Silly Symphony

Back in 1935, Walt Disney Productions released a little animated feature called The Band Concert. It was the first time audiences got to see Mickey Mouse in color — in this case, he was seething in color as a frustrated conductor, attempting to lead his band through a zany performance in the park.

The Silly Symphony Swings attraction in Disney California Adventure Park is based on this animated short (though, for Disney purists, The Band Concert was not actually part of Disney’s Silly Symphony collection). That aside, the swings are a fun addition to the Paradise Pier boardwalk attractions at the park. The big thrill for the kids is the twisty tornado that rises from the ride’s center column – a nod to the tornado that rips through Mickey’s concert in the film.


Location: Find the Silly Symphony Swings in the Paradise Pier section of Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort.


Hail a ride on the Red Car Trolley

Could there be a more stylish and appropriate way to transport the family down Buena Vista Street? Destination Sunset Boulevard and the Hollywood Tower Hotel! The streetcars that hum through the streets of Disney California Adventure were inspired by Pacific Electric Railway carriages from the 1920s but are powered solely on batteries. The overhead wires are all part of the show.

Extra! Extra! Catch the Red Car Trolley News Boys — along with a certain Mickey Mouse — as they hop off their ride in Carthay Circle to perform pep-rally messages of “can-do spirit”. They remind the crowd that with the right attitude, anyone can pursue their dreams. The squad performs six times daily.


Location: Find the Red Car Trolley in the Buena Vista Street section of Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort.


Discover your “Disney self” in the Beast’s Library

Hmmm. Now, which Disney character am I most likely to identify with? An occasionally frazzled but fun-loving homemaker with a houseful of kids? (Anita from 101 Dalmatians springs to mind.) A trip to the Beast’s Library in the Sorcerer’s Workshop attraction at Disney California Adventure attempted to provide more insight into who might be my Disney kindred spirit.

After you’ve found your match, head to the grand library and watch it fade to neglect around you. Spot the holographic magic rose losing its petals one at a time on the fireplace mantel. It’s a rare respite from the bustle of the park — hidden away in a hodge-podge of attractions and rarely crowded.


Location: Find the Sorcerer’s Workshop within the Disney Animation Building at Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort.

Touring Tip: There are three worthwhile attractions within the Sorcerer’s Workshop, are even more to discover inside the Disney Animation Building. Be sure to check out the Animation Academy, Character Closeup, and Turtle Talk with Crush.


Kids Wish: King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea

Further capitalizing on the adoration of Ariel by preschool girls everywhere, rides on her father’s Carousel are offered on Paradise Pier. Prancing horses have been swapped out for a variety of colorful sea creatures to ride.


Location: King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea is located in the Paradise Pier section of Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort.

Spot: Toy Story Zoetrope

MH toy story zoetropeAfter we did the background check and understood what a zoetrope is, we were really looking forward to finding this exhibit in Disneyland’s Animation building. Pixar’s John Lassetter created this zoetrope to better teach how the illusion of animation actually works. Instead of flat drawings spinning, Pixar used 18 3-D sculptures of each Toy Story 2 character. A strobe light flashing on them as they spin creates the impression that Woody, Jessie, Buzz and Bullseye have come to life!


Location: Find the Toy Story Zoetrope in the Disney Animation Building in Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort.


Character Series: Meet Snow White

MH snow white germany pavilionWhere can you meet the Fairest in the Land? (Let me quick consult my Magic Mirror…) Mirror reports back: Perhaps the easiest spot to meet this princess is at her wishing well in the Germany Pavilion of World Showcase at Epcot. Nestled on the outskirts of the pavilion as you enter going clockwise, Snow White (occasionally with the Prince, and/or Dopey) greets guests at the well several times daily between 11:30am and 6pm. Our photo, taken when our son wasn’t quite three, remains one of my favorite Disney snapshots of all time. Check out the way he’s gazing at Snow White!

It used to be that if you had more patience (or maybe a FastPass+ reservation), you could snag some time with Snow White at Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom. This is how we met the princess in 2013 soon after the new meet-and-greet opened. (June 2014 update: Snow White has been ousted from Princess Fairytale Hall by the Frozen sisters. She will now be greeting guests daily at Town Square Courtyard.)

MH meet snow whiteIf you’re prepared to fork over some major moolah (especially when you’re a family of six!), you might try a princess character meal. Snow White makes appearances at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion and, at the Disneyland Resort, during certain meals at Ariel’s Grotto in Disney California Adventure Park. This is how we met Snow White on the West Coast.


Festival of the Flying Tires with Luigi

MH luigi's flying tiresYou’ve got a job to do on this attraction! These tires float on a cushion of air and require audience participation to get gliding. This airy dance is referred to in Cars Land circles as the Festival of the Flying Tires!

Update: Though the smart choice would have been to skip this molasses-slow loader and ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree instead. We made a mad dash for Cars Land (and specifically Radiator Springs Racers) during an early Extra Magic Hour at California Adventure. We hopped in what was advertised to be a 5-minute line but turned out to be 25 – worth a 3-minute ride spent coaching your preschoolers how to “drive” the giant tire? Debatable.

2015 update: Debatable indeed. Luigi’s Flying Tires closed February 16, 2015.


Location: Find Luigi’s Flying Tires in the Cars Land section of Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort.


Take a free-mounted ride on Mickey’s Fun Wheel

Mickey’s Fun Wheel deviates from traditional Ferris wheels in that most of the gondolas slide inwards and outwards as the wheel rotates. And, if you haven’t yet experienced these swinging gondolas, consider yourself warned! We (and “we” refers to two adults and four children 7 years of age and under) were not prepared for the sudden feeling of coming unhinged from the ride! That first slide brought on shrieks from all of us. Swinging in a stiff breeze while suspended over the rippling waters of Paradise Pier Lagoon made the ride memorable enough to justify waiting in such a slow-loading line.

At night, Mickey’s Fun Wheel illuminates in a spectrum of colors and designs. On our upcoming Mouse Holiday Family Spring Break we’re looking forward to playing Mickey’s Fun Wheel Challenge (via mobile device) while waiting for the spectacular World of Color show to begin!

MH mickey's fun wheel 2


Location: Find Mickey’s Fun Wheel in the Paradise Pier section of Disney California Adventure Park. Disneyland Resort.