Disneyland. Is it really the Happiest Place on Earth?

Disneyland is synonymous with Southern California and theme park culture. Is it really the Happiest Place on Earth? With rising prices and never before seen crowd levels, why do we keep going back?

For so many, myself included, it’s hard to pass up a trip to Disneyland. When I am in Southern California visiting family, a day or two at the parks is inevitably on the schedule. In planning for our most recent trip, I used a crowd tracker to gauge what sort of crowds we should expect. The timing of the trip meant we were going during one of the busiest times of the year – Spring Break. But did it take away from the magic for me? No, and here’s why.

Main Street at Midnight

The nostalgia.

For many, including myself, it is about the memories growing up and visiting there regularly. It is about the nostalgia and one finding their happy place. You can’t put a price on happiness (although, that price currently ranges from $95-$125). Visitors often say that the rest of the world melts away for the day and all your problems are left at the gate. You just become a kid again.

While people complain about the lines and prices, I think it’s because things at Disney become so relaxing, familiar, and cherished. People don’t like their happy place disrupted, dirty, or broken. They don’t complain because they hate what the park has become, they complain because they love the parks so much.

The finer details.

With a high berm encircling the park, you are whisked away to a whole new world, despite being in the middle of Anaheim, just south of LA. Everything is meticulously detailed and themed, right down to the trash cans in the different ‘lands’ around the park. And when the sun starts to set, and the lights come on across the park, it becomes and entirely new experience. As the blanket of darkness descends, the ride experiences change too. Have you ridden Big Thunder Mountain at night? What about the Matterhorn? The rides take on a whole new life in the darkness of night.Even the Astro Orbitor which, admittedly I’ve never been a big fan of, becomes a whirling tower of colour against the black of night. All of a sudden, it’s one of my most photographed rides in the park, second only to the teacups.

The Human Element.

Beyond the rides, the smells, the nostalgia, is the human element of the park. Cast members go out of their way to make your trip memorable and special. They are always trying to provide you with a ‘magical moment’ that you’ll take away at the end of your day. I’ve experienced this first hand, being pulled out of a crowd and given front row seats to a Fantasmic showing. I’ve noticed that this level of generosity extends beyond the cast members of Disneyland, with guests going out of their way to make someone else’s day just a little bit better. Things like passing on unused Fastpasses, or gifting a pin or balloon as a souvenier. Disneyland, more often than not, brings out the best in people.

As a photographer, this is what I love capturing the most. Capturing the smiles and the look of awe on my kid’s faces will inevitably be the best photos I can possibly take. The look of innocence, the happiness, and sheer joy that a day at the park with your family can bring is second to none. And Disneyland does that better than anyone. This is why we keep coming back to Disneyland despite the crowds and increasing prices. It is why Disneyland is widely recognised as the Happiest Place on Earth.

What lens to use?

Pack light. I’ve lugged 3 lenses around Disneyland for a day and I won’t do it again. I’d suggest bringing a versatile zoom lens so you’re not weighted down or stuck changing lenses between rides. A fast lens will also come in handy at night. Pair this with a high ISO setting on your camera (noise reduction has come a long way!), and you can leave the tripod at home. I’d suggest a 24-70 f/2.8 or similar.

Astro Orbiter at Night

The Astro Orbiter really comes into its own at night.

Teacups at night.

Nothing like the blur of the teacups in a long exposure photograph to make you motion sick while sitting at your computer.

Disneyland Fireworks

Fireworks over the Disneyland Castle.

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