Transformers - UniversalOne of the biggest draws to Southern California (besides it’s year round phenomenal weather) has been the abundance of theme parks and attractions in the region. My husband and I had not been to Southern California in many years and we decided it was time to revisit some of the iconic theme parks we had enjoyed in the past. We were not disappointed.

Our visits to Sea World in San Diego, Disneyland and California Adventure in Anaheim and Universal Studios in Hollywood held the same excitement and magic that they had in years past.Our visit began at the Disneyland Resort which includes Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park and Downtown

Disney - Riverboat Disney.  Disneyland Park opened in 1955 and is Walt Disney’s original Theme Park. Its sister property, California Adventure, opened in 2001 and was designed to celebrate the history and culture of the Golden State. The two parks contain 84 attractions, 95 restaurants and 16 entertainments which include character experiences, fireworks, live entertainment, nighttime spectaculars, parades and stage shows. Hearing and visual services are available and special events and tours are offered as well.  It was heartwarming to watch pre-schoolers through adults having a wonderful, magical time at these parks.  There is certainly something here for everyone.

It is impossible to pick “favorite” attractions or rides at Disney, since each of them has its own special draw.  Some attractions are thrill rides, some have nostalgic value and others tell a story. However, we found it very exciting that the magic of the movie “Frozen” has been brought to life at California Adventure with new “Frozen” experiences.  These include a “Frozen Sing-Along Celebration”, “Olaf’s Snow Fest” featuring snow play, music, food and Olaf himself, and “Freeze the Frozen - Cal AdventureNight! A Family Dance Party.”

Just outside the two Disney parks lies Downtown Disney.  We enjoyed some of the dining venues, shops and nighttime entertainment in this entertainment district.  If you choose to visit Downtown Disney when you are not experiencing the parks, you can get free parking for up to 3 hrs.

Only an hour’s drive away from Anaheim you will find Universal Studios in Hollywood. Universal Studios contains rides, shows and a real working movie studio.  In this theme park there is definitely a “must do” attraction – the Studio Tour.  This is where you get to explore where the Hollywood movies are made.  Since 1915 Universal has offered tours of its studio, but the theme park did not open until 1964. Jeff and I marveled at the new King Kong 360 3-D experience on our studio tour, which claims to be the largest, most intense 3-D experience anywhere.  Universal Studios is the home to the leading entertainment news T.V. show EXTRA.  We were lucky enough to watch Mario Lopez and his team filming on site (he really does have adorable dimples).Waterworld - Universal

Many of the rides at Universal put you inside some of the world’s biggest movies such as: “Despicable Me,” “Transformers,” “Revenge of the Mummy,” “The Simpsons” and “Waterworld.”  This is what we feel makes Universal so special.

The last theme park to experience on our CityPASS was Sea World, San Diego.  Sea World, which opened in 1964, is best known for its spectacular animal shows, interactive attractions, aquariums, rides, educational programs and “Shamu”!  There are also play areas and special limited-time events and “distinctive experiences” (such as swimming with dolphins).  Our favorite attraction (also the most popular attraction at the park) was “One Sea WorldOcean,” the Shamu show that features killer whales and their trainers.  We also were delighted by some of the other popular animal shows that featured dolphins, sea lions and otters.

For our visits to the Disney parks and Universal Studios we stayed in Anaheim at the Desert Palms Hotel and Suites.

While in sunny California you may want to also check out some of the other well-known attractions in the state: the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park inEscondido, LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. We were happy that we included a “theme park” component to our California trip that let us experience a bit of nostalgia and an appreciation of the technological advances our country has made in the entertainment industry.

CityPASS -We used the Southern California CityPASS to visit these 4 theme parks.  We were happy to skip ticket lines and headed straight to the entrance of each attraction we were visiting. Since 1997, CityPASS has been offering a booklet of admission tickets to the best attractions in a single city and they presently offer passes for 11 North American destinations. Savings can be up to 50% compared to combined regular box office prices.

Our Southern California CityPASS was good for 14 consecutive days and offered us a 3-day Park Hopper ticket to Disneyland and California Adventure (which included one Magic Morning, allowing you to enter Disneyland 1 hr. before regular opening time), a one-day Universal Studios ticket and a one-day Sea World ticket.  This CityPASS also offered add-ons to the San Diego Zoo and LEGOLAND.  CityPASS boasts 13,000,000 happy travelers since its inception. Up-to-date information about CityPASS offerings can be found at citypass.com.

CityPASS –  www.citypass.com   1 (888) 330-5008

SeaWorld – www.SeaWorldSanDiego.com  1(800) 257-4268

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure –Disney has done a wonderful job on their website of helping visitors plan their days/nights at the parks.  www.Disneyland.com  1 (714) 781-4565

Universal Studios Hollywood – www.universalstudioshollywood.com  1 (800) UNIVERSAL  (1-8800-864-8377)

Desert Palms Hotel and Suites Anaheim- This property is moderately priced and is less than ½ mile away from the Disney parks, making it convenient to walk to the parks and Downtown Disney. Free parking is offered at the hotel, which you don’t often find in a city. We left our car in the parking lot when we enjoyed the Anaheim attractions and only used it to make the one hour trip to Universal Studios in Hollywood. The Desert Palms is one of Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotels and is perfect for families.  A complimentary hot buffet breakfast is included with your stay and the hotel has a heated outdoor pool and whirlpool spa, a fitness center and a game room.  Family dining is offered at the Sandbox Bar and Grille and there are family and kids’ suites available.  Reserve your room at desertpalmshotel.com. www.desertpalmshotel.com 1 (888) 521-6420

Photos by Jeff Sylva.