As I promised to Lavi earlier, I'll summarise my thoughts on the parks here.
Then over the next few days I'll be adding photos to various posts and then edit the title of the thread to indicate that it is complete.
Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure:
DLR is the granddaddy of all the disney parks, and you can see that in how its layout inspired or influenced the layouts of parks like Magic Kingdom at WDW and Disneyland Park at DLP, especially Mainstreet USA feels very similar in all 3 parks, even though each has it's unique changes to the layout and the stores are different for the most part. The area around Big Thunder Mountain again is quite similar in all 3, though DLPs Island location with the boat travelling around it probably works best from a visual standpoint.
I imagine that the area around Splash Mountain in DLR and Magic Kingdom are quite similar as well, but I wasn't able to take a look as Critter Country at DLR was closed to visitors for the duration of my visit.
What is certainly noticeable is that DLR is much more cramped in terms of space than the other parks. Everything is closer together and the paths are certainly narrower.
New Orleans Square for instance is a beautiful area in the park, but it is severely hampered by it's cramped layout, though the look of the Haunted Mansion here is something special, but those narrow streets are a nightmare with heavy crowds.
This does result in the park feeling crowded very quickly as people can't spread out nearly as much as they can at Magic Kingdom or Disneyland Park.
See what I mean with crowded? This is before the Halloween Party
In terms of rides, there is plenty to do in the park, though many of the rides have a fairly low capacity.
Because this park is close to several major US population centres it sees a lot of annual pass visitors, to the point where cast members will ask if you have an annual pass for any transaction where it provides a discount.
This does mean that staying at a hotel on site provides you with the advantage that the park fills up a little slower early in the morning, if you arrive either for Magic Morning time or just at park open there are quite a few popular rides that won't see super long waits until at least 10 AM.
Disney California Adventure is in my opinion a beautiful park, Carsland is probably some of the best themed landscape imagineering I've ever seen, and on a grand scale, and the only thing I can think of that might come close to it will be landscaping at the new Avatarland they're building at Animal Kingdom in Florida, and that will need a year or two to be completed.
Cars Land, the imagineering is quite impressive here
The section around Soarin' fits right in with the neighbouring Grand Californian and is exactly what I imagine the great national parks in the US would look like.
The parts around the pier and California Screamin' seem like a throwback to the 50s coastal amusement parks you see in film.
It has a nice and clean layout, with plenty of room, so the park doesn't feel as crowded as quickly, though its attraction count is a little low, and many of its top attractions appear to have pretty low capacity, so wait times fly up once the crowds hit them in the morning.
This is one park where the fast pass is king. Soarin', Radiator Springs Racers, Toystory Midway Mania and California Screamin' see such long waits that the only realistic way to do them is to get a fast pass for them, or be prepared to wait a long time. Soarin' is doable if you're very early, as its wait time probably won't go past 30 minutes until 10 in the morning, but everything else will be over 45 minutes almost instantly.
Radiator Springs Racers generally didn't go below 80 minutes during my time in the parks, and grabbing a fast pass meant doing a literal sprint for it's fast pass distribution point first thing in the morning, the queue for it extending from the fast pass station all the way through Bug's Land, with all passes for the day given out by 10:30.
A Disney Hotel really isn't necessary, there are many 3rd party hotels around the parks, many of them closer to the actual entrance than the Disney Hotels.
There also aren't enough perks for staying at a Disney hotel to account for the price difference, no meal plans as we understand them, no fast pass advantages, or anything like that.
I really enjoyed my stay and visit here, and the Halloween Party was fun, but in many ways it is a small park like DLP, and much like DLP a 4 day visit will easily let you do everything, though here the crowds are worse due to the prevalence of annual passes from the many major cities nearby.
If you go, and it is certainly worth going, then really make sure you know when there are no holidays going on, because that really doesn't help the crowds.
I was unaware that my visit coincided with the holiday associated with Columbus Day, and it was noticeable.
Universal Studios Hollywood:
This can be fairly brief. This park is quite small, and if you're willing to get out of bed to enter the park early at 8AM you can probably finish a majority of the rides in the park before lunch without seeing too crazy wait times, the shows will be harder to see in one day to be honest.
So if you want, you can do this park in a single day, just get there early and take advantage of the short waits in the morning. Most rides won't see long waits until at least 10-11 AM.
Ride Capacity is surprisingly good for the most part, so even later in the day the waiting times won't get too crazy, with a few notable exceptions (Transformers the Ride and The Forbidden Journey see long waits).
The major thing here appears to be that this is an active movie studio, which happens to have a theme park alongside it, rather than anything else.
The Studio Tour here is pretty nice, and apparently the VIP thing they offer is really cool, but rather expensive (it basically triples the cost of a single day ticket).
Also, there's the escalators...
Giant monstrosities running up and down the hill to move visitors to the lower lot and the studio tour, the hills are rather steep here so I can see why they did it.
Another thing that really stood out in my opinion is the warning signage. There is so much more of it compared to the Disney Parks at Anaheim, it was really odd to be honest.
As for hotels, the Sheraton and Hilton are basically a short walk uphill from the park and Citywalk, though both hotels share a shuttle running back and forth from the hotels to the Citywalk, so there's no real need to walk over. But since the service doesn't start until 8AM, you'll need to walk over if you want to make the most of early access to the park with your tickets. These hotels aren't cheap, but there aren't too many hotels close to the park.
Both parks hosted many foreign guests, surprisingly large numbers given the location of these parks (multiple major cities are close by, and those are majority Caucasian I believe).
DLR and DCA at times seemed to have a majority of Hispanic guests, to the point where I was surprised that most signage wasn't at least in English and Spanish, rather than English alone.
At Universal a majority of the visitors appeared to be of Asian origin. Much of the signage had additional text added (on stickers mostly) in what I assume was either Chinese or Japanese (sorry, I don't really know either language well enough to easily distinguish between them), at the Hilton a lot of the restaurant staff appeared to be Asian as well, I assume for the same reasons, many guests from that region of the world.
I can't really explain why there was such a big difference in ethnicities between the 2 parks though, you'd expect people to visit both, given how close they are, but this appeared to not be the case.