We just got home from our very first trip to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (DCA) with our boys who are now 6 and 3, I wanted to share tips and advice and our favourite things from our 5 days spent at both parks while it’s fresh in my memory. I have no doubt that these tips will transfer over to families with young girls and a combination of both, but I am not giving the total picture, because I have no idea about the princesses at Disney, that wasn’t an interest to our boys and I’ve heard that is the thing for most little girls who visit Disneyland, so pardon my stereotype girl moms!
1. Be to either park first thing when the gates open – ½ hour before opening
It surprised me how lined up it was when we first got off the buses our first day on the east entrance, but these were just the lines through security. Some mornings they only had 2 security tents open with 2-3 security people checking bags per tent, so those lines went slow. If you enter from the bus stop side on the east, Disneyland is on your right and DCA is on your left; have your bags open and ready to be checked to make things go as fast as possible, sometimes you will get a random security check past the main security, it doesn’t take long.
2. Bring or rent a stroller
I cannot stress this enough! Had we not been given this valuable piece of advice, we would have paid for it as it was not on my agenda whatsoever (I never ever use a stroller at home). I rented a double sit and stand stroller from Traveling Baby Company in Anaheim for $11/day with a discount code I found. It was worth it’s weight in gold and this company delivers and picks it up right from wherever you’re staying. Ethan (3), sat in the front with the tray and drink holder and Braden either sat or stood in the back, it was perfect. It was also great for holding our own water bottles and bags/jackets/souvenirs in the stroller storage. The one we rented wasn’t the easiest to push around when both kids were in, but it did the trick and gave the kids much needed rest. Also a lot less space than a double wide stroller. You can rent strollers right at Disneyland for $15/day but they are single jogging type strollers so that didn’t work for my family.
3. When you start your day at Disneyland, head straight to Fantasyland
This was a piece of advice I got from my Disney expert friend Carolyn and I could see why. If it’s your first time, you will be awestruck walking down Main Street and seeing Cinderella Castle for the first time. I recommend getting in line for Peter Pan’s Flight first thing (at least one of your mornings) as this line up never let up any of the days that we were at Disneyland and was shortest in the morning. Then, since you’re right next door to Tomorrowland, it would be a good idea to send someone in your group to get FASTPASSES for Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters (can have another FASTPASS at same time as this one!), Star Tours or Space Mountain if that’s your thing!
Ethan, who is 3 years 4 months, loved the Casey Jr. Train in Fantasyland and all of us loved and did the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cup classic ride and did that many many times.
4. When start your day at DCA, send someone in your group to get Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASSES!
Most people I have talked with agree that Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land is the best ride in DCA, especially for kids. One person from your group (I hope you have help, at least from a spouse!) can take all of your park passes and go get FASTPASS for any ride. You can only hold 1 FastPass per hour, but it’s worth it to get an early FASTPASS for this ride. This ride always had at least a 20 minute wait (and that was rare) in the low season when we were there and went upwards of 90 minutes. It’s worth it to get there first thing so there’s not as bad of a line and then you can go again with your FASTPASS time. We always headed straight to Toy Story Mania too and frequently checked the wait times as it is the 2nd most popular ride in DCA according to wait times and was a fave of mine.
5. Download the official Disneyland app for your smart phone
If you’re from out of country, like we were, call your cell provider and get an American traveling plan. We paid $30 each for 500 MB data (plus calling and texting features) and this was invaluable to us. Not only did it help us all keep in touch with texting, but it really helped plan every single day with having access to a map of the parks at all times, what that wait times at the rides were, character locations and so much more like finding where we could buy a hot dog for supper one night in Disneyland! So do it — go download the Disneyland Mobile App!
6. Learn the FASTPASS system to ride the popular rides
I mentioned this already briefly, but getting to know the system really helps plan your day to get on the popular rides. The gist of it is, is that it allows you a time slot to go in the FASTPASS entrance and “cut” the main line and wait only 10-15 minutes for the ride within your FASTPASS time. I am definitely a newb, so you need to read a pro’s guide to the FASTPASS system.
7. Bring lots of your own snacks and water & have meal plans for lunch and supper
Sure you have to indulge in a churro, a Mickey Mouse pretzel and some popcorn (or whatever Disney snack you’re craving), but bringing our own snacks like granola bars, mandarin oranges, bananas, etc. saved us a TON of money. We also felt it worked better for us to have a plan for the day of where we were eating lunch and supper, it was a lot less stressful that way. Since the kids can be picky and we didn’t want to waste $7+ per child per meal, the best decision and most genius mom moment I had was buying a loaf of bread a a jar of Smuckers peanut butter/jam mix from Target for $2.82. The kids ate PB&J every single lunch, devoured them and never complained once.
- Feed the kids while you’re waiting in lines and make a plan for what you want to do next while they’re snacking
- I admit that even though we knew we will probably visit Disneyland every 5 years or so, I wasn’t willing to fork out $18 for a famous Monte Cristo sandwich and the thought of stopping for table service with reservations with two little boys didn’t excite me whatsoever — as they get older, absolutely!
- Our favourite place to eat at Disneyland was the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country as you order and wait for your food (burgers, sandwiches, wraps, fries, etc.) and take it to your own table. It was quiet, outdoors but sheltered, and reasonably priced.
- Our favourite place to eat at DCA was Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta at Paradise Pier. You could get a HUGE plate of pasta for only $10 that easily satisfied a pregnant lady AND her husband’s appetites! My in-laws and children especially loved it because you go inside to order your food and bring it outside to eat and listen to live music.
- We certainly found eating to be better and more convenient for our family at DCA vs. Disneyland as we felt there was more convenient/to-go food at DCA.
8. Get a 5 day Park Hopper Pass and take your time!
I have actually read more often than not to forego the Park Hopper option on park passes, as it does cost a bit more money, however all of us agreed that it was the absolute best choice for us and we park hopped on 3 of the 5 days back and forth many times! When traveling with kids, I think a 5 day pass is a must so you are not rushed at all and can revisit your favourite rides and attractions. This also allowed me and Ethan to return to the hotel for naps and rest every single afternoon and we also went back every afternoon and even into the evening. This way we avoided meltdowns and tantrums, the kids were absolutely amazing! Braden (6) did one full day (park opening to park closing) and only came back to rest 1 afternoon and he handled it very well.
9. Take in a parade and the fireworks once!
I actually didn’t plan to attend a Disney parade, but we happened upon the Pixar Play Parade in DCA and it was a wonderful way to see a lot of characters and stop and take a breather. The kids really enjoyed it, a lot more than “World of Color — Celebrate!” a nighttime water show at Paradise Pier that we also attended. It’s really late, Ethan couldn’t have cared less, even if you get a FASTPASS to this show, you still have to wait an hour to get a good spot and I wasn’t terribly impressed and wouldn’t do it again if it’s still running next time we go.
Jay stayed late on Friday night with his parents to see the Disneyland Paint the Night parade and the fireworks, and it was phenomenal, but very very busy — I’m glad I didn’t keep the kids there for that one on a weekend, and he agreed!
I didn’t plan on keeping my boys up until Disneyland park closes for fireworks any of the nights…but it just sort of happened on our last day there and I’m so glad it happened! It is super cliché to say, but it was so magical and they LOVED it! We got a spot not too farm from “it’s a small world” where they play projections on the front of the building and had a spectacular view of both sides of the fireworks. Be sure to keep an eye on the top of the Matterhorn because Tinkerbell and Nemo make appearances on the zip line!
10. Remember to stop, take it all in and take lots of photos!
Trust me, I definitely had the feeling more than once to rush, rush, rush wesimplycannotwasteanytimeandmissathing!!!! But once you get in your Disneyland groove, it’s just truly such a magical and special place to be, especially with children. I surprised myself…but I actually did not use, nor find, the Photopass system to be convenient (more on that later). I took my DSLR camera every single day, for at least half the day, and wish I would have tried to take more photos still, but I’m very pleased with the ones I did take. A smart phone is convenient and I certainly did use it, but it’s just not the same quality.
Any other tips you’d add?