If you’re like so many parents the word Disneyland brings so much excitement …and then stress/panic/paralyzing FEAR!!! (Ok, so maybe that was a little dramatic, but you get my point!). Don’t let the happiest place on earth be a stressful time for you!
We braved the heat and ventured to the Sunshine State in the middle of July. This was our third time going to Disneyland in the last 12 months, which isn’t typical, but we had a blast, even if we did sweat our booties off!! You can watch a live video on our How We Do FB page where we talk about our Disneyland tips and tricks, or you can read them here to help you take on the giant task of conquering Disneyland and most importantly ENJOYING the process!!
When traveling to Disneyland, it’s important that you have some sort of game plan. Here are some things you want to do before you go:
Set up a budget: know how much money you want to spend on hotel, park tickets, airline tickets, etc. Once you’re there know how much you will spend on a rental car, public transportation, parking, food, souvenirs. These don’t have to be exact numbers, but ball park estimates and I suggest going high. It’s always nice to come back from a trip feeling great because you spent less than expected, right??
Weather: Plan for the weather. If it’s going to be rainy/cold, bring extra layers. Pack a rain poncho so you can still enjoy Splash Mountain (and Disneyland in general) without getting soaked! If it’s HOT (like it will be for us), be sure to have extra water on hand. It’s a good idea to bring cooling neck towels or a misting fan to keep those body temps down during the heat of the day. This might sound like “no brainer” stuff, but it’s easy to forget the basics during the excitement of the trip.
Outline each day: Notice I didn’t say “plan every minute of every single day”. Obviously if you’re traveling with children, or large groups, things are bound to become a little bit crazy. Be flexible! And be realistic. Rather than cramming in as much as you can on paper, pick a few things you would like to do/see for each day; let the rest fall into place.
Ask YOUR KIDS: If you are traveling to Disneyland with your kids, ask THEM what they want to do; see what’s important to them. It might surprise you! This happened to Angie and I a couple years ago when we went to Disneyland together with both of our families. One day the kids wanted to focus on getting autographs and pictures with the characters, instead of going on rides. This surprised us, but actually turned out to be really fun! I bought the Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters for my kids to get autographs on this trip, they’re LOVED it! It’s half the price it was when I bought it (and I thought I was getting a great deal!!) The kids think it’s fun to look through the book and find facts about the characters.
Hotel Accommodations: There are several hotel options right near Disneyland. There are a few hotels that are actually part of the Disneyland Resort. They are often more expensive, but they do offer some nice perks, like entry into the parks an hour before opening, and they are in very close proximity to the parks (walking-distance). There are other hotel options that do not have an affiliation with Disney that are either within walking distance or they’re close enough that the hotels offer a free shuttle service to the parks. Or you can drive and park in the Disney parking lot for $20 per day. We typically stay in one of the hotels near Disneyland. For this trip Angie and Chad rented an apartment home through airbnb.com that was a 5-minute drive from Disneyland. So they parked in the Disney parking each day. You need to consider what other activities you are planning to do on your trip, and decide where the best location to stay would be, whether it’s close to Disney or maybe right on the beach. Angie’s family opted for a condo this time over a hotel just to have more space and a place with a kitchen.
My family stayed in a hotel just under 2 miles from Disneyland, the Hilton Homewood Suites (there is another one closer to Disneyland, probably within a mile that we would like to stay at in the future). They had a breakfast each morning and also provided a dinner each evening Monday-Thursday from 5-7. We weren’t expecting that, but it helped us save money on food! It was nice not to have to clean up after meals too. Our suite had two separate rooms and a kitchen that was fully stocked with plates and silverware, but wasn’t huge. We didn’t spend much time in our hotel so we didn’t mind. I didn’t have to cook or clean the whole trip so I was happy!! The kids enjoyed swimming during the day when we returned for naps; they also swam and hot tubbed at night. I would recommend staying at the Hilton Homewood Suites for sure. They offered a shuttle to Disneyland for a reasonable price, but we opted to drive there also. We wanted freedom to come and go when needed. HELPFUL HINT: we had a THULE cargo holder on the top of our car so they always pointed us to the Chip ‘n’ Dale Parking level! It’s the BEST ONE!! They direct all the RVs/larger vehicles there. We didn’t complain! 🙂 It was so easy to reach the tram and head to the park and probably saved us 15 min (or more) each time.
We all probably prefer to stay near Disneyland because we like to get there first thing in the morning, so the less time it takes to get there the better! There are several options, so find the one that works best for your situation and don’t hesitate to ask us questions!
Disney Gift Cards: Don’t forget!! If you apply for a Disney credit card through our link in this older post here and spend $500 within the first 3 months, you will get a $200 Disney gift card. It will take up to eight weeks to ship after you make your minimum spend so be sure to give yourself plenty of time if you plan on taking an earned gift card to Disneyland. Angie and Chad each applied for their own Disney credit card this spring, so they each earned a $200 Disney gift card. If I’m doing my math right ;), that’s $400 they were able to spend on parking, food, and souvenirs at Disneyland!!
Redeem Disney Rewards: If you already have the Disney credit card, don’t forget you can redeem your points and use them on a Disney gift card. I double checked and found I had $110 worth of redeemable cash after having my card for only 1 year and using it pretty minimally! It takes 5-7 business days for the credit card company to ship you your reward card so plan accordingly. I have mine!! It will likely be used on churro money. 🙂
Disneyland App: Download the free Disneyland app on your phone. It gives you wait times, helps you locate food and restrooms, tells you which characters are where, etc. It’s awesome!
Park Tickets: You can purchase tickets to Disneyland (which if you’ve never been, there are actually two different parks that are separate but both part of the entire resort, Disneyland and California Adventure) directly from their website. Or you can often find tickets a little bit cheaper through some travel agencies, like getawaytoday.com. When purchasing tickets, the more days you plan to spend at Disneyland, the better the daily rate you get. You can check out the price differences on their website. You also have options to buy either one park per day tickets (meaning you either choose Disneyland or California Adventure on any given day) or park hopper tickets where you can go back and forth between the two parks throughout the day. We have always opted for the one park per day tickets and we purchase multiple days. And when you buy 3-day passes or more, you get a Magic Morning, where you are allowed entry into the park an hour early on certain days. So on this trip we bought 4-day tickets and spent two days at Disneyland and two days at California Adventure. When you purchase multi-day tickets, you do not have to go on consecutive days, but your tickets must be used within 13 days of the first use. So we spent a Wednesday and Thursday at the parks, planned beach days for Friday through Sunday, and then went back to the parks Monday and Tuesday on this trip. This gave us a nice break because Disneyland is exhausting! Angie and her family did four days in a row because that’s just how it worked out best for them. But they would definitely recommend splitting it up to give the kids some rest days in between.
TOP THINGS TO BRING TO DISNEYLAND/CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE
Mickey/Minnie Mouse Ears: My friend Michelle has a boutique that sells Mickey ears and they are the cutest I’ve seen!!! They are all handmade, and the best I’ve seen! If she doesn’t have something you want, she’s happy to do custom orders too! And they’re cheaper than you’ll find in the park!
Disney Clothes: Love these Disneyland shirts for boys and girls from Target! (your wallet will too!) You might even want to get everyone matching shirts so it’s they’re easier to find! Everything is going to be more expensive in the park, so plan ahead and purchase what you need before you go!
Refillable water bottles, even score a cute character one for the kids for a great deal and bring it with you! There are various locations inside the park where you can fill up your water bottles for free!
Fanny pack, yes seriously, I said fanny pack!! These are back in style and if you feel like it, you can totally rock it!! Pretty convenient too, just sayin’. 🙂
If the fanny pack isn’t your thing, some people wear waterproof lanyards with their important belongings. Try it out!
Rain ponchos are great for the cold/rainy season, but bring one if you don’t want to get wet on a ride! (we will totally be hot enough that i’m sure we will want to get splashed as often as possible!)
Encyclopedia of Animated Characters Book. This is awesome (as I mentioned earlier). I saw on a blog post a while back that a lady bought this for her kids and had the characters sign their picture in the book!! Great idea! My kids have loved just looking through the book and reading about all the characters, they’ll be stoked if they actually get autographs in it. Definitely purchase worthy and much less expensive than the small autograph books you can buy at the park. Now it’s even half the price it was when I bought it!
Portable Phone charger: This could be very handy for obvious reasons. I wish I had one of these!! Angie brought one this trip, and I was a little jealous :). Something I will be bringing for SURE on our next trip. Nothing worse than a dead phone at Disneyland.
Misting fan! (already mentioned earlier) These are around $20 at the park and you can pick one up for about half that on Amazon before your trip.
Stroller: Angie and I both have toddlers, so strollers are a must. But I would argue that it’s useful to have a stroller with four- and five-year-olds as well. You walk A LOT at Disneyland, so everyone gets tired. But especially those little ones who aren’t used to walking that far can benefit from a stroller ride now and then. Angie’s six year old asked to either be carried or ride in the stroller several times on this trip. You can take your own stroller into the parks, or they also have them available to rent.
Snacks: Don’t forget the snacks too!! You are allowed to take food and drinks into the parks, just not coolers on wheels or the hard plastic coolers. So plan to take one of the insulated coolers if your snacks need to be kept cold. For us we don’t want to carry around an insulated cooler and we like to pack plenty of snacks, so we just bring foods that don’t need cooling. The food inside the parks is expensive, and we definitely purchase our fair share. But if you’re sticking to a budget, you might choose bring in some of your own food. Plus if your kids are like mine, sometimes they can be picky and they just want food that they’re used to. And if you’re looking for healthier options in the park, they’re harder to find. It also helps pass the time when you are standing in a long line to have a snack to give your kids. So we like to bring snacks like fruit, veggie straws, crackers, almonds, jerky, applesauce, peanut butter sandwiches, etc. That way we’re always prepared. We also bring in cold water bottles for everyone. There are actually water stations in various locations where you can refill water bottles too! It’s nice to be able to avoid paying $3.50 for a single bottle of water!!
I would also recommend bringing as few credit cards/valuable info into the park as possible. You often park your stroller and leave it for an hour or longer. I just put a credit card in my pocket and a little bit of cash. If you feel like you need more than that, a fanny pack is for you!! The bags I leave in the stroller are for snacks/drinks for the kids/diapers/wipes, etc.
Other Tips & Tricks
Go early! One of our biggest pieces of advice would be to get up early and go first thing in the morning to beat many of the crowds and much of the heat. You are able to walk right on to lots of rides (or wait for 5 minutes) for the first hour or two of the park opening. Then once the park gets busy and the weather heats up, we like to go relax at the hotel for the afternoon to get naps in, especially for the younger kids. And then we like to go back around dinner time to enjoy the park at night. It’s a great time to enjoy all the lights and watch the parades and night shows (including fireworks). And the rides at night can be so much fun, although sometimes the lines are longer!
Take Advantage of the Rider Switch and Fast Passes!!
The rider switch is great for parents and allows kids to ride their favorite ride TWICE! Definitely worth it. You can read more about the specific details, but basically you ask the cast member at the ride entrance for a rider switch. They usually ask you to point to who you will be switching with, so your spouse needs to be there too. Then they give you a pass that is good for up to three guests to get back on the ride. So after you go on the ride with your kids, your spouse can take the rider switch pass to the ride entrance and get in the fastpass line with two kids to get on the ride without having to wait again at the end of the line.
The fastpass can get you on some of the most popular rides without having to wait as long. Not all rides offer fastpasses and you can read more about the details, but this is the gist of it. If there is a long wait time on a ride you want to go on, get a fastpass. You will need to insert your park ticket(s) into the fastpass machine. It will print you out a ticket giving you a time frame of when you can return to the ride to hop in the fastpass line and avoid waiting so long. Sometimes you are able to use your fastpass within minutes and other times it’s not until much later in the day, so just pay attention to the current fasspass time. It will also tell you when you are eligible to get your next fastpass. Then you will need to scan your park ticket when it’s time to get on the ride. Such a time saver!!
Some of Our Favorite Foods You Don’t Want To Miss
THE BEST bread bowls are at the New Orleans Square at the Royal Street Veranda in Disneyland or the La Brea Bakery Cafe in California Adventure. It’s a MUST for us every time we go. The Royal Street Veranda has clam chowder and gumbo soups; both are amazing!! and the La Brea Bakery Cafe has delicious breakfasts, soups, salads, sandwiches, and bread bowls; you can’t go wrong!!
Angie’s new favorite food inside Disneyland is the Bengal Barbecue. They have grilled meat and veggie skewers with yummy sauces. Angie’s favorites were the Chieftain Chicken Skewer (chicken breast pieces in a Polynesian sauce) and the Safari Skewer (bacon-wrapped asparagus)!! The Bengal Beef Skewer (in a sweet Zulu sauce) was also really good.
Pirates of the Caribbean has an awesome restaurant INSIDE the ride. It’s called the Blue Bayou. Be sure to check availability though; reservations can be made days in advance!
Disneyland has the YUMMIEST caramel apples at the Candy Palace! Just grab one at any of their cute little shops on Main Street USA. My favorite is Caramel Apple Pie. SO GOOD!! I seriously just love looking at all the goodies they have…is it weird that it makes me so happy?? One of a kind yummyness. Literally a kid in a candy store. 🙂
One word: Churros, the best hands down. Get them for sure.
Dole Whips and Floats are another family favorite. They remind me of an orange julius but pineapple flavor mixed to perfection and bursting with flavor! SOLD.
Rancho Del Zocalo Mexican Restaurant is always fresh and quick located in Frontierland.
Mickey Ears Pretzel, everything tastes better at Disneyland….especially when it’s in the shape of MickeyMouse.
Flo’s V8 Cafe (California Adventure) and get the lightning McQueen souvenir while you’re there! My kids play with it often, they were just playing with it today. And the Roast Beef & Cheddar sandwich is delicious!
The Cozy Cone Hotel has some really cute places to get a quick snack, just walking through there makes me smile.
Mickey Beignets (pronounced ben-yay) are delicious, try them out!
Never saw a turkey leg on a stick until I went to Disneyland. If you like meat, you will like these turkey legs!!
Ice cream for dessert is always a favorite and we haven’t been disappointed yet! You can try several places but the Gibson Girl ice cream parlor is too cute to pass up.
We have been to Disney quite a few times and there’s STILL so many places we need to eat!! For all the Disneyland and California Adventure food options (and more) click here. We like to try new places each time we go.
Some Favorite Rides
We love all the rides!!! So I had to limit this list to just a few or I would go on for days!! 🙂 Some of the rides have height requirements, so just be aware if you have littles.
Cars and Carsland are probably our ultimate favorite of the favorites right now. With Cars 3 newly released it’s in high demand these days!
Pirates of the Caribbean is a close second. This is fun for the whole family as there is no height requirement.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad A fun, low-key, roller coaster type ride.
Soarin’ Around the World This is such a fun ride where you get to see some amazing sights around the world and feel like you are right there!
Indiana Jones Adventure This ride makes you want to go have an Indiana Jones movie marathon!
Splash Mountain This one is just a must do and probably one of the most well-known Disney rides.
Star Tours For all you Star Wars fans out there.
Grizzly River Run Be prepared to get wet!
Guardians of the Galaxy This is the old Tower of Terror. Similar ride experience just a different theme.
Jungle Cruise This is another great family ride!
California Screamin’ The biggest roller coaster at the park. Enough said. 🙂
Some other favorite rides that are more small-child friendly include the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, King Arthur’s Carousel, King Triton’s Carousel, The Little Mermaid-Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Monsters, Inc., and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Other Favorite Entertainment Options
The parades and shows are definitely worth watching! There are pamphlets available at the park entrance with maps and information about the various events going on throughout the day. Be sure to pick one up! We also love to meet the characters. Some of them are set up in specified locations throughout the day and others you will find just randomly walking around the park.
Meet Disney Princesses at Royal Hall. Both our boys and girls love getting to meet the characters, including the princesses! Here you get to meet three different princesses at once.
Meet the Radiator Springs Characters. There are random character appearances in Cars Land throughout the day, but there is also almost always one Cars character sitting right outside the Cozy Cone Motel. We were in Cars Land one evening this last trip, and DJ came out and hosted a dance party!! It was so much fun!
The Royal Theatre. A charming stage where some of your favorite Disney stories are retold in a fun, shorter version. Great for ALL ages!
Pixar Play Parade. I think this is my favorite parade at Disney. It’s specifically in California Adventure, and you get to see so many Pixar characters from favorite Disney movies like Monsters Inc, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Cars, and more!
Character Dining. There are various character dining experiences where you get to eat and meet characters on a more up close and personal basis.
Fantasmic. This is an awesome night show featuring lights, music, and magic over the water.
The character houses in Toon Town. It’s so fun to walk through the houses of characters like Mickey and Minnie or play at Chip ‘n Dale’s Treehouse. This is a great place to spend time, especially if you have small children.
Keep in mind these are merely SUGGESTIONS from our previous trips and things that we do (or at least try to) each time we travel to Disneyland. If you have other helpful tips please let us know!! If you like to do things differently that’s great too!! Please let us know if you have any questions by emailing us or commenting below. We tried to do some live videos while we were there, but unfortunately we had major phone service issues. But you can watch our trip recap with all our tips and tricks in our LIVE VIDEO over on our How We Do Facebook page! GREAT TIMES at the happiest place on Earth!!