I just returned from a glorious week-long vacation in California. It took place thanks to a little Arizona school schedule phenomenon called “Fall Break.” With the kids missing only three half-days, we packed our bags and headed to the Happiest Place on Earth, otherwise known as Disneyland.
But here’s the thing…if you look around, you see a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people who aren’t very happy in the Happiest Place on Earth.
Couples are giving each other death glares if not outright screaming at each other about the next show/line, what to eat, etc. Kids are breaking down because they’re overtired or overstimulated, but by God…the tired tyke needs to hold on for just one more magical moment!
I write this with love – because I too have experienced these unplanned breakdowns. My most vivid one took place when I was in high school. By the end of a day mostly spent talking about what line to stand in next, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I bought a hat featuring Donald Duck throwing a tantrum and pulled it down low over my eyes to show the world exactly how I was feeling. I think I may have actually screamed “FREEDOM” upon exiting the park.
Since that time, I’ve grown some, but have mostly learned best practices from my best friends. And so when someone asked me on a ride (we were on Day 3, they were on Day 1) if I had any tips…I realized that yes, yes I do. And, I have quite a few!
Hotel Location Matters. Do not underestimate the value of staying within walking distance to the park. Even convenient hotel shuttles have to be planned out, whereas walking 10 minutes can take place at a moment’s notice.
My favorite spot just by the Disneyland Resort is the Howard Johnson Anaheim. I’m buying into their “Retro Family Fun” slogan. It’s a third of the price of the park hotels and about as close, located next to convenient restaurants (including the ever-popular McDonald’s) and it features a pirate ship water park that your kids will LOVE. Also, about as equally important, they have a convenience store with adult beverages that may be enjoyed while relaxing in the jacuzzi of said water park.
The rooms are spacious and clean, and also feature a mini-fridge, Keurig coffee maker (if you’re like me and need a true jolt of java in the morning) and microwave.
Pre-Buy Your Tickets. There is a security line before you get in line to get into the park to wait in more lines for rides. DO NOT add an additional line to your day by buying tickets at the park entrance. It isn’t any more expensive to buy them in advance, and you can often find deals online. But be forewarned, the most I’ve found is $5-off per ticket (but hey, it’ll pay for a Pretzel in the park).
And in light of all these lines…plan at least 30 minutes just to get into the park. It’s an excellent time to apply sunscreen and make the kids feel like something’s happening. You just need to stay mobile as you do it.
Invest in a Brita Filtering Water Bottle & Pack Snacks. You can bring beverages and snacks into Disneyland!!! YES!!! My favorite option is the Brita Filtering Water Bottles. You can fill them up even and enjoy fresh, yummy water wherever you go. They’re perfect for refilling in lines, during a bathroom break, at lunch, etc. And, they’re not expensive.
Here’s why you need these…Your children are NEVER going to pass a concession stand and say “Gee mom, I am thirsty.” It’s going to happen when you’re 20 minutes deep in a 45-minute line.
As for snacks, I’m a big fan of packing crackers and fruit snacks. The combination provides both salty and sweet options, with the crackers being a little more substantial and filling between meals.
Again, you will only be asked for these whilst in line – so pack everything in a backpack since even a stroller must be left outside the ride entrance.
I love MouseWait because it’s updated in real time by people in the park…meaning it’s pretty up to date. I also love that it records historic crowd indexes to help plan which park to visit on which day – depending on how long you plan to stay (personally…I love a 3-day pass, one day per park and one day to mop-up what you missed). It also has great in-line/en-route features like a Hidden Mickey checklist!
I love the Disneyland App because it shows exactly where YOU ARE within a map of the park. It’s perfect for finding the nearest restroom or food, and it has information on all the character appearances! You can also BUY TICKETS via the Disneyland App and then don’t need to print anything to take to the park on Day 1. They’ll pull the tickets up on your phone and voila – you’re ready to enjoy your adventure.
Bite-the-Bullet: Buy a RideMax Subscription. A friend recommended RideMax to me and I was skeptical…until I tried it. It was tough to pay the 90-day membership fee having not used it before and knowing I would be using it for only three days, but I don’t think I could ever do the parks again without it.
Here’s How It Works:
- Choose a park and visit date. Decide when you will start and when you would like to end each day. You can even request set break times (e.g., perhaps a toddler nap time!).
- Select which attractions you want to visit. The website conveniently includes height requirements to help with ride selections and also features entertainment like shows and parades.
- Allow it to calculate your family’s custom plan for your day in the park.
I don’t know how many hours the programmers at RideMax spend pouring over Disney data, but let me tell you – They. Are. Experts! The plan outlines a set time and order for the attractions you selected in order to reduce your wait times. And the first morning we followed it in Disneyland was incredible…like, we walked onto Alice in Wonderland at our designated time…decided it was super cute and we’d like to ride again, and faced a 35-minute wait!
That said…they will suggest some things I tend to disagree with…like waiting until a certain time to obtain your Cars Fast Pass. I just don’t trust any given day enough to risk the park running out of fast passes obscenely early. So no matter what…send your party to “Bug’s Life” while you stop to get those passes first thing in the morning (if you’re a newbie like I was a couple years ago, know you need your park entrance passes to obtain fast passes…yes, that was an embarrassing moment).
And the most important tip…TALK ABOUT EXPECTATIONS.
It sounds so simple, right? Wrong. Chances are both you and whomever is attending Disneyland with you (including your tiny humans) have an idea in their mind of what it will be like. Maybe your husband or wife only wants to do the rides and skip parades. Maybe your daughter sees herself meeting every princess in person…after a 45-minute wait…and getting her signature. Maybe your son loathes the idea of visiting Fantasyland.
You won’t know unless you point blank ask and then outline everyone’s expectations. As a family, we did this during a “10-Days to Disney” countdown. And, while on our trip, we had a rule to talk each night about the day, how it went, and what we were thinking for tomorrow.
Plans change. Kids get tired. Try to remain flexible, but communicate what you MUST DO to leave your vacation feeling fulfilled. Then, be willing to compromise in other areas.
For me, I had to agree to head back to the hotel for some afternoon down time before returning to World of Color. If it were up to me, we would have stayed the entire day. But, my family needed to get some rest and feel refreshed. Later, at World of Color, I watched people all around me arguing and angry at one another for whatever reason. I knew that we would have been right there with them if we didn’t have this important family rule of talking expectations and being flexible.
I absolutely LOVE going to Disneyland. And I love it more than ever thanks to my helpful friends who shared all these great tips and tricks with me. Hopefully this is also helpful for you and you’ll spend your next visit at the Happiest Place on Earth…well, happy!
Much Love, H
Have additional tips to share? Help each other out by posting them in the comments!