Let’s just start this off with an admission: I love Disney. Everything about it. I love their movies. I love their history. I love their theme parks. They work so hard at making everything they do above and beyond expectations. And when you spend a few days in their parks you see that they excel at giving you the complete experience. Sights, sounds, smells, anticipation, excitement, full and complete theming for every single space you walk through. They are so detail oriented and I just love to explore their creations.
So, as you can imagine, I love traveling to Disneyland (living on the west coast, I have yet to make it to WDW, but I will soon). That is compounded by my love of travel planning. So in preparation for each and every one of our family’s trip I scoured books and websites for the best tips. With my research and our experience doing Disney as a family, I have compiled a long list of helpful Disney tips.
With spring break upon us I thought I might let you in on a few of my Disneyland secrets.
5. Know The Territory
Disneyland is big and confusing and designed to sink you so far into the land you are in that you forget where you came from and where you are going. This overwhelms even the calmest guest. My theory is this: I am Mom. I will be expected to take kids to the bathroom, find food, decide where to go next and get us to the exit at the end of the day. I may as well know these things in advance and avoid having to search the park map with my screaming toddler as he does the potty dance in the middle of crowded Adventureland.
Disney has detailed maps of all it’s theme parks online. Take a look at them at home before you leave for your trip. Study them. Know where you are going before you go there. So, when you enter the chaos of Main Street and you need to figure out what to do first, you will know exactly where to point the stroller.
Disney even has pdf versions of their maps that you can print at home. Do this. To arrive with a map of your own means less panic when you’ve forgotten to pick one up at the entrance. Plus, your kids can look at it on the plane and get excited for what’s coming when they land.
4. Use Rider Swap/Single Rider Lines/Fast Pass
Rider Swap: Do you and your spouse both want to take in Tower of Terror but your little one is scared or not tall enough? Let the cast member at the entrance know. You’ll both be able to stand in line. When you get to the front, one of you will get on the ride, the other will stay with your child at the front of the line.
When the first rider is done, they will take the child and the other rider will ride. No need for waiting in line twice. Just make sure the theming in the line area isn’t too scary for your little one. This works great for parents with infants. Sometimes they will give the second parent a rider switch fast pass, so the child doesn’t have to walk through theming that will scare them.
Single Rider Line: This is exactly what it sounds like. Some larger rides, like Splash Mountain, offer a special line for single riders. You’ll be whisked to the front via another entrance and you’ll fill in ride cars with empty spaces. This gets you on the ride fast, but you’ll be riding with strangers. If you would be riding alone anyway, take advantage of this.
Fast Pass: By far, Disney’s best and most confusing line shortening program. Here’s how Disney outlines the process:
1. Look for the FASTPASS distribution area near the entrance of an attraction (example shown above and at right).
2. Check the FASTPASS “Return Time” display to learn when you can return to experience the attraction (Fast Passes are given for a specific ride time).
3. Insert your Disneyland Resort admission ticket, readmission ticket or Annual Passport into the FASTPASS machine.
5. Enjoy the rest of the Disneyland Resort.
6. Go to the “FASTPASS Return” queue at your Return Time, show your FASTPASS ticket to the Cast Member and enjoy the attraction!
Essentially, it is using your theme park ticket to reserve a spot on a ride between a certain time. Only a certain number of fast passes are given out each day so it helps to get them in the morning or early afternoon. They are usually gone by 3pm. Also, Fast Pass is only offered for the big rides that usually have long lines.
3. Buy Souvenirs In Advance
The Disney Store, Disney online retailers – even Walmart – all have better deals than Disneyland. Your kids will never know that those pencils and magnets came from the mall instead of The Emporium. And they are so much cheaper.
Here’s what we do: I go to the Disney Store before we leave and buy a t-shirt for each of my kids ($6 each). I sneak it into my suitcase, along with handwritten notes welcoming them to Disneyland “from” Mickey, Buzz, Tiana or whatever character is their favorite of the moment. Usually it says something like, “I’m so excited to see you tomorrow!” or “Hope you have a great time on the rides!”.
Upon checking into our hotel (or after our first day in the park) I make sure I am the first in the room. I lay out the shirts and notes on the bed. My kids come in and are shocked that their favorite characters left them a note and a gift. Other souvenirs don’t seem as special as their gifts from Mickey.
2. Bring Your Food
Food is by far the most expensive part of your day at Disneyland. If you buy all of your food in park, chances are you’ll be trying to cut costs by buying cheap quick service food. At Disneyland, that food is not great and still pretty spendy.
We always bring food from home. I pack instant oatmeal packets, bowls and spoons for breakfast in the hotel. I heat water using the in room coffee maker.
For lunch I pack bagels, granola bars, raisins, snack packs (of Teddy Grahams & Goldfish), crackers and dried fruit. When we get there I stop at a grocery store and buy cream cheese, string cheese, water bottles and fruit (for breakfast and lunch). I pack our lunch food in a backpack with waters (unopened) extra clothes for the kiddos (for when they inevitably get wet), my camera, etc… “Snacks” can be taken in, so I make it look like snacks. No paper sacks, no major tupperware. I bring ziploc bags from home. One note: don’t use insulated bags or coolers. They are a definite no-no. Most security people will allow you in with no problem if you have kids and tell them you need food for snacks.
This way, you don’t have to purchase breakfast, lunch or snacks. You can save your money and maybe choose a good meal for dinner. We like to hop on the Disneyland Railroad around lunch time. We eat on the train as it makes a full circle around the park. We enjoy the view, eat in relative peace and quiet and finish in time to disembark back where we started. It’s a nice midday break.
1. Adjust Your Expectations
You could spend weeks exploring The Disneyland Resort. From time at the pool to shopping to special tours to standing in line, there is always something more to do. If you are traveling with your family you need to understand what is possible for their ages.
Are they young? They may not want to stand in long lines. You might as well pass them up so your kids have fun.
Will they want to spend all their time on the playground in Toontown? Bring a book, or better yet your camera, to entertain yourself while they play.
Will they need naps? Plan to head back to the hotel during the afternoon rush (the time of longest lines anyway).
In short, don’t be disappointed about what you can’t do. Fully enjoy what you can do. And be ok with passing some things by. Give your kids a trip tailored to their age and interests and they’ll have a ball – and you will too.
The first time we went my son was 20 months and my daughter was an infant. We spend most of our time on slow train rides. The second time my kids were 2 and 3. We didn’t ride a single adult ride, but we watched each and every parade and met every character. The third time we went my kids were 6, 5 and 18 months. My son was just a bit too short for California Screamin’ so we focused on the fact that he was now tall enough for Space Mountain – and we passed right by the other rides.
Knowing in advance what we could and could not do kept us from disappointment. And it helped us enjoy what we could do. We allowed our kids to totally engage in what they were interested in and were able to soak up the smiles and giggles.
Questions? Feel free to ask. I could talk about Disneyland all day!