My family (two adults, 10 year old, and a 7 year old) recently visited Disneyland. There are plenty of descriptions about Disneyland trips on the web. So I’m not going to describe every single thing we did. This post will cover some of the highlights, tips, and things I learned during our trip so that you can hopefully improve your own trip.
My kids are 10 and 7. My 7 year old met the height requirements for all rides in both Disneyland and California Adventure. If you are going with young kids it is worth checking the requirements to make sure your child can ride attractions you are interested in. Many rides at Disneyland have dark or potentially scary parts that can be frightening to small children. We didn’t really consider this at first so we went on some rides such as Haunted Mansion early in the trip so our 7 year old was then apprehensive later in the trip going on some dark rides. If this may be a problem for your kids you should postpone any potentially scary rides until later in the trip.
Airports: Don’t assume that LAX is the best airport, consider some of the smaller airports in the area such as John Wayne or Long Beach airports if you can. We used Long Beach airport on JetBlue, the airport was very small and easy to manage, plus it was closer than LAX.
Rental Car: A car is handy if you are going other places other than Disneyland. It sat in the hotel parking lot for a few days but parking was free and it made things easier so I’m glad we got it.
Hotel: The Disney hotels were too expensive and really the only benefit was that you can get into the parks an hour earlier (but even this feature wasn’t so useful, see below). I highly recommend that you stay as close as possible to the parks. The two closest hotels to Disneyland are the Park Vue Inn and the Best Western Plus Park Place. Parking is $10 at the Best Western so take that into account when comparing prices. Both of these hotels are literally right next to the crosswalk that goes to the main entrance. We stayed 4 nights at the Park Vue and it was nice and the price was fairly reasonable. It had free parking, wifi, and breakfast. The pool and hot tub where nice too, though we only used it the first night we were there since we were in the parks the other days.
Tickets: We bought 3 day park hopper tickets. 3 days was a good amount of time, we got to do most of what we wanted to without feeling rushed. 4 days would have been too much. We paid extra for the park hopper feature, it was our first trip and the extra flexibility seemed like a good idea. But in actuality we only switched parks during the same day once and only for an hour. I wish we had saved a little money and not bought the park hopper.
Disneyland is bigger and has more rides than California Adventure so we spent 2 days in Disneyland and only 1 in California Adventure. Most of the California Adventure rides seemed kind of boring so 1 day in this park was enough.
For a 3 day ticket or longer you get one morning when you can enter Disneyland an hour earlier than the normal opening time on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. This only works at Disneyland, not California Adventure. Disneyland hotel guests can enter an hour earlier on every day they stay in the hotel and it works at both parks.
We took advantage of this one day, but it didn’t seem all that useful. During the extra hour only Tomorrowland and Fantasyland are open. So while there are less people, there are fewer places for them to go so it didn’t seem any less crowded than regular opening time. It is somewhat useful since you can get an extra hour in the park, but just treat it as an extra hour and not some super magical time where you can walk onto every ride in the park.
General Park Info: Our trip was August 21 – 23. The end of summer was supposed to be a slightly slower time. I wasn’t really sure what to expect with crowds and lines, I didn’t want to be spending all my valuable vacation time waiting in lines. Turns out it was actually great, I don’t think we really spent more than 10 or 15 minutes waiting even for the most popular rides. And even then the Disney queues themselves are somewhat interesting with robots or other things to look at so I never once felt like I was wasting my time. Here are my tips for rides:
- Get to the parks first thing in the morning. There are less people so you can do more rides.
- Plan your rides around Fastpass. If a ride offers a Fastpass then use it. I saw people waiting in a 60 minute line for rides that offer Fastpass. I’m not really sure why, just get a Fastpass, go do something else, then come back later and you only have to wait a few minutes to get on the ride. Fastpass is really great, I don’t think I’ll ever visit a theme park again that doesn’t have a similar feature.
- Before you go get the Disneyland app and take a look at ride times to get an idea which rides tend to get longer lines. For example, the Nemo submarines always seemed to have a long line and doesn’t have Fastpass. Do this ride within the first hour of opening so you don’t have to wait long. Save the rides that offer Fastpasses until later in the day.
- There is a site called TouringPlans.com. It will generate a custom itinerary that plans your entire day. At first I thought this was a good idea and paid for a subscription. But later on after I did more reading on the rides it turned out that I didn’t really need it. The site has useful information about the rides and estimated waits, but I ended up never using the custom itinerary. Once you do a little research on the rides it isn’t that hard to have a general plan and just decide while you are in the park what you want to do never (with a little pre-planning for Fastpasses).
- Afternoon breaks are definitely worthwhile if you have a close hotel. We were at the park opening each day and were there until around 2pm. Then we walked back to the hotel and spent maybe a couple hours napping/resting in our dark, air conditioned room. Then around 5 we went back to the park and spent the rest of the evening there. I don’t think we could have spent as much time in the parks without this midday rest.
- Stay as late as possible. Similar to the morning hours the late evenings have less people and shorter lines. We usually left the park around 10pm after the fireworks show. The last night we stayed until park closing at midnight. After 11pm there where noticeably less people and lines were much shorter. That’s why I recommend midday breaks, it lets you experience the morning hours and still have the energy to stay up late.
Food: A decent breakfast was provided by the hotel each day. For lunch we brought granola bars, trail mix, etc into the park and supplemented by buying a small amount of lunch food to save money.
The official Disneyland policy is no outside food, but in reality they don’t mind if you bring in outside food. As long as you’re not bring in giant coolers of food you’re fine. There is a bag check to get in, but they’re just looking for weapons, not food. We brought food in each day and nobody said anything.
We tended to eat dinner later than normal, around 8pm or so. My favorite restaurant was Rancho del Zocalo next to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Prices weren’t much more than you’d pay outside the park and the food was pretty good. The atmosphere was really great after dark. There was plenty of seating and the outside lighting was dim and with the warm evenings it really seemed like eating at a Mexican hacienda.
I really recommend a Camelbak hydration backpack. You can fill it up with water and it is easy to drink out of it all day. Everyone stays hydrated which goes a long way to keeping your energy levels up. You can also put your snacks and other items in it. Our family could fit everything we needed for the day in the one backpack. It is easy to bring the backpack on all the rides. Just put it at your feet or in the storage pocket in the ride. You can even bring it on the looping roller coaster, California Screamin.
Smartphone App: Make sure to get the Disneyland app. It is really handy for checking for wait times plus the time of shows. There are some 3rd party apps for wait times in the app stores, you might want to check out a few of those to see which one works better for you. Between the Disneyland app and taking picture I seemed to run my battery down pretty low most days. You may want to consider bringing an extra power source for charging like this small Anker charger, since there are no free places to charge phones in Disneyland. There are charging lockers near the entrance of the parks where you can leave your phone for charging (I didn’t use them). There is a fee and then you have to leave your phone in the locker and spend time to go back to retrieve it later. Much easier to just bring your own portable charger and then you can use it for other things too.
- Space Mountain / Hyperspace Mountain – You may have to wait many hours to ride Space Mountain so get a fastpass before lunch or a break. Also note that fastpasses do run out so don’t wait until the end of the day to get one for this ride. This ride is well worth it, especially with the Star Wars theme as Hyperspace Mountain. Everyone in the family really liked this one.
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – If you get a Fastpass for this ride it doesn’t prevent you from getting one for another ride. The Fastpass machines are right next to the Star Tours machines so get one for each ride at the same time. We rode this one quite a few times since it is so easy to get Fastpasses.
- Paint the Night Parade – I’ve always thought parades were kind of boring. But not this one! This is a really awesome parade. The bright lights, catchy music, and great characters make this so fun. It was so great we saw it three times, once twice in the same night. People start lining up for this parade hours in advance. But if you can stay up late I really recommend going to the second showing (10:45pm in the summer). You can show up just a few minutes before the parade and get a good view. If you don’t want to waste time waiting I recommend going to one of the walkways between Tomorrowland and the center circle. The cast members will rope off sections on the side of the walkway where you can stand/sit and keep the center clear for walking. If you sit right next to the rope you can have an unobstructed view because the walkway will be clear. We did this twice and both times the kids could see everything even though there were a bunch of people in front of us.
California Adventure Attractions:
- Radiator Spring Racer – This ride always has a long line and the Fastpasses are claimed very quickly. Get a Fastpass for this ride as soon as the park opens to make sure you get one before they run out. Before opening you can get to the circle in the park but you can’t go down the road towards Carsland. Wait in the crowd on the left side of this road. Once the park opens the fastpass line will start on the left side of this road (the Fastpasses aren’t near the ride, probably to prevent people from running across the park at opening). The Fastpass line looks long but it goes pretty quickly.
- Soarin’ Around the World – Fastpasses will run out later in the afternoon. So get one of these Fastpasses as your second pass.
- World of Color – This show isn’t quite as fun as the Paint the Night parade but it is still worth seeing. A Fastpass lets you in to specific viewing area. The viewing areas don’t have tiered seating or anything so even with a Fastpass it is still difficult for children (and shorter adults) to see unless you are right in front. This Fastpass doesn’t prevent you from getting others so get it as soon as is convenient. Fastpass machines are located by Grizzly River Run. Machines for the ride and show are right next to each other, get passes for both.
- Frozen – Live at the Hyperion – This is a Broadway type show. Somewhat better because they add some special effects. If you like this type of show definitely go, but if you don’t then go ahead and skip it. If you want the earlier show times then get a Fastpass (near the Hyperion theater) as soon as possible in the day. For the later show times you can wait maybe a couple of hours to get the pass, but don’t wait too long because the passes do run out. Definitely get a pass because it guarantees that you get in. I heard of people waiting two hours to get in without a Fastpass and even then you’re not guaranteed to get in.
- It’s Tough to be a Bug! – This is a 4D movie that has some parts that can be scary for young children. It is in the children’s section of the park so I didn’t really expect this. My 7 year old had to leave early because he thought it was scary. We should have just skipped this one, it didn’t seem that great anyway.
- Toy Story Midway Mania! – Similar to Astro Blasters in Disneyland but it doesn’t have Fastpasses. Ride it as early as possible in the day before the lines get long.