I LOVE Disneyland. There is nothing more nostalgic for me than walking down Main Street listening to the cheerful music, seeing Cinderella’s Castle, walking around the Statue of Walt Disney holding Mickey Mouse’s hand, and realizing that I am in the happiest place on Earth.
It reminds me of when I was a little girl and all the excitement I would feel when my parents would take me to Disneyland. Now, as a mom, I get to see and feel that magic through my kids’ eyes as I watch them have fun at Disneyland.
That being said, being a mom at Disneyland is a daunting task. First, there is the planning and prep. Then you have to get there and keep track of everyone. Traveling with little kids, especially to a place like Disneyland, can sometimes feel more overwhelming and stressful than it is fun.
So, as an avid Disneyland lover and frequent visitor, I thought I would share my personal tips and tricks on surviving Disneyland. Hopefully, I can help take some of the stress out of planning and executing your Disneyland trip so that you can enjoy your time together and have a great trip.
What Time of Year is Best for Disneyland?
If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time of year to go to Disneyland is in the offseason. We like to take our kids out of school for a couple days and go in January, February, or early March. Late September, early October, or early November are good times to go also. Our family avoids the summer for a couple reasons. 1. The heat. 2. The crowds.
I also recommend that, if possible, you avoid Disneyland during spring break season for California and surrounding states. For those states this tends to be mid March-early April. Christmas and New Years can also be difficult but do have some unique events. All holidays or 3-day weekends are bad ideas for crowds.
Depending on when you decide to go, you can go to Disneyland’s website and see a list of rides and attractions that may be closed for renovations during your stay. That is one downside to going during off season as there are typically some bigger rides that are closed.
The least busy days of the week to go to Disneyland are during the middle of the week. If you are doing a 3-day pass I would suggest Tuesday-Thursday. Or if you are looking for a break in the middle of your Disney days, I would suggest going on a Mon, Wed, and Thurs. This will help you avoid the weekend crowds.
The Best Places to Stay at Disneyland
Disneyland has resorts right on the Disneyland property. If you are looking for the ultimate Disney experience I would recommend staying in one of these. They are convenient and fun and magical, but expensive.
Cheap but Awesome Alternatives to the Disneyland Resort
If you are on a budget, there are plenty of great hotels and resorts right across the street that are within walking distance. I would recommend a place that serves a continental breakfast. I love a free meal that feeds my hungry crew. I have five kids, so at this point, we no longer fit in a regular hotel room. So, I like to book a condo or a two room hotel. We like to stay at Dolphin’s Cove or Marriott hotels due to the larger rooms.
The next time we go I would like to stay at the Courtyard Marriott Anaheim Theme Park Entrance. There is a water park in the middle of the hotel! It might be fun to break up the days at Disney with a little water fun. If you are willing to stay a few blocks or even a few miles away from the parks, the rooms will get cheaper, but you will have to pay for parking in a Disney lot and be shuttled in, which is around $15 a day. I like to find deals on kayak.com or hotels.com.
The Best (and Worst) Places to Buy Tickets for Disneyland
There are so many different places to buy tickets. I prefer to buy my tickets locally (I live in Utah). Here in my home state there are many websites or facebook pages where people are selling tickets. You need to be very careful when taking this route, though.
Purchasing Used Tickets
A few years ago Disneyland changed their ticket policy and now when you go to the park for your first day they take your picture. When you return for your next few days they match your ticket with your smiling face. Where this becomes a problem is when you try to buy a used ticket from someone who has already used a day or two on their pass.
If you buy this pass unknowingly and show up at Disneyland, they will scan your pass and it will be someone else’s smiling face that matches the ticket. They will not let you in the park. Sad face! So be sure to buy tickets that have never been used.
Buying Tickets Online
My favorite business to buy tickets from is getawaytoday.com. They have great deals on tickets! They also have great deals on other fun attractions that you may want to look into. Another good option is to purchase through the Alumni Services of your University. These have the cheapest prices that I have found. If you live in a neighboring state to California I would check with your local Costco to see if they are running a deal on passes, if they are Wham Bam!
You can save money on your park tickets if you do one park per day and don’t do park hopper passes. We like this option. With all the little legs we have in our family, we like to stay put in one place to save our energy. This is a great way to save money.
How Many Days do you Need at Disneyland?
Trying to decide how many days to go to Disneyland is hard! You want to have the full experience, but you don’t want to be so exhausted that you can’t even enjoy it. The first time we went we had two small kids and we went five days. It was way too much.
When we go in the off season we get a 3-day park hopper pass. A hopper pass allows you to “hop” back and forth between Disneyland and California Adventure as much as you would like.
We take our time, we see all the shows we want, we do all the rides we want multiple times, we take it all in, and we are satisfied. We are still tired, but not extremely exhausted.
If you are going for the first time and it is busy season you will be standing in longer lines. So, if it is important for you to see and do everything you may want to purchase a full five days. Consider breaking it up in the middle of your family trip with a visit to the beach for some rest and relaxation.
How to Keep Track of your Kids at Disneyland
Yeah! You’ve made it in the park. Now how do you keep track of everyone?? If your kids are anything like mine, it’s easy for them to wander off when they see anything sparkly, shiny, sticky, or colorful. In other words, pretty much anything! Strollers are my best friend, but for those times when the littles won’t sit and want to walk around, you need a trick to keep track of them, so here is my tip.
When your day starts, put a band-aid on their upper arm, somewhere where they won’t pick at it and tear it off. Write your phone number on it. Then if they wonder off and get lost your number is right there!
For the older kids who might know their way around, come up with a meeting spot that is very familiar to them where you can meet. I would suggest the entrance to the castle, or the Walt Disney statue and tell them to stay there until you come for them. And I would also invest in these awesome leashes. My kids actually don’t mind wearing them!
How to Beat the Lines at Disneyland
Here are a couple ways to beat the lines at the parks:
Each of the bigger rides and attractions in both Disneyland and California adventure has a fast pass station where you can take your park ticket and get a special ticket that will get you to the front of the line at that specific ride at a later time during the day. This is best-explained right from the Disneyland website. Basically, it’s a really awesome way to head straight to the front of the line on really busy rides. But you only get one at a time and everyone has to have a fast pass, so be sure to read the rules carefully.
A lot of people never heard of the stroller pass. It’s awesome for families with young kids. On the larger rides, where little ones aren’t big enough to go, head to the entrance and tell them you need a stroller pass. This pass allows that adult sitting with the stroller to head to the front of the line with two other riders once the rest of the family is done riding the ride. How great is that?
So, dad takes the older kids on a ride and I stay out with the little two kids and wait. When dad and the older there are done, I get to head to the front of the line and take two kids with me, so we just rotate between the older kids on who gets to ride again.
If you find a ride that you love and there is no line at the moment, I recommend going on it a few times.
Disneyland Wait Times App:
There could be times later in the day where there could be a long line. If you have a smartphone you can download an app called Wait Times for Disneyland or there are a few other FREE apps that keep track of how long the lines are for each ride. So, throughout your day you can check in on your app to see how long the lines are for your favorite rides and hit the ones with the shortest wait times.
How to Save Money on Your Disneyland Trip
A Disney trip can add up fast. You may be having nightmares about $$ flying out the window. But there are ways to save so it’s not so bad! If your hotel has a mini fridge, I’d head to the store and buy what you need to make lunches. If you can bring lunches and pack your own snacks and bring them in the park you can save hundreds of dollars, as it’s so expensive to eat at the park.
For dinner, if you can eat in Downtown Disney you will save some money, too. Our favorite kid-friendly restaurants in Downtown Disney are Rainforest Café and Tortilla Joes but there are many other yummy restaurants.
Saving Money on Trinkets
Oh, the Disney fluff that is a must! You could spend your life savings buying “things” at Disneyland. Here’s a tip. Save your money and don’t buy anything in the park!
There is a Walmart one exit away from the park that has Disney items for sale. They have shirts, keychains, stuffed animals, hats, magnets, and all sorts of stuff. Before you even leave home there are stores that now sell Disney clothing and items. Target is a great place to buy Disney clothing if you’re looking to wear Mickey and Minnie shirts at the park.
There are a couple of moments that I will take the plunge and splurge at Disneyland. I am a sucker for the Dole Whip pineapple soft serve ice cream. It is found outside of the Tiki Room. Good gravy it’s delicious! You can get just the soft serve ice cream or you can get it as a float with the ice cream and fresh pineapple juice, heaven help me! I hear the turkey legs are to die for too, not something I would spend money on. The Blue Bayou is a restaurant in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, you need to try the
Count of Monte Cristo sandwich, yummers. I would recommend making a reservation. If are willing to let your kids get toys within the park there is a Build a Bear in Downtown Disney that has really fun Disney themed outfits to go along with your animal. There is also a really fun store in Tomorrowland by Space Mountain that lets you build your own light saber.
Must-See Events at Disneyland
The parades. They are like no other. My kids go ga-ga over the acrobatics, the floats, the costumes. Arrive at events early to get a good seat. This is especially important for the light parade.
The best thing to do is to map out what time the parades are and then ask a Disney employee where the parade route is. This is a great time for the kids and a parent who can go on the bigger rides to go a ride while a parent and the littles grab a good seat on the curb.
The parades are a great time to take a snack and water break and rest your feet. The look on my kids’ faces and watching them dance along as the parades go by was worth all the money we spent on the whole trip. I would also not miss the show in California Adventure. It is a new production this year – FROZEN!
It is about an hour long in an air-conditioned theater. You will want to get a fast pass for this event. It is a large theater that fits a lot of people but you don’t want to miss it!
In California Adventure our absolute favorite is Crush the Talking Turtle and the Toy Story Mania ride. Crush the Talking Turtle has been updated to include new features from the new movie Finding Dory. You will also want to try out the newly renovated Soarin’ Over the World, formerly known as Soarin’ Over California. Grab a Fast Pass early on in the day so you don’t miss this ride.
World of Color
Also in California Adventure the World of Color Show is a must-see. For the World of Color grab a fast pass at the beginning of the day as this will determine where you’ll sit.
The show is a video presentation projected on a wall of water at night that goes along with lights and music. It is awesome!
*Fast passes to the World of Color show and the Frozen show are the only fast pass passes that you can have at the same time as other fast passes.
My Least Favorite Attractions at Disneyland
What Disney offers that I could live without are the princess and character lines. Ugh! You could spend your entire trip standing in line to see Tinkerbell for 45 seconds. Now, you may have a princess lover in your family or maybe you planned your whole trip around going to see Mickey Mouse, so I don’t want to discourage you from doing it if that is what you came to do. But if it is something on your list that is “take-it- or-leave- it”, LEAVE IT!
If you happen to go in the off season and you get to the park right on time you will find the main Disney characters right out front right as you walk into the park. So you can see Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Minnie, and Daisy without having to wait too long. BUT this is also prime time to do the big rides that might have long lines later. If you would like to see a whole bunch of characters in one spot, I would recommend booking a character dining experience.
Just go ahead and skip Winnie the Pooh section. Boring. The Tom Sawyer steamship isn’t fabulous either. A lot of the shows offer some nice seating and a break from walking, but a lot of them aren’t that great. If you aren’t enjoying a show, don’t feel like you have to stay for the whole thing. Toon Town is one section of the park that is cute and the atmosphere is fun, but it is definitely one part of the park that if I am low on time I could do without. It houses all the main characters and it is like their own little “town”. There are a couple little rides that are pretty insignificant. Really you go here to walk through the character’s houses and meet them at the end. I have found that half the time we walk clear over there the characters aren’t there anyway.
A Few Extra Tips for Disneyland
- Get to the park early. Start applying sunscreen on you and your kids while you are waiting in the long lines to get into the park. It will save you some time.
- Don’t take selfie sticks. They are banned from the parks and will be confiscated.
- Take a backpack with you on all rides. Pack this bag with snacks and water bottles. While you are waiting in line there is nothing worse than listening to a whining kid who is hungry and thirsty. Be prepared. Keep your wallet and tickets and important items in the backpack too. Make sure it stays with you at all times. Do not leave it parked with a stroller. You run the risk of your valuables being stolen.
- If you see a bathroom, stop and take a break. There is nothing worse than having to get out of a line you have been waiting in because your kid has to use the bathroom. Make them try and go even when they say they don’t have to.
- When you first get into the park you can walk into the Guest Services building and ask for special buttons. If you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or if it’s your first time at Disney or any special occasion you get a button/pin to wear. Throughout the day Disney employees will wish you a congratulations and make you feel extra special.
- If you have the time and money book Character Dining. It is so fun. I recommend Goofy’s Kitchen. We did a breakfast. If you decide to do a breakfast I recommend booking a late breakfast like at 10:30am. The food is buffet style. At that time of day they also start bringing out lunch food. So it really is like getting two meals for the price of one. And everyone is sure to find something they like. There are really fun characters that come around to each table and visit with you the entire time you are there. I hear the absolute best meal for Character Dining is Goofy’s Kitchen for dinner. Best place to reserve is getawaytoday.com.
- Don’t waste your energy on character signatures. They are a waste in my opinion. As soon as you get home they are lost, or pages are ripped out and they just end up in the garbage. For the amount of time you spend waiting in lines to get all these signatures, it just isn’t worth it.
- Stay in one area at a time. You will save yourself some time if you aren’t bouncing around the whole park. Head to one section, ride all those rides, then move on to the next section.
- Plan your day as far as the shows and parades go. If there is a show or parade that is really important to you, make sure you plan it out and schedule it in your day so you don’t miss it.
- I always take a $4 bike lock that opens with a key to lock my stroller up (I have a really nice expensive double stroller) and when we go to a certain section of the park like Fantasyland I lock my stroller up to a post or fence and then strap up the toddler and baby with the kid leashes and I feel comfortable leaving my stroller. BUT, Disneyland has the right to cut and unlatch anything that is hooked to Disney property. I am willing to take the $4 risk that they may break my bike lock as opposed to my $400 stroller being stolen.
- If you go in between the months of late October-early March you may want to take light jackets for night time.
- If you can invite family and take them with you (like grandma and grandpa) they can be a huge help in wrangling up the kiddos and they love to see the kiddos experiencing Disney, too.
- If you stay for the fireworks, try to stand somewhere on Main street. They project cool stuff onto the buildings that can’t be seen anywhere else.
Whether this is your first time going to Disneyland or you are a seasoned veteran like me, I hope that your trip is magical and exciting. I hope that something here will help you in your planning and executing process so that you can just go and enjoy being with your family. Life is about making memories and creating experiences, so I hope that you get out and make some Disney memories that will last forever and that you will be talking about for years to come.