Before I go into my tips I want to share I also have to share that this trip was so cathartic for me. After having Jude and seeing the relationship he had with my parents but especially my dad I knew that I wanted my dad to experience something so special with Jude. You see, my dad is from Anaheim, and as a child he saw Disneyland being built and was lucky enough to visit the park days after it was open. Over the years my kids learned this story and there was a lot of talk about visiting with grandpa. I was determined to make that happen. And now as I look at our hundreds of photos I see how blessed we are, we did it! We all made it to Disneyland!! Jude and Grandpa rode the Mister Toad Ride first thing - as planned by Jude and Grandpa. We went to the Tiki Room and we talked about how this was my great grandma's very favorite attraction to enjoy. So while this trip was a pretty typical family vacation to Disney, it was also full of emotion. Happy emotion of course!
Let me just be clear, I am not a Disney expect at all. These are tips that I found myself thinking about on our 3 day park adventure. I know I have so much more to learn - hopefully we have more visits in our future!
15 Disneyland Travel Tips
1. Download the Disneyland App
After we made our reservations for our fall break vacation we started thinking about how we would navigate the parks and that is when we found out about the Disneyland App. It is a free download to your smartphone that literally made our visit so much easier. This app has everything you need to make sure you see everything and everyone you want to see while visiting Disneyland. The app has an interactive map of the whole park marking all the rides, attractions, dining options, events, shops and characters in the park.
We used this app a lot when we were planning what ride to head to next because you can see what the average wait time is for each ride. I was so surprised how accurate those listed wait times were as well. You can also see where the characters are through out the park and the hours they should be available for hugs and autographs. Even if you haven't made your reservations yet, download this app I promise you will be pleased with all of the information it can help you with.
2. Make a Park Plan
We had a pretty general idea of our visit but we were a bit thrown off when we found out that the park was closing early one day for the Not So Scary Halloween Party. We did not reserve tickets for this so our time at Disneyland was cut short on one evening. I wish I would have known that before being in Disneyland but we did adjust fine.
With a large group like we had, we sat down the day before our first day in the park and came up with a plan about times we would be going to Disney and our general wants and wishes for each day. It is important to talk to everyone in your group if you want to see or do one particular thing.
Planning ahead allows you to think about about meals, breaks and attendance for any events or shows as well. Don't forget you do have to take bathroom breaks every once and a while too! ha!
3. Make Meal Reservations
I failed on this part. I did splurge on one Character Meal so we had reservations for that meal but nothing else. I truly thought that finding a quick lunch and restful dinner would be easy. I was wrong - some of the sit down restaurants had over an hour wait to just get seated. Yikes. Lesson learned!
Once we figured out that the Disneyland App allows you to make meal reservations we were all over that real quick. We did end up making reservations for all but one of our meals and it worked well. We did have a few super late dinners due to availability but we planned accordingly with snacks and late lunches.
4. Stay Close
I went back and forth for months about which hotel to stay in. I heard amazing things about staying on property but with the large group we had, our bill was adding up so I decided to look at some of the Good Neighbor Hotels that are directly across from Disneyland. This ended up being our best option and it was great. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Anaheim. It really was perfect for us all.
We had themed rooms, it was easy walking to Disney, had a Panera Bread in the parking lot for super easy breakfast, super staff, clean rooms, and a perfect view of the fireworks! I know we will be staying at this hotel the next time we visit, hands down!
No matter where you stay, stay close! Do not waste time on commuting to and from the park!
5. Character Meal
Sure those character meals are pricey but I would reserve one again. It gave us the up close and personal experience of a number of different characters while enjoying a delicious breakfast. We didn't have to wait in line for autographs, hugs and pictures because the characters came right to our table while we ate! It was a guarantee that the kids would get to see some characters up close!
That being said, make sure you purchase an autograph book for your kids. They will love looking back at those signatures and pictures the characters left for them!
6. Take Pictures
Be that person, take a TON of pictures. These are memories people! I decided to leave our big camera at home and used a point and shoot and our phones for all of our photos. It worked well and honestly we mostly used our phones.
Cast Members will use your own camera or phone for you if you ask them to take your picture as well.
7. Bring Snacks
We brought trail mix, crackers and cookies with us in our back packs each day. These snacks came in handy while we were in lines or when dinner was running late. This was a handy way to cut out some of the time to go to a food line rather than just getting in line for another ride.
This is also a great way to stay on budget when it comes to the food costs. It isn't surprising that food in the park is pricey but that being said, you must also indulge in some of the Disney favorites like a Mickey pretzel, Dole Whip or a Churro!
8. Utilize the PhotoPass
As stated before, take pictures! To make sure we had some great professional photos of special memories, interactions and our whole family in one photo we did utilize the Disneyland PhotoPass Photographers. Honestly, for the amount of photos we got, the download price was very reasonable.
9. Bring a Charging Block
There are not a lot of outlets in the park and who wants to spend their time sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for their phone to charge instead of enjoying Disneyland? (true story! Ladies sitting on the bathroom FLOOR - GROSS)
I used my phone a lot for the camera which meant my phone did loose charge pretty quickly. I simply kept a charging block in my backpack to give it a little extra juice at the end of the day.
10. Free Water
Disneyland offers free cups of water at any restaurant if you ask, even hot water! This is perfect for those hot days that you need to stay hydrated! Easy way to keep everyone happy when waiting in lines or walking around.
11. Take Time for The Parades
Look at the schedule and find out when and wear the parades are. They are so much fun and probably the best parades I have seen. My kids both LOVED seeing all of the characters, especially those that they hadn't seen in the park yet.
One of my favorite memories with Teagan was when she was wearing her Belle dress and Belle saw her from the float and told Teagan she loved her dress! Teagan's surprised eyes had my heart going crazy! Magic I tell you!
12. Ask for Help
Have a question? All cast members will have on large name tags. They have been hired to help people, so feel free to ask them questions! It’s in their job description to be friendly and helpful, so use that to your advantage! Also, tell your kids to find a cast member with a name tag if they get lost. They will assist your child to the lost and found near the front gates of each park. All of our cast member experiences were amazing.
13. Good Walking Shoes
We walked over 11 miles each day we were at Disneyland. I am so proud of my kids (no strollers) and my parents (knee replacements and back surgery history)! ROCKSTARS!
Bottomline, you need shoes you can walk in and stand in. No matter how in shape you are, your feet will be killing you if you do not have good shoes on. We went into this trip with a mission, see all we can. Which meant we were going none stop...my feet knew it!
Extra tip - bring band-aids in case of blisters!
14. Magic Hour
Each hotel (Good Neighbor and Disney On Property) have Magic hours. Use them! Basically you get to enter the park an hour before everyone else. This meant we got to the park at 6:45am and we were sleepy walking over to the entrance but it was so worth it. We saw SO much before 10am that day.
Planners, this is where you come in - figure out which rides you want to go on but that might have long lines by mid day, go to those rides during your magic hour!
15. Let go and have fun!
I know I have been telling you to plan but the most important tip I can give you all is to Let GO! Have fun, enjoy the moment, soak in the memories and take time to enjoy the people you are with. This is the happiest place on earth - enjoy the magic!
Like I said, I am not a Disney expert and I have a lot to learn, so please leave any of your must have Disneyland tips below.