This summer my family was fortunate enough to afford a few days at Disneyland and California Adventure Park. We had planned this trip for several months, and I promise that I am that mom; you know the one that scours the internet for hours, days even, searching for the best deals and secrets. I asked everyone that I knew who had been to Disney to give me their feedback (sometimes I’d forget and ask friends multiple times — sorry about that). When we arrived at Disney, I thought we were as prepared as could be.
One thing I forgot to ask in my quest for feedback was “what not” to do at Disney.
I made a lot of assumptions that I wish knew or had asked about before we left. Here are some extra tips I’d urge you to take into consideration if you’re planning a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.
Don’t assume that you have to purchase all of the souvenirs there!
Before we left, I purchased my kids each a Mickey and Minnie Mouse shirt from a big box shop here in town, and I even got a Tee from Lularoe’s new and amazing Disney collection (catching several compliments from Disneyland staff by the way!). When we got to Disneyland, my daughter instantly wanted a pair of Minnie Mouse ears that several other kids were wearing, and my son wanted some candy. Those two items, plus two shirts later was a small fortune. Now that were back home, they wear both shirts and could care less when one was $20 more. And those Minnie ears — well they’re getting lots of closet time now. My advice, use that extra money for something else, like a meal! Purchase souvenir type items beforehand, or ask someone who’s already been to borrow their Minnie ears.
Don’t assume it’ll cost an arm and a leg to eat there.
We did opt-in for a special character brunch, which was costly, but also gave the kiddos a close up glance of several characters. However, as we walked around throughout the day, I realized that many people were eating brought-in food, sandwiches, fruit, etc. Disney offers a picnic area with lockers that you can rent to store your containers. My recommendation, if you want to save on a meal, plan ahead or bring a soft-cooler from home/hotel. Stop for some ice on the way in, to keep items cool. Also, even if you plan to eat there (and trust me, they have food options for all budgets), bring in bottled water. We ended up stopping at the grocery store on day two for a case of water. We put 10+ bottles into the diaper bag, which saved us a lot of money. We also refilled the kiddos water bottles there, too!
Don’t assume you must stay onsite.
My husband and I opted to stay in Newport Beach, which is about 30-40 minutes away. We discussed the idea of staying at Disneyland and, while we loved the hotels featured online and the feedback from friends, we ultimately decided to stay off-site. It was so nice, we got up with the kiddos as we always do, ate breakfast, and then went to Disneyland. Disney has parking and logistics down to a science! It was $20 to park (just a heads up), but considerably less expensive than staying on-site. I’ve heard the hotels are simply amazing and there is a convenience factor, but yes, you can drive or even walk from some of the surrounding hotels just off the Disneyland grounds.
Don’t assume you’re going to see everything.
Unless you’ve visited Disneyland umpteen times or perhaps are there on a rainy school day, you just aren’t going to see everything in one day, maybe not even two or three days. My family opted to go to Disneyland for two days, one at each park. After two full days, we still did not go on each and every ride or see every single character, but we still saw a lot and hit most of the popular rides, including Splash Mountain (my daughter’s favorite).
Don’t assume you have to go first thing in the morning.
Yes, of course there is an upside to going early – it tends to be cooler, you get closer parking if you’re driving, and, if your kiddos are anything like mine, they are happy in the morning. But, there is so much to do, and some of the best events happen late into the evening. Consider going in the afternoon and staying until well after dinner when there are nightly fireworks (so amazing and beautiful) at 9:30pm, and a big nightly parade (seasons may affect times). On our first day, we pushed our kiddos from opening to fireworks, and they were done! Sometimes it’s nice to go later after some of the crowds have left.
Don’t assume you have to always stand in line.
Yes. We stood in line. A lot. But, Disney offers “Fast Passes.” These are like magical tickets where you can go to the ride and reserve a spot to ride later in the day. So, if you go to Splash Mountain like we did at 2pm and the line is 2 hours, grab a Fast Pass and come back during the designated time to stand in line (on our Fast Pass, my daughter and I stood in line for 10 minutes while the regular line was 90 minutes!). My recommendation, do some research on the rides that you definitely want to see and go to those first. If the lines are busy, snag up those Fast Passes and go enjoy other attractions.
Don’t assume your kids will know all of the characters.
I went to Disneyland in the mid-80’s when I was 4-years-old. I knew every character and had a grand time, from what I do remember. However, here is the thing, it’s 30+ years later and many of the characters and rides are still the same. When we got to a Dumbo ride, my kids just kept telling me they want to go on the “Spinning Elephant” ride. Since Dumbo isn’t a big character now, I had to explain it to them. California Adventure Park is a bit more modern in terms of the characters (think Guardians of the Galaxy, A Bugs Life, and Cars, just to name a few), so chances are your kids will know all of those characters.
Don’t assume that if your kids are past strollers, they won’t need one.
My daughter hasn’t used a stroller for over a year now, but when we were at Disneyland, she was extremely tired and cranky post-lunch. From the waiting in lines, to the excitement of the visit, she wanted to keep going, but was getting a bit clumsy. We ended up renting a stroller for $15/day. And yes, my 4-year-old in a stroller was completely normal. I found it to be quite common for older kids to be pushed around in a stroller for this same reason. I’m not saying teenagers, but yes, elementary school age kids took advantage of this.
At the end of the day, I did take away one thing: there is no right or wrong way to do Disney. Every family is unique in the sense that they have different kids with different needs. Go! Have a great time!