We just came back from another truly magical trip to Disneyland. But before we headed there for the first time with the kids, I did EXTENSIVE research by reading expert blogs, watching YouTube videos, and talking to friends who have survived their trip with little ones (kids under 10), and lived to talk about it.
Now that we’ve been to a Disney Park three times and have learned to really maximize our time there, I wanted to share some fun tips, tricks, and secret hacks with you to make your trip even more magical. Besides, there’s more than just rides to the most magical place on earth!
THE BEST TIME TO GO – People always ask about when the crowds are lightest or when the best time of year to go to Disneyland would be. Unfortunately, crowds are just a part of life these days at the parks, and ever increasing. The best way to gauge how bad the crowds will be would be to check the annual pass calendar on the official Disneyland website. If SoCal annual passholders are blocked on the days you want to visit, you’ll usually have less crowds. Also check if any events like marathons, Grad Nites, Dapper Days, or the D23 Expo are occurring when you’re thinking about going. You can also check the nearby Anaheim Convention Center’s calendar, since large conventions can also effect park attendance.
CHECK THE WEBSITE & DOWNLOAD THE APP – Use the website and/or Disneyland app to check park hours (which can vary greatly day to day), the day’s parade and fireworks showtimes (so you can plan accordingly), and also to check which rides are closed for refurbishment. I’ve heard so many instances of people being heartbroken because they didn’t realize their favorite ride was closed for refurbishment until they got there. Now, rides breakdown and can be shutdown temporarily and may not be reflected in real-time on the website. The app, however, is updated more frequently and is a fabulous tool for checking wait times for rides. It’s indispensable for when you’re at the park!
FORGET THE PARK HOPPER (IF YOU HAVE KIDS UNDER 10) – You may think it’s a great idea to hop between parks whenever you want, but the truth is, most times the Park Hopper ticket becomes more of a hindrance than a benefit. With all there is to do at each park, by late afternoon you’ll realize you didn’t even hit up the other park yet. You’ll trek over there simply because you feel like you have to in order to utilize the Park Hopper ticket you bought, while realizing you didn’t do everything you wanted to back at the park you started at. Plus, extra walking after an already long day for the kids is always a recipe for disaster. You’ll enjoy your time more if you tackle one park a day, AND save money.
RIDE PETER PAN FIRST – In my opinion, no other ride represents the magic that Walt Disney had envisioned when he created Disneyland better than Peter Pan’s Flight in Fantasyland. The ride has been around since the day the park opened, so you’d think the lines would die down by now! No such luck. If you have any plans to ride Peter Pan’s Flight with a less than 25 minute wait in line, you need to head to the park when it opens and make it the first thing you do when you get there. It’s typical to see a 40-60 minute wait in the cramped, outdoor line just 30 minutes after park opening. Yikes!
CELEBRATING SOMETHING? – If you’ve ever wondered where folks get those buttons that say “Happy Birthday,” “Happily Ever After,” “First Visit,” or “I’m Celebrating…,” head to City Hall as you enter Disneyland or the Chamber of Commerce, both on the left as you enter the parks. There, you can tell a cast member what you’re celebrating and that you would like a free button. But what’s even better is if you have a little tike with you, you can ask if any Disney characters are available for a special birthday phone call. Our little one was celebrating her 5th birthday and was almost in shock when the cast member said that Goofy was on the phone waiting to speak with her!
BRING SNACKS & NEVER PAY FOR WATER – Feel free to bring snacks to the park. It’s totally allowed. In fact, if you have kids under 10, it’s almost mandatory. Everyone gets bored and cranky while standing in line for a meal or a ride. (Then splurge for a Dole Whip or a churro later!) But if you have an empty water bottle and want to save money or just want to cut down on the sugary drinks, there are water stations at many restaurants, including Rancho del Zocalo in Adventureland, the Village Haus in Fantasyland, and French Market in New Orleans Square. And you can always ask for a cup of water at many fast casual or sit down restaurants (Plaza Inn) if you don’t want to buy a beverage.
GO WHEN THE PARK OPENS…AND THEN TAKE A NAP! – If you have younger kids, the excitement of being at Disneyland Resort can be just plain exhausting. So to best maximize your time at the park and avoid long lines that only increase throughout the day, go to the park as soon as it opens. Be sure to check the Disneyland website a few days before you go to check the parks’ hours for the days you plan to go. Then, when foot traffic gets a little nuts at the parks between about 2-5 pm, feel free to go back to the hotel and take a nap, hit the pool, or just veg out for a couple hours. Head back later and everyone will be in a better mood!
GET A MAP AT THE JUNGLE CRUISE – This one is a lesser known secret for Disneyland fans, and it’s so cool! When you get off the Jungle Cruise, ask a cast member at the ride if they have any maps. If they do, you’ll be rewarded with an awesome free souvenir… Love it!
YOU’RE WAITING IN THE WRONG DOLE WHIP LINE! – Don’t let that intimidatingly long line along the exterior of the Tiki Room Lounge fool you. I know a lot of people have aborted their plans to get that deliciously famous Dole Whip (a frozen pineapple flavored non-dairy treat) after seeing that line. But don’t abort! Instead, just step through the Tiki Room gates and swing a quick right. You’ll see an alternate line for the Dole Whip counter. The line isn’t reserved for Tiki Room patrons and is no different than the impossibly long one on the other side of the wall. It’s just usually shorter and quicker!
ASK (NICELY) FOR SOME MAGIC – My oldest kid is a big fan of magic. So a trip to the Houdini’s Magic Shop on Main Street is mandatory. But did you know that when you say the magic word “please” to a cast member at the shop, they will show you a magic trick? Now that’s magic!
CATCH THE LATER PARADE – This tip came directly from a cast member! If there are two scheduled evening parade times at Disneyland park and you think your little ones can stay up just a little later than usual (take that nap!), then it’s worth it to stay and catch the last parade of the night. While the first parade is going on, hit the rides since lines will be a little less crazy. Then, while folks file out of the park or return to their regularly scheduled waiting in lines, you can comfortably find a primo seat on Main Street, Town Square, or near Small World (the three locations I’d personally recommend for best parade viewing). But remember you won’t be seeing the fireworks show again. There’s only one fireworks show a day and it’s usually right after the first parade of the night ends.
HAVE A MEAL WITH CHARACTER(S) – The first time I went to Disneyland with one of my kids we made the horrible mistake of being lured by the thrill of meeting Mickey and Minnie. We ended up waiting for almost an hour in the blazing hot sun. We wasted so much time! Never again. Now, I book at least one character meal a trip so we can enjoy a nice meal and have the characters come to us! Most of them have at least 4-5 characters show up at each seating. Characters and prices will vary, and online or phone reservations are always advised. Please note not all meal times at these establishments are character meals, as noted below.
There are five character meal restaurants at the Disneyland Resort:
GOOFY’S KITCHEN at the Disneyland Hotel (Goofy is guaranteed, but Minnie, Pluto, Chip and Dale are frequent visitors) – Breakfast and dinner buffet character service only.
MICKEY’S SURF’S UP at the PCH Grill in the Paradise Pier Hotel (Mickey is guaranteed, but Minnie, Daisy, Pluto, and Stitch are frequent visitors) – Breakfast buffet character service only.
ARIEL’S GROTTO at Disney’s California Adventure park (Ariel is guaranteed, and three to four other princesses show up) – This is the only Disney Princess dining experience at the Resort. Breakfast and lunch character service only.
BREAKFAST WITH MINNIE AND FRIENDS at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland park (Minnie is guaranteed and Pluto is a frequent visitor. The other two to three characters vary greatly and are sometimes quite rarely spotted at the park, such as Pinocchio or Max!) – Breakfast character service only.
CHIP ‘N DALE CRITTER BREAKFAST at the Storytellers Cafe in the Grand Californian Hotel (Chip ‘n Dale are guaranteed, but other characters are almost always woodland creatures like Meeko from Pocahontas) – Breakfast character service only.
If you have any other tips, feel free to leave me a comment. And like they say at the parks, “Have a magical day!”