We had the most wonderful, magical, and amazing trip to Disneyland and I can’t wait to share all the details with all of you!!!! Not going to lie, it was exhausting. And even though we were there three days, we didn’t get to do every single thing that I wanted to do. But that’s okay! Because we already know we are going back! Today I’m sharing my top tips and takeaways from our two days at Disneyland and one day at California Adventure. Later this week I’ll share more about scoring Rise of the Resistance boarding passes and where to stay when you visit the parks. Okay, let’s get started!
1. Rent a Stroller. I cannot stress this enough. If your child is under 6 years old, they will need a break from all of the walking. We rented a double stroller from City Stroller Rentals and it was great. They dropped it off and picked it up from our hotel. It was a game changer! I was able to pack our stroller with snacks, a change of clothes and shoes for each of us, extra diapers, disinfecting wipes, and all of our water bottles. I found it pretty easy to navigate the park with the stroller and faster to have the girls sit in it than walk. Both girls napped in the stroller and it was awesome. There is lots of stroller parking in both parks but be prepared to have your stroller moved by a cast member to create space. I put one of these pom pom tags on our stroller to help it stand out and it was perfect.
2. Bring a Backpack. If you have littles, you will for sure need to carry either a backpack or a fanny pack. At the time of our trip Belle wasn’t potty trained, so I carried wipes and a diaper in my backpack, along with chapstick, sunscreen, my water bottle, my wallet, phone, and a portable charger. It’s pretty easy to place your backpack by your feet (or under your seat) on every ride at Disneyland. I also looped my backpack around my leg for the Incredicoaster at California Adventure since it goes upside down, and had zero problems. Also, most of the quick serve restaurants have stations where you can fill up your water bottle for free so be sure to bring it.
3. Dress Comfortably and bring a change of clothes and a change of shoes. You can check out my post on what to wear to Disneyland here. A change of shoes is a must to keep your feet comfortable. I switched throughout the day between these shoes and these flip flops. If you don’t have a stroller to store your things like we did, you can rent a locker at each park to hold your extra stuff.
4. Purchase a MaxPass. Just do it, trust me. A MaxPass is a digital version of Disneyland’s fastpass system available on your phone. All guests of the park can get a fastpass for several rides throughout the park by walking to a fastpass machine located by the attraction. But a MaxPass allows you to book fastpasses on your phone without walking all over the park. It saves a ton of time and a ton of steps and is hands down worth the extra $20 per ticket! You can purchase it ahead of time when you buy your tickets or you can add it to your ticket each day once you are scanned into the park. As soon as we were in the park I logged into the app and booked our first fastpass. Once you have a fastpass booked, it will tell you what time you can reserve your next fastpass (you can’t book multiple at a time). I would set my phone alarm for the time we could reserve the next fastpass and as soon as I could, I would log in to the app and secure the next pass. I did this throughout the day and we were able to get every single fastpass we wanted (and some twice!) and we never waited in a long line. It was AMAZING. You can book fastpasses for your entire party or split it up. One day I booked my mom and myself a fastpass for It’s a Small World (for Belle and I to ride) and Jon, Hudson, and Sadie for Big Thunder Mountain. Since Belle was two at the time of our trip she was free to get into Disneyland, so she didn’t have a ticket or need a fastpass. Save your money and do not purchase a MaxPass for a child who does not want to ride any big rides! You can view the rides that offer a fastpass here. I only booked It’s a Small World fastpass because the standby line was 25 minutes and the fastpass started right when I needed it (aka it’s not a really popular fastpass selection).
When you purchase a MaxPass, you also get a Photo Pass included…..so whenever you see a Disney photographer you can have them take your photo, then they scan your barcode and all of the photos are automatically uploaded into your app and available to download on your phone or computer. You can also get the attraction photos they take on certain rides by adding the code to your app. We didn’t utilize this very much because we didn’t see that many photographers, and when we did, there was often a line. But since it was included in my MaxPass, I’ll take it! Also, unless you are short on time and only have 1 day to visit, skip the park hopper pass and save some money. We found plenty of things to do at Disneyland and California Adventure without needing to park hop.
5. Use the Disneyland App! I used this all day long to check ride wait times, locate bathrooms, mobile order food, read restaurant menus, and check where Characters would be and when. We didn’t meet as many characters as we had planned…..mostly because only one of my kids (Belle) really wanted to meet characters. For sure next year we will make more time for character interaction. It was really hard to juggle three kids who all wanted to do different things. Belle loved riding It’s a Small World and Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland and the Ariel ride at DCA. Hudson happily rode all of those rides but then wanted to move on and ride everything else. Sadie was happy to do whatever.
6. Check Ride Height Requirements Ahead of Time. Be sure to check the height requirements for rides and measure your child BEFORE you go to Disneyland. You can do that here. Cast members will check the height of kids who look questionable, so do not think you can squeeze them by. I think the height requirements are very reasonable. It also helps to plan your day if you know what rides your kids can and cannot ride on. I recorded Sadie and Belle’s height in my phone in case I forgot (which I did). Hudson (age 7), was tall enough to ride everything at both parks. Hudson is also a daredevil and has no fear when it comes to rides. He LOVED and was game to try every single ride. Since I grew up going to Disneyland frequently, I have personally been on every ride and knew he could handle them but I was a little nervous about the Indiana Jones ride. But he loved it! Sadie (age 4.5) on the other hand, is my more fearful child. The first “big” ride she went on was Space Mountain and she surprised everyone by LOVING it! I was so nervous taking her on it, especially because it is dark inside the ride. If I had to choose, I would recommend starting with Big Thunder Mountain first because I think it’s a little less scary…and kids can stand outside of the ride and watch it go by. The only ride Sadie was a little scared of was the Matterhorn (I think because she sat in front of us instead of next to us and the monster is a bit scary) but she still rode it twice. This SHOCKED me. At 45 inches tall, the only ride she couldn’t get on at Disneyland was Indiana Jones….which I think would have been too scary for her anyway. So, just know your child….and be prepared that they might surprise you!
7. Watch YouTube Videos of Scary Rides Beforehand. I know this spoils some of the excitement, but I think it helped my kids feel prepped and confident since they kind of knew what to expect ahead of time. I made sure Sadie knew Space Mountain was a roller coaster and that it would be dark. As for the new Star Wars Rise of the Resistance ride, both Hudson and Sadie loved it! I did preview the entire ride ahead of time on YouTube to be safe since I hadn’t ridden it before. The ride itself is not really scary….but Sadie was a nervous around the cast members who were in character as “The First Order”. She was scared that they “captured us” and kept asking me if it was real. The cast members were perfectly nice to her by the way….it was just a bit intimidating and she had a lot of questions. But she still said she liked the ride! It is such an amazing experience! Jon, Hudson, and I LOVED it. I think the details were mostly lost on Sadie, but that was to be expected. More details about this ride in another post coming soon!
As for California Adventure, I had never been on Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’, Guardians of the Galaxy, or the Incredicoaster. Hudson was looking forward to the Incredicoaster SO MUCH so that’s where he and my husband headed first when we got to DCA. The ride goes upside down so I was a bit nervous for him, but he LOVED it. He ended up riding it four times and says it was his most favorite ride. Sadie did great on Radiator Springs Racers and we all loved Soarin’. I originally thought we would avoid the Guardians of the Galaxy ride because I thought it would be too scary, but Hudson and I ended up riding it twice. For sure it was too intense for Sadie but Hudson and I both liked it! FYI there are several drops on the ride and I for sure screamed. Hudson and Sadie also liked Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster and the swinging ferris wheel although Jon wasn’t a fan of either.
8. Use Rider Switch. Disney has this amazing option called a “rider switch pass” for parents like us who have a child who is either not tall enough or scared to ride a certain ride. One parent stays behind with the small/scared child and the other rides with the older kids. The parent riding asks the cast member at the entrance for a rider switch pass and they either hand you a paper pass to use or they scan your tickets in the app and add a digital rider switch to your MaxPass. We did this a few times and it worked out great! For example, Jon, Hudson, and Sadie rode the Matterhorn Bobsleds while I went on It’s a Small World with Belle. Then, when they got off Hudson and Sadie got in the fast pass line with me with our rider switch passes. So the big kids got to ride twice!
9. Reserve a Character Meal. When it comes to food, I knew going in to our trip that my kids are not great at sit down meals, especially when we are somewhere fun like Disneyland! So I only planned one sit down meal, and that was the Minnie and Friend’s character breakfast at the Plaza Inn. This was SO fun! I highly recommend booking one character meal for your trip. The last time we visited Disneyland we ate at Goofy’s Kitchen and it was so fun and pretty yummy too. Both Minnie’s and Goofy’s are buffet style meals, but Goofy’s is located at the Disneyland Hotel. I highly recommend booking Goofy’s on a non-park day so that you don’t miss out on any park time. At all character meals, certain characters visit you at your table. This time we met Minnie, Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Captain Hook, Chip & Dale, and Fairy Godmother (who was fabulous!). The Minnie and Friend’s breakfast is the only character dining option located inside Disneyland and you have to have a valid park admission ticket in order to attend the breakfast and you MUST have reservations. We booked a 7:30 a.m. breakfast on a morning when Disneyland officially opened at 8:00 a.m., which meant we got to enter the park early (without having a Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour). There is a separate Character Breakfast entrance to the park on the far left. They check your reservation time before scanning you into the park. Not going to lie, I knew the kids would enjoy meeting the characters, but I also was counting on this guaranteeing us early entry in to the park so that I could try to snag a Rise of the Resistance boarding pass once the park officially opened. More on that process coming in a blog post soon.
10. Mobile Order Your Food. Do this. Please. Mobile ordering saved us so much time! To see all of the mobile ordering options, click on the map in the Disneyland app and at the top, tap to change it to “dining” Each mobile order restaurant has a special designation…..and you can order and pay for your food right there in the app. Then when you are there (or on your way) tap “I’m here” and they will process your order. Head to the designated mobile order pick up spot (clearly labeled) and pick up your order. This was SO fast! We bypassed a ton of lines by mobile ordering. When we were at the Tiki Room waiting for the show to start, there was a giant line for a Dole Whip (there always is!). I just sat down, ordered my Dole Whip, and picked them up. It took all of 2 minutes! And then we enjoyed our treats while watching the Tiki Room performance. Love love love mobile ordering. We also enjoyed the Mickey beignets at the Mint Julep bar, corn dogs from the Corn Dog cart (not available on mobile ordering) and the Galatic Grill located in Tomorrow Land. My girls also really liked the “kid’s power pack” snack you could buy at multiple quick service restaurants throughout the park. It came with a smoothie, cuties oranges, apple slices, carrots, goldfish crackers, and a small drink.
11. Take Advantage of Shows to Rest. My girls both loved Storytelling at the Royal Theatre and Frozen Live at the Hyperion (DCA). Shows happen throughout the day and times are located in the app. The Tiki Room and Mickey and the Magical Map are also a great for a break.
12. Have a Plan. We had a game plan for each day at the parks. I highly recommend checking out Disneyland Tour Guide’s park plans. At Disneyland, we rope dropped and walked right on to Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and then used our fastpass for Space Mountain. Then we rode the Astro Orbitors and then fastpassed Star Tours. Then we headed over to Fantasy Land and let our fastpasses dictate the rest of our day. At California Adventure, Hudson and Jon went straight to the Incredicoaster while Sadie, Belle, and I met Minnie Mouse. We planned our days by starting with things the kids loved the most and were most excited about. We never got to ride Peter Pan….and I’m still bummed about it. But unless you are the first ones in line, you will end up waiting at least 30 minutes in line. We kept checking the app to see if the wait time ever went down and it really didn’t. My kids don’t do great in long lines so we never attempted that ride. People have told me the best time to ride it is right after fireworks (there weren’t any while we were there). I think next year we will rope drop it and aim to do it on a non Magic Morning/Extra Magic Hour day.
Our plan was to hit the park at rope drop (when it opened) and ride as much as we could until 11 or so. Take a break to eat lunch early, ride a few more rides, and then take a break each afternoon by going back to our hotel to rest. And then go back to the park in the evening. This never happened. The girls just fell asleep in the stroller when they were tired and Hudson did NOT want to rest. So we just pushed through! I do think that resting is important. I think that next year we are planning to have 1 non-park day in between each park day so that we can rest that way.
13. Prepare for Meltdowns. With small children, they will happen…..even at the “happiest place on earth.” Kids get overstimulated, overtired, and overheated. I think if you prep yourself for this possibility ahead of time it’s much easier to deal with meltdowns when they happen. Distract your child with a treat, point out a character, get on a ride, or take a rest/nap. My biggest tip is to buy a bubble wand! These are pricy, but amazing…and way better than the knock offs you can buy at Target or Walmart. They kept my (tired and sometimes cranky) two year old (and my four year old!) entertained. Worth every penny. Save some money and bring dollar store glow sticks and wands with you into the park for fun after dark. Check out on of my many meltdown photos below.
14. Utilize First Aid and the Baby Centers if Needed. On day three Sadie woke up with an allergic reaction to sunscreen (we think?) on her face. She was swollen like a little chipmunk and had a dry rash across her face. Jon took her to first aid as soon as it opened and they were SO nice and kind to her. They gave her medication free of charge and a special nurse sticker. They also were really kind to me when I found myself alone with three kids, one of whom was asleep (finally!) in the double stroller and two of whom had to use the bathroom. They have a nice, quiet, and very large bathroom that I was able to fit our stroller and the big kids in. I didn’t use the Baby Center this trip, but on our previous trip I used it often to pump breastmilk in private and they also have kid sized potties!
And remember to have fun! Stay tuned later this week where I’ll spill all of the details about how to score a boarding pass on Rise of the Resistance AND our fabulous hotel stay at the Howard Johnson! (In the meantime, use code 1000022077 for 15% off your stay OR if you are an Annual Passholder, use code 1000025935 to save 20%!)