Since I’m a socal (Southern California) resident, naturally I am a Disneyland fanatic. When my family was invited to Family Media day, I was beyond thrilled. First we headed to California Adventure and got to check out the new Cars Land – amazing (to get a surprisingly accurate view of what it looks like right now, decorated holiday style and all, click here)! In fact, I could barely keep up with all the things my five kids (ages 8, 6, 4 and 2 year old twins) were excitedly pointing out.
One of our first stops was the new Radiator Springs Racer ride and it was hands down the favorite ride of the day for my three “big” kids. My husband and I loved it, too! As for my girlfriend to girlfriend style top tips every mom should know before visiting the Disneyland and California Adventure parks, here is my list:
1. Absolutely go during the holidays! It’s such a magical time of year, especially at Disneyland, where Small World in Fantasyland is completely, breathtakingly lit up. To top it off, at 7pm, “snow” falls! (Oh, and if you live somewhere with actual snow, you will enjoy the warmer climate!) The holiday parade of course adds to the excitement as well as the park being completely made over Christmas style, and even the rides Small World and the Haunted Mansion changing things up completely for the season. The jaw dropping fireworks show at the end of the night is well worth keeping up the little ones past 9pm, and, it’s followed up by snow again for the grand finale!
2. If you can, try to fit in both parks. Prior to the recent new additions to California Adventure, I might have even said to skip the second park, but now there’s just too much to miss. If you can only choose ONE park, do so by your child’s interests. For example, if they are a huge Cars, Monsters Inc. and Muppets fan, choose California adventure. If they are Star Wars, Nemo and Pirate fans, choose Disneyland (both parks have princess attractions).
3. For those that live within driving distance, it’s worth splurging for the So Cal Membership (the cheapest available). First of all, there are a handful of black out days, but, believe me, it’s way too crowded on those days anyway! My family doesn’t currently have a membership, but when we did, we loved heading up on Fridays after school. Also, note that there are payment plans available easing that initial sticker shock. What I loved about having the membership is that we could go in shorter visits (no need to pack it all in when you can come back) and try new things each time.
4. A tip a mom told me on Sunday at my daughter’s soccer game was that if you do get the membership and purchase parking, too, put the parking on your child’s pass. She had put it on her own, but when her husband took the kids without her, he had to fork over the fee.
5. If you don’t get the parking pass and plan for an 8 hour day or less, this same mom told me that you can valet park at the Grand California Hotel, eat at any restaurant within the hotel and get validated! Read: Free parking that’s connected to the park! (If you park in a structure, it’s a long haul to the park). Also, if you already have your tickets, enter the park through the hotel: no waiting in line!
For more parking info, visit: http://disneyland.disney.go.com/maps/#/m=parking/f=theme-park-guest-parking
6. For a stay that’s longer than 8 hours (we were there for 12 on Saturday), I recommend parking in the Toy Story parking lot. There is an optional shuttle, but I prefer the short walk versus trying to take everything out of our stroller, then repacking it once exiting the shuttle. Ditto for the Mickey and Friends parking lot — it can be a huge pain to fold up the stroller to hop on the shuttle. If you are stroller free, then park anywhere.
7. BRING SNACKS! Even if you plan to buy every treat in the park, bring more snacks than you think you will need, and include yourself when packing them (and water, too)! After doing so much walking around, my family tends to be starving! At a party we got to attend for the media day, there were free Mickey shaped pretzels, cupcakes, cookies, popcorn, apples and so much more food that I let my kids indulge in. About an hour or so later, they were asking for snacks again and luckily I had my stash that I continued to need throughout the day and into the evening.
8. Don’t be afraid of some rain! Here’s a little tip my husband’s co-workers gave him: the park thins out when there’s rain. Sounds like a no brainer, right? In fact, with the proper rain gear, it’s the perfect opportunity to have shorter waits in line!
9. A tip Alex has shared in the past is to bring towels with you. That way, if it does end up lightly raining (as it did just as we were leaving on Saturday), you can wipe off strollers, seats, etc.
10. For lunch, my hands down favorite spot is the space style cafe, Tomorrowland Terrace at Disneyland. Grab a burger and enjoy the Star Wars show, where your child can participate in the Jedi Training Academy. If you are looking for some peace and quiet, a.k.a. a little down time, eat at the Hungry Bear restaurant and enjoy the view of the water. Inside Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa (and if you are looking to validate your parking pass a’la tip #5), the Storytellers Cafe is a lot of fun and kids make their own pizza. Also, if you need a coveted glass of wine or a beer, alcohol is only served at California Adventure, the hotel dining and downtown Disney, but not inside the Disneyland Park at all.
11. For a quick, cheap meal I highly recommend grabbing the delicious corn dogs from the small, red stand on Main Street or, our new discovery, the turkey leg and corn on the cob from another small stand (a great gluten-free option!), just as you leave Tomorrowland on your way to Small World.
12. If you have small children, but, like my husband and me, are chomping at the bit to ride the roller coaster rides that your little ones won’t make the height requirement for (think: Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Star Tours), never fear! One of you waits in line, when you get to the main ride, let someone who works there know that you husband is waiting with the kids. They will give you a pass that let’s them directly on the ride when you exit! Only one of you has to wait in the line, but both of you get to ride!
13. During your turn with the kids, don’t just hang at the exit as you may have to deal with a bored child or tantrum. Take them on a ride they will enjoy. Then, get your pass, and hop on!
14. For the bigger rides as mentioned, the lines are shorter earlier in the day. Choose your favorite and either ride it first, or, grab a fast pass for it. This is a pass you receive in the “Fast Pass” area for each individual ride that gives you a time to return. When it’s your time, you walk directly on the ride, very little wait!
15. For guests who stay in one of the three Disneyland hotels, you get to enter the park an hour early before anyone else! Take this opportunity to go on your favorite rides before the crowds start to pour in.
16. It wasn’t until my 4th and 5th babies that I discovered Disneyland has a nursing station! Feed your baby in a private area, complete with a changing station. This convenient area is located just off Main Street (near my beloved corn dog stand).
17. Character dining can be a very expensive addition to your trip, but each time I’ve done it for one of my kid’s birthdays, it’s been a blast! In fact, if it’s just your immediate family, it can be much cheaper than throwing a huge party when all is said and done (and no clean up!). At Ariel’s Grotto, each princess will come to your table and greet your child. Similarly, all the character dining includes a meet and greet depending on which theme you choose. For more on your options, visit:
18. Download a Disneyland app! There are a few versions out there, but choose your (free) favorite and get the wait times for each line! This past Saturday, my son really wanted to go on the Nemo Submarine, so I whipped out my phone and saw the wait was 55 minutes! Not about to make a family of seven wait that long, we skipped it. A few hours later, he asked me to check again. This time, it was only 20 minutes so we headed over and got in line! And, you can laugh at me, I sometimes check the waits for rides when I’m no where near the park. What? It’ fun.
19.As your feet get tired (and they will!) and/or the kids are starting to get a little cranky, take a break and enjoy one of the many shows! Depending on when you visit, times and attractions change, but there are also the main stays. All are very well done and fun for the whole family– from Disney Junior – Live on Stage! to the breathtaking Fantasmic and so many more! Also, be sure to check out ongoing theater shows like the Muppets at California Adventure or the Tiki Room at Disneyland – great ways to duck out of the sun or cold and get a little rest while being entertained.
20. Don’t bother staking out a spot for any of the viewing. On Saturday, we saw people starting to line up THREE hours early for the Fantasmic! Let me tell you, no need! You can easily find a decent spot when the show is about to begin. Also, one year we waited only 15 minutes and the show was cancelled due to high winds. Can you imagine if we wasted our park visit for it just to be cancelled?! If you are that gung ho, you can pay an additional fee for premium viewing (call (714) 781-SHOW (7469) up to 30 days before the show), but I’ve never had a problem catching a show with a few minutes to spare.
BONUS! Wondering which rides are best for your child’s age? View my Best Disneyland Rides By Age Group.
Do you have a Disneyland or California Adventure tip to share? Please tell us in the comments below!