Disneyland, the most magical place on earth, can be daunting for parents when faced with the long lines and large crowds. Also, tickets to Disneyland don’t come cheap! Which is why we talked to season pass holders and vacationing mamas about their tips for getting the most out of Disneyland with your kids, whether you’ve got one day or several.
Brooke, visited with her 5, 3, and 1-year-old: We have visited both of the Sheratons and both Marriott hotels that are closest to Disneyland. Out of those four hotels, we would say that the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance by Marriott serves our family the best. It is an easy walk to the entrance of the park, they have water slides, swimming spots for all ages, and a bunk bed in every room! We really like each of the hotels we have stayed at, but this one is too perfect for our family of five.
Lia, season pass holder, visited with her 3 and 6-year-old: Disneyland hotels are convenient, but I’d rather drive another 20 minutes to save $300. If you’re planning to spend the night(s), I’d look into hotels near Irvine, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Fountain Valley, Santa Ana, and maybe on the outskirts of Anaheim.
Jennifer, visited with her then 5 and 2-year-old: We used a VRBO home that had a kitchen, pool, and each kid was able to have their own bedroom. Sleep can make or break a vacation for us, so it was really important that each kid had their own room since they wake up and go to bed at different times. We also wanted to save money by having our own kitchen so that we could cook. Rates were comparable to a Disneyland hotel with two beds.
Brooke: We usually try to bring a good amount of snacks in a small ice chest from home and transfer them into the fridge at the hotel. We also bring lots of small packaged items like crackers, fruit snacks, and applesauce pouches. Hear me when I say this, Disneyland lets you bring basically any food item into the park! Use that to your advantage. We usually eat breakfast with things we bring from home. There is also a Panera and McDonald’s across the street. Our favorite spot to eat in the park is Pizza Port (now called Alien Pizza Planet) in Tomorrowland because of the portions, prices, and last, but definitely not least: air conditioning. Rancho del Zocalo is another favorite. The kids love watching the Big Thunder Mountain train go by from the outdoor patio.
Lia: I always take lunch, snacks, and bottles of water. They don’t allow coolers, so I typically take two lunch boxes. We like to eat on the “It’s A Small World” ride because it’s air conditioned and a 12-14 minute ride. There is also a little park inside Toontown where we sometimes have lunch. It’s enclosed so I can rest, check my phone, and eat, while my kids run around. This is a great place to burn up some extra energy, because it can get hard for kids to stand in line all day when they want to run, climb, and jump.
Jennifer: Disneyland has horrible food options. I ended up packing a ton of food since my daughter and I have food allergies and there really weren’t very many options. The only place that had a decent option for my food allergies was the Blue Bayou, but it is a pricey sit-down restaurant. Really fun, but expensive and not practical for every meal.
Brooke: Bring the stroller! It may be a bit of a pain to park it when going on a ride, but it is worth it. There is so much walking, even for an adult. Our five-year-old still rides in the double stroller when we visit Disneyland. Everyone is just way less cranky that way. If your baby likes a carrier or wrap, bring that along. Being hands free is priceless if you have more than one kid. Lots of people recommend the Baby Care Center, but I have honestly never used it. It is beautiful inside, with air conditioning, but I just find the closest bench and use a nursing cover when I feed. We change diapers at the nearest bathroom — they all have changing tables in them. The Baby Care Center also sell diapers, wipes, formula, anything you would need if you happened to forget something.
Lia: If moms with younger babies need a place to rest, nurse, or pump, the Baby Care Center is right off of Main Street. I’ve had to pump there when I had my second daughter and it’s incredible. They have gliders and private rooms, along with attendants that supervise older children in an area where the kids can color. It’s fantastic!
Jennifer: Relax and eat before you think you’re hungry. I can’t tell you how many tantrums I saw from kids and their adult parents. I think this was partially because of the poor food options and expectations being too high for kids and the whole family. Remember to still listen to your child for what they’re saying and not saying.
Definitely bring a stroller. I was thankful that the house we rented came with a double stroller so that the kids could rest when they wanted to. We also brought a stroller rain cover, which came in handy when it rained the entire day on one of the days we were there.
Look into which rides might be too scary. This is the one thing I didn’t do, which I regret because one of the rides scared my daughter so much that she started crying.
Have a plan if you all get lost or a cell phone dies. Other things to remember: sunscreen, snacks for standing in line, and get wristbands with your kiddos name and your phone number in case they get lost.
Brooke: It is truly all about your expectations. You can’t take a two-year-old that still needs to nap and expect them to act like a six-year-old. Know that they will still need their nap to be at their best and plan out ahead of time what that is going to look like. We truly believe you can experience and enjoy Disneyland at any age, but you have to realize that they are going to act their age. Just choose to enjoy your time at their level. Make plans, but be flexible when things don’t quite go the way you thought they would.
Lia: When you arrive at the gate you can ask what time a certain character will be out and the location. Also, depending on the age of your kids and what they’re interested in, I would plan my day around that. If your kids are old enough for the bigger rides I would go straight to the FastPass line for the popular rides. It will cut your wait time significantly. Families with younger kids and teenage kids really can do anything, and in-between waiting for FastPass times you can do the kiddie stuff or see shows — there are so many great ones!
My girls are really into the princesses so we go to the Royal Theatre, which is great for kids and has adult humor. They reenact shows like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Rapunzel.” Also, the Royal Hall has all of the princesses so you can visit three princesses in one visit!
Jennifer: Get there when they open. It gets crazy later in the day and as we got closer to the weekend the park got much busier.
Plan! I am not much of a planner, but this was huge for our success on this trip. You’ll want to know the layout of the park and what attractions you want to hit. Also, check the height requirement for all the rides and which rides are closed to avoid disappointment.
If you want your older toddler to get their hair and makeup done at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (there are princess and knight packages available!) and you are only there one day, call ahead before you arrive to make an appointment. You can call up to 60 days in advance.
Brooke: Get the Disneyland app! It is filled with great tools like wait times, character appearance schedules, and show times. I am guilty of looking at it, even when I’m not visiting Disneyland!
Lia: Download the app! You can see wait times for rides, upcoming shows, and character showings as well. And when you take photos they can scan your app and your photos will automatically link to your app for you to purchase/have access.
Also, you can experience a lot more at Disneyland if you do FastPasses the right way. There’s typically a two hour window where you have to wait to get another FastPass for a different ride.
They also have something called the Disney MaxPass, where you pay a small fee to receive FastPasses on the app — so if you’re in line for a ride and your FastPass window opens up, you can get a pass to another popular ride without having to walk all the way over to the ride kiosk.
Parents can do a parent swap for big rides so both parents can do the ride, the parent going through first needs to ask the ride attendant right away where to get the parent swap/stroller pass. Then they wait in line for the ride. After, the second parent can then go through the FastPass line.
Lia: I would recommend getting an annual pass if you know you will be visiting the parks 1. three or more times in a year, 2. if your visits will be during off-peak season/during the week, and 3. if you like to take your time and not feel rushed. The annual pass is amazing because we can spend three to four hours at a time at Disneyland and target rides, shows, or interactive activities that we don’t typically do. Also, we just recently discovered the animation school where you can learn how to draw characters. The annual pass is nice because it takes off the pressure of doing everything in one trip. We’ll typically go to Disneyland one to three times a month and it’s so worth it because…I mean…it’s DISNEYLAND!
Photos provided by author.
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