02 May 2018

Disneyland tips and tricks and so many memories

After a few years of dreaming, we were finally able to take our family of eight to Disneyland over spring break. It was such a gift, and so many good memories were created. I grew up in Southern California, so I have such nostalgia and love surrounding my memories there, and I couldn't wait to experience it through the eyes of my six!

I took it to Facebook and asked or tips, tricks and Disney hacks, and of course! People had so many great ideas. I thought it would be fun to share a condensed version here, what worked for us, and what I would do all over again! And hopefully I will get to use them all over again, because we all got Disney fever... bad. Oh, to be sitting in sun with Dole Whip in hand. 

First up, let's talk booking your trip. We did a whole package deal through Costco and it was so worth it! Park hopper tickets (which includes early admission to the parks), hotel, character dining, gift cards - it made it all so easy, and not as expensive and time consuming as piecing it all together ourselves. There are tons of hotel options. When we went a few years ago, we stayed at a local hotel. This time we opted for the Disneyland Hotel and it was PERFECT. Super close to the park, amazing pools, Disney magic sprinkled everywhere you go. Definitely worth it. We had breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen, which was a great way to get to hug the characters without crazy lines, and a good way to fill the kids up for the whole morning. Thankfully it came with the hotel package, or the sticker shock may have caused us to keel over. And we even met a couple of characters wandering around the hotel, happy to pose with our kids and sign autographs (seriously anything to eliminate lines at the parks). 

We got up early each morning and got to the gates about 20 minutes before they opened. One of the best tips I got from one of my favorite friends: if you're walking to Disneyland through Downtown Disney, do a Starbucks mobile order before you leave your hotel, swing in and grab coffee and bagels (it took less than a minute!) and have a little picnic in line. It was awesome! Again, one less line and coffee is like the perfect morning combo.

Now let's talk food. If you have spent any time looking for advice, you will hear it again and again: pack food and bring it in because food in the park is expensive. This is true, it can be pricey. But also, there are so many snack carts and fruit stands, that you don't ever actually have to buy an entire meal at a sit down restaurant. Ideally, pack some sandwiches and bottles of water and bananas, and then also enjoy the food there because everything is DELISH. Our family favorites: Mickey beignets, churros, Dole Whip, treats from Pooh's Corner, corn dogs, and Frozen Lemonade. There were so many things we wanted but didn't have a chance to try. Most servings are huge, so even our family of eight could share three full sized meals and then have room for treats. If you are staying near Downtown Disney, the sandwiches at Earl of Sandwich are huge and tasty, and my husband and I shared nachos from Tortilla Jo's and couldn't even finish them (and that was after walking all day with six kids and being totally famished). So, plan ahead by bringing in your own snacks and h2o, but also plan to treat yourself - it's part of the experience!

Let's talk rides. Without a doubt, get the Disneyland App on your phone. You can see what the current wait times are for each ride, when and where you can see specific characters, where the nearest restroom is, and where to find your favorite treats. You will definitely want to get FastPasses for your favorite rides, and there are two ways to do that. You can go to the rides and pick up FastPasses for later in the day, but when they're gone, they're gone. You can spend a lot of time running to and from rides grabbing passes, and they will only give you so many per ticket at a time. OR you can pay an extra $10/day per person and get a MAXPass on the app. You only need the MaxPass for people who will want to ride on the big rides, so if you have kids shorter than 42", skip it. I bought them for all of us on the first day like a dummy and then realized the only thing I could FastPass for my girls was Roger Rabbit and really, that's not the most amazing ride. Do kids under 42" even know who Roger Rabbit is? The MaxPass is RIDICULOUSLY awesome because you reserve rides and times right on your phone. Pick the busiest rides first because those passes go the quickest. As of today, that would be Guardians of the Galaxy, Spring Racers, and Indiana Jones. Also at the top of my kids lists: Matterhorn, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. We got those multiple times. It's awesome because you can reserve passes at Disneyland OR California Adventure from anywhere in either park and not have to run around in hopes of snagging one. Cannot emphasize enough how awesome this option is!

If you have little ones, but you still want to go on the big rides, make use of the rider swap option! Stand in line together - one of you will go on the ride first, then when they get off, you hand them your kid(s), and take your turn with no extra wait. Disneyland wants it to be fun for grown ups, too! A few rides also have "single rider"options with MUCH shorter wait times!

If you have kids in different age brackets, or with different interests, or you just have a lot of them, like we do: divide and conquer. We spent the first two days in groups - one of us would be with the older three, the other with the younger three, experiencing different things. Then on the last day, after we'd done everything everyone wanted to do, we spent the day as one big group on things we all could enjoy together (mostly the boat rides: Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, etc.). No one felt pressure to do anything except hang out and re-ride their favorites.

My biggest encouragement is to just enjoy the magic. Yes, there will be lines, and the app is great for seeing where things are moving a bit more quickly. But don't spend too much time racing from one end of the park to the other, soak up the fun in every Land. When you're tired or your little ones need to sit for a bit, hop on It's a Small World (again), or Pirates of the Caribbean or the Storybook boats (fun anytime of day, but at night they are so enchanting!). Think of fun games to play with your kids in line, and don't be afraid to take breaks.

And on that note, TAKE BREAKS. Nick and I were talking about how Disney has the potential to be the perfect storm: parents that have spent a boatload of money and want to get everything they can out of every minute, and kids that are overwhelmed by all of it and totally exhausted. Going back to the hotel for a nap or a swim is perfect in the middle of the day when the parks are busiest. Calling it quits earlier in the evening can be worth it if you are there for multiple days. Rest when you need to rest. We walked 23 miles in three days and that was with a lot of breaks, so pace yourself!

I also believe it is 100% worth it to bring or rent a stroller if you have kids 5 and under. They get tired, there are big crowds, life is easier on wheels. You can rent from a local company, but we decided to get one right at Disney and it was great.

SOUVENIRS. Your kids will want them, and every ride ends near or just outside a gift shop specific to that ride. A lot of people give the advice of getting some souvenirs before you go and tucking them away to hand out throughout the trip. This is great advice unless you have kids like mine that just mostly like the act of shopping and spending my money. The VERY BEST advice I got regarding this is to let your kids know before you even enter the parks on the first day of your trip that you will not be buying anything until the last day of your trip. They are welcome to window shop and get an idea of their favorite item and on the last day they will be allowed to pick something out within a certain budget. THIS SAVED MY SANITY. I mean, for real. Because they change their minds about eleventy billion times and they never stop asking, so it was so easy to tell them to just store it up in their mind until the last day. And it totally worked, and even after all their lavish dreams, they all ended up picking things relatively inexpensive and small and to me, that was victory. 

And here is the most important tip of all: ENJOY IT! Disneyland is truly magical. There is so much to see, do, eat, and take in. Don't miss it. If in doubt, go. If you think your kids are too little, they probably aren't. There is something for every age to enjoy. And if they don't remember it, isn't that just an excuse to go again? Make a plan of what you want to do and see (and eat), but hold to your plan loosely as you fill up on all the magic.

We had the most amazing time, even with crazy Spring break crowds and long lines... it was priceless. Here we are a month later, still talking about our memories, each of us so excited for the next opportunity to go. Go, enjoy, eat lots of treats, and say hi to Mickey for us!

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