Almost two months ago our family went to Disneyland in California. It was great and we had a fantastic time. So much so that our kids are still raving about the rides and how they want to go back while my husband and I are trying to figure out when it makes the most sense to do that. There were parts of it that were truly magical as well as truly exhausting. I thought I would share how we planned our trip. Planning a Disney trip can be daunting, but I hope these tips are a big help and can be used as a resource for you on your future Disneyland vacation.
Why We Chose Disneyland
Initially, we were torn between going to Disneyland and Disney World. We had been looking at going to Disney World seriously for about a year. We knew where we wanted to stay there and the length of time but after doing the math, we found that the cost of park tickets and accommodations alone would be what we spent on park tickets, accommodations, flight, and food at Disneyland. Not to mention Disneyland is 500 acres while Disney World is 27,000. Disney World is the size of San Francisco while Disneyland (not including California Adventure) can fit inside the Epcot parking lot. Our kids are ages 8, 6, and 3. Since our 3-year-old would have little to no memory of this trip, we figured that Disneyland would be the best, especially due to its size.
While Disney World has four parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, Disneyland has two parks – Disneyland and California Adventure. The former features some traditional Disney rides like Small World, Dumbo, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jungle Cruise. It also features Galaxy’s Edge – a Star Wars-themed attraction area that is at Hollywood Studios in Disney World. Disneyland is also the only park that Walt Disney himself visited since he passed away before Disney World was completed. Along with Disneyland is Disney California Adventure park. This area features Avenger’s Campus – a Marvel superhero-themed part of the park, as well as Cars Land which looks like it came straight out of the Cars movie franchise. Although we had spent quite a bit of time looking at Disney World, we were excited for our family to experience all that Disneyland and California Adventure had to offer.
Planning our Trip
Once we decided to go to Disneyland, we looked at the best time of year with low crowds. The last thing we wanted to do was spend a significant amount of money to wait in line. We chose to visit at the end of January into February. Our park days were Sunday, January 29th (Disneyland), Monday, January 30th (California Adventure), Tuesday, January 31st (California Adventure), Wednesday, February, 1st (Disneyland), and Thursday, February 2nd (Disneyland).
Ultimately, we chose this time of year with the help of crowd calendars. Try isitpacked.com as a resource to see when crowds are low. I went back and looked at the crowds during our trip and the results were spot on.
We only planned our Disneyland trip 2 months prior and felt ill-equipped at first after extensively looking at Disney World. Disneyland and Disney World are VERY different in size and rides. Luckily after doing some reading and video watching we felt better prepared.
Do Your Research
We checked out the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland from the library. There is a new one published every year with specific and detailed information about hotels in the area, restaurants, and the best age for certain rides.
My husband used the site touringplans.com to help give us an idea of what the busiest ride times would be as well as the app DLR Lines. He did purchase a subscription. It can be used to plan an itinerary for rides and shows at the park which we loosely followed. I joined a group on Facebook called Smarts Moms Plan Disneyland. That group was so helpful. Women gave various tips and reviews on their recent trips to Disneyland with what worked for them and what didn’t. For example, at the park, you can make a custom Star Wars light saber for $200 but someone in our group mentioned that there is a build-your-own light saber starting for about $40 in the Star Wars Trading Post in Downtown Disney as well the gift shop Tomorrowland Light and Power Co. in Disneyland.
There were also a couple of YouTubers that gave good tips about the park. Best Life and Beyond is a couple that frequent Disneyland often and make videos about special events going on during the park and food reviews. We went to Disneyland during their Lunar New Year celebration and used a lot of Best Life’s tips when we decided where we wanted to eat. I also watched Youtuber Provost Park Pass. His channel is great for practical tips about Disneyland such as What’s Best To Ride First, How Genie+ Works, and the Top 7 Things Not To Do at Disneyland. The last video was my favorite as I was about to buy new shoes for one of my children when I remember that that wouldn’t be a great idea since they wouldn’t be broken in and we were already going to be doing a lot of walking.
We also watched walk-throughs of various rides on YouTube. We weren’t sure if the kids would enjoy Haunted Mansion but after watching the video, we knew that it would be a bit much for them.
My favorite Instagram account to follow is @wedontwearears. Kellie Krueger gives amazing quick tips about how to avoid long lines, what to do in the park when it’s raining, the best spot to watch fireworks, and where to find Hidden Mickeys. She also is incredibly nice and even answered some questions I had via DM. Her tagline is “how to do Disneyland like a local” and her tips were invaluable to us.
There are three accommodation options if you would like to stay on the property: Disneyland Paradise Pier, The Grand Californian, and The Disneyland Hotel. We considered staying at a hotel on site but after doing some research we found that those were quite a bit further (and more expensive) than nearby hotels that are not on the Disneyland property. Some hotels near Disneyland are referred to as Good Neighbor Hotels. Many are within walking distance of the park and since it is in Anaheim some are a quick walk away. We settled on the Howard Johnson by Wyndham Anaheim. They have a water park and were about an 8-minute walk from Disneyland. The room was nice and updated. We didn’t go swimming at all since it was a little cool for us. We did rent a car and did a Walmart grocery pick-up on our way to our hotel for breakfast. There was also a Panera and McDonald’s nearby.
Eating at the Park
While we did do a Walmart pick-up on the way to the park for food it didn’t work out how we thought. We planned to make sandwiches for lunch but unfortunately, when I placed our order I forgot to add bread.🤦🏾♀️ We did have plenty of breakfast options as our hotel didn’t offer breakfast and we also stocked up on snacks. However, we spent WAAAAYYYYYY more than we had planned on food. We did do a lot of mobile ordering. That’s when you order your food ahead of time via the app and let the restaurant know you are on your way to pick it up. This saved us a lot of time waiting in lines.
We ate at Flo’s in Cars Land in California Adventure for dinner. We also had some snacks from the Cozy Cone another night for dinner. Each “Cozy Cone” has a different treat so we split ice cream and chili cones that were kind of like bread-stuffed cones with chili inside. We also treated ourselves to Jack Jack’s Cookie Num Nums at Pixar Pier. In Disneyland, we had dinner at Red Rose Tavern and Alien Pizza Planet. We ate quite a few snacks as well such as corn dogs from Little Red Wagon, churros, and Mickey Beignets from the Mint Julep in the French Quarter. We tried blue and green milk in Galaxy’s Edge. We also all enjoyed Dole Whips from Tiki Juice bar.
I personally would’ve been fine without eating at Red Rose Tavern or Alien Pizza Planet. Alien Pizza Planet was also a little disappointing because we were expecting a similar atmosphere to where Andy goes to have dinner in the first Toy Story. There weren’t any games just random alien pictures. The food at both of those restaurants was just okay. The corn dogs were a pretty good value and filing. We all agreed that the churros were delicious.
We had breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen which is a character dining experience. It was pricey for sure but the food was pretty good and there were lots of different options at the buffet. It was also nice that it was at the Disneyland Hotel, which is outside of the park, so we didn’t waste valuable park time eating. We stayed at the restaurant for 1.5 to 2 hours. We saw Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, and Dale. We had special interactions with them and felt like they all took time to visit our table. It was a lot of fun and we all enjoyed ourselves.
Getting Familiar with the App
The Disneyland App was very easy to use once I got the hang of it. I watched videos from Best Life and Beyond to learn about Mobile Ordering (placing an order on your phone for pick up so you skip the line). Also, getting around Disneyland in general was relatively easy. The park pretty much moves you around in a circle and after a day in both California Adventure and Disneyland we felt confident about getting around.
Getting The Kids Excited
I already mentioned that we planned our trip in 2 months’ time which is relatively quick. We told our kids that we were going to Disneyland about a month before. To be honest, they weren’t terribly impressed at first because they had heard us talking about trying to go to Disney World for a year, so I don’t think they believed we were going anywhere. The excitement started to build when we explained that we bought plane tickets. My 3-year-old was so confused after that about when we were going. One night he cried because he thought we were getting on the plane that night. (Cute and Sad.) After that, I decided to get a Disneyland countdown coloring -printout. The kids would color it every day and it helped them realize – especially my 3-year-old, how much time we had until our trip.
We also watched a loooot of Disney movies. We aren’t necessarily Disney fanatics so there are a lot of movies they hadn’t seen. Of course, they would have enjoyed the trip either way but to see them recognize the characters or make comments about how the ride was just like the movie was fun. (A lot of the rides were like being in the movie.) Here is a list we used. We did not watch Pirates of the Caribbean because I thought that would be a little much for my 3-year-old but after going on the ride, the kids want to watch the movie. We watched everything aside from Marvel, Jungle Cruise, Tomorrowland, The Haunted Mansion, and Indiana Jones (since that wasn’t open when went).
I also read somewhere about helping manage a child’s expectations. I explained to them that there would be times that we’d have to wait in line and that it would be longer than lines at an amusement park near us. If we had to wait for 20 minutes, surprisingly that wasn’t too often, we could give them dum dum suckers to pass the time.
The number one tip I would give anyone that is going to Disneyland would be to Rope Drop. At the time that the park opens, there is a rope that separates guests from further entering the park after walking through Main Street USA (the first area upon entering Disneyland). When the park opens, they play an announcement over the loudspeaker about Walt’s vision for Disneyland (or something like that) and announce that the park is open while the instrumental version of Be Our Guest from Beauty and The Beast plays. Every day we arrived at the park between 7:15 am and 7:45 am. if you arrive before 7:30, you can bypass security but will have to wait at the ticket check-in. They also have a rope drop at California Adventure.
We were able to do SOOO much in the park during those first 2 hours. We rode almost all of the Fantasyland rides on the first day. At California Adventure, we used rope drop for the Cars-themed Radiator Springs Racers as well as Toy Story Mania since those rides tended to have longer wait times. We also did a rope drop for Rise of The Resistance and waited about 15 minutes. We saw people wait for up to 100 minutes for that ride.
Another big tip of mine would be not to use a cut-and-dry itinerary. We had a general idea of what we wanted to do each day but there were things that we didn’t plan for that ended up being amazing. One day we were on our way to ride Pirates of The Caribbean again because there was a 5-minute wait. On the way there I saw a line to meet Mirabel from Encanto. The line wasn’t too terribly long so we decided to wait and meet her. We waited for 15 minutes or so and when I tell you when we got to the front of the line we had the best experience. She asked the kids about their families and my daughter what it was like having brothers. She took time and listened to the kid’s questions – which were kind of all over the place. My 8-year-old- son asked her what her favorite game was. I presume he thought she would say a videogame, but they didn’t have those in her time. Mirabel was so sweet and said, “Al Escondite” which she explained was Spanish for hide and seek. “Do you guys want to play with me?” When I tell you that my mind was blown. My husband and I looked at each other dumbfounded and wondered what she meant. Sure, enough she had the kids cover their eyes and count while she hid behind a tree in the photo area. Of course, they found her and then she said they could hide. My kids hid behind some rocks! Like truly they hid. She was so incredibly kind and I will never forget those moments which wouldn’t have happened if we would have continued to get on Pirates of the Caribbean quickly.
Looking back on our trip it was amazing. Were we exhausted? Of course. We went to bed around 10 or 11 pm every night and woke up at 5:45. We were able to go back for rest time and a nap in the middle of the day but during our last two days of Disneyland on the trip we skipped those altogether because we didn’t want to miss anything.
The first ride we did was Dumbo which was a dream. I’d often seen that ride advertised on the TV which felt like such a surreal start to our family trip. From the character experiences to the rides we rode it was phenomenal. I’ll share more in an upcoming blog about our favorite things while we were there, but I can say that our trip was successful because of the steps that I outlined in this blog.