Hi everyone! We recently got back from our 3rd trip to Disneyland, which was a surprise trip for Reese’s birthday. Many of you reached out saying you’re planning a trip soon to Disneyland and want to know more info. So before I forget the little details and all the things we loved, I wanted to share my tips for planning a family trip to Disneyland! Here you will find :
- info on logistics and travel
- tips on how to plan a stress free itinerary and maximize your time there (without getting overtired)
- our favorite Disneyland food
- using technology at the parks
- some hidden gems and things you don’t want to miss (and things I think you can skip!)
- and how to make your Disneyland trip as a family truly magical and enjoyable for your kids – and you, too!
I need to say that I used to not be a fan of Disney AT ALL. I didn’t understand the allure, the hype, the crowds, the dressing up, whatsoever…
UNTIL I HAD KIDS. Once you have kids and take them and see their faces light up in delight, you will fully understand fully the magic that is Disney. Count me a Disneyland fan!
The great thing about Disney is that it is extremely family friendly. In fact, it’s probably the most family-friendly place you can go as a family. Because the entire park is designed to entertain kids, it delivers and also has the infrastructure and conveniences to accommodate the needs of families and kids. Food, bathrooms, entertainment, supplies, safety, etc. It’s all designed with little ones in mind, which makes things easy. The cast members (that’s what they call all the staff) treat kids SO well and find ways to make them feel special (even calling them by their princess names if they’re dressed up!)
The downside of Disneyland is that it can be overwhelming. From planning, crowds, itineraries, and cost, it can feel like a lot, especially if it’s your first time. But we have found that with some advanced research, and an attitude that is about having a good time (and not FOMO and stress) we have been able to have a really easy, fun Disney experience.
So here are some of the most helpful tips, ideas, and information I could think of to help you plan your next Disneyland trip. I broke it down into sections, but within those sections I am listing things in no particular order so that I could just give you a rundown of everything I could think of!
- Flights : We fly into the John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA) from Phoenix and rent a car and drive to Anaheim. It’s under 30 minutes with regular traffic.
- Car rental :We use National Car rental and are part of their Emerald Club and LOVE them! We are in their VIP program which means they meet us at baggage claim and get our bags for us, have our car pulled up and waiting, and load our bags into the car. They also have car seats which is something a few of you have asked about when we travel. Theirs are always clean and I never have a hesitation using them. I HAVE flown with car seats before and while it’s annoying in some ways, sometimes it’s nice to have them. It just depends on what your travel plans looks like and how old your kids are (if I had a newborn, I would probably take all my own seats and gear.)
- Hotel : Stay on property at Disneyland, if you can. I can’t say enough just how worthwhile it is to stay at a Disneyland Resort hotel. This time and the time before we stayed at Grand Californian, and the time before that we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel (there’s also Paradise Pier.) They are not the most budget-friendly option, but are totally worth it for the convenience. The biggest reasons to stay on-property are :
- You can walk right our of your hotel room and into the park, in particular at Grand Californian where it opens up directly into the California Adventure part of Disney (Disneyland Hotel opens up into Downtown Disney.) This is awesome for if you want to take your kids in for a nap, want to go to the pool (recommended, it’s a great, fun break in the day) or you forget something or want to drop something off in your room.
- You get early morning access to the parks via Magic Morning (Disneyland you can go in at 8am on alternating days, California Adventure at 7am on the other days.) What we do is we hit all the super popular rides that get crowded during that one hour, and the rest of the time we can enjoy the park on our own time. I can’t imagine waiting in a line for 1-2 hours!
- You don’t have to transport between your hotel and the parks and deal with parking and trams. Especially at the end of the day when the kids are melting down and tired.
- We have a 3 year old who doesn’t typically ride in strollers – but at Disneyland she does! It is a LOT of walking. If you’re on the fence about bringing one, I would bring it.
- I highly recommend a 3-wheel jogger-type stroller because maneuvering it around is a BREEZE. I can push it one handed no problem and weave in and out. I use this one and only use it now when we travel. It’s an awesome stroller.
- I would advise against umbrella strollers (if you can help it!) I personally find umbrella strollers tiring to push around and on a long day like a day at Disney, you want to have things that make it easier – not harder or more tiring! It pained me to see parents hunched over pushing their umbrella strollers. The stroller I have (as well as many other strollers) are pretty easy to fold up and take with you.
- Stroller rentals! I’ve done this before and you can read about it here. We rented a double stroller on our first Disneyland trip when Reese was 4 and Paige was 1.
- Be sure to park your stroller in the designated stroller parking, or they will move it very quickly into a designated spot for you. So after you come out of a ride it can be hard to find it again! I saw some people attach flags and balloons to their strollers for easy locating. You’ll be OK if you don’t, just know that you might have it moved and it might take a few minutes to find it. Don’t panic 🙂
What to Bring/Wear
- My philosophy is to bring as little as possible into the parks. Yes, the things you buy in the parks like water and snacks are overpriced – but I would rather pay the premium in exchange for not having to lug things around!
- I use this large clear zip pouch and put the following in it : change of clothes for Paige and Reese, sunscreen, hand sanitizer spray, wipes, lip balm, bandaids, and their autograph books and pens. I also bring a crossbody purse and in that I keep my essentials : sunglasses, more wipes, my phone, and extra phone charger.
- I use the same pouch to store their Disneyland reusable items when we get home for next time like : mouse ears, pin lanyards, autograph books and pens, character tees, bubble wands, etc.
- Speaking of bubble wands – get one! It entertained Paige last year for hours during wait times.
- For outfits, I like to match the girls in solid colors so that I can locate them easier as a pair (I do this for airports, too!) For shoes they wear Natives.
- For my outfits, I wear either a tee with cutoff shorts and sandals, or a t-shirt dress with a hat and sneakers. I just go with a balance of comfort and style. You’re in the direct sun a lot all day, so I like wearing a hat.
- For this trip, we wore matching shirts! I NEVER thought we would be a family that would wear matching shirts but…never say never, right? These are the ones I bought for us to celebrate being there for Reese’s bday on the first day. We surprised her by giving her this shirt.
- If you are staying for the parades, bring a blanket to sit on. I packed one in our suitcase remembering this from last year. This was the bulkiest thing I brought into the park for sure. I just put it in the bottom of the stroller underneath the zip pouch.
- Also, if you are staying until the night time shows, bring a jacket or sweater. It gets cold once the sun goes down.
Rides and Fun!
- We plan our day’s itinerary at the parks based on Fast Passes, which you can get on their mobile app – which BTW is the best-designed app EVER. Download it and get familiar with it before your trip.
- If you are going for the first time, have a list of everyone’s top “musts” for rides or activities they want to do, so that when you go in and start seeing what’s on Fast Pass and what has long/short lines, you can plan accordingly.
- Note that Star Wars land is opening at the end of May, so they are expecting it to get really crowded after that! Just be warned!
- If you have little girls that dream of being a little princess, you HAVE to do the Bippity Boppity Boutique experience. You can find more info here. Make reservations ASAP.
- Also princess-related, the new Princess Breakfast Adventure at Napa Rose is also very worth while. It’s the most luxurious, relaxing experience you can have at Disneyland, being led by the Napa Rose staff who only know how to deliver on multi-course menus and subtle, swift service like they do at dinnertime. There’s a ton of food and surprises included, so while the price is on the higher end ($125pp even for the kids) Russ and I felt it was worth it.
- ALSO princess related, the Royal Theater puts on a cute and funny Tangled show. It’s in Fantasyland, next to the Royal Hall where you get to meet 3 princesses in a row (amazing – and time efficient!) The Royal Hall does not open until after Magic Hour, so you can’t get there before the lines start. What we did this time was have Russ wait in line while the girls and I watched the show, and then when it was over we went over to the line and went right in.
- Get reserved viewing tickets for the nighttime shows : Fantasmic (on the Disneyland side) and World of Color (on the California Adventure side.) You can do this by eating at one of the restaurants listed here and get a pass for later in the night, and you will be so happy because you can just walk right up to the front and get a great view. We ate at the Riverbelle Terrace last time (didn’t like the food or service) to see Fantasmic (loved the show!) and this time ate at Wine Country Trattoria (good food and service) to see World of Color (didn’t like the show as much.) So we haven’t had a win-win situation with the food and show, but felt both times were worth it for the convenience. I did see that they added an on-the-go dining option with reserved seating as well so check that out. If you had to pick between the shows, I would go with Fantasmic for sure!
- Parades are fun and and worth watching. We have never had a problem finding a spot right before it starts.
- If you don’t want to stay out or venture out late to see the fireworks (especially if you have little ones) the on-property hotels have a TV station that plays the music from the fireworks and if you have a Disneyland facing room you can see the show from the comfort of your hotel room without fighting crowds. If you see Fantasmic, the fireworks show starts right after so you can stay and watch two shows.
- Reese favorite rides were Matterhorn (“Mad Hatter Horn,” as she called it lol) and the Haunted Mansion. Paige loved the Little Mermaid ride and Toy Story Astroblasters. The girls also love the Enchanted Tiki room (I do to!) and the Luigi ride over in Cars Land is fun, too. My personal favorite? It’s a Small World 🙂 I’m low key with rides.
- I know about the private tour guides and have looked into them but haven’t hired one yet. I think we will once the kids are older and we can go on all the rides and therefore need the extra help in bypassing lines for all the popular rides.
- Plan in some downtime. No matter what age, Disneyland can get physically and mentally taxing. If you are staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels, I recommend taking advantage of the pool or the room and taking a mid-day break. You might think after having spent all this time getting to Disney why would you want to step away and take a break or go to the pool, but trust me on this one. No parent at Disney has regretted having a rested child; an overtired child is a nightmare! And when you’re tired and crabby, you just won’t enjoy it as much. Just getting off your feet and away from the crowds helps to give you the rest and energy needed for the rest of the day and night.
- If you are not staying on property and need a break, there are quiet areas or low key indoor activities. Here are ways to take a break in each of the parks :
- In California Adventure, I highly recommend the Disney, Jr. dance party show. It’s AMAZING for the little ones – it’s so fun! Both Paige and Reese really enjoy it. It’s about 45 minutes and is a great sit-down indoor activity to break up the day especially when it’s hot out. (The Frozen show is another great option for this.) You can also head into the California Grand hotel and sit in the well-air-conditioned lobby (there’s a place by the check-in desk for kids to watch a movie.)
- In Disneyland, I recommend the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland and this little playground/waterfall area in Toontown. We let Reese play for almost an hour with a bow-and-arrow toy she got in this little area tucked away by the waterfall (it’s behind the ship, you’ll see it) while Paige slept in the stroller. For a minute we thought, “we came all the way to Disney for Reese to shoot bows and arrows in a corner and have Paige sleep??” but it quickly became a nice quiet moment of rest and a sweet memory for us. Sometimes Disney can be overwhelming for kids too, so let them do the tiny little things that they are interested in or want to investigate or explore.
- Paige doesn’t nap at home anymore, but I let her nap in the stroller every day. What I have done now for the past three years is send Russ and Reese (and Maddix, when she was there with us last year) to go on rides and I take Paige napping in the stroller to Sephora and Starbucks at Downtown Disney and browse and have some me time. I love it haha 😉
- The on-property hotels have a TV channel that has characters reading bedtime stories. Reese loves this and remembered it from last time.
- Order food in advance using their Mobile app. Even Dole Whip at the Enchanted Tiki Room!
- Get churros for breakfast. It’s basically a long donut – right??! 😉 Most carts open at 10:30 but there’s one by the castle that opens at 9am.
- The only time I will ever eat a corndog or hotdog is at the Red Wagon off of Main Street, and I do it every time.
- White River Snacks at The Grand Californian is an unassuming, quiet, small, almost shady-looking restaurant (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) – but with the BEST food at the park! Pizzas using real ingredients from Italy, healthy options like poke bowls and chicken shwarma skewers. If you stay there at the hotel there’s coffee and tea and drinks for free there in the mornings.
- The Starbucks at Downtown Disney opens at 5am. I know this well lol. ALSO! This location uses plastic straws – but the Starbucks on Main Street uses paper straws (important details.)
- All stands and restaurants will give you free cups of ice water. Just ask!
If you want more information, in particular specific itineraries of how to move around the park, be sure to follow Magical Kinda Mama (they used to be called Magic Kingdom Mamas.) Their blog is all about Disney and has a ton of resources!
I hope you have a great time at Disneyland!!! It really is a magical place to go as a family! 🙂 If you found these Disneyland tips helpful, let me know in the comments below. Enjoy your trip!