This fall we spent a fabulous five days in Disneyland and California Adventure. From magical moments with cast members to fantastic first time experiences, we, once again, fell in love with the Happiest Place on Earth.
Whenever I post photos I get a handful of questions about how to do Disney best so I figured it was about time to tally up some timeless tips.
Assess Your Disney Goal
Depending on your crew’s ages, you’re going to approach Disney in different ways. Before you go, determine if rides are a priority or character meet ‘n greets; then again, maybe you want to try lots of the seasonal food or catch a special event, show, or celebration.
You can definitely do more than one thing. We like to go for five days which allows for just about everything, but knowing your Disney goal will allow you to approach the trip with a general outline of what needs to be done first so everyone is happy and priorities are met.
Prep a Loose Schedule
On that note, before you go, plan to jot down a rough daily schedule. On the Disneyland website you can preview a five day glimpse of all the important events. Hover over Parks & Tickets on the top menu bar and click “More Hours”, adjust your dates and you’ll be able to make note of things you want to do each day based on times and locations.
I usually start with parades and evening events and then plug in other shows/activities/entertainment we want to see.
If rides are your priority do not miss Disneyland Daily’s ride strategy posts.
Consider a Midday Nap
Not everyone Disneys the same, but if you ask me – midday naps are where it’s at. We rope drop (meaning we get to the park an hour before posted opening) and then close the Parks down.
This only happens because we take a nap each day! Here’s the deal, rope drop allows you to get through lots of rides in a short amount of time. Then, by lunch time we pause, regroup, watch a show, and head back to the hotel to relax during the peak heat/busyness of the day. For us, this is roughly 1-2pm to 5-6pm. We head back to the Parks for evening events and more rides, which significantly decrease in wait time by 10pm. Trust me, there is nothing like riding Splash Mountain 2-3x in a row with no wait right at midnight with your giddy five-year-old :) Core memories!
Stay Within Walking Distance
If you opt to nap, it’s obviously ideal to be within walking distance of the Parks. You can utilize ART – which is the area’s bus system – but if you’re toting along a stroller or want to avoid waiting for the bus, booking a hotel within a 10-15 minutes walk is ideal. Everything along S. Harbor is worth considering and I can personally vouch for The Anaheim Hotel (retro remodel), Home2 Suites (probably our favorite thus far), SunCoast Hotel (lovely beds but breakfast is not included), and Best Western Stovall Inn (older and farther, but sufficient and great customer service). Castle Inn & Suites, Fairfield Inn, and Grand Legacy at the Park are next on my list to try.
Use the Disney App
I struggle with the balance of being in the moment and taking advantage of all the Park resources. The Disney app really is a gem though – everything you need to know at your finger tips. Familiarize yourself with the app before you go so you’re ready to link tickets, mobile order food, check wait times, and checkout from the gift shop … all from your phone.
On that note though, you’ll 100% need a portable battery pack to make it through the day, or even the morning! We have this portable charger and love it.
Make a Gift Shop Plan
You know your kids and how they’ll respond to souvenirs around every corner. Beforehand, make a plan and stick to it and you’ll hopefully avoid a Disney meltdown. Determine if your kids are earning their own souvenir money, if they have gift cards from birthdays/Christmas to spend, if you’re on a “yes” trip, or if you’re buying souvenirs every day or just the last one.
Over the years we’ve found that window shopping on the early days are ideal and then on the last day we return to buy what they love/remember the most as their special souvenir.
As a sentimental mama I always choose a hand cut silhouette from the shop on Main Street as my souvenir. Best $12 purchase ever.
Eat Outside the Park
There are a handful of meals I love at Disneyland and quite a few that I don’t feel are worth it. Truly, the snacks are the best! To manage both our tummies and wallets we tend to eat breakfast at the hotel and decide on one main meal for the day (that I notate in our schedule) – sometimes in the Park sometimes outside, and then snack or share quick service options as hunger demands.
Favorites In the Park:
- Corn dogs, available in both Disneyland and California Adventure
- Soup in bread bowls from Pacific Wharf Cafe in DCA, ask for your soup in a separate cup so your bread doesn’t get soggy and then you have delicious bread to nibble throughout the day … I love the deli sandwich there too
- Sandwiches from Disneyland’s Jolly Holiday are always solid
- Blue Bayou is worth the reservation for ambiance – the Monte Cristo is good but overpriced IMO
- Lamplight Lounge is my must eat at restaurant, definitely don’t miss this reservation – the potato skins appetizer is AMAZING and the lobster nachos are delish too
Kids meals are overpriced and repetitive (although my boys LOVE Pizza Planet pizza) so if you have littles who prefer familiar foods, pack in your own and just let them enjoy the sweets of Disneyland.
Favorites Outside the Park:
- Pizza Press – connected to The Anaheim Hotel, similar to Mod, absolutely delicious and very cost effective (two adults can share a pizza)
- Sabrosada – in the retail space next to Castle Inn
- The Cheesecake Factory – on Katella, large portions that are easy to share
Get Mom In the Pictures
Last, but not least – don’t let yourself get so busy documenting your kids’ smiles that you forget to get in the pictures too. Ask any parent you see to snap your photo and they’ll happily oblige. I always try to spy “the Instagram Mom” … someone who knows a smidge about angles and lighting and is willing to take a handful of shots. You can even swap taking each other’s photos so all the moms and dads get photographed enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth with their family.
Now, Disney is always changing so who knows how truly timeless these tips are, but, for now, I hope they help make your trip the very best it can be!