Monday, October 6, 2014

How to Have an Awesome Disneyland Trip with Your Littles

Hubby and I are Disney addicts.  Movies, books, tv, and, most importantly, DISNEYLAND!  We live 200 miles away but still manage to go about three times a year and we're annual passholders.  Squishy is two and some change and has already been seven times that I can think of.  When I ask if she wants to go to the park, the kid asks if we can go to Disneyland.  I tell her no of course because who wants to drive that far midday but it's a good example of how we are THOSE people.  The crazy people.

Because we go so much, and because we've learned the ins and outs of how to have an awesome trip over the years I thought it was time to pass that info on to those of you who may be getting ready for their first trip with their kids, or even for veteran park goers who want to make things a little bit easier.

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Don't Bring...

* Your $700 stroller.  Just don't.  Unless you're planning to have someone with it at all times, I highly advise you don't take that gamble.  Strollers do get stolen from Disneyland.  It's not a myth.  The likelihood isn't high; but, personally that isn't a gamble that I'm willing to take.  We have a Baby Jogger City Select that I love more than my car some days but I only take it into the park if I know that someone can be with it at all times.


* Babywear, rent a stroller, or invest in a cheap stroller that wouldn't break your heart if it grew legs and walked away.  On our most recent trip, if we knew all of us would be going on rides, one of us would wear Squiggles and Squishy hung out in our $25 umbrella stroller.  So much easier to maneuver.  I can collapse that sucker down and bring it on rides or into the restaurants.  It's just a lot easier.  In the past we've rented the strollers at the park $15 for the day and if they go missing there are locations in the park where you can get a replacement.

Don't Bring...

* Your regular diaper bag.  Unless you have a really supportive cross body bag or backpack don't bother.  If you're going to the parks well prepared you'll have that sucker loaded with snacks, water, and all your baby goods.  It gets heavy.  Trust me.  My shoulders and neck learned this the hard way.  Thanks for nothing Petunia Picklebottom!


* Bring a backpack with supportive straps.  Sure, it might make things a little harder to find but it makes lugging all your gear a heck of a lot easier.  I'll go into what we pack for a day at the park in a second, but suffice it to say we get our use out of the backpack.


What to Bring:

Other than your normal kiddo gear there are a few things I always try to bring with me
  • Sunscreen, or hats, for little ones.  You'll be outside a lot and it's sunny in SoCal.
  • Water.  Bring in a few bottles of water.  Bottled water in the park is outrageously over priced and there are water fountains you can use all over the place.  
  • Granola bars.  Chances are, at some point, you'll be standing in line and someone will end up starving.  They will be pretty sure they are going to collapse before they make it on the ride.  For those occasions have granola bars.  They are typically pretty filling and can help tide you over.  We like cliff or quest bars from the grownups and quaker chewy bars for Squishy.
  • Apples or oranges.  Really any fruit that won't get squished in the backpack.  
  • More diapers than you think is necessary and a change of clothes for young kids and babes.  Murphy's Law is real folks.  We have had epic blowouts in Disneyland even though we almost never have them at home.
  • Camera.  Disney photopass folks will use your camera for pictures with your favorite characters.  And they don't suck at it.  And it's free.

Where to Stay:

I'm not actually going to say much on this topic as we do tend to stay in one of the Disney hotels, although we have stayed off site a handful of times.  So I can't really give great recommendations for where to stay off site. 

The Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian are both beautiful and incredibly convenient.  We love them both and I can answer questions about them in the comments if anyone is interested in knowing more or anything about our experience with either. 

I will say if you are really wanting to stay at the Grand Californian but turned off by the price, check out David's Vacation Club Rental (here).  The Grand Californian has villas that are for Disney Vacation Club members; but, you can go through an intermediary, like David, and rent someones points.  That's what we did on our most recent trip and we got a one bedroom suite, with a full kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, and laundry for less than the price of a regular Grand Californian room.  Seriously.  Same hotel.  Same stylings.  Biggest difference is less frequent cleaning.  So worth it!  ((We also saved A TON being able to cook some of our meals and make sandwiches etc.))


How to Organize the Day:

The night before you go to the park, make a game plan.  Know what you want to do the most that day.  If you want to make sure you get a Fastpass for Radiator Springs Racers make sure you are in California Adventure when the gates open.  If you want to meet Elsa and Anna, you best be at Disneyland at rope drop.  Knowing what you want out of the day is VERY important.

In general, Hubby and I usually hit up the park in the morning and then in the evening leaving the midday heat and crowds to other people. It gives us a chance to recharge and keeps us from getting burnt out.  

We typically go to Fantasyland first thing in the morning at least once.  Those lines are always extremely long and they tend to be shortest in the morning, and very late.  

We also never wait in line for something with a fastpass.  You can hold one Fastpass for each park at a time and, to us, it's just not worth it to stand in line when we can use a Fastpass and spend our time shopping, eating, or spending time on rides that don't require quite so much of your day in a line.

((For those who might not know, a Fastpass is a pass to get on the ride during a set time.  For example, you head to Splash mountain and see the wait is 60 minutes but you have two impatient kids.  Next to the ride there will be a kiosk for Fastpass.  You insert your park ticket into the machine and it will spit out a voucher with a time range on it.  When you are in that time range, you return to the ride, present your ticket to a castmember (Disneyland employees are castmembers) and you'll get on the ride after a much abbreviated line.)) 


Misc Quick Tips:
  • If you're traveling with a baby or toddlers, utilize the baby care center.  The care centers have a clean spot to change your little one, small toilets for potty training kids, stations for nursing or pumping, and high chairs for feeding.  PLUS, they have most of the gear you might have forgotten for baby, available for purchase.  In DISNEYLAND, the baby care center is located on the end of main street on the right hand side if you're looking at the castle.  It's right next to corn dog cart and Plaza Inn.  In CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE, the baby care center is located to the left, and slightly behind, the Ghiradelli shop which is in the wharf area where many of the restaurants are.
  • If you want to make your trip a little extra special, ask if you can ride in the top of the Mark Twain River Boat.  They might not say yes, but if they do you might get to sign the special guest book and be in charge of the horn.  We did it a few years ago and I loved it a lot more than my age should allow ;)
  • Try the goat effect.  When you're on Big Thunder and see the goat on the hill on the right handside on the hill, watch it as you go around the turn.  It'll make you super dizzy and is therefore super fun.
  • When you're on Winnie the Pooh, look behind you and up in the last few rooms of the ride.  You might catch the remnants of the Country Bear Jamboree.
  • Touch the apple while in line for Snow White.  Just do it.
  • While you're at it, stare at the window above the ride when you get off.  You might just get a glimpse of evil.
  • If you're traveling with a baby or someone who doesn't like rides, ask about the parent switch pass.  Parent A asks for pass and stands in line with a kiddo.  Brings the pass for Parent B when they're done and Parent B gets to ride with kiddo without having to stand in the super long line.  Usually you get to use the Fastpass line.  This is not available on all rides.
  • Know the heights of our children before they go.  It will prevent a lot of heart ache if you grab a map and can see in advance what the height requirements will be before you tell your kid about a ride.  I've seen a lot of little ones with dashed dreams when they don't make the height requirement.  
  • If your kid is a sloucher, but is tall enough, have them stand with their arms stretched up.  Helps them hit that marker.
  • Keep your receipt for souvenirs.  If they break, and you have the receipt, Disney will normally replace it, no questions asked.
Honestly, there is so much more I could say.  I could be a this for hours.  I will say, if you have any questions please feel free to ask it in the comments.  We love Disneyland and there is a good chance we'll know the answer whether it's about dining, rides, the resort hotels, etc.


If you want to meet Elsa and Anna, you need to be there at park open.  Disneyland no longer just has one long line to meet the ladies of Frozen.  Currently, if you'd like to see them, you need to arrive at park open and head back to Fantasyland.  There you will join the line that stretches towards Big Thunder and you will receive a voucher to come back at a set time to meet them.  In order to get this voucher everyone in the party must be in the park, or at least have been in that morning at some point.  This means dad can't go and get the voucher while everyone sleeps.  Not everyone needs to be in line, but everyone must be in the park and whoever is in line needs to have ALL the tickets for the party. You then return during your designated time and stand in a shortened line.  This was done to alleviate the three hour wait some guests were experiencing when trying to see the Queen.   PLEASE NOTE: these passes are frequently gone in just a few hours, if not less.  If you get to the park in the afternoon you will not be able to attend a meet and greet with Elsa and Anna.  You can still see them on a pre-parade float.

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