Our big trip was planned to celebrate our oldest daughter's 5th birthday. The first in three 5th birthday celebrations at Disneyland.
We had so much fun and I have decided I want to live at Disneyland :). Anyway, I thought I would share our most helpful tips just in case any of you are planning a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. It does seem to me that teachers love Disney more than anyone else :).
Top Ten Disneyland Tips
1. Remember, this is supposed to be fun! This is actually a tip I read on another blog when I was preparing for our trip. As much fun as Disneyland is, it can be really stressful too with so many people, so much to do, and overly tired kids and parents. I have a tendency to get stressed out so I made a point of constantly reminding myself that this trip is for the girls. As much as I wanted to follow the plan and see as much of the park as possible, if the girls wanted to ride It's a Small World again I would take a deep breath, smile and say, "Let's do it!" This really made a difference!
2. Little kids need a stroller. Disneyland (and California Adventure) are huge! If you want to move at any kind of a good pace, your little ones are going to need a stroller. I can't imagine what we would have done without it and we have a 5 year old and a 3 year old. Instead of bringing a double stroller we brought two umbrella strollers. This was great because my husband and I could separate and move through the crowd more easily.
You can rent a stroller at Disneyland for $15, which isn't bad considering how expensive everything is. It is a single jogging stroller. If you need two strollers they only charge $25. The negatives to renting a stroller are that there are lots of identical strollers around - you have a nametag on the top to identify your stroller, and the fact that you can't take the strollers out of the park area. Since we were staying at a hotel we had to walk to, this wouldn't have worked for us.
One last thought on strollers - my husband was using our more expensive umbrella stroller that was taller and more sturdy than the typical umbrella stroller I had. He is 6'4" and the stroller was comfortable for him to push. I am only 5'4" and the cheaper umbrella stroller was still too low for me to push comfortably. I wouldn't necessarily buy a stroller just for Disneyland, but if you are in the store and choosing between the $15 stroller and the $50 stroller - I would spend the extra money, you will be so glad you did.
3. Pack snacks! We all know that food is expensive at Disneyland. We also know that kids are constantly hungry. A day or so before our trip I went to Costco and bought beef jerky, trail mix etc... to bring to the park. When we got to California my husband stopped by a grocery store and bought bottled water and juice boxes. Having these snacks handy in our backpack made a huge difference. I could see the jealous looks of all of the other parents when we whipped out a snack for our hungry girls while waiting in line :).
4. Wear comfortable shoes (and schedule a pedicure). Your feet are going to be so sore after a busy day at the park. This is not the time to look fashionable, wear the most comfortable shoes you have and plan on still having sore feet. One night we stopped by the hotel hot tub and soaked our feet while we watched the fireworks. This felt amazing and the girls thought it was pretty fun too.
5. If you have young kids and you can afford it, stay at the Grand Californian. We decided to stay at the Howard Johnson for this trip. It was rennovated not long ago and has a great waterpark-like pool (slides, a bucket that dumps water, etc...). We were so happy with the hotel, except for the fact that we had to walk ten minutes to and from Disneyland. This wasn't a long walk, but with two little girls we found ourselves wishing we had spent a little more (okay, a lot more) and stayed at the closest hotel possible.
6. Young girls must experience the Bippity Boppity Boutique. The Bippity Boppity Boutique is located in the castle at Disneyland, and it is where little girls are turned into princesses. The least expensive package is about $50 and includes a makeover (hair and a little bit of makeup). The most expensive package can run over $200 and this includes a princess outfit from the store part of the boutique. With two girls I wasn't about to spend over $400 so a week or so before the trip I used a 25% off coupon from the Disney store and bought their princess dresses early. The boutique had no problem with the girls bringing their dresses and I saved a bundle!
I realize that even $50 is a lot to spend, but this truly was a magical experience for both the girls and my husband and I.
As a side note - Ariel's Grotto is the restraunt for princess character dining. We splurged (yep, it is crazy expensive) and did this and again, we were so happy we did. They have the whole experience down to a science so little princesses are never kept waiting. Four princesses come to your table and sign autograph books, take pictures, and chat with their young guests. Again, both my husband and I agreed, it was definitely worth the price.
7. Plan your fastpass use. I am always surprised at how many people don't know about the fastpass system at Disneyland. Unlike some other systems, this is totally free to all guests. Just put your park ticket into the fastpass machine (it will come back out!) and collect the slip that prints out. It will tell you what time to return to the ride. When you come back to the ride you stand in the fastpass line which is much faster than the "standby" line. You typically won't wait more than 10 minutes in a fastpass line.
Not all rides have a fastpass. You can get a list of rides that apply on the Disneyland website. These are the bigger rides that are going to have the longest wait times.
In general you can have one fast pass at a time. However, you can have one in Disneyland and one in California Adventure at the same time, so if you are going back and forth between the parks you can have two. Also, if your fastpass time is significantly later in the day, you will be able to get another fastpass before you use your first fastpass. For example, if you have a fastpass for Splash Mountain at 8:00pm and it is only 1:00pm, you will be elligible for another fastpass at 3:00pm. This should be printed at the bottom of any fastpass.
You can also get another fastpass before you use your first fastpass as long as you have reached your ride "window". Let's say that you have a fastpass for Soarin' that is good between 2:00pm and 3:00pm. At 2:00, before your head over to Soarin, stop by Grizzly River Run and get a fastpass for that ride. Now, you can use your Soarin' fastpass while you wait for the window on your Grizzy River Run fastpass.
Finally, even though the fastpasses have expiration times, we were assured by many other guests that you can use it anytime that day. We never tried this, but if you miss your window, it is worth a try.
I do realize that this all sounds confusing. The takeaway message here is this: use the fastpasses. Before you stand in line for anything, make sure you have at least one fastpass in your hand.
8. You can have any purchase sent to the front gate or your hotel room. There are cool stores all over Disneyland - most of them do have a lot of the same items, but there are some specialty items. If you find something you must have, but don't want to carry it around all day, you can have it sent to the front gate. Just give them a couple of hours to get it there before you try to claim it. If you are staying at a Disneyland hotel you can even have purchases sent to your room. A word of warning: don't wait until closing to claim your packages - you will have to wait in yet another line to do so.
Also, the Emporium on Main Street is a huge store and has almost everything that is for sale in the park in it. There is also a Disney store in Downtown Disney that has the best selection anywhere. This is where we made most of our purchases.
9. Ask a cast member - you may be surprised what they can do for you! This is advice I did not take myself. I read that if you ask, you can ride with the conductor on the train (or the monorail) and may even be able to steer the huge riverboat. All you have to do is ask. I found everyone who worked in the park very friendly and eager to share with guests. If you would like to do something special, there is no harm in asking and you may have a very special experience.
10. If you can get up early, do it. Not only do both Disneyland and California Adventure offer Magic Morning Hours (you can get in one hour early), but Disneyland's Main Street usually opens about an hour before the rest of the park. If you can be waiting by the entrance to Fantasyland at 8:00am instead of getting your bags checked near the front gate you will be able to get in a couple of the most popular rides before a major line forms. We were never able to get up this early and even at 8:45 there was a 45 minute wait for Peter Pan!
I hope you found these tips helpful and I encourage you to leave a comment sharing your own tips. If you can't tell I am a little bit Disneyland crazy and I love learning more about my favorite place. Now that our trip is over I need to start planning for our next trip!