I was around 12 or 13 years old the first time I visited Disneyland. Two weeks ago, I went back with my husband and kids, and it ended up being a fantastic trip. Everyone who visits has their own tricks and tips on how to enjoy and make the most out of the trip. Here is what worked best for our family.
1. Embrace the FASTPASS System
The long lines at the popular rides can be a real drag, but the FASTPASS system allows you to get tickets for a designated time later in the day and enjoy a fairly short, separate line. It's a great system and once you reap the benefits of it a couple of times, you will be hooked on watching the time to see when you are eligible for the next FASTPASSES. You can find all of the details about it on the Disney site.
2. Put Your Phone to Good Use
The Disney App helped keep us updated on what the wait times were for rides, as well as which rides were down for maintenance. I also used my alarm to keep track of rides and showtimes. I can't bring myself to delete these yet.
3. Run, Don't Walk, to Get the Cars Ride FASTPASS at Disney's CA Adventure Park
This was a much-appreciated tip from my friend, Susan, who has made numerous trips to the Disney parks. We followed her advice and scored late morning passes. This was a highlight of CA Adventure Park. It's definitely a popular one; they stopped distributing FASTPASSES shortly after we got ours, and after a brief shutdown of the ride while we were in line, they announced that anyone that didn't have FASTPASSES would have to wait up to 3 hours! Yikes...glad we got in when we did!
4. Create your Own Autograph Book
I didn't know if my kids would be interested in collecting autographs from the characters, so I didn't want to buy autograph books and have them go to waste. I also didn't want to carry bulky books around, so we used printer paper cut into small square booklets, the kids searched Google images for a cover, and bam, crafty (ahem, cheap) autograph books were made. These were easy to slip into a thin storage pocket in my travel camera bag which I carried around with me every day.
5. Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy the Ride
When they make an announcement that there is NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY, learn how to adjust your camera settings to take photos in low light situations. If you can't, then sit back and enjoy the ride! You don't really want to be THAT person who annoys and disrupts the ride for everyone else, causing someone's husband to yell at you from the back of the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride, do you? Seriously, while I was tempted to photograph every single thing, I made sure to put the camera down at times and take in the experience through my eyes and not a lens.
6. Rent a Locker
This was a smart investment each day at both parks. Each morning, we stored a small soft-sided lunchbox and backpack filled with extra clothes, sunblock, band-aids, and medication, and just made trips back to the locker when it was lunch time or if we needed to grab something. Carrying a backpack around can be a real drag, not to mention tiring for your back. The locker was a small detail that made a huge difference. The medium-sized lockers worked perfectly for us.
7. Penny Souvenirs
This has been a souvenir tradition in our family for years. All over Disneyland, you'll find penny souvenir machines where you can have a character imprinted on the side of a penny. I don't know where we started this tradition, but if you are looking for small/easy to carry and inexpensive souvenirs to help remember your time at Disneyland, this is the way to go.
8. Book a Hotel Within Walking Distance
As much as we would've loved to stay at one of the Disney Resorts, we also wanted to be able to pay our mortgage this month. ;) A friend who recently visited Disneyland stayed at Residence Inn, which was only a short walk to the park entrances. We went with this recommendation (thanks, Christine!) and were happy with this choice. Our one-bedroom suite had a kitchenette, which was perfect for making sandwiches to take with us to the parks. With a pool, hot tub, and complimentary breakfast each morning, this hotel and location had everything we needed for the brief time we actually spent there.
9. Build in Rest Time
We knew that the days were going to be long, so we made sure to build in breaks throughout the day. Waiting in long lines, crowds, and hot weather can make both parents and kids a tad irritable. I kept an eye on the show schedules so it would give us something to do while getting a little rest time in. Mid-day ice cream floats also made for a nice pick-me-up!
10. Wait Until the Kids are Older
This was probably the best decision ever. For years, we talked about taking the kids to Disneyland, but wanted to wait until they 1) weren't in strollers, 2) weren't throwing epic tantrums, 3) were tall enough to go on all of the rides, and 4) would remember - and appreciate - the experience. Some of my favorite memories from this trip will forever be when my kids spontaneously said, "Thank you for taking us to Disneyland!" It was worth the wait just for those words.
11. One Camera, One Lens
For the photographers out there: I knew I would be bummed if I didn't carry my camera with me, so I brought along my 5DMarkIII and 50mm lens. It was limiting at times, but not enough to make me want to carry around more than that.
12. Enjoy the Magic
As we sat watching the fireworks show on the first night, I found myself swallowing back tears. It was a huge commitment to make this trip happen. The stress and anxiety of several different things actually made me cancel the trip a few days before. Knowing the disappointment that would follow (for all of us) made me feel worse about canceling, so the decision to go was made. It turns out that the trip was actually what we needed more than anything. Despite our limited view of the fireworks that night, I looked up to the night sky from the cafe we were sitting at on Main Street and quietly thanked Disneyland for creating a much-needed magical experience for us.
What are your favorite Disneyland tips and tricks? Share in the comments below!