Going to Disneyland is exciting! It was exciting when I was a kid, but it’s even better when you’re a parent. I was always the kind of pre-mom, who before kids would say, “Oh, why bother taking kids to Disneyland until they’re at least 5 and can remember.” Well, as a mom, I’m so glad we’ve taken our kids to Disneyland and started young. Yes, it’s more work. But, it’s so magical to see Mickey and Minnie and all the fun rides through your kid’s eyes. And the magic is only there so long. We just got back from Disneyland and my son asked me if Mickey was just someone dressed up. WHAT!? You’re only 4! When he was 2 and 3 that was MICKEY! The same mouse in his crib/bed and the same one on TV. The magic begins to fade and your trip changes.
So, if you’re traveling with kids, here’s our advice for saving time & money! (Two of my favorite things to save).
1. Before you even set foot in your car or on the plane… GO SHOPPING! Hit the Disney Store. Hit the Disney store inside JC Penney’s. Walmart, wherever, but stock up on Disney-themed T-shirts, toys, little souvenirs, etc. This will save you a TON of money in the park. Every morning we gave Jackson a new shirt to wear (Mickey and Jake), and he loved his surprises. (And so did we at $4.99 a shirt). We also gave him a few toys, one of which he took to the park every day. So, when he’d ask to buy something, we’d remind him of the things he’d already gotten. We did the same for my daughter, bought her a bunch of Minnie Mouse clothes & the dress, which cost half as much at the park.)
2. Speaking of shopping, grab some snacks that will fit easily in a bag and stroller for the park. Trail mix, granola bars, fruit snacks, water bottles. All that good stuff can give you and your kiddos the energy you need to get through Disneyland without shelling out money at every turn.
3. Also before you even leave for your trip, CALL Disney. Find out when the parks open. Find out which park has the magic hour. (If you’re a resort guest, you get into the park one hour before it actually opens and can get on a number of your favorite rides before it gets crazy), and if you’re not at one of Disney’s resorts, start at the other park. Find out when the parades are. Find out what time different shows are and what shows they offer. The Pixar Parade in California Adventure is a MUST! You can get the parade times ahead of time and plan your day!
4. If you don’t have a good stroller, double stroller or can’t fit it in your trunk with your luggage (our problem) you can rent one ahead of time! This is perfect because it allows you to have a stroller in and out of the park. For us, Jackson only rode about 15% of the time, so it was perfect for him when he was tired or when we were coming/going from the park. If you rent at Disney, you have to leave the stroller at the park. We used a service called Babies Away and they were fantastic. They had a double Bob stroller dropped off at our hotel waiting for us and all we had to do when we were done is return it to the bell hop.
5. Stay at a Disney Resort if possible. Expensive, yes. Worth it, HECK yes! That’s because you get access to the magic hour every day of your stay. What that means is with your room key and ticket you get into the park an hour before the park opens! This is huge, especially if you do go at a busy time. You get right on all your favorite rides, several times before the park opens. Plus, once it opens you get quick access to fast passes. Before you book always, always, always check www.mousesavers.com for current deals and specials. Sometimes you can get up to 30% of your hotel stay.
6. No matter what, get to the park early! You’ll get much more bang for your buck. You can get right on Pirates of the Carribean and California Screaming within the first hour of the park opening. After that, wait times sky rocket. Same with some of the more popular kid rides. Also, you can get your FASTPASSES for popular rides, so you can ride them without waiting, a little later. The longer you wait, the later the FASTPASS window is.
7. If you want to get a FASTPASS for the Cars Land racers, WAIT IN LINE IMMEDIATELY AFTER ENTERING THE PARK! (You get the fast pass in Bugs Land). There is a line, it’s long, but you will get a fast pass. They start handing out fast passes right when the park opens, (NOT DURING THE MAGIC HOUR) and they often stop giving out fast passes within a couple of hours of the parks opening, so get there early! If you don’t, the average wait time is 75-90 minutes.
8. There is now a FASTPASS available for the new Frozen attractions, which are now located in CA Adventure in Hollywoodland. It will significantly cut down on your wait time. FASTPASS is available when the park opens for both Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome and For the First Time in Forever: A FrozenSing-Along Celebration. And, while you wait for the princesses, you can enjoy Olaf’s Snow Fest, which is your chance to meet Olaf and play in REAL snow.
9. If you have little kids who cannot ride because of height restrictions, you can get a RIDER SWAP! This is awesome. I cannot emphasize this one enough. It works as a fast pass on rides with height restrictions and will allow you to stay with the child while someone else rides. All they have to do is ask for a ride swap when they enter ride, then they bring you a certificate and you can use it at any point throughout the day. It’s like a fast pass for parents with small kids that works the rest of the day. Just present it at the Fast Pass line! (And can bring bring up to 2 other people with you). VERY cool! It got our son several rides on the Radiator Springs Racers since Grace is only a year and a half.
10. Eat a BIG breakfast. It will help, and likely allow you to skip lunch. We highly recommend the character breakfasts. Our favorite is “Breakfast with Mickey and Friends” at the Paradise Pier Hotel. (Everyone’s there except for Donald and Goofy). Our second favorite is “Breakfast with Minnie,” which is located inside the Disneyland park. Minnie is there along with Tigger, Pooh, Eeyore, Chip & Dale Captain Hook and more! They’re all buffet style. A little spendy, but worth it when you figure it’s like two meals in one. Plus, the one on one time with the characters is priceless for your young ones. We haven’t been yet, but hear the Princess breakfast at Ariel’s Grotto is also really good.
11. Speaking of characters, if your child has their heart set on meeting a particular character, just go up to any information person in either park and find out when and where your child’s favorite characters will be. They have all the information daily and you can plan your day accordingly. Jackson REALLY wanted to meet Jake and Donald, so this helped! They will take pictures for you with your camera.
12. Speaking of pictures, be sure to order the Disney Photo Pass. You can do it ahead of time and take advantage of a special offer. (About a $30 savings). Then, anywhere you see a photographer, they scan your pass and you can get a copy of the high quality professional picture. You get your ride photos. Then, at the end of your trip, you have all the pictures and can get them on a disk, then you can add Disney backgrounds. VERY cool! Then you’re not bugging people to take your pictures, and they’re set up in all the best places in the park. They also capture the characters you meet. And, if you do a character breakfast, you get those pictures FREE!
13. If you’re a nursing mom or have a little one in diapers, USE the baby center. There is one in Disneyland on Main Street and one in California Adventure right next to Cars Land. You can pump, nurse, change and feed baby. And, if you’ve forgotten anything, they have it all right there. It’s private. It’s air conditioned, and the attendants are very kind.
14. If your kids love Disney Jr., you must see the Disney Jr. Live stage in California Adventure in Hollywood Land. It was one of Jackson’s favorite things we did, after meeting Jake. It has several times, and you just wait in line. In Disneyland they have a musical performance of Mickey and the Magical Map. We didn’t care for it, but a lot of people did and it came recommended.
15. If you’re a Disney Visa cardholder, you can save 10% off a lot of things in the park and can take advantage of a special meet-and-greet that’s private in California Adventure. There’s a limited window, but it’s a private meet-and-greet. Also, look for special offers throughout the year, we got $200 in Disney bucks.
16. Download the Mouse Wait app. It gives you up to date wait times on all the rides in both parks. It also gives you the times for the next fast pass window, if you were to get a fast pass right then. Very helpful!
17. You can get alcohol, BUT only in California Adventure. There are lots of places to get craft beers and wine. This is a good thing to know to keep you sane while your kids are napping. Because hopefully you brought Grandma and Grandpa to help you with your Disney experience.
18. One last thing! If you’re staying at a Disney property, you can have room service deliver special treats for your kiddos from Mickey and Minnie! Everything from cookies and milk to extravagant gift baskets! We did milk, cookies and Rice Krispe Mickey along with balloons, which was a HUGE hit. Plus, you can personalize a keepsake greeting card from the duo.
19. Okay, one more thing! Get your child an autograph book! We got Jackson one when he was 3 and again at 4, he just loves it. It’s his own souvenir book with memories. We get the one where you can add pictures to make it even more special. You can get it ahead of time or at the park, it’s about the same price.
Good luck! And, if you have ANY tips, please do share.