After taking our very first trip to the West Coast park last summer, I’ve been back solo four times since, which translates to some pretty good tips to help you make the most of each visit.
And just as I did in my Walt Disney World post, I focused on basic ways you can make a long weekend at the parks that much more pixie dusted for your family. Bonus: Disneyland is a lot smaller than Walt Disney World, which means hitting a lot more attractions before the kids start getting tired.
Disneyland is always busy, making it a little tricky to figure out when the very best time to visit might be. That being said, the least busy times (it’ll still be crowded) are the first few weeks of December. The Christmas decorations are out and the general merriment in the air is awesome. Other “slower” times are usually when school is first back in session (excluding any school holidays or three-day weekends), early January, just before most schools start Spring Break, and almost any time mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday).
There are three themed hotels on property at Disneyland – Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel. Staying at one of these hotels during your visit is a must; they really have the best location and extra touches that really top off the whole experience. Disney’s Grand Californian has a guests-only entrance to California Adventure (major time saver), while the Disneyland Hotel and The Paradise Pier Hotel are right across the street, within a block of Downtown Disney where the monorail station takes guests directly into Disneyland.
Another big perk to staying at a Disney property is “Magic Morning.” An early admission option for Disneyland Resort guests (with valid 3+ day ticket), it translates to one early admission to select attractions in Disneyland Park for one full hour before it opens to the general public on specific days. It’s a great chance to get your favorites in before the biggest crowds assemble.
As soon as you reserve, make sure you take the time to master the FASTPASS process. Think of it as an advanced reservation system that saves you a place in line for the most popular Disneyland and California Adventure attractions. All you have to do is go to a FASTPASS ticket station in the parks, choose your attraction, then return at the time marked on the pass for a much shorter wait in the queue. The caveats – you can only get one FASTPASS at a time, and sometimes, the entire day’s FASTPASS times “sell out” early for super popular attractions like Radiator Springs Racers.
Be sure to do some research to see which parks will have Extra Magic Hours during your stay too. Daily events schedules are available at the entrances of each park, and will give you a rundown of special events (think parades and fireworks) that will be offered. Consider making up daily itineraries too. (We’re big fans.) Getting everyone’s top picks down on paper can really help prioritize your visit, leaving plenty of time for enjoying whatever spontaneous things come your way, like a parade or street performers or just relaxing on a shady bench.
Does someone in your family have a food allergy? Don’t worry. Our son has a life-threatening peanut- and tree-nut allergy, and Disney cast members take it in stride. In addition to having the head chef at any eatery speak to us personally whenever it comes to our needs, we’re able to have complete peace of mind while our son enjoys a meal as appealing as everyone else’s. This personal touch makes our family feel cared about, so don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.
Have a child with special needs? Again, friendly cast members at Disneyland can help with a Disability Access Service Card (DASC). This free service is offered at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland (head to Guest Services) and allows for certain accommodations for guests requiring special assistance. Handicapped visitors and those with “invisible” disabilities alike can gain access to alternate attraction entrances, use their child- and adult-size strollers as wheelchairs, and if available, sit in a shaded waiting area without losing their place in line.
Convenient Baby Care Centers in each park offer moms and dads an air-conditioned place to rest, feed and change their little ones, in addition to private nursing rooms, toddler-sized toilets and a few sundries for purchase like formula, sip cups, pacifiers, diapers and the like. It’s quiet, clean, soothing, and the cast members at these locations seem especially kind.
And while Anaheim is pretty sunny and mild, hydration is still important. I was fooled by the hot, but not-too-hot weather on our family trip, and the resulting yuck wasn’t pretty. Pack refillable water bottles in your day pack (we use a simple backpack filled with dry snacks and drinks to cut down on arbitrary spending) or even a Camelbak-style water pack which come in several sizes and styles.
An important tip I share with anyone who has children, regardless of age, is to photograph them, front and back, before heading out to the parks each day. Should you become separated from your child, you’ll know exactly what they were wearing. Be sure your photo includes their shoes!
In the end, despite the planning and the research and the reservations, just focus on having fun and making memories. Don’t try to do everything at once, just enjoy it as you go. That’s kind of what it’s all about after all.
Photography by Pilar Clark