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Tips for Feeling Disneyland’s Magic (and be sure to share your own)

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I have figured out the “Magic of Disney.” It has nothing to do with Disneyland’s characters, rides, parades, shops or food. That magic has to do with how two children–completely overwhelmed, overheated and exhausted–can whine for hours about the conditions….

….and yet at day’s end forget it all and attest they had the most fun of their entire lives.

Hadley, Bode and I had just one day to spend at Disneyland over Spring Break. My friend Stephanie (a local) was going to be our tour guide but had to bail at the last-minute. I had foolishly planned on blindly following her around but instead was thrown into the lake without a paddle.

Or a boat.

My kids and I initially failed at navigating the crowds but by day’s end we had started to figure out the system (and I would love to hear your insights as well.)

Planning Ahead
Pre-planning is, of course, a no-brainer (unless you’re me). If you have specific questions that are not addressed on their thorough Web site, be sure to check out the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (moms head up this online question-and-answer forum). Also, order a complimentary Disney Vacation Planning CD with oodles of tips to your get familiar with the Resort before arriving.

For the most popular rides, a FASTPASS can cut your time in line from over an hour to just a few minutes.
One of the few things we did right was identify one must-do ride (Space Mountain) and went there immediately. We inserted our Park admission ticket into the FASTPASS machine outside Space Mountain and received a pre-assigned time slot for faster boarding (we discovered it can be used anytime after that point). It’s free, but you can only have one FASTPASS active at a time. Instead of waiting for over an hour for the ride, we came back a few hours later and boarded in less than 15 minutes. Despite having the bejeeters scared out of us (OK, me), this was our favorite ride.

I posted a desperate message on Facebook about the long lines and my friend came to the rescue by recommending the FREE iPhone app, Mousewait. It gives wait times for rides, tells you the nearest place to get food, find a bathroom or even an iPhone charging station. The Park also has official apps for a nominal charge.

Parent “Rider Switch”
A theme-park “rider switch” policy gives both parents a chance to enjoy the latest attractions without the double wait. A parent who waits with a young child while the other parent rides the attraction can get on the ride with minimal wait time once the first parent comes off. Because I was a single mom, this option didn’t work for me but you’d better believe I would have taken advantage of it if my husband was with us.

Baby Care Centers and Strollers
My friend Stephanie recommended I take her stroller for 4-year-old Bode and after a 12-hour day, I was counting my blessings for it (note: strollers are not allowed in line). If you don’t want to bring your own, each park has a Baby Care center and baby stroller rental stations ($15/day). The Baby Care Centers have toddler-size toilets, diaper-changing rooms and private rooms with rocking chairs for nursing mothers. (You will also find baby-changing stations in the restrooms.)

We bunked at Stephanie’s house but I’m debating staying on-site next time.
Pros: Guests of the Disneyland Resort Hotels are allowed to enter the park about an hour and a half before the general public is permitted access (valid only Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday). The Resort also offers special packages that often include hotels and tickets, as well as savings on multi-day stays and multi-park visits. Store purchases in the park can be sent over to the hotel so you don’t have to haul your treasures around.
Cons: Disneyland Resort Hotels are expensive and with the exception of Grand Californian, the Disneyland Resort Hotels are not themed as they are at Walt Disney World. There are also several non-Disney hotels that are much less expensive and within walking distance.

Healthful Dining Options
I did not have the foresight to make reservations at the Park’s restaurants and to avoid the chaos, we ate during non-peak times. While we had our share of Disney-esque treats, I was delighted to buy mangoes from one of the nutritious snack stands that offered such things as nuts, trail mix and items on the fresh fruit carts. Kids meals come with fruit or vegetables on the side, along with juice, water or low-fat milk to drink. Fries and soda are available upon request, at no additional cost.

Toddler-friendly attractions
While children are typically captivated by all of Disneyland Resort, be sure to seek out attractions and activities that are appropriate for little ones. Sure hits at Disneyland: Mickey’s Toontown, where they can visit Mickey at his house; Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, “it’s a small world” and Dumbo, the Flying Elephant. At Disney’s California Adventure park, a few of the special attractions for children are Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage, A Bug’s Land with its kiddie attractions, and King Triton’s Carrousel.

New Attractions
On May 27, Mickey’s Soundsational Parade will premier with whimsical float units, live musicians and some of your favorite characters including (duh) Mickey Mouse and his pals.

On June 3, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure will debut At Disney California Adventure park. My kids tried (and failed) at catching a glimpse behind the barriers of this journey under the sea. From the great songs to state-of-the-art animatronics and special effects, guests will become a part of her world in a way that’s never happened before. A must for Little Mermaid lovers!


The biggest thing I learned during our first visit to Disneyland was to stop going commando by trying to see and do everything. We made a small list of our must-visit attractions (favorites were Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Soarin’, Grizzly River Run water rafting, and Pirates of the Caribbean). Next time, I feel better equipped to conquer the park.

And feel even more of that Disney magic.

What are your tried and true tips for getting the most out of Disneyland?

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  • comment avatar Karen May 9, 2011

    My advice if you’re planning to go to Disneyland two years in a row, then consider getting a annual pass and make the two trips coincide within a year! Annual pass holders get additional shopping discounts, Disney lodging discounts and dining discounts.

  • comment avatar Amy H May 9, 2011

    We go in september. No lines and wonderful weather!

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck May 9, 2011

    It was so busy over Spring Break and I heard it wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg with the summer crowds. September sounds marvelous.

    A friend specifically goes during the busy seasons and loves it. She obviously has a system!

  • comment avatar Gina S May 9, 2011

    Offseason, like Feb that was awesome, nice fresh weather, no lines. last trip was Sept 2010 and it was good too, but Feb was best. I also went on a June trip, and the heat and the lines makes it a living hell, nothing magic about it 🙂

  • comment avatar Robin W May 9, 2011

    It’s a great trip for inviting grandparents. We had a 1:1 adult kid ratio which really helped with kids that can’t do every ride, naps and some evenings on our own.

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck May 9, 2011

    Love the idea of strength in numbers. I definitely had a tough time juggling two kids by myself, especially when it came to bathroom breaks and mealtime!

  • comment avatar Jennie M May 9, 2011

    Whenever I go on or near my birthday 10.05 the park is relatively empty! In fact, I’ve been able to go to both parks disney adventure and disneyland and go on all the rides. I usually leave the park before 8 PM!

    Early October is good because kids are back in school and it is before the holidays!

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck May 9, 2011

    That poses another question: Does Disney go all-out for Halloween or just a few haunted houses?

  • comment avatar Melissa J May 9, 2011

    October and January, after the holiday break, are both great times to hit the park. If you want to see it all decked out for Christmas, the first couple of weeks in December are good. There’s an app for the iPhone which absolutely ROCKS – Mousewait. It shows wait times for different rides, gives distances to attractions and rest rooms, and has a forum filled with people who love Disneyland and want to give tips and help others out!

  • comment avatar Mary Ann May 9, 2011

    Mousewait saved us as well.

    A few of my tips:

    Buy tickets online. It’s cheaper:

    Also, local schools have random Fridays off, which was a BEAST for us to navigate. A friend later told me about the school calendar to check when groups will be there.

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck May 9, 2011

    I think what I learned most from this trip is the wealth of knowledge available for navigating Disneyland. The fact that there are entire books and Web sites dedicated entirely to this is amazing. Definitely case study-worth!

  • comment avatar Melissa J May 9, 2011

    ALL OUT! They have special events where the kids can go trick or treating in the park. Both parks are all decked out in Halloween decor – but it’s not creepy. Just fun and festive.

  • comment avatar jesser May 9, 2011

    We had a wonderful time at Disneyland overall. The two biggest busts for us were #1 Ariel’s Grotto (overpriced, crappy) and #2 “World of Color” show .. couldn’t see a damned thing and what we could see wasn’t too impressive.

    We loved the BBQ place in Frontier land … and Bug’s Life exhibits were fun for our 2 year old. We were pleasantly surprised our 4yo could ride The Matterhorn (she’s short like mama).

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck May 9, 2011

    I’m remiss we didn’t go on two rides: the Matterhorn and Nemo Submarine Voyage.

    I had the BBQ place in Frontierland recommended to me but unfortunately the line was waaaaaaay too long. Next time!

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