Here are some Disney tips and suggestions that might be meaningful to you after you’ve worked out the major details of your vacation such as where and how long you’ll be staying; now you can start thinking about the specifics.
It’s very satisfying to learn little tricks that make the day more fun, or where you avoid a potential wrinkle. I’m happy to say that we have some of those cool tips for you here. In fact there are a lot of them that we’ve herded together in one place. But you’ll have more fun with going through them once the big questions are answered, so it might be worth a quick survey now and a return visit to this page when you’re ready for details.
We’ve organized this great intellectual treasure of Disneyland tips into a few categories for easy absorption. They are mostly presented in bullet point format to make it as concise as possible. You might want to print out these pages and mark in red pen those items that really jump out at you. (We debated whether this should be split into multiple pages. Hopefully it’s not too long; but you’re looking for lots of great information all in one place, right?)
Disneyland Tips for a Better Vacation
The Big Picture
Disneyland is the nation’s second-busiest theme park at just under 15 million guests, right behind the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. California Adventure is #7 at around 6 million guests. Size-wise it’s not that much different than its busier neighbor, so that’s one reason to head over to Disney’s California Adventure when the lines get too long in the Mouse House. Also, Disney wants to improve the performance of the California Adventure park, and is already well into a $1 billion improvement project. So there’s more good stuff coming between now and around 2012.
- Consider buying your park passes online at Disneyland.com. That is a very safe place to get them and you print them on your computer. They might give you a discount coupon for merchandise purchases. Also, you can replace a lost ticket.
- The busy season is in the summer and right around Christmas and New Years. Holiday weekends can also be quite busy. So the ride lines will be much shorter during the slower time periods. However, that is when they’ll close rides for major maintenance or remodeling. Call 714/781-4565 (press 5) to find out about rides closed for maintenance. Certain shows may be only offered on weekends and FASTPASS may be limited. So check in to the official website for Disney tips and to learn what’s going on during your vacation window.
- If you visit Disneyland in early September or mid-May, the park is pretty much in summer mode, but the crowds have not yet hit big time.
- If you come after around mid-November, the park will be decorated for the holidays but you’ll still miss the biggest crowds. Disney has offered a Holiday Tour during the Christmas season, which gives you preferred seating at the parade, fast access to some of the attractions that have been decorated for the holidays, and other goodies. Check the tours web site.
- The least crowded days typically are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; Saturday is usually the most crowded. However, as noted above, in the off-season some entertainment is not offered during the week so check it out. Park hours are usually shorter as well.
- Package Express is a great feature where you can have any purchase you make while in the park sent to the Newsstand near the exit for pick up later in the day. Do this if you have at least a couple of hours left in the park ahead of you. The lines to pick up packages can be long at the end of the night, so don’t push it to the end. If you’re staying at one of the Resort hotels, you may be able to have the package sent your room.
- Here’s a couple of important Disney tips: wear comfortable shoes and clothing; you’ll do a lot of walking. Don’t wear new shoes that haven’t been broken in. If you have kids who really want to get dunked say at Splash Mountain (and you really can get very wet; feels good on a hot summer day, and not so good in February) you might consider taking along an extra pair of socks and perhaps a shirt or light sweater for when it cools down at night.
- Your child must not lose the guest pass; that’s needed for FASTPASS tickets and re-entry priviledges. If they don’t wear a wallet, you might consider buying the lanyard with FastPass holder. They aren’t too expensive and can be bought at the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney or inside the parks at various stores.
- Make sure everyone has a watch or phone with a clock. There aren’t a lot of clocks in the parks and if you say you’ll meet up at a certain time, you need to be synchronized. Also, agree with everyone of all ages as to exactly where you’ll meet if you get separated. The statue of Walt Disney and Mickey in front of the castle is a good spot, as is the fire station on Main Street or at an agreed-upon FastPass kiosk. The idea is to be very specific; don’t just say at the entrance to Tomorrowland, as you may have trouble finding each other if it’s very crowded.
- Make sure children know that any Cast Member will help them get to these places if they get separated. Disney is big on helping lost parents find their kids. Wouldn’t hurt to put a good name tag on your toddler or infant with your cell phone number and maybe even the agreed-upon meeting place if separation occurs.
- Last we heard, if you buy a large Coke at the Coke Corner on Main Street, you will get a refillable cup. Given the cost of drinks in the parks, it might be worthwhile.
- One of the most popular restaurants in Disneyland is the Carnation Café. They take priority seating reservations up to 60 days in advance. This might apply to some other restaurants also, so give them a call at 714/781-3463.
- The only lands that are open for early entry are Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. That includes Main Street, which is open to all guests 30 minutes before the main opening of the parks.
- Every ride with a minimum height restriction offers Rider-switch passes. That means if Mom and Dad have a little one who can’t ride Space Mountain, they can take turns riding as singles while the other one waits with little Guru. They can both ride without having to go through the line twice.
- Parades can be a good time to catch a ride that normally has a long line. The parades will tend to draw guests with smaller children, so some rides may not see much of a decline during those shows. But it’s worth trying. The Fantasmic show attracts older people, so the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones lines might be more affected by this show.
- Here are a couple of Disney tips related to the parade: the crowds tend to be lighter at the end of the parade route. Here’s the thing, the Disneyland parades start near Small World and run down to Main Street near the main entrance. But the next performance runs the opposite direction. So find out from a Cast Member which direction the next parade is running and about how long it is, and plan to catch it at the end. Then you can hit a ride or two and get to the end of the parade in time. Find out the same details on DCA parades.
- You can get stuck in parade lines, as they rope off certain access areas. So make sure you know the start times and are smart about getting around the park.
- Urban legend has it that entry lines 13, 20 and 21 move faster for Disneyland entrance.
- If you have small children, watch some of the Disney movies before coming. They play up old and new characters, as well as some of the Pixar favorites in DCA (Toy Story, Monsters, etc.). This may be a dumb statement to parents of small children, but spend some time watching the Disney Channel to further indoctrinate your impressionable minds to appreciate your upcoming Disneyland vacation.
- We’ve already mentioned bringing your own bottled water and light snacks in a backpack. They won’t let you bring in a whole meal, but snacks and cheap water can save money. Of course, they do have plenty of drinking fountains around the parks, so those of us who don’t worry about bottled water can drink for free.
Planning Your Trip to Disneyland Resort
- Your attack strategy will obviously be different depending on the ages of your group. If you have a big age difference in the non-adults, you either split up or work out a compromise plan. The idea is to hit the most popular rides first thing (get out of bed and get to the park early!), probably in Disneyland first. Then, as the day heats up and the lines lengthen, you hit DCA or take a long break in the afternoon. You can come back when it’s cooler in the evening to catch parades, shows and some of the rides that are quite different at night (Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, Dumbo). If you’re there a couple of mornings, you can accommodate the little ones on the first day.
- Consider RideMax as a way to reduce stress in making sure you hit all your favorite rides. This would be more important if you have a pretty limited amount of time in the parks. If you’re here for 3 days or more, you’ll figure a way to hit them all. But in the busy summer season, and especially for limited trips, it might be worth the $20 to have this service make suggestions based on previous analyses of crowd behavior (who would have thought there would even be such a service?).
- Here are some Disney tips for Mom or Dad: first, do not let strategizing ruin your day. You don’t need to plot out every move. Some advance thought is worthwhile, realizing that first thing in the morning is a good time to hit the most popular rides.Also recognize that long lines can get hot and sweaty on a July afternoon, so either relax on the lower-intensity rides (Monorail, train, Jungle Cruise in Disneyland) or head to your hotel for a swim/nap or over to California Adventure. It’s a very safe place, so you might want to let your older kids work the FastPass system in both parks simultaneously and the meet up with you a couple hours later at a predetermined spot.
- If you are focusing on little ones, then go first thing through the castle into Fantasyland. Writer Kim Wright Wiley (her book Walt Disney World With Kids has lots of great Disney tips) and others say to ride Dumbo first, then Casey’s Jr. Circus Train and Peter Pan’s Flight.Finish FantasyLand with Small World and move on to Toontown to visit the characters. Other good rides for small children are the Monorail (they are de-bugging the new Mark VII monorail cars and there are sometimes bugs to be removed, so watch for Monorail closures from time to time) and the Disneyland Railroad (also a good break for parents).
- The Finding Nemo submarine attraction is fairly new and very popular, so keep an eye on the lines for that; it might be worth hitting first thing as well.
- Disney tips for older kids and adults: common wisdom says sprint at the opening instant to make a left at the end of Main Street and hit Indiana Jones, Big Thunder Mountain and over to Splash Mountain; or take a right at the far end of Main Street into TomorrowLand and hit Space Mountain and Star Tours. Then move to the Matterhorn and around to the other side. You must have FASTPASS in mind as well; perhaps grabbling the Space Mountain FASTPASS before running over to Star Tours or even heading across to Indiana.
- You do want to realize that the parks both take on a very different feel at night so don’t wear yourself out in the afternoon so you don’t feel like staying for the fireworks, Fantasmic Show or the parade. Be a night owl at the Resort, but get there early also (break in the middle). You can sleep when you get home, or in the afternoons.
- AdventureLand rides are more in the open and take on a different feel at night; worth visiting both times. Not so for Space Mountain and Indiana Jones, for example.
- Here’s another important Disney tip on parades: you really don’t want to miss the Electric Parade in DCA; it’s the old Main Street Electric Parade that charmed millions of us for many years. You may want to bring along some Barry Manilow music to help get that catchy parade tune out of your head.
Actually, it is pretty exciting even for adults to hear the first measures of that song come through the speakers, and then to see characters from your youth march down the park; do not miss that!
- Speaking of California Adventure, one of the most popular rides is Soarin’ Over California; you hang glide in front of a huge IMAX-type screen. You smell the ocean, orange groves, pine trees, etc. Don’t’ worry about the warnings about motion sickness; it’s only 4 minutes and should not be something to keep you from this.But the line can be long; fortunately there’s FastPass for this one. Tower of Terror is another great ride in DCA. Lines are not quite as bad and it is a very entertaining attraction. California Screamin’ is considered to be a pretty good roller coaster (go to Knott’s Berry Farm or Six Flags Magic Mountain if you really are a roller coaster fan). Grizzly Mountain River Run is fun, and can get you quite wet.
- The attractions and restaurants at DCA have very clever and punny names. Keep your eyes open for throwaway jokes painted on buildings.
- Some attractions look like they have really long lines, but in fact aren’t as bad as they seem. Those can include the Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear, Pirates of the Caribbean (good way to cool down on a hot afternoon), Jungle Cruise (an under-rated, fun ride and a good way to rest), Indiana Jones and Tower of Terror.As a rule, rides with no FASTPASS will tend to have quicker lines than those with it; this makes sense, because if you’re in the non-FastPass Stand-by line, you’ve got to wait while the FastPass people slip in ahead of you. This is a generality and not always true, depending on other factors that require calculus to explain.
- There are two separate lines to the Matterhorn Bobsleds. It is often the case that the line wrapping around the side that leads to Tomorrowland is shorter.
- Use the Disneyland Railroad to get around the park and to take a short rest. Ride it a few times around the park for a longer rest. Hide under the seats if you want to stay overnight.
Chillin’ with the Children at Disneyland Resort
- One strategy for visiting with kids of varying ages, is to split up for the first hour. One adult takes the smallest kids to Fantasyland and the other heads to Tomorrowland or Frontierland and Adventureland. Then you meet up in a couple of hours.
- They may have maps at City Hall on Main Street that make suggestions for visiting the parks with children. They may have additional insider information and fresh Disneyland tips, so stop by there. You can drop off postcards and letters at City Hall, to be mailed from Disneyland as well.
- Kids need breaks even at Disneyland, in the shade and in the cooler air. The energy of the place can wind them up, so you may need to program in some nap and quiet time, best done during the afternoons. This is another reason to stay at a hotel within easy access of the Resort during the days you’re at Disney. Having vacationed with small children, the nap and afternoon swim is really a good way to go if possible.
- You’re crazy if you try and stay constantly busy throughout what could be a 16-hour day in the parks. Taking the Monorail to the Disneyland Hotel for a character meal or just some browsing around that facility can get you away from the crowds and heat. The stores and restaurants at Downtown Disney may be less crowded, so take a long lunch at an air conditioned dining establishment. You can walk over to one of the restaurants along Harbor Boulevard if you are OK with breaking the Disney ambience and facing the real world.
- We already mentioned buying the lanyards to hold the entrance ticket and any FASTPASS tickets obtained during the day. This might be safer than pockets, especially if your kids aren’t used to having a wallet. For very small kids, get a pet ID tag and add name and contact information. It can be laced into their shoes or attached to a belt.
- We talked about strategy, where the age of your kids will dictate what you do first in the morning. Fantasyland and Toontown are important, especially if you want to see some characters. Characters also hang out at times on Main Street, near Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln and the Mad Hatter shop. Check out A Bug’s Land at DCA; it is often not too crowded and has some fun attractions for toddlers.
- At California Adventure, characters hang out in front of the Animation Building in the Hollywood Backlot. Check inside the building if they’re not outside.
- Character dining is a good way to pay for preferred status in meeting these mythical creatures. Check out Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. Call 714/781-DINE for details and reservations.
- You can get a Disney autograph booklet; this is worthwhile if your kids are really excited about that. Otherwise a couple of good photographs might mean more and you don’t have to haul it around with you. Also, there can be the felt need to get every possible autograph if you have a booklet, and that can be a distraction in your schedule.
- You might want to bring your own stroller rather than renting. It will save time and money, and you’re familiar with it. But you’ll be doing a lot of strolling on hot asphalt; we had wheels go out on a cheap stroller years ago (don’t remember exactly where we were), so make sure the stroller hardware will stand up to the wear and tear. Mark your stroller clearly so you can easily identify it at a distance (to find it fast, and to find it even faster if somebody else is walking off with it after a ride).
- You’ll see many folks sitting along the parade route an hour or more before it’s scheduled appearance. There is something special about being in the very front row, and many of the characters walk over near the guests during parades. But that can take up a lot of your day. For awhile, you can have somebody in your party save places while the rest of you play. If you settle at the end of the parade route, you might be able to show up closer to start time and still get at or very near the front.
- Diapers are pretty expensive in the parks, so bring plenty in your diaper bag or backpack.
- Don’t miss It’s a Small World for small children. Although being upgraded and renovated, the technology is kinda weak. But this attraction has charm and a song that will help you forget about the Electric Parade soundtrack over at California Adventure.
- As you walk about the park at night, you child might get fearful in their stroller. You can pick up a little lightstick for your backpack; snap in on and let them hold it if that helps calm them down.