It’s the Happiest Place on Earth, but there is a lot that goes into making your Disneyland trip a magical one. If you’re new to Disney or haven’t been since you were a kid, you may be surprised at all the preparation that can and should be done in advance. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there. I don’t claim to be a Disneyland expert, but here’s what helped me the most and made our trips so wonderful!
1.Select trip date and length
Picking when you’re going to make the trip and for how long is the first step. Check out these posts that highlight different pros and cons to visiting at different times of year.
Of course we’d all love to visit when the crowds are lowest, but sometimes that’s not possible. Also sometimes low crowd times can mean more ride closures for refurbishment, and shorter park hours. Halloween and Christmas can be extra magical times to visit because of the special decorations and parades, but it can also be some of the most crowded times to visit. The rule of thumb is the parks are most crowded when kids are out of school: summer, Christmas break, and spring break. Decide what works best for your schedule, and your budget, and just go with it!
2.Transportation & Lodging
If you need to fly, start looking at flights early. Set price alerts. Check Southwest Airlines, sometimes the ticket price is higher but the free checked baggage allowance can even it out. I also love Southwest for their open seating and cancellation policy. The open seating is helpful for families who can board early, thereby avoiding the hassle of not being assigned seats together which has become an issue on other carriers. Also if you had to cancel your trip, the balance you paid for your tickets will be saved to go toward a future flight. This is a much better policy than many other carriers.
If you are driving, don’t forget to factor in that famous LA traffic…it can be brutal! Your lodging choice may also affect whether you need a rental car or not.
Disneyland has three properties the Grand Californian, Paradise Pier Hotel, and the Disneyland Hotel. There are also many “Good Neighbor” hotels that are in close proximity to the parks, many within walking distance. Disneyland’s website is a great place to start to see where these properties are on the map, but I suggest calling these hotels directly for their best rate. I love Booking.com for booking hotels as well, but I always call to see if the hotel can beat the rate I found online. Other options would be to rent a house/condo via Air BnB, or maybe you’re staying somewhere nearby (San Diego, or LA) but driving to the parks just for the day.
Don’t forget to ask about parking fees. Some hotels charge a per night, per car parking fee which is almost as much as the fee to park at the parks.
One of my absolute favorite resources during my planning was DLRprepschool. Casey is a dedicated Disneyland expert who is very helpful to her readers. Check out her website and her Facebook page. She’s in the parks regularly and updates with the latest information.
If you will be traveling with children, it is important to know their heights which will dictate what rides they will be able to ride. Nothing worse than a three year old all excited to ride Radiator Springs Racers, getting there and finding out he’s too short! Meltdown city, let’s avoid that!
Also talk and think about what your priorities are. Maybe one person really wants to meet characters, and someone else wants to ride Splash Mountain 10 times. There is so much to do between the two parks, you likely will not be able to do everything. So decide what are each person’s must dos and make a plan.
You NEED to know about:
The other two resources I loved were Magic Kingdom Mamas on Instagram, and the Disneyland App. I highly recommend both!
4. Food Options
You should expect to spend some money on food. Know what is important to your family. Maybe the budget is most important and you should research low cost counter service food. Or maybe you want to hit all the fine dining places in the parks. On the Disneyland app you can see where all the different restaurants and food carts are and see the menus for them!
Character Dining is a fun, memorable experience to add to your trip. See about the different options HERE.
It’s very important that if you are set on a certain restaurant or character dining experience, to make your reservation up to 60 days in advance. The earlier, the better to avoid disappointment. You can make reservations directly through the Disneyland website or through the app that will link you to the website.
If you have a food allergy or restriction in your party, you’re in luck because Disney is very accommodating! The sit down restaurants will often ask you right at the check in desk if you have any allergies, and I believe the waiters are well versed in substitutions or alternative food options.
However you plan to dine, you should know that you can bring snacks into the parks. Snacks are a must, you might need that snack to give to an upset child in line. Sometimes it’s amazing how a little snack can brighten a mood! You can get free ice water at any of the counter service restaurants, and I recommend bringing water bottles. It will save you from having to buy them multiple times a day.
I highly suggest buying Disney gear before you get to the parks. Buy princess dresses, costumes, and Disney t-shirts at a much lower cost at JC Penny, Target, Old Navy, Etsy, or Ross. Even Disney Store and the Disney Store outlet have things for less than they will be in the parks.
Most experienced visitors also recommend buying souvenirs in advance. Have a few things ready for when the “gimmes” start. Most of the stores listed above will also carry Disney toys. You can find Disney toys almost anywhere these days! Understandably you will probably want to buy at least one or two things in the parks, but you can save a lot of money by buying extras elsewhere.
Also look for light up toys on Amazon and in the Dollar Spot at Target. Undoubtedly your kids will want the $20+ light up toys cast members are selling at the start of any nighttime entertainment. But if you have something ready to give them, you should be able to distract them and keep everyone happy.
6. Show up early
It is in your best interest to arrive 30 minutes prior to park opening. The crowds will be lighter than in just a few hours later. Use that early morning time to ride several rides and get Fastpasses for later while the late stragglers are still in bed!
7. Have fun and be flexible!
You did it, you’ve done the reading, you’ve made the reservations, and you’re ready to enjoy the magical world of Disneyland. Even with all the planning, it’s important to be flexible. Kids don’t always adhere to your well thought out plans. So if someone needs an ice-cream break, it’s probably better to skip the ride and slow down for a few.
I hope you found something helpful here for your next Disneyland vacation! Feel free to leave your Disneyland tips below!