How to Plan a Trip to Disneyland

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

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Halloween decorations at Disneyland Paris.

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.

When To Go To Disneyland

Disneyland 2016 Planning Guide

Best Time to Visit Disneyland

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

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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.

3. Research

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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:

Fastpasses

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The other two resources I loved were Magic Kingdom Mamas on Instagram, and the Disneyland App. I highly recommend both!

4. Food Options

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Character dining at Ariel’s Grotto.

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.

5. Pre-buy

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Pre-purchased dress on sale for $30 vs. buying a dress in the park for $70.

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!

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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!

 

 

Disneyland

When we first moved to California, we took an impromptu trip to Disneyland. We had to go to LA to pick up our car that we had shipped from Germany and we still had an empty house because our stuff hadn’t arrived yet. So we figured we may as well turn the trip to get our car into a fun family vacation! It just so happened that our nieces and nephews in Texas had a school break at the same time, so they flew out and came with us! Getting in some more good cousin time after the kids had a blast together during the summer, was priceless! Here’s an overview of how we spent our 3 days in the parks.

We stayed off property at the Anabella Hotel. We got a great rate, I think around $89 a night, plus about $15 per night for parking. That rate is a perk of going during the slow season. We were able to walk to the parks from there.

Our first morning we headed straight to the Magic Kingdom. Our first few rides were Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise, and the Haunted Mansion. The big kids rode Indiana Jones while I took our daughter through Tarzan’s treehouse. You might be surprised at how many rides babies and toddlers can ride. And surprisingly none of the rides scared our little girl. Perhaps she was too young to know she should be scared!

After a dreadful experience in Disneyland Paris trying to meet princesses, I didn’t have high hopes for meeting princesses at Disneyland. But when we passed by the Princess Pavilion, the wait was only about 10 minutes and there were 3 princesses inside so I decided to give it a try. Luckily this time it went much better! She was still a bit shy and didn’t want me to put her down, but there weren’t any tears and she even seemed a little excited to see the princesses. This was encouraging since I was planning for her to also meet Anna and Elsa!

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After meeting princesses, we found a spot on Main Street and waited for Mickey’s Soundsational Parade to begin. While we were waiting, my Little Miss took a few strolls down Main Street, I’m pretty sure she thought all those people were sitting there to watch her!

That evening we stayed late to watch Fantasmic. It was a really exciting show and the perfect end to our first day at Disneyland. The next day began with the requisite meltdown:

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Who knows what it was about, but meltdowns and tantrums are bound to happen…even at the Happiest Place on Earth! She rebounded quickly, thank goodness! The big kids wanted to do Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain when we got in the park, so I went shopping for Mickey ears and then took my girl on a couple Fantasyland rides and then made my way to Toontown.

I didn’t realize that Toontown opened later than the rest of the park. So when I got there the rope was still up. A minute or two before 11:00 Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy all came out and mingled in the crowd! This was a total surprise to me and I was so disappointed that the rest of the family wasn’t there because my little girl just lit up and got so excited to get a hug from Minnie. And I wasn’t able to take any pictures of it because I was holding her! Lesson learned!

The other great thing about being there at that time is we walked right into Minnie’s house and did not have to wait at all for pictures. We caught Pluto on his way to take a break. I was so surprised how much my daughter loved these characters. She didn’t really know who they all were before going, and she was intimidated by the princesses. However, she had no hesitation giving these guys big hugs! Later we met back up with everyone and got our group shot with Mickey!

After all this, it was about time for our reservation at the Blue Bayou. If you’ve never been to Disneyland, this is a fancy-pants restaurant that overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The atmosphere is really magical, like you’re really out on the bayou. The food is also delicious, not your typical theme park fare. If you want to dine here be prepared for the steep prices and make sure you make a reservation well in advance! We got lucky with an opening the day prior, but we were also there in the slow season. Something else magical happened during the meal, our daughter fell asleep on the table! This NEVER happens, and has not happened since! Most of the time she either has to be in bed, in the stroller, or in the carseat to sleep. All the excitement must have really gotten to her!

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That afternoon was spent at California Adventure. The big kids rode Tower of Terror a few times, and we took a spin the big Mickey wheel. At that time they were doing refurbishments on World of Color so we weren’t able to see it.

The next morning we went back to California Adventure. We raced to get Fast Passes for the Anna and Elsa meet and greet and then raced to get Fast Passes for Radiator Springs Racers. While the big kids re-rode the Tower of Terror, Moms and little kids took a spin on the carousel, and on Toy Story Midway Mania.

The Anna and Elsa meet and greet went well. My girl wasn’t as excited as I thought she would be but I think that was partly due to timing. Our Fast Pass time was for lunch/nap time, so she seemed a bit out of it. We also met Olaf at California Adventure and he gave us a nice warm hug!

Maybe the most fun my little girl had that whole day was that evening after dinner. The big kids were riding Tower of Terror…again, so it was just her and her cousin. He busted out the lightsabers and she thought they were the funniest thing she’d ever seen. We sat at the tables watching these two cousins crack up at waving their lightsabers around and knocking cups off the table. Hilarious!

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One more little piece about our trip. Uncle L decided our little girl needed this giant Olaf balloon. What I mean by that is, he thought it would be hilarious to watch my hubby (his brother) drag this inconvenient monstrosity through the crowds. A word to the wise: if you are going to get a balloon, get it at the end of the day so you don’t have to deal with it hitting you and other people in the face. But the bonus is, this balloon lasted a good month after our trip. Making it a very worthwhile souvenir in my opinion!

We had so much fun at Disneyland, and we were so happy that family could join us on such short notice! It was a trip that we will remember for a long, long, time and hopefully not the last one! I’m in the midst of planning one more trip to Disneyland before we move back to Europe…stay tuned for more on that!

Disneyland Paris

After living almost three years in Germany, we had done our fair amount of traveling. I think we hit something like 13 countries, not too shabby! Our last big trip before returning to the U.S. was Disneyland Paris. This wasn’t on our original “European Bucket List” and the well-seasoned traveler in me is a little embarrassed to admit how much fun we had. The idea was brought up by one of our friends, and we looked into it, found a great deal and said, “What the heck?!”

We got a package deal staying at the Davy Crockett Ranch, a Disneyland Hotel near the park. We shared a cabin (read: single wide trailer) with one of the families we went with. Our lodging and tickets were bundled together, and were actually very affordable. The cabins weren’t far from the park, we drove each morning. Parking was also included in our rate.

We went in October, so the park was all decorated for Halloween and had special parades for the season.

First thing was first, we stopped in for a quick breakfast while we waited for the other families to arrive. We all drove in from Germany that first morning. Made for a long day for the adults, but saved us one night of lodging expenses. It was about a four hour drive for us.

Once everyone was together, we stopped in front of the beautiful castle for some pictures. You want to know what draws a crowd? Three one-year olds dressed up like princesses and their moms flailing around trying to get them to all look and smile.

After that racket, we finally started riding some rides. Dumbo with the Dads, the carousel, Snow White, and Peter Pan. Babies can actually ride quite a bit in Disneyland.

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Be careful of the so called “dark rides” like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Peter Pan. Sometimes they can be scary for little ones! I was surprised that our little girl didn’t seemed bothered by any of these. She even rode on the Pirates of the Caribbean without any tears!

We went back to our cabins for dinner. We brought food in coolers and were able to cook for ourselves. It was nice to be able to save some money and to have a little break where the girls could either lay down or just run around in a contained area. Once we ate and recharged, we went back to the park to see the nighttime show. I can’t remember what it was called, maybe Disney Dreams? It was an awesome show. There were projections on the castle and on curtains of water next to the castle. They sold light up Mickey ears that all synchronized to the music and were matched the colors of the projections as well. It was very fun, and did not disappoint!

The next morning, the moms all hit a weakness. We fell for the princess trap. We all said we weren’t going to do it and then we all caved. We just couldn’t resist the chance to see our little princesses with the “real” princesses! So we beelined for the Princess Pavilion first thing in the morning. We thought surely if we went straight there, the line wouldn’t be that long. Well when we got there it didn’t appear that the line was very long, so we were encouraged. There was a sign that said 30 minutes and we thought that wasn’t too bad. What we didn’t realize is that was 30 minutes outside waiting before getting inside where we waited another hour and a half! I kid you not, it took us two hours to see ONE princess! Let me tell you how much fun it is to wait in a crowded line with three one-year olds…not fun at all. And once you’re in the building, there’s no turning back, no sign of how much longer it will be. So you’re just hoping it goes fast and keep telling yourself that you’re almost there. After all the waiting, it was finally our turn! One look at Sleeping Beauty sent my little princess into a terrified panic. She did not want to stand next to Sleeping Beauty for a picture and clung to me the entire time…FAIL!

The dads were horrified when we finally emerged from the Princess pit. They couldn’t believe we had just spent that amount of time for something our little girls didn’t even enjoy. And I have to agree with them! Oh well, it definitely made some memories!

Everyone was happy to be out and about again, and able to run around.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to try to wrangle little ones for a photo:

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But it makes for an oh-so-cute result if you are patient!

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One of our favorite things about this Disneyland visit was the parades! Our little girls loved the music and watching the characters. The fall parade had especially catchy music. We found ourselves watching this parade more than once!

We spent our final morning at the Hollywood Studios park that is right next to the Magic Kingdom. This was the most crowded day of our visit. We had hoped to ride the Ratatouille ride but by the time we got there the Fast Passes were for very late in the day and we were all planning to drive home in the afternoon. We walked around a bit, and went back to the Magic Kingdom briefly. The weather took a turn and started to rain and that’s when everyone decided to call it and head home.

We loved our quick trip to Disneyland Paris. Honestly we had heard a lot of Americans complain about it. They seemed to say it was not as fun, not as big, not as good as Disney in the states. I don’t know, maybe those people are die-hard Disney folks or had bigger children that weren’t as entertained. We had a blast! We found plenty to do with our babies, and enjoyed watching them have fun together.

Here’s a couple things that made our trip more enjoyable:

*Bringing food into the park-each day we packed snacks, water bottles, sandwiches, pasta salad, and fruit. We didn’t bring a huge cooler, just something small enough to fit in the bottom of the stroller. Not only was it a money saver, it was a time saver. Instead of waiting in line to order and waiting for food to be ready, we could just find a place to sit and eat right away.

*Sharing accommodations with another family-this brought our costs way down, and made it fun for our girls. I’m sure this isn’t always possible, especially when family size starts to grow. But if it is an option, I would recommend it!

*Being flexible-there was no real agenda, and no real panic about packing in rides. Flexibility was key when traveling with babies.

*Buying our princess dresses and t-shirts in advance-everything is more expensive in the parks. Princess dresses were 50-60 euro! I borrowed my daughter’s Belle dress from a friend, and my mom found her Elsa dress at JC Penny for around $30.

What we should’ve done better:

*Researched more-had we researched more, we would’ve found out how popular the new Ratatouille ride was and could’ve tried harder to get there early for Fast Passes.

*Prepared more for weather-we had an umbrella, but that didn’t cut it for two adults. We should’ve brought ponchos and rain boots. It would’ve let us enjoy the park longer and let us take advantage of lower crowds as many people leave when it rains!