I can confirm... it really is the happiest place on Earth. We took our kids to Disneyland for the second time (well, first for Luca) earlier this month and it was magical.... stressful, but also magical! I’m no expert but I’ve had lots of requests to share my tips and tricks for tackling Disney so that’s what I’m here to do! Keep reading to find out what worked for us!
My sister-in-law lives about 20 minutes away from Disneyland, so we stay with her or in a hotel near her, rather than on the resort. So my inside information isn’t related to staying on the resort, but rather just the Disneyland park itself! One day (when our kids are older) I dream of staying on the resort for 4 days and doing both parks (there’s also California Adventure) but we will save that for when the kids are both mobile and potty trained.
Where to Stay
If you are looking for areas to stay in near Disney, look into Anaheim, Irvine (where we stayed), Laguna Hills, or any of the other cities nearby. Check out hotels, Airbnb and VRBO. We had a vehicle so that made things easier but some nearby hotels have shuttle service.
When planning our trip, I made sure to check out the calendar for ticket prices as some days are cheaper than others. Our schedule was pretty flexible so I could pick days based on prices. There are discounts for 3+ days as well. Additionally, you can get a Park Hopper ticket to go back and forth between the Disneyland and California Adventure parks. According to my research and others I’ve talked to, the Adventure park is designed a bit more for older kids, with less ride options for my 2 year old and 5 month old. Which is why we opted to stick with the classic park for now. Also, kids under 3 are free! So we only had to purchase 2 adult tickets this year! Win!
Looking the Part
Another thing to consider before your trip begins, is your outfits! Of course, you could pick up mouse ears at the park, it is much much cheaper to order online. You can find affordable mouse ears on Amazon and unique ones on Etsy. I found Luca’s shirt at Zara, Bella’s and Garrett’s at H&M, and ordered mine off Etsy. Old Navy and Gap also have cute options. Once we arrived at the park, most of the little girls were wearing princess dresses, which Bella was quick to point out. She was bummed to be wearing a Minnie Mouse shirt so next time we will likely let her wear a princess dress.
One more thing to consider when selecting your outfits, is to dress in layers. You’ll be at the park from sun up to sun down so the weather will change throughout the day. You will likely want a T-shirt at times, and a warm sweatshirt or jacket.
What to Bring
This is dependent on the age of your kids. But if they are 4 or under my tips should be relevant. We had our Baby Jogger City Select double stroller and it was so necessary. Bella had a nap in her seat, as did Luca. A lightweight car seat cover like our Covered Goods Cactus cover was also a big help for naptime. And we filled the bottom basket with our diaper bag and jackets.
I also packed a baby carrier which I would highly recommend. If I could have a redo, I would have packed old faithful, my Ergo 360. I instead packed a carrier that worked best when Luca was a little less aware, and he could only face inward or on my back. He wanted to face outward and take everything in, and I can’t blame him! The one positive of this carrier was that he had a few naps in it, snuggled up next to me.
We also packed water bottles and a lunch kit with snacks for Bella. We did want to enjoy the (overpriced) Disney food but it was nice to have snacks on hand throughout the day, since one of Bella’s catchphrases is “I’m hungry.”
I also had a change of clothes for each kid (which we didn’t need but better safe than sorry), a couple blankets which were useful when feeding Luca and for nap time, a wet bag, 8 diapers (and we used every single one), wipes, sunscreen, sunglasses, and hand sanitizer.
There are a couple add-ons that can be purchased. Everyone going to Disney needs to download the Disneyland app. It is super helpful for several reasons. You can purchase your tickets via the app so you don’t have to wait in line at the Park entrance, you can view ride wait times, navigate the park on the map, check out the daily event schedule, order food, and more. The park has free wifi to use the app but some areas have better coverage than others.
The first year we went, we didn’t purchase any upgrades to our tickets. And this year we did. The MaxPass is a FastPass and PhotoPass in one. It costs $15/ticket and it always you to schedule a time for certain rides so you don’t have to wait as long in lines. This is typically for the big, roller coaster type rides. Being as we have two little kids with us, we weren’t going on a lot of these type of rides. When it comes to the PhotoPass, Disney has photographers set up at a few photo spots throughout the park, like in front of the iconic castle. You typically have to wait quite awhile to get your photo taken. With the pass, the photos are then uploaded to the app and available for you to download. I really wanted a photo of our family of four in front of the castle, which was the main reason we purchased the MaxPass. Fast forward to arriving at the park and seeing the castle is under construction and completely covered. Cue the tears. Therefore, the MaxPass was not utilized by us at all. Be sure to check the website / app beforehand to view which attractions are not running.
There are few must have items to order when at Disney! Try the churros, turkey legs (definitely share with 2+ people- they are huge!), Dole Whip, Mickey pretzels, beignets, mini donuts, corn dogs, and funnel cakes (yes we tried all of those things lol). We also got some real food like burgers, sandwiches, chicken fingers, etc. but they were pretty basic and the real magic was in the snacks!
I always pictured all of the Disney characters wandering around all day at the park but this is simply not the case! The first year we went, I think we only saw Moana in passing and Bella was sleeping so she didn’t see a single character. This year, half the day had passed and again, we hadn’t seen any characters! Bella is big into Disney movies and princesses currently, so we knew meeting a character would be a highlight. I decided to ask a park employee, “where do all the princesses hang out?!” He then directed me to the Royal Hall. Basically, it’s just like a ride. You wait in line, and then you get a turn to meet 3 different princesses, one on one. We didn’t have to wait long, and then Bella got several minutes to chat with, dance and get photos with each princess. It was so nice, initimate, not rushed, and not overwhelming. Definitely Bella’s highlight of the day! You can also meet Mickey and Minnie at their houses in Toontown, in a similar fashion.
Now this is something that shocked me, Bella and Luca were able to ride the majority of the rides at Disneyland! Luca (5 months) was allowed to sit on my lap or be in the carrier on most rides. Of course, not the big roller coasters, but all of the kids ones there was no height or age requirement! So that was super fun! And nice that one of us didn’t have to sit out with the baby on each ride. A few of our favourite family rides are Peter Pan, Dumbo, Tea Cups, Jungle Cruise, Carousel, and It’s a Small World. Stay away from Pinocchio and Snow White if you have little kids, they were terrifying (and not even fun)!
Obviously, there a lot more options when it comes to Disneyland, like character dining experiences, shows, and fireworks. This is kind of your introduction to Disneyland, covering the basics! I’m sure we will be returning to Disney in the next few years so I’ll be sure to update you!
What are your best Disney insider tips??