Some people say, “Don’t bring little kids to Disneyland because they won’t remember it.”
Some of our best Disneyland experiences were early ones; the look on her face when her favorite princess walked around the corner. His belly giggles on the Bug’s Life rides.
Our family has made regular trips to Disney for 6 years, including one this week. Here are a few of the things that have made our visits magical.
When to Go to Disneyland (or rather, when NOT to go)
Let’s face it, Disneyland is always busy. Our country has been in an economic downturn for all of the years my family has been visiting, yet the ticket prices have steadily increased, the discount promotions have decreased, and I think the crowds are getting bigger. But, if you live in San Diego, it is easy to take a day trip to Disneyland. I suggest avoiding weekends, holidays, spring break (as in the whole month of April) and summer.
An easy way to estimate the crowd size is to visit the Disneyland schedule. When the park opens at 8 and closes at midnight, Disneyland itself is expecting a lot of people. If you are attending during a peak time, try to arrive at the park as early as possible. When we were there last Monday, the wait for Indiana Jones was 20 minutes at 9 a.m. By Noon it was 60 minutes. We didn’t make it to Toon Town this time, but, trust me, those kiddie ride lines were as long or longer!
If you choose to stay overnight and can afford a Disney-themed hotel, you can participate in the “extra magic hour,” which allows hotel guests to enjoy select attractions, stores, entertainment and dining locations in Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park for one full hour before the parks open to the general public on select days.
We love going to Disneyland in September for Mickey’s Halloween Party. Yes, I did say September, because that’s when the party will be less busy. The party is a separate ticket ($50 – $60) that everyone must purchase in order to attend, including annual passport holders. It’s a chance to meet lots of Disney villains, enjoy shorter ride lines and get lots and lots of candy. Definitely worth doing once.
Deals & Discounts
By far the best “deal” at Disneyland is the annual pass. We like the Southern California Select pass. Even though it has the most blackout dates, we don’t want to be at the parks during those times anyway. To me, having a pass means being OK with leaving when the kids are exhausted, the park is packed, someone feels ill. You can come back again. You don’t have to spend 10 hours in the parks to get your money’s worth.
You can make monthly payments for annual passes, and with them you will receive discounts at select restaurants and shops, as well as discounts at Disney hotels and some other local hotels. Our favorite hotel, The Candy Cane Inn, gives a 10% discount to passholders.
The Scripps Parent Connection, my favorite local non profit, offers discounts to Disneyland and nearly every major attraction in SoCal to its members. For example, the regular price of the Southern California Select Passport is $289, but Parent Connection members can purchase it for $274.55.
The Disney Visa card offers some pretty good perks. No discount on tickets, but 10% off at select Disneyland and Downtown Disney restaurants and shops, plus private meet-and-greets with Disney characters AND a complimentary 5×7 photo.
Where to Stay
When we stayed at the Disney Paradise Pier hotel many years ago, we paid $250 a night. The kids loved the Mickey Mouse shaped Rice Krispies Treats that the housekeepers left in the room, and watching the special Disneyland productions on the TV. Getting into the park an hour before the general public was great, and the character breakfast was fun for all of us. But Greg and I thought the rooms were very average and we later discovered that the walk into the park was actually longer than our walk from the Candy Cane Inn, where we always stay these days.
If you want to explore hotels near Disneyland, my suggestion is to check out Trip Advisor. Here are the reviews for Candy Cane Inn, which is a short 250 yards to the Disneyland entrance, offers a shuttle, nice complimentary breakfast, pool, and where you can leave your car parked all day, even after you’ve checked out.
Where to Eat
You can bring your own food and drinks into the parks, and I’ve gone with the kids and managed not to spend any extra money while we were there. However, it’s awesome to splurge on Disney’s Character Dining for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The kids will stay entertained during the entire meal because every 10 minutes or so a new character enters the room and makes its way to your table. Parents can stay entertained too with cocktails at Ariel’s Grotto. And everyone will enjoy avoiding lines to meet characters throughout the day.
Miscellaneous Tips from Our Trips
Bring a stroller or rent one there: If you have young children, you will most certainly want to have a stroller. You can bring your own (even on parking shuttles, the mono rail and train) or rent one on site for $15 per day. Your stroller probably has better storage for all of your goodies.
Bring a change of clothes for everyone: We get wet on rides, spill food on our clothes and get cold at night so I always go to Disneyland with changes of clothes and layers.
Drink your water: You can bring your own water into the park, but you can also request a free cup of cold water from just about any restaurant in Disneyland.
Bring an autograph book: Once your child sees others getting the autograph of a Disney character, she/he will want one too. After your first visit you could make a small Shutterfly picture book and use that for autographs during future visits.
Don’t skip the parades: They are amazing and you can usually see well from just about anywhere along the parade route. Kids can usually easily scoot up to the front.
Get a birthday button: Visit nearly any gift shop and request a free birthday button for your birthday kid. She’ll hear “happy birthday princess!” from characters and cast mates all day long.
Child Swap: You don’t need to miss out on a ride just because someone is a little too small for it. Take advantage of the child swap / rider swap options where one parent rides while the other waits with the child(ren) and then you switch. Not all rides offer this option.
Christmas Wonder: We were on our way out of Disneyland headed for California Adventure one trip in November when we heard the announcement to please turn and look at Snow White’s Castle. Twinkling lights appeared over the castle, beautiful music began to play. This part of the holiday festivities is not listed on the schedule, but it occurs each night as the sun goes down.
That night, Greg was holding 2-year-old Gage, and I had 4-year-old Mallory in my arms when it began to snow on Main Street. Mal squeezed me tight and squealed “I believe in all of this magic!”
They may not remember that night, but Greg and I always will.
Enjoy your trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth!”