Friday, July 18, 2014

how to get your kids ready for disney (and other tips)

***UPDATED In June 2016***

There is just so much to plan and think about when knowing you have a Disney trip ahead of you (whether Disneyland or Disney World).  Sure you have to make your plans for tickets and hotels, but also started doing some online research about how to make the best of our time.   The first place to go is the official Disney site to check out what will be happening during your visit (what shows and parades are going on, what rides will be closed, etc.)  Then if you feel adventurous you can start looking at other websites for advice.  I wanted to read every review on the Disney Food Blog, but it would probably have taken me a year.  There is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming.  I am not now an expert on the subject, but I did learn a few new things.  I have had a lot of friends ask for advice and tips so I thought I would put some ideas together here for convenience's sake and because I really like sharing, especially when it comes to Disney.

So here is where to begin...

1. Telling them: 
I love surprises, but it is hard to plan exactly how to do it.  Apparently the internet can show you horror stories and videos of kids terrible reactions to Disney vacation reveals, so I guess you need to be careful. Consider your kid's personalities and decide what you think is best.  After much debate we decided to tell them on Easter since it is such a special day and we wanted them to realize it was a big present.  We also wanted the grandparents to be able to be involved so we Skyped them in along with their aunt in California (whose graduation was our real reason for going).  I decided to make an Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt.  Each egg had a clue that was somehow Disney related (ie: they were hidden in Disney movies, by stuffed animals, or inside Mickey cups).  Then the last clue came from Grandpa.  My six-year-old figured it out and was visibly excited, but also embarrassed to show it.  The three-year-old jumped for joy.  Unfortunately, he also thought this meant we would go right that minute so his joy was soon followed by tears.   No matter how well you plan it, it might not get the reaction you want, but I think it is still fun to try something clever.  It is also hard to decide how early to tell them.  Too early and they will just agonize over the wait, but at the same time it is fun to give them something to look forward to.  Once my mom woke us up and asked us if we wanted to go to school or Disneyland.  I have always thought this would be fun to do to my kids, but I think I will wait until they are a little older and the idea of going to school is actually a little more dreaded (right now Jimmy is sad to miss school for anything). I say, however, you decide to do it, just make sure they realize what a huge gift it truly is.
*** On our most recent trip by boys actually saved enough money to buy their own tickets by saving all their birthday, Christmas, and chore money and then having a pretty successful lemonade stand.  We told them if they got enough for their own 1-Day ticket that Mom and Dad would save up for the rest.   This took about 6 months, but I think it also really helped them to appreciate how special the day at Disneyland was.

2. Counting Down:
I found a Mickey Countdown Chain that was easy to make and really helped the boys visualize the month long wait.   Between the two of them they pretty much made it themselves.  When they weren't looking I put a Disney sticker on each day (mostly those free ones that always come in the mail from The Disney Movie Club).  I had thought about putting a fun activity in each day, but with 30 days on the chain I knew I couldn't come up with that many things.  If I had only done a week long chain, maybe I would have filled it with something fun on each day.  There is also a Disney Princess version of this chain, which might be fun if you have girls.

3.  Watching Disney Movies and Reading Disney Books: 
If you are planning a Disney vacation then there is a good chance you are already big Disney fans, but there is also a good chance that your kids' repertoire is limited.  I know lots of kids who love princesses, but have no idea who Mickey is (This is less of a problem these days thanks to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but still).  I see this as problematic and think your kids will have lots more fun if they recognize as many characters as possible, making your trip more magical.  There are some easy ways to do this.  My first go-to place for old Mickey cartoons is YouTube.  Of course, don't limit it to just Mickey; get Donald, Goofy, and the rest in there since these are all the characters that are always on the streets of Toon Town.   Movies that go along with rides might also help your kids get more enjoyment out of them.  Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is a classic (albeit scary and weird at the end), but your kids will love it more if they actually know who Mr. Toad is.  The good news is that The Wind and the Willows is available (at least at the moment) on Netflix.  I knew my three-year-old hadn't seen the Little Mermaid and since I knew he wasn't tall enough to go on Radiator Springs Racers I was figuring that might be what he should go on while his big brother raced without him.  We actually only had time to watch half of it before our trip, but it was enough to get him excited about it.  He still says Ariel was his favorite ride at California Adventure. If your personal Disney collection is feeling tired and you have watched the movies on Netflix repeatedly then start asking friends to borrow ones your kids haven't seen.  Also, your local library should also have many on hand.  So you get the idea right?  
I don't think you should overload them with movies and cartoons, but figure out which ones might make the trip more memorable.  Another great way to go about this is with Disney books.  My kids know lots of Disney stories like Lady and the Tramp only because we have a book of it.  If you don't have very many of your own, then of course, the library is great for that.  I have also had lots of luck at Goodwill.  We take a good stack of paperback Disney books with us in the car as another form of entertainment.  We don't have a DVD players in our car, but if you do then by all means make it Disney.  Last I am going to half heartedly recommend a really silly little video that my kids LOVE.  Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun...
I say "half heartedly" because it is just a bit annoying and very cheesy, but I do sort of love it just a bit myself.  I never watched it as a kid, but if I had I know I would have loved it as well so I have some sort of weird pseudo-nostalgia for it.  The kids in it look straight out of Full House so that only makes me love it more.  It shows lots of Disneyland rides so it will help get your kids pumped about things like The Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion.  We have it on DVD, but it is on YouTube as well.

4. Listening to Disney Music

We are frequent Disney listeners in our house, but I stepped it up a bit before this trip. We usually play my Mary Poppins record (a prize possession) on repeat or we put Pandora onto our Disney Station when we are at home cleaning or playing.  I burned a Frozen CD and worked on some new Disney Mixes for the car (we already had two in there).  I didn't give them to the boys until it was the day we were leaving.  That way I figured they wouldn't get as worn out before the trip.  Believe me we were getting tired of them by the end of the trip, but it did help pass the hours.

5. Playing Disney Games:
  • Board Games: As a family we love to play Disney Scene-It.  I found ours at Goodwill in perfect condition for only $2, but I think that was a small miracle.  If you don't have it ask around and I am sure you will find a friend who has it that would gladly lend it to you for a family game night.  There are some other fun Disney games out there to try as well. 
  • Car Games: We also love to play Disney 20 Questions which you don't need anything for.  We usually do it in the car and we did it a few times at the park when we were waiting in line.  Just have one person pick a Disney character and everyone else has 20 questions to guess who it is. 
  • Acting Games:  My kids like to imagine the trip before we are there.  They pack backpacks and pretend to either fly or drive and then pretend to sleep at a hotel all before they even get to go into Disneyland.  Then they pretend to be on different rides.  This requires a lot of imagination and usually consists of me spinning them in the laundry basket while they are on "The Teacups."  
  • Set-ups:  Round up all the Disney toys in your house and get them into prime circulation.  We really like to make Disneyland set-ups with our toys, but I realize that we are just slightly crazy.

You can see previous posts on that here.

6. Saving Up Money:  
I think it is important to be up front with your kids about how much they can spend at Disneyland, but this is totally up to you as a parent.  I will just give my two-cents (pun intended).  Picking a toy at Disneyland is a special part of the trip that you shouldn't skimp on, but shouldn't go crazy on either. We usually set an amount that we will give them to spend.  We say we will give them $10 and anything over that they need to spend their own money on.  You can get decent toys for between $10 and $15 so that seems reasonable to me.  Our kids' banks were pretty empty when they found out about the trip, so we set up jars specifically for Disneyland money.  The kids decorated the jars with stickers (the freebies that come in the mail again) and their names. Any money they earned by doing chores (or possibly just being really nice and good) went into the jars and Mom and Dad promised to match whatever they had by the day it was time to leave (Side Note: Don't forget to actually count this money before you leave or you will just end up having to overestimate how much they earned and the whole lesson will really be lost... not that we did that or anything).
*** As I said above, on our most recent trip by boys actually saved enough money to buy their own tickets and have enough to buy themselves a souvenir.  The jars where much more full than you see here:

7. Getting Postcards Ready:
We might be the only people crazy enough to do this, but I thought I was pretty brilliant about it all.  Of course, it is fun to send postcards to your family from Disneyland, but if you are like us then there are lots of people you love and you want to send a whole lot.  No one really has that much time to spare while at the park so we decided to write ours ahead of time.  Fortunately, I was able to do this thanks to the stock pile of postcards I already had on hand.  If you don't have them already (I guess most people won't), a good idea would be to make a list of who all you want to send them to and write down all their addresses.  Having postcard stamps on hand will make this project easier as well.  Grab some cards early on at the park and write them all while you are in line.
Mailing them from the post office box on Main Street was our first mission when we walked in the gates.  It is important to mail them from inside the park so that they have the Disneyland postage seal.
I know our friends enjoyed getting them and while it felt just a bit like we cheated, the boys had lots of fun writing them at home and spending the extra time on them.  They might not have happened otherwise.

8.  Packing Disney Memorabilia:
Most people like wearing Disney shirts and hats and things at the park, but if you buy them in the park they cost quite a bit and you might not be able to buy as many other fun things.  We rounded up all our old Mickey and Minnie hats and borrowed a few from our cousins (this works if your kids don't care that their name is not the one on the back). We already had a few shirts, but lucked out and got a whole collection of hand-me-down Mickey and Cars shirts from someone at Dad's school.  Places like Target and Old Navy often have graphic tees with Disney Characters for not that much, but second hand stores are also good places to looks.  You don't need to be completely decked out, but I know my kids were excited to pick out what they were going to wear every day.  They also both picked out one stuffed animal to take on the trip.  Gus took Pooh and Jimmy took Nemo.  

 9. Getting Ready for the Drive/Flight
Finding some fun Disney themed things for the car is a great idea.
I lucked out and Target had these fun Imagine Ink books:
Regular coloring books are good for a flight and you can always find your kid's favorite character coloring pages to print on the web.  Again, music is great.  We don't do movies, but obviously that is an option for a lot of people.  20 Questions is great for the car, too.  Target also often has $1 water bottles with Disney characters that could be a fun gift to give ahead of time.  They are great for the car and also to have in the park.

 10. Going Over the Rules:
1.  Behavior: The #1 Rule at Disneyland is "Be Happy at the Happiest Place on Earth."  Or at least it should be.  I might have told my kids, "NO CRYING AT DISNEYLAND." This also includes whining and general grumpiness.  I just know my boys both have a tendency to cry and whine (just as I did) so I wanted them to have it in their heads that if they were doing it, it was not okay.  We went over this numerous times.  My dad even told them a story about how he saw a kid get asked to leave before because he was whining and crying for not getting what he wanted.  We told them there are a few exceptions to this rule that include getting hurt.  But even then you need to try to be really tough and do your best to calm down.  My dad taught me to say "Jiminy Cricket!" instead of crying (I was a clumsy and emotional kid) so we told my kids that as well.  I know we were potentially setting ourselves up for having to come through on the promise to take them out, but if it really meant I had to take one kid out of the park to stop a tantrum, then I would do it.  Both my kids did have occasional melt downs while we were there so the rule didn't completely work (nor did I expect it to), but they did both calm down before we had to take them out.  They knew the threat was serious.  I can't stand that my kids would act that way, but it does happen.   They need to know that Disneyland is a special privilege and that privileges can get taken away. Mom and Dad could probably use a good reminder as to what kind of behavior to use as well.
2.  Getting Lost:   For older kids, it might be good to pick a meeting spot if you can't find each other (although cell phones deal with this well), but with little ones you really need to prep them. We told our kids a story about their aunt who got lost at Disneyland when she was three as a little cautionary tale and then told them if they can't find us to stay where they are and ask a grown-up, preferably a person with a name tag (ie: a cast member), for help.  We gave them each a little card to keep in their pockets with mom and dad's phone numbers and told them to give it to a grown-up if they get lost.  Some people do this as some sort of temporary tattoo, but I was not that on top of things.  
3.  Don't Be Disappointed:  We warned them that sometimes plans have to change.  A ride might be closed or break down or the line might just be too long to wait for (Check ahead online which ones will definitely be closed).  We talked to our kids about how no matter what happens we will find something fun to do because we are at Disneyland and everything is fun.  We let them each pick the one ride they cared the most about going on and made sure we hit those up early, but we told them everything after that was just lucky.  I think it is good to give them lower expectations about how much they will actually get to do so when they get to do a lot it feels like extra.  This is a hard thing for kids to understand, but it is worth trying.
4. Go Potty Often:  Tell the kids that there will be no complaining about going to the bathroom and that you will often need to stop the fun to go.  Remind them how sad it would be to get to the front of a long line and then feel like you need to go.  Of course, as a parent you should probably prepare for the worst and carry some extra clothes even for kids who might seem old enough to not be a problem.
And now you should be totally ready right?  
I never feel ready, but I remind myself that I just need to go with the flow and whatever happens happens.  We are at Disneyland so we will be having fun if we let ourselves. It does help to be prepared so here are a few of words of advice (okay, actually a ton of words) that I either personally learned in the park or discovered online.  I like to make lists for myself and it makes me happy to share them...

From The Weisse Guys


**Some tips may carry over to Disney World, but most are Disneyland Specific.
  • Fast Pass:  Most people know about the Fastpass System (if you don't, look it up), but make sure you use it to its full potential.  I hear you can pay extra to automatically have them now, but we have never done this or have I felt like we needed to.  It is my husband's designated job to get Fastpasses and keep track of the times.  A few pointers we learned were that no matter what time you are given for a fast pass, you can get another one 2 hours later and actually hold multiple Fastpasses.  Some Fast Passes are completely separate from the rest.  The only one that I know of is Radiator Springs Racers.  What that means is that you can get Fastpasses for that ride and another at the same time.  While on that subject, I should say that if you are going to California Adventure you need to go get a Racers Fast Pass first thing.  The line for the Fastpasses gets long fast (most Fastpasses have no line at all) and they even run out. Note that the Fast Pass distribution is not in Carsland, but right before the entrance to Bug's Life Land and it won't open until the whole park opens (ie: not during Magic Morning).  I would also suggest trying to get one for World of Color.  Worth it if you can get it.  This will help you get priority seating for the show.  They have just added them for the new live Frozen show at the Hyperion which I am sure are also very hard to get, but probably needed if you want to get a good seat.  You can also purchase meal plans that include special seating for parades, shows, and events. 
  • Ride Switcher/ Stroller Passes:  This is two names for the same thing.  It is something intended for families who have smaller kids who can't go on certain rides and, therefore, the families have to split up.  The passes are supposed to allow adults to switch off so no one misses out on the ride.  We were confused about exactly how this worked until we got into the park and asked for them.  Basically, when you first get in line for a ride, you need to ask the Cast Member at the front for a Stroller Pass.  They will gladly give you one pass that is good for three people.  If you want one for more people then that, then they will insist on seeing the number of people in your party.  After the first group of people go through the ride, then any three people from your group can get in the Fast Pass line or in some cases the wheelchair access line if it isn't a Fast Pass ride. Our six year old really reaped the benefits of these passes and got to go on lots of rides multiple times with different family members.  Note that the Matterhorn does not have a Fast Pass so this is a great ride to get a Stroller Pass for. 
  • Magic Morning/ Early Entrance:  This is for people who are staying at Disney Hotels or Good-Neighbor Hotels.  Check the official schedule to see what days it is offered.   These hours are a very nice bonus time, but keep in mind that only Main Street, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland will be open so you might want to save certain rides for this time.  We went straight to Peter Pan's Flight on our Magic Morning and we only had to wait 5 minutes when it is usually closer to 40 minutes.  Also, note that Toon Town always opens an hour after the rest of the park (therefore two hours after Magic Morning), so plan your time there accordingly.  If you don't get to have this special privilege (which we didn't on our last visit), keep in mind that you can still enter the park at the main entrance along with the people that do have the Magic Morning.  You will only be allowed to go on Main Street and there will be ropes set up blocking access to other lands, but it will get your day started faster seeing as you can line up by the ropes instead of at the Main Gate.  Also, Main Street is a lovely place to start your morning.  Get your coffee and a pastry and walk through the things you might not otherwise make time for like the fire station or one of the galleries of Disney art.  No matter what time you are allowed to enter the park give yourself at least an hour or half hour to get through the security line, ticket line (if you haven't already bought tickets--which you really should to save time), and then the actual line into the park.  
  • Disneyland Railroad:  This is a fun way to get from one side of the park to another without all the walking.  It is not necessarily faster, but the train should come every 10 minutes and there usually isn't a long line.  You can take strollers on them, but you have to hold them so if someone is sleeping in it, better to just walk it.  If you ride it from Tomorrowland to Main Street you see some very cool old dioramas including the famous dinosaurs.  My kids loved this.  From New Orleans Square to Toon Town you ride through Splash Mountain and see part of the ride.  (***  This ride has been closed recently and I think it is due to the building of the new Star Wars land.  I don't know when it is scheduled to reopen.)
  • Best Whole Family Rides:  I love rides that everyone can experience together.  Basically, this usually means the boat rides: Jungle Cruise, Storybookland Canal Boats, Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, and Finding Nemo Submarines. Also, I think Tom Sawyers Island is really fun and it is the one thing we didn't have time for because it opens late and closes early.  f you do have time and you have young kids that will want to run around, you should go.  Someday, I hope we can also do the boat rides on the Rivers of America, especially the canoes.  (They have also been closed recently and I don't know when they are scheduled to reopen.  (The Tiki Room is my very favorite, but it isn't actually a ride)
Dealing with Height Requirements:  If you have a baby, they can go on any ride that has no height requirement.  Note that the cast members won't let you even stand in line with a baby if the ride does have a height requirement.  I highly recommend that you measure your kids before you do so that they know which rides are not options for them.  My three year old cried when he discovered he wan't going to be going on Radiator Springs Racers, but better that happen at home then standing in line about to get on. He had come to terms with it by the time we were there. I am not above putting hats and things on my kids if they are really close to meeting the right height, but only if it is very close (**My daughter's Cinderella slippers had just enough of a heal to get her on Gadgets Go Coaster).  Just remember that your kid might not get on and you will have to deal with that.  If your kids are at different stages of tallness try to consider rides that are close together that are good for both ages.  For example, while my six-year-old was on Star Tours, my three-year-old went on the Rockets.  The same goes for Splash Mountain and Winnie-the Pooh.  In general, Fanstasyland is the best for the littlest ones because none of the rides have height requirements.  There is also the issue of kids who get scared easily.  There are some rides that they will be allowed to go on that they may not like.  Snow White's Scary Adventure lives up to its name.  The ending of Mr. Toad is in hell.... so there is that.


There are always lots of entertainment at Disneyland and it is an important part of the experience to see some of it.  Rides lines are shorter during the big shows, but for good reason.  The shows are always great.   The Disneyland Website has a full list of shows, but here are some of the highlights.  Some are on hiatus or are currently closed.  Check the time schedules for your trip.
  • Mickey's Soundsational Parade: Mickey and Friends lead a musical celebration.  You are sure to see tons of favorite characters in an this afternoon parade. 
  • Fantasmic: This is an awesome show that takes place on the water surrounding Tom Sawyers Island which has been around since I was a kid.  It has projections, floats, characters, etc.  On one of our trips we opted for the fireworks show instead of Fantasmic mostly because I feel like you need to get seats for Fantasmic really early and we didn't.  Apparently, the second show is much less crowded, but I knew my no nap that day kids wouldn't make it that late anyway.  Unfortunately on our next trip, Fantasmic was not running (again everything around Tom Sawyer's Island is not running due in some part to Star Wars land construction), but it would have conflicted with the night parade so we may have opted out again anyway.   Hopefully, it will be up and running the next time we return.  I did show my kids the whole thing on YouTube when we were going through Disneyland withdrawl which is kind of like cheating, but I figured it will be so long before they ever see the real thing, that it wouldn't hurt much.
  • The Paint the Night Parade: This show is new this year and is sort of a new version of the Electrical Light Parade I grew up with (which is still hard to beat in my book).  There are lots of pointers online about how to get good seats for the Paint the Night Parade and then the fireworks which immediately follow.  
  • Disneyland Forever Fireworks: There are multiple viewing areas to see the fireworks, but I wanted to view it from the castle which is probably the most impressive spot (Other spots include Main Street, It's a Small World, and The Rivers of America).    If you are watching the Paint the Night Parade from a good spot than you already have a good spot for the fireworks. After the parade, they let down the ropes and move everyone into the road to view the castle.  I purposefully, scoped out a spot at the edge of Main Street so that we could view both the castle in front of us and turn around to see the projections happening on Main Street.  This worked out really well and we didn't have to reserve our spot ridiculously early like you have to closer to the castle.  There are maps online for best viewing areas. 
  • Disney Fantasyland Theatre.   Currently, it is Mickey's Magical Map, which I hear is great and hope to make it to someday.  It is a musical production featuring lots of favorite characters.
  • Fantasy Faire Theatre:  They do half hour vaudeville style shows of both Tangled and Beauty and the Beast which will please any princess fans.  It used to feature Frozen, but the new Frozen show must have pushed that one out.  This was sadly closed for unknowable reasons on our last trip so we watched them on YouTube when we got home. They are pretty fun.
  • Jedi Training Academy:  This is great for young Star Wars fans ages 4-12.  Let me give some warning about the new system of picking the young Padawans.  They used to pick kids from the crowd, but now you have to sign up first thing in the morning and choose a show time for later in the day.  We had an awesome time doing this when they boys were picked from the crowd, but we had a minor catastrophe with the new system.  Despite heading to the Star Wars Launch Bay first thing in the morning, we were already pretty far back in a huge line.  It took almost the first whole hour of our morning waiting (the boys had to be with me in line to sign-up) and that was a rough way to start our day.  Then to top it all off the show we were supposed to be in got cancelled.  After making a phone call to kindly make recommendations to make the system work a little better (ei: two Cast members running the whole thing was not enough), I was given some ride passes to use in the future. This did put a bit of a damper on our day so just have your children decide how important it is to them.  The boys were good sports about it, but I sure hope they get this system worked out soon so that people can sign up very fast.  
  • World of Color: At California Adventure the nightly show is World of Color which takes place on the water and uses projections and lights combined with water.  It is really cool and as I said already, try to get a Fast Pass for seating.  You can also buy special meal deals at a few restaurants that will give you passes for priority seating, but this is pretty pricey.  
  • Pixar Play Parade: CA Adventures afternoon parade featuring Pixar characters.  Its fun and not usually hard to get a seat for.  If you want to eat a nice Italian meal at Wine you can schedule it around the time the parade goes by.
  • Disney Junior-Live on Stage:  Show featuring characters like Jake, Sophia, and Doc McStuffins.
  • Frozen- Live at the Hyperion: The new live action musical show about Anna and Elsa.  I don't know much about it yet, but it is probably the hot spot right now. Fast Passes are available for it.
  • AND MANY MORE! There are always lots of bands and singers (like the famous Dapper Dans) around performing at different times of the day.  I have never tried scheduling to see any of these, but am so excited when I stumble upon a street performance somewhere.  
  • Apps: I was very happy that Disneyland added back an official app (on a previous trip we didn't have one).  You can easily search for it in your app store.  Disney World's is called My Disney Experience, but I haven't used this (since we haven't been there... yet).  This is great for giving ride wait times and telling where to view characters.  It also tells you when rides are closed which is good to know.  Mine stopped working a few times throughout the day which was frustrating, but I would still recommend it.  Again this is going to lower your phone battery so limit your use of it.  I scoped it out the days previous to our trip to see about how long the waits were and where and what times characters were around.  I wrote some of them down in a note book so I wouldn't only rely on my phone. However, I think next time I will program some of the character times we really care about into my phone so I will get notifications.  

  • A guaranteed way to see some of the main characters is to pay for a "Character Breakfast."  I know these are pricey, but personally I love them!  Definitely skip if you are pinching pennies or don't care about characters, but families with young kids (or crazy moms) should try to see the main characters either here because you can see a lot more at once without the lines like in Toon Town.  There is never a guaranteed list of which characters are at which of the breakfasts, but if there is a character's name in the title of the meal then you will for sure see that character.  Both parks have one and all the hotels have them (See them all here), but Paradise Pier Hotel's breakfast is the only one where you will for sure see Mickey.  
  • I recommend picking one of the parades if you have young kids because it is a great way to see lots of characters (see above for details).  If you aren't going to spend time waiting to see Mickey and Minnie this is a sure fire way to get it done.  However, if you care more about rides, then parade hours are when lines can get shorter.
  • In Toon Town, Mickey is always in his house and Minnie is always in hers.  These can have long lines, but there is fun stuff to see during the wait so it isn't too bad.  Supposedly these lines get shorter near the evening.  Other characters like Donald, Goofy, and Pluto hang out in various areas of Toon Town.  These main characters often seem to come to Main Street at night when the park is closing.  
  • There are a few other spots in the park designated for character viewing where the characters remain throughout the most of the day (Their exact hours are made available in front of their station or via the app).  This is more convenient than trying to pin down time slots to catch some of the other characters. For example, Tinker Bell has Pixie Hollow and the Fantasy Faire area of Fantasyland has a princess meeting area in the Royal Hall which rotates out different princesses (usually 2 or 3 out of Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Ariel, or Aurora).  Ana and Elsa's meet and greet is in California Adventure and is notoriously long.  Kylo Ren and Chewbacca are newer editions to the Star Wars Launch Bay in Tomorrowland.  Unfortunately, as of my last trip the Disney app didn't give wait times for characters.  
  • I don't know that many secret character places, but there are some that are made known and all are available on the Disneyland App.  Princess Tiana, Louis, and Facilier are currently on the dock to the River Boat.  Woody hangs out in Frontierland.  Pooh and friends are in Critter Country.  Aladdin, Jasmine, and the Genie are in Adventureland.  In different areas around Fanstasyland you will see Alice, the Mad Hatter, The Fairy Godmother, The Wicked Queen, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and an assortment of princesses (Those not appearing in the Royal Hall that day).   There is a spot on Main Street where many characters come out from.  Alice and the Mad Hatter supposedly come out to play musical chairs at Refreshment Corner (aka: Coke Corner) around 2:00 everyday, but if you ask someone that works there they should be able to tell what time they are coming.   I have also been told that they will give you a schedule for all the character times throughout the park which might come in handy if your app isn't working.  Once, I stopped here first thing on our walk into the park to ask about this and it is how I stumbled upon Mary Poppins and Burt.  They are my all time favorites so I couldn't have been more excited. I didn't even care to ask about Alice anymore since all the employees where busy helping customers.  My character fix had been met and was so happy I made a point to stop here.  I hear they can often be in this spot or somewhere along the circle at the end of Main Street.  I don't think there are any secret character viewings.  I think it is all made public now.  I think there are certain times of year that special characters come out, but it will still be made public.   
  • I think if you see a character out and about anywhere and the line doesn't seem too long then you should definitely stop.  I personally love getting pictures with characters and so do most kids.  It can be as exciting as some rides, if not more exciting, so go ahead and spend some time to wait for them.  If they aren't too busy with a long line then they usually will talk to you for awhile or at least goof around a little bit.  My son had a sword fight with Burt and Mary Poppins so that made my my day.   His greatest moment was battling Darth Vader at Jedi Training Academy.  Since the schedules are so readily available now, I would recommend trying to schedule a few important ones into your day (and your phone) because you might not stumble upon them by chance.
  • Take the time to get one good family/group shot at Disney icon like the castle or Mickey flowers.  You can ask Disney Photographers (or any Cast Member) to take pictures for you.  They are usually set up at the iconic spots to take pictures with their cameras, but they will happily take one with yours as well.  It will be from a good angle and won't have random people in the background (or at least not that many).  You may have to wait longer for these spots, but you will get a good picture.  They will give you Photo Passes to view the pictures from their cameras, but they are really expensive to purchase so I say just buy the ones from your own camera.
  • As a general rule just take LOTS of pictures.  In the digital age there is no reason not to.  You can just print a few favorites, but kids love looking through them all afterwards so the more the better.  Pick a few fun spots to make videos as well, but don't eat up your whole memory card with tons of video.  Bring an back-up memory card if you have one.  Don't just count on a camera phone because it will use up your battery really fast.

  • There are whole fan blogs just dedicated to Disney Dining so I am not going to elaborate much on this, but I will give my few words of wisdom.  My basic advice is to not buy three meals in the park.  I say only eat two meals and snack a lot along the way.  Pick good restaurants to eat at and don't just stop at whatever you are near when you are hungry.  The food is really part of the whole experience as well.  You don't want to just have your own food all day, but be careful what you pick to eat because it isn't all going to be good (especially at the price you will have to pay).
  • Bring your own snacks.  I packed PB&J's everyday.  These help keep even grown-up tummies happy until you can get to your good meal of choice.  One morning I brought banana muffins that I had made before we left our house.  I also have lots of kid snacks like apple sauce pouches, goldfish crackers, and all sorts of other things.  You can pack whole meals as long as you eat them in designated areas (as in not at a restaurant).  I think everyone should bring some of their own food so that you won't be so hungry you end up buying overpriced stuff that isn't that great.  Read about a few of the restaurants ahead of time so you can get an idea of what you want to eat. At least once we ended up eating somewhere out of convenience, and it was fine, but if we had planned a little better we would have been more satisfied.
  • The most important thing to eat at Disneyland is a Pineapple Dole Whip from the Enchanted Tiki Room.  There is always a long line, but the line on the inside where you wait to enter the Tiki Room is usually shorter.  The tiki's also come alive while you sit there so it is a way better wait than outside.  Then you can take your treat into the classic show that Walt Disney innovated.  It is always a favorite of mine.  We usually go in the afternoon when we need to slow down and cool down.
  • Another snack that is a must have for me is a churro.  I know these have become more common to get other places, but there is just something about having one from Disneyland. 
  • My personal favorite meal that you don't need a reservation for is Clam Chowder in Bread Bowls in New Orleans Square.  They also sell Jumbo, but that is a little spicy for my littler kids.  You can also get bread bowls at Harbor Galley across from Splash Mountain.  They also offer a lobster bisque which my husband was excited about, but said wasn't as good as clam chowder.  You order them at a counter so you have to carry them and find a place to sit, but you could just sit on the ground if that is all you can find.  These are worth it. 
  • Turkey legs are great and you can eat them in line!  Also, corn dogs, chimichangas, and corn on the cob are good for this too.  Great if you want to maximize your time and don't feel like a sit down meal.
  • Stay away from Disney pizza because it is just never good in my experience.  
  • The Golden Horseshoe is another fun place because you can watch a fun western show while you eat.  The food isn't anything to rave about, but I love this old place since it was one of Walt's favorites.  
  • The Blue Bayou is an iconic and amazing place to eat.  I have been there once when I was young and it was awesome.  I would only recommend splurging on this if you have kids old enough to appreciate it.  The Cajun food is amazing and it is inside Pirate's of the Caribbean which is the coolest!
  • Character Dining will not be the most delicious food you have ever had, but it won't be bad either.  The food isn't really why you do it. 

  • This is the subject I am the least expert on, but I have a few opinions.  If you have the money to do so, then by all means stay at a Disney Hotel.  If you want to go all out then by all means stay at the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa.  It is the fanciest and closest walk to the parks and it even has its own entrance to California Adventure.  If you care more about spending your money in the parks than where you stay then pick the Disneyland Hotel or The Paradise Pier where we stayed.  I thought the Paradise Pier was really fun with its beach theme.  It has a fun swimming pool, a great character breakfast with Mickey,  and a great view (if you are on side facing the parks).  
  • There are perks to staying at the Disney Hotels, mainly that you get to take advantage of the "Magic Mornings."  However, some of the "Good Neighbor Hotels" have these perks as well so it is worth looking into since they will be a better deal.  
  • The fact that you can walk to the park from the Disney Hotels is great, but again other hotels offer shuttles that may get you there just as fast and there are many unaffiliated hotels and motels that are also in walking distance.   Use Google Maps to track the walking time from any hotel you are looking at and make sure it is a distance you are willing to walk after spending a whole day at Disneyland. 
  • If you are looking to do things on the cheap (like I was on our last trip), then you can definitely find good deals close to the park.  The hotel doesn't have to be that fancy, especially if you don't plan on doing much there other than sleeping.  I found a small motel with rooms from about $60 to $75 per night during a semi-peak time.  It was behind the Disneyland Parking lot so we only had to walk five minutes to hop on the tram.  I was happy with it for the price.  
  • Ultimately, I say compare the costs and decide where you want to spend your dollars.
  • Shopping is at Disney is fun and part of the whole experience, but of course, it can get expensive.  You might want to set a limit on your overall souvenir budget for the whole family in addition to the kids individual amounts (if you plan to do that).  If you have tons of money, than by all means go wild!  If you really want to save money, it can still be fun to browse the stores.  You could do early Christmas or birthday shopping if you are sneaky enough.  Also keep in mind that some toys and other items are purposefully only available at the parks and you won't be able to find them online.  I actually like picking these kind of souvenirs because they seem more special.  However, if your kids get their little hearts set on something that you know you can find elsewhere, it might be worth checking a price on Amazon or elsewhere.  They be willing to wait until they get home to have their gift if they know it will save some of their dollars.  Older kids will be more willing to do this.  I have also heard that some parents buy things ahead of time and give them to their kids in the park.  There are lots of ideas and budgets to consider.  
  • If you have limited time in the parks (like on our one day trip), consider spending some time at Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs in Disney World).   When we first arrived at our hotel we had a whole night to entertain ourselves and Down Town Disney was the perfect place to do this.  There are fun restaurants if you are willing to spend the bigger bucks, but we opted for just buying at a counter-service restaurant and then getting ice cream.  The Lego Store is really fun and they had Lego car races going on outside that the boys participated in. We browsed lots of fun stores including The Wold of Disney which has almost everything you will find in the parks.  It was a good way to give my kids a preview of choices and think on them for awhile.  They also browsed in the park, but we always tell them to not pick the first thing they see and try to wait until the end (unless they find something very unique that is probably not available everywhere.  We knew we would have time after checking out of our hotel to go back to Downtown Disney and that is where the kids each picked out a gift.  This meant we didn't spend valuable park time in stores.  
  • First, of all don't trust a lot of what you find online.  A lot of info is not true or possibly out of date.  For example, there was an online rumor (on places like BuzzFeed and such) that the purple teacup is the fastest.  Some guys tested it and said they didn't notice any difference.  My dad likes to say, "The fastest teacup is the one with my brother Tom on it."  Tom is the strongest man in the world in the imagination of my family so basically "the fastest teacup is the one with the strongest person spinning it."  All that being said, I will try to only mention things that I have found to be true during my Disneyland trips.
  • You can get free pins for first time visitors, birthdays, graduations, etc.  If you are staying at a Disney Hotel ask for them at the front desk.  If not then they are available on Main Street.
  • You can ask for a map of the Jungle Cruise when you get off.
  • While waiting at the New Orleans Train Station you can hear Walt Disney's opening day speech being typed out in Morse Code.
  • On Snow White's Scary Adventure: Don't forget to look up at the window as you enter the ride.  Then make sure to touch the golden apple before you enter.
  • Walk through Sleeping Beauty's Castle: A lot of people don't think to do this.  It was redone a few years back and while I miss some of the old kitschy stuff, there are some cool new effects to see.  It is usually not very crowded and doesn't take long to walk through.  Kids that get scared of everything might get a little scared though.
  • Indiana Jones has some fun spots in line where it will tell you not to do something, but really that means you should do it. 
  • There are "Hidden Mickeys" all over the park.  There is a $10 book you can buy in the park that will help you find them.  I bought one, but was too busy to ever spend time poring over it.  I will be more prepared for them on my next trip. Jimmy loved the idea of it and I think when he is older he will really get into it.  This time he was excited that he found a few on his own, such as the speakers right above you head on Space Mountain.  I have also heard that if you ask the Cast Member in the line if there are any they will be happy to tell you or give you clues.  I will try that next time.
  • These may seem obvious, but I will go ahead and list the things that families should be sure to have: comfortable and supportive shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, sweatshirts (it gets cold sometimes at night even in the summer), baby blanket, baby carrier, wipes, plenty of diapers, snacks, sippy cups or bottles, water bottles (lots of them, some disposable and some not), basic first aid (band-aides, kleenex, etc), nicer camera, phone, phone charger, glow-sticks, small toys (not very special ones in case they get lost), and a double stroller (if you have at least two kids). There are Baby Care Centers on Main Street and just past Carsland in California Adventure, but we never needed them.  If your baby needs a quite place I am sure these spots are great, but my babies are used to nursing anywhere and napping in the stroller.  You can buy needed supplies here as well if you run out.  
  • Take reusable shopping bags to keep things sorted out in your stroller.  I had one for food and one for clothes. And one for other things like maps, souvenirs, and all our Mickey Hats.  We hung this one on the handle of the stroller and it made it easy to spot our stroller in the mix.  Our bag was bright red, but it does help to put something bright on your stroller.  Designate one bag or backpack to come in line with you.  It can keep your camera, phone, and other valuables in it, but it is also good to hold onto a map so you can look at it in line and make plans for your next adventure.  Definitely keep at least one water bottle in it because you can get thirsty in line.  
  • Stroller and Baby Carrier: I think as a family you really want a stroller just so you have a good place to store stuff. My kids all took turns being in the stroller.  It is a good way for them to rest and even take naps. Some people swear by a side-by-side stroller like a Bob, but I personally loved having a front and back one.  The back lays all the way down, so my baby could take a nap and be completely closed off.  If your kids are older (or you don't have kids) I would say utilize the lockers.  If you are staying at a Disney hotel you can also have any of your souvenir purchases sent back to your room.  We didn't do this, but I guess if you don't have a stroller it would be a nice perk. As for Baby Carrier, every mom has their favorite and they are good to have on hand.  Just keep in mind if your baby gets nice and cozy in there, you may be asked to take them out of it in order to get on some rides.
  • Camera:  I debated for awhile whether I would want to lug my big Canon Rebel around with me every day at the park.  I ended up keeping it on me almost the entire time and I am so happy I did.  I got such great pictures.  Don't just count on cell phone pictures.  You will kick yourself later when you realize that the quality is just not as good.  Even if you don't have a really fancy camera, bring your "point and shoot" because it will still be better than just phone pictures.   Phone pictures are still fun, though, especially because these days you can instantly share your trip with people via Instagram and Facebook.  So take at least a few on your phone, too, but don't overdo it or your phone battery will die.
  • Phone Chargers: We had these with us, but never ended up using them.  Not that we didn't need to, we just didn't.  There are supposedly charging stations you can pay for on Main Street, but we never made it to those.  You should really make sure you charge it right up until you leave for the day and try not to run too many apps or use it unnecessarily.  I just used the Disneyland App and occasionally Instagram and my iPhone lasted all day. Some of the other people in our family were not as lucky.  We had dead phones a few times and it caused some problems.  Don't count 100% on phones, but do your best save battery because it will make things much easier if you need to split up.  
Ultimately, remember to just be happy at "The Happiest Place on Earth." 


  1. I loved this, even though I will not be going to Disney for a long time with my little one(s)! Great job! Looks like y'all had a blast.

  2. I judge you. (I'll have Doug read this when our time comes)

  3. This is the best thing ever. Thank you!