We are back from our first trip to Disneyland with our two boys ages 3 and 5 and it was such a memorable experience! I've listed some of the important lessons learned from our Disneyland adventure.
- Start planning your trip early. We booked our flight and our hotel in June and bought our four day Disneyland prices before the prices went up.
- Check the Disneyland Resort calendar. This helps you to plan your day and your trip. This calendar tells you what attractions will be closed for refurbishment and if there are other events planned for the days you are visiting. While we were visiting they were filming the Disneyland Christmas Parade and also filming a Tom Hanks movie called 'Saving Mr. Banks.'
- Visit during off season. When you get to Disneyland you don't want to be wasting your money standing in line. Depending on when you go to Disneyland (time of year, day of the week, etc.) it can be fantastic or miserable. Avoid holidays (the weeks before and after), weekends and summer.
- Get to the park early. Prior to getting to the turn styles you are required to go through a bag check, which can get backed up with lines. After you get through the bag check you can line up at the gates. You can enter the Disney parks 30 minutes prior to opening and then wait until they take down the ropes to hit your favorite attractions.
- Think in reverse. Another strategy is to hit the less popular rides first. I noticed while my family was in Fantasyland (with everyone else in the park) that no one was in Frontierland when I went to get FASTPASSES for Splash Mountain. Also, everyone in California Adventure goes to Carsland first which is a great time to go on Tower of Terror and Soarin' Over California.
- Where to go first . . .If you're in Disneyland go straight to Peter Pan and then hit all the kids rides in Fantasyland. These rides get busier throughout the day and don't offer FASTPASSES. If you're going California Adventure get in line for the Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASS line and then go to Toy Story Mania. This ride also becomes crowded because FASTPASSES are not offered.
- Save on food. We brought food and snacks into the park including peanut butter sandwiches, pretzels, Pringles, licorice, Nilla Wafers, apples, carrots, gummies, fruit snacks, granola bars, Skittles, Powerade and a water bottle. We snacked all day and ate our sandwiches for lunch. For dinner we ate fried chicken twice at the Plaza Inn at the top of Main Street. You get three pieces of chicken, real mash potatoes, string beans and biscuit for $13.99. It was enough food to feed our whole family. It was quality tasting food too!
- Download the Disney Mobile Magic iPhone App. This app was the best Disneyland app I found and pretty accurate when it came to ride wait times and FASTPASS info. It also has a detailed park map and information about daily events like parades and performances. It uses the GPS on your phone to show attractions near you in the park. It is a must have!
- Take advantage of FASTPASSES. Get FASTPASSES immediately after you get in the park. In Disneyland go to Space Mountain first, in California Adventure get Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASSES first. You will also want to get World of Color FASTPASSES first thing in California Adventure outside of the Grizzly River Run. FASTPASSES allow you to get a ticket with a time that tells you when to come back to a ride to go to the front of the line. You can only have one FASTPASS at a time, however after the start of your first FASTPASS you can get another FASTPASS and collect them throughout the day.
- FASTPASS Secrets. You can't use your FASTPASS before the time on the pass, however you can use the FASTPASS after the time on the pass. You can even sometimes use them the following day. California Screamin' in California Adventure and Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin in Disneyland aren't linked to the other FASTPASS systems in the park so you can get those FASTPASSES at anytime.
- Use Rider Switch. If you have small children that aren't tall enough to go on the big rides you can request a rider switch pass from a cast member. It allows the adult that has waited with the smaller child to go to the front of the line and to switch with the other adult who waited in line to ride the ride. This is available for 20 rides in the parks.
- Single Rider option. There are eight rides in the parks that accommodate single riders and allows you to go to a shorter line and fill the ride in with sing rides. This option cuts down significantly on wait times if you are willing to split up and ride single. This doesn't work so well if you're traveling with kids. The single rider entrance isn't always marked so just ask a cast member where it is. The Matterhorn ride also offers the single rider option even though it isn't on the Disney website.
- Avoid Magic Mornings. They Disneyland Resort calendar will tell you which resort will have Magic Mornings, which allows guests staying at a Disneyland Hotel to enter the park an hour before other guests. Go to the opposite resort that is having Magic Morning so that you can be the first to hit the crowded rides and get first dibs on FASTPASSES. Most 3, 4 and 5 day park hopper tickets come with one magic morning. (We had a 4 day park hopper ticket, but it didn't say we had a Magic Morning, but I overheard a cast member say that we could get in the park early with it. I took my ticket to the turn style and we got in an hour early on our last day.)
- Be a Park Hopper. I would suggest paying extra to get the park hopper ticket so you can bounce between parks if you want to. On the weekends California Adventure closes earlier than Disneyland so you are able to switch parks for a few more hours of fun.
- 2012 Southern California City Pass. If you're going to be in Calfornia for a few days consider the 2012 Southern California City Pass. This saves you 25% on Disneyland tickets and also gets you admission into Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld.
- Bring a backpack and stroller. Each of our boys had their own stroller and this was a lifesaver because it allowed us to get from place to place faster and they boys weren't tired of walking. Be sure to park your stroller in 'stroller parking' and be aware that cast members will move your stroller. Tie something to your stroller to make it noticeable among the sea of other strollers. A backpack is handy for packing your food, drinks and sunscreen.
What other suggestions or Disneyland secrets do you have? Please share them in the comments box below.