Melanie, Finn, and I just got back from visiting Disneyland and it was a blast! I used to be an annual passholder when I lived in LA a million years ago and was so excited to introduce the OG Disney park to my kids for the first time. We went for four days total (two days then a break and then two more days) and took a few friends with us, too. It was a magical time, y'all! Here's 5 tips for the best Disneyland experience with kids!
Image Courtesy of: Annie Vovan Photography
Here's what I learn about hitting the park with two kids and tons of friends:
Stay off property and enjoy all the benefits. I know, I know. When we go to Disney World, I am totally Team Stay On Site but at Disneyland? Not so much. See, Disneyland is much smaller park and is literally surrounded by amazing hotels that you can easily walk or drive to. Like, RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET close. I mean, I love me some Disney magic as much as the next chick but the savings and location of the Good Neighbor (i.e. approved by Disney) hotels was too good to pass up.
In addition, the hotels we stayed at (the Hilton and the Best Western) had free WiFi, free parking for guests, and free breakfast. If you have ever paid $15 for your kids to eat Fruit Loops – you know that a free breakfast while on vacation is BANK. Both hotels had space for easy parking and a great staff. I would happily stay at either location again.
We had a one bedroom suite at the Hilton which was great because the kids could fall asleep in the room while my friend Jana and I stayed up to work in the living room and my niece watched TV on the sofa bed. It also had a small kitchen (great for making snacks and meals as needed) and a nicely sized bathroom. When we stayed there, we would walk about 5 minutes to Disneyland's Toy Story parking lot and ride the (free) shuttle to the park.
We also stayed at the Best Western which was quite literally across the street from Disneyland (like, we would turn out of the hotel parking lot and wait at the intersection to walk straight through where the shuttle buses drop people off). The hotel had been recently updated and was surprisingly spacious. I liked the way they laid out the bathroom because it made for a nice open space for luggage and the stroller. The room also had a mini fridge and microwave so we could have snacks and drinks.
Get the MaxPass. I was super confused about MaxPasses before we went to Disneyland. I'm much more familiar with the Disney World Magic Bands and was worried about paying for MaxPasses and then not using them “right” or forgetting about them altogether (don't judge me, I have two little kids and sometimes forget their names). Well, for the two full days we were in the parks (we did two 6-8 hour days and two 12+ hour days), we shelled out for the MaxPasses and I'm SO glad we did!
Basically, the MaxPass is FastPasses on steroids… plus, the Photo Pass. Starting the second you get in the park and buy/activate the MaxPasses (and yes, you must PHYSICALLY past the ticket gates in INSIDE the park itself), you can start selecting FastPasses (each person getting a FastPass must have their own MaxPass). Then, every 90 minutes OR after you use a FastPass, you can choose another one. And that means that you can easily crank out 8-9 FastPasses during your visit – WITHOUT RUSHING. We hit all the big rides (TWICE because we did Rider Switch) and still had tons of time to sit down and eat, meet characters, and wander around the shops.
Personally, I think that MaxPass works best if you have a park hopper. We loved being able to snag FastPasses for really popular rides during the “downtimes” (i.e. parades and shows) at each park. That really helped us maximize our FastPasses. Also, I would make sure to set an alarm on my phone for the next time we could choose a FastPass. That way, I wouldn't get distracted and miss out on picking one as soon as it was available.
Lastly, I love that the MaxPasses are attached to the Photo Pass system. Y'all know how I feel about schlepping a camera to the parks or trying to get a shot on my cell phone while wrangling kids. For me, Photo Pass is the way to go. Just get the card and, every time you get a picture with a Disney photographer, have them scan it. Your pictures will appear in your Disney account (and on the app) within a half an hour. You can buy prints or just download them on your own. I LOVE IT.
You can learn more about using MaxPasses here.
Find out more about maximizing your MaxPass and Rider Switch here.
Buy the balloon. Every time we go to a Disney park, we take our stroller. Yes, it's a bit of a hassle getting it on and off shuttles/trams and having to park it for every ride BUT, I love that it gives my kids a rest when they need it. Plus, we have a place to store all our stuff (y'all KNOW kids need A LOT of stuff just to survive a day at the parks). People have been telling me every time to buy a balloon and tie it to the stroller so we can find it easily. We never did… until this trip AND I'M SOLD.
I didn't intend to buy a balloon, I really didn't. I mean, it's a balloon and they're expensive (like, $13-20 a pop). But we walked into Disneyland that first day and my daughter saw a cast member selling enormous BB-8 balloons – and it was all over. I could see in her eyes that she really, really wanted one. So I bought it. She played with it for a few minutes and then we tied it to the handle of our stroller.
Best. Idea. Ever.
From that moment on, whenever we needed to find our stroller after parking it for a ride – we looked for BB-8. Separated by the crowds? Look for BB-8! Trying to find our person to wave to from a ride? Just look for BB-8, kids! That balloon was worth every $13 I spent on it. Word of caution though? You'll need to make the string long enough for the balloon to be seen in crowds… which then makes it a moving target while you're walking. We took out SO MANY PEOPLE with a BB-8 balloon to the head because we'd start walking and forget to shorten the string. Oops.
Take your own water (and other food/snacks). Look, I love me some Disney park snacks (helllllloooo, Mickey Ear Ice Cream Bar!) but I'm too
cheap frugal to pay $5 for a bottle of water or $3 for an apple. I just can't. And that's why Disney is so cool – you are welcome to bring your own food into the parks! I always stash 6-8 bottles of water in the stroller and pack a small bag with fruit snacks, trail mix, and raisins each morning before we leave for the park.
For one, my family drinks water like it's going out of style and I can't always depend on finding a water fountain when I need it. So bringing our own water bottles is really important for keeping everyone hydrated. I like having a bag o' snacks because my kids graze constantly. Being able to shove a bag of fruit snacks at them while waiting in line or watching a parade is a big help with keeping the peace. I mean, I can't just stop what I'm doing every time they're hungry and go buy something so the snacks are great.
If you can, drive or rent a Toyota Sienna. I know that it seems like a great way to save money but I'm telling you, if you can bring a car – DO IT. It was SO nice to have a vehicle with us onsite at the hotel for trips to get food or pick up this or that at Target. I mean, sure, you could walk but that's A LOT of extra walking after hoofing it all day at the park. I loved that I could just load up the kids and swing by an affordable and family-friendly restaurant for a late dinner. Having our own car also allowed us to stress out less about moving car seats and luggage on our way to the hotel from the airport.
Since we had three adults and two kids in car seats PLUS the stroller and everyone luggage, it was so nice to drive a spacious Toyota Sienna. I mean, everyone had room and then some (and my kids couldn't
annoy touch each other which is always a win in my book). Melanie absolutely LOVED the Blu-Ray system and happily watched movies wearing the wireless headphones every time we had to drive for a while. Finn thought the sunroof was the best thing ever – he would just look and look up and point at the clouds.
The adults in the car loved the third row seats (we needed them for the first half of the trip) and all the storage! It was amazing how easy it was to fit the (enormous) luggage for three adults and two kids PLUS a stroller in the truck – we just used the third row split and laid down the unused seats to make room for all our stuff. And the cup holders! Y'all know how important cup holders are to me! The Sienna has SO MANY – drinks for everyone!
Personally, I really loved the built-in navigation system (which was well used, believe me!) and the 360 degree back up camera (so helpful while trying to park at the hotels). I also had a blast messing with the incredible sound system and blaring some tunes while we drove. But the best BEST part? How easy it was to install my kids's car seats in the van. Truly, a parent-friendly car!
What are your best tips for visiting Disneyland?