Don’t get me wrong. This family is big on Disney. We are animation fanatics and so many things about Disney are near and dear to our hearts. But when you look around the web for information about visiting Disney, whether it be California or Florida, there are entire sites about every aspect of the visit. I really had no idea how many huge fans there are out there and how many things you need to know about visiting. There are whole businesses and books to help you make the most of your experience.
I seriously think that this is all awesome, but we had one day to hit both Disneyland and California Adventureland Park – and were a big overwhelmed with it all. So this post is full of tips from people who are Disney-lovers but *not* superfans.
1. Don’t try to do too much.
This was all my fault. I knew we would not be back any time soon and also knew we only had one day there. Everyone told me I was planning too much and in a lot of ways, it put a damper on the day.
2. Don’t do Disneyland and California Adventure in the same day.
It really, really, really is too much to do. We were there for more than 12 hours and were barely speaking to each other by the end of it. Plus had to drive over an hour back to LA. No bueno. So of course, all this would have been made easier by staying over at Disneyland for the night too – which had been highly recommended to me as well. In the future, we would make it two days, or just pick one park.
3. Figure out if Disneyland or California Adventure Park is more important.
The movie “Cars” came out when Dex was four. It was the first film he really liked, that he really bonded with. It was his Frozen. We have seen it at least 100 times. I knew Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers (every bit as amazing as you have heard) at California Adventure would be important and fun for us, but we could have spent the day there alone and done nothing else. Dex just didn’t have the nostalgic attachment for Micky and Goofy like we did, and while you should never do a vacation SOLELY for the kids… Cars was nostalgic for us too because it was so memorable for him.
4. Make a (loose) plan.
It’s a big world of Disney and you don’t want to be walking around in circles. So those web sites and books (most especially my friend Cam Bowman’s “101 Disneyland Tips“) are very helpful in getting your bearings before you go, rather than standing at the entrance staring at a map. I would also suggest you force all the adults in your party to study the map and your plan as well – because, honestly, I ended up being the ringleader and we all (myself included) resented me for it. P.S. They are not kidding with the Fast Pass business. Figure out your most important ride with a Fast Pass, get that one first, and plan your day accordingly after that.
5. Pick an off-peak day.
We did this – and while I know there is no “down-time” at Disney – it really did make a difference. Since we were on vacation, we didn’t care when we went! There are also web sites and apps to help you figure out what day is best to visit based on traffic predictions (sometimes it may be the weekend!), and look for up-to-the-minute apps that helps you see what wait times for rides are withing the parks when there.
6. Prep your kid(s).
I feel like we didn’t do this enough, partially because we didn’t know what to expect either. But I did say things like: “The one photo I want to get is us in front of Cinderella’s castle.” Or “You can get one toy that costs $20 or less.” These conversations have to happen OVER AND OVER. When they are there, everything is overwhelming and they need to know the drill.
7. Stay well-fed.
I am diabetic and have a bad habit of letting myself get to hungry, hot, tired, thirsty, which makes me a general pain in the behind. Plan to eat “park food,” whenever you are hungry, whenever it is easy. Don’t worry about the cost, just eat. Well-fed family equals way better memories.
8. Know where the alcohol is.
Disneyland does not serve any kind of alcohol, which was a rude awakening. California Adventure *does* have alcohol, in several locations. Our favorite was a little nook of tables where we sat and had small plate dinner and light-up drinks on a patio that overlooks Cars Land, called the Alfresco Tasting Terrace.
9. Expect the unexpected.
We went with a California native and also a friend who grew up in Ireland, so our group ran the whole gamut of Disney expertise. There were so many things our expert remembered from childhood that were cool little things we had to see, so we made many unexpected but fun pit stops. Also, we would happen upon rides with small lines, especially later in the evening – so we jumped on and had a blast in areas we had not planned on even stopping.
10. Decide when to call it quits.
I really, really, really wanted to see the World of Color show, but again – that’s a thing you kind of need to plan for. We probably should have headed out earlier, and I am glad we at least caught some of it, but we really had to battle the crowd and our crankiness to do it.