A couple of weeks ago we took a quick trip for Arden’s 7th birthday. The destination? Well, where would almost any 7 year old tell you they’d like to go for their birthday? Yep, DISNEYLAND.
We decided to surprise her, which was the most fun ever. I packed a bag with a bunch of new Disney-themed goodies (see the packing list below) and had her open it to guess our destination. As you can imagine she was pretty ecstatic! I think I love Disneyland just as much as she does so…we were all pretty happy 😉
We’ve been to Disneyland quite a few times and I thought it would be fun to share with you my favorite tips and tricks to help save you time and money (and your sanity) when planning a trip there. Because believe me, it makes a huge difference on whether your trip is one to remember or if it will make you never want to visit the “happiest place on earth” ever again.
Before planning a trip to Disneyland be sure to research how crowded it will be. There are a ton of sites out there dedicated to tracking the crowds. I suggest checking more than one to make sure there is a consensus between them! Here’s one that I always use. I’ve also heard that January is the least crowded month to go. Also don’t forget to check the Disneyland calendar before you go to make sure all of your favorite attractions are open and running. Another thing you’ll want to factor in are magic mornings and magic hour. To learn more about those check out the “STAY” section below. Or just remember to visit Disneyland on Mon, Wed, Fri & Sun and visit California Adventure on Tues, Thurs & Sat. As for length of stay, I’d recommend either 2 days with park hopper tickets or 3 days with single park tickets.
The plane ride is only an hour for us from the SF Bay Area, which is worlds better than the 10 hours it took us to drive down there last time (won’t do that again!). Flying for us, was very highly preferred. I recommend flying into John Wayne Airport (SNA) because driving time to Disneyland is a lot faster than LAX. Also SNA is smaller and less hectic. As for airlines recommendations, we usually fly with Alaska Airlines because we’ve noticed that they’re more likely to be on-time than any other airline we’ve travelled with. And as most of you all know, when traveling with young children every second/minute/hour counts! While we’re speaking of young children, there’s another reason I love Alaska Airlines: they let passengers traveling with young children board first! Trying to keep track of two kids running around, multiple snacks, toys, jackets, bags and car seats…well, it’s enough to drive any parent crazy. Boarding a few minutes ahead of everyone else so you can wrangle those kids into their seats and all of their accompanying
chaos luggage into the overhead bins…well, that’s straight up bliss, let me tell you.
Alaska Airlines is also available to fly out of Oakland airport AND San Francisco airport – between the two, we can pretty much hit any destination we need to. They have more destinations in California than any other airline! Also, their premium class is not too much of price jump, and it gives you a lot more legroom than coach, as well complimentary drinks and the cutest little snack box with goodies like Tcho chocolate, roasted almonds and fig bars. So it’s a pretty cool option in my book. Bottom line is that every time I’ve flown with Alaska I’ve been happy with their service and their flights. And I’m definitely not the only one, they’ve been named the best airline in America for the last two years, which is no easy feat!
I’m usually a cheapskate when it comes to the hotel. My reasoning is, we’re barely ever in the room! Why pay (way) more for a Disney property if you’re not even there? Well, the answer to that might be “magic hour”. Yes, magic hour is pretty magical. If you don’t know what they are: guests staying at a Disney property get into the park an hour before anyone else. My solution? Visit the park on days when there isn’t a magic hour OR buy a 3-day ticket and you’ll get a “magic morning”. The only time I would recommend staying at a Disney hotel is if you’re staying for longer than 3 days. That way you’ll have time to experience both parks AND the hotel you’re staying in. But if you’re only going for a couple of days (like us) then my favorite place to stay is the Park Vue Inn. It’s cheap, clean, has a good breakfast AND it’s literally right across the street from the park entrance. 5 minute walk tops! They also have a room option with a queen bed and a bunk bed. How perfect is that?
You’re going to need a plan of attack when it comes to what rides you’ll ride and when. Years ago I literally spent days researching rides and the best time to ride them and entering it all into a spreadsheet and I still wasn’t satisfied with it. THEN I discovered RideMax. RideMax is the answer to your line-waiting-woes. Basically a (genius) software-engineer/Dad put together an amazing program where you enter the rides you want and it will spit out a custom, optimized itinerary for you down to the minute. It has a TON of ride/show/parade tips as well. It’s WELL worth the $15, believe me. We never wait longer than 20 minutes for any ride. I print out my RideMax itinerary and add notes to it along the way. Oh and don’t forget to check this blog post to see which line is better on which rides!
One thing that was brand new on our last visit: the Disney MaxPass. IMO so very, very worth it. Basically you download the Disneyland Mobile App and instead of running to get fastpasses all day, you use your phone and couple of taps later those fastpasses are all your’s! No running around from Tomorrowland to New Orleans Square then back again. We were waiting in line for Disneyland to open one day and got our entrance tickets scanned early and I was able to get fast passes for Space Mountain without even being in the park yet. Pretty feking amazing. Oh and just in case you’re hemming on the extra cost? They threw in a photopass along with it. So all those photos they take of you in the park or on the rides? Those are all your’s for the downloading.
Okay let’s talk about the eats. We all have our favorites. My favorite? The Blue Bayou always. And of course dole whip! If you’ll be partaking in the dole whip goodness, be sure to get in the line after the Tiki Room entrance. It’s always much shorter. Also a new favorite this trip? The River Belle Terrace for vegan BBQ tofu and tater tots. ZOMG so good. Snack foods I absolutely love? The vegan Mickey-head pretzels and the (not-so-vegan) Mickey beignets at the Mint Julep Bar. You’re going to want to make reservations at least a month or more ahead of time too, you can do it here or use the Disneyland app to make changes on the go. We usually do lunch dining packages for both Fantasmic and World of Color, so we can get preferred seating for the nighttime shows and fireworks. It’s really nice not to have to sit and stake a spot on the ground for hours before the show starts. Not fun at all! I’d much rather be riding rides! AND enjoying good food 😉
Here are some items that always make it into my bag when planning a Disney trip!
1. lightweight jacket
This is a great choice because it’s easy to pack, easily packed, has a hood and is water-resistant. Perfect choice for those cooler Southern California nights.
2. Sun hat
A good sun-hat is always great to have to keep the sun out of your eyes and your cheeks from burning. I really liked this one because #MickeyEars
I got this adorable hoodie for my 4 year old son. He has an obsession with hoodies, so this was the perfect choice.
We visited at the tailwind of winter. I think a good beanie for the kids will help keep chills at bay.
5. toddler mickey head shirt
A classic t-shirt good for any Disney occasion 😉
6. Men’s disneyland tee
My husband isn’t big on logo-wear, but he liked this vintage-style shirt.
7. reversible sequin minnie shirt
This is basically my daughter’s dream shirt. All her favorites combined in one shirt. Black/white, stripes, Minnie Mouse and reversible sequins. What more could a little girl ask for? Hurry there aren’t many left!
8. womens mickey mouse tee
Loved the subtle, faded look of this classic t-shirt.
9. comfy shoes
This one is no joke. You will be logging seriously miles, so make sure you have a good pair of (well-broken in) sneaks to keep those feet happy. I actually bring two different pairs and switch them up. Have you ever noticed that your feet can get tired of one pair of shoes and slipping on a different pair helps refresh them?
10. rain poncho
I used to see rain ponchos on Disney packing lists all the time and would assume they were more useful at Disney World. Not so. SO great to have them at Disneyland too. Especially if you’re like me and hate getting wet on water rides. These are a lifesaver. They’re also great to use during World of Color so you can get up close without fear of getting sprayed.
11. small pack
This backpack is the perfect size to keep you company at the park. And it looks cute too!
12. mickey ears
Such a classic! I recommend buying them beforehand so you don’t waste precious park time buying your little ones a pair. In fact, I recommend getting all Disneyland toys, souvenirs and trinkets before you go. You’ll save money and you can surprise the kids with them!
13. water bottle
There’s water available for purchase at every food stand, but why waste your money? I love this collapsible, rollable water bottle because it’s so versatile. We usually just bring one and share it to keep the backpack from getting too heavy. During the summer you can even fill it up and throw it in the freezer the night before. That way you have ice-cold water at the park!
Perfect way to treat those in-park blisters or ouchies.
Easiest way to apply sunblock to you and your kid’s faces. This one has zinc and is free of parabens..oh and it doesn’t turn your face white! It goes on smooth and smells like a piña colada. My kids love it. They also have a spray that’s super convenient for summer.
16. fold-up blanket
I always bring this blanket with me because it comes in handy for so many occasions. It’s made from a light-weight parachute like material, so it folds up small. It’s great to use when waiting for parades. You can use it as a rain poncho too. Or even for a little extra warmth.
17. disney snacks
The perfect way to keep the kids happy between meals if you don’t feel like spending an arm and leg buying snacks in the park. My kids especially loved these apples and we now “subscribe” to them on Amazon.
A necessity if your kids want to watch a movie on the plane or on an iPad.
19. small toys
We got this set of Star Wars toys for the kids to share this time around as they had just finished the first Star Wars trilogy. They played with them at the airport, on the plan, during sit-down meals and in line. New toys like this are the way to go, to keep boredom at bay on trips like this.
20. booster seat
We love this compact booster seat for travel. It’s about the size of a clutch and so convenient. We took cabs to/from the airports and this seat made sure our kids were safe. I was happy to see airport staff and cab/uber drivers cracking down on people not using carseats. With options like this, there’s no excuse to not be using one!
This has turned into a beast of a post, but I just wanted to get all of my advice into one post for you (and me!) to remember as well, while it’s all still fresh in my head! Are you a fan of Disneyland or Alaska Airlines? Do you have any advice I didn’t mention? Any favorite Disneyland restaurants? Must-do shopping or entertainment you enjoy at Disneyland? Leave any questions or comments you have below in the comments!
Huge thanks to Alaska Airlines for partnering with me on this post and to Disneyland for providing 2 free park hopper tickets! Thank you for supporting copycatchic and the partners that make this blog possible!