Recently I’ve had a lot of friends head south to Disneyland for a family vacation. Since Disney Parks are my jam I thought I’d post the top 5 tips for planning your Disneyland vacation. I remember going on a spontaneous Disneyland vacation as a kid and it was memorable, but the more planning you put into your Disneyland vacation the more you can get out of it. There can be fun in spontaneity, but these 5 tips will help ensure you get the most out of your Disneyland vacation.
Not What You’d Expect in a List
Below are my 5 tips for planning your Disneyland vacation and I’m well aware that these 5 words may seem odd in relation to a vacation. Trust me, I’ll explain each below and hopefully you’ll realize I’m not as crazy as my list sounds.
In order to maximize your time in Disneyland, you should have a strategy. Depending on your personality you may not want to take a vacation that requires a strategy. However, a basic strategy will help you manage the Parks. Each Park has multiple “lands” that you’ll want to explore with interesting attractions in each part. A simple strategy would be to pick a land that you want to start in and then decide which ride you want to do first (ahem, Peter Pan in Fantasyland) and then you could finish exploring nearby attractions in that land before moving to the next land. I find having a plan fun and I like to memorize it, which I’ll admit was difficult when I planned our trip in 8 minute intervals starting at rope drop.
- Have a starting time and a starting point.
- Conquer each land instead of pinball’ng around the parks.
- Decide whether to watch parades or go enjoy shorter lines on rides at this time.
- Plan whether to eat your meals slightly early or late to avoid crowds at restaurants (i.e., more people in food lines equals less people on rides).
- Don’t forget about Disney California Adventure – it is an amazing Park for all ages (and serves alcohol).
I mentioned Rope Drop above and it is worth mentioning again. If you want to:
- Beat the crowds,
- Maximize your time in the parks,
- Get a daylight castle pic with not many people in it.
If those appeal to you then you’ll want to find out what time Disneyland opens and aim to be there 45 mins to 1 hour earlier (and earlier if its a holiday or a Monday). This will give you time to get through security, the ticket gates and into the rope drop crowd on Main Street.
Even on vacation you can’t escape technology. First thing you must do is download the Disneyland App. You can create an account, link your tickets, buy additional items (i.e., MaxPass), make dining reservations, obtain and view your park photos, and even order food from certain places when you’re in Disneyland.
I’m Canadian and the wifi in Disneyland isn’t fully reliable. I actually had to rely on my mother’s iPhone back in October because she had a US data plan and I hadn’t bought one for our trip. I would suggest purchasing a US data plan so that you can use the Disneyland App.
With all this technology and the inevitable use of your phone as a camera, you’re going to need a plan for how to keep your phone battery from dying. As an iPhone user I suggest using the “low power mode” for the battery in addition to keeping a portable charger with you. Or use the tag team method and use one person’s phone until it dies then move on to the next phone.
I love food and if you can’t indulge on a vacation then when can you?! Your vacation will not be complete without devouring some Mickey shaped foods, such as waffles or ice cream bars.
When we go on any Disney vacation (world or land) we always try to ensure that we have a sit down meal at least once a day. We have always been travelling with a child under 3 so we find a sit down meal important to slow the pace and give us all a much needed break. You can book your Disneyland advance dining reservations (or ADR as the cool kids say) at select restaurants up to 60 days in advance. Go crunch the dates and find out your earliest booking date and get right on it – there’s no time to lose! You can even change your mind later so book it early and change it if necessary.
Character Dining is expensive, but waiting in line ups to meet characters can be viewed as a waste of time by some. You’ll have to balance your budget so consider what option is best for you. My daughter hates characters and has continued this trend the last few trips. She finally warmed up to princesses last October. We ate at Chef Goofy’s and Goofy sort of snuck up on my toddler while she was eating a cake pop and she almost knifed him. So maybe don’t waste your money, unless you’re me and are hopeful that one day she’ll get over her fear.
I have found that Disneyland was more expensive for food than Disney World and if you want to keep costs down be aware that you are allowed to bring food into Disneyland. I normally bring snacks, but you could pack sandwiches and treat yourself to churros for a dessert.
As a parent I’m constantly trying to manage expectations and that’s important on your Disneyland vacation. Before you tell your kids how amazing Splash Mountain is you’ll want to check if any rides are closed for refurbishments. This information can be found on the Daily Event Schedule on the Disneyland website. I was heart broken my baby missed out on It’s A Small World when we visited in October.
All the minimum height requirements are also listed in the Disneyland App (seriously, what are you waiting for – get this App!). We kept a growth chart for my daughter and specifically marked 40″ as “Splash Mountain” and now all the neighbour kids know they are tall enough to ride it when they do a Disney vacation.
Not only do you need a strategy and technology for this fun family vacation, but you also need to learn the lingo of Disney. Are you sure you haven’t just signed yourself up for a business conference? All of this work is actually fun and your family will have no idea all the time and effort you put in behind the scenes to make sure this Disneyland vacation feels effortless.
You’ll need to decide if you’re going to be a paper-based (free) FastPass user or upgrade (for a cost) to MaxPass. This debate deserves it’s own blog post, which the Magic Kingdom Mamas have already done here so check it out.
Depending on your family dynamic you may be utilizing Rider Switch or Single Rider lines. I do not advocate for families using Single Rider lines to avoid waiting in the main line. Riding as a family is fun and waiting in line as a family can be fun too (there’s even an App for that).
Single Rider lines are for singles – like when I went back to the park when my baby and hubby were sleeping and I didn’t want to wait in line. Rider Switch is for when hubby and I can’t leave the baby unattended.
Other lingo you may encounter is listed below:
- DCA = Disney California Adventure
- DLR = Disneyland Resort (the hotels, Downtown Disney, and 2 parks)
- ADR = Advanced Dining Reservations
- FP = FastPass
- GOG = Gaurdians of the Galaxy
- AP = Annual Passholder
- CM = Cast Member [employee]
- PH = Park Hopper
That’s All Folks
Those are my 5 tips for planning your Disneyland vacation and it will certainly be a memorable trip. Remember that even with all the pre-planning, there will be meltdowns, there will be chaos, there will be surprises, but there will also be magical moments that make it all worth while. Have fun and please let me know how your vacation goes– I’d love to hear about it!