Woohoo! Time for one of my favorite subjects: Disneyland! My closest friends consider me a Disneyland expert. I am not compared to many die-hard Disney fans. But I have visited the Disneyland Resort many times throughout my life and love going with my kids now! Aaron & I learned our way around the parks when we had annual passes a few years ago {we lived in Anaheim pre-kids}! This year for Christmas my sweet mom gave us all a yearly pass…so we have been able to go twice already with the kids. Several questions come up when my friends ask me about Disneyland. How do you do it with kids and when is the best time to go? First, I will tell you to be flexible. Disneyland always has little things going on and you never really know what you are going to get too far in advance. CHECK DISNEYLAND’S WEBSITE & HOURS often so you can plan accordingly. A ride might be closed or it may rain or it may be really crowded. If everyone in the group picks one ride they have to go on…that’s a good goal to shoot for…and fill in from there. Here is my list of tips that I have been compiling for a few years to send my friends and some websites that I find helpful {it became so long that I had to break it into two parts}.

::Disneyland Resort Tips::

When to go:

This depends on you, your family, your tolerance for crowds and changes in weather. Ask your friends who have gone and check out these sights to learn more and to get an idea of what the experts say about the crowds.
HERE {just click on the month you are considering}
HERE {this one gives a general description for each month}
HERE {this is comprehensive & really great}

As far as the best season to go…it just depends on you. I like the summer activities and weather and late hours {assuming it’s not too hot}. I like the winter activities for Christmas and we don’t usually mind the colder weather. Rain is a blessing in disguise because people scram…but don’t forget your ponchos {we bought the ponchos they sold there in December and have been very happy with them and if there is even a chance of rain we bring them}! Be careful of Summer, November through December, Spring Break season and major holidays if you do not like crowds.

What to wear:
For Everyone: Comfortable shoes and layering my clothes are the two key ingredients for comfort in Disneyland, in my opinion. I am always careful to check out the forecast beforehand so I know if I am wearing comfortable sandals or comfortable sneakers {and/or my cozy UGGS in the evening}. For the most part Anaheim has great weather. We typically bring clothes for hot mid-day and cooler evenings and everything in between. Sometimes I try to dress cute and sometimes I try to just be comfy. We all have some cute mickey sweatshirts now too that work great in the evening!
For the Kids: We love to let the kids dress up in their favorite Disney character costumes. This is not for everyone, but it works for us. I dress the kids in their regular clothes under their princess dress or Buzz wings so that they can take them off anytime. Also, if Paige wants to wear princess shoes I just throw a comfy pair in the bottom of the stroller so she can change them anytime.
How to get on your favorite rides:
Pick the ride you all can’t miss and get the fast pass for those first. They only allow you to have a few fast passes at a time {in both parks} and everyone must be present to get it. Also, now you must return in the window of time that your fast pass indicates or they will not let you use it. There are a few phone apps that tell you wait times…these are helpful for sure. Also, if you don’t mind riding alone you can go into a single-rider line on most rides as well. So, for example, if a group only has three people with them you get to hop on the ride as a fourth. Ask at each ride to learn how to do it. In general, fast passes are key. For more info on Fast Passes go HERE. One more note, the lines for rides are less crowded during parades {one time we literally walked right onto Small World without waiting in line because the parade was just starting and all the kids wanted to see it}. If you can live with out stopping to watch the parades {or talk your kids into living without seeing them} you may get a quicker ride out of the deal.
How to get around the park and figure out the schedule of events:
There are maps and daily event schedules at the front of each park where they scan your tickets and you check in. So grab them. Events & times can change daily so this really helps! Also, many people know their way around so don’t be afraid to ask someone walking by or of course a cast member {disney’s name for employees}. We are always happy to help when someone seems lost!
Where to eat:
See my notes in PART 2 {tomorrow} for some of our favorite spots to eat in each park. You can totally bring your own food if you want…but sometimes its just more fun to eat overpriced junk food when you are in Disneyland! First of all, try to eat at off times when nobody else is hungry. Late mornings and early afternoons tend to be less crowded. Also, depending on what food you select you can often grab something to eat in line while you are waiting. Those mickey hot pretzels or dole whips are some of our favorite “line-waiting” snacks! Most resort restaurants have these kid power packs with fruit & cheese and goldfish crackers…these have been life savers for us as well!  The most important thing to keep in mind about restaurants is that if you want a sit down style {like Blue Bayou} or a Buffet {like Big Thunder Ranch} you must get a reservation in advance. I cannot stress this enough. Any type of buffet or popular spot with fill up {especially if you are going with a large group} so call ahead. They start taking reservations six weeks in advance! CALL (714) 781-DINE and click HERE for more information.
How to have fun and fight off the crankies:
Rest when you are tired. If the kids need to sleep in a stroller or on your chest just let ’em. Bring tons of snacks. As I mentioned above, most of the resort restaurants have these kid energy packs with fruit & cheese & yogurt and goldfish crackers…these have been life savers for us as well! Go for more than one day {if possible}. And the most important is: Stay hydrated. Typically cranky grown-ups and kids need water {or a snack}. You can ask for regular water at any restaurant. You can even bring your own water bottles if you so desire {no glass is allowed in the parks so keep it stainless or plastic}.

How to get the best pictures:
There are photographers all over the parks {usually in the best photo op spots} that can take your picture. The first person to take your pic will give you a card that each new photographer scans when they take your pic. It’s totally free and you get to view all the pictures they each took online and order them later. So if you end up with a cute family picture it’s worth it {although they are very expensive}. But the nice thing is you can also hand the photographer your camera and they will take a picture for you. You will get a decent picture in a great spot. They will even take pictures with an iphone/smartphone camera…so don’t hesitate to ask them.

What to buy for those darn souvenirs:
This is up to you. We go to Disneyland often. For our average trips we generally don’t even consider souvenirs for our kids. But there is something about those Disney stores that tend to draw our kids in {and I’m guilty of being drawn in as well}. Instead of fighting it we have adopted a new plan for this year while we have passes: our kids have to earn chore money to buy Disney souvenirs. We may get a small thing here or there for the family but if they want something special they have to work hard to do chores and make money in preparation for the trip. I tell them how much they have so they can figure out what they can afford to buy! So far it has worked pretty well {other than Grant insisting that it is too hard to decide and taking three days to actually pic something}! Oh, and my kids love those souvenir penny smashing machines that smash a penny and make a special imprint on it…they get to crank the machine and get a cheap little trinket…so it’s a win/win {as you can see below}!
What in the world are those character autograph books all about?:
Okay, if I’m being honest I used to think they were dumb. Who needs an autograph book? But we got them for our kids in December thinking it would be a fun way to document how many characters we could see in a year. I hope put their pictures with each princess and character next to the autograph and call it good. But you know what…those things are great for more than just a keepsake. When the kids get up to the characters {regardless of how beloved that person may be to my child} they freeze. They don’t know what to say or what to do {and man those lines to see them can be LLLOOONNGGG}. These little things are a great icebreakers {especially considering that many of the characters don’t even talk}! They are not a necessity but boy have I been glad we got them.

What’s the best thing to do with babies, toddlers & strollers:
We loved bringing our kids when Paige was only 2 and grant was about 9 months old. It is totally manageable if you know the tricks {and they are free if they are under 3} so keep an open mind! If you are bringing or renting a stroller {and I highly recommend it} remember you cannot bring it in most ride lines or shows-so be prepared to park it. With this in mind mark it with your name clearly. Also, I keep a small backpack/purse with my valuables on me so that I can easily park the stroller anywhere and get in line {there are designated stroller parking areas all over each park}.  Also, you should know about the rider switch card. When you get in line most rides have a Disneyland worker who you can ask for a card from. You have to show them that you have a small child with you. Basically since you have a little one it allows one of you to go on the ride with your older kids while the other sits out with the baby. Then when the others get off the ride the card allows the baby-watcher to get into the fast pass line or go through the exit (usually where the handicapped riders enter) line and hop on the ride since they just missed it. You can go back and do this anytime. Does this make sense? Ask the cast members {employees} working there and they will explain the whole thing. Totally worth it! Bringing an ergo or whatever baby carrier you have is a great option as well…my babies seemed to roll with the whole thing as long as they were with mamma! There is a mother’s room that has a changing area and nursing area in Disneyland so be sure to ask about that as well.

What’s with the lockers?:
If you like to pack light, are going all day and or need lots of snacks on hand the lockers can be great. They are located near the bathrooms in between the parks {closest to Disneyland} and I think there are some inside each park as well. But note that they are pricey. When I went with just my friend Courtney I stuck a warm sweatshirt and my UGGS in it for the evening shows. You may have a hotel close by and then you can just go back for a rest and change so you are ready to hit the park again for some evening fun {but this depends on the time of year and if you are planning on an all day extravaganza}!

Be sure to stay tuned for {DISNEYLAND TIPS – PART 2} tomorrow!

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