Mar 09 2012
We had a marvelous time at Disneyland and I came up with a few hints for future visitors, especially those visiting Disneyland for the first time.
- Visit during quiet times. Use a crowd calendar like the one at touringplans.com to choose days when the crowds are expected to be smaller. Because our early February days were low on the crowd scale, we went on as many as 25 rides in a day, and that was when the park’s hours were relatively short. Did you know that there are almost as many rides in Disneyland Resort’s two parks as in all the parks at Walt Disney World? Because the parks are more compact, you can conceivably go on more rides in a day at DLR than at WDW because your walking/traveling time is much less. (If you go in the winter, remember that even warm days will turn into cool evenings, so bring a sweatshirt or jacket unless you want an unplanned souvenir sweatshirt to take home.)
- Use your magic mornings. If you buy a 3-day or longer Park Hopper (or combo pass like a CityPASS), you’ll get “Magic Morning” admission on one day of your choice. This allows you into Fantasyland and Tomorrowland an hour before the park opens to the general public. This is a great time to go on Star Tours or Peter Pan’s Flight or some of the other rides that inevitably have longer wait times as the day goes on.
- Arrive before the “rope drop” at least once. The entrance gates to the parks usually open before the park’s official opening time, and you can wander around Main Street USA before the attractions open. Ropes keep you back from the entrances to the different lands, and just before official opening time they’ll be pulled back, with instructions from cast members to wait for the official announcement that the park is open. It’s hard not to smile when you’re welcomed to Disneyland and hear Zippidy Doo Dah while wandering into Frontierland or Adventureland or Fantasyland. It also means you’ve got a pretty good chance at being one of the first in line on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or whatever ride you’ve decided to ride first in the day.
- Use the Toy Story Parking Lot if you’re staying south of the Convention Center. This lot is across from the road to the convention center, and if you’re staying at hotels south of there, will be just a few minutes’ drive (or walk if you’re close enough). From there a free shuttle bus (not a tram) will take you to the park and drop you near the entrance gates. The lot opens an hour before the park; if you’re using your Magic Morning you’ll want to park in the Mickey and Friends structure (which opens another 30 minutes or so earlier) so you can get to Magic Morning on time. We got to the Toy Story lot each morning just after it opened and parked just a few spots from the bus stop, and got to the park in enough time to wander around a bit without feeling rushed.
- Bring some snacks. Though officially you can’t bring food into Disneyland, the security check is prior to the lockers and picnic area where you can stash a backpack or cooler for access later in the day. We gave each of our children a waistpack and allowed them to pack it each morning with snacks we’d brought from home. They each had to remove and open the waistpack at security, but the guards were looking for things more dangerous than snacks . . . like Mouse traps, for instance. Having their own snacks worked really well; we allowed them to eat them when they wanted to so we never had to hear, “I’m hungry.”
- Have some Mickey Beignets. Sold at the Mint Julep Bar, which is tucked away in New Orleans square between the rest rooms and the train station, the Mickey-shaped doughnut-like treats are perfectly shareable, and at 3 for $3.99 or 6 for $6.99, might be one of the best food bargains in the park. We also shared a Mint Julep ($2.99), which is a mint/lime nonalcoholic beverage. We all enjoyed this little taste of southern charm, and both the beignets and mint julep were popular with the whole family. The Kids Power Packs sold at several Disneyland restaurants were also a hit, and with fish crackers, yogurt, string cheese, apple slices, and a beverage, could serve as either a shareable snack for the family or a meal for a child who doesn’t like burgers or chicken strips or pizza.
- Make your own lightsaber. The only place you can buy these is at the Star Trader, which is exactly where you’re spit out after riding Star Tours. Other lightsabers can be purchased at World of Disney in Downtown Disney (and other locations, I suppose), but if you want to make your own, Star Trader is the place to go.
- Use the package pickup. If you buy, for example, a make-your-own lightsaber at Star Trader, but do not want to carry it around with you the rest of the day, you can take it (with your receipt) to the newsstand near the Disneyland entrance. They’ll keep it there for you until you’re ready to head to your vehicle, and because they have windows both inside Disneyland and in the entrance plaza, it’s convenient to pick up while exiting California Adventure as well. They can’t keep food or specialty breakable things, but for general merchandise purchased in the park, it’s a great free service.
- Stay for the fireworks, but watch them from near the exit. Though the viewing area on the platform of the Main Street train station is reserved, and you won’t be allowed to watch from the stairs below it, you’ll have a good vantage point for the fireworks from the curb just in front of those stairs, and when the fireworks are done, you’re just steps from the exits. This means that you can be at the front of the line for the shuttle buses or parking trams and get back to your hotel sooner than those who watched from deeper in the park.
- Find a shorter tram line. When leaving in the evening via the parking trams, see if there’s a tram loading back farther (past the Wetzel’s Pretzels stand at Downtown Disney). People bunched up at the lines for the first tram, but by accidentally walking down too far, we found much shorter lines.
- It’s the little things. If you go to Disneyland, you’ll figure out all kinds of things on your own, such as: The Billy Hill and the Hillbillies show at the Stage Door Cafe is not to be missed. The Enchanted Tiki Room may seem odd to you and remind you a bit of Lawrence Welk, but half of your kids may ask to go back. Even the bravest kid may ask if he can sit by you at the Haunted Mansion. You can adjust how much the teacups spin, making them a possibility if you trust the person you’re riding with to abide by your minimal-spin wishes.
Gadget’s GoCoaster in Mickey’s Toontown is a good starter roller coaster.
If your kids can handle that, they might like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Goofy’s Sky School (at California Adventure) as well. They will likely want to ride the coasters many more times than their mother. One of your children may actually be brought to tears when you suggest that the whole family ride It’s a Small World. You’ll come up with all sorts of your own family memories.
- (Bonus) Your kids will surprise you. Despite timezone changes, early mornings, late bedtimes, and oddly spaced meals, we saw smiles throughout our three full days at Disneyland Resort. As is often the case as a parent, some of my favorite memories are of simply watching my kids have fun, and that’s what brings a smile to my own face. (That and the fact that I’m actually in a picture with my kids.)
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