Thanks to the Disney Parks team, our family just enjoyed a few magical days experiencing the holidays at Disneyland and California Adventure. It turns out my happy meter went so high after our visit that I’ve got multiple posts worth of stories and tips. (Be sure to check out these posts featured earlier in my Disney Holidays series: Don’t-Miss #DisneyHolidays Experiences and Tips & Our Family Just Got Merrier, Thanks to Disney Holidays)
Let’s face it, while Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, it can’t protect me from myself. Thanks to a few mishaps, along with a hefty dose of dumb luck, I have more wisdom to offer you as you plan your magical visit. Here goes…
You know how Big likes to wake up at the crack of dawn? Disneyland is the one place that it works wonders. We take advantage of our early-to-rise, enthusiastic kids and hit the parks right when they open. Since we’ve had the luxury of staying at Disneyland Resort Hotels our past two visits, we’ve also taken advantage of the extra magic hour perk. In fact, on Sunday, we entered California Adventure Park at 7am, and by 10am we’d gone on Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Toy Story Midway Mania, Goofy Sky School (two times!), California Screamin’, and Ariel’s Undersea Adventures. (Oh, and we ate breakfast and dealt with a sick kid in our spare time.)
We like to take a break right after lunch. Whether it’s some downtime at a quiet spot in the parks, or a rest (or swim) at a nearby hotel, it’s a smart move to let your kids (and their high-strung mama) recharge.
Don’t miss out on the evening atmosphere of the parks, which starts pretty early during the holiday season since it’s dark by 5pm. The only problem with it getting dark so early is that you have to trick your clever little ones into staying awake until World of Color — Winter Dreams or Believe…in Holiday Magic fireworks show. (Rumor has it cotton candy helps…temporarily, at least.)
Based on our recent visits, it really takes at least two days to soak up all that the parks have to offer. This time we spent the morning in one park, then the evening in the other—and visa versa. It’s just how our schedule happened to work, but it also makes you feel like you’re getting the most out of your Park-Hopper Passes. If you’re staying at the Grand Californian, it’s smart to spend your late night in California Adventure Park so your kids can get back to bed quickly (or so I discovered when I was alone with two kids melting down at 9:45pm…which was better than where my husband was given the sick kid I mentioned earlier).
And some other tips we learned thanks to chance our expertise:
TIP #1: Outsmart the Other Latte Lovers
If you want Starbucks to start your day, visit the location inside California Adventure rather than Downtown Disney. Since people inside the park are maximizing their ride time, there’s a much shorter line. (I’m not sure if this applies to Disneyland because general admission ticket holders can wait on Main Street—where the Starbucks is located—during extra magic hour.)
TIP #2: Train on the Disneyland Parade
Take note of the parade times you don’t plan to be on the sidelines and plan your park adventures accordingly. We strolled into Disneyland right at the beginning of the parade one evening and had a beast of a time making our way through the park due to the crowds and path closures. Though we didn’t, I’d recommend you consider taking Disneyland Railroad into the part of the park you want to get to rather than battle Main Street crowds.
TIP #3: Get in the Holiday Spirit Early…Or Late
Since the holiday experience runs (this year) from November 13, 2014 through January 6, 2015, consider going before Thanksgiving (next year and beyond) or after Christmas (starting this year, of course). We’ve been surprised to find on both of our trips this year—one during Spring Break and one during Thanksgiving week—that Monday was far more crowded than either Saturday or Sunday.
TIP #4: Plan to Get Frozen
We’ve had the great fortune of attending events where we got a personal introduction to Anna and Elsa, but in April I heard the line to take pictures with the Frozen sisters was up to three hours long. Apparently the always-inspired Disney folks figured out a better way, because when we checked in to the Grand Californian, the staff member suggested we stop by to secure our spot in a virtual line as soon as we entered Fantasyland. Like a FASTPASS, you can now reserve a return-time ticket.
TIP #5: Get Pinned
If it’s your (or your little one’s) first time visiting the park, or it’s someone in your party’s birthday, be sure stop by City Hall on your way into Disneyland to get a special, complimentary pin. Little got a kick out of strangers shouting happy birthday to him as we cruised the park. (Or use the trick in this post to avoid the line.)
TIP #6: Whistle While You Search, But Don’t Get Grumpy
There are all kinds of great sites out there with really specific advice. I found the two links below as we were battling the never-ending Highway 5 on our way to happiness. But then I remembered we have three feisty, opinionated little kids, so planning our day ride-by-ride really isn’t even on the table. It’s just good to have some of these things in the back of your mind so you feel like you’re doing right by your former kid-free self.
Are you a Disneyland pro? What are your best tips for maximizing the happy?