Our family tries to get in two trips to Disneyland a year.
In the summer, we drive from our Northern Utah home. We leave on a Thursday morning, and drive to the western edge of Nevada, where we stay overnight. Then on Friday morning, we continue our journey into California. Around noon, we can usually check in early at the hotel, and spend the day in Disneyland. On Saturday, we enjoy a leisure character breakfast, go grocery shopping, get all the souvenir shopping out of the way (or at least try to), and otherwise settle in and rest up. On Sunday, we go to church, and generally window shop at Downtown Disney and look for photo opportunities at the Disneyland Hotel and surrounding areas. Then on Monday morning through Friday evening, we put our five-day park hopper to use, bouncing between Disneyland and California Adventure parks. Early on Saturday morning (at or before 7:00 a.m., to beat the crowds of weekend gamblers), we begin a sad journey back to Southern Utah, where we stay overnight in Saint George. On Sunday, after attending church services, we return to our home in Northern Utah, to begin uploading pictures from the digital camera and reliving our adventures.
In the winter, we fly from SLC to Long Beach on Jet Blue, then use Prime Time Shuttle (www.primetimeshuttle.com) to go to the resort. We catch an early flight in on Monday, and fly out on Saturday.
We get asked frequently about tips or tricks for visiting the parks, and so here is a short list of some things we have learned.
Sticker Shock – Food
If you’ve never been, then looking at the price tags for food and souvenirs can really throw some people who are not expecting it. Be prepared to pay about $15-$20 a meal while inside of the park (maybe a little less if you just order ice water). We find that if we avoid the kids meals, but instead share an adult meal with a couple of little ones, they get a better value. Quite often we (mom and dad) share an adult meal between us, and have enough food to be satisfied.
We stay in hotels that offers a refrigerator, and so we stop at the grocery store on Saturday (see list of nearby businesses below) and pick up a few snacks. A bag of bagels, pop-tarts, cereal, fruits, or whatever you like (Note that California state law prohibits bringing fresh fruits across the border, and they do sometimes inspect cars as they enter). Of course, if your hotel offers a continental breakfast, eat up! There is some debate about whether you can bring food with you into the parks. So long as it is not in glass containers, we’ve never had a problem bringing small items. So bring snacks, water bottles, milk, etc. You can walk into most any restaurant and ask for a cup to fill with ice and water, free of charge. And if you can adjust your eating habits, try to eat at non-peak hours – get an early dinner or late lunch, and you will avoid long food lines. Restaurants just outside the park on Harbor Blvd – McDonalds, Dennys, IHOP, and others a little further down (Subway) the road might offer a less expensive way out of some meals – but don’t count on it, because their prices in the Resort District are inflated from the norm. Check for coupons from the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, and you might find coupons to some of the Downtown Disney eateries: http://anaheimoc.org/coupons
Just don’t forget to stay hydrated while outside having fun all day! Any restaurant inside the park will gladly offer you free ice water.
Sticker Shock – Souvenirs
Hit the Dollar Tree, where you might find balloons, coloring books, glow sticks, or other items at a much better rate than inside the parks. With smaller kids, you can get away with purchasing small items at Wal-Mart, Target, dollar store before you leave, and bring them with you to present to them at Disneyland, making a less expensive souvenir. Also while at Dollar Tree, stock up on paper plates, cups, and eating utensils that you might need during your stay.
Target is just five blocks south on Harbor
Walmart is North on I-5, off the Euclid exit
Walmart “Neighborhood Market” is a few blocks East on Ball Road.
Trying to race through the parks commando-style, from ride to ride and opening to closing, will wear most people out and ruin the experience. Take your time, and enjoy the experience. Disneyland is designed so that you are part of a story, and all the little details around you tell that story. Take time to look at the scenery, and enjoy the atmosphere. In the heat of afternoon, it is often helpful to head back to hotel for an hour nap, or at least to visit the air conditioned shows during that time. It’ll help you to be rested up to come back and tackle the second half of the day.
Use the FastPass system! (see more about that below)
You’ll do a lot of walking and standing, so take good broken-in shoes. Better yet, if you can bring two pairs, alternate wearing them every other day. Each pair will wear differently on your feet. If you know you are prone to getting blisters, put band-aids on your feet in those places before you get the blisters… it works!
Photo Pass (and Photo Pass+)
Throughout the park will be cast members with the PhotoPass uniform, armed with nice Nikon cameras. You can approach any of these folks, and ask them to take a picture. They will happily do it, and issue you a small card with a QR code. You can reuse that card for more pictures on the remainder of your trip, or you can keep collecting them at each photo stop. Then, you can take them to the camera shops in either park and buy the prints. Or, you can enter them online at home, and buy the prints. Photopass is a great way to get the entire group in the picture together, and we find for night shots, their cameras and lighting beat anything our cameras can do.
They also offer a PhotoPass+ service, which we find even better. With it, you’ll get your in-ride photos and dining locations (character breakfasts) included too, AND your pictures mailed to you on a CD when the trip is over.
More information about PhotoPass: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/guest-services/photo-pass-service/
More information about PhotoPass+: http://www.disneyphotopass.com/specialoffers/dlrppp.htm
The larger rides will have a free service called FastPass. FastPass does not cost anything extra! There will be some boxes setup nearby that you can slip your park ticket into, and it will dispense a second ticket that invites you to return to the ride at a designated time (usually a couple hours later). When you come back, you can bypass the standby line and (almost) walk directly onto the attraction. You can only obtain one of these tickets every couple hours, so look for the restrictions printed on the FastPass ticket. Doing this means that you might have to come back two hours later, but while you are waiting you can go and do something else; whereas without the pass you would otherwise have stood in a 45 minute line doing nothing but waiting.
Some popular rides don’t have FastPass, and so (if you plan to ride them) it is wise to get to those early in the day before they get really busy. Some rides like this are the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Peter Pan’s Flight (all located in Fantasyland); Dumbo; and Toy Story Mania (Paradise Pier, California Adventure)
For families with smaller children, ask the ride attendant about a child-switch pass. When one parent stays with the kids, the other can ride, then can switch places and the other parent (and one other person) can take a turn without waiting in line all over again.
Magical Mornings and Morning Maddness events
Three-day or Five-day Park Hopper Tickets come with one free “Magic Morning.” Here you may enter a park one hour before posted opening time. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure alternate days of the week when these early openings are happening, so check the schedule. Those without a “Magic Morning” entry can expect that there will already be a few thousand people already in the park when they arrive at actual opening time. On many days it is possible (but not guaranteed) that you may be let into the park up to a half hour earlier than the posted opening time, for a “rope drop.” They will allow you up to the end of Main Street USA or to the Carthay Circle restaurant, where you can wait for a rope to be dropped, allowing you into the rest of the park. Oh, and for your shopping convenience, many of the shops will be open while you wait! You can also get past the rope to go to the Plazza Inn for breakfast, if you have made reservations ahead-of-time (call 714-781-DINE).
Toontown Morning Madness is offered on some days to Disney Hotel guests. For them, Mickey’s ToonTown is opened an hour earlier than posted opening. Thus, if you are looking to get shortest lines in Mickey’s Toontown, either go with a Morning Madness pass, or be there at ToonTown’s opening on the other days to have an equal chance with everyone else.
Speaking of smaller children, often we hear people say they will wait to take their kids to Disneyland, with a variety of reasons offered (often “I’ll take them when they are older and they can enjoy it more/remember it more” or variants). To that I say, DON’T WAIT!!! The sights, sounds, colors, motion, activity, and experience are just as great for a six-month-old as a 106-year-old. Granted, your toddler may not ride the Indiana Jones jeeps or California Screamin’ roller coaster. But there is a large world of rides that parents and children can enjoy together. And that is the best part of Disneyland – you can experience it together.
Still not sure? Here are a few specific items then…
Rides: Disneyland Railroad, Main Street Cinema, Main Street Vehicles (Fire Engine, Horse-Drawn Steetcars, Horseless Carriage, Omnibus), Mark Twain Riverboat, Sailing Ship Columbia, Big Thunder Ranch, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Tarzan’s Treehouse (if they can walk up stairs – lots of stairs), Goofy’s Playhouse, Mickey’s House, Minnie’s House, Alice in Wonderland, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Dumbo, it’s a small world, King Arthur Carousel, Mad Tea party, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Snow Whites Scary Adventures, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Astro Orbiter, Autopia, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, and the Disneyland Monorail.
Shows: Opera House (The Walt Disney Story Featuring Great Moments with Abraham Lincoln), Enchanted Tiki Room, Innoventions, Captain Eo. Not to mention Parades, Fireworks, and looking for characters all around to greet; you’ll fill up your time easily enough!
Disneyland “Don’t Miss” Attractions
The Disneyland Mountain Range:
Matterhorn (no fastpass, so try to hit it early in the morning before the line gets long)
Big Thunder Mountain
Peter Pan’s Flight (a kiddie ride? or a romantic ride through the starry sky? Try to hit it early in the morning or the line gets long – even if it doesn’t look very long, the line moves really slow)
Indiana Jones Adventure
Pirates of the Caribbean
Where to eat at Disneyland
The “Mexican Restaurant” (Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante) in Frontierland.
We also like to enjoy at least one meal per visit at the Plaza Inn (it costs a little more, but a meal easily has enough food for two).
When you need a break from the typical fare, head to the Harbour Galley for baked potatoes!
At the Carnation Café, order a bowl of Potato Soup (served with a roll) and Pomegranate Flavored Lemonade. And some ice-cream for desert!
Inside the Golden Horseshoe, order mozzarella cheese sticks and French Fries (these are not listed on the menu, and are made-to-order)
California Adventure “Don’t Miss” Attractions
Radiator Springs Racers / Cars Land – this is the newest land in Disney California Adventure. The big ride is Radiator Springs Racers. Standby Lines have been averaging about 2 hours. There is a single rider line at about 40 minutes to an hour. The best strategy for this is to go AT PARK OPENING to the entrance of A Bugs Land. Send one person in with everyone’s park ticket to the Fast Pass distribution for Radiator Springs Racers (A Bugs Land is next door to Cars Land, so this isn’t quite as strange as it might sound to locate the Fast Pass there). Everyone must be physically in the park, or the ticket will not give you a Fast Pass (so they claim – I’ve heard people say they did otherwise and got away with it, but there is no telling if or when they might have the computers actually start checking this). Anyway, get the Fast Pass early, and go enjoy the ride when the Fast Pass time says you can. When they open at 8, they usually run out of Fast Pass tickets for the day by 9:30 – 10:00 am.
The other two rides in Cars Land don’t have Fast Pass, so enjoy them when the lines are short (but they are probably not worth more than a 30 minute wait)
Soar’in Over California. Feel like you are hang-gliding over various parts of California. A FastPass might come in handy for this ride.
Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular. Great place to take a break in the afternoon. There are no restrooms in the theater, so go-before-you-go to this 40 minute fantastic show!
Explore the Animation building. This great air-conditioned building has a lot of fun things to do and keep the whole family entertained. Talk with a sea turtle; learn to draw a Disney character; find out which Disney character you are most like; and/or have Ursula steal your voice!
Tower Of Terror – Depending on how busy it is, this might be one to use a FastPass on.
California Screamin’ – if you like a really fast roller coaster (it goes upside down too).
Take the Bakery Tour and see how sourdough is made. They give you sample at the end.
Toy Story Mania – fun for anyone old enough to sit in a seat by themselves (the game/ride moves around and is a little jerky on the turns).
The Little Mermaid – Fans of the movie will enjoy this “immersive” ride
World of Color – After you get your Radiator Springs Racers FastPass, send that runner over to the FastPass Machines at Grizzly River Rapids. There, you can get a FastPass which secures you a spot in the World of Color viewing area for that evening. The ticket will tell you when you can enter the viewing area. Be there ahead of time! The viewing areas are tiered, but you want to get a spot in the front of your tier – that is, up against a fence or railing with bushes in front of you! If you have people in front of you, this is bad! If someone in your party is handicap / in a wheelchair, enter at the designated handicap section, where that person can sit in their chair, and the rest of you can stand and look over the heads of people sitting down.
Places to eat in DCA
Lucky Fortune Cookery offers Asian inspired food, and is a delicious break from regular fried theme-park fare.
Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop – for walking in the door, they will reward you with a square of Ghirardelli chocolate. In the winter, this is the right place to come for hot cocco. This is also the right place to visit anytime if the kids want a chocolate milk, as you’ll get tastier flavor and more ounces for the price than buying the Nestle Qwik bottles anywhere else in the park.
Characters in the Rain- the characters that were scheduled to appear on a rainy day are still there, but you must find them indoors. In Disneyland Park, look inside the Opera House on Main Street. In Disney California Adventure, they are typically in the Animation Building.
Worst: The most expensive place to buy your tickets is at the ticket booth at Disneyland itself.
Not Quite Worst: Buy online from www.disneyland.com
After reading a lot of good reviews, we’ve used www.arestravel.com and had a good experience. After placing our order, they recognized we were new customers and called us to confirm the details before processing it.
Greatest: If you have a Southern California ID, get your tickets through one of the several places (especially grocery stores) that sell it to the locals. You’ll get a great deal. We don’t live there, so we can’t really help you beyond that advice.
We don’t usually stay in Disney-branded hotels – we usually cannot justify the cost. All we are looking for is a place with clean sheets and a good shower – we’ll spend most of our time in the park anyway. DO NOT expect a mint on your pillow at any of the following…
We are very impressed with Best Western Park Place. This hotel is almost directly across the street from the pedestrian entrance to Disneyland (very short walk). Very clean, comfortable. Free wi-fi Internet. Breakfast is good and filling, served in the second floor of the adjacent Captain Kidd’s restaurant. (Danish, cereal, milk, juice, coffee, toast, donuts, egg, potatoes, ham or sausage, yogurt). Become a Best Western Gold Crown cardholder to collect points toward a free stay in the future.
Another good choice is the Del Sol Inn right behind Denny’s, is a very short walk and usually has a good price. Breakfast is decent (Danish, cereal, milk, juice, toast, coffee). Free Wi-Fi has been questionable – up some days, down most others.
A little further down, if you are willing to walk:
Best Western Stovall‘s is a little bit more of a walk. They are on the corner of Katella and Disneyland Drive (the back corner of California Adventure) and to get to and from the park, you do best to go inside the Grand Californian and cut through there to Downtown Disney, then on to the park. Breakfast is good. (Danish, cereal, milk, juice, coffee, toast, boiled egg). Become a Best Western Gold Crown cardholder to collect points toward a free stay in the future.
The Islander Inn. No frills, but a clean room and a cheap price. The walk to the park in the morning is fine – the walk back at the end of the day (when your feet are tired) feels like it goes on forever! “Breakfast” is meager (Danish, juice, coffee). If anyone in the group is going to the Anaheim Convention Center, this is a good happy medium hotel for distance walking to both places.
Candy Cane Inn boasts of being the only hotel with their own personal shuttle to the park. Very nice and comfortable, but frugal Ryan thought they were too expensive for what they offered. Breakfast is good. (Danish, muffins, cereal, milk, juice, coffee, toast).
Disneyland at Christmastime
There is typically very light attendance in the week or two after Thanksgiving, and leading up to about the time when schools let out for Christmas vacation. This makes sense if you consider that kids will be in school and parents will be at work on the weekdays. On those days, you’ll find that up until about 3:00 the parks are pretty empty, with local residents coming after school and work for the evenings and filling things in a bit. Conversely, if you go the week of Thanksgiving, or the week before, during, and after Christmas, you are should expect extremely heavy attendance.
it’s a small world holiday – the children of it’s a small world celebrate the holiday around the world. Jingle Bells is mixed into the famous tune, providing two ear worms that you won’t soon forget.
Haunted Mansion Holiday – the mansion is taken over by the gang from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The Candlelight Ceremony and Processional – a Disneyland Resort tradition since 1958, bringing the music and story of the birth of Jesus to Main Street, U.S.A., with the help of celebrity narrators. You can listen to the audio on “A Window to the Magic” Show # 300. pbarrie.libsyn.com/wttm-300-disneyland-candlelight-2011 (http://traffic.libsyn.com/pbarrie/wttm_300.mp3)
Scooter Rental / Medical Supplies
We often take “Grandpa and Grandma” along on our trips, and Grandpa requires a motor scooter rental and some simple medical supplies. We use:
Anaheim Medical Supply
2129 S. Harbor Blvd
Anaheim, CA 92802
Here are some Anaheim local businesses… some mentioned above, some others just in case you need them (as we have in the past). Click the business name for driving directions from Disneyland.
Prime Time Airport Shuttle
12100 Harbor Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92840
12002 Harbor Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92840-4002
(2014 Comment: Walgreens and CVS/Pharmacy are both under construction at the corners of Harbor Blvd and Katella Ave – hopefully soon they will be completed, as that will be very convenient)
221 Orangefair Mall
Fullerton, CA 92832
98 Cent Discount Store
1618 W Katella Ave (Next to Food 4 Less)
Anaheim, CA 92802-3015
Food 4 Less
1616 W Katella Ave
Anaheim, CA 92802-3015
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