Tuesday, February 25, 2014

So You are Planning a Trip to Disneyland?

Disneyland (and probably Disneyworld) are destination trips that are wonderful for taking the entire family. My wife and I have been taking our kids for..., well for as long as I can remember. I could say we are expert Disney visitors, but we learn something new with each visit. This post details all my lessons learned from our last dozen visits.

When should you go? Financially I can't answer this for you. Personally, start early. Why??

  1. Children under 3 are free. As a parent of 3 kids, one of my funnest visits was with my daughter at 2 years old. She was in total "AWW" of the Disney Princesses. She spent the entire trip wearing one of 3 (cheapy) princess dresses. She enjoyed all the kid oriented rides. When my son came along, we went when he was only 5 months old. Disneyland has diaper changing stations in every bathroom. Mom's rooms hidden in multiple places around the park. And best of all, the Parent Swap Pass (see parent shortcuts)
  2. Afternoon crowd during Spring Break 2013
  3. Not on a holiday weekend. Unless you like crowds!. First, consider checking the blockout dates for the park you want to visit. We like to go on the days that the locals cannot! Sorry So.Cal Locals, but you add a fairly large # of people to the crowd and my visit is only these few days. I've heard rumors of Black Friday or December 26th visits to the park being empty, but I've never observed this.
6 months to a year before your visit:

  1. Disneyland is surrounded by hotels, find one early as the favorites book fast! They range from the inexpensive, less than $60/night up to the luxury $600/night Disneyland Grand Californian. While we love staying on the park grounds at the Disneyland Hotel, or even the Grand, our last stay was at a local hotel. Breakfast was provided in the room price, so we didn't need to search for it. There was a shuttle bus so at 8PM we didn't have to walk back to the hotel, even though it wasn't that far.
  2. Disney Dining. Up to 6 months before your trip, you can book reservations for Downtown Disney restaurants, Blue Bayou (inside the Pirates of Carribean ride), Character Breakfasts and picnic dinners for the World of Color night show in California Adventure. If you are planning a multiple day visit, I highly suggest a character breakfast. Characters from almost every Disney franchise parade by your table and say Hi to your child. If you purchase a signature book, they'll sign it. The human characters will sometimes talk to you (Mary Poppins, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter), but most will only pantomime.
    Engine dead leaving LA.
  3. Flying in? Book flights into John Wayne Airport for shortest bus ride to the park.

    If not flying, get your annual maintenance done on your car! Nothing worse than having the car die while in LA traffic and need to be towed. 
Right before visit:
  1. Park hopper or Single Park tickets? From my experience, the savings of single park ticket do not justify the purchase, especially when planning on visiting for multiple days. As I'll mention in my attack plan later, the two parks open early on alternating days, so you can avoid some of the crowds by having both options!
  2. Consider your options for ride time apps. While in the park, the main attraction is going to be the various rides. Every smart phones has apps that estimate or track the amount of time you'll need to wait in line. Sites like TouringPlans.com can help you make visit plans for your time, then you can access it while in the park. Unfortunately, these apps require Internet access, hence shortened battery life. So ideally, good only when your family plans on sticking together. Make sure you bring your chargers, consider bringing long life batteries for your cell.
  3. Get some good, comfortable walking shoes. By the end of each day, I estimate that we walked around the entire park 3-4 times.
Other items to consider:
  • Backpack for sweaters, water bottles, lunches.
  • Camera, extra memory.
  • Stroller, but you may want to rent it at the park. We had ours stolen once and a 4 yo is heavy when you're walking back to your hotel.
  • Large pockets - fanny pack, cargo shorts, or something that you can access instantly.

Parent shortcuts:
  • Parent Swap Pass -  If you have kids under the height limits on a ride, you and your spouse can both ride. To get the pass, when you are about to enter a ride, tell the ride attendant that you plan to parent swap. One parent stands in line and waits normally with your tall enough kids. When they finish the ride, give the pass to the other parent, then they hop to the front of the line and ride with the same kids. (Ride list here)
  • Thanksgiving Crowds!
  • FastPass -  This is basically a reservation to ride between a specific timeframe. You can have only one fastpass per ticket out at a time. You can pickup a new fastpass as early as 10 minutes before your current one starts. If the fastpass is for late, late in the day , you can sometimes get one earlier. Check the ticket. For example, got one at 10am (Indian Jones, IIRC) that started at 6PM and said I could get a new fastpass around 2PM that day.  (Ride list here)

    Now you CAN get a FastPass for your child tickets, that say, are under the height limits. Wife and 11yo want to ride Thunder Mountain, while I go with my son and ride Pirates and Haunted Mansion. They can get 4 FastPass for the ride and go 2x in a row. 
  • Single Rider Pass - This is losing it's effectiveness, but a number of the BIG rides. Soarin over California, Indiana Jones) all fit numerous people. Parties don't always fill a vehicle, so Disney has special lines to fill the 'extra' spots. As a Dad, sometimes you can't convince everyone to ride with you, so go solo. Just mention it to the attendant at the start of the line that you're a single rider, you'll get a pass and can head up to the front of the line. (ride list here)
Our park attack plan:
  1. Get there before opening. Disneyland and California Adventure flip flop with their 'early morning madness'.  Disneyland is Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. California Adventure is Monday, Wednesday Friday and Sunday. If you want to go on a popular ride (like the new Car's Land in CA), DON'T PLAN TO GO ON ONE OF THESE DAYS!. If you are not taking advantage of the early admittance, expect everyone else did. We've shown up at opening at CA, to have the FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers to be already at 3:00PM (or sold out! on opening week).
  2. Map out the top 5 rides you must ride during your visit. When the kids were younger (<5), it was Peter Pan, Dumbo, Pirates of the Caribbean. Last time, it was Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, etc.
  3. When we enter the park, my 11yo daughter and I gather all the park tickets from the party, stuff them in a dedicated pocket in my cargo shorts, then race ahead to the ride's Fast Pass tickets, while my wife and son head towards another ride. Once we grab the tickets, we'll walk fast over and meet them. Grab Space Mountain, meet them at Peter Pan.
  4. We'll keep leapfrogging rides this way throughout the day. 
While in the park:
  1. Plan your dinners around parades!
    We love to be sitting during the parades. Sitting on the ground along the route, or even staking out a spot 45 minutes before hand is painful. Mickey's Soundsational Parade goes from Toon Town to Main Street Station at 7PM each day. Grab dinner (Pasta, Fried Chicken) at the Plaza Inn or a sandwich from the Jolly Holiday or sit down in the outdoor seating of the Carnation Cafe. Always lots of views of the floats as they go by.
  2. Bring your own lunch! Disneyland doesn't appear to mind if you bring food and water into the park. We like to grab those little peanut butter and jelly packets from the hotel's continental breakfast and stack of bread, or bring some fruit and a bunch of water bottles in the backpack. When we drove, we brought all this from home, including chips or crackers and a large handful of ziplock bags. 
  3. Grab a Hidden Mickey book! This makes for a lot of fun for the kids, while waiting in lines, to look for all the mickey heads! 
  4. Churros are great, but check out the churros with chocolate dipping sauce in the Cozy Cone area of Car's Land! 

  5. Take a break at the Tiki Room. This show was originally planned to be a dinner show (tables and all), but turned into a 'stage' show at end. The end of the show scared my son when he was really young. It does get a little loud, but now it's a family favorite! 
  6. Have Fun! Unless you upgrade your ticket to a season pass!? You never know when you'll be back! 

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