Hi, my name is Wendy and I’m a Disneyland addict. I love everything about it, and even though we have taken the family and gone nearly every single year since 2004 I still feel that thrill of excitement when we enter the gates. I love the early morning stroll down Main Street and waiting for the rope to drop. One of my favorite parts of Disneyland has always been the Disney characters and I think my kids are more than a little exasperated at my desire to wait in line for pictures with each and every one of them. I like to think that one day they will appreciate my picture-taking efforts, and maybe even carry on the tradition with their own kids. Maybe they will bring me along as the official photographer.
Because of all the trips we’ve been on, I like to think we’ve kind of mastered the art of how to “do Disneyland” and make the most of every day. In light of the fact that I just got back from a quick trip, it felt like a good time to write about it. I’m definitely not an expert, but we’ve learned a lot!
1. Disneyland’s PhotoPass Plus card is worth every penny.
If you’ve been to Disneyland, you’ve seen the PhotoPass people taking pictures and you may have taken some yourself and been given the free card to download your pictures. The PhotoPass plus card is a prepaid card that allows you to get a CD with every single picture taken in the park, both by the PhotoPass photographers and the photos taken on the rides. For me, this is the best money ever spent!
Because of the PhotoPass Plus card, there is no need to try and get the perfect ride picture with everyone smiling and looking happy! Now, because you get every picture, you can do this:
Recently they set up these really awesome scenes that you can get pictures of that we loved. The Photopass photographer will take pictures with your camera, but because their camera is set up at the perfect angle, the pictures they take are better. Like this one:
Once you get home, you can log into the website and add all kinds of things to the pictures, like frames or character signatures.
Be sure to save them as a copy so you can have both the original and your fancy photo on the CD when it comes.
You can purchase the PhotoPass Plus card right in the park at the Photo shop on Main Street, but if you know you definitely want one and have at least two weeks before your trip you can save some money by pre-ordering it online. You have to have at least 14 days before your trip because they will ship it to you–so don’t delay if you want to order!
2. Stay within walking distance of the park.
There are about five million hotels in the Disneyland area and most of them have a way of getting you to and from the park. In my experience, the ART shuttle has been awful–not because they are doing anything wrong, just because it’s way too crowded and sometimes you end up waiting through several shuttles just to be able to get on. It’s easy to solve this problem by staying somewhere close enough to walk.
My hotel of choice is The Candy Cane Inn. I’m not even sure how we discovered this gem of a place, but I love it! They are right next door to the entrance to the park so walking is definitely an option. They also have their own private shuttle, so when you realize you’re feet are done for, you can decide to take the shuttle and have no problem getting on. The rooms are clean and well maintained, the staff is friendly, and they serve a nice continental breakfast every morning.
3. Take a break in the afternoon.
We discovered early on that if you’re doing five days in Disneyland, by about the third day you will wake up with a whimper and feet that feel like they are on fire if you don’t take it easy, at least a little bit. The best strategy we have found to make the most of the trip is to get to the park right when they open and plan to leave during the hottest (and most crowded) part of the day. We go back to the hotel, which also seems sort of deserted because everyone is in the park, and just enjoy a bit of down time. Usually everyone swims, we have lunch, and I, personally, take a shower and freshen up. It’s even a good time for a short nap if you want one.
Along with this tip comes lunch. In the beginning, we left the park and got lunch somewhere outside the park just to save money. Later on we learned that bringing our own food from home was even better. It’s more than just saving money–it’s also about getting a break from all the junk, fast food, and heavy greasy food we tend to eat on vacation. I take stuff for sandwiches, some chips, fruit, and yogurt and that is lunch every day. The funny thing is, the first year I did it Patrick wasn’t too thrilled, and I was doing it more for the money than anything, but when we went back to the room and ate that sandwich I’m not sure anything tasted so good!
4. Eat breakfast in the park at least once.
There is something fun about eating breakfast inside Disneyland. Usually on the day we are eating breakfast in the park, we take a later than normal break and eat a later lunch and it becomes a two-meal day with ice cream or something in the evening. Our breakfast of choice in the park used to be The Carnation Cafe in the past when they served cinnamon roll french toast (and yes, I could actually feel myself getting fatter while I ate it, but it was totally worth it) but they have since removed it from the menu. Now I would highly recommend Flo’s V8 Cafe in Carsland, where they serve Brioche French Toast with salted caramel and bananas and it is FABULOUS!
You can read more about Flo’s breakfast on the Dining in Disneyland blog here.
5. Don’t be afraid to wait in line sometimes.
I think sometimes we all get carried away with fast passes and trying to avoid the lines at all costs. One of the great things about Disneyland is they really do know how to entertain people, and even the lines can be their own entertainment sometimes. One line in particular that comes to mind is Star Tours. If you’ve never waiting in the line, you’ve missed some of the really great effects they have going on there. The droid that is screening luggage is really quite funny and if you spend time listening and watching the baggage as it goes through you’ll see what I mean. While this certainly isn’t the case for all lines, and I would definitely use the fast passes when they are available, having to wait in line is not always a tragedy.
6. Take time to see EVERYTHING Disneyland has to offer.
Disneyland is so much more than just rides and there are many things that get overlooked. For years Patrick was pestering me to go see Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and I was avoiding it. He finally got me in there and it turned out to be pretty awesome. Not only was the show entertaining, but there is a lot of memorabilia from the old days of early Disneyland to see in there. Another fun place to visit was the Blue Sky Cellar in California Adventures that gave a preview of upcoming attractions. (It is closed currently but there are plans to reopen it soon.) There is a bakery tour in California Adventures where you get a sample of freshly baked bread, and they also hand out free samples in the Ghirardelli chocolate shop. Be sure to go slowly down Main Street to check out the window displays. Currently they have dioramas of Disney movies in the windows that change as you watch them that are amazing!
7. Have a plan in advance.
I know there are a lot of people that say not to plan and just free wheel it. We have found that this doesn’t work very well for us because we end up spending a lot of time standing around trying to figure out where to go next. The calendar for the park is always posted weeks in advance, so we like to take a look at it and put together a plan. This also helps us keep track so we are sure to get in everything that we want to experience. If you want to see World of Color, you need to get in there and get your tickets as soon as you can. Same goes for the Frozen show in the Hyperion Theater. If you don’t have a plan and forget to get the tickets, you might miss it. Check out the show times and schedule yourself to be in the right place at the right time so you get to see everything (see #6)
We take the planning stage a step further and check out the menus online before we even leave for our trip. Deciding where you want to eat is really a big plus because it saves you from wandering around looking at menus and food trying to make a decision, wasting time, and arguing over who wants to go where. If you have a schedule for what shows you’re going to and when, it’s easy to narrow down your food choices and plan ahead. The wharf in California Adventures offers a small area with many varied selections, so it’s great if everyone wants something different.
8. Don’t feel compelled to haul everything you own into the park.
I see people hauling backpacks, coolers (the kind you carry like a purse) and all kinds of paraphernalia. The truth is, if you’re going in with a baby or toddler, you probably need to bring things specifically for them, but otherwise there isn’t a lot you need to bring. There are drinking fountains around every bend, so no water bottles are needed. I have found that a small purse or fanny pack works best for me–anything big enough for my wallet, my sunglasses and my camera. In the past we have taken a backpack in, hauling snacks, shoes, and water and mostly it is just an inconvenience and eventually Patrick is sick of carrying it and we rarely even take anything out of it. If you’re staying close to the park, and you plan to leave for lunch, it’s probably not going to be a tragedy if you forgot something anyway.
9. If you can afford it, a character meal is worth the money!
Our character meal of choice at Disneyland was dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen. I particularly liked this one because it was a buffet and there were tons of choices, so for all the picky eaters in our group there was still something for everyone. Now that our kids are older we don’t do this anymore, but when they were young and thrilled with the characters, they loved this! One of our funnest times was when the Mad Hatter joined us at our table.
It was definitely an expense to add to our trip, and you have to schedule it in advance so you have reservations (especially if you have a large group) but it was one of our highlights in the early years of our Disneyland adventures. Plan to be at the dinner for the full allotted time to take advantage of all the visiting time with characters and other activities that they have going on.
10. Don’t forget the one of a kind treats!
So, it may seem like I am talking about food a lot and that is because I am. One of the greatest things about Disneyland is the fun treats that you can’t get anywhere else. We have always enjoyed Dole Whip at the Enchanted Tiki Room (this is now available elsewhere, but it just doesn’t have the same meaning as eating it outside the Tiki Room with the rainforest gods putting on their show) and the kids used to like Tigger Tails in Pooh Corner. Patrick’s favorite treat of all is the beignets at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square (they are shaped like Mickeys) and he also enjoys the Bengal BBQ. My sister and I managed to snarf down a giant raspberry/white chocolate chip cookie in two bites while all the kids were riding Splash Mountain one day and those were delicious as well!
I could probably go on and on…
but I won’t. I love Disneyland! It definitely is the Happiest Place on Earth…so much more than an amusement park, it is an entire experience and I never get tired of it. Having an annual pass was one of those things on my bucket list, and now I have one! Patrick and I have spoken often of always being able to go back and we plan on being able to take grandkids with us sometime in the future…so we can start the early years of magic all over again.