How to survive Disneyland? That seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? Isn’t surviving Disneyland the same as enjoying Disneyland? I should think so. However, there are some among us (you know who you are) that feel otherwise. They look at a day in a crowded theme park like the rest of us look at a day in the DMV — long lines, too hot and very expensive. Man, the DMV sucks.
Disneyland, thankfully, doesn’t. To turn that frown upside down I am offering some helpful tips for creating a Disneyland vacation that should make even the most cynical crack the occasional smile (someone buy that person a Grumpy t-shirt). Churros not included.
If you are going for multiple days (which you should, when Disney’s California Adventure joined the picture the entire area became the Disneyland Resort, and seeing it all in one day is nearly impossible) something you should consider is staying on property. While it is more expensive, the advantages are huge. Location, location, location.
There is nothing better than being able to take a quick stroll back to the room during the day for some family R&R. My kids don’t take naps in general, but we all attempt them at Disneyland. We usually go back to the room during the hottest part of the day and partake in some rest and pool time while all the other stiffs are standing in line sweating and cursing. This saves many a tantrum (kids and parents), which is about as close to priceless as an experience can be without invoking copyright infringement notices from the good people at Visa.
If you decided to go the sweating and cursing route, then use the hotter times to go inside for a show. There are quite a few between the two parks, some better than others, but all air-conditioned. Of course everyone else will have the same idea, so get there a bit early.
If there are two (or more) time options for parades and fireworks plan on seeing the latest one available. Tons of people will stake out seats for the first showing hours in advance. Then they leave. Use the time that they are occupied to ride the bigger attractions as the lines will be much shorter (also utilize FastPass whenever possible — like Star Tours which will have a huge lines just minutes after the park opens, go there first to either ride it or get a Fastpass — in DCA Toy Story Mania and Little Mermaid rides, respectively, will have the biggest lines).
Another thing to consider during the first showings is to eat dinner a bit early. Once the first parade is over the park is going to empty into Downtown Disney like it’s a fire drill, and there will be a two hour wait (at least) everywhere. The trick is to go against the tide. Get there early, the park will usually start letting people in about 10 minutes prior to opening, and stay late — the later you stay the shorter the lines, sometimes you can walk on rides that had an hour wait just hours before. This is another reason naps are important.
The best advice I have for people is obvious and often ignored. Yes, it isn’t cheap and I totally get that people want to get their money’s worth by doing everything as fast as possible, but pushing limits seldom works well. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re tired, sleep. Take your time and don’t let the rat race (mouse race?) get to you. Kids don’t know if you’ve seen it all. Let them pick what they want and you can see the rest some other time. The best way to keep everyone happy is to stop and enjoy the little things, like details, Dole Whips, and shade.
There are other ways to save a few bucks here and there. You can take your own water and some snacks into the parks, buy discount tickets at Costco or the like, or utilize seasonal deals from Disney. If you are planning to see the World of Color, which you should, look into the dinner package at California Adventure. It’s around $15 per meal and provides dinner and reserved seating at the World of Color show. It’s worth it (as is the Fantasmic show at DL, but no meal package).
I mentioned Fastpass, but something else to consider is that most rides with height restrictions will let you child swap (that probably needs a better name). Before you get in line for an attraction talk to the CM at the entrance and let them know your intentions, they will provide you with a slip or card which will allow the non-riding parent to ride later by skipping the main line and utilizing the much shorter Fastpass queue. Then one adult can stand in line for the ride while the other has quality time with whatever kid(s) didn’t meet the height requirements (or was just plain scared to ride, it happens). When the rider is done, switch. Another trick is to use the single-rider line where available (Screamin’ has one, ask someone at the info desk in the park or hotel for a more complete list).
Also, it never hurts to do a bit of research. While I’m not a fan of rigid itineraries, it is a good idea to consider the food options available and maybe spend some family time looking at Disney videos on YouTube — it will help you decide what is a must-do and what can be skipped. Plus, the kids will love it. It’s a win-win.
The key? Have fun!
The inspiration for this post goes to the very talented writer Mike Adamick who asked my advice in regard to his first family trip to the Disneyland Resort. We exchanged some emails, and much of what we discussed wound up here. I figured I should get paid for this stuff. Please note, Mike is not grumpy. His excitement for the trip is exactly how it should be, full of magic and wonder. To find out how he feels after the trip visit his blog “Cry It Out.” Tell him Whit sent you.
Many of these tips will also work at Walt Disney World, just tweak to fit your destination.
Photos: W.Honea and friends