Janelle In Real Life: The Ultimate Guide to DISNEYLAND!


The Ultimate Guide to DISNEYLAND!

Its time for some Disney talk!! We just got back from a Disneyland trip recently and thought I would share a few of my tips for making your trip to Disneyland the best it can be. I'll be sharing generalized tips, tips for doing Disneyland with kids, and making the best of Disney with a special needs child!

First up: tips for bringing kids to Disneyland

Disneyland was MADE for families, but even still it can be tricky to plan your trips with little ones! We've taken our kids 3 times in the last year at ages 3 & 5 and then 4 & 6. We also had cousins with us this last time ranging in ages from 21 months-12 years old! And we learned quite a bit about how to make the most of everything.

My first tip is to do your research! Look up height requirements for rides in Disneyland & California Adventure to see what your kiddos will be able to do in the park. I always measure my boys and take note of what they're too short for so I can plan our day accordingly!
The parks offer Rider Switch on most attractions so if there's something the adults really want to ride that the kids are too short for, you can take turns! The second group of adults going get to jump to the front of the line when the first group returns. We used this on a few rides and it was so nice!

My second tip is to take a mid-day break. I recommend this for all kids honestly, even older ones who no longer need a nap! For us, around 1-2 pm is when our kids need a break so we just go back to the hotel (I usually grab a macaron from the Jolly Holiday bakery on our way out so I can snack & make the break more enjoyable). We take anywhere from 1-2.5 hours to chill, depending on if our youngest naps and then head back to the park! This allows us to miss the height of crowds, the hottest part of the day, and usually means our boys can stay to enjoy fireworks later in the evening instead of heading back for bedtime before they start. We've tried just taking our youngest back for a break and letting our 6 year old stay the whole time but every time we've done that he's been so worn out and overstimulated. Next time everyone is taking a break no matter what!

Tip #3 is: Stay at a hotel within walking distance of the parks! This sort of goes hand in hand with taking a mid day break, but you want to have the convenience of going back to your hotel on your own time... kids can be unpredictable. A lot of times, Steven and I would take turns with who took the boys to the hotel for a break because it was pretty easy to get back. There was even one time that we forgot sunscreen at our hotel and Steven just ran back to grab it! One of the nights this time around our youngest had a HUGE meltdown, so I just took him back to our hotel in the stroller. It was convenient that we could still parent/be in charge of where our kids were without waiting on a shuttle or dealing with the hassle of parking or valet. Two of the times we did Disneyland we stayed at the Fairfield Inn and the last time we stayed at Paradise Pier. Both were similar walking distance and we were very happy with it!

My fourth tip is: bring a stroller (even if your kids are a little older). At 4 & 6 years old, we still felt a stroller was useful for our kids! It was nice that they had a place to sit if they were tired of walking and we also had somewhere to keep water bottles, jackets, sunscreen, and snacks without having to carry it everywhere. It was also great for the walks to and from the hotel so our little guys' legs didn't get as tired. The downside is having to lug it around the park with you. We ended up only retrieving our stroller every hour or two... pretty much when we went to a different part of the park. We ran the risk of theft doing that and we had to remember where it was parked (there are TONS of strollers in Disneyland). We can't decide if we'll use it if we go again next year, but for younger kids it's a must.

Numba five: bring your own food! It gets EXPENSIVE to feed 4 people 3 meals a day at Disneyland! So to cut costs we brought our own breakfast with us to the hotel (cereal, oatmeal, muffins, and fruit) to eat before entering the park. We also packed our own snacks (nuts, crackers, dried fruit, etc). One day we also brought PB&J we'd prepared at the hotel for the boys to have for lunch and we probably saved a total of $100 just by doing those things. We also wanted to enjoy the Disney food, so we budgeted for plenty of eating out meals/snacks too! But definitely take advantage of the fact that Disneyland allows outside food & waterrrrr (so you don't have to spend $4 on a bottle of water in the park)!

My next few tips aren't necessarily kid specific, but will definitely make your life easier!

Sixth tip: download the Disneyland App before your trip. The app has an interactive map of both Disneyland and California Adventure parks and lists current wait times for each attraction! If you download the app ahead of time, you can familiarize yourself with where things are located, what wait times are generally like, etc. You can also add your card information to your account ahead of time (which I definitely recommend doing) if you want to utilize MaxPass, PhotoPass, or Mobile ordering. If you pre-purchased your tickets you can also add them all to your account before your trip which is helpful for a lot of reasons, including having a backup of your tickets in case your paper ones are misplaced. I used the app A LOT during our trip and it was the best.

Tip #7: GET THE MAXPASS. The MaxPass is Disneyland's mobile system for getting Fast Passes to shorten your wait time for a ride! Here's how I usually used the MaxPass system:
1. Choose our first Fast Pass from my phone as soon as we enter the park
2. Ride short line rides until our return time
3. After we get into the FastPass line for that ride, immediately select Fast Passes for the next attraction
And I just repeated those 3 steps! Because we didn't have to wait in lines very much at all, our kids were much happier and we had fewer meltdowns. MaxPass costs $15 per ticket which for us came out to $60 a day. That's not cheap so keep that in mind! Disneyland also offers a free FastPass system where you can walk to physical locations for paper Fast Pass tickets, it's just more of a hassle and those fast passes sell out quicker. Fast Passes are only available on select rides (many of the most popular ones) so researching what rides you can use them on may help you decide if it's worth it for you!
Also, MaxPass comes with PhotoPass which means you can utilize the professional photographers Disneyland has placed throughout the park! We got so many awesome photos with the PhotoPass that were WAY better than any of the phone pics I took. If you decide you don't want to use MaxPass for Fast Passes, I would definitely recommend getting the MaxPass for ONE person in your party just to utilize the PhotoPass. That way it's only $15 total instead of per person, but you still get the pretty pictures.

Tip number 8 is: utilize mobile ordering! I know I just talked about bringing your own food, but we also ate in the park plenty and mobile ordering was a game changer for us. You can pre-order your food from anywhere in the park & then click a button when you're in the vicinity of the restaurant you ordered from and ready to pick up! It was so easy and fast and we avoided a lot of lines doing it this way. It was also nice to view the menu from the app ahead of time to decide if they had food our kids (and us) would enjoy.

And finally: tips for special needs kids at Disneyland!
We have a 6 year old on the Autism spectrum and he/we have LOVED each trip to Disney because of these tips:

#1: Research/get a DAS pass. Disneyland has a great way to accommodate guests with cognitive disabilities and they call it the Disability Access Service (DAS). Having this pass allows the special needs person (and up to 5 of their party-- although we've had them allow up to 8 people on our pass before) to get a return time for EVERY single ride instead of having to wait in line. It's similar to a FastPass, but it works for every attraction (except character meets in Toontown). How it works is, you go to City Hall in Disneyland (or the Chamber of Commerce in DCA) and tell them you have a child with special needs who may need additional accommodations. I just told them our son was on the Autism spectrum and was prone to inconsolable meltdowns with long waits & in large crowds of people and that he is also very sensitive to loud noises/anywhere echo-y. But whatever your circumstances are, just tell them why you're concerned about your child waiting in lines. This pass helps not only the child and family members, but also the other guests at the park. I was worried with our oldest that a meltdown would occur in line and that it would be loud, frustrating, and an inconvenience for the people around us. I'm not at all embarrassed by his behavior at this point, but I feel sympathy for those around us not being used to what's happening.
If they determine you qualify for the pass, they will immediately ask you what ride you want to get on next and get you a return time for it based on the current wait time. So if the current ride wait time is 20 minutes, then your return time is usually in 20 minutes (or anytime after, the DAS return time does not expire) and you either hop right on the ride through the exit, or you are directed to the fast pass line with short wait times (we never had to wait more than 5 minutes after a return time). We've used this pass every time we've gone to Disneyland and it was very useful. We used it solely without getting the MaxPass last year and it was sufficient. This year we used it in conjunction with the MaxPass since we were with a much larger group and we still utilized both.

#2: I mentioned this before but a mid day break is so important. Our oldest didn't need a nap, but he did need a sensory break. He had a few large meltdowns the day we decided to push it and let him stay in the park and we immediately regretted doing that. It's so much more enjoyable for him & us with a nice break!

#3: Prepare them ahead of time. We showed Carson videos & photos of what Disneyland would look like, and even showed him our hotel ahead of time! We also told him each morning what the day would probably look like, and we warned him that sometimes plans have to change and that's ok. We asked him what his top 2 rides for each park were and told him we would do our best to make sure and do those! We tried to set expectations for him ahead of time so he wasn't as surprised.

#4: If you have a child on the Autism spectrum or with SPD, bring headphones!! Surprisingly our son didn't need them a ton or rides, but he DID need them every time we used a public bathroom! There's something about the people + loud flushing toilets + hand dryers + the echo that really bug him so we tried to be prepared for that.

Now I want to hear from you! What are your top Disneyland tips?

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