This guide is for the novice Disney traveler who would rather be hiking in the great outdoors, than through an amusement park.
I may be reluctant, but my family is not. My husband and kids love Disney and we have been to both the California and Florida properties a few times. One of our daughters loved Mickey Mouse so much she did a Disney World internship.
Disney has a fantastic internship program. It’s a good way for a college student to have fun exploring a Disney park while also learning how large corporations work. Disney provides housing and a bus to take them back and forth to their work assignments and the theme parks.
Back to planning a Disney trip. The reluctant mom that doesn’t like crowds first visits travel blogs to see when the park is least full. When picking a hotel don’t be fooled by hotels saying they are across the street from Disneyland. There are a lot of hotels across the street from Disney, it’s a huge property. You want one near the entrance. Also, when looking at a map keep in mind the blocks are huge. Look at the miles instead of how many blocks away something is.
Before you go load the official Disneyland App. You can upgrade to max pass for $10 a day. This gives you free photos and digital Fast passes. The app itself will show you a map of the park, ride wait times, fast passes, links to your park tickets, dining reservations, and photos. Note: double check Disneyland website information changes all the time.
If you’re planning to attend an event or make dining reservations don’t wait until the last minute. They book up quickly. We book months in advance. This trip we attended The Colors of the World Dessert Party. The show itself is projected on to a series of fountains. This gives the animation an almost water color look. The dessert party offers reserved seating, so no need to spend hours staking out a good spot to see the show. As soon as you’re seated you are offered your choice of champagne, cooler, hot chocolate, or tea. We discovered a new drink this way. The waiter brought my daughter a hot chocolate with a mint tea bag in it. It’s amazing! We are definitely making that at home from now on. Next they brought us a delicious array of desserts. Be prepared to bring back left overs. They bring each person a dessert platter. Luckily they have to go boxes.
Next come up with a game plan. Make a list of which rides are must dos. Then check to see which rides are closed for maintenance. Pack your essentials for in the park, just make sure to keep it simple and sparse. Your bag needs to be small enough to stow under your seat on a ride. Even better divide up items among family members, put a fabric drawstring backpack in your pocket. Then you can go through the quick check line for those without bags. Once on the other side collect your belongs that your having everyone carry and put them in your bag. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it gets you in a lot faster. Waiting to get your bags checked can be a long ordeal. Also, check Disney’s website for banned items before you go. You might find some items that you didn’t expect like wagons, coolers, selfie sticks, etc…
Next plan what everyone’s job is. In our family I’m safety patrol and pack horse. My husband is navigator and fast pass concierge. I keep track of kids and make sure everyone is hydrated and sun screened. My husband guides us from ride to ride based on wait times and he orders fast passes.
What is a fast pass? It’s a pass you can get for certain popular rides that allows you to skip most of the line.
Once it is time for you to use your fast pass you can order the next one. So, say your fast pass is from 1:15pm to 2:15pm (the time allotted to use your pass.) You can order your next fast pass at 1:15pm while you are waiting to get on your current ride. There is an exception if your wait time for your fast pass is long, you can order a second fast pass when an hour and a half has past before you use your fast pass. A fast pass doesn’t get you to the front of the line, but you can bypass a lot of it. Fast passes are free if you use paper fast passes through a kiosk, but I would suggest using max pass (the app upgrade I mentioned above.)
Another way to avoid the long lines on some of the bigger rides is to use the single rider line. You may not all be in the same seats, but it cuts off a lot of wait time. We went on the Radiator Springs Racers ride as single riders. It was a three hour wait, but by using the single rider it only took 25 minutes.
Disneyland and California Adventure still uses paper admission tickets. This is a little more cumbersome than Disney World that uses magic bands that are your ticket, fast pass, room key, dining card, and credit card all in one. It was a bit more of a hassle to keep track of everyone’s ticket. It was easier in Florida when it was around their wrist. You can get lanyards for everyone or if you don’t trust this method put one person in charge of them all.
We also choose to go early, siesta mid day, and back to the park in the evening. This way you avoid mid day crowds and you stay more rested. Also, another reason to stay close to the park.
I can’t say we do a lot of character photos. We generally only do them if we are walking past and there is no wait (we are all about spending as little time as possible in line.) We always find plenty of character photo ops just pop up as you walk around Disney. The unplanned pics always seem to be our favorites.
Keep your eye out for hidden Mickeys. These are Mickey Mouse ears hidden in the landscape of each ride and around the park at merchant locations. Make it a fun competition to see who can find the most hidden Mickey’s on your expedition. Also, look for the little details like this Mickey flower petal wreath laid out on the sidewalk under a street lamp as you leave the park.
Also, look up which rides do pictures and prepare to pose. This might take a few ride attempts. Do a hear no evil see, no evil, funny faces, or jazz hands.
Disney is its own adventure. There are ways to mitigate the crowds as I’ve mentioned, but not eliminate them. It’s much like a long hike and yes you are going to be walking 10 to 15 miles each day at Disney. It’s just the nature of the beast, wear comfortable shoes.
California Adventure has a great National Park themed area. It’s called Grizzly Peak Wilderness. They did a good job of making it wilderness like. It’s quieter than most of the park and has a great play area for kids. We met Chip and Dale there.
Grizzly Peak even has its own geyser.
You can also find plenty of shopping, dining, and activities at Downtown Disney.
These are only a small sampling of the things to do and services offered at Disneyland. Things change all the time so please double check the website to make sure this information is still current. Have fun!