We took the kids to Disneyland during the holiday break. Ahead of the trip, I spent some time researching the best way to take advantage of the time we had to spend at the parks.
Our group was two 40-ish year-old parents and three kids between the ages of eight and twelve years old. Our visit was the week before Christmas during the days of December 16th and 17th. We spent one day at Disneyland California Adventure and one day at Disneyland.
Here is our advice for others considering the a similar trip:
- Do Some Planning – There is so much to do at both parks that you must do some planning before you get there. We had a good idea of the things we wanted to do on each day and deviated from that plan both days to take advantage of what was actually going on in the park. This may be obvious advice but it was really clear from watching other families that this piece was missing.
- Buy One Book – I would wholeheartedly recommend The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland as a great starting point for that planning. The publishers claim if you if follow their advice you can reduce your daily waiting-in-line by four hours. I thought they were boasting but we had a very positive experience from following just a few of their recommendations.
- Get There Early – *This is the single most important piece of advice.* You must be there at 8am when the gates open. Some recommend 30 minutes before the gates open. If you are staying at the Disney hotels, take advantage of the 7am early starts. On both days, we walked onto the most popular rides at both parks. Those first three hours were wonderful for getting around the park and getting to do the things we wanted.
- Use FastPass – Disney has a system for their popular, high capacity rides that allow you to reserve a later time by claiming a special ticket. When your time arrives, you enter through a special line and move to the front. We never waited more than 10 minutes in a FastPass line. Along with an early start, this is a big factor in reducing your time in queues. At DCA, we used five different FastPasses and at Disney, we used two. Space Mountain and Radiator Springs Racers are the popular rides and when you start your day, getting that FastPass at each park is the very first thing you should do. Period.
- Think About Time of Year (and Week) – Do some research and think hard about the time of year including the days of week. If there is a school holiday or summer break, the parks are going to be really busy. We pulled the kids out of school a week early to avoid the Christmas crowds and it worked pretty well. We still saw a contingent of locals using their annual passes to enjoy the holiday festivities. Tuesday through Thursday are going to be better than Monday, Friday or the weekend.
- Food Was Good (and Pricey) – We had lunch both days in the park and everyone thought it was good. We spent between $50-$60 each day and ate early (around 11am) to avoid more waiting in lines. We also ate dinner at Ariel’s Grotto as a special request from our middle child who loves food. The menu was a three course prix fixe that included preferred seating tickets for the World of Color show later that evening. The staff was very flexible to make the options work for the kids. The dinner cost closer to $50/person which is pricey, but it was also an unexpected highlight for everyone given the quality of the meal and the ability to recount the activities of the day.
- See Some Shows – They are amazing. The Aladdin show at DCA was great. World of Color was incredible and the holiday version we saw was lots of fun. Watching padawan at the Jedi Training Academy was fun. Shows are also are a nice pause during these very busy days.
- Find Time For The Random – We drew characters at the Animation Academy. The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail was fun to climb around on. My daughter and I got a chance to take a short canoe ride. We saw lots of things that hinted at the new Star Wars movie. Those small moments really added up.
- Lots of Walking – We clocked 10 miles in our 14 hour day at DCA and 6 miles for our 9 hour day at Disneyland. We needed lots of fluids and lots of calories.
- Two Days Is Enough – We got to see (almost) everything we wanted with one day at each park. Admittedly, we started to run out of gas on the second day at Disneyland, but the things we skipped were minor. Not sure what we would have done with another day or a whole week at Disneyland.
Disneyland is a magical place. You are transported to another place over and over again. Even with the long days and all of the people, it still feels special. Hope our experiences help if you are planning a trip yourself.