Over the last several years, we have become a Disney family. We’ve always loved the movies and my husband and I went to Disney World a few times when we were both kids, but once we went as a family with our own kids, that was it. Officially hooked, I am drinking that Disney kool-aid and I love it. We’re not annual passholders (yet!) but I have made it a hobby (obsession) to collect tips, tricks, new food, pretty much anything Disney related! I’m absolutely not sharing it all, but if you ever have a question, please just let me know! Here we go!
MaxPass! First things first. MaxPass. GET IT. If you don’t know what MaxPass is, it’s a feature on the Disneyland app that allows you to grab Fast passes (a pass that allows you to skip the normal line) on your phone instead of having to run to the ride to grab the paper Fast Pass. It is updated in real-time so if a popular ride like Radiator Springs runs out of Fast Passes, and someone doesn’t use theirs, it becomes available on the app and you can grab it! It is an added cost, but it is absolutely worth the extra money to be able to avoid long lines and it includes as many photos from the park photographers as well! It’s seriously the number one thing for us. Must have, won’t ever go without it. Not ever.
Where to stay: There are many really great options for hotels within walking distance to Disneyland. The Disney hotels are amazing of course, but if you’re looking for a more economical hotel, there are some great ones! We love the Howard Johnson Anaheim. We like to get their kids suit with a kids bunk bed room and a separate king bed room for the parents. This was life-changing. Having a family of 5 crammed into one hotel room is rough. Having the suit let us all have our space, made naps easier during the day and the kids just loved the bunk beds! They also have a really fun water playground for the kids. The Howard Johnson is definitely walking distance, but there are some hotels that are even closer that we would like to try out some day and compare. It will be hard to beat that suit!
If you are going with extended family and you will likely need several hotel rooms, look into a house rental! There are some really great options with all of the perks - some are even walking distance to the parks - and you get the bonus of the whole family under the same roof and sharing in the cost.
Doing Disneyland With Toddlers: We have two toddlers (1 year apart) and if you’re not prepared with some kind of game plan, I can see how this would seem like an awful idea to take them to Disneyland. But we love it! They are both under three, so they are free. You gotta love that!
Baby Centers: Take advantage of these if you can! While all of the facilities at Disneyland are well kept, the baby centers are seriously a pleasure to change your little one’s diaper in. We actually ran out of diapers one day at Disneyland - with two kids wearing diapers! And the baby center came to our rescue. They have just about anything you might need for your little one. Forgot a pacifier, they’ve got them. Need to warm up some baby food, they have a microwave! If you have a baby or toddler, definitely keep the baby centers on your radar.
Toontown: opens an hour after the park opens and is downright adorable. This is where Mickey and friends houses are and there are cute little playgrounds, photo ops and some shops and snacks too. This is a great place for letting toddlers run and get some energy out! When Toontown opens, some characters often are there to greet the crowds and welcome them in. On our very first visit, we happened to be at the gates when they opened and Mickey grabbed my then five year old’s hand and walked him all the way through Toontown and into Mickey’s house. It was a such a fun and magical experience! So I highly recommend getting to Toontown before the gates open!
Rider Switch: If you have little ones at Disneyland, you need to know about Rider Switch. With Rider Switch, one adult can wait with the little ones while those who are big enough, can go and enjoy the ride. Then, they simply switch roles to allow the other adult to ride without waiting in the regular line again. Another tip, you can take another person with you on the ride! So in our case, I ride first with Elliott, then swap with Preston so he can ride it and he takes Elliott again! It’s heaven sent and you need to use it.
TAKE BREAKS! We are not annual passholders and it was so very hard for me to feel like I was getting my money's worth and still leave the parks for a few hours to let the toddlers take naps and just take a break from the hustle and bustle and stimulation that is the magic of Disney. But! Now that we have done both (gone ALL day and taken a break) I can hands down say that it is better to take that break. It makes your time at the parks a lot more fun for everyone when you don’t have tantrums every five minutes!
Let Them Lead: Let them lead the way when possible. There are so many nooks and crannies in the parks, so much to explore! When you can, let the little ones lead the way. A great way to pass time if others in your group are off riding big rides. let the little ones decide what they want to do. Get a churro, walk around and look for characters, ride small world. It’s so much fun for them and you too!
Characters! If your kids love characters - and believe me, mine do! This will be one of your priorities. Here’s a little tip - for the characters that REALLY matter to your family, have your little ones dress up like the character! In our experience, we get the VIP treatment when we do this and I mean, it makes for the cutest pictures. Another tip for characters is to stalk them on the Disneyland app! You can track where certain characters are supposed to be and even what time. For us, Buzz and Woody are our little guy’s FAVE. So on the app I saw where they would be and when and we were there ready for them when they arrived. First in line to meet them and the cast members (and people passing by) go gaga seeing this little human dressed up like Woody and giving him a huge hug. It’s THE best!
What To Wear To The Parks: I have kind of an addiction to finding cute and affordable disney clothes. It’s so fun! You just have to be sure to shop those sales on some of these sites. We get a lot of our Disney clothes from H&M, Cotton On, Gap, Target, Shop Disney, Zara, and even Amazon has some cute stuff! In general, keeping it cute and comfy is best. And of course, wear the most comfortable shoes you can get your hands on!
What To Bring To The Parks: It can depend on the time of year, but in general we always bring; Snacks - I pack a few lunch boxes with some freezer packs with some snacks I know my kids will eat. You can bring food into the parks, just not a giant cooler. Water Bottles - Bring your own and fill them up at various spots throughout the parks! Also, most restaurants in the parks will give you a cup of ice water if you ask. Portable Charger - I love to have a few small chargers and a cord on hand because I take a million pictures and am using the Disneyland app all day so yeah. I will need to charge my phone before the parade starts. Light Jackets - we don’t usually need them very often, but I bring them just in case - we LOVE these hoodies! Souvenirs - If I have any to give to my kids throughout the day, I have a dedicated bag for these. Some souvenirs I like to give out after a certain experience to make it a little more memorable. For example, right after we all rode Dumbo together, I handed my kids these fun Dumbo toys that looked like the ride. They loved it and they still talk about going on the ride when they play with the toys. Baby Gear - Diapers, wipes, pacifiers, you know the drill. You know what they will need and want. If you want your little one to try and nap in the stroller but they need their white noise machine or a favorite stuffed toy, don’t forget it! Also a change of clothes for little ones is usually helpful! Rain Gear - if rain is possibly in the forecast, come prepared!
Souvenirs: My biggest tip for this is to set a budget. We do this by buying Disney gift cards with a certain amount and once it is spent, it is spent! We also love to buy souvenirs before we go on our trip to give to the kids throughout our vacation. This is usually much cheaper, and helps keep the kids feeling like they don’t need or want every. Single. Thing.
Another fun thing to do is to have the souvenirs ready for them on their beds when you get back to the hotel at night. It’s a great way to keep the magic alive when you’re not in the parks and eventually the kids catch on and look forward to their little gifts every day! These can be as big or as small as you want, one night we did new Disney pajamas for everyone, one night everyone we had a family gift of a Disney Moonlite to have story time before bed and one night they each got a Disney Pez dispenser! It’s really whatever you want!
We are also into pin trading. I will buy some on ebay for pretty cheap and give a handful to each family member to trade while we are there. It’s super fun, cheap and an instant souvenir!
Food At The Parks: We are big Disney food fans! There is so much unique and delicious food to choose from! I feel like the food at Disney needs it’s own post (or two) but my biggest tip with food is to SHARE. You can try more food if you share with everyone instead of just getting one thing for yourself. It really is the best way to try more and not get too full!
Tickets: Disney doesn’t normally have deals on tickets, but there are still good deals to be had through third parties! Get Away Today is a go-to favorite of ours. I love planning our Disney trips and they help me to plan ahead, set a budget and get a great deal on tickets and our hotel.
Another way to save a little money is if you have a Sam’s Club membership, you can buy Disney gift cards on their site at a discount! We use these to buy food, souvenirs and sometimes our tickets too. It’s not a giant discount, but every little bit counts, right?
Strollers! Even if you don’t think you’ll need a stroller, bring one. We have to have a double stroller for our family. If for nothing else, t’s a great thing to have for storage, so you don’t have to carry all of your souvenirs, blankets, sweaters, etc. Disney has a new rule restricting what size stroller you can use in the parks. So be sure and check and make sure yours will work! I can’t imagine arriving to the parks all ready for our magical trip only to be turned away because our stroller is too big! We have and LOVE the Zoe double stroller. It is the perfect size and has pretty much everything we need from a stroller.
Disney In The Rain: I'm going to be 100% honest about this. Lots of Disney bloggers and accounts on Instagram say that rainy days are some of their favorite days at Disney because the lines are so much shorter etc. I can see that being the case for some, but not so much for us. I came totally prepared, and for the most part it was great! We had great ponchos, I found THE most amazing rain shoe covers that kept our feet completely dry and our feet were comfy in our favorite shoes, but when it came to our double stroller, I got a rain cover for it but my kids would not let it be. They were constantly ripping it off, getting themselves and the stroller soaked. So I guess my only bit of advice for rainy days would be to be prepared and prep your kids! Even practice maybe? The only other reason we didn't love the rainy days were some of our favorite rides were closed and which means all of the people who happen to be at the parks are all going to the same few rides that are open. So all in all, I prefer a sunny day, but of course you can't control the weather and no weather should keep you from going to Disneyland!
Disney with an older kids and little ones: We have a seven year gap between our oldest and second kiddo. So tackling Disney and keeping everyone in the family in mind can be hard! Luckily for us, Elliott makes it easier. I have a strong feeling he will be a kid at heart all of his life. He loves ALL of Disney. Meeting the characters (all about those autographs!) riding all of the rides, from Space Mountain to It's A Small World and just wandering Main Street looking for penny machines! Even though he loves it all, it was important for us to give him some big kid fun. It's easy to get swallowed up in watching your little ones experience the magic, so we wanted to make sure he got his share of attention and fun as well! Every day the little ones took their break, Either Preston or I would stay with Elliott at the parks and DO. IT. UP! All of the big rides, all of the treats, pretty much everything he wanted to do, we did it!
That’s it - at least for now! If you are headed on a Disney trip, I am jealous and have so much fun! I hope your found some of the tips helpful. And if you have any additional tips or the like, please comment below and share!