There really is no happier place on earth than Disneyland. Here are some inside tips to help maximise your time and minimise your budget at Disneyland. These tips will save you a few pennies and keep everyone in a joyous happy place during your time at Disneyland. Now don’t get me wrong, feel free to walk in and go where the cinnamon sweet scent takes you, but with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve, you will save yourself some much needed time, especially in peak season (Jun – Aug). This is not a short post, in fact it’s pretty long and detailed. So grab yourself a cup of coffee – or stronger, settle in and take note.
The DownLow & Nitty Gritty need to know’s before you even step foot in the park!
When to Go
Thanks to Southern California’s beautiful temperature, there really isn’t a bad time of the year to visit. However Disneyland does experience peak periods. First and foremost, even outside the peak months of June – August try and plan your visit between Monday – Thursday. Friday’s and the weekends are hectic and see wait times on rides jump from 45 mins to 2 hours……no parent or child wants to suffer through that, no matter how entertaining the lead up to the ride may be. It’s a drag and a total waste of your day, so avoid weekends at all costs if you can help it.
The locals of Los Angeles and Orange County are mostly all annual pass holders and will think nothing of stopping by Disneyland for a few hours here or there, or to give the kids a break after school on a Friday. The flood through the gates on Friday at 2pm is really a sight to be seen, or not if you don’t like waves of people flooding towards you. Other times of the year you want to try to avoid are American public holidays, School holidays and College Spring Break.
2016/2017 – Times to Avoid
Christmas week through the second week of the New Year, Dec. 16, 2016-Jan. 5, 2016
MLK Day – Jan. 16-19, 2016
President’s Day – Feb. 12-16, 2016
Spring Break and Easter – March 12-April 10, 2016
Summer School Break – June 11-August 21, 2016
Veteran’s Day – Nov. 11, 2016
Thanksgiving week – Nov. 19-27, 2016
Christmas through the second week of the New Year – Dec. 18, 2016-Jan. 8, 2017
MLK Day – Jan. 15-18, 2017
President’s Day – Feb. 13-17, 2017
Spring Break and Easter – March 11-April 21, 2017
Summer School Break June 12-Aug. 22, 2017
Thanksgiving week – Nov. 18-26, 2017
Christmas week through the second week of the New Year – Dec. 21, 2017-Jan. 8, 2018
Other times which will see higher crowd levels:
March 5-11, 2016
Memorial Day – May 30, 2016; May 29, 2017
Disneyland’s anniversary – July 17
Aug. 22-30, 2016 – marked as value, but passholders are back in after summer blockouts
Labor Day – Sept. 5, 2016; Sept. 4, 2017
Veteran’s Day – Nov. 1
Private transfers are the only way to go here, especially if you are arriving from a super long flight. The last thing you want to do is sit on a bus with other travellers (who are all just as tired and emotional as you) making 10 stops along the way at various hotels. It’s a time killer!! And for a few bucks more, 100% worth it. Highly recommend Prime Time Shuttle. We have used this company and cannot fault their service or price.
Car hire at LAX is easy enough, however, navigating and driving on the other side of the road, when you are tired and have no idea where you are going is not such a fun start to your holiday. Unlike everywhere else in Los Angeles, you really don’t need a car in Anaheim. Everywhere is walking distance in the Anaheim Disney Area, so your car will most likely just sit in the parking lot for days on end. If you do choose to drive and park at Disneyland, there is a fee to park your car (approx. US$20 per day). If you are planning on exploring Southern California further after your Disneyland adventure, all the major rental companies are dotted around the Disney Anaheim area and are all easily accessible to arrange car hire pick up from.
Anaheim Resort Transportation – ART
Don’t feel pressured to stay at a hotel just because its directly out the front of the Disneyland entrance. Although these are great hotels, there are loads of other fantastic options. Typically suites and hotels with kitchenettes offer great alternatives for families. Suites provide much needed space and allow you the option of saving money by eating a few meals in your room.
Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) is a great solution to getting to and from Disneyland and also around greater Anaheim. We recently stayed at Howard Johnson, which is only a 7-minute walk from the Disneyland MainGate Entrance. However, after 12 hours of walking around Disneyland being able to hop on ART and take a quick bus ride home really was a godsend and great for little ones at the end of a LONG LONG day. Its relatively cheap (they offer children’s rates and seniors passes if you are traveling with older folk) and super easy to access. Various routes around the greater hotel area keep the shuttle times to a minimum and on time. The staff on the busses are really helpful and offer great advice too.
Disneyland don’t need a reason to discount entrance – in fact, each year they increase the price to help keep the park numbers manageable. Crazy huh!! However, there are still ways to get discounted ticket entrance. If you head over to mousesavers.com, you can purchase tickets through ARES on this site that will save you a few dollars. Heavily discounted tickets don’t happen with Disneyland but if you are a family of 4 buying a multi-day multi park ticket even a few dollars can turn into a bit of a saving. Mousesavers is also a great website for all things Disney. This comprehensive site covers Disneyland, Disney World, Disney Cruises – you name it, if its Disney related these guys have you covered. Great discounts on hotels and other parks and attractions also.
Step inside where dreams are made!!
Now, before you understand anything about Disneyland, understand the FastPass system as it will save you hours of time.
Most of the popular rides at Disneyland offer Fastpass, and for good reason. They are very popular rides/attractions and as such the wait times are LONG, even on a slow day. A Fastpass will see you jump the line and shorten the wait time. Each ride that offers a fast pass service, has its own Fastpass queue which is much much much shorter. Why, because Disneyland only offer a certain amount of Fast Passes per ride per hour.
To get a Fastpass you need to find the Fastpass ticket allocators which are located somewhere near the attraction/ride. They are not always immediately visible and sometimes you need to ask other patrons where they are. Disney are smart, they don’t make some of these locations easy to spot. Scan your entry ticket and you will be allocated a time to come back to the ride and access the Fastpass queue. You can only scan 1 ticket per time slot, so make sure you have everyone’s entry ticket with you if you are allocating for a family.
If there is one ride you use the Fastpass service for it needs to be the Radiator Springs Racers at Cars Land, inside California Adventure. This ride is way cool and very popular. Wait times here can exceed 2 hours and are always the first fast pass to reach quota. It’s nothing to see patrons waiting at the entrance gate at 8am and running to the Cars Fastpass area just to ensure they get on the ride. We visited during a quiet period, got to the Cars Fastpass area at 9am and were allocated a 6pm ride that evening……as you can see, its popular but worth the 14 hour plane ride alone!
You are also only allowed to hold a certain number of Fastpasses per day. So be wise in your fast pass allocation.
Food Glorious Food
For all that is wonderful about Disneyland, the food is far from fantastic and well….rather expensive, especially if you are a family. The quick service options are many but not so great on the health scale. My hubby will eat anything good bad or otherwise, but even he was leaving a few of the oily options that were presented to us. If you want to stay away from the expense and not so healthy choices, I really recommend you BYO a few items.
Not far from Disneyland is a Walmart Neighbourhood Market (1120 S. Anaheim Blvd) where you can pick up some supplies to take with you. If you are staying at hotel with a kitchenette, then this is a great spot to stock up on supplies. A few sandwiches, pre made salads (My fave is the southwest) drinks and snacks in a backpack can save you a bundle. If you don’t feel like carrying your pack around all day, Disney have lockers available for hire in both parks starting from $7 a day. You don’t have to bring ALL your food with you, be sure to still check out the Pineapple Dole Whip, Churros and stunning toffee apples around the park. However bringing some some staples with you will help your pocket and your waist line.
Now if you can’t do the BYO option and don’t mind the expense then there are some good table service options, but be prepared to pay a bit more. Blue Bayou restaurant serves great a Cajun/Creol inspired menu and it set within a New Orleans street dining experience. Quite romantic! The street cart in California Adventure
Kids under 5
This is a big one – even if you have monkey of a child who constantly runs and hangs from trees you need a stroller for any child under 5. Disneyland and California Adventure are huge. We averaged 18kms per day for the 4 days we were there and were at the park for 12 hours a day. That’s a lot of walking for anyone, let alone little kids.
There is ample stroller/pram parking at every ride attraction area. Keeping your little ones rested and ready is half the battle for a huge day at Disneyland – don’t let sore tired legs be your downfall. Disney do offer a stroller rental service but at US$15per day it’s not cheap so BYO here folks, plus it doubles as a carrier for all your food and or merchandise you pick up along the way (suggest you do this on the last day if you can help it!)
Now let’s just forget the idea that you will do Disneyland in 1 day or even 2 for that matter. You really do need a minimum of 3 days to do Disneyland properly. That’s not to say you can’t do it in 1 day. However, if it’s your first time and you want to experience it all, you really need 3 days. 1 day minimum at each park and then a day to go back and do the bits you missed or rides you want to do again. Personally, I could spend a week at Disneyland! If you are planning on doing more than 2 days I highly recommend a rest day in-between your visits, especially if you are visiting during summer.
Howard Johnson and Courtyard Maingate both have fantastic kids splash and pool areas to fill your rest day. The Downtown Disney District is also great place to wander around, grab some food and do some shopping without actually entering the parks.
Within the Downtown Disney area there are a few restaurants you don’t want to miss.
Be sure to pre-book a Disney Character Dining experience whilst you are in Anaheim. Reservations for character dining open 2 months in advance and spots go fast. I highly recommend the Goofy’s Kitchen experience, not for the food, but for the characters!! Goofy, Minnie, Chip and Dale all roam around the restaurant whilst you are eating. All characters visit your table and take plenty of photos with you as well as lots of time for hugs. Once the Disney theme songs start up all the kids and characters dance around the restaurant waving napkins in the air and having the time of their lives. It’s a magical experience and worth the money.
Set within an Amazon Jungle, the Rainforest café is a themed sensory experience. Singing birds, trumpeting elephants, chest pumping Gorillas and sounds of the Forrest come alive whilst you sit amongst banyan trees, tropical vegetation and waterfalls. There is something on the menu for everyone here. I highly recommend the Tropical Island Chicken Salad and a Coronita to wash it down. (Margarita with a Corona turned upside down inside!! – Come on, there has to be something for the adults on this trip too right?)
La Brea Bakery
If you want to remove yourself from all that is Disney and you couldn’t possibly think about another themed dining experience, then La Brea Bakery is the place. Baking daily and serving fresh Californian cuisine, La Brea Bakery and Café offers a nice relaxed setting with great food. Grab a table outside and enjoy the warm Southern Californian air. You must try the New England Clam Chowder here, it’s the best I’ve ever tried!!!
Above all, enjoy! Take it all in. Sit back, relax on a park bench and enjoy the wonderful ride that is Disneyland.