Before we left for our trip to Disneyland, I decided to do some light research into how to make the trip magical for my 5, 7, and 9-year-old. A cursory Google search yielded so much information it was genuinely overwhelming, and I felt like I would need a BA in Disneyland to actually enjoy my experience. Cue low-grade panic that eventually led me to avoid and then abandon my Google searches regarding how to hack or maximize my family's vacation to the happiest place on earth. I figured that overthinking the experience might make this overplanning mom spin out into color-coded, multi-tabbed binder territory, and that seemed counterintuitive to the whole “happiest place on earth” experience I was looking for.
However, there is a grey area on the spectrum between a four-year degree in Disneyland and completely winging the experience, and I am here to give you digestible, easy-to-implement tips for how to make the most of your trip to Disneyland. That’s right, you can put down your highlighters and post-it notes, you can enjoy Disneyland without a color-coordinated three-ring binder, trust me.
Decide If You Really Need The Park Hopper Option
Before you buy your tickets, double-check Disneyland’s current Park Hopper regulations. When we went at the beginning of March 2022, we couldn’t switch parks until 1 pm, and when we made our reservations we had to pick which park to start in. I booked our Park Hopper tickets before I knew that we couldn’t change parks before 1 pm, and I somewhat regretted paying extra for Park Hoppers when we couldn’t really hop until halfway through the day. Another consideration is your kids' ages. Are they young enough that they will be entertained (and tired) walking around one park in one day? My oldest was 9 when we went, and he was the only kid who seemed to be ready for a new park by the afternoon of the first day, but honestly, he would have been totally fine sticking with one park for the day. If your kids are older, you might want to spring for the Park Hopper even with the restrictions, as your kids might have the energy and attention span for a new park by the end of the afternoon.
Watch POV Ride Videos WIth Your Kids
This was my kids' first trip to Disneyland, and while part of me wanted them to have the surprise of seeing the rides for the first time in person, kids’ brains get more amped if they have some context. So we watched POV (Point-Of-View) videos of all the rides in Disneyland and California Adventure in the months leading up to our trip. I was genuinely surprised at how much they enjoyed the videos, even without any real experience with theme park rides. By the time our trip came, my kids were well versed in Disneyland rides, and when we saw rides or features they recognized they were beyond excited.
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Decide Your Priorities Beforehand
This tip is easy when you’ve spent some time watching Disneyland videos on Youtube. Your kids will likely see characters, rides, treats, and events that pique their interest, so while you are watching take note of what gets them excited. Unless you are at the park for two weeks, you won’t be able to experience, eat and ride everything the two parks have to offer. We had a rough list of what treats, rides, and experiences we wanted to make sure to hit, and anything after that was a cherry on top.
Download The Disneyland App
The Disneyland app is an absolute must. I was pretty skeptical about the benefit of having another app on my phone, but I think the app is the easiest way to enjoy the park without needing to know a ton about how the park operates. The tops benefits of the app are:
- You can see live wait times for each ride.
- You can order food from the app so you don’t have to wait in another line
- You can see what rides and attractions will be shut down each day
- You can use the Genie in the app (LINK TO GENIE POST HERE) (for free) to help you plan your day based on your interests.
Pack Smart For The Park
The easiest way to distill what to pack for the park is to pack what you’d take on a day-long hike. So wear good shoes, bring some healthy snacks, definitely bring a first aid kit, and consider the weather (do you need sunscreen or a jacket? Or both?). We rented a locker each day we were there to store some of our jackets and snacks, it was well worth the ten dollars to not have to haul all of the extra stuff around. We decided on a pretty even mix of meals and snacks that we brought into the park as well as eating in the park's restaurants. If you are going to eat in the park, there are tons of options, but we loved using the app to order our food in the app, then go pick it up rather than wait in yet another line.
Remember That The Magic Is Your Family
Disneyland is pretty magical. There’s a reason my husband, a man who previous to our trip couldn’t figure out why Disneyland was so hyped, was whistling down Main Street USA with Mickey Mouse ears on by the time we left. There’s something special about the whole experience. But remember: what makes the experience magic is that you, as the parent, get to be a kid again. Don’t get so caught up in squeezing every last drop of “magic” that you forget to enjoy the childlike joy of the parks. As an over-planner myself, I am so glad that I let my adult brain that focuses on “getting a bang for our buck” take a backseat. Allowing myself to be a kid again, with my kids, is what makes this place magic. Do a little pre-planning, download the app, watch some ride POV videos on youtube, and then let the Happiest Place On Earth do its thing. The best gift you can give your kids is the memory of a parent who is acting more like, well a kid.