Disneyland. Since the theme park opened in 1957, it has become an international icon as a place of magic and family vacations. If you are among the lucky few to live in SoCal, then you have an awesome opportunity to check out Disneyland in person! The Disneyland resort is large, and is split into two distinct parks: Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. There is a lot to know before you go when planning a trip to this Orange County Icon. So much so, it cannot be summarized in one blog post – these are a few tips gleaned from our trips to the house of mouse. It’s currently President’s Week off in SoCal. Going along with the “P is for President” theme, here are three “Ps” you need to know when planning your trip to Disneyland with the littles.
Parking, Packing and Parent Swap (and other parent-specific tips)
When you look up parking at the Disneyland Resort, two options will pop up – the Toy Story lot or the Mickey and Friends parking deck. If you are driving up for the day, and not staying a local hotel, those are the only options for parking. Parking at the Toy Story Lot or the “general parking” at the parking deck is $25. (Parking increased in 2019) Premium parking is $35.
#milmomadventuretip: choose the parking structure!
Why? One word: bathrooms! Yes, there are bathrooms at the bottom of this parking structure, before getting through security. If you drove one hour plus to get to the park, the likelihood that your potty training toddler or your child (or you because you had two cups of coffee before leaving the house) need to use the restroom is pretty high. There are no bathrooms at the Toy Story lot – so if you need to use the restroom, you have to wait to get onto a bus, through security and into a park before you have an opportunity to use the restroom. This can take an hour. Can your potty training tot wait that long? Can you?
From the parking deck, you can catch a tram or walk to the parks. We often opt to walk to the park – walking through security at Downtown Disney. It is a 15 minute fast paced walk, but burning those calories for a pineapple Dole whip is worth it!
2020 EDIT: There is now a Pixar Pals parking deck in addition to the Mickey and Friends parking deck, located next to each other. Try either of these options to grab the shuttle or enjoy a walk to the park entrance. The Toy Story Lot is where buses pick you up, but it is not as walkable to the park. There are a couple of overflow lots as well like Pumba or Simba, but these are overflow and not typically open for theme park parking.
Packing all the essentials needed for a ten-hour day (more or less) without access to your car is the key to success when traveling with children (or a husband that gets cranky without snacks). I pack enough diapers and wipes for a day, extra clothes, snacks, juice boxes, napkins, a towel (or two if we plan to enjoy a wet ride), ears, bubbles and glow sticks if we plan to stay the evening.
#milmomadventuretip: Bring a back-up battery for your cell phone. There are not many wi-fi spots in the park, so you will need to use your carrier for signal during the day. If your phone is your camera (like me), then you will be using it to capture those special moments with characters.
It is Disney policy that outside food and drink is allowed inside the park in light that some people (and toddlers) have dietary restrictions. They do not allow hard sided coolers in the park, so if you want to use one you need to utilize the lockers located in the esplanade in between Disney California Adventure and Disneyland and can take a break for lunch in the esplanade. You can bring in food and snacks in your backpack, and a small soft sided lunch bag. On several occasions this is how we have eaten lunch, while waiting in line to see a favorite ride. Water at quick service restaurants (ones that you walk up to and order food at) is always free and I have been informed by cast members that you can just walk up to a “pick up” side to ask for water without standing in the long lines if you are not ordering food.
Parent Swap (and other parent-specific tips)
~When you are planning a Disneyland experience, I definitely recommend downloading the app “Disneyland”. This app has maps of the parks, wait times for attractions, where characters are located and show times. Also important, it has a list of where bathrooms are (can you tell that we are in a potty-training phase in our lives?). You can link your tickets on the app as well, just in case you lose a ticket or you want to just bring your phone for your child’s ticket. If you are type A like me, you can use this to plan your day the evening before you go.
~ Parent Swap: If you have a child that has met or exceeds the height restriction for a ride and a child that has not, you can utilize “parent swap.” (Or if you just have one child that does not meet height restriction). Say your older child wants to ride Thunder Mountain, but you cannot take the youngest – one adult can go onto the ride with the older child while one adult watches the smaller child. Ask a cast member at the ride line if you can get a “parent swap” for the adult. The person going on the parent swap can bring up to three other people in your party – so the child(ren) that does meet the height restriction can go more than once! When you do the parent swap, it will show up on the app like this:
~Max Pass: This is a Disneyland specific thing. If you have been to Disney World, you know the fast pass process. Forget it. Max Pass is different. As of today’s, date, it costs $10 a day, $75 a year if you purchase with an annual pass. 2020 Update: Cost is now $15 a day. With Max Pass, once you enter the park, you can start making fast passes. The beauty is that you can make the fast passes on your phone, so while standing in line for another ride or character meeting. This is a timesaver if you are traveling with a toddler in tow, and wants to ride Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters over and over again. It is worth the cost to save time. Max Pass also includes photo pass, which is an amazing way to capture those moments when you are solo parenting.
~Family restrooms – there are several bathrooms in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure that are “family bathrooms.” Meaning, you can change the diaper while the older kids use the restroom, and you can too – all with your kiddos in eyesight. While they are not at every bathroom location there is at least one in each park. A well-placed location is in Bugsland (2019 update: Bugsland is now closed and is the site of Avengers Campus). Check out the family restroom just outside Toontown in Disneyland or in Carsland in Disney California Adventure. This is great for the #milmom who is solo parenting in the park!
~Baby Centers – There is one “Baby Center” in Disneyland and one in Disney California Adventure. These areas have nursing areas, diaper changing areas as well as toliets that are lower to the ground for those potty training tots! They also have diapers, wipes and baby food for purchase if you need to resupply.
**For the military mom – check out Information Ticket and Travel (ITT) on base for tickets. For the last ten years, Disney has extended a “Salute” ticket – a 3 or 4-day park hopper ticket that is much less in price than the standard ticket prices as a way to thank the military and their families for their service. An active duty member can purchase six of these every calendar year, and there are typically block out dates around spring break and Christmas through New Years. There are also “Magic Your Way” discounted tickets that are more expensive than the Salute tickets, but if you are bringing a friend or family member with you, and you have used all six “Salute” tickets, this is also a discounted option. Check out your bases’ ITT for the updated pricing list!
Are you planning a trip to Disneyland? Have a question? Ask, we can help! Do you have any other Disney tips to add?