A Disneyland Survival Guide

Mickey Mouse Photos ToontownMore than once I’ve had friends contact me about their own pending trips to Disneyland, and they are (surprisingly) often full of trepidation and various levels of dread. I chalk it up to high expectations and the fear of the unknown.

“How do you survive Disneyland?” they ask, like the idea of visiting the “Happiest Place on Earth” is a thing to be feared.

That seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? Isn’t surviving Disneyland the same as enjoying Disneyland? I should think so. However, there are some among us (you know who you are) that feel otherwise. They look at a day in a crowded theme park like the rest of us look at a day in the DMV — long lines, too hot, and very expensive.  Man, the DMV sucks.

Disneyland, thankfully, does not.

There are plenty of ways to turn that frown upside down, and to help those that wallow in foreboding I am offering some insightful tips (if I do say so myself) for creating a Disneyland vacation that should make even the most cynical among us crack the occasional smile. Also, Disney sells a whole line of Grumpy couture, so take that how you will.

If you are visiting the Disneyland Resort for multiple days (which you should, experiencing it all in one day is impossible) then you should consider staying on property. Yes, it is more expensive, but deals are available, and the advantages are huge (see, location, location, location).

rest at Disneyland
There is nothing better than being able to take a quick stroll back to the room during the middle of the day for some family downtime. My kids don’t take naps in general, but we all attempt them at Disneyland. We usually go back to the room during the hottest part of the day, which for some reason is also the busiest, and partake in some rest and pool time while all the other stiffs are standing in queues sweating and cursing (seriously, who the hell curses at Disneyland?). This saves many a tantrum (kids and parents), which is about as close to priceless as an experience can be without invoking copyright infringement notices from the good people at Visa.

If you decide to go the sweating and cursing route, then use the hotter times to go inside for a show. There are quite a few between the two parks (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure), some better than others, but all air-conditioned. Of course everyone else will have the same idea, so get there a bit early. The Aladdin show at DCA is especially worth seeing, as is the entirety of interactive fun housed in the Disney Animation building (as an added bonus, alcohol is available throughout DCA).

There are usually two or more time options available for parades, Fantasmic!, and World of Color (the latter two being the respective water, light, fire, and all kinds of awesome shows featured in each park), whenever possible plan on seeing the latest show offered. Tons of people will stake out seats for the first showing hours in advance (HOURS). Then they leave. Use the time that they are occupied with early performances to ride the bigger attractions as the lines will be much shorter.

Another helpful tool to make wait times shorter is to utilize Fastpass (a free service that gives you a set window of time to go on a ride) whenever possible — especially on Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, and Star Tours in Disneyland, or Soarin’, Screamin’, Tower of Terror, and the new Cars Land hit Radiator Springs Racers in DCA, which will all have huge lines just minutes after the park opens. (World of Color also has Fastpass available, and getting one early is highly recommended).

Yet another thing to consider during the first showings is to eat dinner a bit early. Once the first parade is over the park is going to empty into Downtown Disney like it’s a fire drill, and there will be a two hour wait (at least) everywhere. The trick is to go against the tide.

Going against said tide also applies to your overall hours in the park — get there early, the park will usually start letting people in about 10 minutes prior to opening, and stay late — the later you stay the shorter the lines. Sometimes you can walk on rides that had an hour wait just hours before. This is another reason naps are important. Not that I need to justify naps to anyone.

Winnie the Pooh Disneyland
The best advice I have for people is very obvious and often ignored. Yes, a Disneyland vacation isn’t cheap, and I totally get that people want to get their money’s worth by doing everything as fast as possible, but pushing limits seldom works well. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re tired, sleep. Take your time and don’t let the rat race (mouse race?) get to you. Kids don’t know if you’ve seen it all. Let them pick what they want and you can see the rest some other time. The best way to keep everyone happy is to stop and enjoy the little things, like the famous Disney magic, Dole Whips, and shade.

There are other ways to save a few bucks here and there. You can take your own water and some snacks into the parks and utilize seasonal deals from Disney. If you are planning to see the World of Color, which you should (remember, Fastpass!), look into the dinner package at California Adventure. It runs about $15 per person and provides dinner and reserved seating at the World of Color show. It is worth it (as is the Fantasmic show at DL, but no meal package or Fastpass options available).

Sleeping Beauty Disneyland
I mentioned Fastpass (a few times), but something else to consider is that most rides with height restrictions will let you child swap (that probably needs a better name). Before you get in line for an attraction talk to the Cast Member (CM) at the entrance and let them know your intentions, they will provide you with a slip or card which will allow the non-riding adult to ride later by skipping the main line and utilizing the much shorter Fastpass queue. Then one adult can stand in line for the ride while the other has quality time with whatever kid(s) didn’t meet the height requirements (or was just plain scared to ride, it happens). When the rider is done, switch. Another trick is to use the single-rider line where available (Screamin’ and Radiator Springs Racers each have one).

There are a number of fun and useful books to help navigate the Disneyland Resort, and Verizon has the incredible Mobile Magic App that can help with just about all aspects of your experience. Also, it never hurts to do a bit of research. While I am not a fan of rigid itineraries, it is a good idea to consider the food options available and maybe spend some family time looking at Disney videos on YouTube — it will help you decide what is a must-do and what can be skipped. Plus, the kids will love watching them with you. It’s a win-win.

The key? Have fun! And when you do, I want to hear all about it.

Splash Mountain funny pics

What tips do you have for a fun day at Disneyland?

Note: The “you” implied in the above suggestions is the royal “you” and not aimed at YOU specifically. Pick and choose as you see fit.


A big thanks to Verizon for sponsoring this campaign. Data rates may apply for app download/use. Click here to see more of the discussion.

Honea ExpressRead more from Whit Honea at his site Honea Express and the popular group blog DadCentric. You can follow Whit on the Twitter or Pinterest (his opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Babble or most rational people).


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