Our family just got back from a fantastic three days in Disneyland. Our son was marching with his high school band down Main Street – we HAD to go!
We were fortunate to experience Disneyland during their Christmas season which starts Nov 9, 2018 through Jan 6, 2019. The cynical side of me knows that Disney jumps from Halloween to Christmas to encourage more tourist dollars but the ‘who cares’ side of me loved it. They know how to do it right – it really was magical.
Regardless of the time of year you visit Disneyland, there are things you can do to make your trip easier. Here are ten tips from our latest experience that might enhance your time there.
1. Read The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2019 (or latest year)
This book is invaluable, especially for new visitors. They give detailed descriptions, price ranges and opinions about all of the Disneyland Resort’s interior and neighboring hotels and restaurants. They describe each ride in detail including whether it is popular with young children, teens, adults or senior citizens. They also include things like “scare factors,” “when to go” and the “duration of ride.” Best of all, they have proven (we’ve done them) clip out touring plans for how to navigate the parks (Disneyland and California Adventure Land) and experience the most rides, depending on how many days you have. The plans really work! The book is chock-full of tips, well-written and occasionally humorous – I highly recommend it, even for experienced Disneyland fans.
2. If you are a Costco member, take advantage of their travel package to the Disneyland resort. Costco Travel partners with Disneyland to offer hotel and ticket packages bundled with optional flight and/or car rentals. Their customer service reps are actually the Disneyland reps and it is a pleasure to work with them. Disney employees are some of the best trained anywhere; you can tell by their happy disposition and wonderful manners. Anyway, the package saves you a bit of money (Disneyland never lets you save much) and they include “magical extras” as well. We took full advantage of the included Character Dining meal (restaurant with roaming Disney characters); the $40 gift card; Extra Magic Hour (early morning entry); Pin & Lanyard; and Luggage Tags. And best of all, your tickets and extras are waiting for you at the hotel when you check in; you don’t have to remember to bring them with you.
3. FLY if possible. We drove and got delayed twice – first with a tire puncture (luckily right near a town with a tire and auto repair shop) and then with bumper to bumper traffic approaching Los Angeles. The traffic added almost two hours to our drive. We had airline points, why didn’t we fly??
4. Download the Disneyland App. It is free and is an excellent way to check the waiting times for every ride in both Disneyland and California Adventure Land. They have a map pinpointing the ride locations and waiting times and you can also use the List View of all the rides (faster in my opinion). They also have a Mobile Order feature where you can order food or beverages ahead of time in participating restaurants. We used it to order Starbucks coffee in Downtown Disney and skipped the ever-present long line.
5. Use Fast Pass tickets whenever possible. There are kiosks dispensing FREE fast pass tickets next to many of the most popular rides in Disneyland. After scanning your park admission ticket you will receive a small slip of paper appointing a one hour window of time for you to return. When you return to the ride you can skip the regular line and go over to the Fast Pass line – and it is much faster. For many rides, such as Indiana Jones or Radiator Springs, unless you get there first thing in the morning your only chance of getting on that day is to use a Fast Pass.
6. Buy a daily Max Pass – the current rate is $10/day. Going to a kiosk to get a Fast Pass is a hassle but with the Max Pass you can reserve digital fast passes as soon as you enter the park. Also, you get unlimited downloads of any photos of you that were taken by Disney photographers that day. Normally, one downloaded photo costs $14.99 but with the Max Pass you can get unlimited downloads. The Max Pass costs $10, so if you have a lot of photos taken it is definitely worth it.
7. Take advantage of the photography hotspots around the parks, like in front of Cinderella’s Castle or the Pixar Pier Ferris Wheel. There you will find Disney photographers taking pictures of any visitor who asks. There is usually a short line but it goes fast. Then you can download the photos to your phone or desktop later that day or even months after your trip is over. If you had a Max Pass the day the photo was taken, you can download all the photos you want; otherwise, you have to pay individually and it can really add up. Get the Max Pass.
8. Eat your meals in Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is a pedestrian walkway approximately 1/2 mile long that is lined with shops, restaurants and entertainment. It is a great place to hang out in the daytime but especially at night with its wonderful decor, water fountains, lights, trees and free entertainment. Besides the restaurants there are also some upscale food trucks such as Crepes Bonaparte and The Habit. We ate all our dinners in Downtown Disney because the food was very good and often much cheaper than in the park. It was also a nice respite from the over-stimulation and crowds of Disneyland.
9. Read some or all of The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream. I just started it but already I discovered that Walt designed the Disneyland Park to be like a huge movie set with visitors (you and I) as the actors entering the movie. Walking through the initial turnstiles is like entering into a theater; the large open area in front is like a theater lobby; and walking through the two tunnels into the park and Main Street is like a movie transition – taking you into the actual movie/world of Disney. Cool!
10. Take a nap. If you are lucky enough to stay multiple days in Disneyland I highly recommend you take a break in the middle of the day. Go back to your hotel, nap, rest, swim or just relax. You can then go back to the park energized and refreshed. If you try to stay in the park all day and night you will end up either exhausted, a nervous wreck or both, especially if you have children! By the end of the day you can tell which families have taken naps and which haven’t. The napless ones are dealing with screaming/ crying children and yelling parents whereas the well-rested families are skipping off to the next ride, all smiles and ice cream. I will quote the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland who in turn quoted a reader – “Take the Nap! Take the Nap! Take the Nap!”
And now, to get you in the mood. Here is a slideshow of the Christmas Fantasy Parade, enjoy! Photos by Karen Gough