Disneyland tips and tricks

Disneyland tips and tricks learned discovering this not so small world

Nikki Parkinson Life, Travel 29 Comments

There once was a little girl.

Her name was Nicole and she was a child of the ’70s in regional Australia.

She grew up on a diet of bike riding, Vegemite on white bread sandwiches and two channels on a black and white TV.

Her grandparents travelled the world and so it would come to pass that they would arrive home from mysterious far-flung places with talk of things a nine-year-old mind could barely attempt to process.

She had help processing one of those places thanks to the aforementioned black and white TV because every Sunday night after dinner and a bath she would sit down on the baby-poo-coloured carpeted floor and watch the Wonderful World of Disney.

Or, if she was really lucky, she got to see The Mickey Mouse Club on TV when visiting her mum in the big smoke (they had four TV channels there!).

To this little girl, those mouse ears, that music, and all those “lands” represented the big, wide world out there beyond her own.

From that day on she hoped and wished that one day she too would ride the Tea Cups, travel through It’s a Small World and see Tomorrow Land.

This week, that little girl hoped and wished no longer.

That little girl was ME.

And this week I WENT TO DISNEYLAND California … I even wore mouse ears 😉

Disneyland California tips and tricks

My son is seven – so just a little younger than I was when I first started dreaming of this trip.

I don’t think he realises how lucky he is right now.

What I do know is that he was a perfect age for our Disneyland adventure.

You need stamina to tackle this not-so-small world.  Yes, you do. If he had been any younger, I’m not sure we would have got to do as much as we did over two days.

Let’s paint a little picture, shall we?

There is not one but two theme parks in the Disneyland California precinct: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.

Disneyland Park is the original Disneyland. You’ll find all the “lands”, the castle, the fireworks and the street parade with new rides and attractions thrown in for those in your group not as nostalgic as me.

Disney California Adventure opened in 2001. And it’s here you’ll find some of the newer Disney move franchises represented, the newest of which is Cars Land, aka heaven for a seven-year-old boy whose first DVD was that very movie.

Oh, and I know you want more: between the two parks is Downtown Disney District, a street shopping mall filled with shops, restaurants and cafes (just quietly, I may have shopped at the Sephora in Downtown Disney three times in two days … shhh … blog post coming).  This area doesn’t require a ticket to access.

Are you getting a picture of the stamina required for a Disneyland visit?

Let me add to that for you. In summer, the parks open at 8am and do not close until 11pm. Yep, I know. That’s a long day. A day that requires strategy, particularly if you are travelling with young children.

How did we do Disneyland?

  1. We had a two-day Park Hopper pass* that gave us access to come and go from both parks over those days and nights.
  2. We stayed nearby in a hotel with a regular shuttle service. Most hotels offer this if you’re not staying onsite. Our travel agent booked the Hyatt Orange County for us ($150 a night) and we can highly recommend it.
  3. We broke up the day by spending time in the morning and early afternoon at the parks, then returning early evening for dinner in Downtown Disney District before putting in another session in the parks. This not only gave us a chance to recharge but meant we avoided being in ride queues in the hottest part of the day.
  4. We made full use of the free MouseWait app to check on wait times on rides, what was coming up next in terms of shows and appearances and also just finding our way using the map function (particularly useful at night when pathways are not so well lit).
  5. We tended to operate on two meals a day: brunch and early dinner. This worked well for us and maximising our time in the parks.

My Disneyland highlights

The fireworks: We saw them both nights, the first night from the end of Main Street; the second night up close in Fantasyland. Spectacular on both counts.

Disneyland tips and tricks

The parade: Mr 7 could not understand why I needed to stop and watch the parade. He said the same about Sleeping Beauty’s castle. He is a boy. What more can I say?

Disneyland tips and tricks

Cars Land: The newest attraction did not disappoint Mr 7 at all. Even the 100 minute wait that turned into 60 minutes for the Radiator Springs ride did not detract.

Disneyland tips and tricks

California Screamin’: In our books a theme park visit is not complete without a roller coaster ride and this one is one of the best.

Disneyland tips and tricks

Jedi Knight training: Not sure who was more excited about Mr 7 being selected for Jedi Knight training – Mr 7 or Mr SY. Both are Star Wars nuts.

Disneyland tips and tricks

The Tea Cups: Nostalgia trip plus 1000. Those coloured lanterns above the cups look extra special at night too.

Disneyland tips and tricks

Rainforest Cafe: We ate here on the second night in Downtown Disney. It’s a themed restaurant chain which kind of adds to the whole Disney experience. Mr 7 loved the “thunderstorm” that happened ever 25 minutes. Mr SY loved the CoronaRitas. Yes, it is as you think … a Corona in a margarita.

Disneyland tips and tricks

So, what would we do differently? 

Probably invest in FastPasses. These magical passes would be a must if you’re trying to do Disneyland in one day. You get priority access to key rides at certain times of the day, jumping the queue and avoiding some particularly long wait times.

Disneyland tips and tricks

Having said that, Disney has its queue system down pat. You generally cannot see how long the queue is and most queues tend to wind around interesting things to look at with plenty of shade along the way.

Will we be back?

Most definitely.

It’s a Small World after all 😉

Have you visited Disneyland? What was the highlight for you? Are you old enough to remember the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights?

* Disney Australia kindly organised the Park Hopper passes for us. Prices for park entry start from $81 for a child (aged 3-9) visiting one park on one day. More details here.

Comments 29

  1. How wonderful Nikki! I’m planning on taking my two there next year although my boy will only be 6 in November. Too young do you think? He is Lightning McQueen’s biggest fan. He would just freak to see that as would my 8 yo daughter seeing all the princesses. It was a dream of mine too to go when I was young. Can’t believe I’ve been to the US 3 times but not to Disneyland. I didn’t have kids then so didn’t interest me. Does now of course. I can remember watching Disneyland every Sunday night too, on black and white TV. Wonderful memories.
    Anne xx

    1. I think six would be fine, Anne … and depending on how tall he is by then he should have access to most rides. He will LOVE Cars Land, that’s for sure. And your daughter will be beside herself too. x

  2. Oh Nikki, I can hear the enthusiasm and excitement! It really is a magical place at any age. We took our girls in 2010 and had a ball. There is so much to see and do that you really could spend a week there and I just loved the happiness vibe around every corner. Next time we plan to get all the fast passes first and plan our day around them – worth it. And we just loved the Rainforest Cafe. We ate in a few of them around the US. So glad you guys are having fun!

  3. It’s been great reading about your last two weeks – even your NYC accomodation mishap! We always find it’s those sorts of times that make the best memories – as you discovered you often end up experiencing something you may have missed out on otherwise.
    We love Disneyland as a family. We lived in California when our kids were younger and have been to Disneyland too many times to admit. Christmas is amazing. Not just Disneyland, (although Disney as always “do” it so good), but everywhere in the US is amazing at Christmas – the shops, the lights, the food…There is even a radio staion in Texas that plays only Christmas Carols.
    A Disneyland tip.. the fast passes are free! You just have to be a bit organised. They are only available for the busier rides and what happens is that you keep your eye out for a fast pass station (i.e.your more athletic family members sprint to them early on). Then you insert each family member’s Park ticket in the slot and you are each issued a time period later in the day to use that fast pass for that particular ride. Also, you can only get fast passes one ride at a time. So it requires a bit of planning and you can queue for some rides but not for others.
    Happy Holidays!

  4. Wow Nikki,that sounds awesome,your pictures are great and looks like you had a great time,especially Flynn and Mr Styling you,yes Flynn probably doesn’t realise how lucky he is ,but he will in time.The shops and the rides sound fantastic,I don’t think I could hack it,But my daughter has been,she went to The US when she was 17 and Loved it.You make me feel old bringing back those memories of the mickey mouse club,I too watched that on our old black and white tv,that’s what I loved about watching Puberty Blues the other night the memories ,You can catch up when you get back,don’t worry:).Can’t wait for your Sephora Blog ,I have a massive makeup pallet from there and haven’t used it yet.Loved the CoronaRita’s ,My hubby would love them too.Enjoy what time you have left you certainly have crammed a lot into your 2 weeks!!

  5. This sounds soooo awesome! Love it!

    We used to haunt the Rainforest Cafe in London, a favourite stop before heading back out to the burbs after a long day of shopping….

    I have just added Disneyland to my bucket list. Looks fab.

    Love the ears, btw.

  6. I first visited Disneyland at age 23 and absolutely loved it. In those hazy pre-internet days, it really was wonderful as (like you) I had watched the show on Sunday night, but that was all I had ever seen of Disneyland. So heaps of surprises including the light show/parade at night. Now I know it’s a bit naff, but I would still love to go back. I love all manner of rides, but my husband does not and given we don’t have kids I’m thinking I might have to borrow my nephews to justify a trip.

  7. Nikki, Can I recommend that you return visit to Disneyland is one Christmas as it’s beyond belief. I’ve been a few times and Christmas is the very very best. Decorated beyond belief and when the evening fireworks finishes it snows on you and it smells like cinnamon and oranges – unbelievable. Absolutely everything is in Christmas theme and more (also it’s a very quiet time to go so you just walk straight onto everything)

  8. Oooooh yeah, I have been waiting for this post!!!! You are awestruck as indeed we were! I have been twice now and we want another go at it. the first time was in 2003/4 (when my baby was 13 months old)and the second in 2008/9 (wgen he was 6) . Both over the holiday period which has the park open extended hours. we stayed at the Anabella hotel both times too- why change something you like, just a short 10-15 min walk away(you walk in through the California Hotel and into the Downtown district). our first trip we bought the 7 day park hopper pass (staying 10 days and doing Legoland and Universal studios) and it wasn’t enough, so the second time we had a 10 day pass, we actually spent 14 days at the Hotel (which had huge cooked breakfasts included for all 7 of us) and also did a trip to Legoland and Universal studios and an LA tour, going to Santa Monica Pier and Venice beach along with loads of other sites. Then we headed up the coast road to Hearst Castle, San Fran then Yosemite, then around the north side of the Grand canyon, through Utah, then to Flagstaff, then Grand canyon and all the way around into Las Vegas. The USA is just a big magnet for us, drawing us back, it suits me as with my children the ages they are I have a huge desire to keep our holidays to countries that have the same standards as we do here in Australia, both in hygiene and human life values.
    Highligfhts- THE WHOLE BANG LOT!!!!!

  9. Please tell me you went on California Soaring. LOVE love love that ride, four minutes of making your way over California with the smells, sounds and fireworks at the end. Ahhhh, getting all misty eyed just thinking of it (record 9 times in one day).

      1. Don’t worry Nikki. We missed California Soaring too. Considering 5yo puked the entire flight back (travel sickness) it was probably a good thing in hindsight. We were there only four weeks ago. How close our paths were to crossing. Once upon a time my kids hated it when I went to work, now they tell me to hurry up and get to work so we can save money and go back to Disneyland…

  10. Yes indeed… loved it – went two days and managed to avoid the California section. We pretended to the kids we couldn’t get in there – even then we didn’t see everything at the main section. I did however find time to SHOP at Disney Downtown… a revelation!!

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