Disneyland & California Adventure tips.
Yep, part 2. It was a LONG holiday with lots of saving & planning. It deserves to be at least a 2-parter, right?. So here we are – part 2 in our personal log of our California Adventures. You can see the first part (general travel tips) here. Scroll down for the fun Disney stuff…
See how to WIN toys like this Mickey toy in the tips below.
Disclaimer: This is a massive post with lots of info. These tips are derived from our personal family experiences from our October 2013 family holiday to Disneyland, California Adventure, Universal Studios, Seaworld and other small Anaheim destinations. We appreciate that it will differ from other’s experiences, however we are a typical kiwi family of five so you might find our tips helpful for your own family, kiwi, Aussie or otherwise, as you head off on the same adventure. If you love our blog post, please take the time to ‘pin’ this post to Pinterest. We appreciate it, thank you!
Disneyland & California Adventure tips.
Our kids are nine, twelve & fourteen. While there were plenty of younger kids, for NZers who may only do this once in a lifetime, I truly think my kids were the perfect age. I wouldn’t have liked Abby to be much younger. The age of the kids meant we spent a lot of time at Disney. Those with older kids or those that don’t do the spend-the-time-by-the-pool thing might spend less time.
1. There is a 10-day Park Hopper ticket available only to Kiwis and Aussies. it needs to be pre-purchased so ask your travel agent or look online. It goes for about the price of a 5 day park hopper pass. We visited the two parks about 11 times spread over the 9 days so they were well worth it. AND we would have liked more time. (I would seriously hate to do these parks in less than 3-4 days since for most Kiwis/Aussies it is a once-in-a-lifetime type trip).
2. The two Disney parks, our preferences & our experiences.
Disneyland was magical and reminiscent. It bought back more memories for us as adults than for the kids. It has an unexplainable magic that settles in and gives you warm fuzzies. Small moments of wonder & awe from the kids were amazing rewards for us as parents. As adults we related to it more than the kids especially as a lot of the rides/sounds/sights bring back memories from our childhood. Rides ranged from mediocre to jaw-dropping stunning.
California Adventure was exciting and modern & the kids related more to the content. Based around movies such as Cars, Monsters Inc, Bugs Life etc, they related more to this park. Our favourite rides were here. While less magical than Disneyland, we had the best times in this park.
3. Get an app. I used ‘DLR Lines’ constantly on my phone. It gave current wait times at each ride, fast pass times, crowd levels at both parts as well as a crowd level forecast for the following 10 days.
Note: I continued using my telecom phone using data roaming. It cost me $10 per day which I was fine with paying for the ease of using whats-app (free texting), my Disney app, emailing and google-maps & googling. Research your own phone & fees.
4. Pre-plan your Disney time according to known events in the area. Some events you can research and find out about (like the annual gay days at Disneyland while we were there, apparently the first weekend in October every year). Some you can’t find out about (like the busy Monday caused by the Anaheim Firefighters annual take-your-family-to-Disneyland day).
5. Check this calendar before you go and bookmark it for when you are there. Be aware that the parks are open shorter hours at different times of year. They will also shut down some attractions for refurbishment during the quieter times. We missed out on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Mark Twain Riverboat because of this, but we were aware ahead of time as we’d checked this calendar.
6. Busiest times were Fri, Sat, Sun & mid afternoons. Mon, Tues, Wed were quietest and the earlier you get there the better. We avoided the weekends except for the night-time shows and fireworks.
7. Make a plan before you go to the park each time. Listen to what each family member wants to do and make a strategic plan instead of cross-crossing the park at random once you are there. It’ll take a day or so to understand the crowds, the busiest areas and how you can save time via the fast pass system but once you have that sussed, it’s much easier.
8. If you are a first timer or celebrating a birthday or similar, go to the Town Hall as you enter Disneyland to get a badge. Sometimes you get special treatment from cast members when wearing a badge.
9. Make special time for each child. Do one thing with each child to make them feel like they had special time with you. For example lunch with the princesses at Ariels’s Grotto or other character dining at Disneyland.
10. Use the ‘Fast Pass system’ and use it well. This is a FREE system. Read tickets to see if you can hold other fast passes at the same time. Get new ones once those ones expire. If waiting in a long line, send someone ahead to get the next fast pass and re-join the line later. There is plenty of info online about how this system works.
11. If you find you don’t want/need your fastpass tickets, gift them to someone in line before they expire. We were able to do this and the grins on the face of the recipients were well worth it!
Remember, this is a free system. I overheard some people expressing their disgust at Disney for making money out of people not wanting to wait in lines, perhaps because you enter your Disneyland tickets to get a fastpass and maybe it looked like a credit card. Not so - It’s all free. Enjoy it!
12. If in doubt, ask a ‘cast member’ (staff). New Zealanders are naturally shy of asking anything of anyone. Get over that. They have all the answers and are so incredibly helpful and it’s such a relief to get an answer quickly and easily.
13. Favourite rides for us:
- Abby loved Goofy’s Sky School, California Adventure. (5 times!)
- Braden loved California Screaming, California Adventure
- Jacob loved California Screaming, California Adventure
- Paul loved California Screaming, California Adventure
- I loved: Radiator Springs ‘Cars’ racers & Soarin’ over California. California Adventure.
14. Most un-favourite rides for us:
- We all found the Storybook Canal ride (Disneyland) a complete waste of time.
- A small world. Disneyland. We did it because it is iconic. But then we got ‘stuck’ just as we were exiting. We waited for around 10 minutes under the system screaming the ‘small world’ theme over and over. I think if the lines were shorter and if we didn’t get stuck in the torturous exit, it would have been lovely. One of those ones you have to do to appreciate Disney of the olden day.
- Peter Pan was raved about but I think we’d have been disappointed if we waited in line for hours for it. As it was we got a ‘front of the line’ pass for getting stuck on another ride so we used it here.
15. If you watch the window above Snow White’s Scary adventures you will see the evil queen appear & disappear. If you touch the golden apple as you enter, you will hear her laugh.
16. Jungle Cruise at Disneyland is an oldie but a goodie. I’d seen this ride 30 years ago and while it hasn’t changed much, the cast members riding the boat had. They were hilarious, making this ride super fun for all of us.
17. Give Innoventions in Disneyland a miss , unless you are looking for an airconditioned area for a quick nap.
18. Be prepared to get wet in Grizzly Rides in California Adventure. We were fine with it, it’s a super cool ride and it was hot!
19. Radiator Springs at California Adventure. We found this to be the busiest ride.This often has a line to gain a fastpass and the fastpasses are usually gone by mid-morning. It’s well worth lining up for that fastpass though – this is an amazing ride. As you walk the lines, look for iconic racing souvenirs lining the walls.
20. Look all around you. Disney is clever. Like the grizzly bear mountain right near the “Grizzly Bear’ ride at California Adventure. Or all the cars-like rocks (just like the movie!) at Radiator Springs.
21. Find out the secrets of Disney before you go. For example the “Adventures of Pooh Bear” ride that is now in Frontierland, if you look upwards and backwards while going through one of the doors you’ll see the characters from the old “bear Jamboree” there. You won’t see it unless you know to look. Research these types of things before you go – there are hundreds of them. A cool way to find out about them is this type of DVD. While we found this DVD long and a little tiring, we loved the tips included and it made our trip fun.
22. Be aware of 4D effects in rides. You could smell gingerbread cooking during the Haunted Mansion ride (at Halloween time), and you’ll smell a sweet orange smell while soaring over the Orange Groves during “Soarin over California” ride. 4D is a wonderful and unexpected thing for those of us not used to big-money adventures like Disneyland.
23. Research ‘Hidden Mickeys’ before you go. We had fun looking for these while we were there. Doing this type of thing will depend on the age of your kids. Ours were perfect age but older or younger might not appreciate it.
24. If you are a geocacher, there are caches at Disneyland and California Adventure. We got the one at Disneyland :)
25. Some rides are completely different at night time. For example my boys all loved California Screamin at night and during the day. Radiator Springs is best at night. Actually it’s just cool all the time.
26. Rides don’t close when the parks close. This gives you extra riding time if you get in a line just before the park closes. For example we got in the ‘Radiator Springs’ line just before the 9pm close at California Adventure. The line was an hour long but we we still went through. Score!
27. ‘PhotoPass’ cast members are there taking professional photos but if you hand them your camera, they will happily do that for you too. I have a few pics taken on my iPhone that the cast members took.
28. Even if you can see the fireworks from your accommodation, make time to go down to Main Street Disneyland to watch it one night. It has a story that goes along with it, something you can never appreciate from your room.
29. Some rides are most quiet while the night time parades are on. Be strategic about this.
30. Personalise your time. We quickly adopted the daily practice of “A churro a day”. Sometimes it was a whole one each, some days we could only stomach one split between five of us. It was a fun family Disney tradition added to our day though.
31. Don’t buy expensive soft-toys at the Disney stores – win them instead. We allowed the kids a $10 ‘pay to play’ card each to spend on whatever games they wanted at the California Adventure “Games of the Boardwalk”. This was their haul – easily won, between the 3 of them. Those are BIG toys with fair dinkum Disneyland tags on them, perfect for gifts and a super cheap way to gain them. See the main photo of this post to see how big Mickey is - Score!
32. Use the shops as thoroughfares when there are crowds outside. Sometimes it’s quicker to go through the shops instead of battling the crowds. This isn’t true for the end of the day when all the shops seem busy.
33. Disney isn’t perfect, rides do break down. In fact it became a standard joke while we were there, “Brady did you break another ride” as we were stuck in “It’s a small world” or something else. We got ‘stuck’ for extended time in about 4 rides, turned away at the last minute from about 3 more due to break-downs and Abby & I even had to be escorted out of a ride on foot – by several people saying “Watch your head, watch your step” under strict protocol I imagine. It all added to the fun and the good news is that you get a “front of the line” pass to any ride for up to 6 people if this happens. Make sure to ask for it if they don’t offer it.
34. Don’t do “just one more ride”. It will only end in tears. Always leave the parks when you are ahead and in good spirits. (thanks Sue, great tip!)
I know there are hundreds more tips, but these are all I can think of right now. I’m avoiding finishing this blog post because I just want to be back there! We really didn’t want to leave Disneyland, it was hard consoling a crying Abby as we walked the pathways out of there for the last time. The sound system plays Disney music, the people are all happy and it is so hard to leave. Knowing that this was probably IT as far as being there with my young family was tough – we did this trip under budget and won’t be able to afford it again anytime soon.
The good news is that we all left wanting more and wanting to be back there – that has to be the perfect holiday ending though, right?
Note: I didn’t take a camera on this trip. I didn’t want to be weighed down by a camera bag, especially on the rides. Not everyone will feel the same but I was perfectly happy with the pics that my phone can take.
And of course the memories. They'll last forever.