MY husband made the fatal mistake of mentioning the D word in front of the kids.
We were planning a holiday to America and he asked, ‘Shall we take the boys to Disneyland?’
With that our fate was sealed.
The boys’ reaction was immediate.
‘YES!! Dad!!!’ they declared, running around the house chanting, ‘We’re going to Disneyland. We’re going to Disneyland.’
Decision made. There was no turning back; we were bound for the happiest place on earth.
But would our experience be happy, or would it be a nightmare?
We’ve done our fair share of Australian theme parks and if I’m honest a lot of those outings have ended in tears (theirs and mine).
We were about to visit the big kahuna, a theme park that’s 65ha in size. Did that mean the tantrums were going to be giant too?
We were all Disneyland virgins and had no idea what to expect.
In the months before our visit I trawled through a mountain of mummy blogs and travel sites, in search of some inside info.
My eyes glazed as I read about epic queues, stroller troubles, parking problems and encounters with princesses of the Frozen variety.
Was it possible, I pondered, to do Disneyland AND stay sane?
I put my body (and my mind) on the line to find out and you’ll be happy to hear the answer is Yes! I survived, sanity intact.
Follow my tried and tested advice and you will avoid mummy (and daddy) meltdowns.
Staying within budget … you might want to ask someone else for that advice.
Here they are, 10 tips for doing Disneyland without losing your mind.
1. Stay on-site. There’s plenty of accommodation in the area surrounding Disneyland but if you want to maximise your time in the parks – and minimise family stress – stay in one of Disneyland’s three hotels. They’re all located close to the original Disneyland Park and the newer California Adventure Park. We chose the Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa because it had a great waterslide and children’s swimming pool AND a gate offering direct access to the park. Yes it costs a little bit more, but I promise you, when you’re carrying your sleeping child home after the fireworks you – and your sore feet – will be thanking me for this advice.
2. Upgrade to the Park Hopper pass. So you probably think the original Disneyland Park will be enough for you. Think again. The newer Disneyland California Adventure Park opened in 2001, is located just across the way from the original. It sits on 26ha and features the excellent Cars Land, which opened in 2012. A Park Hopper pass offers you access to both parks on the same day so you can move between them on the same day with ease. It’s only an extra $39/ticket. Do it.
3. Use the FASTPASS system. You don’t want your enduring memory of Disneyland to be of standing in epic queues. Utilise the excellent FASTPASS system. It allows you to ‘reserve’ your spot in the queue for the super popular rides. Limited amounts of FASTPASSES are released each day and the only way to get them is once you’re in the park. Trust me, you’ll feel like a VIP as you zip past the mugs queuing for their favourite ride.
4. Budget to buy merchandise. You may tell yourself that there will be no merchandise, but when you’re there in the thick of it you will bow to pressure. I’m married to a packing Nazi; a man who can ignore the most fervent barrage of ‘I wants’ from his wife and children. But during our time at Disneyland my husband became the ‘soft touch’, the parent most likely to say ‘Yes’ to requests for Mickey Mouse ears, exorbitantly-priced novelty pins, Dinosaur pillows, Radiator Springs remote-controlled cars and other Disneyland paraphernalia, which quickly blew out our excess luggage quota. At best you will return home with a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, a giant novelty hat and a t-shirt. Or, like us, your stash will be much more cumbersome. Did someone say excess baggage?
5. Eat a big breakfast. There are plenty of food and drink options in the parks but once you’re there you’ll want to capitalise on your time. To avoid eating downtime and to sustain your energy levels, fill up on a big brekkie. If you’re staying onsite you can share breakfast with a myriad of Disney costume characters.
6. Check out Downtown Disney. This retail and dining area located a short walk from both parks comes alive at night around park closing time. There are restaurants, bars and retail outlets – including, Sephora and a Lego store. We spent hours (and many $$) here and enjoyed the high-quality busking at night.
7. Make a plan. Disneyland is a big place. It’s set on 65 ha and doing it all takes time, commitment and planning. Read ahead and map out your ‘must do’ rides and attractions. If you have children who are prone to ride scares, research which rides are off-limits. Check the Disneyland website for height restrictions too. There’s nothing worse than queuing for an hour to have your ride buddy refuse, or be refused, at the last minute.
8. Wear comfortable shoes. It might sound obvious but this is the clincher. You are going to walk a very long way. My steps counter packed it in halfway through day one. Each night we returned to our hotel room and fell in a heap, our feet aching from all the steps they’d done.
9. Take a backpack. Only pack the essentials. Leave room for merchandise purchases (see point 4). If you’re staying in a Disney Hotel you can arrange for your shopping to be delivered to your room (dangerous but handy).
10. Don’t miss these rides. Everyone has their favourite Disneyland attractions, these are ours. Radiator Springs Racers, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Grizzly River run, It’s a Small World, Soarin’ Over California and Star Tours – the Adventure Continues. Hop on the Disneyland Railroad early in your visit to get a good idea of what’s located where. When the parents need a break but the kids want to run, seek refuge at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. There are trees, shade, seating and plenty of obstacles for the younger family members to climb and jump on.
Getting there: Disneyland is located in Anaheim, about a 70minute drive from LA Airport. There’s plenty of ways to travel from LAX to Disneyland, but the best way is probably the Disneyland ResortExpress bus.
Cost: Access to the Disneyland Parks costs between US$50 and $96/day, depending on how many days you stay. One to five-day passes are available. Upgrade to the Park Hopper Ticket (US$39/ticket) to allow same-day access to both parks.
Stay: Book an accommodation & park package through the Disneyland Travel Company. Stay in one of Disneyland’s three hotels, located close to the park.