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snow on main street USA disneyland
Castle lighting and snow on Main Street USA is truly magical at Disneyland Christmas.

Disneyland is Gonna Get You: 10 Tips for Surviving the Magic with Kids

While nature and historic buildings typically peak our adventure fancy, every few years we brave the huge crowds and brutal lines to get our dose of the Disneyland. The House of Mouse’s magic lies in the unique ability to immerse visitors in each land with endless photo ops and character surprises. But the tactical maneuvering and exorbitant expense can quickly overshadow the experience for first timers. I almost didn’t write this because the virtual space is so packed with Disney tips. But as a penny pincher who goes every few years, these are my tips to survive your trip to the land Walt built.

1. Download the Disneyland App BEFORE arriving

The app is LOADED with an overwhelming amount of stuff in my opinion, but the park is almost undoable without it. BEFORE you enter the park, make sure to download and sign in with your Disney account, add your tickets and tattoo your password somewhere safe in case you get logged out.

minnie photopass lens
PhotoPass Lenses included in the app are a fun way to pass time in lines.

Now prepare to have your face in your phone all day. From locating characters and restrooms to checking ride times and ordering food, it’s all there. It is nice to order snacks while holding a parade spot and see that a favorite ride is temporarily closed before wandering over to it. But while all the intel is meant to reduce wait times, it feels like a lot of the spontaneity has disappeared and the magic must be hyper planned. For example, we were flabbergasted to find no line for Dole Whip outside the Tiki Room only to be told that it was online order only with a 40-minute wait!

mickey cookie
Snacks are more fun when you don’t have to wait in long lines for them.

2. Stay off property, ride the A.R.T.

If you’re going to Disneyland to hang out in a luxury suite, we are operating in completely different universes of time and finances, so do you. However, if you’re eternally attempting to maximize every cent and minute like me, book a hotel on Katella or Harbor Blvd. Most hotels are within a 20-minute walk to the park. If concerned that might add too many steps to the day, grab an A.R.T. shuttle pass at the hotel desk and ride one of the most efficient bus systems in the country.

disneyland fireworks from Anaheim motel
With firework views, pools, green spaces and close proximity, hotels like the Anaheim offer perfect accommodations.

3. Check the weather and pack a bag

I’m not sure we’ve ever made it through a Disney day without adding or removing accessories. Winter mornings and evenings can be icy with warm days in between. Dressing in layers with hats and gloves keeps everyone cozy and having fun. Summers can be HOT requiring sunscreen and sunglasses to fight the rays and water friendly shoes and clothes make refreshing rides more enjoyable. Regardless of the forecast, rain seems to come out of nowhere and park ponchos and umbrellas run a premium if they can be found. A couple of thin ponchos, bottles of water to refill and quick snacks keep us out of the stores and in the fun.

Cold, rainy winter days can ruin a Christmas trip if everyone isn’t prepared.

4. Eat breakfast BEFORE entering the Disneyland

Don’ get me wrong, there’s a lot of delicious breakfast options in Disneyland. But everyone else didn’t eat either and you don’t want to waste the shortest ride lines of the day waiting for a pastry. The best option is to stay at a hotel with continental breakfast. If this isn’t available, pack some quick options to eat at the hotel (check out my favorites here.) Restaurants outside the park fill up fast and service can be slow, so if you must eat at one wake up early and order something easy!

Millenium falcon table
Spending the morning on rides like Star Wars Smuggler’s Run is more fun than a breakfast table.

5. Get up and enjoy the quiet mornings

Get to the park when it opens and cruise right past Main Street USA. You don’t want to be lugging trinkets around all day anyway, so visit during the midday lull or, better yet on your way out. Grab a pic first thing with Walt and Mickey in front of the Castle before the queues form and the area is crowded with parade watchers. Then enjoy short lines on your favorite rides before the park starts filling up around 10.

new orleans square disneyland
Almost unpassable in the afternoon, popular areas like New Orleans square are calming in the morning.

6. Character escorts know where EVERYONE is!

The map on the app can tell you when and where to find classic characters like Sleeping Beauty, Minnie and Mickey to get pics and autographs. However, if on the hunt for more elusive characters like Merida or the Genie, find someone wearing a “Character Escort” badge accompanying any character. From them we learned Mulan typically visits Disneyland around Chinese New Year and Tiana often wanders around the New Orleans Square. Also, stationary characters will sign autographs and take photos when they’re scheduled. But roaming characters may require a bit of assertion to snap a pic and those holding things won’t sign autographs.

7. Take a mid-afternoon break

Few maniacs can unrelentingly Disney from 8am to midnight. By waking and eating an early breakfast, there’s just enough room to grab a quick churro or corn dog around 1030. This allows a push through the midday lunch rush into early afternoon. After several miles and about a hundred pictures, everyone is pretty tired by the time park hoppers begin crowding lines around 1pm. Consider this the perfect time to grab a nice meal in the park or at one of the many restaurants in Downtown Disney. If small kids struggle to make it all day, a couple of hours back at the hotel for a swim or nap really resets everyone to make it for fireworks and beyond!

Little ones can crash in a booth while adults rest feet and refuel at Downtown Disney restaurants midday.

8. Anyone under 5? Take a stroller

A typical day at Disney can easily hit the 20,000 steps which is definitely too much for tiny feet. Giving littles a space to grab a quick nap or separate from the overstimulation is a no-brainer. But beyond its use as a tiny people hauler, having a base camp for all the aforementioned gear is wildly functional. One of the most difficult things about going with older kids who don’t need the stroller is losing cup holders to hold beverages between rides!

stroller at Disneyland
Pancho + stroller = persistence at Disneyland.

9. Want to hit all the coasters? Buy the Genie+

Previously mentioned Disneyland app features all work without the extra $25 per person per day. But if maximizing time on rides is the goal for your crew, snagging one Lightning Lane pass for each ride per day with Genie+ is really the only way to fit it all in. Lightning Lane availability will wind up setting the pace for the rest of the day.

Toy Story ride Disneyland
Even with a Lightning Lane pass the wait for Toy Story can be over 45 minutes.

Genie+ also allows guests unlimited photos from attractions and photographers around the park. With each photo previously running $10 a piece, this feature might be the best cost savings. Grab a screenshot of the QR code to make scanning easy at each stop and enter codes from ride photos into the app.

Incredicoaster snap
Photos from rides and photographers are included with the Genie+ Photopass.

10. Practice being tall with littles

Even with measuring devices on restrictive lines, there’s a lot of subjectivity. Our son was heartbroken to meet the 46″ mark at the top of Indiana Jones to be denied by a stricter cast member before boarding after a 20-minute wait. Take a quick measurement before heading to the park and wear tall shoes if your kids are tiny thrill seekers like ours.

height check at disneyland
Tall shoes and good posture can make or break ride options for littles.

So, what’s actually worth doing in Disneyland?

After 8 minutes of Disney preparedness tips, it feels like another post is warranted to share our favorite experiences from Walt’s flagship destination. Do you have any tips for making the most of Disney? Share below:)

family photo with Donald
Taking some time to meet characters when kids are little is truly magical!

Eternally on the hunt for the science in every adventure.

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