Planning a Trip to Disneyland
When my son and daughter-in-law called and wanted to know if we were interested in planning a trip to Disneyland, we were over-the-moon excited! We were more than interested. . .we were all in! Little did we know at that time that our dream vacation would become a travel nightmare. . .well that is if Get Away Today hadn’t rescued us! I’ll have to tell you all about it on another day. Let’s just say that we are so grateful for our friends there!!
Planning a trip to Disneyland (or any Disney Park) is not small undertaking. . .especially if you’re taking kids. In our case, we love to take our grandkids. However, if you are armed with the right information, planning a Disneyland trip will be as easy as 1-2-3. . .um 4. Whether you’re taking kids or grandkids, my one big piece of advice is: Be Prepared (I know the Boy Scouts of America used it first, but it works in this case too!) Here are some of the things we learned and our Disney experiences have been much smoother.
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Planning a Trip to Disneyland – Booking Your Trip
Get Away Today
As I have already stated, I am a HUGE fan of Get Away Today! I can’t say enough good about them. Planning a trip to Disneyland through them is a breeze! You can book online or on the phone. Their customer service is so above and beyond! They will help you book tickets (usually at a discount), hotels (often you can get a night FREE!), transportation, airfare, shuttles, etc. Did you know that they even visit the hotels in person? So, if you want to know about a hotel before you go, someone there can probably tell you. They will take care of everything so all you have to do is concentrate on the packing!
However, if you don’t book through Get Away Today, here are some things to think about:
Hotels – Find a hotel that offers free breakfast. Getting breakfast is a huge hassle when everyone is excited to get to the park. Plus, it always takes longer than you think! Besides, who wants to pay for breakfast when it can be free! As long as they have cereal and some fruit, you can probably get the kids to eat something.
If you don’t get a hotel with free breakfast, then think about having some breakfast foods in your hotel room. In that case, make sure you have a fridge and microwave. Think finger foods that can go with you and things that are self-contained like fruit on-the-go packets that the kids can eat without utensils.
Besides breakfast, you will probably want a clean pool and a comfy bed. I can’t say enough about doing your homework here. Read the reviews! Don’t worry about the 5-star & 1-star reviews. . .read the 3 stars. Look for consistent complaints or praise. That will give you more intel than anything except a personal referral.
AirBnB – According to several internet resources, all of the AirBnb rentals in Anaheim will be closed as of January 2020. Many of the surrounding cities have severely limited or banned short-term rentals as well. So, if you can find one, it will likely be much further away.
If you DON’T have a car:
If you are planning to walk from your hotel to the park, check how long it takes on foot. You can check this through Google Maps. Click for directions and it will automatically default to driving directions. However, if you choose the little “walking man” right underneath the destination points, it will tell you how long it will take you to walk the same distance.
Here is an example below. I took a screenshot of the route from one of our favorite hotels. We have often stayed at the Standford Inn & Suites. It is only 1.3 miles straight down Harbor Blvd. It’s not far – by CAR! However, if you click the little walking man, it is a 26-minute walk. At the beginning of the day, that’s not bad. But let me tell you, at my age, 26 minutes will feel like an agonizing eternity at the end of a long day of walking around the park!!!
Some of the hotels offer shuttle service. Take a close look at this. Some are free. Some have a small fee. . .but remember that the fee is per person. It might sound like only $5, but then times that by the number in your group. You may be better off calling for an Uber ride. It might be cheaper.
If you DO have a car:
Remember that parking at Disneyland is expensive – right now, it’s $25 per day. So, the shuttle or Uber options still might be cheaper. However, it IS kind of nice to have your car right there in the parking lot, so you don’t have to carry everything with you into the park. We sometimes take food for meals or return shopping bags to the car during a break. Disney parking does allow you in and out privileges. That way, you can eat outside the park or go back to the hotel in the afternoon for naps or swimming. Then when you return in the evening, you don’t have to pay for parking again.
Disneyland Crowd Calendar – This is a nifty little tool to help you get an idea of when are the more and less crowded times at the park – at least historically. Having said that, just because it wasn’t typically crowded during one week the past couple of years, doesn’t mean it won’t be this year. Our favorite calendar to use is: Is It Packed.com?
They create these calendars based on historical info. So, why is it not always accurate? Well, things change – like spring and fall breaks, having a convention in town, changing blockout dates for annual passholders, and special Disney events to name a few. There are other factors, but I think you get the gist. Remember, that it is impossible to guess how many people will be in the park on a given day, but you can use a crowd calendar when planning a trip to Disneyland to at least help you make an educated guess.
Planning a Trip to Disneyland – Getting Ready
Do Special Things to Get the Kids Excited
Disney Fairies – You can have the “Disney Fairies” visit during the night and leave Disney gifts in the days or weeks leading up to your vacation. These can be special clothing to wear, toys for the trip, an autograph book, or even “souvenirs” (that will be a lot more expensive if you wait and buy them in the Park).
Special Invitation – You can create a little invitation for your children or grandchildren to come visit Disneyland and sign it from Mickey Mouse or your child’s favorite Disney character.
Countdown – You can make a simple paper chain, use a countdown app (there are several), or mark the days on the calendar.
Download the Disney App – This is a MUST! Download the Disney app before you go and get familiar with it. Create your free Disney app account. There are so many things you can do with it. You can load up your tickets, reserve FastPasses (with the FastPass Max option), you can order food, see wait times at each ride, and more! One of our favorite features is being able to find food and bathrooms really quick! You can do some pre-planning with the app.
Ride Heights – Something really fun to do with the kids is to create a ride height chart – something simple, nothing fancy. Just roll out a long piece of butcher paper (you can usually find it at school supply stores) and put measurements on there for each of the kids. We wrote all about the current ride height requirements here. This way you can tell the children who is tall enough to ride which attraction. We even have a little printable for you to take with you for quick reference. If you have kids that are just millimeters away from being tall enough for their favorite attraction, you can use to bribe them to eat their veggies – Ha ha!
Planning a Trip to Disneyland – Packing
It may seem corny, but matching shirts is not a bad idea if you have a big group. We like to have bright or bold colors so that we can spot each other easier. It really comes in handy when one of the little ones strays just a bit from the group. Mostly, it makes counting heads quicker. Our Littles here were easier to keep track of. . .especially that little fiery redhead!!
Okay, so this isn’t so special, but take a lightweight jacket & long pants (at least for the kids). Most of the year, the nights get chilly. When the sun goes down, you can really feel the humidity in the air. People often think of California as being so warm all year., and it is during the day. However, many people don’t think about those evening hours.
If you are taking grandkids like we do, make sure you have medical releases and allergy info! Don’t leave home without these!
So, we have some preferences based on past experience. While I don’t have a specific brand in mind, there are some features that we depend on when it comes to taking a stroller.
Umbrella type or fast fold type – getting on and off the tram, the Monorail or shuttle buses require that you fold up your stroller (sometimes really fast). The umbrella strollers fold up smaller than others.
Sun shade – It goes without saying that California has lots of sun. It’s nice to be able to lower the shade so little ones can sleep. . .or just not complain about the sun being in their eyes. And just in case it rains, you can hang a rain cover over the top.
Basket underneath – You often need an extra place to keep things that you don’t want to carry. We always keep everything underneath in a bag of some sort so that we can grab it and go when we have to quickly fold up the stroller. It only took one time of having everything loose in the bottom of that stroller to learn this lesson!
Backpack & Water
By carrying a Camelbak (a backpack with a water reservoir), we always have water while standing in line as well as at mealtimes. This way, we don’t have to go looking for water fountains or buy the expensive bottled water. It never fails that the Littles always want a drink when we’re standing in the middle of a long line. The backpack compartment also has room for other miscellaneous items that we like to keep with us. The alternative would be to carry a backpack with small bottles of water.
We always take a Camelbak backpack. I highly recommend the 100 oz. M.U.L.E. It’s the one we use every time we go. This pack is just right for carrying items that you will need. It’s just enough water to keep everyone hydrated but not too heavy to carry around. The pack is not too big and bulky but still has room. We put ice in ours at the beginning of the day and it stays cold all day long. As a plus, the pack does get lighter as the day goes on. The downside? They are a bit pricey. But, honestly, we have had ours for several years, we use it a ton, and it is still in really great shape!! (The photo above is the one we’ve had for more than a decade.)
Sunscreen (no matter what time of year)
Sunscreen is a must have. Honestly, it’s California! There are days in the winter that you won’t ever need it, but most of the year, you will want to have some with you. I would suggest a spray-type for arms and legs and a stick-type for faces.
Planning a Trip to Disneyland – “Mouse”-llaneous
Unlimited Data (on your phone)
Disneyland doesn’t have free WiFi so you will be using data, especially if you use that Disneyland app. There is so much you can do on the app, it’s worth it! If your cell phone plan doesn’t already have unlimited data, call them and see if you can change your plan just for the month that you will be at Disneyland. You won’t regret it!
Whether it’s extra batteries or a portable charger, bring some for your phone. We always need to keep in contact with one another. Sometimes it’s necessary to separate to get FastPasses or for food or to take a little one to the bathroom. It’s good to not run out of battery power on your phone. Again, if you are using the app, it will zap some battery power as well. So, take a portable charger or power bank for your phone. . .and don’t forget to take a charging cord! Yeah, been there, done that!
Hopefully, you won’t experience any mishaps like we did on that first trip. After all, luck favors the prepared. (Name that Disney movie!) Things won’t always go perfectly, but you can prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. We have had many, many great trips to Disneyland. And the one time, things didn’t go smoothly, we had someone in our corner to rescue the day!
You are probably going to read several of these kinds of posts before you actually put together your trip and pack. These are the main tips that we always share with our friends before they take a trip to Disneyland. So, if you discover any other tips that you think we should add to our list, please share them in the comments below! We would love to hear them!
Cookies & Milk for Everyone!