Saturday, August 28, 2010

Disneyland, CA and California Adventure Tips and Tricks for How to Maximize Fun

This past summer, my wife and I took our two daughters (2-4) to Disneyland and had a blast. Since several of my friends asked me for advice, I decided to jot down my tips and tricks for maximizing your fun and time while you're there. The last thing you want to do is go to Disneyland, only to realize that you're ill-prepared. Take my word for it. Time is extremely valuable while you're there, especially when you're with kids who haven't mastered the art of patience.

We quickly learned from the first day that, if timed well, you can do more in Disneyland in the span of three hours than you can in 9 hours. Here are my tips for how to save money and time while maximizing fun for the kids and minimizing stress for the adults.

1. Discount Disneyland Tickets: If you're interested in using a ticket broker, get your tickets from Magical Vacations (Disney Dave and Ted). They can save you money on each of your tickets. You’ll have to pick up the tickets at their office the morning of your first visit and depending on what package of tickets you get, you may have to return them to the office at the end of the day. Their office is about a ¼ mile away from Disneyland. There are hundreds of ticket brokers out there. I spoke to many of them (watch out... some are very shady) and found Magical Vacations to be by far the most professional and reasonable. You can save over $100 on 3 day passes. (323) 843-2193; (949)-829-1149. Tell them you found them on

2. Can my kids get in free? From what I can tell, if your kids look around 2 years old, they can get in free. Gate attendants are far too busy to check for any form of ID from the hundreds of "approximately 2 year old" kids lined up to get into the park… its just way too hectic for that, especially when the lines are long and people are waiting to enter. 

3. Get the mousewait app for the iphone. It is a MUST HAVE. This app tells you the approximate wait times for all the rides in California Adventure and Disneyland. The app is crowd-sourced (meaning it gets its data from the community of users who update it) so try doing your part to enter wait times. I found that its about 75% accurate (the most popular rides are usually very accurate) but still useful. Don't bother with the RideMax software. I think this post will give you everything you need to know without paying for that software.

4. If you're looking for accommodations close-by, stay at the Howard Johnson Hotel. It's walking distance to Disneyland (about ¼ mile) and it has an awesome water park. In fact, your kids could probably spend a half day just at this free water park alone. If your 

kids take naps, it's easy for you to walk back to the hotel when the park starts getting packed (around 12-1PM). Also, just across the street is Mimi’s Café which is one of the few eating establishments on the strip. If you book on line, use the corporate coupon code: 67243. Its offered by the Allied Business Network at You may want to sign up for this program in case they ask for proof of membership. Its free and ABN offers a bunch of other coupons for hotels and stores.

Also, if your kids nap, make sure you request a room that is NOT on the top floor. Those rooms have vaulted ceilings so you can’t block the sun from the room during the day. Of course if your kids don't nap, I think these rooms would be great.

We got a suite which connects a bunk bed room with the master. We loved the accomodations. Most importantly, it was very clean. The only drawbacks to the Howard Johnson are as follows. If you're very sensitive to noise, these suites get some of the hum from the highway. It didn't bother us at all. Also, there is no restaurant inside the hotel so you'll mostly be eating or ordering from Mimi's or other restaurants.

5. If you’re tempted to bring a stroller, bring one. There is plenty of stroller parking and your kids will probably be less tired if they’re riding some of the time. But if you plan to ride the trains around the park (which I recommend), make sure your stroller folds up so that you can bring it with you. Otherwise, you'll have to leave it behind. Disneyland also rents strollers.

6. As soon as you get into each of the parks, grab a detailed map. The ones that you get online or on the way to the park do not have enough details to plan your trip. We lived by these maps and marked out our itinerary for the day.

7. It may sound like a lot of work but you should plan an itinerary of rides and shows for the day BEFORE you get to the park. Otherwise, you’ll wander around the park aimlessly trying to catch a few rides as you discover them (instead of visiting the most popular rides in the morning). You'll also likely miss many of the shows you plan to see because you'll get in line later than expected. The best thing to do is map out all of the rides you want to hit by area and ride them sequentially. Also, if you’re waiting in line for a while, have someone from your party run over and grab a fast pass for another ride. (frankly, if you’ve got young kids, there aren’t many fast pass eligible rides. We used one for Autopia in Disneyland (driving cars) and we saved about 30-45 mins). [Fast pass enables you to get a ticket to catch the ride after a designated time. When you stand in line, you stand in the fast pass line and bypass everyone who didn't get one.]

8. Almost all the rides that look kid friend allow small kids to ride. To be safe, check to see if there are size requirements. If there are none visible, you’re good. Only the roller coasters and rides that don't look kid-friendly are restricted. Our two year old could basically ride almost all of the kid rides.

9. Based on our trip, here are the rides in Disneyland I recommend if you have kids around 2-5 years old. I've starred them as follows:
* good, ** great, *** don't miss
a. Jungle Cruise** b. Tarzan’s Treehouse: it’s a very vertical play area in the shape of a HUGE tree*
c. Chip n Dale Treehouse: again, just a play area*
d. Disneyland Railroad: takes you around the parks… makes a few stops. But fun to just relax and catch a breather.** e. Gadget’s Go Coaster: height restriction. My four year old child really liked it. But the line moves slowly.** f. Mickey’s House: we actually missed this. It’s a bit tucked away. But you have to go see Mickey while you're in Disneyland.
g. Autopia: Kids get to drive mini cars around a large track. My four year old really liked this; we rode twice and the ride is very long.***
h. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Really cool.***
i. Fantasyland rides are all great for the little kids… this is where the classics are
    1. Alice in Wonderland- a bit scary but still fun*
    2. Dumbo: classic and the girls loved it. Rode it twice.***
    3. It’s a Small World: awesome. Rode it twice.***
    4. Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Through. My four year old was a bit scared but wanted to do it again.*
    5. Storybook Land Canal Boats (it's easy to miss so look out for it)**
    6. Pixie Hollow: if you don’t do ariel’s grotto, probably worth going here to take pics with some princesses
10. Here are rides in Disneyland that look kid-friendly but you should to avoid if you have kids between two and five years old

a. Pirates of the Caribbean: this was VERY SCARY. And to top it off, our boat got stuck for about 20 minutes in here!
b. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin: it’s a bit too over-the-top sensory overload for the kids
c. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride; didn’t ride it but I heard its a bit scary for kids. 

11. Recommended rides in California Adventure if you have kids between 2-5 years old

a. The A Bug’s Land is awesome for the little kids. There is a great water splash park (kids need to be wearing shoes to play in here) and there are a ton of kid friendly rides. You can spend a few hours in this part of the park***

i. Fliks Flyers*
ii. Ladybug Boogie*
iii. Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train: kids loved! Short but fun. Rode twice.***
b. King Triton’s Carousel*
c. Toy Story Mania is supposed to be awesome. Go to this ride first thing in the morning. We never got a chance to ride it b/c lines were too long 

      12. Rides in California Adventure that look kid-friendly but you should to avoid if you have kids between two and five years old
      i. Its Tough to be a Bug. This full experience 3-D movie is too scary for kids! Tons of kids were freaking out while watching this and had to be carried out of the theater. AVOID!
      ii. Tuck and Roll’s Drive em Buggies (bumper cars). The lines move really slowly and the cars move just as slow. Even for little kids, this ride was a sleeper. 
      13. If you're looking to grab lunch just outside the parks where its not as crazy, I highly suggestion Rainforest Café for lunch. Its in Downtown Disney; you can take the free Tram which is right near the Finding Nemo Submarine ride in Disneyland. The Tram takes you straight to Downtown Disney (outside the parks) and drops you off right in front of the Café. We called just before we caught the tram and were able to make lunch reservations. There's a ton for little kids to see inside the cafe (huge aquariums and animated animals).

      14. Try to watch the night time shows at both parks. At night, there is a show at Disneyland and a show at CA adventure. The Disneyland show is called Fantasmic and its really worth watching. But its also tough to get a good seating/viewing unless you arrive a few hours early (at least when we visited in June). We ended up watching from the standing area near Riverbelle Terrace which was great because we only arrived about 30 minutes before the show. Its hard to find this location but if you ask one of the cast members, they'll walk you over. It has a bit of an obstructed view but your alternative is to try and watch catch glimpses of the show while walking; the cast members keep walking traffic flowing at a healthy pace. A really good idea is to just grab dinner about 1.5-2 hours before the show starts at Riverbelle Terrace. Then I think you can stay in your seats for the show.
      CA Adventure has a new show called the
      World of Color. It’s a big deal this summer and lots of people are going to the park, just to watch the show. We skipped it b/c it seemed really crazy to try and get seating. If you want to go to the World of Color, you should either make lunch reservations in advance so that you can watch from the picnic area (as of this June, you had to reserve a week or two in advance). Or go to CA Adventure before the gates open to get a Fast Pass. In June, there were people waiting outside of California Adventure as early as 1 hour before opening

      15. Definitely watch the parades.*** We ended up watching the Pixar Parade at CA Adventure and it was truly amazing. Our kids absolutely loved every minute of it. Scope out seats about 30 minutes before the parade starts. I think its worth it to get a front row seat b/c the parade is really impressive. You can find the parade route on the map.

      16. Watch several shows at each of the parks and arrive early. We saw Alladin and it was truly top notch. Honestly, its comparable to some of the Broadway shows in every facet (except for length-- I think its less than 1 hour long). We got in line about 45min to 1 hour early and had great seats. They assign seats based on how far along in line you are.

      Make reservations at a restaurant that features Disney characters. It will be worth every penny. If you have girls who are into princesses, make breakfast reservations at Ariel’s Grotto in CA adventure. The food is really good, the service is great, and the fact that your children get quality time with a bunch of princesses is priceless. Each princess comes to each table and talks to the guests and poses for pictures. This definitely beats waiting in lines at the park.

      18. Go to the parks as early as possible. If there is ONE piece of advice you must follow, it is this one. The lines really start getting longer around lunch time and then stay that way through the rest of the day and much of the night. If you get there as soon as the park opens, you’ll get more done in 3 hours than you might otherwise get done in 9 hours during peak hours.

      19. If possible, avoid weekends and Mondays during the summer. Believe it or not, Mondays during the summer are crowded too. People end up extending their stay into Monday so I’d try to go on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

      20. Finally, the question everyone has about Disneyland and California Adventure: How long should I plan to visit?
      I believe you can cover most parks in two full days. If you plan to watch many of the shows, I would suggest three days. More than that, you'll run out of things to do. And if you're staying at the Howard Johnson, you can spend part of those days at the free Water Park to give the kids a break from the crowds.

      I hope these recommendations help. Please post comments if you have additional questions. If you follow these tips, I guarantee you you'll have a more enjoyable time at Disneyland and California Adventures. I can honestly say, it is one of the happiest places on earth.


      1. Even cheaper way.... run through the gate. Both methods are legal unless you get caught.

        1. Haha, I think we'll be running Maddie through the gates because she barely looks 2 anymore.

      2. Thanks for these great tips, rich!