We LOVE being Annual Disney Passholders! We go to Disneyland or California Adventure at least once a week and absolutely love it. Many of you have asked for tips and advice to plan and navigate a visit to the park…and this list is our best advice to date.
Keep in mind these are simply my opinions. I’m sure there are others with differing perspectives and we are aware there is still FAR more to learn about the parks, but these are the best tips we’ve got to date!
I may add or take things away as we continue to be there more and more, but I hope this serves many of you who are making plans to visit the park! Please don’t hesitate to ask me anything that may not be included on this list. And if you happen to be reading this and you have something to add, do let me know as I’d love to keep this as helpful and accurate as possible.
Planning Guide Video
Watch this ahead of time! This free guide video will help you plan and prepare your entire trip. Lots of great info here so take advantage of the fact that it’s free!
When you enter the park make sure to grab the maps and time guides informing you of different show times. These also make great keepsakes for any scrapbook or collection you might want to start. *Tip: If you are a homeschool mom, have your kids help plan the day by examining the map and organizing the route. They can learn about the key, the legend, directions, and appropriate expectations in timing…also the most important lesson, of course, how to improvise when the plan doesn’t go as expected. 🙂
Free Autographed Character Photo
Prior to your trip, Disney will send you an autographed character photo if you send a letter to the address below requesting a nice character note.
Walt Disney Company
Attn: Fan Mail Department
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
Water at all Restaurants in the park
Bring your water bottles but get them refilled in the restaurants, and ask for the big cups! I recommend a bag like this, or some kind of lined bag for your snacks and drinks. Sometimes Matt will wear a backpack to put all of our snack in.
Mark Twain Riverboat
While the Mark Twain is operating, you can be selected to be an honorary riverboat captain. Not only will you get to experience a trip around the river in the pilot’s quarters, but you will receive a special certificate to thank you for your help.
**Tip: The Cast Members on the Mark Twain Riverboat usually pick a family with a young child, so if you fit that description it can’t hurt to ask them.
Almost every table service restaurant will help you celebrate your birthday with a free dessert after your meal. Make sure to mention that you are celebrating a birthday when you sit down to eat.
The Disneyland Animation Academy is the perfect place to learn how to draw your favorite Disney characters. It’s a great place to get away from the crowds for a moment. You get to take home your artwork. *Tip: This is a great spot to go if you need to nurse an infant. You can let older kids take the art class while you tend to a baby. Also visit Crush while you’re there. It’s dark, the older kids are entertained, and you can catch your breath!
Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Shop located in the Pacific Wharf area of the park gives out free chocolate squares to all guests who enter the shop. Walk in and immediately look to the left, someone will be there handing out chocolate.
Right across the street from Ghirardelli you will find the Boudin Bread Factory Tour. They give out free samples and this perfect sourdough is worth stopping in for.
There are special Disneyland buttons to celebrate almost every occasion, from birthdays, to first visits, to graduations. You can pick up a button at almost any merchandise location, restaurant in both theme parks, at City Hall or at the Guest Relations kiosks just inside the entrances. For the birthday buttons they’ll write your name on them too!
Many Disneyland Cast Members carry stickers to give out to kids. Most janitorial Cast Members (sweeping up trash in all white) will be more than happy to give you a sticker.
Photo Pass Card
You can receive a free photo pass card for you to have pics taken for you throughout your day…but you’ll have to pay for the photos later. The best option to keep costs low is to take your own camera (or phone) and have them take the photo for you instead. They’re always happy to do so and (for those of you who want the perfect photo) some even go the extra mile to take multiple shots and angles for you too! Don’t be afraid to ask!
Good To Know
The Fast Pass systems (you insert your park ticket into kiosk and it prints you a ticket to return to a ride and not have to wait in line) at Disneyland and California Adventure are not connected, so it’s possible to hold more than one Fast Pass at the same time. *Tip: before entering either park send one family member in (with all tickets in hand) to get a fast pass at one park. Then enter the opposite park and get another fast pass for another ride. Plan the rest of the day around those two FP tickets.
Baby Care Centers
If you’re a mom you neeeeeed to know where these centers are. Make sure to find them on your map because you’ll want to visit them at some point, especially if you have small kids. They have tiny potties for small children, a spacious area with multiple changing tables, dark private rooms with curtains for nursing or pumping, high chairs for feeding your baby, and even a small store to buy baby supplies: pacifiers, formula, baby food, bottles, baby snacks like Puffs etc…all at very reasonable prices.
There is always a movie playing, with small tables and some coloring supplies to entertain slightly older kids, a water fountain to refill bottles and the most friendly Cast Members (the majority of whom are the sweetest grandmothers you’ll ever meet) there to help you with anything you might need. They’ll even keep an eye on your kids so you can use the restroom.
*Tip: If you’re a momma visiting the parks alone with children make sure you know where the centers are. I cannot stress this enough. When those meltdowns come, when you or your kids become overwhelmed, when you need to just get a breather…just go to the Care Center and you’ll all leave feeling refreshed and ready to go again. These are the best places to go use the restroom or nurse because it’s private and quiet. I promise the ladies there will make sure everyone leaves happy and cared for.
“Switch Pass” Policy
After one parent rides an attraction, the parent who waited with the child can then get on the ride with minimal wait time. This is true for infants, but also for a child that might be afraid to go on a certain ride. It’s a great policy that lets adults save time when they want to go on rides that the children can’t (or don’t want to) go on. Ask a cast member about getting these passes when you get to the front of the line. They’ll usually hand you a little ticket to come right back in after the first ride has ended.
Disney will replace popped balloons, spilled hot chocolate, dropped ice cream, and even broken souvenirs. Just save the remnants, return to wherever you purchased the item and show the receipt. No tears allowed in the happiest place on earth! 🙂
Main Street Trolley Tracks
Be aware that the trolley car tracks right down the middle of Main St. are the perfect size to get stroller wheels stuck in. If you have to cross over them do so at an angle because getting your stroller stuck is the last thing you want for your fun filled day…trust me…I may or may not be speaking from repeated experience…. 😉
If you purchase anything inside the park and are staying at any of the Disney hotels you can have your items taken directly to your room. There’s no need to carry those things around the park all day.
If you are in need for a long break and some time to just sit, (or if the weather is too hot or too cold) make sure to plan to attend the Frozen Show in Cali Adventure. They sell popcorn and small snacks inside, but you can also bring in your own food and drink! Make sure to note that if you have to leave the theater for any reason you won’t be let back in…so use the restroom before the show starts!
If there’s an option when picking a line always pick the left side line. People tend to think it’s the exit but it’s not, there’s just sometimes double lines so always go left!
Radiator Springs Racers
From our experience the Racers wait line sign isn’t always accurate….we’ve been there numerous times when it has said the wait is 90 min and it’s been more like 20! (Obviously, go see for yourself…but it’s definitely worth a shot just in case!) **Tip: Since you can’t find out for certain unless you actually walk all the way in, choose instead to send a rep from your group to scope it out. Have them call or text for you to catch up if it’s shorter than expected.
If you go to Autopia and you have multiple kids that want to drive the car you can ask for a switch pass and they’ll let you re-ride a second time without standing in line again to be able to let more than one child sit in the drivers seat. Two rides for one line! Tip: The Autopia license at the end of the ride is no longer free. If your child wants one really badly just keep the paper license and print off your own photo to attach later on at home.
Fast Moving Lines
The Little Mermaid
Big Thunder Railroad (if getting on at the park entrance location)
Pirates of the Caribbean
Silly Symphony Swings
It’s a Small World
Best time to go on Small World ride is during the parade. If you aren’t planning to see the parade head on over to get on this ride. You’ll likely walk right on, and you’ll also get a sneak peak at the parade as well…the doors the cast members come out of to begin the parade is right there where the line entrance is!
Standing in Line
Having fun things to do to keep the kids entertained and happy in line is the trick to an amazing day. Much of it will be spent waiting, so make it fun…and come prepared.
- Squirt Bottles: (for the heat) I’d suggest buying some from the dollar store or travel section in Target or Walmart. Kids can cool themselves off while waiting in line…and it helps with boredom too! 🙂 Squirting the plants, their faces, the ground…trust me your kids will like it.
- Books/Toys: I cannot stress this enough! It will completely redeem the amount of time you are standing and waiting. Sometimes we bring a novel and just have reading time. The kids will just sit and I’ll read through a little at a time. Other good ideas are Rubik’s cube, Mad Libs, Color Wonder, sticker books…anything you can pack up quickly when you get to the front of the line.
- Snacks: Shop before you get to the park. It’ll be much less expensive and you won’t have to wait in line. We love to splurge on Disney treats and pack in the snacks/lunch. I’d suggest bringing pre-measured snacks in snack baggies to hand out quickly whenever you need them.
We’ve also packed large bags of small snack foods and then added in some 5 oz Dixie cups. Scoop out what you need for each child and then toss when they’re finished. We love to give the kids a Dixie cup full just before entering a ride line , then have mini picnics as we wait to make waiting more fun. But we will often leave the bag of the remaining snacks in the bottom of the stroller so we don’t have to carry it the entire day.
Good snack ideas: any kind of dipping snacks, individually packaged peanut butter with precut apples in baggies, gold fish, pretzels and Nutella, granola bars, turkey jerky, orange slices, dry cereal, popcorn…*Tip: Sometimes we bring extra sweets too…anything you don’t normally buy at home on a regular basis. This is a great way to keep costs in the park lower and the kids from asking for every sugar item they see…because trust me, there’s sweets everywhere!!! Examples: Nutter Butters, Little Debbie’s, small lollipops, chip bags, fruit snacks, cupcakes etc…
Day of the Week
Obviously around the major holidays the parks are never going to be slow, but during normal seasons our favorite day to go is Tuesday. From our experience the park is nowhere near as crowded as the other days, which makes it much more fun. And the earlier in the day the better. (I have also heard that Thursday is a good one as well, but hands down my vote is still Tuesday.)
Month of the Year
As far as the least amount of crowds the best month to visit is February. Just after Christmas and before Spring Break…
Hidden Mickey Books
There are hidden Mickey Mouse heads (or three circles) that are hidden all throughout the park. Make standing in line or walking from one place to the next fun by grabbing this book ahead of time.
Jungle Cruise Map
You used to be able to request a free map from the skipper, but they no longer hand them out. Download and print one off ahead of time to follow along the route as you go. *Tip: This is another great homeschool opportunity. You can study ahead of time the different places represented.
Must Have Foods
Stop at the Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney for the beignets (New Orleans style donuts)
Blue Bayou-has Mickey Shaped ones! These are absolutely my favorite.
Pineapple Dole Whip
Over at the front of Adventureland by the Tiki room. There are no more turnstiles for the Tiki room so the old trick about getting the Dole Whip more quickly by going in first is outdated. You’ll have to wait in the line, but it’ll be worth it!
Monte Cristo Sandwich
From Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square at Disneyland– Found on the menu at Cafe Orleans, I’m betting you’ve never had a Monte Cristo Sandwich like this one. Ham, turkey and swiss cheese, lightly battered and fried.
Chocolate Chip Cookie
From Pooh Corner at Disneyland. They might look hard or crunchy, but they are actually chewy, and super chocolatey.
French Dip Sandwich
From French Market Restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland- for a hearty lunch or dinner, don’t miss out of this tasty french dip, available at the French Market Restaurant in New Orleans Square. Thinly sliced roast beef, piled high with crispy onions straws and a creamy horseradish sauce on a soft potato roll.
From California Churro Company in Downtown Disney – It comes with Oreo Creme dipping sauce and there is also a Churro Ice Cream Sandwich! Yum!
Places to Rest/Reset
Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
This little adventure-land is so fun! There is a tire swing zip line, rope climbing, slides, places to crawl…The kids LOVE running and crawling all over the place!
Disneyland Railroad Train
It is a 1.2-mile round trip that stops at the station on Main Street, New Orleans Square, Tomorrowland and Toon Town. Sit and rest, take the full circle, eat a snack, nurse a baby, take a breather…
Tom Sawyer Island
There’s restrooms, can run and play, explore, tunnels, caves, treasures, places to climb…a great spot for a small picnic or to let the kids just run
If you’re not too concerned about your kids getting wet, or if you happen to bring extra clothes, there’s a little spray pad that’ll give the kids a chance to cool off and you a chance to sit.
Hidden Picnic Spot
Near the Rivers of America, behind the Harbor Gallery, across from Haunted Mansion. The passageway behind it looks like it might be for cast members only, but it actually leads to several quiet tables.
Hands down this is our family’s personal fav. Make sure to get a fast pass if possible because the line can be a bit of a deterrent. But if you can’t get a FP, it’s still worth the wait to do this at least once. The views are amazing and make sure to take in the lovely scents while on the ride!
Please do not hesitate to comment below, message or email me if you have any questions or need more info. I’d be happy to help you in any way I can to make your visit to the parks an amazing memory for your family! And if you’d be so kind, if you have a Pinterest account please pin the pic below in case someone you know might also be planning a trip to Disney in the near future! Thank you!