Saturday, January 10, 2015

Tips & Tricks for Disneyland

A friend asked if I could post some tips or tricks here from our recent trip to Disneyland. I realize that there are a ton of sites out there that mention the same thing, but I figured I'd tell you what worked for us. One of our biggest goals for the trip was to let the kids really get to see all that they wanted to see. We wanted to be as flexible as possible and not overextend or push anyone too far. With four days at the park, we could take downtime at the hotel or within the park without worrying that we wouldn't get to see it all. We also were lucky enough to have my mother in law along and so we really wanted to make sure to get one night at the park with no kids. I really wanted to make sure we weren't spending a ton of money--which is so easy to do in the park.

One way to cut back costs is to bring food to the park. Just inside the park (by Starbucks on Main) they have lockers for rent. We put a backpack full of snacks, sandwiches, juice boxes in the locker and then hit it up at lunch time. I sent to the hotel two boxes of non-perishable food including: bread, cereal, almond butter, jelly, boxes of kid's milk, snacks, chips, etc. I also sent bowls, plastic silverware, and anything else I could think that we might want, but not want to carry on the plane. Two boxes cost $40 to ship, but we were able to eat breakfast in the room and lunch in the park and then splurge on treats and dinner. We opted not to do character dining. The prices are really expensive and since my kids are picky eaters, it felt like a waste of money. We were able to find the characters within the park, but more on that in a minute.

I spent a bit of time before leaving buying Disney t-shirts and princess nightgowns for Naomi to wear instead of itchy, cumbersome princess dresses. This cut back on them wanting that sort of thing inside the park. Naomi loved getting to wear her PJs and she matched a lot of the characters. She even got a special wave and comment from Anna during one of the parades. We didn't plan to do any water rides, but the twins wore Crocs anyways so it didn't matter if they did. We also packed one outfit per kid into the locker (see above) for any emergencies. I'm happy to say that we didn't need them at all. We got to the park each morning pretty early and so we wore fleeces that we packed away at mid-day too.

One of Mia's favorite things to do this time was pin trade. I had gotten a heads up to buy a cheap pack of Disney-grade pins off Ebay. I found a pack of 50 for about $25. There were plenty in there that were rare or cool enough that she had no problem trading them. Here's the thing we learned. The average Joe usually didn't want to trade. Mia had much better luck with park employees who we learned aren't allowed to say no! In fact, they have to let the guest pick which pin they want from their lanyard AND which pin they are willing to give up. Mia unloaded some of her least favorites this way! She did have some luck with other kids, but for the most part was greeted with more enthusiasm from park employees.

Our favorite thing to do at Disney is character hunt. We let the kids each get an autograph book and I packed three clickable (no lid to worry about and easier for big handed characters to manage) Sharpies. There are some websites that tell you where you can find some of the roaming characters--but we seemed to stumble on quite a few. Many characters wander Main St. Square. Peter Pan and Hook were over by Snow White's fountain. We found Mary Poppins just off the square in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle. Jack Skellington was in New Orleans Square scaring people as they exited the Haunted Mansion. There is also the place where you can line up to meet Tinkerbell and the Royal Hall where you can meet the princesses. We were lucky to find four princesses and the Evil Queen just inside the main gate. For anyone you come across, be aware that there might be a queue to get a photo and autograph. Often I would get in line with the kids in one and Mark would get in a different line and we'd join him when we were done. We didn't wait more than 5 minutes for each character. Our longest wait was for Merida at the Royal Hall. At the Royal Hall they have two revue shows that run: Tangled and Beauty and the Beast. We watched the Tangled and were told that as long as we didn't leave the pavilion we could meet some of the characters after the show. We didn't ever get to meet Anna and Elsa. They had moved over to California Adventure, but the kids didn't mind at all. Hollis and Mark went off one morning and waited to meet Thor and Captain America at the new Innoventions exhibit (where Captian EO used to be). They also had a special Baymax and Hiro meet and greet, which was probably the longest wait that we had.

One of the highlights was the Jedi Academy. First off, this is situated in the perfect spot to rest a little and get a snack (if you are buying in park). We showed up about 20 minutes before show time and got the kids set up right at the line. If your child wants to participate it's best for them to super enthusiastic when the Jedi Master is picking out padawans. Jumping up and down and shouting is okay!! It even helps to be wearing Star Wars gear. The little ones are often pitted against Darth Vader up on the stage. The big kids fight Darth Maul on the floor in front of the stage. We sat through it twice to get all three kids into the Jedi Academy. They absolutely loved it.

The use of Fast Passes made everything a ton easier with two different age groups to please. Often Mark and Mia would get fast passes for the rides they wanted and my MIL and I would take the twins off to Fantasyland. They really do make the wait times for the big rides more manageable and then you feel like you can get more ride time in. We also found that people were generally really pleasant about letting members of your party "cut in line" to meet up with each other. We didn't need to hop out too often. We tried to do bathroom breaks before and after big waits. I had a handful of snacks in my bag for kiddos who got hungry in line and often they were happy to be people watching.

Last, but not least, if you can time a date night around the night-time shows, you can generally walk right up to the rides. New Orleans Square is a bit of a mad house during Fantasmic, but we were able to walk right up to Pirates, Haunted Mansion, and Big Thunder while the show was going on. We took Mia back to the park two of the nights to take advantage of this as well. I think she rode Big Thunder nearly 10 times over the course of the trip!!

Did I miss anything?? Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I'll try answer them!

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