Hello, friends!

I'm often asked for tips on Disneyland travel.  We are by no means experts and there are plenty of better equipped sites to help with your needs.  But, this will give you a glimpse into how we make our trips both affordable and fun.

Here we go!

Do this now:

Go HERE to immediately order your Disneyland Vacation Planning DVD. It's free and comes personalized with your family's name on it. Although we go to Disneyland often, occasionally, we'll watch the video again, just to get the kids excited for a fun time ahead. It gives a great overview of both parks + Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL.


*Upon entering the parking garage or parking lot, take a photo of where you parked with your phone.  I promise you, you will not remember after a full day of chaos.

*Upon arriving from the parking garage (if that is where you park), choose the back or front of the tram if you have a stroller with you that you don't care to break down.  Ours is packed to the gills upon leaving our car, so the last thing I want to do is take all the junk out and break it down again.

The first tram wagon is for handicapped people, but strollers can be accommodated, too, as room allows.  The last wagon is for strollers.  Children may not sit in the stroller on the tram, but not having to remove all your stuff and fold it up is worth the wait, in my opinion.

Upon entry, grab the Schedule for the day.  They're available when you swipe your ticket and will detail the day ahead, including show times, parades, fireworks, laser shows and more.  Plus, it's double sided with a complete park map for your convenience.  Go ahead and grab 2 because you'll end up losing one.

The Parks:

"Disneyland" is now comprised of 2 theme parks - Disneyland and California Adventure.  Both have unique qualities and advantages/disadvantages.  I hope to highlight several of those for you here.

Disneyland - old school, charming, feel-good, magical and memorable.  Go here for the princesses, rides you may have experienced as a child, to see the castle and other Disney icons.

Our favorite Disneyland rides:  Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, old school rides beyond the castle (Snow White, Peter Pan, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, etc), Autopia, Jungle Cruise and the Tea Cups.  Carter would cross off this list entirely and add Space Mountain, the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones.  Every age group has its favorites.

***note.....when photographing the Tea Cups, include the lanterns hanging above.......makes for beautiful photos

California Adventure - newer, more character-focused and has a totally different feel than Disneyland.  I feel that it holds less of the vision Walt Disney had for his parks, but we have specific parts that we enjoy.

Our favorite California Adventure rides:  Soarin over California (do NOT leave the park without riding this, regardless of the line), Ariel, Bugs Land (several little kid rides) and Toy Story.

Cars Land opened June 15, 2012.  It's so massive.  And, it's done great things for this park.


Simply put, there are not many.  We have Annual Passports, so we don't often look at prices for entry into the park.  The basic rule is that if you buy more days, each day becomes less expensive.  Disney wants you in the park.  You'll spend more in the park than you will on your entrance. 

If you are a Southern California resident and live a reasonable distance from the parks, I highly recommend the Annual Passports if you can find a place for them in your budget.  2 visits to the parks pays for them.  If you go just once holiday-free, once for Halloween and then once at Christmas, you're coming out ahead.  Holiday seasons are magical at Disney and shouldn't be missed if you can make it happen! 

Food & Drink Tips:

We go to Disney often, so our food budget is essential.  Most of our visits include a 2 day stay with one night at a nearby hotel (more on where later).  Going for 2 days feels more like a little getaway, rather than just going for the day.  We almost always pack our own food for meals at the hotel and snacks at the park.  We eat one meal on site (usually at Disneyland), almost always at the French Market in Adventureland (back in New Orleans, near the Haunted Mansion).  It has mac-n-cheese for the kids, clam chowder for Carter, a basic entree for Blake and a salad for me.  The average price for a meal on-site is around $12.  Click HERE for a complete listing of dining at both parks.

We occasionally buy snacks at the park, but for the most part, I come prepared.  Upon entry, your bags will be searched by security.  I've never been turned away for packing food and drinks.  Now, I wouldn't haul in a cooler by any means, but a simple insulated bag should suffice for the day.

Items we almost always buy at the park:

A sourdough Mickey at the Pacific Wharf Cafe, via the Boudin Bakery (made famous in San Francisco).  This is in California Adventure.  The huge loaf of bread costs around $8 and comes with all the butter you want!  Kids love this.....we've bought several versions over the years including a pumpkin at Halloween, a turkey at Thanksgiving, a snowman at Christmas, and of course, the obligatory Mickey any time we can.  It's a carb filled delicacy and can be stored in your backpack for munching on later.  Hard to find a snack at the parks for such a low price that the entire family can share.

A corn dog.  I dare say they are better than those glorified at the Texas State Fair.  They can only be found at the Corn Dog Wagon which sits at the end of Main Street, on the right, as you head toward the castle from the entrance of Disneyland.  There will be 12-20 people in line at any point.  Join them.  You'll thank me later.

Churros.  There are carts selling these for $3.50 at both parks.  I think my kids beg for these simply to mess with me.  Interested in them at Costco for $1?  Nope.  Disneyland.  Yes, please!

Mickey Pretzels.  Kids love them. 

Ideas for what to pack and bring in from home:

Our favorites include - fruit snacks, raisins, pringles, cotton candy, apples, oranges, sodas, etc.  I focus on less messy, slightly healthy snacks to keep them occupied in between meals.  Disneyland is hard work for kids.  Lots of walking and they need a good energy source!

Our hotel fridge is always stocked. 

Want a cocktail?

I won't judge you.  Promise. 

If you're interested, head over to California Adventure.  Disneyland does not sell drinks unless you belong to the ultra-exclusive Club 33.  (If you do, please take me with you!)

******initiation dues are $25K and annual dues are $10K, just as an fyi******

While I don't usually associate Disney adventures with drinking, I have found that it's nice to enjoy a glass of wine or two on the patio at the Alfresco Lounge at the Golden Vine Winery.  It's perched perfectly atop a small plateau that overlooks parts of Paradise Pier and with views of the boardwalk.  Currently, there is a sneak preview walk thru tour nearby of all the changes slated for the park over the next year or so.  We typically buy the kids an ice cream and indulge a bit.  They serve beer and wine at typical Disney prices, but their selections are not bad. 

The park also serves beer in other restaurants and margaritas on the Pier.  I'd skip the margaritas......tried one and wasn't very impressed.

Pack this from home in order to save money:

Go to the Dollar Store for the following items and buy what you think your family will need -

ponchos ($8 a piece at the park)
glow sticks ($10+ at the park)
glow wands/spinners/etc ($12+ at the park)
princess gear (crown, cape, shoes, jewelry, etc.......whatever you think she might want.....so pricey on site)
baby wipes for cleaning up little hands on the go
autograph books ($7-8 on site......your little girl will want the princess's autographs; some boys will, too......just fine generic Disney type spiral notebooks for this)
water bottles (re-usable, often designed with characters found at Disneyland)

*****also, not available at the Dollar Store, but is at Target/Walmart, a princess dress for your little girl.  These will cost you $20 off-site and about $70 at the park.  Lainey wears hers on and off throughout the days we're there.  Better to buy ahead than lose your mind and spend the money at the park.

Fast Passes:

I'm not a pro with Fast Passes, as we have kind of figured out when rides are busy and not.  However, there are some rides that these are essential for.  Star Tours, Soarin Over California, etc.  Not all rides offer them.  Simply put, you find the Fast Pass booth, submit your park-entry ticket and receive back a Fast Pass with a range of times for you to come back to ride.  They're usually about an hour or so out......but once you hit your time range to return, you'll go close to the front of the line with little wait time.

Toon Town:

Toon Town is located at the back of the park and typically closes at 9pm.  Go here to visit Mickey and Minnie's house, ride a mini-roller coaster and more.  It's super cute for the littlest ones.

We have somewhat grown out of it, but occasionally visit for fun.

It is also the hottest part of the park......lots of concrete and seems to be the furthest inland.

Visit Mickey's house and walk all the way through.  Often, you can meet Mickey at the end of it.  Cast members make you feel very special and like you just got a lucky break because Mickey was ready for visitors.........super cute.  It's unreliable, though.....as all character sitings are.

The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique:

We steered clear of this for a while upon arriving in California.  A trip to the park seemed expensive and indulgent enough.  Did we really need Lainey to receive a make-over, too?

Well, we caved for her 4th birthday and have been once since then with Maci Kaye, too.  It's precious.  And, surprisingly not-ridiculously priced, as I had anticipated.  For around $50, your little princess can get her hair done, makeup applied and nails painted.  Sure, they have packages ranging up to $300, but we bring in our own dress and accessories and try VERY HARD not to buy anything in addition to the makeover.  I honestly believe this is one of the best values in the park and if you told me I'd say that a year ago, I would have thought you were insane.

Bonus:  Your daughter will leave with a BBB bag, the unused nail polish, the unused makeup, glitter stickers, a comb and brush.  Plus, she'll receive a princess sash, too.

Makeovers require an appointment.  Call this number to reserve yours.
(714) 781-7895

It really is such a special experience.  Laine would do it every time if we let her.

The boutique is mainly focused on girls, but boys do have a small option.  For around $15, they will receive a firm foam shield and sword, personalized with their name on it.  Jack brought in his own costume to accompany the girls......but we bought the sword/shield combo there.  Another good value.


Disneyland typically hosts 2 parades a day.  One is around 2:00pm and the next at 7:00pm.  These times will vary over the calendar year due to sunset.  We much prefer the night time parade, as it's less hot to sit through and it gives you a good rest after lots of walking all day.  Check the schedule you picked up at the front of the park to see when your parade time will begin.  We almost always set up near the end......close to It's a Small World......it has a bathroom nearby, a churro stand, and a few rides that can be taken advantage of during the wait. 

Bring a blanket from home, stash it under your stroller during the day and bring it out to save your spot.  We typically arrive about an hour prior to parade time, lay down our blanket to secure our spot and one person sits to reserve it.  Often, I will sit and Blake will take the kids on a ride to keep them busy.  The blanket blocks out your area and prevents you from throwing elbows with grown adults trying to push their way ahead of your small children to get a look at a grown man in Mickey Mouse costume. (It happens.) Trust me, the blanket will save you some conflict and maybe some blood stains, too.

Pre-parade.......after the obligatory waiting time to secure your spot.......it kind of turns into a kids' show.  At least for our kids.  They get out and dance on their own.

During the parade.....plenty of room for us, front seats and everyone's comfy.

The parades are magical.  Don't miss it.

We've been very lucky over the years to get some personal attention from characters.  Make a (respectable) fuss to get the characters' attention and they'll wave to your little ones.  The more into it you are, the more the princesses and other members will notice.

This is the reaction you will get when a princess waves at your daughter.  Priceless.

Fireworks and Other Shows on Site:

Disney has a plethora of shows - both big and small - available nearly every day.  Check your schedule as you enter the gate for when and where.  We've never taken the time to sit and wait out the big lazer show in the waters adjacent to Tom Sawyer, but I know we will eventually.  It's called Fantastia and I hear it's fantastic.......lazer show, boats floating by with fighting pirates, etc.  The reason why we haven't committed to waiting?  Because nearby attractions have nearly no wait during the times (seriously......5 minutes, if not less, to get on Pirates of the Caribbean).  After the parade, we're usually not ready for another 2 hour sit and wait (much more of a committment compared to the parade)......so we typically walk the park for short lines and enjoy the quick wait time.  I hear it is fantastic, though.  Meaning, both this and the one that California Adventure offers (Color of Wonder).  If this is your thing.......do the same as I suggested for parades..........put a blanket down and then have one person wait while the other takes kids to keep them busy.

Disney fireworks are fantastic.  We never stop and stage a place for fireworks because they can be seen from just about anywhere in the park.  I do highly recommend watching from where you are........especially as you see Tinkerbell zip line above the castle to add to the magic.

Tinkerbell will float across the sky during the fireworks.......so you'll need a decent view of the castle to see her.

Character Sightings:

We have never done Character meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner can be made with special reservations well in advance).  These offer a good opportunity to see the characters up close, but they're pricey and not in our budget.

Instead, we either plan to or hope to run into our favorites.  Over the years, we have had some pretty special encounters.

One of my favorites:

Characters will walk through the park in carefully orchestrated patterns.  To find Mickey and the main guys, stick near the front of the park in the courtyard between the train station and the beginning of Main Street in Disneyland.  Once you see a character come out, jump in line.  They usually move pretty quickly, but the characters don't stay out forever.  A cast member will eventually close off the line and encourage you to come back shortly to see him/her again.

Random character sightings are a bonus and often most magical.  Jump on the chance to see one up close, but please don't push toddlers down in the process.  (I've seen it happen).

This has been our best yet.....the princesses walked in just as we did and the little girls took hands:

See Cinderella asking for Lainey to join her?  She melted.

Hidden Mickeys:

There are many secrets and layers to Disney parks.  This is what I find most fascinating.  Hidden Mickeys are one of our most recent favorites.  Simply put, within each ride or attraction, there will be at least one Hidden Mickey, meaning the silhouette or Mickey icon will be randomly placed throughout the ride.  It's up to you to find it.  Some cast members will tell you where it is.  Some won't.  A book is available that details each Mickey.  We carry it in our backpack and randomly use it while waiting in line to find the next Mickey.  I wouldn't suggest diving into Hidden Mickeys for vacation trips, but if you go a few times of year, this is a fun way to add another layer of fun to your day.

Do you see the hidden Mickey here?

Stroller or not?

For the love of God, bring a stroller.  No, I don't want even one more on the park grounds, but they're a life saver for us.  My youngest 2 are 4 and just-turned 6 years old.  I still use my double stroller.  Singles are available to rent on-site for $20, I believe.  They're surprisingly roomy and can actually accommodate 2 small kids, if they sit tandem.  In addition to carting tired kiddos (and providing a place to nap), they will also hold all of your crap. 

Here's how to pack and use your stroller wisely:

1.  Bring one backpack or purse to keep valuables in (wallet, phone, camera, makeup, Mickey ears, princess dresses, etc).  Take this with you at all times and never leave it at your stroller.  You will park your stroller for an hour plus at a time and don't want to risk anything being stolen.  Leave only what you can live without.

2.  Attach a bag (an old diaper bag in our case) to the back of the stroller for easy convenience of grabbing snacks, drinks, etc.  I typically cover up such things when we leave the stroller so that we're not feeding the park, but not always.  Tuck jackets (yes, bring one, even in the summer....chilly at night) underneath with your blanket. 

I've never had anything stolen from our stroller, but you simply don't know.  Safety first. 

Below you'll find the best use of your stroller.  Sleeping kiddos.  Big kids got to ride what they wanted after the girls crashed.

Where to stay:

We have always stayed at either the Hilton Doubletree off of Harbor Drive or the Holiday Inn Express off of Katella.  Both are walking distance to the park and offer good accommodations. 
Disney hotels are much more plush and offer either monorail rides to and from or direct access to the parks from the interior of the hotel.  While I would prefer to stay at the Disney resorts, we simply can't afford it for as often as we go.

Disney Resorts Include:

The Disneyland Hotel

Paradise Pier

The Grand Californian

A hotel can provide you with many luxuries, above and beyond a place to crash at night.  Nap times, pool breaks, opportunities to eat meals off-site, etc.  I highly recommend taking a break during the day if you're staying multiple days.  Go back to the room, either have the kids nap or hit the pool and have the adults shower or freshen up.  3 or 4pm is a good time to break from the parks and regroup back at the hotel.  You'll be refreshed and ready for a long visit at night...where I find Disneyland most magical.

The Vacation Fairy

We started this a couple of years ago and it works like a charm for us.  WDW guru, Shannon, taught me this.  When kids wake in the morning at the hotel, they find a bag filled with goodies left from a magical fairy only present when we travel.  While the children think this is super fun, it's actually me being sneaky and tempting them with treats I bought at the dollar store, rather than at the parks.  It takes their focus off of the multitude of opportunities to buy treats on site. 

The Vacation Fairy often brings Lainey a new crown, a wand, some lip gloss, etc.  She brings the boys small toys or items that relate somehow to the day ahead.  Both boys and girls receive snacks, candy and a reusable water bottle that they use at the park for hydration.  They get excited about these little goodies......and the delivery from the Vacation Fairy makes it more fun than my just handing them stuff and telling them it's so we don't have to spend a fortune at the Disney stores.

Note:  This has worked nicely for us over the years, but my kids now expect it.  Be ready for that if you coin it "Vacation Fairy".  Otherwise, pack a treat bag and tell them it's from you.  Still fun to receive gifts.

Collector's Items:

Carter is the collector of the family and has grasped on to two major options at Disneyland.

Both can be found at the parks or on Amazon, like everything else available for purchase in the free world.

First, Vinylmations.  They're super creative and made by individual artists who sign the foot of each creature.  Carter has about 30 of these.........bought on site or given to him for Christmas gifts and the like. 

They are up for trade at every park that sells them on site.  There are typically 3 of them that are kept in a collector's case at the register.  You can bring in your own or buy one immediately and trade for one in the case if you wish. 

There is also one main part of Disneyland that allows trading of both pins (info next) and Vinylmations.  You can see the set up behind Carter in this picture.  Lots of nerdy collectors hang out waiting to trade. 

Vinylmations run from $10-12 each.  There are many collectibles worth hundreds.  I've encouraged Carter to do some research before he hands over a money-maker to some dude taking advantage of him, but he has no interest.  He likes what he likes.

OK with me.

Pins have been around for eons and are more popular to trade than Vinylmations.  Again, the same set up is available for trade.  There is a small part sectioned off as you enter Adventureland, immediately to your right. 

Disney employees are required to trade any pins they have on their lanyards (the strap that holds all the pins).  This guy was super nice and actually gave Carter a new pin, told him to keep his trade and to carry on collecting.  Awesome guy.

Random tips:

*Don't be scared to ask a cast member (don't call them employees) to take a picture with your camera.  Disney is known for customer service and they're totally willing to use your camera, even if they're out there taking pictures with Disney-issued cameras for you to purchase images from later on. 

*Mickey Hats - these are an essential in our family.  Each of our kids, from age 5 months to now 11.5 years old always has one that fits.  I love them.  They don't always, but I feel like they owe me a picture with them on for taking them to the parks.  Payback, punks.

Several stores throughout the park sell them.

I bring ours with each visit so we don't have to keep buying the same hats over and over again.

Another favorite picture......from vacation in 2010, I believe.  So sweet.

*Don't be scared of tantrums.  It happens to the best of us.  Not that I'm "the best of us", but I've actually been videoed by a loathe some stranger trying to deal with Laine as she disintegrated right before our eyes.  I don't even remember the reason.  Doesn't really matter at this point.

But, I may have some You Tube fame that I'm unaware of.  Nice.

*Don't be scared of crowds.  Disney parks are uber popular for a reason.  They're the best.  And, worth every penny, in my opinion.

Just wait it out, if you can.  Find a quiet spot, have a snack and relax.  Or, go to California Adventure and start drinking.  Don't let the crowds spoil your fun.

*Do visit the park during the holidays.  I can't say enough about how totally far out they go for Halloween and Christmas.  It's fantastic.

Bonus?  During Christmas time, you can see Santa within in a matter of minutes - for free.

Christmas at Disneyland is magical on so many levels.  They even produce snow in certain parts of the park!  (usually back by It's a Small World)

Also, do try to remember your spouse or friend or whoever is crazy enough to take on these adventures with you.  Accommodate him or her.  I love, love, love Disney.  I love it enough to take 5 kids on my own.  I wouldn't suggest taking on that challenge if you're not up for it, but we had a great time.

*Check out Downtown Disney if you have the time.  It's a shopping/restaurant district between the two parks.  Night life and lots of unique shops.  I recommend at least a walk through if you're going to be in the area for a few days.

Beyond Roxy and Quicksilver, you'll find the Lego Store, the Disney Vault, the Vinylmation Store, and many other non-Disney enterprises just waiting to sucker you in for $$.

Any other questions?  See a mistake I made?  Please do tell me!

I can be reached at starnesco@yahoo.com.

Happy to help with any direction you might need.

I typically charge for Disney day trip planning, but this is a broad overview and not specific to each family's needs.  It is, however, part of my business, Mom's Little Secrets.

You can find me on Facebook HERE.

Interested in a full itinerary so that you get the most out of your visit?  I customize such per the size of your group, gender of children, hotel, etc, etc.  Please email me for an estimate.



So the BEST of all the fabulous advise you gave us was: Reserve a spot for the parade WITH A BLANKET one hour prior and picnic on the curb, take a stroller (Savannah quit walking about 2/3 of the way through day 1), and buying treats (cotton candy, cheese popcorn, glow sticks...) at the dollar store!!!! We skipped the Mickey hats this time bc we are headed back for the third day of our hopper tickets later and want to get them for all three kiddos together! It was such a great time!! - Becky

Casey, thank you for your tips! They all worked out to make a wonderful, memorable trip for all of us. - Stephen