Growing up living in Southern California, I have been very fortunate to go to Disneyland dozens and dozens of times. In fact, my high school Grad Night was held at Disneyland and my first job out of high school was at The Disney Store and as a “cast member” employee, we were given two free tickets every year and discounts on annual passes. Back then you could buy an annual pass for $99 and I don’t recall there being any blockout days. If they did exist they were very limited. Things are a lot different now but one thing remains the same; Disneyland is magical and truly the happiest place on earth. This holds true for children and adults. These days, I still have an annual pass and am fortunate to go to Disneyland once a month, only now I get to experience it as a mom through the eyes of my daughter.
If there were ever a person I could go back in time and meet, it would be Walt Disney. What a vision he had and what an empire he built! Going to Disneyland as a child, teenager, and single adult was very different than going now as a mom. In just the last year, I have learned so much about when to go, what to do, and where all the hidden spots are that are perfect for moms and their babes – especially if you are pregnant! I hope you find this list useful whether you live locally and frequent to Disneyland as much as I do or if you are from out of town and only come to Disneyland when you are on vacation.
Secret #1: The Baby Center! There is one located at both parks. The first one is at the end of Main Street next to First Aid at Disneyland and the other one is next to the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop in The Pacific Wharf at California Adventure. Each baby center has nursing rooms with chairs, changing rooms with tables, feeding areas with highchairs, a small potty area for potty trainers and toddlers, a kitchen with a microwave and sink, and a main room with a television, table, and chairs. They also have formula, baby food, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over the counter meds, and pacifiers that are available for purchase.
Secret #2: Restrooms! Know where the family restrooms are so you can have some peace and quiet, privacy, and space when heading to the restroom with your children. This is especially helpful if you have a stroller and or potty training children. You can keep your child contained in their stroller while you go to the restroom without them touching anything dirty! My two favorite restrooms are located in hidden away spots and I have never had to wait in a line for them. These restrooms are always available and vacant. The first one is in Disneyland across the way from It’s A Small World ride and gift shop. It is hidden behind the other main restrooms. Look for the Handicap icon on your map. The other is located near The Little Mermaid ride at California Adventure. There are two available and are located near the other restrooms. There are two more family bathrooms located in Bugs Land at California Adventure but I haven’t had much luck there. Those seem to be busier and usually occupied.
Secret #3: Parades! Where do you sit for the parade? I have seen families sit on the concrete hours before a parade begins to get a good spot. There are often two parades each day and they go in opposite direction. Ask any cast member which direction the one you want to see is going and then you’ll know if it starts on Main Street and ends at It’s A Small World or vice versa. The best spot to sit at Disneyland without waiting a long time beforehand is just left of the castle near Pixie Hollow where you meet Tinkerbell and her fairy friends. At California Adventure, head to the entrance of Bugs Land for a good spot (near Cars Land not by The Tower of Terror).
Secret #4: Parking! Where is the best place to park? If you want your car to stay cool and in the shade, park in the parking structure. When you head toward the structure, stay all the way to the right and go through those far right lanes because you often will get a closer parking spot than if you travel down the other lanes. Plus the line to pay and park typically isn’t as long. If you park in the parking structure remember what character floor you are on and what lane you are in (i.e. Goofy A1). I often take a picture on my cell phone so I can remember for reference at the end of the day. This is important because each escalator will take you to a different level/floor and they all look the same. If you park in the structure, you will have to take the tram into the park. There is a way to walk through Downtown Disney, but it’s quite a walk, so I suggest taking the tram, however, be prepared because you will have to fold up your stroller before you board, so try not to bring too much with you. We always take our umbrella stroller and anything we need that fits in one bag that can shut all the way. If you can park in the Simba and Timon parking lot, you don’t have to go on a tram and you don’t have to worry about folding your stroller, but often this parking lot is harder to find and is filled first. Plus this parking lot is outdoors and your car will be in the sun all day. I like this parking lot because you can just walk right into the park from the lot without having to ride a tram or folding your stroller. On your way into the park from this parking lot, there is a monorail station in Downtown Disney that often has a small or no line (versus at the front entrance) and once you go through security, you will have to fold up your stroller and head up stairs before getting on the monorail. But once you are on, it is a fun way to start your day at the park and it takes you right into Disneyland in Tomorrowland. We do this if we want to go on It’s A Small World first because its close to where the monorail station drops you off inside the park. If you walk past and there is no line, hop on. Going on the monorail will save you a lot of time versus going through the front entrance.
Secret #5: Food! Where should you eat? If you are gluten free like me, there are actually many options for eating at both parks. Almost any restaurant at the park will/can accommodate and give you a gluten free menu and or a gluten free option (like a special bun for your chicken sandwich or burger). In some places like Pizza Port in Tomorrowland, you can get a personal size gluten free pizza and or other options on their nut free, dairy free, wheat free menu. A healthy, inexpensive, quick option is Bengal Barbeque across from Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones Adventure Ride at Disneyland. The teriyaki chicken skewers are my favorite! At California Adventure, my favorite adult and kid food option is either Flo’s V8 Café in Cars Land or Lucky Fortune Cookery for chicken, beef, or tofu Asian rice bowls that are fresh, filling, and delicious! You can choose between four sauces: Mandarin Orange, Spicy Korean, Thai Coconut Curry or Teriyaki.
Secret #6: FAST Passes! If you have a little one, you will most likely want to see the new LIVE Frozen show at California Adventure. I highly suggest if you are going to California Adventure or have Park Hopper passes and you want to see the show, you immediately go to get a Fast Pass for this show before you do anything else. We typically arrive around 11am and go for our Fast Pass first and often do not get access until the last show of the day, which is around 6:00pm. If you wait, you will not get a FAST Pass and will have to arrive at least an hour or more before the show and you won’t be guaranteed inside. And even if you are, you will most likely be sitting in the balcony and it is very hard to see the show from that far (trust me I experienced this the first time we saw the show). The show lasts for an hour, so if you have a restless little one, this show may not be for you or be prepared to leave early. Most of the other young child rides that are appropriate for babies and toddlers do not have an option for a FAST Pass, but if you are only going to Disneyland for the day, go to Peter Pan’s Flight first as that typically has a long wait because of its popularity. Alice in Wonderland is another ride we love but also has a long wait (typically both rides have at least a 45 minute wait).
Secret #7: Rides! What rides are fun and appropriate or too fast and scary for little ones? Every child is different, but many of the rides in both parks are dark and loud, so be prepared. Some of the rides are fast and scary for little ones, so we avoid these based on personal experience and friends’ experience. These rides include Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin at Disneyland and Toy Story Midway Mania at California Adventure. My toddler daughter hasn’t gone on The Jungle Cruise yet only because during the ride the cast member shoots a fake gun in the air and it’s loud so we haven’t ventured there yet, but besides the loud gun shot, it is a fun and calm ride on a boat looking at animals. Our favorites at both parks include The Little Mermaid, Monsters Inc: Mike and Sully to the Rescue, anything in Bugs Land, King Triton’s Carrousel, and Disney Jr. Live on Stage at California Adventure. At Disneyland, Alice in Wonderland, Casey Junior Circus Train, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, It’s a Small World, King Arthur Carrousel, The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, and Peter Pan’s Flight.
Secret #8: When to Go! Since we have passes, we often go on the weekdays, so if you can pull that off, please do! Typically Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays are less busy than Mondays and Fridays. Summer, weekends, and holidays are often to be avoided if you can. They are often very busy during these times and the summers can get very hot. The Christmas holiday time is busy, but is my absolute favorite time to go with all of the decorations, the giant tree, holiday parade, and fake snow that falls from the sky after the fireworks. Disney takes the holiday season to a whole other level of magical! But here is the best kept secret of all. Go to Disneyland when it rains! As you know, in California it doesn’t rain often or for very long, so bundle up, bring a poncho or umbrella and enjoy the park on the colder, rainier days when it is less crowded. In my personal experience, going to Disneyland on Super Bowl Sunday is the best day of the year to go. Whenever I have gone in the past, it is virtually empty and there are often not lines for the rides and it’s one of the best times to go for the weather.
I hope you found these secret tips useful. I know there is probably so much more I could tell you. If you have any specific questions, leave a comment for me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @theparentologist and I will answer it for you! And whenever you go, have fun and let go! Be a kid again and live the magic!