A Disney vacation is something every child dreams about. So whether you’re taking your kids, or are just young at heart, a first trip (or any trip for that matter) can be a wonderful and magical vacation. It isn’t called, “the Happiest Place on Earth” for nothing! While Disney does have its own Vacation Planning Guide DVD, here are my top 10 tips for first timers!
1. Look at the online maps. You can find them here. By looking at the maps ahead of time, you can get a rough idea of what rides you want to ride, what restaurants you want to eat, where the nearest bathrooms or baby centers are, and where you can find the character meet and greets. Even if you decide to be spontaneous and skip using a map (or a map app) in the park, it still helps to have a tentative game plan. This way, you won’t be wasting valuable time scrambling around trying to zig zag from one area to the next in order to get everything you want done.
2. Make a list of what everyone in your party wants to do, and have everyone pick their “Top Three”. For example, if your toddler loves the movie, The Little Mermaid, eating at Ariel’s Grotto or riding the Ariel’s Undersea Adventure may be good choices for your family. If your son is really into Star Wars, you might want to take him on Star Tours or have him train with the Jedi Academy. You get the idea.
3. Rides- Everyone has their favorites… since I am a native Californian and have more experience with Disneyland than Disney World, here are my recommendations:
For kids: Dumbo, the Teacups, and in California Adventure, there’s the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Live Puppet Show.
For thrill seekers: Hollywood Tower of Terror (in California Adventure), Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain (it’s pretty slow for 99% of the ride, but the drop makes it worth it).
For tired feet and for people who just want to relax: The Disneyland Train, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and watching parades they have going on.
4. Parades- Parades are wonderful. I have always loved The Electrical Parade and was thoroughly devastated when they moved it to Disney World… both the first and second time. But Disney does have a lot of wonderful live entertainment and their parade floats are beautifully detailed and everything is exceptionally choreographed. Just remember, whatever you are seeing, make sure you get there early!!!!! Prime locations fill up quickly, and it isn’t very pleasant to go and watch the parade standing three or four rows back and trying to bob and weave around other guests.
5. Eating– If you’re traveling with another person, or in a group where you are able to leave someone behind (obviously if you have small children and are by yourself, this won’t work), waiting for a parade to start can be a great time to eat! You can select where you’d like to watch the parade, and then send someone in your party to order food and drinks, and bring it back to your location. This way, you can have a nice picnic on the curb (or wherever you’re sitting). It’s perfect for filling your stomach, and making the time go by faster… which is great if you have kids… or just get impatient like me.
6. Characters– If you’re going with kids, or are as obsessed as I am, taking pictures and getting autographs with the characters is a must. As mentioned above, try to make a list of which characters you would like to see. Due to the popularity of the movie Frozen, Princess Anna and Queen Elsa are in high demand, and guests can be waiting hours to see them (though I have heard Disneyland’s line is shorter than Disney World’s, but who’s to say on any given day?). Talk to a cast member and try and find out when the best time to see a character is or where they will be.
7. Prepare beforehand! If your child is terrified of Santa and the Easter Bunny, he probably won’t be too thrilled about hugging a five foot mouse, no matter how many times he has seen Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or worn images of him on his clothing. You can get a general idea of how your child will react if your child has met other mascots at a local community event.
8. Shopping– Like preparing to meet characters, there are some things you can do beforehand, like shopping. Target, Walmart, Dollar Tree, and the Disney Store are all great places to get Disney merchandise and souvenirs. You can either give your child and family as gifts to announce your trip, a way to entertain them while traveling in the car or on the plane, or you can give them while you’re on your vacation. Odds are your child will be equally happy to have a Minnie Mouse fan or a light up Buzz Lightyear, or even just some simple glowsticks, that might have costed you a fortune at a Disney theme park.
9. Souvenirs– You may want to peruse Disneystore.com in their Disney Parks section to see some of the souvenirs you can find there. In addition to clothing and toys, you can find autograph books, Mickey Mouse glove mitts, and a wide variety of Duffy the Disney Bear items. (Think Flat Stanley Meets Build-a-Bear… ). If you do want to buy souvenirs from one of the theme parks, I recommend doing it at the very end, so you won’t be carrying the souvenirs around.
10. Fastpasses– While the fastpass system is changing (they are moving away from a paper system to a band system at Disney World, and assuming that goes well, it will most likely occur at Disneyland and the other parks as well), fastpasses are worth taking advantage of. First, they are free. Second, they allow you to go on certain rides during a scheduled time (you have an hour time slot to get in line for whatever attraction you have), which depending on the wait, can mean that you have a much shorter wait. Just remember, when it comes to fastpasses, there are some very important tips to remember: They are very strict about the timeslot, so make sure you are in line sometime during that hour and if you are early, they will not let you through, and they have gotten very strict about people returning late and may not be able to use it at all.
Make sure you see how long the “Standby” wait is. It may not be worth it to get a fastpass if the wait time is only ten or fifteen minutes. Finally, since you are only allowed one fastpass at a time, I recommend waiting near the fastpass machine of something else you want to go on, right around the time of your first fastpass being ready to use. For example, if you have a fastpass from 12:00-1:00pm for Space Mountain, and want to go on Splash Mountain next, I would go to Splash Mountain right at 12:00pm. Then you can get a fastpass for that and start waiting for that one to become available while walking back to Space Mountain to ride that.
Those are a few of my favorite Disneyland tips for newbies. What are yours?