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Disneyland Planning Tips

Updated on August 11, 2014

When to Go

Some families may not be able to avoid busy seasons. If you are a family with young children, who are not in school, it is best to avoid the crowds. The best times are September-November and January-April. Avoid school vacations. Not only are flights three times more expensive, but lodging, and local attractions are more expensive.

It all Started with a Mouse


Where to Stay

Unlike Disneyland's counterpart, Disney World, the California Themepark is very close to the real world. Instead of staying in a Disney Resort (usually $250-$350 a night), stay at a close by hotel. There are a number of decent hotels with in a few miles and range from under $100 to $180. Quite a savings if you are staying for a long period of time. Some nearby hotels offer shuttles to Disneyland. Some hotels are also close enough to walk to the gate. Shop around, it may save you a ton of money staying off campus.

Where to Park
Downtown Disney: It is free to park here, but you can only park for a couple hours at a time. So if you don't mind getting out and moving your car every now and then, this is an option for those on a tight budget.

Parking Lot $17: Lots of parking available, however it takes a longer time getting in and out of it, the buses don't fit as many people.

Parking Garage $17: I think this is the better option personally. It is easier to get into, there isn't all the lights and traffic of the city. There is also shaded parking if you go on a lower level. The trams are faster than the buses, and it is faster to get back to your car.

Tip #1: The ticket they give you at parking is very handy. Take a pen and circle where your car is on the paper. This makes for less headache when you are trying to find your car later.

Tip #2: If you are going to leave the park and come back, save your receipt. This gets you free entrance back into either parking area.

Tip #3: You can also take a picture of the sign where your car is. I do suggest deleting when the day is over, so you don't use an old picture to find your car.

Disneyland Parking

show route and directions
A markerMickey and Friends Parking -
Mickey and Friends Parking Structure, 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA
get directions

Parking Garage: $17 a day

B markerDowntown Disney CA -
Downtown Disney, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA
get directions

Downtown Disney Lot: Free, but only available for a couple hours at a time.

C markerDisneyland Resort Toy Story -
Disneyland Resort Toy Story Parking Lot, 1854 South Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA
get directions

The furthest away from Disneyland.

Disneyland Railroad


What time of day is best?

If you want to make it an all day affair, that's fine, but here is a great way to have a great time with a little less stress. In our experience arrive an hour before opening. Get to the gate right when it opens. It is slowest from opening to around noon. If you have small children, or need a breather for lunch, head out for a break. Arrive back to the park around five (give yourself time to get back into the park). It is often, that after the parades in both parks, it clears out. Between 5-8 it is relatively slow, to Disneyland standards. Most people are exhausted and went back, or are eating dinner.

Getting into the park

From experience, arrive an hour before opening to park. This might seem extreme to some, but it is worth it. Here are the steps you have to take to get to the park gate, so an hour is a good amount of time.

1. It takes 10-15 minutes to park.
2. You then have to gather your gear and walk to the tram or buses (depending which lot you parked in).
3. Wait in line for bus/tram
4. Ride Bus/Tram
5. Go through bag checks
6. Put things in lockers/buy tickets if you haven't already
7. Go through ticket checkpoint.

This is all before you enter the actual park. Give plenty of time, you don't want all this to be cutting into the precious time at the park. However, the earlier you arrive, the faster it is. The worst is getting caught in the crowd and getting grumpy.

Disney 2011

What to eat

If you are doing a full day at Disney, food can get expensive! For a family of four it can cost $200 a day, that's being modest. With drinks, snacks, meals, it can get very expensive. Here are some tips on dining and how to cut cost.

1. Bring a water bottle: I've said this before, but it is best to stay hydrated. This can save you an easy $20 a day. I suggest a Brita one, or one with a filter.
2. Pack snacks and a lunch. Keep them in a locker if you don't want to lug them around. You are allowed to bring food and drinks into the park, just not hard coolers. DON'T BRING GLASS CONTAINERS. I suggest small snacks, they are easy to carry and aren't too heavy on the stomach. As long as you aren't bringing in a large KFC bucket or a large cooler on wheels they are okay about it. They have picnic areas for those who eat their own food. They do suggest having your food in lockers.
3. Avoid Character Dining: I know this is a controversial thing, but most times you are paying for the 30 seconds you will get with the characters. The food is okay, but is not worth the price in my opinion. I'd rather meet the characters on the street or in the park themselves, better backgrounds for pictures usually.
4. Order from the kids menu. Adults are allowed to order from the kids menu. There are no restrictions on this. I don't like big meals when I'm in the sun, so this is a good option if you want to go out to eat. They are half the price, and in my opinion, has plenty of food.
Example: Flo's V8 Cafe in California Adventures, Kids meal includes: Roast Beef, fruit, vegetables, and either a small milk or Dasani water. All for $6.99
5. If you forgot your snacks or don't want to walk back to your locker food vendors in children areas (Toon Town or Bug Land), they sell snack packs for $6-$8.95. They vary but are great for children.
6. If you want a nice dinner in the park I suggest making reservations before you arrive. They are easy to do online. You can even put in if you are celebrating anything or special dietary needs. I suggest when you arrive to politely mention this again, they sometimes forget.
7. Where you want to eat is up to you and your budget. We personally like the cafe/diners because they are cheaper and you don't have to tip the quick service places. All the menus are online, I suggest going through them and find what ones are in your budget. This way if you want to have a spontaneous dining experience, you know where to go.
8. If you are staying close by and are on a tight budget you can always eat at your hotel/resort. Going outside the park for an hour to eat dinner could save you an easy $50-$100.

Fantasmic: Mickey Mouse


Pack a Bag and lock it up.

Bringing a lunch or bag of essentials is a great idea, I know some say to just go back to the car! But that is taking a lot of time going all the way back to the car. Other like to have their bag with them. (With children that may be a better idea, if you have a stroller) However, my husband and I don't like bringing a heavy bag with us. It can be troublesome for rides, and gets really hot on your back. Here are some of my personal tips about bringing a bag. Again, this is if you did not have a stroller.

What size bag: Bring a smallish backpack. I'd say no bigger than a breadbox. You want it to fit into a locker.

About the lockers: They range from $7-$15. They are good for the whole day. You can open and close them as many times as you need, just don't forget your code or locker #! You can find them on the outer-edge of the courtyard between the two parks. Currently the lockers in Disneyland Park are closed, so be sure to use them before you enter. California Adventure Park has them right when you enter.

What to bring:
1. Food for the day. You can save hundreds of $ by bringing your own food. I'll go into detail in a later section.
2. Sunscreen and chap-stick with SPF
3. Towel-I suggest a microfiber towel, they are compact and very absorbent. We have a large one, and it dries both my husband and I, with out it feeling drenched. These are good for wiping off sweat, or water from a ride. An Example
4. Extra T-Shirt, Socks, Undies: If you are making this a full day affair, this could be a great refresher. If you have a sweaty man, having a fresh shirt might make him feel a whole lot better. If you went on the lovely Grizzly River Run, you will get drenched. It could ruin your day having cranky and wet members of your family. On a hot day it might not be so bad, but it is good to have extras.
5. Deodorant-Its always nice to freshen up!

What is not allowed: No glass containers, weapons, or alcohol. For those wanting to get drunk with their knife collection, I'm going to have to say sorry, please leave these at home.

Want Disney Gear?

Buy your Disney gear beforehand. You can often find great deals and at least 50% off what you pay in the parks. If you make a small kit for each child with ears, shirt, lanyard, and special toy, and glow-sticks give it to them when you wake up your first day at the park. This will make it easier to say no to them later.

If you have a little girl: Princess costumes on amazon are around $20-$40. Costumes in the parks can be around $50-80.

If you have a little boy: Pirate or Marvel costumes are also way cheaper on Amazon. Often boys are forgotten. Make them feel special too.


What to wear and bring into the park

The following are items you should have on your body and things to have in a small crossover bag/purse. Again, small purse, you don't want to lug around a heavy bag, these are just the few essentials.

1. Hat-It is sunny in California and you don't want your pictures of you squinting, protect your face. If you are one to want ears on, I suggest a set that has the hat built in.

2. Sunglasses

3. Comfortable, loose clothes-Our first day I wore a pair of denim shorts that were tight on the legs, worst idea. Wear loose, breezy clothes that are comfy. It is a long day to be stuck in them. I would stay away from pants, they are too hot. But that is my opinion.

4. Watch-Your phone may die.

5. Comfortable Shoes: I suggest a comfy pair of sandals. Sneakers are good, but if they get wet or sweaty can be a drag. They also make you hot.

6. Lanyard with card holder: You can get these really cheap on amazon. They are great to keep your ticket, fast passes, id's and credit card handy.

7. Small tub of sunscreen: While waiting in line, use the small tube to go over faces and shoulders.

8. Brita water bottle: A bottle of water can cost almost $4! Save money on drinks by filling these up. There are fountains everywhere. This $10 bottle can pay for itself in four refills. A great investment. You can even ask at some of the cafes to fill it with ice for you. (Be friendly about this and they are usually very willing). If you don't want to invest in a new water bottle, get something like Mio, or crystal light packets. The water does not taste the best.

9. Small bottle with Spritzer: You can get these at the dollar store. They sell them with the fan attached at Disney for $20. (they sell them on Amazon for $12) But just a couple of spritzes from a bottle can make you cool down quickly. There aren't a lot of fans or misters in the lines, this is a cheap investment, to keep you cool.

Some Optional Items
*Compact Umbrella: Good for the occasional rain and for the sun. There is not a lot of shade in some lines, so this could save you from burns and sweat!

*Small First Aid Kit: Bandaids, Blister pads, aspirin, tissues.

*Pen and autograph book: We personally like to purchase a stack of Disney postcards and use them for autographs. We have a photo-album where we put them all.

Tip: I suggest bright colors which are easy to point out in a crowd. I also suggest taking a picture of your children at the start of each day. This way if they do get lost, you have a picture right away of what they look like and what they are wearing.

Disney's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad


Additional Things to Consider

1. If you are only doing one park, research and find out which you'd like to go to. Each family is different.

2. Check the weather

3. Plan for special events in the park. They are sometimes more money but a lot of times well worth it. A lot of the time it is less expensive if you purchase in advance for these.

4. Get the line wait app on your phone. There are multiple out there, are very helpful, and most of them are free. These also tell you what rides or attractions are closed for the day.

5. Don't forget to notify your bank/credit card company you are traveling!

6. Research and plan what is right for your family, not necessarily what tip people say.

7. Even though it is good to have a plan, however, be prepared for it to go down the drain. I will go into more detail in my other post.

8. Have print outs of all reservations. Even if it is in your email, it is best to have a second copy.

9. Ask each person the top three things they want to do. This is best if it is busy and you may not be able to squeeze in everything.

10. Have patience and have fun.

Disneyland Fireworks and Castle


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Disney PhotoPass Service: Through out the park you will see cast members with tan or black vests on. They have nice cameras and have prime locations. They will give you a PhotoPass card, this is good for your whole party. It is good to at least have them take the pictures. Having them take them is free, and I'll mention down below why it is good to have them take the pictures. If you give your PhotoPass card to attendants to purchase attraction pictures. They can add the ride photo to your pass. (Select Rides) Once you arrive home, you can log in and look at all the pictures. You have 30 days to order. They cost $10 a picture, sometimes they do have specials.

Disney PhotoPass Plus: This is a great option if you want to buy a lot of pictures. For $99 (In Park Price), you get a CD with all of your pictures. I believe it is up to 500 pictures. They also give you a lanyard and CD with 400 stock photos. You also get the digital downloads.

Tip: Purchase the PhotoPass Plus in advance, it goes down to $69. Must purchase a minimum of 14 days in advance.

From Your Own Camera:
To each there own, but I suggest a small digital camera. Some things I suggest.
1. Bring extra batteries
2. Make sure you have an extra memory card.
3. Store your camera in a case. Mine fits into a small soap dish I got at the dollar store. This makes it water proof for rides or rain.

From your Phone:
Often cameras on your phone, are better than the average cheap digital camera. If you want to use your phone here are some things to keep in mind.
1. However, if your phone allows, purchase a memory card for your phone. I have an android and for an extra $25 I was able to get an extra 32gb of memory. It also includes the adapter so you can plug it into a booth at Wal-Mart or into your computer. Nothing is worse than having to decide to delete pictures because you don't have the room.
2. Your battery dies faster when using your phone's camera or playing games while in a queue. I suggest a backup battery. They are very portable and very affordable. My favorite is the Levin Solstar Solar Panel Charger. It is solar, and you wont run out of power. It is on a keychain, which you can attach to your lanyard. It fits most androids and iphones. Recharges your battery so fast, and you don't have to be attached to a wall.

Bringing a big expensive camera may be the wrong decision.

1. They are big, and you want to carry as little on you as possible.
2. You are taking a big risk when having them on rides and getting damaged.

Tip: Be polite while taking pictures. If the ride or attraction says don't use the flash, don't. It often ruins the ride for others.
Tip: PhotoPass Photographers will take pictures using your camera for free. It is best to have them take theirs, and yours. You will get different results on both.


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