by Jenny Mathews, contributing writer 

The genius of Walt Disney’s dream for the “happiest place on earth” remains uncontested. Yet, high expectations plus too little preparation can equal a somewhat-less-than-happy Disneyland vacation. If you’re thinking of taking your family to experience the magic, we have collected helpful tips from local families who have done your homework for you!


Do not try and do it all in one day: Even if you go when the park is the least crowded, it’s nearly impossible to do it all in one day. In fact, if you can, spread it out over several days with other destinations in between (i.e. museums, aquariums or the beach).

Best times of the year to go: Late January through early February, early May, early September and early November. Best times of the week: Tuesday through Thursday. Best time of day: EARLY!
Driving to Disneyland? Avoid traveling through busy areas during rush hour. Also, traffic around Las Vegas over holidays and weekends can mean major delays. On the drive home, be prepared for evening traffic in Utah County. Smart travelers keep water and emergency supplies in the car just in case. There are long stretches with no services.

Where to stay: There are dozens of hotels to choose from within a mile of Disneyland. Some hotel recommendations from local families are the Portofino Inn & Suites Anaheim, Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, Red Lion Hotel Anaheim Resort, Residence Inn Anaheim Maingate, Springhill Suites Marriott Maingate and, our family’s favorite hotel, the Homewood Suites Anaheim. Staying at any of the Disney hotels will be expensive, but may be worth it if you are looking for the full Disney immersion experience.

Gear: Here is a list of items we never enter the park without: baby gear (if applicable), baby wipes, band-aids, hand sanitizer, lip balm, plastic zip bags for items that would be damaged by water, rain ponchos or jackets, snacks, sunscreen and water. Everyone must wear comfortable shoes.

Food: We usually plan on a nice breakfast before we leave and pack enough snacks that we only need to eat one meal at a Disney restaurant. Even though there are water fountains around the park, we always bring lots of water. Your neighbors’ favorite restaurants and snack bars are: Goofy’s Kitchen (Disneyland Hotel) and Ariel’s Grotto (California Adventure) for the character dining experience, Jazz Kitchen, Taqueria at Tortilla Jo’s and the Rainforest Café in Downtown Disney, the French Market, River Belle Terrace, Royal Street Veranda, Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port and Rancho del Zocalo in Disneyland Park. In California Adventure, you will love Flo’s V8 Café and afterward, a soft serve from the Cozy Cone Motel. The “must-try” snacks are corn dogs, turkey legs and Dole whips from the Tiki juice bar.

Worth-the-wait attractions: The best rides with no height restrictions are Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Small World and the Tiki Room in Disneyland Park, according to our readers. In California Adventure, we always take the little ones to Mickey’s Funwheel, Toy Story Mania and Turtle Talk with Crush. Riders 40 inches or taller can enjoy Hyperspace Mountain (formerly Space Mountain), Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’ over California, Splash Mountain, Star Tours and Tower of Terror. The parks offer Fast Passes, which can help you make the most of your time and spend less time in line. If you’re staying back from your group with a small child, you can get a “rider switch pass” and not have to miss out!

Random tidbits

  • Disney Dollars: This is the official currency of Disneyland. You can get it at the bank on Main Street. It works just like cash and helps kids stick to a budget when purchasing memorabilia. Plus, the money features favorite characters.
  • Bringing baby? Be sure and check out the Baby Center offered in both parks. They have quiet and comfortable areas to feed and change your baby.
  • Safety tips: Before we got each of our kids a lanyard with our contact info on a card, we wrote our phone number on their arm with a sharpie! Make sure everyone knows where to meet if they get separated. Cinderella’s castle is easy to find. Our meeting place is always the Sword in the Stone sculpture. Disney employees are trained to take lost children to the Baby Center/First Aid Station.