How To Avoid Going Goofy At Disneyland

I just returned from a spontaneous weekend trip to Disneyland with my husband and two daughters, ages 11 months and 3½ years. Most of my friends thought we were crazy and, in hindsight, we may have been! 


My oldest daughter had a great time touring Disneyland and she’ll always remember meeting Mickey and Minnie Mouse. However, I learned a lot from this trip. The next time we make a visit to the “happiest place on earth,” I’ll spend more time planning and remember the lessons learned on this trip. Here are some of my Disneyland tips from this experience.

1. Character Dining
Make the most of your time at the park and skip the “Meet and Greet” lines for Disney characters. Waiting in the “Meet and Greet” lines doesn’t always guarantee you’ll meet your character of choice. Characters take breaks at random times and the line will close until the Character returns or they may switch midway through the line.

Opt instead for Character Dining, where your child is guaranteed to get an up-close encounter with their favorite Character. You’ll find these opportunities at:

  • Disneyland Park - Plaza Inn Disney California Adventure - Ariel’s Disney Princess Celebration. * Ariel hosts a Princess celebration at Ariel’s Grotto. If you’re lucky, she may be joined by Cinderella, Snow White, Belle and Sleeping Beauty.
  • Disneyland Hotel - Goofy’s Kitchen. This buffet offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with Goofy and his friends.
  • Grand Californian - Storytellers Breakfast. Buffet style breakfast featuring Chip & Dale and Pluto.
  • Paradise Pier Hotel - PCH Grill Breakfast. Enjoy breakfast with Mickey and Friends.

*Park admission required

Reservations are highly recommended and can be obtained by calling Disney Dining (714-781-DINE).

2. Best Time to Go
If you visit Disneyland during a school holiday or three-day weekend, you’ll find the crowds overwhelming and the lines for rides may be hours long. Remember Spring Break will vary according to state and school district, starting as early as the beginning of March and finishing at the end of April.

The summer months are extremely busy, but the park is open longer and most of the rides and attractions will also be open. Disneyland’s Fantasmic! and the World of Color at Disney’s California Adventure occur every night.

January and February are the least busy months at Disneyland -- especially on weekdays -- but the park is open fewer hours. California’s rainy season overlaps these months and can contribute to rides closing due to weather. During this time, the park is also taking down holiday decorations and making attraction repairs, so don’t expect everything to be open.

October may be the best time to avoid crowds at Disneyland as most children are back in school and holiday decorations aren’t up yet. There’s an unofficial event in early October called “Gay Day” that brings thousands of visitors to the park. You may want to find out when this is scheduled to avoid super-sized crowds.

If you absolutely must go during a school holiday or break, remember Sundays are usually less busy than Saturday, except for weekends when a holiday falls on a Monday, such as Memorial Day or Labor Day. A weekday will be less busy than a weekend any time of the year, but parades and fireworks are scheduled less frequently. Rides and attractions may also be closed for repairs.

Check out the Best Time to Go Guide for more advice on the best times to travel.

3. Fast Pass and Rider Swap TipsDisneyland Entrance
Every Disneyland ticket comes with the opportunity to receive Fast Passes for specified rides. A Fast Pass will give you a return-time window so you can skip the standby line and head to the front. If used correctly, Fast Passes allow you to maximize your time at the park.

When you receive a Fast Pass, you’ll be given a time frame when you can return to the ride. You can’t get another Fast Pass until the time listed on your Fast Pass ticket. Before you return to the ride with your pass, be sure to grab another ride’s Fast Pass so you’re time spent in line for the first ride eats up some of the time waiting for the second ride.

Fast Pass kiosks for Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure don’t communicate with each other. That means that you can get a Fast Pass at Disneyland, then head over to Disney’s California Adventure and get a pass at an attraction there without having to wait until the time listed on your first Fast Pass.

There are also three rides that distribute Fast Passes without a time limitation as to when you can receive your next Fast Pass. These rides are Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Haunted Mansion (Holiday Version) and Grizzly River Run.

If you’re children don’t meet a ride’s height requirement, only one adult needs a Fast Pass for the ride and the other adult can use Rider Swap. Use the other adult’s Disney ticket to get a Fast Pass for the next ride. This allows you to ride two Fast Pass rides during the wait time for your next Fast Pass.

When using Fast Pass with Rider Swap, the first adult enters the Fast Pass line for the ride. Tell the Cast Member at the entrance you want to do Rider Swap with the other adult. The Cast Member will then give the first rider a Rider Swap ticket. After the rider has completed the ride, swap the kids and the next rider will take the Rider Swap ticket and head to the Fast Pass lane with the Rider Swap ticket.

Rider Swap is available at any ride, as long as you tell the Cast Member at the front you’ll be using Rider Swap. The Cast Member will direct the second rider to the Rider Swap waiting area and tell the adult when and where to board the ride.

Remember, you can use your Fast Pass ticket even if it’s past your return-window time. Cast Members are instructed that riders may use the Fast Pass even if the return time has expired.

4. Cheap Tickets
Discounts on Disneyland tickets are hard to find. If you purchase your tickets online in advance, you can save a couple dollars through travel sites like Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz and Disneyland.com.

If you’re willing to take a risk, here are a couple unofficial ways save money on tickets.

CAST MEMBERS
Befriend a cast member! Cast members receive free park tickets for friends and family every day they work. If you don’t know a cast member, you can approach one who’s going to work that day and ask for one of their free park tickets. Be sure to give them a nice tip for the ticket. Approach the Cast Member out of sight of the gates and their managers. It’s frowned upon for Cast Members to share their tickets with strangers, but some will be willing to give up their free tickets for a cash tip.

OTHER PATRONS
A little known tip is that you can upgrade a ticket to a more expensive ticket for the price difference. For example, a one-day Park Hopper ticket can be upgraded before the end of the day to a two-day Park Hopper ticket for the price difference of $55 to $60. That’s a savings of over $36! To take advantage of this system, approach a guest who is leaving the park and ask for their ticket. (Say that it’s for a souvenir and you’re trying to collect all the Disney Characters on the tickets). Look for the most expensive ticket without a signature (a signature makes it impossible for anyone else to use the ticket) and use it to upgrade at the ticket window. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a six-day Park Hopper ticket and upgrade it to a season pass for half the cost of a season pass. That means you could get a season pass for less than the cost of a two-day Park Hopper ticket!

EBAY
It can be risky to buy on eBay, since you’re not guaranteed the ticket will be valid. However, you can find great deals if you’re willing to take a risk.

5. Time to RideDisneyland Entrance
Research has shown more people will head to the right side first when entering the park, so go to the left side of the park in the morning. Some people would say the kid rides at Toon Town and Fantasyland are less busy in the morning, however, I found those rides are more busy in the morning and less busy at night.

I also found the rides with height restrictions, like Space Mountain and the Matterhorn, had smaller lines first thing in the morning. I’d suggest you ride all the popular rides with height restrictions first thing in the morning and save the kid rides for later at night, when all the other kids are sleeping in their strollers.

Another good time to ride is during parades and firework shows. Be aware, however, that some areas of the park and some rides will close during those times. When rides are closed, you can wait at the entrance of the ride and be first in line when it opens again.

Check to see if your hotel offers extended Disney hours. If they do, it gives you access into the park one hour before it’s open to the general public. If you’re able, that’s the time to hit all the popular rides.

6. Strollers
Bring a stroller if your kid’s little legs can’t manage an entire day. Tie a brightly colored ribbon to the stroller so you can locate it easier in the sea of strollers. In permanent marker or on a sticker, mark it with your name and phone number in a place only you would know. If your stroller gets stolen, you’ll then be able to identify it as yours.

Don’t lock your stroller to a rail in the park. Cast Members will cut the lock if they need to move it for a parade route or special event. Don’t leave your stroller in one spot for the entire day and expect it to still be there at the end of the day. Cast Members will move strollers as needed and it could wind up in a completely different area of the park. Instead, take your stroller with you to each area of the park and leave it near the entrance of that area while you’re on the rides. Then take it to the next area and park it near the entrance.

A front carrier is a must if you have an infant with you, especially if you plan on riding the rides with no height limitations. Your infant can sleep in the carrier without much disruption while you wait in lines and ride the rides. If you use a back carrier, the ride operator will ask you to either take your baby out of the carrier or switch it from back to front.

7. Baby Care Centers
Know where the Baby Care Centers are located if you’re visiting Disneyland with an infant. At Disneyland, it’s located at the end of Main Street, next to First Aid. At Disney California Adventure, you’ll find it next to the Mission Tortilla Factory in the Pacific Wharf.

At the Baby Care Centers, you’ll find rocking chairs, rooms for nursing, filtered water for making formula, changing tables, high chairs, and a room for the little ones to get away from the crowds and relax. There’s also a kiosk that sells diaper-changing kits and such basic baby-care items as food and formula.

Downtown Disney District doesn’t have a Baby Care Center, but all restrooms on Disney property have a changing table.

8. Saving on Food
Even though there are plenty of food kiosks at Disney, you’ll find a lot of such typical fair foods as burgers and fried foods are overpriced. To save on food and your health, pack your own food in a cooler and store it in a locker. Great substitutes include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids with oranges or apples and a healthy snack. Frozen yogurt cups also provide a refreshing treat in warmer weather.

If you’re traveling from out of town, note there’s a Target on the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Ave., less than a mile away from Disneyland. Here you’ll find a small grocery section that includes baby and kid care items. Further east on Chapman Ave. is Vons Grocery, where you can stock up on food for your stay. Be sure your hotel has a mini fridge if you plan on storing cold food items during your stay.

9. Discount Disney Gift Cards
Before your trip to Disneyland, purchase discount Disney gift cards on GiftCardGranny.com and save up to 10 percent on all your Disney purchases. Disney gift cards can be used at Disneyland’s ticket counters, stores, restaurants and food stands. Remember, some gift cards can be used at the Disney Store, as well.

If you’re traveling with older children, give them a discount gift card to use in place of cash when they’re touring the park on their own. This cuts down on the amount of change they’ll carry in their pockets by the end of the day.

10. Save on Pictures
There are many Disney photographers throughout the park who’ll take pictures and give you a Photo Pass, which allows you to view your pictures online the end of your trip. You should know prints of these photos start at $10 each and go as high as $30. To save money, use the Photo Pass to view your photos, then download a screenshot. Screenshots won’t provide the same high quality, but it’s a free way to save these photos on to your computer.

On the Buzz Lightyear ride, you can email yourself a free photo from the ride. All other ride photos will cost you some cash.

11. Safety First
Always keep safety in mind while visiting Disneyland, especially if you’re with children.

  • Measure your child’s height before you go so you’ll know which rides your child can ride.
  • For younger children, make sure your phone number is somewhere on their person, in case they get lost. Use a sticker on the back of the shirt to write your phone number, use marker to write your number on their arm, or purchase an engraved pet tag and create a necklace for your little one to wear. My daughter wore a heart shaped pet tag that said “If Lost Call: xxx-xxx-xxxx.”
  • Note the locations of the First Aid stations and Lost Children’s areas at both parks.
  • Know where the closest hospital and urgent care are, in case of a medical incident. There are two hospitals close to Disneyland: the University of California Irvine Medical Center on W. Chapman Ave., and Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center on Harbor Boulevard.
  • Know your hotel’s name, address and your room number, in case you need to call 911 from your hotel. This information will help emergency responders get to you quickly.
  • To avoid getting sick during your trip, plan on letting your younger children take naps and get a good night’s sleep. Even though you may want to make the most of that expensive Disneyland ticket, getting some sleep will make your trip more enjoyable for everyone and keep illnesses at bay.
  • Bring medication with you. Medicine like Benedryl, Tylenol, and Pepto Bismol are good to have on hand in case you or your child fall ill. Vitamin supplements, such as vitamin C and vitamin D3, may also be helpful to take before and during your trip to ward off the many germs roaming around in Disneyland crowds. Also remember to bring any prescriptions with you.
  • Visiting Disneyland can be a child’s favorite memory, but a parent’s worst nightmare. I hope these tips will help you have a wonderful and memorable time at the “happiest place on earth.

About Maisie Knowles:
Maisie Knowles is the founder of BestBabyStuff.com, a website reviewing only the best baby products, and co-founder of FreeShipping.org.

Maisie earned a B.A. in Communications from the University of Colorado in 2003. She currently spends most of her time at home with her two young girls and continues to be involved in business operations for Kinoli Inc. in Fort Collins, Colo.

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