We did it! We finally made it to the happiest place on earth! If you follow on Insta Stories, you’ll know that we have been planning this trip for two years. We have had to cancel our flights 4 times before we actually made it on the 5th try. They say everything happens for a reason and I can honestly say, it was worth the wait. I’m actually kind of glad our kids were a little older (6, 8, 10) when we finally got there because they were total troopers, we played hard, went on almost every single ride and loved every minute of it. I learned so much on this trip and wanted to share some of my tips for traveling to Disneyland while it’s still fresh!
Since I had 2 years to plan for this trip, I spent a lot of time researching different strategies, schedules, and tips for tackling Disneyland and California Adventure. I’d only been to Disney three other times in my life and each time was just a quick day trip while passing through the area. This was my first time being there for an extended stay and spending multiple days in the park. There is so much information out there, but here are my observations from a “first timer”.
Tips for Traveling to Disneyland
And huge thanks to all of you for all the suggestions and feedback while I was planning our trip! I think like anything, no matter how prepared you are, once you get there you will quickly figure out what works best for your family.
So you want to go to Disney, now what? Disney has changed a lot in the past few years, even since we started planning our trip a few years ago. Currently, you have to purchase Disney tickets online and then make a reservation for the day you want to go. You will need to decide which park you want to start your day in. I highly suggests doing this pretty far in advanced (at least 6 weeks), especially if you are planning on going during a peak time. They do sell out.
Is the Hopper Pass worth it?
YES! I definitely recommend a park hopper pass for a few different reasons. We planned to be in the parks for 3 days and here is how we broke down our trip:
Day 1: Disney all day
Day 2: Start in Disney, went to California Adventure in the afternoon
Day 3: Start in California Adventure and finished up all the rides we didn’t get to, then went back to Disney to check anything else left on our list.
With the park hopper pass you are allowed to switch to the different park anytime after 2pm and you can keep switching back and forth as much as you want.
If you plan on doing the Genie + Lightning Lane Pass (see more below), I would definitely do the park hopper pass so you can take full advantage of it.
Download the Disney App
The Disney App will basically be your guide during your entire trip. You can do pretty much everything through the app, from purchase tickets, enter the park, make dining reservations, check ride times, reserve your Lightning Lane times, see a map of the parks, do mobile orders for food and even check out of stores without having to wait in line to purchase items.
I basically had my phone in my had for most of the trip because I was the “tour guide” and used the app to guide our next move.
It’s for this reason that you will want to make sure you bring a portable charging pack with you to keep your phone charged throughout the day!
Genie + is the new program that Disney just launched in December. It is included in the Disney App so you don’t need to worry about downloading anything extra. In the app there are so many fun features to take advantage of during your time there.
Remember when you used to have to pay every time you wanted those fun photos captured on the scary rides? Or when you’d see the professional photographers throughout the park and want a cute picture of your family? Those are now FREEEEEE. You simply pull up the Disney App, click photos and show your QR code to the photographer and your photos simply appear in your folder. It’s amazing.
Within the Genie + section, you can also set your profile to your top Disney interests (certain rides, events, shows, etc.) and it will give you your own suggested itinerary for the day based on wait times.
Genie + Lightning Lane Pass
Ok. Let’s talk Lightning Lane Pass. Disney used to have what’s called the Fast Pass but recently retired it. I have never used it before because it wasn’t available the last time I went to Disney 9 years ago so I can’t do a true comparison of the two. In December 2021, Disney launched the new version called the Genie + Lightning Lane Pass, it’s an extra $20 per day per person, and it is TOTALLY WORTH IT. It easily saved us 4-5 hours a day from waiting in lines.
Here’s what you need to know:
- You can’t add the Genie + Lightning Lane extra onto your ticket until after you enter the park. Once your tickets have been scanned and you are in a park, you can then go onto the Disney App and add the Genie + Lightning Lane pass to your tickets.
- Not all rides are included in the Lightning Lane pass, but MOST of the big ones are with the exception of Star Wars Rise of the Resistance, Spiderman and Cars Radiator Springs, those you will need to purchase a separate Lightning Lane Pass just for those rides, it’s definitely annoying.
- I found that a lot of the smaller, younger kid rides were not included in the Lightning Lane, so if you are going with smaller kids (under 42″) it might not be worth getting it.
- When you are in the Disney App, you go to the ride you want to go on and reserve a LL time slot. If you pick 9:45am, you have between 9:45am-10:45am to get to that ride and use the pass. So you have some flexibility based on what you are doing in the park which is nice.
- When you get to the front of the ride, there is a separate lane for LL passes, you just scan your LL passes for that ride and head right in. We really lucked out and we were able to walk right onto most rides, we never had to wait in line to use our passes.
- You can only reserve one LL pass at a time, so if you have a LL time slot reserved for Thunder Mountain, you can’t reserve another LL time slot on a different ride until your previous has been scanned.
- Sooo as soon as our LL passes were scanned on a ride, while we were waiting to board the ride, I would hop on the app and schedule the next one so we had one in the queue by the time we got off the ride.
- You can only use the LL pass ONCE per ride per day. So if you use your LL pass on Space Mountain, you can’t use it again on that ride for that day. You can go on the ride again by going in the normal stand-by lane, but you will have to wait with everyone else.
- So here is where you can strategize a little bit. If you have the park hopper pass, you can do all the LL rides in Disney, then hop over to Cal Adventure and do all the LL rides there. Then the next day do all of the rides again or ones you didn’t get to and hop back and forth.
- TIP: If you have a LL pass scheduled for a ride and for some reason the park closes the ride down temporarily (this actually happened quite a bit while were there) and your LL time slot gets cancelled, you are given a “Redemption Pass” that is good for any ride at any time! Meaning, you don’t have to schedule a LL time slot to use this special pass and it doesn’t matter if you’ve already gone on that ride that day, you can just walk right up to the ride you want to go on and walk on. The redemption pass will appear in your Genie + “My Day” tab and you can use them anything in that day. This is a nice feature since you can go on your favorite ride again.
Planning Meals at Disney
Honestly, meals were probably the most challenging part of Disney for us. The kids and I have food allergies which makes things a little more challenging for us, but regardless there aren’t a lot of places for quick sit down breakfasts or grab and go for the whole family.
Short answer, DO NOT DO THEM!!!!! I went into this trip having booked a different character breakfast each morning. Not because I felt like they needed to do the experience every day, but they were almost the only places I could find for breakfast. I knew our kids would want full bellies before we entered the park, a quick bowl of cereal or a little fruit just doesn’t work for us, they are getting older and their growing selves need FOOD. Anyway, I booked the Goofy’s Kitchen Character Breakfast for our first morning, the food was fine, they had tons of nice gluten free options our kids which was great, but when we got the bill we were both SHOCKED. To be fully transparent, it cost $260 (thats with tax and tip) for the five of use to eat at the buffet 3 adults (kids over 9 count as adult), and 2 kids. Holy cow, I cancelled the other two breakfasts on the spot.
I made sure to take to-go cups of all the food I could fit to make me feel better about the price. I didn’t help.
The next morning we tried to do fruit cups from the coffee shop and quick breakfast bars, and planned on doing an early lunch. But that also didn’t work well. If there was one thing I feel like Disney is lacking is good grab and go breakfast places that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
Mobile Order Around the Park
You can place mobile orders for a lot of the food stands and restaurants throughout the parks. Dole whip is a personal favorite, and it was so easy to just place an order through the Disney App, and they give you a time slot to pick it up. Super easy.
Are reservations needed?
I had heard that it is super hard to get into restaurants in Downtown Disney and in the parks, wait times can be up to 2 hours if you try and walk right in. I had made dinner reservations ahead of time to be prepared.
I’m not sure if it was just the time of year we went, or if it was a lot less crowded than normal but this was not the case when we went. We could walk right into restaurants, no wait times and I ended up canceling some of our reservations because we would rather just hang out in the parks. One night we ended up just powering through and then ordering Door Dash to our hotel once we got back for a late dinner.
Ok! That covers logistics, now let’s talk about all the fun!
Quick Tips for Disneyland
Favorite Disney Rides
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance
- Buzz Lightyear
- Thunder Mountain
- Indiana Jones
- Space Mountain (although it’s way jerkier than I remember!)
- Fireworks happen at 9pm Friday-Sunday. We tried to watch them on main street on Sunday night, we waited for about 30 minutes, they were delayed twice, so we eventually left. They ended up going off while we were walking through the parking lot. Such a bummer! We didn’t realize they only happened on the weekend, we wish we would have stayed a little longer!
Quick Tips for California Adventure
Favorite California Adventure Rides
- Incredicoaster – best ride EVER!
- Guardian of the Galaxy Mission
- Cars Radiator Springs (you have to ride it at night!)
- Grizzly River Run
Most overrated ride: Spiderman. Honestly, if you can get right on the ride it’s a cool virtual reality ride. But it’s not worth waiting in line for 60+ minutes or doing the extra LL pass. It was super short and we all left a little disappointed.
Also, you HAVE to go tour around Cars Land at night! It feels like a completely different experience. The whole little town is lit up, the track looks gorgeous and honestly it was just so pretty. This is a must!
Our Disney Outfits
If I’m being totally honest, 9 years ago I didn’t understand why people would dress up for Disney or wear ears. I always told myself, “Oh I’ll never do that”… well here I am! After 2 years of planning this trip and seeing how excited WE ALL WERE. I went all in and matching outfits for our family. The first day we were all matching, the other days we all just kinda coordinated. Here is what I picked out:
- Mickey Vintage Inspired Shirts
- Minnie Mouse Ears
- Minnie Mouse T-Shirt
- Chunky Black Sweater
- Brown Mickey and Mini Crew Neck Sweatshirt
- Purse Backpack
- Toddler Mickey Mouse Baseball Hat
- Mickey Mouse Youth Baseball Hat
- Tie Dye Mickey Mouse Shirt
- Sequin Disney Ears with Castle
- Girls Cropped Magical Hoodie
- Star Wars Vintage Inspired T-Shirts
- Star Wars Hooded Sweatshirt