By Jennifer Stuart
Our first visit as a family was many years ago now. If I could go back in time there are some things I would change and many that I would want to stay the same. You can learn from our mistakes. Here is our advice for what to do on your first trip to Disneyland.
What to do before you go:
Do your research
If you are reading this then you are on the right track. You don’t need to research and plan every minute of your vacation in order to have a successful trip, but a little advance planning will make your trip go more smoothly. Find out how fastpasses work (our post on Disneyland Fastpasses for Beginners is a good start). Find out what the park hours and entertainment schedules are. Click here to link to the Disneyland website for this information.
Check out the rides
Take a look to find out which rides you may be interested in going on. If you have kids you will want to take a look at the height restrictions. Click here for a link to the information on the Disneyland website. If you have small children, we recommend taking a look at videos of some of the rides on you tube (Search by the name of the ride and POV). There are many classic rides that small children can safely ride but which some children may find scary. I have had many friends take toddlers on Snow White's Scary Adventure and they leave the ride with crying kids. You know your own child best so take a look in advance so you can be prepared.
Download the app
Make dining reservations
This is not Disney World, so, with a few exceptions, you don’t have to make dining reservations in advance.
If you want to do a character meal, however, you will want to book a fair bit ahead to make sure that you can get the date and time you want. This is particularly true in busier times. (Holidays, weekends, spring break, summer). The most desirable times will go first and you don’t want to be doing Goofy’s Kitchen with your child falling asleep at the table - trust me!
If you would like to do a meal at the Blue Bayou or do a show package (i.e. a World of Colour Dining Package) on a particular day you must book ahead. The Blue Bayou is always popular as it has a unique setting INSIDE the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride. A little planning can get you a table here for lunch or dinner. (It will not guarantee you a waterside table however).
If you would like to have a sit down table service dinner in either Disneyland, Disney California Adventure or Downtown Disney, you will want to book at least a couple of days in advance. We had no idea that it would be so hard to get a table on our first trip and were told that it would be a 4 hour wait minimum for every restaurant we walked up to. (We ended up with hot dogs for dinner and booked ahead for the next few nights immediately).
If there is a special event meal you would like to do, obviously, there is limited space and lots of people trying to book it. Examples in this category are - Afternoon Tea at the Disneyland Hotel, Gospel Brunch at House of Blues, and Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter dinner anywhere.
What to do at the parks:
Get a First Visit button
Pick a spot to take picture ... over time!
The classic family shot is by the flower Mickey at the entrance to Disneyland or in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. But there are so many other great places to take photos and start a new tradition. These photos of my daughter are a sample of the ones we have taken over time.
Enjoy an iconic Disneyland treat
So many amazing treats in this category. Everyone has their favourite (Dole Whip!), but other classic Disneyland treats include Churros, Mickey Pretzels, Turkey Legs, Corn Dogs and Mickey Ice- cream Bars.
Enjoy the parks at night
The parks at night are really something special. Disney does a wonderful job of lighting the parks at night so they can feel extra magical. I can still remember my daughter’s eyes the first time we walked through the park at night. She was absolutely spellbound by the colours and lights.
Many rides can feel completely different at night than they do during the day and are worth a second ride. Some rides are even better at night. (Watch for our post on rides that are better at night coming soon.)
Of course there are also the great nighttime shows. World of Colour, Paint the Night Parade, and the Fireworks. Check the entertainment schedule to see which shows are available and at what times. (Fantasmic! is currently not being performed due to the construction around Rivers of America as they build the new Star Wars Land).
Insider Tip: Fireworks can sometimes be cancelled for wind or rain and are not running every night in the slower seasons. Don’t wait until the last night to see these and be disappointed.
Start a pin collection
On our first visit we had no idea what was with all the people wearing lanyards with pins on them. One day we asked a Dad and his daughter. He explained that they started a pin collection for his daughter on her first visit and every time they visit they she gets to pick a new pin. So instead of a plastic toy that will break, she has a wonderful set of pins that have memories attached to them. This man was brilliant! This has been one of our favourite tips that we have ever received. There are SO many things to buy at the parks. It is sometimes hard for kids not to want it all. I am not saying that my kids never ask for anything else or that we never buy them souvenirs but this tip has saved us from many a piece of junk cluttering the house. Every visit our kids look forward to scouting all the new pins to make their careful and much deliberated decision of which pin to get. (Admittedly they sometimes get a second if Grandma has given them pin money). Now they can point to each one and tell you about what it reminds them of from that trip. It saves a lot of room in the suitcases too!
Be a shameless Mickey lover
This is your chance! Be a kid again! Wear Mickey ears. This is the one place where you will not feel silly for doing so no matter how old you are. Go meet Mickey or another favourite character. The first time we went with our own kids I was amazed at the rush of nostalgia I got for my childhood trip to the park. I knew I just had to have my Mickey ears just like I did as a kid and the memories came flooding back the first time I saw Mickey Mouse!
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