Disneyland Tips From a Local

*** UPDATED 5/8/14 – One of the things I get asked about almost as much as photography is Disneyland.  We are at Disneyland a lot.  And we do our best to get our moneys worth out of our annual passes.  I was born and raised in Anaheim and I’ve had an annual pass to Disneyland since junior high (remember when they were $99 with no blackout dates?).  We would hang out at Tomorrowland Terrace on the weekends and always hope we would see No Doubt perform.  Sadly, we never did!

I don’t have much insight from a tourist perspective, but here are a few tips that might be helpful from a local’s perspective:

–  If you are going to take the tram in you will need to fold up your stroller (which is a pain).  However, the first and last cars have rows that are wide enough to where you don’t have to fold up the stroller.  You have to take your kid out, but at least you can keep it loaded up with all of your gear.  I usually opt to not take the tram because I hate unloading the stroller and it’s hard to do with two kids if I go by myself.  If you go past the tram pickup and cross West St there is a path to walk behind Downtown Disney and into the park.  Or, if you are going to be there for less than three hours you can park in Downtown Disney.  But, you didn’t hear that from me since there is no theme park parking allowed in Downtown Disney 🙂

–  We love to take the monorail into the park.  One of Brayden’s favorite things to do is ride in the front of the monorail.  You have to ask one of the employees to let you in and you might have to wait until there is room.  Also, you can’t sit in the front if it is over 85 degrees.  There are no windows in the front (or back) so they close it on hot days since there is no air conditioning in the monorails.

–  Another reason I like to take the monorail in is so you can avoid the crowds at the front gate.  If you go on a weekend you can get back to Toon Town faster and have the opportunity to see many characters with no wait.  On Sunday morning we saw Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy all in 15 minutes. If you go to the characters at the front of the park you will wait at least 15 minutes to see one character.

–  My favorite thing about Disneyland since having kids is the Baby Care Center.  This is a hidden gem that a lot of locals don’t even know about.  The Baby Care Center is located at the end of Main Street on the right (past the Corn Dog Cart).  They have comfy chairs to nurse (or bottle feed) in, CLEAN changing tables, LITTLE POTTIES that are perfect for kids who are potty training, and nice little old ladies who are always so willing to help.  You can also purchase diapers, formula, pacifiers, etc.  They have microwaves and high chairs.  There is apparently a Baby Care Center in California Adventure as well although I’ve never been there (the website lists it as being by the Pacific Wharf).

–  When Brayden was two or three he was obsessed with the parades.  You need to reserve your spot early for parades, but it was hard to have him wait there for an hour.  I always try to bring a large blanket and spread it out on the curb.  Chuck would take Brayden on rides and come back at the last minute.  The blanket helped alleviate people asking if the spot was taken over and over!

–  A fun (and free) souvenir are special occasion buttons.  If it’s your birthday or fist time to Disneyland be sure to stop by guest services to grab a button.  Then you will feel really special when everyone wishes you a happy birthday!

–  Parent swap is essential when you go to Disneyland with a baby.  Brayden is still scared of a lot of the rides that Chuck or I actually care to go on.  But, this does come in handy from time to time (like in the new Cars Land where the lines are very long!).  Here’s how it works:  Before you get in line ask the cast member at the front of the line for a parent swap ticket.  One parent waits in line with the older child while the other waits with the younger child.   After they are done riding, the parents swap and enter through the exit or Fast Pass line.  The older kid only has to wait in line once and can ride twice!  The pass can be used at anytime during that same day and can also be used if you have a Fast Pass.

–  Take advantage of the rides that have a single rider line.  Brayden refuses to go on any fast rides, but Chuck and I were still able to ride the Radiator Springs Racers by going in the single rider line.  Everyone else waited an hour and we waited 5 minutes!

–  We try to go to Disneyland when there are no crowds (we very rarely go on weekends) and the longest lines we wait in are 20 minutes.  But, when we do I also bring the Ergo to carry Kennedy (when she was younger than two).  She wouldn’t last in line more than 5 minutes without it!

–  If you happen to go to Disneyland without kids, my new favorite adult spot is Cove Bar right behind California Adventure.  I didn’t even know this place existed until recently (goes to show you that I am always there with kids!).  It is right behind Ariel’s Grotto and it’s a good spot to grab a drink and appetizer.  There are great views and people watching.

–  On special occasions we love to go to Goofy’s Kitchen.  Goofy’s Kitchen is in the Disneyland Hotel and it’s not cheap.  But, you get one on one time with several characters.  If you have an annual pass you do get a discount there (as you do at most other restaurants and shops in the park).

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–  Do you have a little girl who loves princesses?  Make the Princess Faire (to the left of the castle) your first stop in the morning.  They don’t open it right away, so you will still wait 20 minutes before the line starts moving.  But, if you go later in the day the girls who book the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Makeover Castle Package (for $195) will go to the front of the line.  Which makes an already long line longer.  First thing in the morning the makeovers are just getting started so you won’t have anyone cutting ahead of you.

–  Speaking of princesses, Belle and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider make appearances outsides of the Princess Faire a few times a day.  Ask a cast member what time they will be there so you know when to line up.  Those lines are always shorter than waiting to see the three princesses in the Princess Faire.

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–  A lot of people see my pictures and wonder how I always know to go on days when it’s not very crowded.  Sadly, Disneyland is always crowded now.  You just have to know the good photography spots.  Instead of photographing your kids right in front of the castle go to one of the sides.  There are out of the way spots where you can make it look like you are the only one at the park!

–  I associate shows at theme parks as being a bit cheesy.  However, I am always surprised at how good Disney shows are.  Yes, Fantasmic and World of Color are obviously awesome.  But did you know that the Aladdin show in California Adventure is really good?  And the Rapunzel and Beauty and the Beast shows in Fantasy Faire are really, really funny.  We also love Mickey and the Magical Map (although it hasn’t been playing the last few times we were there).  And the shows are always a great excuse to get out of the heat for a bit.

Those are my Disneyland tips!  If you have any I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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  1. Marisa David says

    What! Where was this last week??? I’ll use the for next time….if I’m brave enough to go again.

  2. Mallory says

    This post was perfect timing! I lived in Whittier until I was 9 and then moved to Oregon. We are bringing our daughter down for her first visit to Disneyland and although I remember some things…I love any extra tips since it has changed so much. I miss living down there…
    Mallory´s last blog post ..Project 52:42 | Rejuvenation

  3. Mallory says

    Oh I just thought of a question for you! Regarding your camera…do you bring your dSLR to Disneyland? How do you keep it safe during rides, etc? I know I’ll be using my iPhone camera a lot, but I don’t want to miss out on all of those great photo ops with my big camera 🙂

  4. GayleV says

    Great post, Drew! Your tips were so helpful and definitely appreciated last year when my family spent time there!! ♥
    GayleV´s last blog post ..Photo Recipe: Backlighting

  5. DebZorn says

    I love this picture of Brayden. It just shouts, “happy.” Thanks for sharing

  6. Lisa says

    I’m so excited, we’ll be there in March! Thanks for the tips. Which lens do you take with you? Thanks!