We surprised the boys with a trip to Disneyland to celebrate Charlie’s 10th birthday: so much FUN! Here are our highlights and top tips and tricks for getting the most out of your Magic Kingdom vacation. It’s time for my Disneyland Guide!
We had booked a trip to Disneyland California in 2020, but like the rest of the world, it was cancelled due to Covid. Since we needed to use up our credit we decided to jump at the chance to schedule a family vacation to Disneyland, and even got to have our friends Victoria and Max join us (note: this was written in April 2022). We learned a few things along the way: here are my top recommendations and tips to maximize your magical Disney experience!
Things to do Before you go to Disneyland
- Download the Disneyland app well in advance. You will need this!
- Purchase your tickets and reserve a theme park for each day. Don’t wait, these fill up quickly and there are limited spaces. It seemed to me that California Adventure filled up quicker than Disneyland.
- Make dinner reservations (through the app), if eating in the park. These also fill up fast.
- Familiarize yourself with the app: there is a lot going on when you walk through those gates! My Genie Day will show you everything you have booked, and the Tip Board will show you a list of all the rides and Lightning Lanes with the wait times. The interactive map is incredible.
Which Airport to Fly into for Disneyland?
While you can fly into either LAX or SNA (John Wayne), we were so happy we chose John Wayne in Orange County. During low traffic times it took us 20 minutes (we used an Uber); it can be double during rush hour. It is a smaller airport that is easy to navigate: highly recommend. We flew with Alaska Airlines and it was an incredible experience (thank you Megan for brightening our day so early in the morning!).
How Many Days to Book for Disneyland?
The ideal number of days to spend in Disneyland, of course, depends on who you ask. We bought a 4-day Park Hopper pass, which was plenty. In fact, we could have easily done 3 days and been satisfied: by the 4th day we were all very tired without much left in the tank. Mind you, we also squeezed in a trip to Universal Studios (see below for my thoughts). The Park Hopper pass is nice as it allows you to move between Disneyland and California Adventure (two separate parks in the same area). Note that at the time of writing this you must wait until 1 pm to transfer to the other park, and you must start with the park that you initially reserved. If you wanted to save some money, I would suggest booking one of the last days as a Park Hopper pass to catch the rides that you love the most.
Where to Stay at Disneyland
There are a lot of options around the park, which can be overwhelming. We contemplated staying at the Disneyland hotels but followed our friend’s recommendation to try the Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim Theme Park Entrance and were very happy with our choice. It is a 5-minute walk from the Disneyland gates and has a great pool with waterslides, laundry ($4 a load), a restaurant, a gym, Starbucks, bunk beds and a convenience store. The rooms were clean, and the beds were comfortable; we recommend it! If you have slightly older kids or no kids (ours are 5 and 10 years old at the time of writing this), there is another Marriott hotel not much further from the gates that is another great choice that is less geared toward young kids.
What to Pack for Disneyland
I struggled with what to pack, but since have learned what outfits (and shoes!) are best. I wore flip flops for half of my first day and quickly realized that my feet were NOT going to last (just in case you’re tempted to do the same). I packed this beach cover up and this hydrangea-coloured bathing suit for the pool. Here is my packing list in case it helps!
What I Wore in Disneyland
Where to Eat in Disneyland
First, you will not go hungry in Disneyland. There is a food kiosk at every corner (see all dining options HERE)! We chose to eat breakfast in our hotel which I would recommend (the Mickey pancakes were a winner): the French Toast Sticks at Galactic Grill were a hit, Jolly Holiday Bakery had great yogurt parfaits and baked goods, and I LOVED the fruit carts with fresh fruit: in case you want to eat breakfast in Disneyland. I recommend packing snacks and refillable water bottles for your park visit. You will need to hunt for the refill stations in the park, but they are there. Here’s where we enjoyed eating most:
It would be wrong of me to not mention churros. No fears, they are everywhere (and delicious). I also loved that they offered many kiosks with fresh fruit (loved the mango slices), veggies and dip and giant dill pickles (so random but good). Don’t forget to order a Dole Pineapple Whip, worth the hype.
You will find Ronto Roaster in Star Wars that was really good (thanks Jillian for the recommendation): the vegan version of the Ronto Wrap was incredible! The blue and green milk were interesting: the kids liked it. Bengal Barbecue is also a great choice. We ordered lobster rolls at Harbour Galley (skip the tuna sandwich unless you really love mayo), and check out the frozen apple juice for a refreshing treat. We ordered food in advance with the mobile food order option through the app: there was always a place to sit, and that way there was no waiting for food!
Where to Eat in Disneyland California Adventure
A hidden gem was the Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta that had beautiful salads as well (get the vegetarian pizza, delish!). The beer and ciders were spot on at the Bayside Brews: despite the cute picture, I would skip the margaritas at the Rita’s Baja Blenders next time as they were quite sweet.
Where to Eat near the Park
While you can Uber to any restaurant (we went to Morton’s to celebrate Charlie’s birthday), there are two main spots near the park that have multiple dining options. Either is about a 10-15-minute walk.
- Garden Walk
- Downtown Disney: you can make reservations for many of these restaurants through the Disneyland app. We had dinner at two restaurants: I liked Tortilla Joes the best).
Is the Genie Pass Worth it?
Yes! The Genie Pass is $20 per person per day at the time of writing this and gives you Lightning Lane access to rides. Translation, your time waiting in line is MUCH shorter. This was priceless with the kids in tow. You can only book 1 lightning lane at a time: Jillian told me not to bother booking a lightning lane for waits under 30 minutes, which was good advice. Once you book a lightning lane you have a 1-hour window to redeem it.
Top 3 Rides in Disneyland California Adventure
- Incredicoaster: Max was just too short for this one: what a thrill! I loved it.
- Cars Radiator Springs* (note you need to get there FIRST thing in the morning or pay extra to skip the line unless you want to line up forever)
- Guardians of the Galaxy
We also loved Goofy’s Flight School Roller Coaster and finishing off our day with the Grizzly River Run (you get soaked, do this at the end of the day). We waited for 2 hours for Spiderman Web Slingers and I didn’t think it was worth it but then again, I may not be the right person to ask.
Top 3 Rides in Disneyland
- Splash Mountain: such a classic but do this at the end of the day (you really do get soaked)
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance*
- Indiana Jones
*extra cost for the Lightning Lane ($18 per person when we went)
I loved the Jungle Cruise for nostalgic reasons (one of the few rides I remember visiting as a kid), and while the Teacups are adorable, I also remember this ride… just not for a good reason (turning green as I write this). The kids made their own droids in Star Wars (skipped the deluxe package) and they were a hit! They will store them for you for the day so you don’t have to carry them around, just ask the cashier.
Tips and Tricks for Disneyland
- Get there when the park opens (and bring your photo ID). It is so nice, cool and quiet first thing in the morning. Beat the crowds for the best experience. We enjoyed going back to our hotel room when the weather was too hot and the crowds too busy, going for a swim and coming back around dinner time.
- Walk straight to the ride that you like best with typically high wait times. Cars Radiator Springs in California Adventure and Rise of the Resistance are two that I recommend since you have to pay extra for a Lightning Lane.
- Book a lightning lane as soon as you can (if over 30 minutes wait time).
- If you buy anything bulky (ie: the droids our boys got in Star Wars) they will keep it for you in the store for the day so you don’t have to carry it around.
We took a day to go to Universal Studios for a change of pace with the kids. It was a really cool experience, though I would suggest going to Universal before visiting Disneyland since it isn’t quite as impressive as Disneyland is (in our opinion).
How far is it to get to Universal Studios from Disneyland?
We took an Uber to Universal Studios from Disneyland for a day trip: it took about 1 hour (really depends on the traffic): the ride cost around $100 each way.
Universal Studios Highlights
In addition to the studio tour that is included in your ticket, these were our favourite rides.
- Jurassic Park
- Harry Potter (both the ride and roller coaster are great: the ride is a bit scary)
- The Mummy (Max was too young for this)
Travelling During Covid
I really want to emphasize that you need to carefully check the latest regulations before you travel. They change regularly! When we travelled you were required to wear a mask on the plane in Canada, but not in the USA. Masks weren’t required in the hotel or in Disneyland. Our kids were required to take a supervised Covid test 24 hours after returning home (they assigned this at customs upon our return).
I hope all of this is helpful! If you have any questions please ask away in the comments below!