Summer is busy at Disneyland. It’s peak time for family vacations and while you should expect crowds, lines and hot days, there are family-tested strategies for making your visit more enjoyable.
The upside of summer is that the parks are open later and the kids don’t have school so you can take advantage of the evening attractions.
I live 35 minutes from Disneyland and have had annual passes several times over the last 6 years. The following tips come from many visits – some that ended with happy and sleepy children, to others that ended with a kid-screaming-in-the-stroller tantrum as we ran shattered out of the park.
Manage Expectations. As with all family outings or vacations, it’s more fun if everyone has some say in the daily itinerary. Figure out what the must-do attractions are before you go, do those and anything else is a bonus.
You may want to see Fantasmic! but do you really want to wait an hour or more with kids to stake your claim on the best viewing spot or are you okay with a pretty good, but not the best, view? Remember, it’s Disneyland, it’s already an almost perfect day in your kids’ eyes.
Stay at a Disneyland Hotel. The convenience of being able to take a break from the parks and go swimming, take a nap or just relax is worth it. Afterwards you have energy to go back out for awhile at night. Disneyland hotel guests also get early entry into the parks and “play time” in the parks before they open to the general public on certain days and through September 5th, 2011 each hotel guest receives 2 FASTPASS tickets per stay.
Arrive early. Get going before everyone else arrives. You get good parking, FASTPASSES are available and it’s not too hot yet. The new Star Tours will be very popular this summer, so head there first if you are interested.
Park in the Mickey and Friends lot. This is the closest parking garage to the parks and tram but there are several freeway exits for Disneyland and it’s easy to end up driving around and parking in a different lot. I once ended up in an overflow lot on a school holiday – it requires an extra bus ride to get to the tram and was not as convenient – another reason to arrive early. Check Disneyland parking for specific directions to the lot.
Pack sunscreen, water, and hats. Buying bottled waters for everyone adds up so bring your own or use a refillable water bottle and for more variety, pack single serving lemonade or other flavored drink powders.
Relax at lunch. If your visit is an all-day affair then you need downtime. Three favorites for lunch in Disneyland with kids are the Hungry Bear restaurant in Critter Country and Tom Sawyer’s Island in Frontierland.
The Hungry Bear has standard burgers and fries fare but the restaurant overlooks the Rivers of America and you’ll see lots of ducks, canoes and river boats – it’s very relaxing. If you are packing your lunch or the kids need to run off some energy, take a raft over to Tom Sawyer’s Island, picnic at the tables or let the kids run.
If you want to be served, Café Orleans is a good choice because it’s in a busy area with a lot for the kids to look at including riverboats and jazz bands.
TIP: If you want to pack a lunch but not carry it all day, locker rentals start at $7 per day and are located at the entrance to the park and on Main Street.
Take a break from the heat. The Tiki Room and a Dole Whip are a perfect combination of comfort and cool when you need to escape the summer heat for a few minutes. And those birds are still so cute after all these years.
Enjoy the serenity of the baby center. It’s not the spa but if you’ve been pushing a stroller around for a few hours the baby center feels like Shangri-la. It’s quiet and calming and everyone speaks in hushed voices – the perfect place to change or feed your baby or even buy a diaper. There are private cubicles with rocking chairs, changing tables and very cute toddler toilets. The baby care center is located at the end of Main Street by First Aid.
Use “rider switch” for parents with little ones. If you have young children that can’t go on a certain ride or a sleeping baby you don’t want to wake up, use “rider switch” and both parents can go on the ride without having to get in line twice.
The first parent rides and the second parent, who is waiting in line with the child, can get on the ride with minimal wait time once the first parent gets off. Let a cast member know that you would like to do this.
Visit the week before Labor Day. While Disneyland does not provide actual stats on visitor numbers, the week before Labor Day is a slower week. Last year I went early on the Tuesday before Labor Day and the park was empty – no lines, at most a 10 minute wait for popular rides. Maybe it was luck but in general this is a great travel week because many schools are back in session and vacationers are waiting for the holiday weekend.