If your family has tots or teens or everything in between, a family trip to Disneyland is a rite of passage. We’ve gathered tips from recent visitors so you can make the most of your family’s visit. As you plan your trip to the Magic Kingdom or are just thinking about when is the right time, read on for our top 10 tips to ensure your visit is as enchanting as you dreamed — and that your kids come home with happy memories, no matter their age.
1. Goodbye, FastPass. Hello, Genie+ on the Disney app: a new way to skip the lines and save your Disney PhotoPass photos
Sadly, the complimentary FastPass system has been eliminated, replaced by Disney Genie+, which is accessed through the Disney app, and must be purchased every day for $20 (on top of park admission). With Disney Genie+ you can see wait lines for rides, order to-go meals and place one complimentary reservation at a time for popular rides, including the Haunted Mansion, for a Lightening Lane Entrance — which lets you skip the line. For an extra fee, you can also have unlimited Disney PhotoPass downloads. In addition, guests can purchase individual Lightning Lane Entrances (without the Genie+ feature) for three very popular rides, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and Radiator Springs Racers. Costs vary depending on the popularity of the ride, and vary from $7 to $20 a ride.
Redmond mom of three and Disney super-fan Pam McBain was recently at the park with her youngest son and a group of friends. She said that purchasing the Genie+ feature every day was worth it for her family and friends, for access to faster meal service and to save photos. But if you have older kids, she also recommends using the single rider lines for popular rides. These lines move quickly compared with regular lines and are free.
The downside of the Disney app and Genie+, besides cost, is that it will use up your phone’s battery quickly. There are very few places to recharge a phone in the park, so I’ve purchased a compact portable charger for each member of our family. You can also purchase portable chargers in the park.
2. Stay onsite at a Disneyland Resort or save by staying nearby
Whether you have toddlers or teens, splurging and staying onsite at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels offers some great advantages. Staying onsite is more expensive than hotels located in surrounding Anaheim but being able to take the monorail back to the hotel for a midday nap or swim, or to allow teenagers to roam free-range, can make the expense worth it for some families.
Sadly, the extra hour of Magic Morning usually offered to guests staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel is not currently being offered.
You can also save a bundle by staying offsite — but still close by — at a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel.
For easy, all-in-one travel planning, consider package deals that include admission to the park and lodging (onsite or offsite). Check out Disneyland’s packages or Disneyland packages available from Costco Travel.
3. Multi-Day Park Hopper Passes are worth it if you plan to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure (but take note of new restrictions)
Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park are separate, adjacent parks. It can help to note that there are fewer rides and attractions that appeal to toddlers in California Adventure, so some families might opt to visit Disneyland alone.
But if your family plans to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure, consider getting a 3-, 4- or 5-day Park Hopper ticket that includes access to both. Even using Genie+ on the Disney app to optimize your time and a "Touring Plan" from a resource such as the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland book or app, most families will find it challenging to do everything they want to do at both parks in one or even two days.
And if you have little kids, standing in lines for ride after ride without a break often results in toddler meltdowns by early afternoon. After several visits, we’ve decided that a four-day Park Hopper Pass is optimal to be able to do everything we want to do in both parks. Note that currently Magic Hour is not offered as it was in the past with a Park Hopper Pass, and you must wait until your reserved time to hop from one park to the other.
4. Plan for rides that are appropriate for your kid(s)
If you have little kids, research the rides to figure out which ones will be the right fit for them, based on age and temperament. For some little guys, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, with its jerky ride, loud noises, darkness and scary story line, may not be a great choice.
Some of the older, iconic rides have been updated to be more family-friendly, including Pirates of the Caribbean, which now features a redheaded female pirate — you can also meet her roaming New Orleans Square. But some remain scary and best for older kids and teens because they are dark or fast, including Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion.
5. Bring sunblock, a stroller, good walking shoes and an extra set of clothes for your princess or Jedi knight
A bad sunburn is one of the fastest ways to ruin a day at the park. Pack sunblock, wear hats and re-apply sunblock often. You will be walking all day so wear good walking shoes and if you are not staying onsite, consider bringing a fold-up stroller or renting a stroller from the park so your toddler has a place to nap in the afternoon.
Those super-cute princess outfits and Jedi robes make for awesome photos but by the afternoon your kids will want to get those outfits off, so pack a change of clothes. (Bonus tip: Save on those fabulous park outfits by hunting for them at consignment stores before your trip.)
6. Pack water bottles and snacks and have older kids haul their own stuff
If you see a toddler melting down at Disneyland, it’s a safe bet that they’re tired, dehydrated or hungry. Bringing healthy snacks and a collapsible water bottle for each member of your family will save you money and help keep everyone hydrated and happy.
Your bags will be inspected by security when you enter the park and you are allowed to bring in snacks and water bottles, just nothing in glass. I like the BPA-free Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle because of its leak-proof cap and ability to “stand up” when full. You’ll find water fountains to refill bottles in the parks, and you can also ask restaurants for ice water when purchasing meals.
When my kids were younger, I felt like a "parent sherpa" toting a giant backpack full of diapers, clothes, snacks, wipes and more. Now that my kids are older, they haul their own stuff in their own small backpacks.
Get water-resistant bags for cell phones for those awesome water rides that can leave you soaked. I’ve also bought each of my family members a Disney lanyard and ID pouch online, before our trip, to hold their tickets and hotel room key card. This helped to keep everyone organized.
7. Change or feed a baby or find your kid at Disneyland’s and California Adventure’s baby centers
Find fully staffed baby centers at Disneyland (near the Plaza Inn restaurant on Main Street) and at California Adventure (near the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain). You can buy diapers, wipes, sunscreen, baby food and other baby supplies here, for a reasonable price. You can also change your baby, relax out of the sun and nurse in private.
These facilities also serve as the parks’ lost-child meeting areas. Theme parks are nearly always crowded and getting separated from your child can happen. Some families choose to wear matching neon t-shirts, for example, to help stay together. You can tell your child if they can’t find you, to tell a Disney staff member who will escort them to the nearest baby center.
8. Plan ahead for character photos and splurge on the “Dine-and-Admission” packages to get great seats to special events
A character encounter over a special meal was a treasured memory for my kids on past Disneyland trips. For two years, for the safety of Mickey and his friends, character encounters were only allowed at a distance. But, as Disney announced in a blog post, we no longer have to social-distance from favorite characters, as of spring 2022. So bring on the autographs, photos and hugs.
You’ll also see many of your favorite characters at special events, including the still spectacular Fantasmic! show in Disneyland, which will start showing again in May 2022. I splurged on our most recent trip by reserving a "dine-and-admission" package at the Blue Bayou restaurant. Each package included a fixed-price, multi-course meal at a park restaurant plus "admission" to a reserved area in New Orleans Square where we had a great view of the Fantasmic! show, without having to try to save a spot for hours.
Find all the available dine-and-admission options and make reservations online.
9. Save on your Disneyland swag
Stock up on snacks, sunscreen and Disneyland swag — and anything else you forgot to pack — on your way to the park at the Anaheim Target at 101 S. Euclid Street. You’ll find adorable Disney merchandise here for less than what you pay in the park or Downtown Disney.
For an inexpensive, fun souvenir, I recommend the penny machines in Disneyland and California Adventure. Buy a Disney "penny collector" book and make a game of seeing how many of the spaces you can fill with pennies stamped with attractions from all over the parks. You can find the locations online.
Our now-college-age kids still like to collect and trade Disney pins with staff (called "cast members"). Pins are easy to pack and make affordable souvenirs. You’ll see many guests wearing them on their lanyards. You can purchase pins at many stores in the park including the Westward Ho Trading Company in Frontierland and the Little Green Men Store Command in Tomorrowland, where you will also find those famous Tomorrowland pins. You can also purchase pins online, so your kid has pins to trade.
10. Start and end the day magically
Celebrating a birthday or an anniversary? Or is it your first time in the park? Then head for Disneyland’s City Hall when you first enter the park to get a button you can wear all day. You’ll be celebrated by cast members and may enjoy a perk or two, such as a free dessert.
For our family, the nightly Disneyland fireworks show is one of the highlights of a visit to the Magic Kingdom. To get the best view, head to the front of Main Street and find a spot across from the Disneyland Fire Department, then face the castle. Also enjoy at night the enchanting Main Street Electrical Parade, which returned to the park just last month.
After the show, if you have a family of night owls, you can easily avoid the crowds by jumping on the Disneyland Train at the Main Street station and heading into another part of the park. Or if you are done for the night, you’ll be able to make an easy exit out of the main gate, along with most other visitors.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated most recently in May 2022.