Travel, Travel Planning

Lessons Learned on Our First Trip to Disneyland

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There are so many posts out there about how to perfect your Disneyland trip. They range from generic tips to super-specific-step-by-step-itineraries, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to add another “How to See Disneyland in a Day” post. Instead, I’m going to share some quick, initial thoughts after our very first family trip to Disneyland.

I visited Disney World a few times growing up, but for Chris and the children, this was the very first Disney Park experience. I did some research and went into the park with a gameplan but there were still somethings that surprised me!

We really did have a great trip and this list is of things I did that were awesome (go me!) and things that could have made our trip even better.

Disneyland lessons learned
10 lessons learned from our first trip to Disneyland

Lessons Learned on Our First Trip to Disneyland

#1 Parking, riding the shuttle, security, and the entrance takes longer than I thought.

We pulled into the parking lot half an hour before opening and didn’t enter the park for 45 minutes. If you want to be there when the opening rope drops, plan to be waiting when the parking lot opens. (1 hour before park opening.)

#2 Starting the day with a character breakfast really takes the pressure off!

We ate at the Storyteller Cafe in the Grand Californian and got to see Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Kenai from Brother Bear. The kids got some of the character excitement out of their system, which allowed us to walk by the long lines for characters right after we entered the park. At the character breakfasts, you can also be a bit more deliberate with your photos since there is less pressure to keep the line moving. I was so happy to have our family photo out of the way so we didn’t have to worry about it in the park.

Family with Pluto
Definitely one to frame!

#3 Dress for success!

You can see in the photo above that I am dressed like Minnie and HJ is Minnie-ish. HJ and I agreed that we would match but then I accidentally left her Minnie dress behind while I was packing. Fortunately, HJ was super sweet about it and was happy to wear her “pink Minnie dress.” She never complained but when I saw all the little girls in costume I really wished I’d brought costumes for both of them. (Like this or this.)

#4 Shopping is huge at Disneyland!

I knew to expect plenty of opportunities to whip out my credit card, but I didn’t realize you could actually shop all day at Disneyland! Main Street and the New Orleans district are packed with shopping opportunities and just about every other attraction has a gift shop as well! It’s not all Disney swag either, there were perfume and jewelry shops too!

To avoid the park prices but still come away with a little something for the kids, order a few tokens in advance. We presented the kids with ears, hats, and lanyards to remember their trip.

HJ and Mickey
HJ was very diligent about making sure she was wearing her ears every time she met a character.

#5 Even wearing comfortable shoes, our feet killed by the end. 

Don’t even think about compromising on supportive footwear- real supportive footwear like hiking boots or sneakers. No matter how cute those Mickey Vans are, they are just not worth it.

#6 Just because a ride is based on a kid’s movie, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for all ages.

On the Disneyland app you can click on any ride and it will give you the “Thrill Type”. Could be “Loud”, “Dark”, “Fast”, “Scary”, etc. I made the mistake of not checking on “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and probably scarred my kids for life. HJ thought she was legitimately driving the car and was terrified that it was careening out of control and running into walls. K was just petrified by the, legitimately scary, scenes we passed. I think Disney uses the “Scary” descriptor appropriately, so be sure to look out for it.

K after a scary ride
Am I a bad parent because I think this picture is kind of hilarious? Don’t be like me! Avoid “scary” rides if your kids can’t handle them!

#7 Just because I don’t/won’t like a ride, doesn’t mean the kids won’t.

I still remember the feeling of motion sickness I had when I climbed off the Teacups at Disneyworld. I was 5. I had no intention of subjecting my kids to that, but they both really wanted to ride them so I agreed to go with them. Fortunately, Killian fell asleep in the carrier waiting in line so I got to watch Chris and HJ and it was probably the highlight of my day! HJ’s grin was magical.

#8 The food stands start to shut down early.

Don’t expect to find a Churro stand opened after Fantasmic, but there will be some quick service restaurants with long lines.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Getting to see a real castle was so exciting for HJ!

#9 FastPass for Fantasmic was essential.

I hate jostling for seating at parades or fireworks, so we headed straight to the FastPass distribution when we entered the park. This allowed us to arrive at the show anytime before it started and get a spot in the front 6 ft around the lake. Considering how many people were crowded behind us, I was so thankful for reserved “seating”. When you have a toddler, easy viewing is well worth it because…

#10 The firework/light show Fantasmic was so incredibly worthwhile!

It was actually a bit scary and K says he didn’t like it. HJ slept through it, but we were still so glad we went because Chris and I loved it! It was full of surprises and overall Disney just gets an A+ for production value.

Chip and K
Those smiles are what it’s all about!

Have you been to Disneyland? What’s your favorite tip?

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