I just returned from a spontaneous weekend trip to Disneyland with my husband and two daughters, ages 11 months and 3-1/2 years. Most of my friends thought we were crazy and, in hindsight, we may have been!
My oldest daughter had a great time touring Disneyland, and she'll always remember meeting Mickey and Minnie mouse. However, I learned a lot from this trip and the next time we make a visit to the "happiest place on earth," I'll spend more time planning. So to help other moms and dads plan a more perfect Disneyland getaway, I put together several tips based on the lessons I learned during this experience.
1. Character dining
Make the most of your time at the park and skip the "Meet and Greet" lines for Disney characters. Waiting in the "Meet and Greet" lines doesn't always guarantee you'll meet your character of choice. Opt instead for Character Dining, where your child is guaranteed to get an up-close encounter with his favorite character. You'll find these opportunities at:
- Disneyland Park, Plaza Inn Disney California Adventure, Ariel's Disney Princess Celebration
- Disneyland Hotel, Goofy's Kitchen
- Grand Californian, Storytellers Breakfast
- Paradise Pier Hotel,PCH Grill Breakfast
2. Best time to go
Crowds are overwhelming during school holidays and three-day weekends. The summer months are extremely busy as well, but the park is open longer and most of the rides and attractions are operating. Try Sundays, when the park is usually less busy.
January and February weekdays are the least busy times, but the park is open fewer hours.
3. Fast pass and rider swap tips
Every Disneyland ticket comes with the opportunity to receive Fast Passes for specified rides. A Fast Pass will give you a return-time window so you can skip the standby line and head to the front. If used correctly, Fast Passes allow you to maximize your time at the park. Usage is complex, however, so make sure you know all the rules before buying a pass.
4. Cheap tickets
Discounts on Disneyland tickets are hard to find. If you purchase your tickets online in advance, you can save a couple dollars through travel sites like Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, and Disneyland.com.
5. Discount Disney gift cards
Before your trip to Disneyland, buy discount Disney gift cards on GiftCardGranny.com and save up to 10 percent at Disneyland's ticket counters, stores, restaurants, and food stands.
If you're willing to take a risk, however, you might try buying tickets on eBay. Alternately, you can try hitting up a cast member for the complimentary passes they receive (make sure you tip), or ask patrons leaving the park if you can have their tickets. Look for the most expensive tickets that haven't been signed.
6. Time to ride
People tend to head to the right side first when entering the park, so go to the left side of the park in the morning. The rides with height restrictions had smaller lines first thing in the morning during our visit. Another good time to ride is during parades and fireworks shows, but be aware that some will close. You also might check with your hotel to see if they offer extended Disney hours.
Tie a brightly colored ribbon to the stroller so you can locate it more easily. You'll also want to write your name on a piece of tape and hide somewhere on the stroller for identification in case of theft.
Dont lock strollers to anything or leave them in one spot for an extended period, as cast members will remove them.
8. Baby care centers
The Baby Care Centers at Disneyland are located at the end of Main Street. At Disney California Adventure, you'll find it next to the Mission Tortilla Factory in the Pacific Wharf. The centers include rocking chairs, nursing rooms, filtered water for formula, changing tables, etc. There's also a kiosk that sells diaper-changing kits and such basic baby-care items as food and formula.
9. Save on food
Even though there are plenty of food kiosks at Disney, you'll find most food is overpriced. Instead, pack food in a cooler and store it in a locker. If you're traveling from out of town, there's a Target less than a mile away from Disneyland where you can stock up on supplies. Be sure your hotel has a mini fridge, if you plan on storing cold food items during your stay.
If you're traveling with older children, buy a discounted gift card for them to use in place of cash when they're touring the park on their own.
10. Save on pictures
Park photographers will give you a Photo Pass so you can view your pictures online and pay between $10 and $30 for prints. Instead, use the Photo Pass to view your photos, then download a screenshot.
Visit FreeShipping.org for more tips and to to read the full story "How To Avoid Going Goofy At Disneyland." Maisie Knowles is the founder of BestBabyStuff.com, a website reviewing only the best baby products, and co-founder of FreeShipping.org.