Tips for Making the Most of a Disneyland Vacation

The Season of the Force and the continuation of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration are making the most magical place on Earth more popular than ever. But you don’t need to be a Jedi to navigate Disneyland or keep your kids from turning to the dark side. You just need a game plan, some patience and our tips for how to make the most of your Disneyland and California Adventure experience.
First, plan on spending more than one day at the park. There are more than 50 attractions at the two parks, not including shows. “It can be so frustrating when you want to have fun at the park, and you feel like you don’t have enough time,” says park spokesman Bob Deuel.
You can buy a two- or three-day park hopper pass – which allow access to both parks on the same day – or CityPASS Southern California passes, which include a three-day hopper ticket to Disneyland as well as one-day passes for LEGOLAND and Sea World. If you are heading to these attractions, the CityPASS offers a 28 percent savings.
 Avoid the Lines
Before you go, download the Disneyland App on your phone to check on wait times for attractions.  This app gives you an accurate wait assessment, so you can budget your time wisely. Other unofficial, free apps – such as the crowd-sourced MouseWait – allow you to check the height requirements of rides before you queue up. There are few things more frustrating to a child than waiting an hour in line just to be told he or she is “too little” to ride.
The most popular rides include the newly rebranded Hyperspace Mountain, in which the classic ride is transported into a battle between X-wing Starfighters and Imperial TIW fighters. “It’s like a whole new ride versus the former Space Mountain,” says Deuel.  
Other highlights of The Season of the Force “overlay” of Tomorrowland include the 10-minute Star Wars: Path of the Jedi film at the Tomorrowland Theater, a location from The Force Awakens added to Star Tours and the Star Wars Launch Bay, an exhibit of movie props, costumes and more.
It’s just a taste of what is to come with the opening of the 14-acre Star Wars Land, which broke ground in January. An opening date has not been announced, but several Big Thunder Ranch attractions have been closed permanently and others, including the Disneyland Railroad, Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island, the Mark Twain Riverboat and Fantasmic, will all close temporarily.
Other rides that usually top visitors’ to-do list include: Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’ Over California, Peter Pan, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean. The lines swell quickly for these popular attractions.
But, there are some tactics you can use to minimize your time in line. Get to the park early to beat the lines. If you are staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel, you can take advantage of the “extra magic hour” and get into California Adventure or Disneyland one hour before the parks open to the public on select days. (If you stay at one of the many off-site hotels, you can get a similar “magic morning” early access through CityPASS or by buying a three-day or more park hopper).
Make Fastpass Your Friend
Get your Fastpass for the most popular rides first thing when you arrive at the park. (Fastpasses can run out early for rides including Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure and Hyperspace Mountain in Disneyland.) The Fastpass will give you a timed entry, and you can go do other things so you don’t have to spend precious time waiting in line. Generally, you can hold one ride Fastpass at a time for each park, in addition to any Fastpasses for show viewing areas. Sometimes, if your Fastpass return window is hours away, your Fastpass will tell you when you can grab one for another ride.
If you have children of varying ages, consider splitting up and have the most daring spouse go with the older kids for more thrilling rides such as The Tower of Terror or Matterhorn. The wimpier spouse can enjoy the toddler scene – which includes time with princesses, King Arthur’s Carousel, It’s a Small World, The Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland. If your young child is a Frozen fanatic, then head to California Adventure to meet the royal sisters and Olaf, and participate in the Frozen sing-along. The narrated, abridged show tells the story of Anna, Elsa, Olaf and Kristoff in under an hour, and concludes with a flurry of snowflakes over the audience.
Families with young children who want to stick together can still tackle bigger rides with Rider Switch, which allows one parent to ride and then get a pass for the other parent to return, and skip the line, later. (Single-rider lines on some rides, such as California Screaming, can also really speed the wait for older kids or parents who are OK riding solo.)
What to Eat
The Disney resort now has a good assortment of restaurants geared toward health-conscious adults (which include good offerings for kids, as well). There are several options in Downtown Disney, the dining and shopping strip outside the parks. For a more upscale experience, head to Catal Restaurant, which offers light fare with hummus and Mediterranean sampler plates, chilled tomato gazpacho, broiled salmon and roasted chicken. For a more casual experience, try the Rainforest Café with a standard American menu of Cobb Salad, chicken salad sandwiches and portobello wraps. Consider bringing healthy snacks for the day like trail mix, fruit and peanut butter for when your energy begins to lag and you’re 20 minutes from boarding Indiana Jones.
There are several new attractions that children of all ages will enjoy. The Diamond Celebration’s “Paint the Night” parade and “Disneyland Forever” fireworks are not to be missed (although you might want to bring earplugs for younger children if they are bothered by loud noises). The Diamond Celebration runs through Sept. 5. World of Color at California Adventure is the story of Walt Disney narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. The show uses 1,200 water fountains as a movie screen with plenty of lights, color, music and fire displays that appeal to the young and old alike.
Even after a long day, you will walk home feeling like you really were at the happiest place on Earth.
Amy Ettinger is the online/social media editor for Bay Area Parent.
Tips for a great Disneyland Experience
1.There’s nothing worse than a low battery on your phone when you want to take pictures of your kids with their favorite characters. The park now has cell phone chargers in the lockers, where you can juice up your phone while you’re at lunch. To save battery power, you can switch your phone into airplane mode.
2. Want to see Minnie and Mickey but don’t want to wait in the long lines at their homes at Toontown? The characters are also at California Adventure, and you can get photos and autographs there. Breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel also gives you an opportunity to get close to your favorite characters, while eating Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes.
3. Consider a visit to the park during the off-season. All schools have the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, as well as similar summer breaks, and those are the busiest times. Spring breaks are staggered, which means slightly shorter lines.
4. It can get scorching in Southern California. Consider cooling off with a Dole whip in the Tiki Room – which is probably the coolest spot in the park and will give your little one’s feet a much-needed break. It’s a Small World and Finding Nemo are also nice places to cool off.
5. Bring a backpack and fill it with water bottles, sunscreen, hand-sanitizer and wipes.
6. Wear comfortable shoes, and dress in layers. It can be hot during the day and cool in the evening. You don’t want to have to run back to the hotel and risk losing out on some of the fun.
More Reasons to Visit Southern California
Two attractions opening this spring are sure to give Bay Area families more reasons to head south.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
At long last, Harry Potter fans will be able to pick out a wand, quaff a butterbeer and even fly – without boarding a plane. Five years in the making – and nearly six years after its Florida predecessor – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is scheduled to open April 7 at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City. The park aims to transport visitors into the magic of the Harry Potter books and movies, where they can stroll cobblestone streets through painstakingly detailed replicas of Hogsmeade’s familiar snow-capped pubs and shops, while Hogwarts castle looms overhead.
Inside Hogwarts, guests can don Quidditch-inspired 3D goggles and board the land’s signature ride – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – where they’ll pivot 360 degrees on an elevated track through filmed action sequences and immersive special effects. Flight of the Hippogriff will open as the park’s first outdoor roller coaster.
If the attraction in Florida is any indication, expect heavy crowds through the spring and summer, and probably longer. One-day ticket prices for Universal Studios are currently $87 for ages 3-9, $95 for ages 10 and up. Discounts are sometimes available online. (Parking $10-35.) 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. 1-800-UNIVERSAL. 
 Great Wolf Lodge
Fans of water parks may flock to Southern California with the February opening of Great Wolf Lodge’s 13th indoor water park resort, not far from Disneyland. The Garden Grove property is the first Great Wolf Lodge in California. The 105,000-square-foot water park – accessible only to resort guests – includes water playgrounds, a lazy river, wave pool, surf simulator, flume and raft rides and multiple water slides – one of them six stories tall. The resort also includes mini golf, an arcade, bowling, a kids’ spa, children’s programming, seasonal events, seven eateries, shopping and more. 
Rates start at $259.99 per night for a family suite. 12681 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove. 888-960-9653. 
Janine DeFao


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