Planning a Disneyland vacation and wondering if a tear-free trip to the happiest place on Earth is possible? I can tell you from experience, that it is but not without proper planning. My family just returned from our first visit to Disneyland and I am excited to share my best tips and tricks to avoid meltdowns and maximize fun for the whole family.
Helpful Hacks for a Tear-Free Disneyland Vacation
Before we were married my husband and I went to Disneyland on a whim while we were in So Cal to attend a friend’s wedding. We woke up that morning and decided it would be a fun way to spend the day. While we were there we jokingly talked about coming back in ten years with our future children.
Well, fast-forward 13 years – our kids are 9 and 6 – and we just returned from our first Disney vacation.
In contrast to our previous visit, a successful trip to Disneyland with young children requires a little extra planning and patience.
This is especially true considering we have a child that is easily over-stimulated, hyper-sensitive and is prone to melt-downs. No to mention, dealing with large crowds is not one of my favorite tasks.
But we weren’t about to let this stop us from having a great time. We just knew we needed to have a strategy for success.
Luckily, my cousin works at Disneyland and has a son with autism so she was able to share some insider tips and tricks with me to help ensure a tantrum and tear-free visit for our family.
My hope is that the strategies that I share today are helpful to all families, but especially so for families who have similar needs and challenges.
Also – my last tip is a controversial one, but is sure to make all the difference so be sure to read to the end!
Purchase Disney gear ahead of time
Inevitably, the second you enter the park your kids will see souvenirs that they want, need and JUST HAVE TO HAVE!!!!
Instead of saying no to every request and be faced with a sobbing child at the happiest place on Earth – just do your shopping ahead of time.
I was able to find affordable Disney shirts and toys at local stores including JC Penney, Old Navy and Walmart for a fraction of the cost. I packed these items with us and periodically surprised the kiddos with them throughout the day or while we were waiting in line and a melt-down was brewing.
The result? Tantrum avoided and money saved!
Go on a low attendance day
A few years back Disneyland changed their ticketing system to demand-based pricing. This means the tickets can range from $97 to $135 for a one day pass depending on how popular of a day it is.
I don’t know about you – but saving money always helps to reduce my stress.
Visiting Disneyland on a low attended day has several benefits including:
- Cheaper ticket prices
- Shorter waiting times for rides
- Less time wasted getting stuck behind slow walkers throughout the park
- Being able to see the beautiful details of the park when the view is not blocked by huge masses of people
There are a number of Disney crowd calendars that allow you to see what the lowest attended days are during the time you plan to visit.
A few months ago some friends of ours went to Disneyland. They woke up bright and early to make sure that they were at the gates at 8 am only to arrive and discover the park didn’t open until 10 am that day.
By the time the park opened the crowds and long lines had already begun.
Be sure to check the park’s hours of operation on the days you plan to attend and choose a day that the park opens early. Plan on arriving at the park as early as you can so you have plenty of time to park and make it through the security check.
Buying your tickets online in advance will also help you avoid one additional line. This will allow you to get straight into the park and onto a few rides before the biggest crowds show up between 10am and 3pm.
Grab a paper map
I know it sounds old-school, but the paper map available at the turnstiles as you enter was our best friend at the park.
We installed the Disneyland App which has a map of the park, but I found it cumbersome to use while trying to navigate the park with two kids and a stroller.
The paper map also includes details in one place that are difficult to find in the app, like all of the eateries in each land and other attractions. I found this very helpful to make sure we saw everything we wanted to in each area before we moved on to the next.
The map available in the app is helpful to see wait times for rides and to see your exact location in the park so it’s definitely helpful to have both.
Bring your own food (not just to save money)
Ok, I know this is a common tip – but it’s an important one for reasons you may not realize.
Like many families, we were traveling a long distance to visit Disneyland. In my head, it was going to be easier to buy food at the park than to shop ahead of time, pack a cooler and lug the food with us through the park. Yes, it would be an additional expense, but we had budgeted for the cost and thought it would be more convenient.
What we did not anticipate is the incredibly long wait to get our food. We waited in line for over 30 minutes to order our food, only to be ushered to a second line to wait for our food to actually be served. Altogether, it took almost 50 minutes from the time we got in line until we received our food.
This was valuable time that could have been spent on rides.
Disney has recently added the option to order food in advance through the Disneyland App for many of their dining locations. Although this could help save time, you still have to wait for your food to be prepared and try to find a spot to eat.
Finding a place to sit and eat was next to impossible. Luckily, a nice family noticed I was waiting for a table and offered us theirs as they finished their meal.
Thankfully, we had packed snacks to avoid hangry kiddos and my husband took them to explore Tarzan’s Treehouse while I waited in line. Whew…tantrum avoided!
I highly suggest that you pack in your own snacks and meals. The time and money you save definitely make it worth the hassle of shopping in advance and bringing in an extra bag.
Instead, opt to purchase one or two of the famous Disneyland treats like churros or a Dole Whip from the smaller snack kiosks that have much shorter lines.
Pack a few sweets too
As I just mentioned, a few special Disneyland treats are part of what makes the day special and are worth the splurge.
However, your child will definitely start begging for a treat every time they see another child with one.
In order to keep the smiles coming, pack a few special candies and treats to bring to the park with you and pull out when needed.
We brought along some fancy lollipops and packaged cotton candy and it worked great whenever the whining was about to start.
Lesson learned: never underestimate the power of a little sugar to keep spirits high!
Bring a stroller (and be prepared for it to be moved)
If you have young children a stroller is a must.
Even though our children are nine and six we decided at the last minute to bring a stroller and it was a great decision. If you have more than one child, or older kids I recommend a Sit and Stand Stroller; perfect for older kids who don’t need to be buckled in.
Yes, they could have walked…
But they would have been complaining by lunchtime, and that would have made the day less enjoyable for me.
The stroller gives you a great place to store snacks, jackets and water bottles until they are needed. It also makes for faster travel between rides and lands considering young children often walk really slowly.
We also felt much more at ease putting the kiddos in the stroller once the crowds started to come in. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to keep track of them since there are so many people. We weren’t constantly making sure they were still walking with us and holding hands to avoid getting lost.
But beware – Disneyland staff will move your stroller!
We came off of Pirates of the Caribbean only to discover our stroller was gone. Struck by panic we began asking around and soon a staff member informed us that the line had gotten longer and they moved the strollers to a nearby location. It happened four more times while we were in the park. Knowing this in advance will prevent a minor heart attack.
The new MaxPass is worth the money
The MaxPass is an additional $10 per ticket, but totally worth the cost.
We had planned to use the old FastPass but my husband lost his ticket after we entered the park and your physical ticket is required to use that system.
With the MaxPass everything is done on your phone. The cost allows you to complete FastPass selections on your phone and includes unlimited Disney PhotoPass photo downloads. This will save you a ton of time since you can check everyone in your group in for FastPass without having to visit an actual kiosk and scan each ticket.
Go for multiple days, but not back-to-back
Remember at the beginning when I said that my last tip was controversial?
Well, here it is!
Yes, I know that you get a discount for buying multiple day passes. However, in our experience skipping a day or two in-between days in the park made all the difference.
Let’s face it – a large amusement park like Disneyland is overwhelming:
- It’s crowded
- Overstimulating (some of the children’s rides were VERY loud, bright and scary inside)
- Full of pressure to try to do and see as much as possible
- Exhausting – after all you wake up early and walk everywhere!
The day after we visited – I literally would have cried if you told me we were going back again. My feet hurt, my legs were tired, we all wanted to sleep in – and the last thing I wanted to do was spend the day with thousands of people again.
Instead, we took a day to visit some of the more relaxing attractions that southern California has to offer:
- The beach (we sat back and relaxed while the kids played in the sand for hours)
- Griffith Park Observatory
- Descanso Park
- Huntington Botanical Gardens
- Aquarium of the Pacific
After a few laid back days exploring nature and resting, we were prepared to head back into the park.
This time we knew exactly what attractions we wanted to ride again, and those we wanted to skip. We spent time wandering through the shops and meeting the characters that we passed up on our first day.
The skip-a-day at Disney strategy allowed us to return to the park feeling rejuvenated and excited to be there. We were able to prioritize our must-do and must-see list. The kids were excited to head back and weren’t cranky or exhausted. It made for the perfect ending to our So Cal family vacation and helped us to avoid temper tantrums and meltdowns friends had told us they had experienced after multiple back-to-back marathon days at Disneyland.
Utilizing these strategies our family was able to enjoy a fun and tear-free Disneyland vacation. I hope these tips will help your family to maximize fun and minimize stress on your next visit.
After overcoming postpartum anxiety, through simplifying and decluttering Lauren created Simply-Well-Balanced in order to share tips to help others simplify motherhood. As a yoga instructor and former medical researcher she is excited to share quick and simple and practical ideas to help moms reduce stress and increase joy. You can find her latest and greatest tips by following her on Instagram @simplywellbalanced.