Anyone that knows us or follows us knows we’re total fans of Disney theme parks! While it’s most convenient for us to visit Walt Disney World since it’s on the same coast as us, we’ve been dying to bring the kids to Disneyland for quite some time. I went as a kid and have great memories of it, but that was nearly 3 decades ago (Oh my gosh, feeling old!), so it was almost like going for the first time for all 4 of us!
While we’re going to dedicate a separate post to the differences between Walt Disney World (which we know super well) and Disneyland, we’re going to focus on Disneyland and how best to plan for a fantastic family trip to this amazing park in this feature.
Disneyland is actually split into two parks–Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure. We made the choice, given the changes currently under construction at Disney California Adventure (which we are beyond excited about) and the ages of our kids to spend the day at Disneyland only. While you could potentially visit both parks in one day, it could be tough with kids around our boys’ ages–8 and 10.
A map of Disneyland can be found on their site here.
Disneyland at a Glance:
- Originally opened July 17, 2955
- 85-acre property
- 8 themed lands
- 60+ adventures and attractions
- New Star Wars themed land began construction this year
- Star Wars theme has been incorporated (at the time of our visit) across Tomorrowland
- Multiple large parking structures
- Tram transportation from parking areas to park entrances
- Ticket prices (at time of our visit) for single-day visits varied from $95-119 depending on the date as part of Disney’s recently unveiled ticket pricing structure*
- Multiple bathrooms throughout park
- First Aid stations available in park
- Accessibility ramps available at all the rides we went on
FamilyADHD’s Top Disneyland Tips
We found the following tips helpful for making our time at Disneyland as magical as possible!
- Park in the Mickey & Friends parking structure! While there are other parking options, in our opinions this parking structure is the best for families. There is a bathroom in the structure, it is a short walk to the trams that take you to the park and it’s organized enough that even if you leave during the final exodus from the park it isn’t too evil to try to get out.
- Mo’ Stroller, Mo’ Problems. We are (thankfully) past the stroller stage by quite a few years, but many of the families around us with strollers seemed to struggle a bit to get on the tram. Strollers are required to be folded while riding the tram and those that couldn’t be or that didn’t fold flat (like long doubles) had to wait until they could be shoved onto one of the end carts. If you have to bring a stroller, for many reasons it’s probably best to bring your most portable.
- 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration is going on right now, which means lots of pretty decorations, some limited edition park merchandise, special shows and more! Keep your eyes peeled if you go while the celebration is still being held. As of right now, the celebration is set to end September 5, 2016.
- No Bands Means Tickets Only! Disneyland has not integrated the Magic Bands Disney World has into their park and therefore tickets are printed tickets and FastPass+ cannot be reserved through an app–for those used to Walt Disney World’s current system.
- Bring water! As with any Disney or theme park experience if you’re a family of heavy water drinkers like us, you may spend as much if not more in water than you do food if you don’t bring any. Bring what you can comfortably carry!
- Bring snacks. Again, theme park, high prices for snacks, budgeting… If you don’t mind spending a decent portion on park snacks then don’t worry about it. If you tend to budget for expensive meals and souvenirs and like to avoid buying pricey snacks–bring them!
- Don’t try to hit every ride in one day unless your entire family is up for it. It can be so tempting, especially if you’re only visiting for a day and not from the area, to try to hit every ride and attraction. We get it! The reality is, if you have kids with you, you probably won’t be able to unless you’re really hustling and that may or may not be your family’s idea of a good time!
- Prioritize rides and hit up your musts first. We’ve mentioned this multiple times with Disney World and the same goes for Disneyland. The most popular rides tend to fill up quickly, while the rest (on a good day) have small to moderate waits. Keep in mind all bets are off during peak times! Make a list with your family of the rides you have to go on, the ones you’d like to go on and the ones you’ll hit up if you have some extra time. Make a beeline for your “have-to” rides the second you get in the park.
- Character pictures = long waits. This is no surprise to anyone that’s ever been to a Disney park, but for those new to it, if you want to grab some shots with some Disney celebs like Mickey, Minnie, Donald, etc. prepare for a bit of a wait in a fairly long line. The earlier in the day you hit them up the better (there are often quite a few around Main Street in the morning.
- The early Jedi gets the training! As part of the new Star Wars theme, younglings can now participate in Jedi training as part of a show done multiple times each day. The catch? You basically need to be one of the first in line before the park opens, run for the sign up area in Tomorrowland near the Launchpad and be willing to potentially go on a waiting list as a replacement should someone else not show up for their slot if you don’t get your own. It isn’t impossible to do, but because the show fills up incredibly fast and you can only sign up on the day you visit the park in person, it’s something you really need to plan for in advance if you want to make it work.
- Budget for Star Wars park merch. The new Star Wars park merchandise is phenomenal! If you’re a Star Wars fan or you have little Star Wars fans assume you’re going to walk away with at least a few things, so plan accordingly.
- Leave half an hour early to avoid the big evening rush. If you have little guys and want to avoid the big rush of people leaving the park at the very end of the night, leave half an hour before the park closes! You’ll have less of a wait for the tram and make it out of the parking structure without much traffic.
Because Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are opposite one another, they’re joined by a central common area between. This area is quite large and open, filled with banners and with easy access to restrooms. Security stations (where the lovely security peeps take a peek through your bags) are located at the opening to this area. We found it got a bit congested near the opening, but people fanned out after and it was much like what you see above (keep in mind this was not during peak season).
In this area you can purchase tickets to the park(s) you wish to visit. Entrances to each park are opposite one another and one park cannot be directly accessed from the other without passing through this central area.
Because the 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration was still going on during our visit, this area was filled with Diamond Celebration decor, which was fun to see!
|Who are those handsome boys in the corner? 😉|
|How cute are those lamps? They reminded us of Bugs Life or the fireflies from Princess Frog.|
Disneyland Opening Ceremony
If you’ve ever visited a Disney park then you know they open the park each day with a fun opening ceremony! Disneyland’s was similar to Disney World’s–just as cute and exciting.
Since so many tend to line up to be the first in the park, this area can get congested, so try to get there early if you want a front row spot to watch from. If it’s not a priority, don’t worry! Little ones often end up on shoulders and since the opening ceremony is elevated up on the hill you can see a lot of it, even if you’re short like us.
|The main entrance to get into Disneyland was decked out in Diamond Celebration decor!|
|For the opening ceremony, characters usually come riding in on the Disneyland Railroad, which is super cute!|
Disneyland Main Street USA
Main Street USA is the first area you step into once you enter Disneyland and it runs up through all the Main Street shops and a lot of the dining, ending right in front of the castle. This area is where a lot of characters can be found (especially early in the day).
This is a great area for picking up some Disneyland merch and goodies! While we’re not going to get too into it the differences in this post, this area is on a much smaller scale than Main Street USA in Walt Disney World (though it obviously came first, so technically Walt Disney World was built as a larger scale version), so it’s easy to get around. Keep in mind, it also means that this area, even when it isn’t super busy, can get a bit congested, so keep those little guys close!
|We have never taken a ride down Main Street USA in any of the Disney parks in one of the fun cars! Someday we need to change that.|
Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle
The castle at Disneyland is Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and you can walk through it to get to Fantasyland! While it isn’t super large, it’s a really neat thing to see and perfect for taking pictures in front of and near.
Don’t forget to take a peek at the murals on the walls of the inside of the castle as you pass through!
Tip: It can be hard to snap a pic without a lot of other people in it when the crowds start building (especially on the drawbridge), but if you’re patient you can often find a quick moment to snap a shot with minimal guests in the background! Also, the castle faces the sun earlier in the day, so you may get some serious squinting in your pics if the sun is bright.
|We’ve come to talk to a man about a mouse!|
|We loved that the castle had a moat around the front–how cool!|
|The things these kids do for their parents! The drawbridge faced the sun earlier in the day, but they took some shots like the troopers they are.|
|The murals on the inside of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle are beautiful!|
|Fairy tales do come true!|
Fun Things to Do in Fantasyland
Fantasyland in Disneyland is filled with classic Disney themes from the Sword in the Stone to Snow White. While everything was a blast, I think for our boys the most appealing bit was trying to remove the sword from the stone! They tried so hard and I really think they were convinced inside that they might be able to do it like in one of the commercials. Neither did, but they really did give it a good try!
|Oh, that’s where I left my poison apple and spell book! I probably shouldn’t leave that laying around.|
|I absolutely LOVED the classic Disney feel of the entire Fantasyland area! Kids will love it, but I think it’s the parents who will appreciate and recognize the little details that make you feel as though you’ve stepped into an older Disney film.|
Tomorrowland & Star Wars Season of the Force
Disneyland’s Tomorrowland has received a seriously awesome Star Wars makeover (both U.S. Disney parks have seen Star Wars additions with more to come) and I’m fairly certain we were all pretty much jumping out of our pants the second we caught a glimpse of the sign above! We love Star Wars and we love Disney parks, so this new revamp received 4 thumbs way up from us.
Rides have received Star Wars makeovers and shops have been stocked full of some of the best Disney park merch we’ve personally come across!
While we didn’t have a chance to let the boys do the Jedi Training (we waited in line for over an hour and still had at least 45 min to an hour left of waiting and they’d already filled up the show), we did hop on just about all the rides and loaded up on some amazing Star Wars goodies. Honestly, even if you’re the type that usually passes by park merch, you’ll probably have a hard time going through Tomorrowland without buying a few things!
|You know you’re headed in the right direction when you see…|
|If you plan to try to sign up for the Jedi training this is where you want to head first thing in the morning to grab your spot!|
|The boys really wanted to go on this, but it was one of the only Tomorrowland rides we didn’t get on because the lines were so long all day!|
|Just the coolest structure!|
|Oh hey, C3PO!|
|R2D2 waiting for us. Hang on buddy, on our way!|
|Just trying to save the galaxy–all in a day’s work!|
Disneyland New Orleans Square
|Just waiting for Tiana and her prince to come on by!|
One of my personal favorites, this area of the park is super cute and has a very New Orleans (Did I really need to point that out? Probably not!) vibe! The streets are a bit narrow, but they are crammed with the most adorable shops and dining spots. Really, really fun and unique!
This is also the land where Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion are located. We ate dinner here at Cafe Orleans, which was fantastic and mentioned in more detail below!
|Just a pirate ship at dock, nothing special… 😉 We actually went over to it while waiting for our reservation and while we couldn’t go on it, it was really fun to see anyway!|
|One of our all-time favorite rides as a family!|
|Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!|
|This Haunted Mansion looked like a giant southern estate–pretty funky!|
|The tombstones always amuse us. 🙂|
While the shopping options at Disneyland were nearly endless, our family had some clear favorites for unique items we hadn’t seen at another park. The new Star Wars merch in Tomorrowland was a huge hit and the Castle Heraldry Shoppe in Fantasyland was another clear favorite. In this shop they sold a variety of things such as family heraldry and prop daggers and swords. Our boys fell in love with the swords from Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings and we actually surprised our oldest for his birthday by ordering him a replica Sting, which he absolutely loves!
Even if you don’t buy anything, this is a fun shop to poking around in if you like to see that kind of thing. We didn’t think prices were too bad (especially for a park store), but keep in mind shipping is fairly high and it takes weeks to receive your order. I believe we received ours 6-8 weeks after our trip–we were informed of this in advance. If it hadn’t been for the shipping, I think we would have each walked away with something!
Disneyland Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square
As with any trip, we did a lot of research about the dining options at Disneyland prior to visiting. There were so many options and since we prefer themed dining, we wanted to make sure we got at least one fantastic meal in during our time there. We debated a lot, but finally decided to eat at Cafe Orleans because we read that the food was fantastic and the surrounding area (New Orleans Square) was a blast to hang out in. This restaurant was inspired by local New Orleans fare, with their Mickey beignets and monte cristos being some of the most popular items.
Cafe Orleans did not disappoint! They were even able to work with me with my wheat allergy and when I asked about a specific pair of ears I’d seen a bunch of people wearing, but couldn’t find anywhere, they tracked down a store with them for me. You better believe I bought those ears by the way. Talk about amazing service!
Everyone enjoyed their food and we definitely recommend dining outside if you can because New Orleans Square is a total blast!
|Mac & cheese and veg for the kids–our food-sensitive youngest was so glad they had something he wanted!|
|Pomme frites and sauces for dipping–yum! They made mine wheat-free. Thanks!|
|Mickey beignets! These sadly did not come in a gluten-free option, but everyone else said they were amazing!|
|Look at all that powdered sugar goodness!|
Little Details to Love in Disneyland
If you’ve ever visited a Disney park or hotel you know it’s all about the little details–hidden Mickey’s, surprising animated objected, etc. There were a few things in Disneyland that we noticed that we fell in love with.
|Yes, there’s a moat around the front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and it has its own beautiful ducks gliding through it!|
|This little lagoon was so cool! We actually sat watching it for a while because the water would jump from area to area and the design underneath the surface was too cool! All it needed was some mermaids… 😉|
|Anyone know where poor Rapunzel and her tower are located in the park? Probably one of my personal favorite details of the day!|
Disneyland At Night
Disney parks are amazing during the day, but at night? Pure magic! Disneyland was absolutely stunning at night and the shows were phenomenal. Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was particularly gorgeous and well worth grappling with the end of the day crowd for when the park closed to see it and the beautiful fireworks show.
Disneyland Final Thoughts
First of all, Disneyland is awesome! It’s a mix of nostalgia for the adults and new, highly recognizable stories for the younger guys. The rides were fun and really kid-friendly in our opinions. Even our youngest, who often struggles with faster thrill rides, absolutely loved everything we went on including Hyperspace Mountain!
We loved the Star Wars makeover in Tomorrowland and really think Hyperspace Mountain may be one of the best Disney rides we’ve ever been on. We loved our favorite classics–Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion–and really enjoyed exploring the rest of the park.
Disneyland is nicely scaled and we found it was actually really easy for us to jet off from one side of the park to the next. I think especially for families with kids even younger than ours, families will find the park is really family-friendly in terms of being able to get around without feeling as though you’ve dragged your kids along on a marathon sprint.
As with all Disney parks we’ve been to, restrooms were plentiful.
Dining options at Disneyland were super fun and while we only had time for dinner at Cafe Orleans, we’ve definitely got our eyes on a few other spots for our next trip.
I hope Disneyland eventually finds a way of incorporating Magic Bands into their parks because we love the convenience, but it wasn’t the end of the world to be without them despite being so used to them.
Overall, Disneyland is really a classic park and worth a trip for any Disney-loving family! We look forward to returning again.
Stay tuned for our next Disneyland post where we discuss the differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World for anyone debating between the two or curious about future trips!
Have you been to Disneyland? What was your favorite ride? Your favorite park food?
Note: Half of our tickets were provided by Disney. All opinions above are our own based on our personal experience.