Who needs a beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids? If you have googled Disneyland I’m sure you have got thousands of results talking about things like FastPasses, Magic Hour and numerous other things. All these that make no sense if you have never been to Disneyland before. Or maybe you’ve been to Disneyland but never done Disneyland with kids. It’s a whole new ball game!
Recently we headed to Disneyland with two teenagers and a five-year-old so I thought I’d take you through what I learnt. I’ve also included some useful link.
The beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids- The Parks
At Disneyland Anaheim, there are two different parks- side by side. There is Disneyland and California Adventure Park. Disneyland is the traditional park that is divided more into themed worlds rather than specific movies. There is Frontierland, Fantasyland, Critter County, Mickey’s Toontown, Tomorrowland, Main Street USA and New Orleans Square. In 2019 they will be opening Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Disneyland is home to all the princesses except Anna and Elsa, as well as Mickey, Donald and the gang. You will also find Aladdin, Gaston, Flynn Ryder and loads of other characters!
California Adventure Park
California Adventure Park was built on the old Disneyland carpark site in 2001 and is the park that houses all the new Disney movie themes such as Pixar films, Frozen, The Little Mermaid etc. It’s great for little kids with a Cars themed world and a Bugs life themed world. Paradise Pier is a 50’s style pier which is fantastic and also houses Ariel’s Grotto and the Little Mermaid ride.
Both parks are great for all ages- my teenagers went off on their own and did all the big rides like Guardians of the Galaxy, Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion and so on.
Beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids- The Tickets
If you want to visit both parks make sure you select the right tickets. It’s up to you how many days you stay, but make sure you select an option to visit both parks on your ticket. We bought two-day passes, which gave us one day at each park (or two days at one park) but you can’t switch between parks on the same day. the Park Hopper passes gives you the opportunity to move between parks on the same day. However, with small children, it takes long enough to get anywhere so you probably wouldn’t be switching on the same day!
Three-day pass holders and above have access to Magic Morning at Disneyland, but Magic Morning at California Adventure Park is available only to hotel guests.
You can buy your tickets online from Disneyland or you can search for a discount or deal on millions of discount sites on the web! MouseSavers is probably the most comprehensive website for discount tickets and other useful information.
However, I booked everything through Disneyland directly, including accommodation and character breakfasts, as I found it a lot easier just to have everything booked in the same place for peace of mind. You can then also make changes to your booking and they are so helpful on the phone. I felt like this service was worth not getting a small discount, especially coming from overseas and having several questions they answered happily.
FastPasses were one of the most confusing things about Disneyland for me as a novice. They are available for rides that have massive lines, like Space Mountain or Radiator Springs Racers. Basically, the idea is that you scan your entry ticket and get a pass with a one hour window of time on it that you come back to the ride. Then you skip the lines in the FastPass queue. However, get in early as the rides fill fast and you might find yourself waiting a solid 4 hours before it’s your turn. It does reduce your time queuing though.
FastPasses are free to everyone in the park, you just can’t get them all at once. The machines that generate them will tell you at what time you are eligible to book your next FastPass.
They have just introduced online FastPasses through the Disneyland App as well if you purchase the new MaxPass.
Rides that need a FastPass
Disneyland FASTPASS Attractions
Fantasmic! (distributed across from the Golden Horseshoe Saloon)\
Big Thunder Mountain\
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Indiana Jones Adventure
Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Star Tours (distributed next to Buzz Light Year’s distribution point)
California Adventure FASTPASS Attractions
World of Color (distributed to the right of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure)
Goofy’s Sky School
Grizzly River Run
Radiator Springs Racers (distributed near It’s Tough to Be a Bug)
Soarin’ Around the World
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
Toy Story Midway Mania
MaxPass is the latest ticketing add on at Disneyland. For $10 pp more each day you can book FastPasses on the Disney app and you can download all photos taken by the Disney PhotoPass photographers. Christine from Adventure Baby has just written a great post on how that works.
Beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids -Disneyland Accommodation
There are three official hotels at Disneyland:
Paradise Pier Hotel is the most affordable hotel, with a 50’s beachside vibe and a view of Paradise Pier at California Adventure Park (in some rooms). This is where we stayed and we loved it! The room accommodated all five of us comfortably and there were lots of cute Disney touches. It is around a 5-minute walk to downtown Disney from the hotel. There is one restaurant- the PCH Grill, that hosts the Mickey and Friends character dining experience. Thre is also a gift shop for extra merchandise.
Disneyland Hotel is right at Downtown Disney (the shopping precinct that leads into the Disneyland and has been recently refurbished. It’s about a 5-minute walk to the monorail into Disneyland and is the midpriced Disney accommodation. It has several dining experiences including character dining with Goofy at Goofy’s kitchen. It has two pools, waterslides and cabanas you can reserve by the pool.
The Grand Californian Hotel and Spa
The Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is the premium hotel at Disney. It has a monorail stop as part of the hotel and has three swimming pools and a day spa. It has four restaurants and is the home of the Storyteller Cafe where you can have a character dining experience with Chip n Dale.
If you don’t want to pay the money to stay on site there are numerous places to stay that are so close to Disneyland it’s almost like staying there. There is everything from high-end hotels to cheap motels so there is something to suit all budgets.
Why you should stay in a Disney Hotel
Three words- Full Disney Immersion! However, as well as this there are a few benefits to staying onsite in a Disney hotel. These include:
Magic Morning– this is the opportunity to enter the parks an hour before they open to the public. This gives you the chance to line up for the popular rides and attractions and get your FastPasses.
Character meet and greets– We had Mickey, Minnie and Donald pop into the foyer at the hotel for a meet and great. It means you don’t have to seek them out in the park and there are no queues.
Location– Disney hotels are as close as you can get to the parks. No shuttle buses are involved and if you are travelling with small kids it’s great to be able to return to your hotel with no fuss.
Hands-free shopping– If you are staying at a Disney hotel you can send your purchases back to your hotel room. Just ask for the merchandise delivery service when you do your shopping. This is great if you plan to do a lot of shopping.
Beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids- Character Dining
If you are booking your tickets through Disneyland’s official website you can book character dining at the same time. Then, once you have paid for it you need to book the actual experience here. You don’t automatically have the time booked just because you paid for it. You can also book other dining options within the park here as well. Character dining bookings are offered 60 days in advance. Full the full list of character dining experiences check here.
Beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids tip 1- The best time to visit Disneyland
The weather in California is lovely all year round. Just remember that June-August is summer so it can get really hot! We went in late June and it was hot enough. It also gets very busy around school holidays and festive holidays such as Halloween and Christmas. So when you plan your trip, take that into account.
Beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids tip 2- How long to stay at Disneyland with kids
How long is a piece of string? It’s up to you, your family and your budget. We just did 2 days and two nights. We saw both parks but we didn’t do everything. If you want the full Disney experience you could easily stay the week.
Beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids tip 3 – take a pram to Disneyland
If you have young children then this is an essential. We walked an average of 15km a day at Disneyland. Tully was five and we definitely used it a lot. We just took our Baby Zen Yoyo as it’s so easy to carry. You can hire prams but the downside is you have to leave them in the park so you can’t push it to your hotel. There is plenty of pram parking around the parks so they are no problem to have.
I don’t want to drown you in information as this is meant to be a beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids. There is so much information out there by people who are passionate Disney aficionados that can tell you every little thing about Disney. I know that when I was researching our trip there was so much information out there, in so much detail, that I was quite overwhelmed. So hopefully this beginner’s guide to Disneyland with kids helps you start planning and to understand the in-depth articles you are about to delve into next!
Good luck and have an amazing trip!