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How to Have the Perfect Family Day at Disneyland


Disneyland is expensive. And crowded. Here are my tips for helping you plan the perfect Disney day for your family. It’s important to have a plan ahead of time so you can make the most of your visit!

How to have the perfect family day at Disneyland

I was given two media tickets to visit Disneyland and CA Adventure.

Disneyland is great for a family day out

I grew up in Anaheim, California about 15 minutes from Disneyland. For many of my adolescent years, we had annual passes to the happiest place on earth which meant we could go any time we wanted. And boy, did we go a lot.

When I was around 10 years old, the theme park celebrated their 30th anniversary. It was a HUGE celebration. Every time you entered the park, you won something whether it was a pin (there were sets you could collect), free tickets to the park or even cars.

Needless to say, we went just about every day to see what we could win. We ended up with a lot of pins, 12 free tickets, 0 cars and a jaded sense of what the perfect day at Disneyland looks like. As we got older, we let the annual passes expire.

We slowly used up all those free passes over the next 10 years. And I didn’t want to spend an entire day at the park waiting in lines with those crazy crowds.

Then I had kids. We didn’t take them to Disneyland right away since the park had become so expensive. We took my oldest for the first time at 5 and had a lovely time. My youngest also got to go when he was 5 and it was fine. Even though we only live about 25 minutes away from the park, the kids had never really asked to go back.

So we didn’t suggest it either. But being in such close proximity to the park, and remembering all the fun times I had growing up there, made me feel like we needed to plan a trip. Luckily the kids each got a ticket to the park for volunteering with their Cub Scout troop cheering on the runners at the Disney Half Marathon. With two tickets out-of-the-way, I requested 2 media tickets to the park so that our family could have a fun, family day.

I was approved for the tickets and we set out to plan our day. The kids were ecstatic and quite frankly, I was too. I had finally outgrown my resistance to spending a whole day at Disneyland.

It was important to me that we all had a great day. So I looked up tools and resources that would help us maximize our fun. I’m so glad I took the time to do that so that we could have the perfect family day at Disneyland.

Also, we live locally so this post does not include any tips on traveling to and from the parks.

Tips for planning your visit

How to plan your family day trip to Disneyland. For many of us, we can't afford passes, so here is how to have one great day at the resort.

When to Go

I’m a huge fan of school, but I knew that if we wanted to get in the most rides, which is what would be most fun for my kids at this age, we would need to go on a school day. I had read somewhere (I could totally be wrong) that Tuesdays are a great day to go so that is when we went.

I looked at the park calendar to see what time they opened and closed to make sure that we would have a full day. Depending on the time of year and day of the week, the park may close on the early side, so be sure to check this out when you are picking your day.

I also wanted to make sure it wasn’t too close to a school holiday which could mean that more people might have traveled for an extended family vacation. September is always a gamble with weather and is often our hottest month. Think about yourself and the kids and pick a time of year when you’ll all be the most comfortable. 

The best time of year to go to Disneyland is when they have it decorated for a special holiday or season. You really get a sense of the Disney magic that way!

I love to visit the park when they are celebrating holidays. There is something extra special about the elaborate decorations they have throughout the park. Halloween Time is especially fun and they nail the details at every turn.

Luckily, they decorate on the early side which means that you can experience the extra decor without running in to the extra crowds. Although it would be fun to attend Mickey’s Halloween Party with trick or treating and other awesome activities (separate admission required), it is not in our budget this year.

When Halloween is over, they will begin the transition to their holiday decorations. Winter at Disneyland is pure magic.

What to wear

Whatever you wear, make sure that you are weather-appropriate and you think ahead to what you might need from morning to night. The day we went it was over 90 degrees and super humid.

It was a rather unusual weather pattern for us so I wasn’t sure what nightfall would bring. I packed one small bag with pants and a sweatshirt for each of us and we kept it in a locker on Main Street, just in case.

Although the $13 for the day (check before visiting as prices may change) use of a locker was a little hard to swallow (I remember putting quarters in) it was so nice to know that we had it there and that everyone would be comfortable. I also wore sneakers since I knew they would keep me the most comfortable.

Look, I’m all for a cute outfit, but it’s not a fashion show. You will literally be on your feet all day so resist the urge to wear your cutest sandals and give yourself some arch support. You deserve it. 

Fast passes are essential for having the perfect family day at Disneyland.

Consider the Genie Serice

This photo is old and the Fast Pass service of the past is long gone. Currently, you can purchase Genie + service to get on some rides faster.

It’s another $25 per person on top of the park admission so it can add up pretty quickly. BUT! If you only have one day at the park, you may want to do it so you can ride the more popular rides without having to wait so long.

On a recent trip, my husband and I bought the Genie service so we could get on the Star Wars ride that he was dying to get on. They have options in both parks so it might be worth it for your day.

It includes a few other perks so be sure to read more about it.

Use the app

How to use your smart phone to plan the perfect family day at Disneyland.

The official Disneyland Resort app will help you make the most of your trip. The thing I thought was most helpful was the wait times for the rides and dining. This helped us manage our kid’s expectations and plan out our rides based on wait time.

It also had a map of the park and could help you find specific food options as well as mobile order food easily.

I use this throughout all of my visits and it is easy to download and have on your phone. You can also browse around before your trip so you can start planning your day ahead of time.

What to ride

Make sure your family has a perfect day at Disneyland Resort. Have each person pick their favorite ride and start with those.

I knew there was no way we’d be able to ride everything in the park. In the days leading up to the visit, I had each person in the family pick their favorite ride or a ride they HAD to go on so that we could prioritize them.

For me, it was the old classic, It’s a Small World. For my oldest, it was California Screaming and for my youngest, it was any roller coaster. He was really afraid of Space Mountain when we first road it. But by the end of the day he had been on it 3 times.

The day we went was amazing. It wasn’t that crowded and we could ride most rides multiple times. Also, keep in mind that sometimes the rides are less busy during the parade time! We had no trouble getting on the rides the family members requested.

If you think about it, on busy days, with long ride wait times, you realistically might only be able to get on 4-5 rides. If you don’t plan ahead for that, one person might end up out of luck and feel like they missed out on something special.  

Consider what rides at Disneyland should be ridden in the day time, like Jungle Cruise.

It is also important to think about the rides that might be different to ride at night. I didn’t even think about all the things you wouldn’t be able to see while on the Jungle Cruise until we were on the boat in the dark.

Although they had some spotlights to show you the animals, it was just not the same as experiencing it in the daytime. Similarly, riding the outdoor roller coasters at night is a totally new experience.

Consider riding Thunder Mountain in the day and at night so the kids can see the difference. 

Plan some one on one time with each child at Disneyland. Plus make sure to take a selfie in the park in case you forget to get your hand stamped!

We hadn’t planned this, but my husband and I each ended up having one on one time with each kid that day. Since the media tickets were park hoppers, I was able to take my older son over to ride California Screaming (luckily this didn’t cause a scene with my youngest as I wasn’t sure how he would react to not getting to check out the other park too).

It was so much fun to get to spend time with him, doing something new. And taking selfies. Earlier in the day, I had taken my younger son on some rides while my husband took my older son to see the Star Wars Launch Bay attraction. This really added to the bonding that we got to do as a family, even though we were sometimes apart.

HOT TIP: You don’t need to worry about getting your hands stamped anymore if you are going to leave the parks or go back and forth. Your ticket can be connected to the app and you just scan it at the entry gate when you go back.

What to eat

Know what food you want to try before you go to Disneyland. Make sure you get the items, like these Mickey beignets that you can't get anywhere else!

Or rather, what not to eat. It’s all delicious. But know what you really want before you go. When you follow yummy Instagram accounts like @ThingsIAteatDisneyland and @FirstComesLatte, who regularly posts food from her Disneyland trips, you kind of already know what you want to try.

There are only so many hours in the day and you KNOW your kids are going to ask for snacks. Since my kids didn’t really know what delicious food was offered at Disneyland, I led the way on this.

I knew I needed to try the Dole Whip, the Mickey Beignets and some popcorn (the popcorn was always one of my favorite treats as a kid).

HOT TIP: Some places only use mobile ordering now. For example, I used the mobile order feature for Dole Whip to be picked up at the Tiki Room. When I picked it up I noticed they turned several people away who tried to walk up and purchase.

Maybe planning the snacks is a little bit backwards but it helped me to plan out our meals. Since the park didn’t open until 10 am the day we went, the boys had breakfast at home.

We had an early-ish lunch of hamburgers in Tomorrowland. It was at this moment that my 10-year-old decided that he wanted to eat an adult-sized meal, even though he usually doesn’t finish a kid’s meal. And even with coaxing, he couldn’t be swayed.

I will tell you that the kid’s meals are about $5 cheaper than adults meals and in hindsight, I probably could have ordered a kid’s meal and been happily full. Luckily he ate all of his lunch.

For dinner we didn’t really have a plan but I remembered seeing Mexican food over in Frontierland and so we headed there. Because I knew that we were going to get treats, we didn’t need to go crazy with tons of food at dinner. My husband and I ended up each getting an enchilada platter ($15/each) and we split those with the kids.

It saved us money, didn’t fill us up so much that we wouldn’t want treats, and was delicious!

Build in breaks

Make sure to plan for breaks during your day at Disneyland. People watching is super fun but you can also watch a show!

A full day at Disneyland is exhausting so be sure to build in some breaks. Talk about some of the shows you can watch at the park with your family before you go to see where you might be able to sit down and rest.

While we didn’t have much interest in shows (although looking back I would have been real happy to go to the Tiki Room), we enjoy people watching and found a nice shady spot to chill out for a while. Each time we had one of our treats we also took the time to really enjoy it instead of eating it en route to something else.

Breaks are important, especially if you have little kids! 

California Adventure

How to choose between California Adventure or Disneyland for your family fun day.

If you only have one day to spend at the Disneyland Resort, I think it is best to choose only one park. When we went for the blogger event a few years ago, it was really hard to juggle both parks. It takes a lot of time just to walk between the two so if you are going back and forth, you are doing a lot of walking but not much experiencing.

My media tickets were park hoppers as well, so while my older son and I did go over to ride a ride, doing much more would have taken hours and hours. Instead of splitting your time, I think your kids will value the experience of visiting one park at a time.

If you can swing it, do the 2 day tickets where you can do one park one day and the other the next.

CA Adventure is usually not quite as crowded as Disneyland. It is also much more manageable in a day as the park is smaller. My hubby and I like to do date nights here as there are several really great dining options like Carthay Circle and Lamplight Lounge.

There is also a lot of rides aimed at younger kids so it’s great for a family day.

There are a lot of shows for kids and seems very conducive to letting them run free a bit. This is also where you can get an adult beverage, so that’s awesome (also available through mobile ordering)

Tips to help you plan a perfect family day at Disneyland.

Before you go

I made it a point to give the kids expectations before we got to the park. We told them they would not be getting souvenirs (we live really close to Downtown Disney and anything they were desperate for could be gotten for a Christmas present).

Plus who wants to carry those around all day anyway! Although they asked a few times, it was really easy to remind them about our policy. We also made sure to let them know that although they had things they really wanted to see or do, we couldn’t guarantee that we could do all of them.

My oldest son has wanted to see the fireworks on our last two visits and didn’t get to each time. I wanted to try to put all that into perspective for them so that their disappointment didn’t negate all the amazing times we had throughout the day.

You’ll also need to prepare yourself for the fact that after spending a perfect family day at Disneyland you will now want annual passes. And of course they announced the Disney Southern California Select Passport was back two days after our visit…

Seeing the kids have such an amazing time and getting to spend quality family time together was priceless. And while you can have those things elsewhere, there is something truly magical about Disneyland that I hope I can have my kids experience more often.

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  1. Loved this, Sharon! Like most, I adore Disneyland. But since Brady was a baby, his favorite park is Universal Studios (we have a season ticket and would go several times a year). Needless to say, I can’t get him to the “closer” park. It changed this year, however, and he said he’d like to go. So your article is helpful as long as Brady holds on to his current desire!

    1. I bet once he goes, he’ll love it and want to go all the time!!!! It really is SO much fun!

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