I had the opportunity to attend a continuing education course in Anaheim, California recently. Being a mother of a 3 year old, I have a good reason to also visit the happiest place on earth (but I have to admit, it is for my own amusement as well J). For my son to enjoy his first time in Disneyland, I had to do some “strategic planning”: which park to hit, rides that are most suitable for my son’s age and interests, Fastpasses, the quietest time of year, plane tickets, food, hotels; the list seems never ending. I am sure there are many moms out there doing the same – so why reinvent the wheels? Let me share some of my experience which you may find helpful in planning ahead of time.
The biggest key is to allow yourself time to plan before the trip. A few months in advance can be extremely helpful, considering that there are so many things to think of. You most likely already have a park in mind, but do consider that Disney World has 4 parks and 2 water parks and is immensely bigger than Disneyland, which only has 2 (for now – they are building a 3rd one). With small children, walking from hotel to park, and trying to hit every park in a week at Disney World may be challenging and not so enjoyable for the little one’s so Disneyland may be more attainable for young first timer.
It is also important to do research on when you want to go. Some of the least busy times to go to Disney World are the middle of January to the middle of February; late August; and the week after American Thanksgiving to the middle of December. The least busy times at Disneyland are the week after Easter Sunday until the middle of May; after Labour Day to mid October; and after American Thanksgiving to the middle of December. The busiest times are obviously weekends, winter and spring break, summer, and all major holidays. It is more memorable to go in October when there is a Halloween theme and other special attractions that only happen this time of year but you can also add more personalized touch by signing up for events like dining with characters. It is better to book these special events in advance online. The Disney Website has its own planner called My Disney Experience, and you can use it to plan hotels, food, attractions and whatever else you are curious about. Calling a Disney representative is also helpful as they can give you ideas and save you time finding out the info on the website.
Finding a place to stay in or around the Disney area is overwhelming, as there are so many options for this as well. Staying in the park is convenient, because you walk out of your nicely themed hotel and you are already in the park, but they are usually more expensive. Also, if you are with older or no children, this can be a bit too much Disney for you, and the off-park hotels can give you a break from the crazy hustle and bustle. Hotels around Disney area often provide shuttle services so you can minimize walking as you will be doing all day in the Park!
Line up is no fun for anyone, especially small little ones so Fastpasses are blessings! Fastpasses are essentially tickets with a return time so you can pass through lineups and get right onto the ride. It works differently for each park – for Disney World, you have to get them beforehand, but at Disneyland you go right to the popular attractions and grab the Fastpass ticket at the ride. Bear in mind that there are also Fastpasses for meeting some of the favourite characters – for examples, nowadays, with Princess Anna, Elsa and Olaf. There is also an app that tells you the wait time at each ride and food lines, which is very convenient if you are debating walking across the park. Disney World has wifi built throughout the entire park which makes the app more accessible if you’re from out of country or do not have data.
When you arrive at the park, you can tell Guest Relations if it is your birthday, first visit, or anniversary, you will be given a button to wear which gets the cast’s attention to give you an extra special hello. There is a disability card that can be provided for those who can’t wait in the long lines due to a disability, which you can also get at Guest Relations. There are strollers to rent in the park for littler children, and if you plan on renting one for more than a day, let the park know and they will give you a discount. Another fun tip, is that if you buy a coffee in the park and keep your receipt, you can take it into any food shop and get it refilled for free (you don’t even need your cup). You can also ask the photographers if they can add special effects to your photos with characters. Make sure you don’t forget an autograph book for the little one’s when they meet the celebrity characters. You can purchase in the park, or just buy a more affordable Disney themed one at the dollar store at home. It is a good keepsake for children (I still have mine from my first visit to the park).
Being organized and having everything planned beforehand takes away the stress one might have at the beginning of the trip, and allow everything to flow smoothly. Hope all these tips help you enjoy your time in the park. Have fun!