We recently returned from Disneyland in California – we had an absolute BLAST. Similar to most parents, I had done so much research prior to the trip to ensure that my husband and I were as prepared as possible for the adventure with our two kiddos (1 year old and 2 year old). I read through numerous blogs, watched more Disney YouTube videos than I ever thought possible and contacted the Paradise Pier Hotel so many times that I’m pretty confident I was on a first name basis with multiple members of the staff. I wanted to share some of our Disneyland experience in the event that other moms and dads could potentially learn from some of our tips and tricks! I hope you find some of this helpful!:
Paradise Pier Hotel:
- We chose to stay at the Paradise Pier Hotel because it was the least expensive of the three on property hotels and had received great reviews. We were not disappointed! We loved the proximity to the park. Every morning, we would walk from the hotel through Downtown Disney and ultimately to the park. From “door to door” (with a Starbucks stop) I would estimate it took about 25-30 minutes. The Disneyland Hotel would have a comparable walk (a little shorter) with the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa having the shortest walk. We chose not to rent a car and definitely did not need one during our stay. I will note that on your walks to and from the hotel – the sun is not forgiving! You will be walking into the sun both during the morning and the late afternoon – and stroller shades unfortunately don’t fully cover your child. So plan on lots of sunscreen and bring an extra blanket to try and extend the shade from your stroller.
- Transportation … although we didn’t rent a car, you might be wondering how we got from the airport to the hotel. We actually used the Disneyland Express – and I would highly recommend it! An affordable option – and pick up and drop off both at John Wayne Airport/ the hotel and ultimate drop off at LAX for our return flight were very easy. It also saved us worrying about car seats! We paid for the tickets when we got there and gave a cash tip to the driver.
- Next, I would highly recommend that you sign up for the Club Lounge Access when staying at the Paradise Pier. We ate breakfast there every morning … they had a great selection of continental breakfast items – hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, muffins, croissants, pastries, cereal, etc.. In the afternoon they had “heavy” snacks and in the evening they offered happy hour from 5:00pm-7:00pm with similar snacks (think nachos and veggies and dip). My husband and I definitely enjoyed the complimentary wine and beer offered – they have to go cups, so we could take it back to the room and enjoy our own happy hour there with the kids. It was well worth the money.
- Two things to note – all hotel rooms have a refrigerator – so if your children are obsessed with milk or cheese like my tiny humans are … fear not! You can keep all of your dairy products here. Also, when you stay in one of the “on park” properties, you are able to get early access to the park – an hour earlier than the general public. We did not take advantage of this, but maybe families with older children would benefit from this.
- OK folks, I’ve saved the best for last and that is the magical experience of the “Surf’s Up! Breakfast with Mickey and Friends” offered at the Paradise Pier hotel. This was an absolutely A++ experience for all of us. This was the only event that we “planned” for our four days – which admittedly was very difficult for this type A mama. We went on our first morning – with a 7:40 AM reservation. The food was top notch (everything breakfast related under the sun – and GREAT quality). However, the characters and service were the highlight. When you first walk, in, you’re greeted by “Lifeguard Mickey” and have an immediate photo opportunity with the professional photographer. This was my daughter Lucy’s very first character interaction – so for it to be with Mickey, was a bit intimidating. But she warmed up quickly – and LOVED all of the meet and greets with the characters who would come by our table. One of the benefits of a character breakfast is the amount of time that you get to spend with them – versus an autograph signing in the park which is very fleeting. We had about two minutes with Minnie and Stitch … and then Lucy had the joy of a lifetime when she got to go dance with Daisy Duck during “Surfing USA” … a song that they play and invite all of the children to come up with the characters and dance. To be honest, I told my husband that we could have gone home after that breakfast and it would have been a success. I highly recommend without hesitation!
OK – onto the parks …
- For those caffeine junkies like me, I am here to tell you that there are four (possibly more?) Starbucks in Downtown Disney and the parks. There are two on your walk in Downtown Disney – and then there is one on Main Street USA (no Starbucks signage out front! So it’s a little hidden) and then there’s one inside of California Adventure. I was thrilled because, let’s be honest, Disneyland with two under three years old requires coffee and alcohol. (Did I mention the club lounge access for happy hour is critical?)
- I cannot tell you how much panic I had, bringing our double stroller into Disneyland. I spent more time than I’d like to admit on the Disneyland website, learning about the dimensions of strollers they allow into the park. Our stroller (a Baby Jogger City Select Double Stroller) was larger than the dimensions they have on their website, but not by a lot. So we risked it and the nerd inside of my mama persona had butterflies in my stomach as I walked through the gates of security. It was a complete non-event, folks. I don’t think they could have cared if my children showed up on a parade float with fog machines.
- I even saw several wagons inside the park – which was an item specifically listed as prohibited on the website. So all of this is to say – perhaps leave your parade floats at home – but don’t worry so much about it as I did.
- Speaking of strollers … I read about the great tip about buying a huge balloon to tie to yours so that you can easily find it in the park … well, I might recommend you not do this. Since our balloon pretty much attacked me or those around me wherever I went due to the breeze or general movements when walking.
- Food/ Drinks: This was another item that I researched as if preparing for a thesis. From my observations, you can literally bring whatever you want into the park in terms of food and drink. So just a note since it will save you money on all of those expensive snacks!
- Character sightings/ moments:
- Disneyland App: Download it! It gives you lots of great insights around where the characters will be located during your stay
- Don’t underestimate your young kiddos … they might really enjoy the characters! To be honest, I didn’t think that my Lucy (2 years old) would enjoy them as much as she did. And I made the mistake of not having an autograph book for her for the Character Breakfast … so would highly recommend you have one “just in case”!
- Also – expect that your children might be more comfortable around some characters and not others. For example, Lucy was 100% comfortable (picture: multiple hugs and high fives) around the fully costumed characters – yet wanted nothing to do (at first) with the “human” characters such as the princesses.
- I was so impressed with how gracious and “aware” all of the characters were with my children (and us!) In my opinion, they are the unsung heroes of the Disneyland park experience.
- I was incredibly surprised at how many rides there are for children under three to go on! (I believe the Disneyland website says there are “42 attractions” without a height requirement)
- Some of our “favorites” included It’s a Small World (because A/C, length of ride itself and limited wait time), the Carousel, Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, Ariel’s Under The Sea Adventure and Winnie the Pooh
- However, I was surprised at how many of the rides for children were scary as all Hell? For example: Pinocchio, Snow White and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride … you might want to avoid those with young children
- One recommendation: watch the rides on YouTube before your trip … that will help your children get used to the ride and know what to expect
I hope you find some of these tips/ tricks helpful as you and your family plan your trip to Disneyland! Despite pockets of stress and exhaustion, we had an amazing experience that I atrritbute to limited “event planning” and a wonderful venue at the Paradise Pier!