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Disneyland with Kids

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Going to take your kids to Disneyland? Then a little planning is required if you want to make the most of your vacation time and dollars. Of course, you can just show up, buy a ticket and plunge into this Fantasy Land, trying to figure things out once you are there. But if you weigh the price of tickets and the time you can waste, you had better plan your trip before visiting the "Happiest Place on Earth". We advise you to look into the following tips designed to help your Disneyland Resort vacation with kids run as smoothly as possible.

1. Get the tickets beforehand

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Buying tickets in advance saves a lot of time waiting in the ticket line. Standing in ticket lines for hours in the summer heat can spoil even such a coveted visit to Disneyland. Order tickets online one week or more before you visit, and you can bypass the long ticket lines. Pay attention to whether your tickets, such as annual passes, have to be picked up or validated at Guest Relations. Guest Relations does not open until the park opens. Call tickets can be picked up before the park opens.

2. Purchase a travel package

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To get your tickets for the best price possible, try to get a package tour which includes lodging and park admission. Travelocity offers fantastic tours to Disneyland, providing huge discounts for family trips.

3. Choose the right time for your visit

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Disneyland Resort and Disney’s California Adventure are open 365 days a year. Luckily, there is so much going on every day of the year so you are bound to find something for everyone in the family, including the parents, who will have a chance to re-live their own memories of Disneyland. Still you should remember that the parks are most crowded in July and August, on weekends, school holidays and over the Christmas holiday.

Each season has its advantages and disadvantages for a Disneyland Resort visit. Winter in Southern California can be 55 degrees and rainy or 80 degrees and sunny. Usually it is somewhere in between. This can be a very enjoyable time to visit Disneyland away from the maddening crowds. Plus you may get less expensive tickets due to winter specials and pay less expensive hotel rates. In addition you won’t have to keep the kids up so late to watch the fireworks and will have an opportunity to enjoy great Christmas decorations from Thanksgiving to New Year. On the other hand, there are shorter park hours so you can't possible fit in as much, some rides may close for the season, some rides close for maintenance and finally it may be too cool to enjoy water rides.

Spring and fall are the "shoulder seasons" which can be the best time to visit Disneyland, especially if your children are not yet in school. The Disneyland Resort offers special Magical Beginnings program for families with toddlers to visit in the fall.

As for days of the week, weekends are naturally packed, but if you have to go there on the weekend, the best bet is Sunday morning, though it is also extremely busy. During the summer, Monday and Friday are very busy, Tuesday and Wednesday are less so, and Thursday is normally the slowest day of all. During the “off-season”, which is from September through May except holidays, Thursday is usually the least crowded, followed by Tuesday.

4. Stay at a Disney area hotel

Planning to visit Disneyland Resort, stay in a local hotel close to Disneyland, even if you live in Southern California. This way you can save time and money. Then you can spend the morning at Disneyland, come back to your hotel and relax or take a nap in the afternoon, then go back to the park in the evening, ready for more. Just steps away from both Theme Parks are such reputable Disneyland area hotels as the Best Western Anaheim, Holiday Inn Anaheim Resort, Holiday Inn Express-Anaheim Maingate Hotel, Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Anaheim, Marriott Anaheim Suites, Marriott Hotel Main Tower, Marriott Hotel North Tower and others.

If you are checking in the same day, most hotels will let you park at the hotel in the morning, take the shuttle to Disneyland, come back at check in time to have a rest, then shuttle back to the park. The shuttle will bring you back to the hotel up to half an hour after the park closes, so you won’t have to drive home when you are exhausted after a long day in the sun.

5. Prepare a daily schedule

The daily schedule is one of the most valuable things for planning a trip to Disneyland. It is impossible to do everything in one day in the park, but by planning a little, you can avoid both the stress of struggling to do too much and the disappointment of missing the things you really want most. Let your kids each pick their own special "must do" in each area. Your schedule might include where and when to do the rides. Each area of the park has rides and attractions for both little kids and big ones. Little kids will enjoy Mickey's Toontown and Fantasyland while the bigger kids will be thrilled by Star Tours and Indiana Jones Adventure. Of course, you can always change your mind if one thing looks better than another when you are there, but at least you won't miss anything really special.

6. Get to the park early

The ticket booths open about half hour before the gates open. Be in line with your tickets already in hand when the gates open to ride some of the non-FASTPASS rides like Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Pirates of the Caribbean or the Matterhorn Bobsleds before the lines get long. Some Disneyland Resort packages include early entry into Disneyland. This allows you to enter the park one hour before the gates open and ride some of the more popular rides before the lines get long. This can mean 7 a.m. in the summer. Usually this offer only applies to guests of the three Disney Resort hotels, but occasionally the promotion will include guests at other Disney area hotels as well.

7. Rent strollers in the park

If you don’t feel like hauling your own, stop at Guest Services to rent a stroller. No matter how excited a kid may be, Disneyland can be quite exhausting.

8. Disneyland with the youngest

If you are going to Disneyland with young children, under 6 years old, better visit the park for a half day, return to your hotel for some rest, and then come back to the park in the afternoon refreshed. Don’t wander around the park aimlessly, but head straight to the attractions best suited for the youngest kids: Fantasyland. Here you can do Dumbo, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and, depending on their scary tolerance, Mr. Toads Wild Ride. After lunch you can have a peaceful trip on It’s a Small World, which is a nice rest stop. Refreshed, you can head to Mickey’s Toontown to see Minnie’s House, ride the dinky roller coaster, jump in Goofy’s Playhouse, ride the trolley, and, if they are not especially timid, do Roger Rabbit. Then it is high time for a cool drink and a souvenir shop near the exit gate.

At Disney’s California Adventure, there is comparatively little of particular interest to the 6-and-under crowd, except for Filk’s Fun Fair, a collection of diminutive rides for little ones.

9. Baby Centers

Both Disneyland Resort and Disney’s California Adventure have Baby Centers and Lost Children Centers where you can buy extra diapers, formula and other baby supplies. They also feature accommodations for nursing mothers. The Baby Center on Main Street is an oasis with pint-sized tables to feed toddlers and comfortable rattan chairs for mothers to feed their infants. There are even small size toilets. In Disneyland, the Baby Center is next to the First Aid Station at the end of Main Street across from the Central Plaza. At California Adventure, the Baby Center is next to the Mission Tortilla Factory in the Pacific Warf.

10. Check height restrictions

Many of the rides have height restrictions, so measure your kids before you go and prepare them for the limitations. The height restrictions are solely safety precautions and mustn’t be neglected. Sometimes there is no staff at the beginning of the line. So don’t be tempted to sneak kids onto a ride they are not big enough for. You will just waste your time in line as a staff person will stop you when it is your turn to ride and turn away the child who is not tall enough. Check the Disneyland Directory for which rides have height restrictions.

11. Take steps to prevent losing your child

Make sure young children have your cell phone number with them in a pocket in case you get separated in the park. As for toddler you can pin your name and cell phone number on your kid. Make sure your kids know to stay where they are and find a park staff person with a badge if they lose sight of you. Park staff will take found children to the Baby Center or Lost Children Center. With older kids and teens, establish a meeting point in case you lose each other.

12. Use FASTPASS when possible to make an appointment to get in the short line

Your bet best for popular rides is the free FASTPASS. Go to the ride, check the time for the next FASTPASS entry, insert your ticket, and out will come a FASTPASS ticket with a time stamped on it, e.g. 2:00p.m. Go off, do other things, come back at 2:00p.m. and get in the FASTPASS line. This way you will be able to go on the ride without a long wait.

13. Use RideMax

You can use RideMax to minimize time waiting in lines and walking between rides at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure.

14. Have an afternoon break

If you have stayed at a hotel in the area, plan to go to the park early, take a break at your hotel in the afternoon and come back to spend the evening at the parks. Since most families with small children leave early, the lines for popular kiddie rides like Dumbo and Peter Pan are shorter in the evening. This mostly applies during the summer when the park is open from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. or midnight.

15. Fireworks from Fantasyland

The best view of the fireworks is from Main Street in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Most of the Fantasyland rides close down during fireworks and reopen afterwards. If you watch the fireworks from Fantasyland near Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Carrousel, the fireworks will appear both in front of you and behind you, so you have to watch in two directions, but you'll be first in line when the Fantasyland rides re-open. The Fantasyland rides outside the roped off area re-open first, so you can ride Dumbo and then be ready when they take down the ropes to the rest of Fantasyland. Otherwise you will have to wait for about 40 minutes or longer for these rides.

16. Live shows and parades

Check the daily schedule for the days you'll be in the Park as live entertainment changes very often: parades, dance, light shows, etc. Use the daily schedule to help you plan rides and meals around the live entertainment. Crowds for parades are big, so you should get there early to reserve a spot where little ones will have a good view, or plan on putting them on your shoulders. For example, Fantasmic really is fantastic, with lights, water, music and extravaganza that will leave little ones' mouths open. Stake out your plot of grass or table early for a decent view. A very good idea is to plan a late dessert at a waterfront café.

17. Live music

Throughout the park, there's a wide variety of live music, from Dixieland jazz and brass bands at New Orleans Square, to bluegrass and steel drum bands, singing quartets, and dance bands. When you hear music playing, the best you can do is find a bench or cafe table, rest your feet, and enjoy.

18. Dining at Disneyland

Disneyland offers a profusion of places for meals and snacks. Besides hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza, there's Mexican food, bar-b-que ribs and chicken, and pasta. Of course, there are snacks galore: ice cream and candy, popcorn, lemonade, sodas, fresh fruit juice. Stop at the fresh fruit cart on Main Street for fresh apples, oranges, etc. For something a little more interesting for not much money, try the Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland, Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland or any of the Cajun/Creole establishments in New Orleans Square. The Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square is the only “fine dining” restaurant in the park.

19. Pack a lunch

Visitors are allowed to bring a limited amount of food into the park. There are lockers on Main Street where you can stash a small soft-sided cooler with in-and-out privileges all day. There are tables and chairs conveniently located near the lockers. If you are visiting both parks in one day, you can also use the lockers located between the two parks or at California Adventure, but there are no tables near them. Bottled water and soft drinks are expensive in the park, so you can also bring a few small bottles per person and juice drinks for the kids and keep them in a locker.

20. Shopping

Stop at the Mad Hatter to get all kinds of hats, and your Mickey or Minnie Mouse ears. Disneyland characters are small and inexpensive, as well as special souvenirs from Disneyland. Don't postpone your shopping until the end of the day, that's when everyone does it and the lines are long. If you are tempted to buy a life size Mickey Mouse, but don’t want to have it with you all day long, you can have it sent to the exit gate to be collected on your way out.