Disneyland with kids [shit you need to know]

Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run–like an interactive Star Tours. Highly recommend.

We walked for over 12 hours and 20k steps at Disneyland with our 5- and 7-year-old kids, and here’s how…

Consider time & temperature

The severity of needing an early reservation after Disneyland reopened to limited capacity post-COVID was not adequately triaged by my husband, so we did the best we could and secured a weekday in July. I wanted to see the park without the massive crowds and experience the magic before things returned to normal…just like errrrrryyyyyyyyyone else.

By the time we got there, California had lifted the mandatory mask mandate. And the although still on the reservation system, Disneyland had already opened to non-California residents. It was rather crowded and really hot.

Mistake: Not considering the weather and bringing a sweatshirt I had to carry around all day. But it completed makeshift green twinset and was recently procured from Camber USA, which has a cult following for making possibly the world’s best hoodies. And since nothing is too good for Disneyland, I packed it. Here I am wearing it first thing in the morning for the 33 seconds it took to take this photo.

Lining up before the park opened

In order to get in a few rides with little to no wait, we lined up before the park opened. We were 10th in line for Star Tours. A personal best!

Families with small children tend to go home around dinnertime, and the park clears out then as well. The line for Pirates of the Caribbean went from 2 hours at lunch to 20 minutes in the evening. (It later almost broke down, but that’s another topic.)

Personal cooling solution

Kinda know what to expect

Things are changing quickly, but some rides–like the monorail–remained closed on our trip. And even though the park still required a reservation for tickets, it got busy like in the before-times. Our average wait for rides was about 45 minutes.

The new(ish) Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is AMAZING! Here’s a tour around the marketplace.

Things were not in typical tip-top Disney shape. This may sound nitpicky, but if you know Disney then you know that there is a secret service cleaning crew that makes the magic happen. Instead of the typical flawlessness, we got trapped in the elevator at the Haunted Mansion, almost trapped in a boat in Pirates of the Caribean, and watched a large sconce fall on a dude’s head in the line for the Peter Pan ride, which was then swiftly closed and all sconces subsquently removed.

It’s like they rebooted Disneyland after the COVID closure, but it’s not quite back online.

Get the app

Download the Disneyland app. Like, as soon as you book your trip. Start familiarizing yourself with it and book dinner reservations ASAP, even at Downtown Disney outside the park. Study the map and plan your attack so you don’t have to fight the crowds with kids.

Map of the park within the app, which tells wait times and other info for the rides.

The app is how you reserve food, join virtual queues for popular rides, and most importantly, get into the cantina <see below for important instructions>.

Have a plan

Have an idea of path you’ll take as you make your way across the park so you can reserve food at a particular restaurant if your kids need to eat at a certain time. This is because time slots for food pickup book early, and you can’t just walk up and order at many places. I bought our lunch while we waited for the park to open.

We started in Tomorrowland then quickly made our way to the Matterhorn, which turned out to be too scary for my 7-year-old <see below>. In order to bring his little bird pulse down, we followed up with It’s a Small World. But he was scared that it was going to turn into a Gene Wilder Charlie and the Chocolate Factory boat situation. Luckily, the app discloses which rides are dark and loud, so we could manage his fear THE REST OF THE DAY.

We came out of the gate too hot with the Matterhorn.
We tried to cool things down with the world’s most boring ride, It’s a Small World. Disagree? *Fight me*

Our plan was to end up at Fantasyland for lunch, and the app alerted us once it was time to grab our food, saving us from meltdowns.

The iconic Disneyland castle

Take the necessary supplies

If you have a stroller, load it up. It’s easier to push than carrying a heavy bag. And, according to my sources, a better way to sneak in booze.

We don’t have a stroller, so we packed the following:

Fannypack contents (for more adventures with fannypacks, click here)

We’re all mature enough to not mess with wearing uncomfy shoes, right? I saw a young woman in a dress and wedges and was like, whhhhhyyyyyyyy????? Broken-in tennies or die!

Backpack contents

  • My sweatshirt that I didn’t need
  • Water bottle that we refilled throughout the day
  • Snacks that DON’T MELT
  • Change of shoes–this may sound weird, but I made my kids wear socks and tennis shoes all day (to avoid having to use the Band-aids in my aforementioned fannypack) and then let them change into Crocs without socks after dinner, which cooled them off and bought us another 2 or so hours!
  • Extra room for all the dumb shit your kids will make you buy

Know where you can rest

Face it, your feet will hurt. You’ll sweat. And, at some point, you’ll hate your family. But you can extend your day by taking rest breaks.

Tiki Room: Get a Dole pineapple frozen thingy and sneak vodka into it if you can <see stroller advice above>.

The Tiki Room: it’s kitsch and vintage, and your kids will not think it’s awesome.

Cinema on Main Street: It’s dark and air conditioned if you need a break on your way out of Disneyland, for example, if someone gets a stomach ache from eating too much candy.

Pirate’s lair on Tom Sawyer’s island

Tom Sawyer’s Island: It’s a good escape when things get nuts around lunchtime. A motorized raft will take you across a body of water to a shaded island where kids can run wild like in Lord of the Flies.

Oga’s Cantina: <<<PAY ATTENTION>>> Get into the cantina however you can! It’s not to be missed! There’s a two-drink max, but two drinks are better than no drinks at what’s basically a dry park. (If you can go all day without alcohol, congrats! But also, you’re probably not my target audience.) <See below for an app tutorial of how to get a rez at the cantina.>

Try to book first thing in the morning. Otherwise, the app may say that Oga’s is at capacity <red arrow>. Join the walk-up list anyway <blue arrow> and hopefully get a stand-by time. Ours was 30 minutes, which was easy to kill in Galaxy’s Edge.
Oga’s Cantina, AKA “the Star Wars bar”
How we all felt midday
Faux taxidermy at Oga’s that I photographed specifically for my crazy grandma

Stay at a nearby hotel

It’s just easier.

Even if you live within driving distance to Disneyland, like we do, who know’s what’ll be up with California traffic on any given day. And the last thing you’ll want to do is drive home for hours after walking the entire day.

It took us 4 hours to get home. It’s 95 miles.

Cartoons in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel

We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel. The “cast member”–I can hardly use that term seriously, but that’s what employees are called at Disneyland–I called to reserve said it was the better choice for kids compared to the Grand Californian. Mickey Mouse clips play in the lobby. The pool has several kid-friendly waterslides. And the Trader Sam’s tiki bar is located on site (to help you deal with said kids).

Waterslide at the Disneyland Hotel

The hotel was built in the ’50s, and it shows. Although nice, the rooms are small and do not have balconies, so if you use those to get away from your kids at bedtime, tough shit. Bring gummies because you will be stuck in the room with them.

View of pool and Trader Sam’s from our room

Open your wallet

Disneyland is expensive and probably only getting more so. We actually checked that we had the correct room for the price. We did. We decided to get over it and just get drunk and have fun.

Ballast Point brewery at Downtown Disney

Open your wallet and your heart because even a taxing day at Disneyland is a good day.

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