During Thanksgiving week, my husband and I took our son to Disneyland, and it was as magical as only Disneyland at Christmastime can be. But we are a family of four, which brings me right to the first bit of info I want to share: My daughter opted out of our special day.
That's how most people have responded to me when I told them that Scarlett chose not to go to Disneyland, but instead to stay home with Grandma (at Grandma's house). Apparently no child in the history of California-raised children has ever declined an invitation to Disneyland. My girl, she's a pioneer.
We missed her, but we had a splendid time. A visit to The Happiest Place on Earth can be a little pressure-filled for parents who want to get the most out of every moment, so I wanted to share a few tips I picked up on my most recent visit.
An extra adult is a wonderful thing to have.
As a mom of two, spending the whole day in a two adult-one child triad was heavenly. Sure, Disneyland is the most family-friendly place you can imagine, but still, having a willing friend or grandparent tag along to keep your adult to child ratio tipped in favor of the adults makes ordering food, navigating crowds, darting across the park for Fast Passes, and bathroom runs a lot easier.
It's not all about the rides.
Since most of my memories of my own childhood at Disneyland (I grew up in Los Angeles and visited annually) probably center around the years I can best remember– ages ten and older– I thought we'd be getting in as many ride lines as possible. Instead I have discovered that all of the ingeniously “imagineered” experiences around the park that are not rides, are just as compelling and immersive to my son. The highlight for him each year is the Christmas parade. I swear, the theme music must be based on sounds from a mother's womb combined with adorable baby animal faces and the cinnamon scent of oatmeal cookies; it makes your heart swell the moment the first notes float out over the crowd. California Adventure has a National Park -themed playspace that is fun to explore; the Tiki Room is a silly show with talking birds; and the Jedi training session in Tomorrowland offers kids the experience of a lifetime: donning a robe and battling the real Darth Vader. There are many experiences to enjoy that are not rides.
Anticipation is half the pleasure.
My husband and I have historically not revealed big plans to our kids in advance, thinking that it's so hard for them to wait, but when it comes to Disneyland, my philosophy has changed. Knowing there is a trip on the horizon has made me notice all the Disneyana (that means Disney “stuff”) around us. Seeing a poster of Buzz Lightyear or accidentally stepping on my daughter's Merida doll reminds us during the weeks leading up to our visit that we're headed to the land where Toy Story and Brave come to life. Introducing kids to classic characters like Dumbo and Mickey in advance is possible with YouTube and Golden Books (classic stories in a classic format — a book!). The more personalities they are familiar with, the more fun it is to see the live characters and rides.
Characters are a win.
This perspective is part II of “It's not all about the rides“. My 9-year old's top priority was seeing characters, posing for them with a picture, and getting their autographs in his autograph book. At first I was reluctant to allow him to spend ten minutes in a line waiting to get close to Donald Duck, but I reminded myself that this was his time to spend, and it truly made him happy. He proudly showed off the signatures and matching photos to my parents when we woke up in their L.A. home the next morning. Disneyland is very strategic about their distribution of characters, keeping them scarce enough to make an encounter special, but available enough to ensure everyone will see their fair share. (My daughter does not want to see anyone in costume, ever, which is part of her reason for not wanting to go to Disneyland.)
There are resources for folks who want to study in advance.
My friend, Cam Bowman of Growing Up Goofy, has just published a downloadable book called 101 Disneyland Tips. (On Amazon.com as hard copy or for Kindle.) There are also numerous blogs dedicated to the topic, plus apps to use while you're there.
Note: Disney Public Relations provided admission to the park for my family. All other travel expenses were paid by me.
See my previous posts about Disneyland for more advice you didn't ask for: What is the best age for Disneyland?; Things to know about a trip to California Adventure's Cars Land; 5 clever tech tools for Disneyland visitors; What to know about visiting Disneyland with a baby