Don’t choose the busiest day of the year! The first time we ventured into Disneyland it was the day after Christmas which is one of the busiest days of the year. People everywhere, screaming kids everywhere and my family who has no tolerance for crowds was the perfect combination for a miserable day.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Kids may decide after standing in line they don’t actually want to meet a character. Better yet your kid may do something crazy like bop Goofy on the nose (gasp) and thankfully in true Disney fashion Goofy will then follow your kid around and harass him back. Not everyone is going to love the same rides and sometimes there will be some whining and general sibling bickering.
Don’t show up mid day. I was so shocked at the floods of people still arriving as we were already leaving to take our first break for the day. At this point many of the ride times were already 45 minutes plus.
Don’t go to the park on “magic hours” day. Disney Resort patrons are given the opportunity for an extra hour in the park some mornings. Be sure to check the schedule and avoid the park with the early magic hours or you will show up at 9 and wonder where the heck all the people came from.
Don’t wander! If you are not familiar with the park and where everything is located you can waste a lot of time just wandering around and that leads to so much frustration for everyone.
Don’t buy a park hopper ahead of time. We knew we had limited time and really wanted to park hop but without knowing exactly how the day would play out ahead of time this could be a huge waste. The park hopper can always be added at the ticket counter if you realize time allows.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Every person at Disney both inside and outside the gates seem to be fully prepared to answer questions. If you are unsure of something just ask.
Do choose a time to visit during a non peak period. The very busiest times for Disney are the week after Christmas, Spring Break and summer. While your kids are young take the opportunity to pull them from school and head to Disney when the crowds are low.
Do arrive before the park opens! I cannot tell you how big of a deal this is. If you arrive early you will make it through the gates and be allowed to wander just inside which will allow you to take a few pictures, etc before the official opening time. This way you don’t waste valuable time when the rides are open for business.
Do buy your tickets ahead of time. This is pretty much a given for most people planning a multi-day vacation but we are Disney marathoners and have mostly done Disney in a day type outings. The sooner you can plan your trip the better because as soon as you have those tickets you can immediately begin scheduling your daily Fast Pass. Read up and understand the Fast Pass you will be so happy you did!
Do study the park map and become familiar with the layout. The parks are large and you can waste so much valuable time wandering from area to area if you are not aware. So much information is on the internet to help you plan and I would definitely suggest reading up. Specifics down to where to stand for parades, fireworks, etc will be so helpful. When we went to Disneyland I remember a suggestion to watch the parade near the area where the princesses are available to meet and as soon as the parade passed we jetted over and there was no wait.
Do go left! I thought this was a slightly odd piece of advice but it is so true. Most people instinctively will head to the right upon entering the park. Study up and head left and you will find a much emptier area at the beginning of the day.
Do download Disney apps. The Disney Experience app held all of my fast pass info at a glance and actually was critical at one point when my actual band was not showing I had a fast pass. The gate attendant was able to see the data on my app and see the FP was unused and let me right through. The Disney wait times app was also very helpful especially when noting a ride was closed.
Do take snacks! Disney allows you to bring food in so take advantage. There will be some rides and character lines you will have to wait at least some time in which is the perfect time to have snacks ready for your family. We ate a big breakfast at the hotel but skipped a traditional lunch and instead drank plenty of water and ate snacks. I carry a backpack with a water bottle for each member which can be refilled, nuts, beef jerky, goldfish, etc.
Do purchase My Photo Pass package ahead of time as it is cheaper than if you wait until after your trip. With the Photo Pass anytime you see a park photographer (lots of them!) they will take your picture and with just a scan of your ticket or wrist band the picture will be loaded to your account. You can still have your pictures taken and sent to your account but buying the package is definitely the way to go.
Do take a break in the afternoon. The crowds will become larger as the day goes on so plan an afternoon break. Leave the park and head back to your hotel for some swimming and naps to be sure everyone is ready to head back and finish off the night at the park. You don’t want to miss the fireworks!
Do dress comfortably. There will be lots of walking (I logged over 18K steps both days) and be prepared for layers depending on the time of year. Watch the forecast and plan accordingly if there is a high rain chance. Rain will not be a fun killer unless you are not prepared. I packed ponchos and flip flops in my bag the first day just in case. So many rides are actually inside so rain will not shut them down.
Do bring your best patient mom attitude! Kids will get tired, there will be other people there who are not like you and every attraction may not be for every member of your family. Losing your cool will surely have your kids telling stories about “that one time mom cried at Disneyland” for years to come.