It is no secret that our family loves Disneyland. It is the big motivator around our house. When our 2nd and 3rd children became fully potty trained we made a family vacation out of it and headed to Disneyland. When our oldest, who was 7 years old, wouldn’t learn to ride a bike, we promised a magical vacation as a reward. {He has a hard time with learning new skills and gets frustrated easily.} After many weeks and hours of tears he finally learned late in the fall and we will be fulfilling our promise come this spring.

Going to a theme park with 4 small children can be challenging though and expensive! They get tired quickly after lots of walking and waiting in lines. They wander off when something magical catches their eye. They can get frustrated when they don’t get to buy everything they see. They need snacks often. The list goes on and on, but we have figured out how to solve all of those problems to keep us as parents and our children happy and excited for every moment in the park.

So I have come up with of a list of how we, as a family of six, do Disneyland. This list may not work for everyone, but hopefully at least a few of these ideas might be helpful for your family.

1 – Let’s start with WHEN to go to the park . . .

We have been in the fall, late summer, and the spring. To us, the middle of the summer just seems like it would be too hot and miserable. The winter has several holidays and is packed so we have never done that time of year. When we begin planning a trip to Disneyland I always check out this page. It helps us determine what week in a particular season would be less busy. There are always people at Disneyland, but we try to go when there are less crowds. It just isn’t as magical if you spend your entire day in lines.Disneyland - Family Style

Disneyland - Family Style

We have found a particular week that is significantly less busy than any other time we have gone. We have even had it confirmed by some of the Disneyland staff that it is one of the least busy times all year. I almost don’t even want to share it with you or the secret might get out. Ok, here is it. . . It is about a week and a half after Easter. Leading up to Easter weekend are spring breaks for schools all along the western states. Easter is a busy time to hit the park because it is the start of Spring and a holiday. BUT the weekend after Easter and the week following that are significantly less crowded than any other time we have gone. When we attended the park at that time we never stood in a line longer than 10 minutes, really! We didn’t fastpass a single ride.Disneyland - Family Style

2 – Where we prefer to STAY . . .

This is very important, don’t stay at a hotel where you have to ride a shuttle. It is best if you stay at a hotel that is close to the park where you can walk to the entrance of the park. The shuttles are a pain with strollers. You have to unload the stroller and collapse it to get on the bus. You have to wait, sometimes for a little while, for your particular shuttle to pick you up from the park. Stay within walking distance of the park!

My sister is also a frequent attender of Disneyland. She has stayed at many of the hotels next to the park. So after her experience and mine here is where we prefer to stay. The Fairfield Inn by Marriott or the Courtyard Marriott (take note that there are two of these hotels next to the park, you want the one with the waterpark). The Fairfield Inn is very clean and the staff is wonderful! The Courtyard is clean, the rooms are large (which is nice for a family of 6), the waterpark is a blast! We plan to stay here again on our next visit and plan to have an entire day just to swim at the waterpark. Cleanliness is a big thing for me and these are the two best hotels, within walking distance, that fulfill that need for me.

Water Slides, Pools, Hot Tub, Water Playground, etc.

Disneyland - Family Style

There is even a perfect little kid swimming pool, the whole thing is only one foot deep!

When it comes to doing a theme park with kids, it’s best to remember to take a break, if they need it. We love to go right when the park opens. (Main Street USA actually opens 15 minutes before the park does, this is a great time to go and look around and take pictures.) Then mid-afternoon, when the park is at its busiest, we head back to the Hotel for a nap or just to relax with our feet up. After a couple hours, we head back to the park to enjoy all the fun evening events. It’s amazing what a couple of hours relaxing will do to the attitude of not only kids, but parents too.Disneyland for Young Families

3 – What SUPPLIES we find essential . . .

If you have children under the age of 8, you will want some kind of stroller. I wish I could have a stroller for myself. There is lots of walking, standing in line, etc.; Your legs get tired. Plus, where are you going to pile all your snacks, souvenirs, drinks, bags, lunch, etc. if you don’t have a stroller???Disneyland - Family Style

Anyone that has ever been to a theme parks knows that you get hungry. The smell of the warm popcorn, the sight of the dole whip, the smell of the smoked turkey leg, the snack trolleys at ever corner. It’s fun to eat these treats, but for a family of six it can be very expensive. We do splurge a little and everyone picks one special treat, but for everything else we pack it in. I’ve made little Disney drawstring backpacks for each child.

Disneyland - Family Style

Disneyland - Family Style

Disneyland - Family Style

Every morning before heading to the park we pull out several prepackaged treats (such as the mini 1-2 ounce bags of mini oreos, goldfish, chips ahoy, teddy grahams, an apple, banana, applesauce, gogurt, string cheese, etc.) that our kids don’t usually have at home and tell them to pick 5-6 items and to place them in their bags along with a bottle water.  This way the kids can pull out a water or treat anytime that we are waiting in a long line, or walking to the other side of the park, without ever having to whine to mom or dad that they are hungry or thirsty.

Disneyland - Family Style

My husband nicely arranged our treats in the drawers at the hotel so the kids could easily get what they wanted each morning.

Disneyland - Family Style

Happily enjoying a string cheese while we wait in line.

I was a little leery that my almost 3 year old would keep a backpack on through out the entire day. Boy, was I wrong! He loved it! He could sit down in line pull out any special treat he wanted and eat it whenever and where ever he chose. I even offered to hold it a few times while in the park and he almost panicked at the thought of not having his treats with him. I never had to hold it – not once. These Disneyland drawstring backpacks are mandatory in my mind!

Disneyland - Family Style

My 4 year old happily eating his treat while waiting in line as the technicians tried to fix the broken Racers ride.

If you want to be like the other 75% of those that go to Disneyland and have matching family shirts I’ve made a few; Here is a Disneyland subway art shirt, a family mickey shirt, or if you aren’t much for matching shirts why not make a few Disney character hats that are a fraction of the cost of the ones in the park.Disneyland - Family Style

Disneyland - Family Style

Disneyland - Family Style

4 – How we do MEALS so as not to “break the bank” . . .

We eat breakfast in our hotel. We load our fridge with milk, naked juices, yogurts, applesauces, berries, cheese. We have bread, granola bars, cold cereal. We let the kids pick whatever and fill up on what they want before heading out to the park.

We do lunch in the park with food we have brought in. {Disneyland will let you bring coolers in the park, as long as they aren’t filled with ice. They don’t want people throwing their half melted ice in the streets.} We pack a cooler with apples, bananas, cheese, applesauce packets, chips, cookies, we pick up a couple of artisan loaves of bread at Panera Bread (located next to the hotel) or at La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney. We eat at a table or even just a bench. Our kids fill up more when it’s simple foods like this, than if we were to buy a fancy bread bowl soup.

For dinner we eat out. There are many delicious choice to choose from. Our favorite affordable restaurants are La Brea Bakery (Downtown Disney), French Market Restaurant (in Disneyland), and Earl of Sandwich (Downtown Disney) is extremely delicious and very affordable! Earl of Sandwich is are absolute favorite, it is located at the very end of Downtown Disney, so plan on a little bit of a walk.

5 – How we buy SOUVENIRS/PRIZES at the park . . .

For some of the souvenirs, you can buy them before hand for a fraction of the price. For example, the disney lollipops found around the park that every kid wants. In the park they are anywhere from $3.50 to $5.50 each, but if you go to most dollar stores they are only $1. We buy ours before hand and take them with us. Then when we are in the park and our kids start begging for them I can just pull out the ones we bought for $1.

We also buy clothes, pajamas, stuffed animals, etc. anything like that before hand. We go on or to the Disney store and buy them there. They are much more affordable. Then when you are in the park and a child begins begging for a plush Mickey you can just remind them that theirs in in the hotel room.

We do allow our children to buy one special item while at the park. We look in all the fun gift shops and window shop in Downtown Disney for the first couple of days while there. Once we have seen almost everything our kids get to decide what was their favorite, but there is a catch, our kids have to earn their own money for the item. A couple of month before we go to Disneyland we make Disney money jarsDisney Money Jars

The kids earn money doing various jobs around the house all the way up until we leave. Such as, folding clothes for 50 cents, taking out the trash for 25 cents, unloading the dishwasher for 25 cents, etc. The usually earn about $15 to spend within the park. This is helpful because then when they claim they “need” something they see within the park, I just remind them they only have $15 and is that what they really want. They begin to really think if all their work was worth that particular item. Most the time, they decide against buying it and happily leave the gift shop. This helps eliminate almost all the tantrums that can happen within the park.

Disneyland - Family Style

Souvenir Picks: Bubble Maker, BB-8 Cup, Iron Man, Indiana Jones Hat

6 – Here are two APPS that we use while in the park . . .

You will want to download the Disneyland App. It tells ride wait times, where characters are located, map of the park, etc. This is a great app.

We also use the Find My Friends App. On occasion, we split up and take different age children to different rides in the park. When we finish a ride and are ready to reunite the other person may be on a ride and can’t answer a phone call or text. So you can immediately look up their location and know where to find them in the park.

7 – Don’t forget to use your FASTPASS . . .

FastPasses are wonderful! Become acquainted with how they work, where to redeem them and which rides offer them.

FastPass Information Disneyland - Family Style

8 – Bonus: If you are headed to CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE you need to know this secret . . .

Radiator Springs Racers, located in Cars Land is one of the most sought after rides in the park, that being said, here is what you need to do. Right when the park opens you need to choose between getting in line for a FastPass, or racing to Radiator Springs Racers. The FastPass distribution spot is on the way to Cars Land (it’s nowhere near the attraction), it’s located on your left hand side right before you get to Cars Land. Since the line for Radiator Springs Racers usually gets backed up around the corner of the attraction, we just get a FastPass for later in the morning. Note: If it’s a busy time in the park the FastPasses will be all gone in less than an hour. When we were there in the Fall, a couple years back, the FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers were all gone within 30 minutes of the park opening. This being said, plan accordingly, you don’t want to miss out riding this ride.

Disneyland - Family Style

Disneyland - Family Style

Hopefully at least one of these tips was helpful for your family. Disneyland is magical, but seeing it through your little ones eyes is priceless. Now you are ready to go purchase your Disneyland tickets. Enjoy!

Update: When it comes to buying tickets don’t buy the Park Hopper Pass, unless you are only at the park for one day. Always go for the one park per day! There is so much to do in each park that you don’t need to park hop, unless you only have one day to visit both parks.

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