Hooray for Mickey!
A funny thing happened last week, when we went to Disneyland for the three days before Thanksgiving…
It was awesome. There were no meltdowns. Whaaaa?!
So I came home and I was all, “Okay, that was amazing…but now I have nothing to write about! My little hellions were downright adorable!” Then I thought that what I would do is write my own little unofficial review of our stay at the Disneyland Resort, with my own tips on what worked really well (or not so well) for our family. Good deal? I thought so.
We stayed at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa which is actually part of California Adventure. This was amazing. I don’t say that lightly, either! My husband will tell you that I am a total hotel snob. I actually don’t like to talk about it because I really hate admitting that it’s true…but let’s just say if you don’t have a big, fluffy white duvet on your bed, I’m not getting in it. Those weird, flammable, “don’t-take-a-blacklight-to-it” comforters that you find in some hotels? I might as well turn and walk out. I’m not touching it. THIS hotel, however, was NOT like those.
Upon pulling into the driveway, we were greeted by our first perky cast member, who excitedly told us about all the holiday upgrades throughout the parks. The Disney attitude is infectious, I have to admit. Soon I was telling everyone in our family to “have a magical day!” We pulled into the lines of cars waiting for valets, and got one immediately. Their staffing was awesome. They took our bags and stored them because our rooms weren’t ready yet, and we went inside to check in.
Oh, Disney. You’re so smart!
When they call this place “Grand” they MEAN it. The lobby is downright stunning. Even though I saw the photos in the gallery online before we came, they really don’t do it justice because you can’t see the little details. The kid-sized rocking chairs within eyesight of the line for registration, where your little ones can watch Mickey cartoons instead of freaking out due to extreme boredom as you get your reservation squared away. The large fireplace with adult-sized rocking chairs tucked away in a cozy little alcove (also a great semi-private spot to nurse in a comfy chair if you need to). The GIANT Christmas tree with GIANT presents, which Layla stared at in wonder for a solid 30 seconds without moving. I also really enjoyed that even though our room wasn’t ready, they accommodated our request to have all three of our rooms (one for us, one for my brothers, one for my parents) in the same hallway, with no problem. They also did something really cool, that I wish most hotels would do. Our room wasn’t clean/ready yet, so they gave us our room keys, but didn’t tell us which room we were in. Then when it was ready, they sent me a text with our room number, so we didn’t have to make another trip to the front desk. Mouskagenius!
The rooms themselves were very nicely appointed. We had a balcony with a great view of the pool, which had a great slide and looked like a lot of fun (we didn’t go swimming). The beds and pillows were super comfy, and each room has a pack-n-play already in it. We ordered up a second, and it was there in minutes. You really can’t beat Disney’s staff. The room also had a fridge, which was great for keeping leftovers/milk handy, but I was surprised there wasn’t a minibar or anything. They do have a snack bar downstairs with everything that would normally be in a minibar, so that’s an option for you. I think the only real “downside” I could find was that the quality of the TV in the rooms was pretty crappy, and they didn’t have the Disney Jr Channel. I feel stupid even complaining about it, because you’re at Disneyland…who watches TV?! But there it is. Would have been convenient for when we were trying to get ready in the mornings and in the evenings before dinner.
Tip: Are you traveling with family, and getting multiple rooms? Even if you can’t get connected rooms, ask for them close together! Our video baby monitor reached four rooms away, so we could put the kids down in our room for a nap or at night and hang out in my brothers’ room. The first night we actually put the kids down, gave the monitor to my parents in their room, and went out to ride the big rides with my brothers after dark! Totally beats having to either go to bed at 8PM, or sit in a dark room and read/play iPhone games! Just remember to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so no one comes a-knocking!
Extra Magic Hour Review:
Through some of the passes, or included in your Disneyland Resort Stay, you can take part in an “Extra Magic Hour” in the mornings at the parks, where you can get into the park and ride rides at 7AM, instead of the normal 8AM opening time. Tuesday was the EMH at Disneyland, and we decided to go for it. Someone told my mom that people actually start lining up to get in at 6AM! After being out with my brothers until midnight the night before, we decided 6:30 was a good wake-up time for us. As Layla grumpily asked me to “turn off a lights, Mama!” as I opened the curtains, I wondered if this would really be worth it. IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT, PEOPLE. It’s amazing! We wandered down Main Street without the crowd. The kids got to appreciate the full view of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle without a thousand people standing in front of them. We walked right on to King Arthur’s Carousel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Pinocchio. It was the perfect way to spend the first hour of our day at the park, and it was extra magical to be able to have the kids’ first time at Disney be so stress-free and uncrowded.
“Yeah, yeah, I see you. Now back to these waffles.”
I would say this was really the only snag we hit in our trip. A couple days before we left, my Mom asked me to make reservations for the whole trip. We had a party of eight, so we knew that having meals all together would be a challenge, if not impossible, without reservations. I love Disneyland’s dining website for this! You can really customize and search for exactly what you want. It works a lot like Open Table, so it was very user-friendly. I was surprised just how many reservations were still available when I searched for character dining!
I scheduled our “Breakfast with Minnie and Friends” at the Plaza Inn for 8:10AM. We arrived at 8AM, and were told that we could sit outside immediately, if we liked, or we could wait for indoor seating and they would call us. It was about 50 degrees outside, so we definitely didn’t want to have breakfast out there! My family hadn’t arrived yet, so waiting a couple minutes would be no big deal. When they arrived, I went back to the hostess and let her know that our entire party had arrived and we were ready to be seated. She then informed us that it would be a 40 minute wait to sit inside. Ex-squeeze me? Baking powder? WHY did I make a reservation, then? Well what they don’t tell you, is that in teensy tiny print when you make your reservation it says under the Terms and Conditions (that no one reads, ever), “Indoor seating is not guaranteed, but may be requested upon arrival.” So basically it’s like call-ahead seating. Long story short, my Dad had a fit and a half, spoke with the manager, and we were seated after about 15 minutes of waiting. It really was the only part of the trip that upset us. Had we known that indoor seating wasn’t guaranteed, we never would have signed up for the breakfast. Also, if you cancel your reservations without 24 hrs notice you are subject to a $10/person fee that will be charged to the credit card you made the reservation with, so walking away was not an option. Like I said, it worked out in our case, but this is definitely something to keep in mind, especially on cold or rainy days.
Tip: It does get cold and/or rainy on occasion in Southern California. Many people make the mistake of thinking that it’s a tropical climate here, like Florida, Texas, or other southern states. Not the case! While we have beautiful weather year round, it is rarely above 75 degrees in the winter (especially in San Diego, where we live), and almost never humid. Be sure to check the weather before you come, and always bring a sweater/sweatshirt. It gets chilly at night and in the morning!
Disneyland Park Tips:
- Start at Fantasyland- If you have little ones, these are the rides that you’re going to want to do during your extra magic hour. Think Dumbo, the Teacups, Peter Pan, etc. Definitely take advantage of the early hours with this area of the park.
- Don’t forget ToonTown! ToonTown is actually behind Fantasyland, so maybe people forget about it, or something. All I know is that we went there after breakfast, and there was almost no wait anywhere. We walked right on to the Roger Rabbit ride, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and this is also where we met Goofy, Mickey, and Minnie. I think Minnie was the longest line we waited in; about 25 minutes. I highly recommend Minnie and Mickey’s Houses, where you can sit on their furniture, bake a cake in Minnie’s oven, and check out where Pluto takes a snooze before you get a photo op with the characters. Really cool stuff while you wait in line! Actually… there’s pretty much cool stuff all over ToonTown. I think we were there for almost 2 hours!
- Parade = MADNESS- Maybe it was just because we were there two days before Thanksgiving, but the 5:30PM Christmas Fantasy Parade created total chaos. Like, we’re talking shoulder-to-shoulder people. We actually skipped watching it because it was so crowded (we saw people staking out spots for it an hour and a half before it started)! They also opened up this back alley behind all the Main Street USA shops so people could leave the park without walking down the parade route. Yeah. It was that crowded.
- Just because there’s no height limit, doesn’t mean it’s not scary- The first ride we took Layla & Joey on was the Snow White Ride. Joey was actually fine through all the rides, but Layla is going through an “I’m scared of the dark” phase. She would clutch onto us and say, “I don’t like it!” during some points, but then would say, “Do it again!” when we got out. Just know that it’s really dark in there, and try to remember that some of the old school Disney movies were legit scary (think: Snow White’s wicked witch in old lady disguise, Pleasure Island in Pinocchio, Roger Rabbit’s gangsters, etc)!
- They changed Pirates of the Caribbean- Again, no height limit on this, so we brought our one year old on. I recalled there being one tiny drop at the end of the ride. Nope! It’s TWO drops, they’re pretty decent in size, and they’re right at the beginning. I recommend laps for little ones on this ride. Also, it’s pitch-black dark in some of the spots on the ride. Really fun, though! They included stuff from the movie, including Jack Sparrow!
Everybody loves Santa! *grimace*
- Bring your good camera- We almost didn’t, and I would have majorly regretted it! At all of the photo ops, there was always a cast member who was more than happy to use our camera for a photo!
California Adventure Tips:
- A Bug’s Life = Kid Zone- This was by far the best part of the park for us. It’s gorgeous, the sets are amazing, and there are a ton of rides for the kids. We went here on Monday night and it was great! I think the longest line we waited in was 15 minutes. Also, I must have said, “I love candy corn!” in Heimlich the caterpillar’s voice about a million times after waiting for the kids to pass by on the Heimlich train ride, and hearing it over and over. “Ooh! I vish candy corn vas a vegetable!”
- Ariel’s Under Sea Adventure is PERFECT- I actually wish that this had been the first Disney movie ride that we had taken the kids on, instead of Snow White. I think it would have eased Layla into it a little better, instead of “TRY THE APPLES!” in her face with the scary old witch! This ride is so fun! The animatronics are seriously great, the music is amazing, and there’s no giant Ursula rising out of the sea so basically it’s not terrifying. It seriously might be my new favorite Disney ride!
- PARADE = AWESOME- Unlike the Christmas Fantasy Parade, the Pixar Play Parade at 4:30 was a blast! Look at those faces…both kids absolutely LOVED this! We also arrived right before it started, and were able to get a great viewing spot.
- Expect Carsland to be crowded…for good reason- We did the rest of California Adventure on Wednesday right before we left, and I wish we would have done Carsland Monday night, instead. The kids were a little bit cranky and tired Wednesday, so we didn’t enjoy it to its full potential, but it was seriously beautiful. Expect to step right into Radiator Springs. It’s breathtaking! Also, Mater drives through the streets, and it’s an actual truck. Really cool!
- Disney Jr Live: Do it. Your kids will sing along to every song, and so will you. I joked that while we were waiting in line the Doc McStuffins theme song came on and every single mom in line (including myself) started singing along! It’s a really cute show! They use Muppet style puppets, there’s a guy who leads the whole audience in the songs, and “gold doubloons” (confetti) flies down from the ceiling at the end. Also, you sit on the floor “preschool style” for the show, so the kids can see everything and get up and dance. We got in line about 30 minutes early, and it was worth it. We were in the third row of people, and both kids were totally transfixed. I can’t guarantee that they would have loved it if they were farther away and couldn’t see.
Other Stuff We Learned:
- Do a ride, then do something without a wait- Be it running around a play area, or a ride with little to no wait, we found that the kids did really well if they could stretch their legs between waits. The Mark Twain Steamboat in Adventureland at Disneyland was great for this. It’s probably about 10 minutes long, the kids loved being on a huge boat, and they got to run around and play. A really nice break!
- DON’T. SKIP. NAPS. Look at me. Don’t. Skip. Naps. Our schedule was rides in the morning, lunch near the hotel, naps from 12:30ish to 3:30ish, then back to the park until 8ish. Yes, that’s three hours that could be spent in the park, but the kids were SO much happier come dinnertime. I would rather keep them up a little later to do stuff, than have them melt down at 5:30 and have to call it a night.
- Stay in the park if you can swing it- We are very lucky to have a very generous family who paid for our trip, but I can’t say enough good things about staying in the park. It was SO convenient. Being able to walk in and out of the parks, instead of taking a tram or a shuttle, saved us a serious headache with schlepping the kids, stroller, backpack, etc. If you can budget for it–maybe put off your trip a little longer to cover it–I would definitely say it’s worth it. Especially for young kids who need naps/breaks.
- Download the MouseWait App- (not paid for this, we just really found it useful) We found the MouseWait app to be really useful in planning which part of the park to head to. It helps you see where the crowds are, and get a general idea of wait times. This is especially helpful in the evenings, when more people are reporting their wait times!
- Bring stuff to do in line- We saw a LOT of people playing Ellen’s “Heads Up!” game on their iPhones in line. A great idea! Other fun ideas would have been to bring some Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples cards. Or, just think of some fun trivia. My brother stumped our whole family with, “Can you name four countries that have only one vowel in the name, with the letter ‘y’ not counted as a vowel?” Layla also really likes the “Endless Alphabet” app on our phones.
All in all, we had such a great trip! I think three days was a great amount of time to be in the parks. If we could have been there all day Monday it would have been even better. I think the most important thing to know going in is that you’re not going to get to ride everything. You can’t see everything. If you can keep this in mind, and just enjoy yourself, you’ll have an amazing vacation. Plus, going with your kids is unlike any trip to Disney before. Seeing the wonder in their eyes creates a whole new exciting experience. I thought they both might be too young for it, but I was completely mistaken. We can’t wait to go back again!