I’m sharing 9 awesome things I wish I’d known before our first trip to Disneyland. Read through them and you’ll be more prepared and less stressed when you go!

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going To Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

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In a previous post, I talked about what I learned as I planned our family’s first vacation to Disneyland. We went and had so much fun and now that we are back, I have more tips to share that will make your experience at the park even more magical and stress-free.

There is a lot of great information here about what to know when planning your first trip to Disneyland. To make it easier to find what you’re most interested in, check out the table of contents and click on a title to be taken directly to that section.

Prepare Snacks the Night Before

Going in, we knew we could take outside food into the park so we brought a ton of snacks with us from home. This worked out great for us and we didn’t buy any snacks in the park besides a Dole Whip (yum!). That being said, I wish we’d done a better job of prepping our snacks the night before or possibly even at home.

The next time we go, I’m going to bring a box of sandwich bags with us and portion out the snacks beforehand and put them in the bags we are taking to the park. I feel like half of our morning was spent getting ourselves ready and the other half was spent getting snacks into bags and sandwiches made and into coolers before we walked out the door. It would have made our mornings run so much more smoothly if we’d done just a little more prep.

Bring Lots of Snacks

When we were looking for a hotel, we wanted to stay somewhere that had a continental breakfast so we could try and fill up before heading into the park. My kids are pretty good eaters, but even so, they didn’t eat a ton at breakfast and I knew they’d be hungry sooner than later. We literally lived off of snacks during our time at the park. (You can find a huge list of snack ideas in this post!) We didn’t want to spend $5 on a small bag of popcorn or $2 on a banana.

We packed up our little cooler with sliced apples, sandwiches, granola bars, peanuts, fruit snacks, raisins, applesauce, goldfish…and it would be gone by the time we went back to the hotel for a rest and nap time. Then we’d load it all up again for when we went back later that day. With the exception of a few things, all the snacks we had were brought from home, which saved us a lot of money. This is a benefit of driving versus flying (which I discussed in my planning for Disneyland post) for our first trip to Disneyland.

Bring A Variety of Flavored Water

A great tip I learned while planning our trip is that you can ask any restaurant or drinking station with fountain drinks for a cup of ice water or to fill up your bottle. We went into the park with full water bottles and sippy cups and we filled them up throughout the day.

But here’s the thing: I got kind of tired of drinking just water. Not all the water we got was cold (like from drinking fountains) and after sitting in our bags in the hot sun, it got pretty warm and not very refreshing. My husband ended up going to a local Walmart and picking up some Vitamin Waters for us to drink and let me tell you: it was a lot easier to down an entire bottle of that than it was a bottle of lukewarm water.

The next time we go to Disneyland, or any other theme park, I’m going to bring some of the individual packets of flavor crystals, like Crystal Light, or the liquid flavors, like Mio, to put in our waters. I know my kids will drink an entire juice box in a matter of minutes, but getting them to drink that much water in the same amount of time can be hard. We went during the second week of October and with humidity it was at least 90 degrees. Staying hydrated is essential.

Getting to the Park

Parking at Disneyland is expensive. It costs $25 per day! So when we were planning our trip, we chose a hotel that was close enough to the park that we had the option to walk or take the shuttle. We tried out both options to see which we liked better.

On our first day, we hopped on the shuttle in the morning and it took us 7-10 minutes to get to the park. However, it took us 20 minutes to get back to our hotel in the afternoon because we found out that it was one of the last stops on its route. After the kids had rested up, we decided to walk to the park and see if we preferred that over the shuttle. It was later in the day and cooler and we made it to the gates in 12-15 minutes.

The second day, we walked each time and didn’t ride the shuttle at all. My recommendation would be to find out what your options are for any of the hotels you are interested in staying at. I simply called the hotel’s front desk and asked them. Some hotels offer complimentary shuttles, while others don’t. For us, the fee to ride the shuttle one-way was $3 for adults and $1 for kids while a day pass was $5 for adults and $2 for kids, with multi-day discounts (this may have changed since we went so make sure to check the pricing beforehand).

Strollers and Stroller Parking

Bringing our double-stroller with us was one of the best decisions we could have made. We have a Sit n’ Stand Double Stroller by Baby Trend and love it. It held both kids, our cooler, my diaper bag, drinks, sweatshirts and anything else we needed to throw in. The kids were in and out of it throughout the day, eating snacks or resting or riding as we moved between rides/parks. At night, they both fell asleep in it as we walked back to the hotel. If you’re debating about bringing a stroller, just do it. You will be glad you did. (If bringing your own stroller isn’t an option, you can also rent strollers at the park.)

**PRO TIP** There are various places around the park for you to park your stroller, generally around the fences by the rides. I was a little worried about leaving my bag and other items but I didn’t have any problems with my stuff being taken. We did have a couple of times where we couldn’t find our stroller but it was because it had been moved by a cast member. If you come up to a place where you see cast members moving strollers around, you can ask them if there is a spot they’d prefer you put your stroller so it doesn’t get moved around and it’s easier for you to find when you come back to get it.

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips to help will you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Download the Official Disneyland App

A friend of mine who has annual passes for her family highly suggested downloading the official Disneyland app on our phones. This app gives information on wait times for rides, the location of characters and restrooms, dining locations and menus, parade and event information and photo passes. My husband and I both downloaded it on our phones before we went into the park and referred to it multiple times throughout the day. It was especially helpful during our first trip to Disneyland when my daughter all of a sudden said she needed to use the bathroom and we needed to find one quickly. It was a lot faster than trying to look information up on our phones and much more efficient.

**PRO TIP** If you want to keep the app on your phone after you leave Disneyland, it’s a fun way to show your kids where Mickey Mouse or their favorite princess is.

Special Visit Buttons

I read about special visit buttons you can get for free at Disneyland when I was planning our first trip to Disneyland. They have First Visit, Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary and others. According to what I read, you could pick them up at the Guest Services building. When I went to go pick some up, there was a 10 minute wait at Guest Services, but the cast member told me that I could go to any store and ask for one. I’m sure I read this somewhere, but I didn’t remember. I had to stop by a couple of stores because they had already run out and it was only 9am. So if you want one, try and get it first thing when you get to the park.

Also, if you’re child is wearing their button in the park, the cast members and characters generally try to make a point of saying something about it which makes it even more special for them.

Visiting with Characters

Princesses

My daughter specifically wanted to see as many princesses as possible on our trip so I tried to find out as much as I could about seeing them before we got there. There are two places where you will be most likely to find princesses: at the Royal Hall (to the left of the castle) and by the Snow White fountain (to the right of the castle). If your child wants to see Anna or Elsa, you will only be able to visit them at California Adventure, but there are a couple of shows you can watch them in within the Disneyland side of the park.

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips to help will you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Other Characters

By using the Disneyland app, we were able to find different characters whereabouts in each park. There is always a cast member close by the line if you have any questions about the character you are going to see. For example, a couple of times we got in line to see the character that was there, but the cast member told us that if we got in line that we’d be seeing a different character, or if we wanted to see that same character they told us when they would be back at that location.

Another time we got in line to see a character and the cast member told us that that particular character would be leaving but that another character would be coming at a different location so we could get in line there. It was so nice to know ahead of time if we’d actually be seeing the characters we were getting in line for because then we could choose if it was someone we wanted to see.

**NOTE** If a character is out in one park, he won’t be out in another park. For example, we saw Goofy in Disneyland so we knew that he wouldn’t be out in California Adventure. Disney is very good about being consistent this way and not having the same character out in more than one park or at more than one location of the same park.

Take Time to Rest

Since we have small children (ages 3.5 and 18 months at the time of our trip), we planned out a portion of each day as a time to rest/take a nap at our hotel. I know some kids who can sleep anywhere and others who need to have a quiet room. My kids fall into the latter group. So around 1pm we went back to the hotel. Even though we missed out on about 3 hours of time at the park each day, by allowing our kids (and ourselves) time to rest, we were able to stay a little later at the park and our kids were much happier on our first trip to Disneyland. Plus, it was pretty hot during the day so we avoided some heat exhaustion by staying cool during those times.

Discount Tickets to Disneyland

The best deal I’ve found on discount Disneyland tickets is with Get Away Today. They are an approved Disneyland ticket seller and I regularly see sales where you can get your tickets, plus extra bonuses for less than the price you’d pay directly through the Disney site.

They also offer a layaway program, which is a great way to take advantage of sales without having to pay the full amount upfront! If you are going to be staying for at least 2 nights, you can book a ticket and hotel package and use my exclusive code SUNSHINE10 to receive $10 off the already low prices.

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9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going To Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your first trip to Disneyland!
9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going To Disneyland the First Time--great must-know tips that will help you plan your first trip to Disneyland more thoroughly!
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Hi! I’m Shani,

A stay-at-home mom of 4 and wife. I love sharing easy to follow craft tutorials, kid activities, family-friendly recipes, organization, travel and motherhood. I hope you’ll feel uplifted and empowered by each post, regardless of what kind it is. Join me as I raise my little munchkins and share the sunshine in this beautiful, crazy thing called life! Read more...

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9 Comments

  1. These are such great tips! I have to admit, I’ve never used the Disneyland app but I’ll definitely download it before our next trip!

  2. Great tps and useful post. I don’t have kids and only visited Disneyland Paris once, but I can only imagine how tough it can be doing something that exciting with small kds….I do remember I was dead at the end of my day at the park x

  3. My daughters really want to see the princesses! They are 5, and we haven’t gone yet. I will keep all these tips in mind!

  4. I like the idea of finding a hotel within walking distance of the park! It is amazing how pricey everything can be if you don’t take the time to plan ahead and have a game plan in advance!

  5. Jennifer Jones Reply

    We literally just got back last night. We’re WDW people, so this was our first DL trip. My biggest annoyance or “wish I’d have known” was security. DL just doesn’t know how to do it correctly. So, our first two trips, we waited 10 minutes or so. On our 3rd day (a Thursday), for no reason we knew of, the security line was THOUSANDS of people long. They had 3 lines and told us to just get in any of them. The far right and middle lines each had ONE security person checking every bag in that line. The far left line split into about 12-15 different stations with 12-15 different people checking bags. However, the line was SO long, you couldn’t see that from where you got into line. So, we stood in the security bag check line for an hour and 20 minutes. We were livid.

  6. Really good tips! One thing I would add to the stroller point you had is to mark your stroller like you would with luggage. When I’m with my brother’s kids we blew up a balloon that we bring with us and attach it to the stroller. So much easier to find that way.

    • Shani Ogden Reply

      Thanks for the comment Scott! I definitely agree that adding a distinguishing item to your stroller is a great way to keep track of it in the huge groups there. I will add that note into my post.

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