Piling into a crowded, frenzied amusement park is generally the last on my list of trips to take, but as a parent, it is inevitably a moment that arrives at some point, the pulling of ones heartstrings, t-shirt, and wallet until tickets are purchased, hotels are booked, and comfortable shoes are packed.
I remember amusement parks as a kid – Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Disney World, Universal Studios. Most often, Cedar Point – the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World” in Sandusky, Ohio – where I spent a ton of tween and teen years running from ride to ride with my friends, burnt to a crisp at the end of the day with holes in our pockets and rumbling stomachs from all the candy and food.
It’s a different ballgame, though, when you’re the parent on a multigenerational trip to an amusement park like Disneyland, sandwiched between your own parents and your kiddos. It’s all about the balance – a solid meal before a mouth full of cotton candy, an on-stage performance between lines and rides and character meets. You’re managing the happiness of children with short attention spans as well as your own parents, who may not be into rollercoasters and rowdy crowds.
So how can you make it easier on everyone? After a recent visit to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, I scribbled down a few tips:
- Download the Disneyland app. It’s invaluable, providing maps of the parks, locations of food, bathrooms, and entertainment. There are wait times for rides, information on character meet-and-greets, and performance showtimes.
- Utilize the FastPass option. The most popular rides at the parks, like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, will allow you to reserve a spot in line at a later time in the day.
- Find rides that will appeal to everyone in your group. Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have a number of rides comfortable for all ages – from bumper cars to carousels – and the lines are shorter. You can utilize the app to schedule a few Disney performances in between rides as well to allow for enough downtime.
- The evening shows, like the Paint the Night Parade and The World of Color, are spectacular. Folks start securing their spots as early as two hours before the show, so plan accordingly. If you’re lucky, the shows are timed so that you can catch both on the same evening, making for only one late night in your schedule.
- We discovered that Disneyland is alcohol-free, so no lunchtime cocktail or glass of wine with dinner. However, Disney California Adventure has plenty of drink options, including craft beers and wines. Downtown Disney is yet a third arm to the two parks – a restaurant and store-laden destination just outside both parks – great for post-adventure meals and shopping.
- Bring your own food and drink, as both parks allow outside items. We packed a hiking backpack full of water and snacks to keep costs down and spirits up.
- There are a number of restaurants on location that take reservations. A few of my friends recommended the Blue Bayou, which is settled inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. However, as I discovered, reservations go quickly at all the restaurants in the park, so stop by early in the day to book a table.
- If you’re there for a special occasion – birthdays, anniversaries, first visits – make sure to let the Disney folks know. You’ll get yourself a shiny badge declaring the occasion, and every Disney employee will congratulate you on it – a highlight for both kids and adults alike.
- And finally, tips on travelling to/from Anaheim: we flew in and out of Los Angeles (LAX) and utilized a local shuttle service to get back and forth to Anaheim. Hotel prices in the area range wildly during any given day/season, but of course, mid-week off-season is most often recommended (holidays, weekends, and school breaks are high traffic times). Be sure to book a hotel either in walking distance or with a shuttle to the parks. Also – we made the mistake of booking during the annual Natural Products Expo, so start your planning by checking the Visit Anaheim website for upcoming events.
*Photos: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender
**While this visit was largely personal, many thanks to the kind folks at Disneyland Media Relations for the offer of two media day passes to the parks.