Doing Disneyland Wrong: How to Avoid It

5:00 AM

Our first day at Disneyland Park, we had a plan. We were going to leave our hotel by eight, get to the opening by nine, and head straight to "Peter Pan's Flight".

Because somewhere (probably on DLR Prep School) I read that's how you're supposed to do it, and a friend told me the same thing. Get there for the ribbon drop, everyone said. So that's what I wanted to do. And the park opened at nine, so leaving at eight would be enough time... right?


When we arrived, it took us a good 30-45 minutes to get through parking. If you're not staying at a hotel with a shuttle or monorail, plan for this. Plan for driving time-- LEAVE EARLIER! SAVE YOURSELF!

Yes, I'm being dramatic. Sorry about that. Breathe in, breathe out.

Here are the five things I learned from our first day at Disneyland, accompanied by adorable pictures, of course.

1. You're never TOO early.

The great thing about getting to Disneyland early is that you're there before the magic even begins. They'll let you in through the gates, but you stand and wait for the music to start and the "ribbon" to drop. We didn't get to witness this at Disneyland Park, only at California Adventure. But it's still something to be there for! Plus, you get to line up with the masses and then push through like you're shopping on Black Friday to get to the best rides/fast passes.

If you get there and want to mosey a bit before joining the crazy, you can walk Downtown Disney. Some of the shops are open (like The World of Disney) and there aren't as many people there so early in the morning. It's a great time to shop for souvenirs without being pushed in by the masses of people.

Also, the earlier you there, the shorter the lines. Our first day, when we did Disneyland Park, we wanted to hit "Peter Pan's Flight" because it was the ride Michael was looking forward to the most, and we could all go on it together. Well, we stood in line for around 40 minutes because we didn't get there right away and were diverted from our plan (I mean, Minnie Mouse was standing right there.

2. Know what rides you want to ride and what characters you want to meet.

Disneyland Park was kind of a nightmare for us. I went in with a list of, ideally, what order we should do things. The only problem was I had the list for Michael, not the adults. I'm not a ride person, so I was more focused on Michael meeting the characters and doing the kiddie-focused stuff. My husband, his brother and sister-in-law, however, clearly wanted to do more than just stand in line to meet Winnie The Pooh.

Because we all didn't communicate we ended up going back and forth and around and back and this way and that... I think you get my point. And we missed out on quite a few rides and things because we just couldn't get it together.

California Adventure, I made a list. I made a list of all the rides for Michael and then all the adults consulted on what they wanted to do. We got there earlier, made our way around and got the fast passes we could at different times, and rode some amazing rides with no lines because we followed our efforts.

The difference was breathtaking. I mean, we were still all dead tired, hot, and exhausted the second day-- but I couldn't help but feel a little more accomplished because we checked everything except one ride off the list and met Michael's favorite characters.

I mean, I'm not saying it was perfect, but it was a lot better than the first day.

I now know why people go to Disneyland for five days. It gives you so much more time to rest up, not stress, and still do (I would imagine) everything you want to do. Well, maybe not everything... but close.

3. Pack as lightly as you can.

We never took a "real" picture day one, and I wish we had. We left the parking lot with two strollers, two carriers, a diaper bag, a backpack... the works. My husband actually ended up running back to the car to take the carseat (because I kept telling him Levi wasn't going to ride in it, let's be real). However, he didn't take a stroller. So Clark's brother/sister-in-law ended up acting like the children were just as much theirs as ours day one because they were helping us tote around all of our stuff.


Pack lightly. If you're going on the summer, you're not going to need jackets. Odds are, you aren't going to need as many snacks as you think you will. Unless the weather calls for rain, leave the umbrella at the hotel. This is not a time to bring everything imaginable you think you might need. I am an over-packer. I'll admit it. But by day two, we got our crap together and it went sooooooo much more smoothly.

I mean, bring the bathing suits if you don't want to walk around wet. Bring the extra towel, or maybe extra clothes for the kids just in case. But don't bring your suitcase. My next Disney post will be full of what I personally thought were the necessities.

4. Find some shade, AC, and/or a place to put your feet up.

Disneyland over Labor Day Weekend was crazy, so I can't imagine it at the height of the season or on a "real" holiday. The crowds, plus the sun + heat, plus walking around all day... it can make a person grumpy. At the end of day one we were all feeling it. We were probably all dehydrated, starved, and in need of just somewhere to sit. While it did cool down near the end of our days, the full-fledged heat from 9am-5pm got to us.

So find somewhere to sit. We didn't do this the first day. At all. We only hit up indoor rides (like Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blaster) that gave us a moment out of the sun.

*Side Note: That ride scared Michael to pieces. It was dark and Emperor Zurg was huge, loud, and kind of terrifying even to me.*

If you can, go back to your hotel. Take a nap. Go to the pool. Do something to give yourself a break. The only reason we didn't do this is because we had to drive to the park, and we didn't want to endure parking again. The Tiki Room is supposed to be a good place to get a Dole Whip and cool down. We never did this. But at California Adventure I can recommend going to Disney Junior Live as an excellent place to cool down. Also, if you don't mind getting wet, there's a splash pad in A Bug's World.

*Another Side Note: If you can, go to the LAST show of Disney Junior Live around 4:15pm. This gives you perfect time to sit and wait for the parade in California Adventure, which was one of Michael's favorite things. You start slowing down at the right time, and you get to cool off.

5. Be prepared to "Do the Elsa" and LET. IT. GO.

I had a really hard time letting it go the first day, if I'm being honest. I'm pretty sure I made it so, if they weren't forced to stick around due to buying 3-day passes, everyone in our party would've split after the first day because of me. I'm a control freak, admittedly, so I had a hard time when we didn't follow the plan. We ate lunch at the park even though I made sandwiches, we bought snacks even though I packed some, we missed out on meeting key characters and riding rides I really wanted to get to... but at the end of the day what mattered is that Michael was still in love with the trip. He wanted to go back the next day. We had met some awesome characters, they got to go on some of the rides they wanted, and above all else-- Michael got to meet Mickey.

Day two it was probably easier for me to "let it go" because, well, we had a plan. I'm not sure it counts, I guess, since we did such a good job sticking to the said plan. But I tried to breathe more. I tried not to complain as much. I tried to be in the moment rather than focused on checking everything off the list (well... I did my best). All I know is once my husband was like, "Just do the Elsa!" (he feels super clever for coining that phrase) I found myself trying to focus on the atmosphere, not the list.

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