Top Tips for a Summertime Road Trip to Disneyland

disneyland-tippytoes-drivingThe easiest – and in our opinion, the best – vacation to take with kids is one to Disneyland. You can head down for any number of days and have a fun and memorable vacation. One short visit can make an entire summer, which means that even if summer has been spent at home or day camp, a few days at Disneyland feels like a real vacation to brag about once school starts up again. We’re sharing our best tips for taking a trip to Disneyland in the summer.

The Big Question: Drive or Fly?

The pros of driving

  • It almost always costs less, especially for a family of four.
  • Your luggage size isn’t restricted.
  • No one asks you to take your shoes off.
  • You can take rest stops as needed.
  • You can bring home a wooden gun as a souvenir.*

The cons of driving

  • It can take longer than flying. Not always true when considering driving to the airport, flight delays, etc. Our last flight home from Disneyland was delayed long enough that it would have taken the same time to drive.
  • It can be boring, especially on the way home when the drive always seems to drag.
If you can snag a deal on flights, by all means fly, but don’t let the thought of a road trip keep you from Disneyland because driving can be part of the fun adventure.
If you make it a road trip:
Leave the Bay Area early or late. We usually wake up early and take off around 6 a.m., which gets us to the Disneyland Resort in time for lunch.
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Don’t go overboard with snacks. We usually stop along the drive at Starbucks or a restaurant, depending upon how loud tummies are growling, and then there are plenty of better treats at Disneyland, which means snacks usually end up melted or crushed, and not eaten.
Bring water. You can bring refillable water bottles, and while I use those solely at home, I like to bring disposable bottles to Disney, which I can leave behind in the recycling when we’re finished. You can bring unopened plastic bottles into the park, too, which is a great money saver.

Where to Stay

We are devout fans of the Disneyland Resort Hotels.
The Grand Californian is the most convenient and while the distance doesn’t look that much closer than the other hotels, when your feet are tired, staying at the Grand is worth every cent for the fewer steps alone. Not to mention, the hotel is beautiful and the pools are definitely resort-level. There is an arcade, a childcare room, old Disney cartoons playing on a loop in the lobby, a fabulous bar, and a private entrance to California Adventure.
The Disneyland Hotel is incredibly fun with enough waterslides that the pools are an attraction themselves. Our kids could spend hours going down the water slides, and with the slides highly supervised by Disney staff, it is a great place for everyone to unwind. The rooms aren’t to be overlooked either. They were updated in recent years, making this hotel probably the most kid-friendly hotel ever.
Paradise Pier. Honestly, we’ve never been, so I can’t speak from experience, but I know people who swear by this hotel, and appreciate the rates that are a bit lower than those of the Grand and the Disneyland Hotel. It makes staying on the property more affordable for some, without sacrificing Disney quality.

The Game Plan or What to Do Once You Arrive

If you’re not going into the park upon arrival, spend your time on Downtown Disney. Play games at the ESPN Zone or eat dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. Share beignets at Jazz Kitchen Express or a caramel apple at Marceline’s Confectionery, then relax at the pools. You brought your bathing suit and flip flops, right?
Take advantage of Extra Hour Magic Morning. You did take our recommendation to stay on site, right? Because if not, the mornings are a little less magical. We know you’re tired, but getting up an extra hour early makes a huge difference in your day at Disney and all of the Disney spirit will carry you through. Pick the most important ride or rides and get to them once you get in the park ahead of the general population. If you have small ones, see when Toon Town opens because we’ve found getting there at opening means more time to interact with Mickey and friends.
FastPasses! Get them and use them! Start your morning by picking up FastPasses for the most popular rides, like Big Thunder Mountain or Radiator Springs Racers, and don’t forget to pick them up throughout the day, too. Even if a line doesn’t look too long, grab a FastPass and get in line for another ride while you wait.
Make note of parade times, but not to watch the parades. This is a hard one because I love the Disneyland parades so much, but this is also among the best times to go on rides. People line up to watch the parades, leaving the ride lines a little lighter.
Don’t worry about your camera! This is another one that I struggle with, but the Disneyland Resort is filled with Disney photographers ready to take your family photo, especially in front of key Disney backdrops, like the castle or Carsland. Let them be the photographer and you can check out your family photos from the comfort of home.
Bring water. You’re going to be thirsty in the sun and after a ton of walking. While frozen lemonade and mint juleps are a refreshing treat, you’re going to need water, too. The good news is you can bring in unopened plastic bottles. Cheers!
Eat early. There are fewer crowds when you eat meals early and if you eat indoors, there is plenty of room and air conditioning.
Starbucks is in the park! You don’t need to miss your morning coffee or afternoon frap while at Disneyland anymore! Yay! The store on Main Street is huge, too.
Too hot? Try cool rides with faster wait times, like It’s a Small World or Ariel’s Underwater Adventure, or see a show like the amazing Aladdin live musical. Or get wet on Splash Mountain or the Matterhorn.
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Don’t pre-buy souvenirs. I know people who love to save money by quietly buying some Mickey gear before their vacation and giving it to the kids while on vacation, but this is one of the few places where getting your child the gift they fall in love with is part of the magic. My son got a Pluto pillow pet on his last visit and he has slept with it every single night since. It was worth every cent. That doesn’t mean we buy them everything they see. We make them wait, mull it over for a few hours, and if their devotion doesn’t change, we buy the stuffy or trinket.
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*For over a year, my son has wanted one of the wooden guns sold in Frontierland, but they can’t go on airplanes (there is a bold sticker on each gun with the warning) and our last two trips have been via plane. We’re driving on our next trip, and one of those green and orange guns will be going home with us!
If you have any Disneyland tips to add, please share!

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