My family just got back from another week at Disneyland. We are annual pass holders (now referred to as Magic Key Holders), and love soaking in the magic with our three kids. My mom also lives 10 minutes away, so it’s a great excuse to visit grandma and have a fun vacation all at the same time. Here’s a few tried and true things we do to make our Disney experience top notch with more smiles and less whining.
Where to stay
We have tried out our fair share of Disneyland Hotels and Airbnb’s. We loved the Airbnb for when we stayed with multiple families, however the closest Airbnb is 1.3 miles from the entrance of Disneyland, and that walk multiple times is exhausting. I really loved having a kitchen to prep breakfast and assemble quick sack lunches, but I also don’t love cooking on vacation so a hotel room with hot breakfast + a small kitchenette definitely wins in my book over an Airbnb.
If walking isn’t your thing and you like the drive into the park, then proximity isn’t that big of a deal, stay at any hotel or Airbnb! But with Disneyland’s latest price increase October 23rd, 2021, parking for one car is $30 a day, I opt for walking distance. We also tested out parking and the bus (since the tram is currently unavailable) vs walking and walking got my husband in the park 30 minutes before us which allowed him to go on 2 rides! Another reason we love walking distance is the ease of taking a sleeping kid straight from the stroller to their bed. With younger kids folding and unfolding the stroller for a tram/car/bus, falling asleep in the car, and then transferring them again inside is more headache than I want to take on.
Of all the hotels here’s a list of my top ones you should check out. We hop around depending on prices and availability.
Residence Inn – hot buffet breakfast, a full kitchen, some have bunkbed rooms. This is probably our current favorite.
Springhill Suites – hot breakfast, combination of normal hotel rooms and family suites.
Hyatt House – hot breakfast, bunkbed rooms available.
Best Western Plus – closest walking distance, hot breakfast, normal size hotel rooms.
and then there’s the perks of staying at the Grand Californian Hotel. We have yet to do this, but it has it’s own entrance to Disney California Adventure. But it is just normal hotel rooms (no breakfast) and it is x3 the price of anything I listed above.
Portofino Inn – Super close to the main gate. Has family rooms and bunk beds, so lots of options. This is where me and my husband stayed after our wedding.
What to pack
If you are flying in, I highly recommend each child has their own suitcase/roller backpack. We have these ones from Pottery Barn. They are pricey, but they are quality. We use them on every trip and they are still in great condition after 4 years + they are super cute and have their names embroidered on them. Each kid has a jacket + crocs packed with their favorite blanket/stuffy. We leave these pretty sparse on the way to Disneyland which allows for plenty of extra space to bring home souvenirs. Each backpack fits great under the seat in front of them.
We have become obsessed with out OGIO carryon suitcases. If it’s just Lance and I going on a trip we pack in these, with kids we opt for a larger checked bag + 1 OGIO. They are such high quality bags and fit everything!
Packing Check List:
Drawstring Ponchos– these are the BEST. they are a little more than the dollar store ponchos, but they have a drawstring so you an tie them around your face. they are long and thicker than the dollar store ponchos (not as thick as the Disneyland ponchos, but they also aren’t $12 each). We usually pack 7 for our family of 5 because one is bound to get ruined. Wear them on water rides or pack for unexpected rain.
2 pairs of shoes. 1 crocs (great for rainy days or water rides, especially for kids), and a pair of sneakers
1 Jacket – Preferably a rain jacket. Great for water rides or unexpected rain. End of September – March California is definitely chilly enough in the morning and evenings to want some sort of jacket.
Insulated Water bottle – We love bringing our hydro flasks with us. Fill it up with ice water at the hotel and the ice stays ice all day. There are several water bottle refill stations throughout Disney. You can also ask the restaurants for a cup of ice water to refill it with.
Water Bottle Sling – I mean… I feel nerdy saying I love this, but I LOVE being handsfree in line with water on hand for those thirsty kiddos and not having to take it in and out of a backpack 727,902 times! My kids have become accustom to walking up to me, opening the drinking spout of the water bottle and taking a sip all while it is still attached to my body. It really does make life easier.
Stroller Cooler Bag – I found this a few years ago (since discontinued but linked similar) and it is a game changer for traveling with a stroller. It’s an insulated cooler bag for your drinks and treats. Straps onto the side of your stroller for easy access + makes going through Disney security a breeze because it isn’t underneath in the basket of the stroller.
Pill Pack Organizer – also another nerdy, screams nurse find, but I LOVE this pill pack organizer. keeps your daily medication or emergency OTC medication on hand. Fits into your pocket, purse, glove compartment.
Fanny Pack – wow. I have really become next level with all my recommendations haven’t I? But SERIOUSLY. Fanny packs are back in and this one is the best, wipes clean, fits all the things.
Wet Bag – without fail… you are going to have a kid spill, pee their pants, or get soaked on a water ride. It’s bound to happen. So I like to be prepared with a set of clothes for each kid (my girls share so really I pack 2 sets, 1 boy 1 girl) inside of this wet bag.. when the accident happens we just change and the wet gross clothes are contained inside of this wet bag and it doesn’t get messy everywhere else.
Hats – self explanatory, bring your favorite.
Battery Phone Charger – You will need to charge your phone at some point and this is the best charger because it has the cords built in. All too many times I’ve brought my charger and forgotten to bring the cord making it useless. Disneyland does have Battery Charging Kiosks throughout the park. You pay $30 for a charger + cords, and it charges your phone once, and then dies and you bring it back to any of the Kiosks throughout the park and exchange it for a new battery rod and if you remember to bring it back next visit you can swap out the rods for forever!
Stroller – We have used our City Select double stroller for over 8 years now. I know there’s lots of similar models on the market. We’ve enjoyed the standing board + the versatility of the seats. It was an investment, but for it to have lasted us this long, it was definitely worth it.
I always bring a few snacks and some substance into the park in the form of chips, crackers, trail mix, beef jerky, fruit, musubis and sandwiches. But for the most part we soak up the moment and eat in the park. Disney is really trying to push ordering food from their app, but sometimes that means when you are hungry and want food you either wait in a really long line, or wait 1+ hours so be mindful and schedule your food in advance using the Disneyland app. Popular places like Bengal BBQ usually have quite the line and time wait. Order before you get hungry and set it at a specific time in the future. Go on your rides, and adjust your pick up time accordingly.
Other Helpful Tips:
If you want a good breakfast/lunch option, but also want quick access to the park, then the Grand Californian has a great option. If you have breakfast or lunch at the Storytellers Cafe, you’re able to get a receipt and enter through a separate Disneyland park entrance. Can come in real handy if you’re not wanting to wait in normal lines.
Hopefully these tips are helpful as you plan your next Disney Adventure!