Before our last Disneyland trip I spent months researching and cultivating my perfect vacation plans based on tips I found on Pinterest. Some of them worked really well and added to the magic. I’m very grateful to the people that took their time and energy to share their tips online, but unfortunately some of them were also ill-advised. Today I want to share 6 pieces of advice that I deeply regret following.
It’s no secret that in the online world (and the media in general) negativity gets more clicks and holds our attention longer. I didn’t write this list to be a downer or for clicks. I wrote it because I’m genuinely interested in helping other families have the best Disneyland vacation possible, and I think you’ll find it useful to see which tips don’t work, despite the advice being scattered throughout the web.
Also check out: Top 6 Disneyland tips that really work!
1. Don’t stay in a vacation rental
Sure, we got a place that sleeps 6 and has a full kitchen for $100 a night—a bargain by all means—but we made a few sacrifices that, looking back, were not worth it. The prices get better the further away from Anaheim you get, so we found this deal by extending our search to the surrounding towns. We ended up with a 20 minute drive to the parking lot, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but you still have to take a shuttle to get to the parks. Our journey each morning took between 40 minutes and an hour.
We heeded all the advice to get to the parks early, but with all this extra travel time in the morning, we always arrived later than we wanted to.
We didn’t use any of the amenities because we were never there. The pool was nice…or so it seemed from the pictures. I don’t know. I never actually saw it with my own two eyes. When you’re staying 20 minutes (an hour with shuttle time) from the parks, heading back to your condo to let the kids rest and swim in the middle of the day doesn’t sound so appealing.
If we had stayed in a hotel within walking distance of the parks, we wouldn’t have needed a rental car, and if we hadn’t rented a car, we wouldn’t have paid for car seat rentals and the extra fees to drop our Traveling Baby Co equipment off at the rental agency. We could have booked a less expensive shuttle service from the airport and had our rental stroller dropped off at the hotel’s front desk for much less.
2. Don’t visit during the holiday transition
I read somewhere that it’s extra magical to watch the parks transform from their fall look to their Christmas season decor, and crowds are really low during this time. Since I only get to go once every few years, I figured I’d make this trip as magical as possible and arrange my 30th birthday vacation during this special time.
What these tips didn’t tell me is that some of the biggest rides and events are shut down all week to prepare for the official start to Disneyland’s holiday season—usually on or around Veteran’s Day in the U.S. This meant we missed out on fireworks, parades, and night time shows all week, the parks closed really early each day, and some of the characters don’t make an appearance such as my son’s beloved Lightning McQueen—his sole reason for wanting to go to Disneyland in the first place.
We planned our last day to be a grand finale of sorts by scheduling it with Disney’s official Christmas season kick off. Crowded doesn’t even begin to cover it. With schools and businesses closed for Veteran’s Day and all the special holiday attractions and events finally up and running, it was an absolute frenzy.
So this time of year actually turned out to be the worst. We missed out on a lot because of the time it takes for Disney to do all their special Christmas overlays, and when everything was finally ready, it was too crowded to fully enjoy.
I’ll even take it one step further and say that you shouldn’t visit during their Halloween or Christmas seasons at all unless you’re one of the lucky people who gets to go often. If your visits are infrequent, as mine sadly are, then it’s my opinion that you should enjoy the parks in their purest form. At first it was fun to hear Christmas music playing from all the speakers, but I quickly discovered that I missed hearing tunes from my favorite childhood films. It’s the little things.
3. Don’t listen to any “non-castle” firework viewing advice
This, I believe, is my biggest regret. I saw lots of tips for the best firework viewing spot: the back of the castle, It’s a Small World, the Rivers of America, from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, from the Storybook Land Canal Boats, as you’re walking out of the park to beat the crowds.
Garbage, all of it!
Get front and center and get there early. Remember that waterproof blanket I told you to pack earlier? Get it out and lay it right in the middle of Main Street.
Since all the special events were cancelled during the holiday transition, we only had one night to see both the Fantasmic show and the fireworks and not enough time between them to get good seats for both. We had to choose.
I had heard that the Rivers of America was a good spot to stay after Fantasmic and catch the fireworks. You can see them burst over Big Thunder Mountain Railroad while special projections accompany the show on the river’s screens made of mist. So that’s what we chose…and we chose wrong.
There is no seating area for Fantasmic unless you buy a pricey dining package, so we had been standing shoulder to shoulder with people, crammed up against the railing by the water for two hours, each of us holding a sleeping kid since strollers weren’t allowed in the viewing area. That’s when it started.
The fireworks were completely obscured by a big tree, and we were packed in so tightly, there was no chance of moving. And the projections on the water? They looked like stock holiday animations that anyone could buy online. It wasn’t even Disney animation!
So while I’m watching nameless snowmen dance around in the mist, I look at my husband and we’re both thinking the same thing. “Let’s get out of here.” The disappointment was palpable. These were our last moments at Disneyland, and they totally sucked.
There were countless cast members guiding an exodus from the park, waving people through doors leading backstage and out to the gates. Apparently ditching the fireworks in favor of good seats on the shuttle is a popular idea. But as we were being swept along toward the front of the park, I glanced back a couple of times and caught glimpses of the castle in all its glory.
I saw probably less than 10 seconds of the show, but it looked like the spectacle of a lifetime. The word, “Wow,” unthinkingly escaped my lips, and a nearby cast member looked directly at me and said, “I know.”
Now, maybe it’s just me projecting here, but I could have sworn she looked at me like she was disappointed in my decision. I was missing out, and she knew it.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. And if you’re concerned about beating the rush after the pyrotechnics are over, hang out for a bit. Do some shopping on Main Street, go on a ride, or just find a bench to sit and enjoy the magic radiating around you. When you’re ready to head back to the busses in an hour or so, the crowd will have thinned out, and, tired and achy as you might be, I don’t think you’ll regret having spent an extra hour at Disneyland.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask a cast member for a favor
As I mentioned before, my son never got to meet his hero, Lightning McQueen, whom he’s been obsessed with since he was two years old. We don’t spend extra money on park hopper tickets, so unfortunately we were in the wrong park on the final day of our trip when Lightning finally made an appearance in Cars Land. Other tips will tell you that the characters rotate throughout the day, and if you keep coming back to Cars Land, you’ll see Lighting, Mater, Cruise Ramirez, and Red.
It really depends on who they feel like sending out depending on crowd levels as well as who’s busy backstage getting holiday overlays for Halloween and Christmas.
Brooks still talks about this bad experience six months later and asks when he can go back to meet Lightning McQueen.
At the time, we were so overcome by disappointment that I didn’t stop to think of a solution. Looking back, I wish I had talked to a cast member to ask if they could take us into California Adventure for a quick meet and greet without us having to upgrade all our tickets. You never know; they might be able to make your Disney dream come true.
And if that hadn’t worked out, I could have paid to upgrade his ticket and one of our adult tickets so one of us could take him to meet Lightning. As much as I cringe at the idea of going over budget, it would have been worth it in this case.
5. Don’t bother with Peter Pan’s Flight if the line is over 20 minutes
I adore Disney, but Peter Pan’s Flight is seriously overrated. It usually has long, slow-moving lines, and for some weird reason I think that only makes it more popular. It’s a mark of achievement to work Peter Pan’s Flight into your Fantasy Land tour, but if you examine it objectively, it’s no better than any of their other classic dark rides. It’s really short, for one thing. And the slow loading of the flying ships only makes it worse.
A lot of other tips tell you to get on this ride as soon as possible while the lines are shortish. While I agree with checking it out early in the morning, I don’t think it’s a must-see. Take a morning stroll through Fantasy Land, sure, but if the line is already over 20 minutes long, don’t stress it. And don’t waste that precious morning time waiting for a painfully short, over-hyped, classic dark ride. Go grab your fast pass for Space Mountain and hit up Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, or vice versa.
6. Don’t plan any special Disney outfits
I feel ambivalent about this tip. On one hand, I had so much fun Disneybounding with the whole family. I dressed as Minnie Mouse, Snow White, Mother Gothel, Roz, and Belle, and it brought me so much joy to let my inner kid out. I also treasure the memory of watching my husband and son both dressed as Peter Pan running around a twinkling Fantasy Land at night pretending to fly. It was seriously a show your #DisneySide moment if ever there was one. But on the other hand, it cost us a lot of extra money putting together all these outfits, and a large portion of the items were never worn again.
There has been a weight on my conscience when it comes to fast fashion and buying clothes that just end up in the donation pile within a year. I love dressing up, but every costume that gets worn once or twice before being cast out has a real impact on the humans that made them and the resources they consumed.
Completing all our outfits with special accessories also added extra stress before our trip. It’s normal for me to get a little tense while packing for vacations, and planning to dress a whole family in costume each day really amplified this. It also made our mornings at the condo more hectic, trying to get everyone organized and in the right outfit for the day. I felt like I was stage managing a play each morning.
I’ll probably continue to bring costumes for the kids in the future, but I’ll be keeping it simple for myself and my husband (yes…I pack his bag for him). A versatile capsule wardrobe is stress-free, economical, and earth-friendly. Just add some ears, and you’re ready for a day in Disneyland.
So there you have it. My 6 tips that really worked and the 6 things I will never do again. This is just scratching the surface. I could seriously write a book.
Thank you for sticking with me until the end, and I really hope this helps you plan the perfect Disneyland vacation for your family. And remember to come back and tell me about it. I love to talk Disney!