disneycarsMy mother has wanted to take my children to Disneyland for a long time…since they were toddlers. Now, they are seven and eight. I resisted: I don’t like crowds. I don’t like lines, I don’t like battling people for a place in line. I didn’t want to go. I have no problem with Disneyland per se, it’s just not my thing. But finally the time was upon us. As a Type A person, I did some research before we went. I got a book out of the library to study up on HOW to go to Disneyland for the uninitiated. This was a heavy book! I also went to some websites and articles to study up: yes, you do need to acquaint yourself with at least a few pointers before you go.

Despite all that, we were the family asking one of the cast members (that’s what they call people who work at Disneyland) in Fantasyland: “What’s around here? What should we do? Do you have a map?”

Luckily, Nancy from San Diego steered us to Peter Pan (bad mom moment: my kids don’t know anything about Peter Pan) and to Alice in Wonderland (nor do they know about Alice). And even better, Nancy did something tricky that you can’t study up on: she cut the line for us. She took us to the exit and we strolled right in. No line waiting. I give 100% credit on this coup to my daughter’s A+ cuteness. When Nancy asked her if she knew about Peter Pan and drew a blank stare, she told my daughter about being in a ship that sailed over the roof tops of London and Never Never Land. My daughter’s eyes grew wide and she exclaimed in a manner not unlike Shirley Temple: “Oh my goodness! That sounds amazing! I want to do that.” Plus, she has curly hair (makes kids 40% cuter — especially if they’re related to you). Nancy was smitten! Thank god! Those two line cuts saved us about 90 minutes. But these are not things you can bank on.

toystoryFollowing are some tips on how to make your visit even more magical (work with me here and I won’t tell you about the 45 minute wait to get the Fast Pass for the Radiator Springs ride).

1. Stay in a hotel near the park. We stayed across the street at the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Disneyland Resort. It was fine: clean, friendly staff, kid friendly. Not fancy, but fine. Only a seven minute walk to Disneyland, if you’re not staying in a resort property this is a good choice. This way, we could get to the park before it opened without having to drive an hour first to get there (my parents live in LA).

2. Stay in a resort hotel. We didn’t do this and all of our best laid plans were trampled by those who got access to the park an hour before us. You get an extra magic hour — in non-Disney vernacular that means early admission to the park. The line just for the Fast Pass in Radiator Springs was 45 minutes long, starting at 8am. Not good. The hotel was twice the cost of the Marriott across the street, but if you’re only going to Disneyland every so often, perhaps this is a good place to spend extra money.

3. You can bring in your own food. Contrary to popular belief, you can bring food into Disneyland. Just no glass, no hard sided coolers, no rolling coolers and all of the food needs to be prepared. They don’t want you making sandwiches. Fine if you’re eating them. Don’t forget individual water bottles. That’s my understanding. Great way to save a little money and eat healthy.

4. Get a Rookie Button. Well, it doesn’t say “Rookie,” but if it’s your first time in the park, go into any gift shop and let them know. They will give you a button that tells people it’s your first time. Gotta get some swag where you can, right?

5. Don’t Go Early. If you have kids that can stay up a bit late, just this once, and you’re not staying at the resort, don’t be there right as the park opens. You’ll be too tired by 2pm to do anything else. Get up late, have a hearty breakfast and drive however long it takes you to get there. Lots of little kids are pooped out by 2pm and that’s when you’ll swoop in.

6. Broken Balloons. If you get to a broken balloon on the ground before the fastidious cast members clean it up (seriously: Disney is the cleanest place on earth. A pleasure.), you can take it into any gift shop and they will give you a new one. Another note on hat shops: I was told that they all carry the same stuff, so don’t worry about schlepping to the one in Fantasyland. Product is the same.

7. The FASTPASS. For those of you who haven’t been there in a while, there are FASTPASSes for the more popular rides. This means that you get a ticket which allows you to come back after a certain time without (theoretically) having to wait in line. Thing is: you can get only one FASTPASS at a time. Make sure you always have a FASTPASS while you are waiting in another line or eating or watching a show.

8. Rainy Day in January. If you’re not into crowds, try to get to Disneyland on a rainy weekday in January. You’ll get the place to yourself. I’ve also heard that the week after Easter and through most of May is a pretty good time to go. Make sure that the local schools don’t have special holidays during that time. Also, if you do go when it’s not as crowded, check the Disneyland website to see which rides may be closed. They run maintenance on days with lower attendance.

Despite the throngs of people who were there that day, the rides were as magical as I remember them when I was a kid. And seeing the look on my children’s faces as they exited Peter Pan made the effort endurable.

Please note: Disneyland provided two Park Hopper Passes for my family of four.