What you need to know about doing these parks with a young family
Do you really need a reason?! No, I didn’t think so, but there are new attractions to draw you and your family to Anaheim this year.
The wonderful worlds of Pixar are getting a new home at California Adventure. The first ever Pixar Fest, a limited-time event, began this month and runs through September 3, 2018. And this summer, Pixar Pier - a new land along the southern shore of Paradise Bay - will showcase four whimsical neighborhoods where guests can step into beloved Pixar stories.
Now I’m a mom to three energetic boys - all under the age of four. Even though I thought I’d be pulling my hair out at the end of the day, my husband and I took the plunge and decided to do Disney. I ended up leaving the parks craving another visit. How? By putting some advance thought into our adventure, we were able to relieve a lot of the stress and avoid those dreaded long lines. Now I’m eager to share what I learned with you.
What to do?
You know as well as I do what to do at Disney parks - rides, shows, and character meet-and-greets. But there’s plenty that’s new at Disney this summer too, like Pixar Fest and the Disney MaxPass. Plus I scored some insider tips geared toward making the parks more manageable for young families.
Opening on June 23, 2018, Pixar Pier with its new imaginative neighborhoods, entertainment, and themed food will give Pixar fans a fun place to unite. The first neighborhood, inspired by The Incredibles, will be anchored by the Incredicoaster (formerly California Screamin’).
Other new neighborhoods will be themed around Toy Story, Inside Out, and a collection of all-time favorite Pixar stories. Mickey’s Fun Wheel will flaunt a new look and each of the 24 gondolas will showcase a different Pixar character. New boardwalk games are expected to include characters from A Bug’s Life, La Luna and WALL·E.
Pixar Fest will include a new fireworks show, Together Forever - A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular, the return of Pixar Play parade at Disneyland and Paint the Night parade at California Adventure; each parade will have new elements.
All of these exciting additions go hand-in-hand with existing attractions and entertainment that feature many favorite Pixar characters and stories. At Disneyland, don’t miss Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, where your astronauts can battle evil Emperor Zurg, and the classic It’s a Small World with Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye. And I highly recommend the Fantasmic! show on the Rivers of America. I literally cried.
KidTripster Tip:Fantasmic! is located near Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. Get a churro and grab a front row spot about 30 minutes prior to the spectacle. Or if you’re not into shows, this is a perfect time to ride Haunted Mansion. We walked right on because so many people were watching the show.
At California Adventure, your family will step into the world of Radiator Springs with three attractions plus Cars-themed shopping and dining locations across 12 acres.
KidTripster Tip: Go to Radiator Springs Racers first. It’s an incredibly popular and fun ride. My 4-year-old cried getting off because he wanted more!
While the new Star Wars Land isn’t set to open until 2019, young Jedis can still get in the spirit. At Disneyland, enjoy new enhancements inspired by the recently released film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And young Padawans have the chance to train in the ways of the Force and then test their skills to defeat the Dark Side at Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple.
KidTripster Tip: Trials of the Temple is an interactive show. When you arrive at the park, head to Tomorrowland to secure your kid’s spot. They fill up fast, so run and reserve!
KidTripster Tip: There’s nothing worse than standing in long lines, especially with two rowdy boys and a nursing baby. Trust me, I know. I highly recommend getting the Disney MaxPass. It allows you to maximize your day by reserving digital Disney FastPass selections right from your mobile device using the Disneyland app while in the parks. You can reserve a new FastPass every 90 minutes. Plus, it offers the opportunity to download, save, and share Disney PhotoPass photos captured during your day. (You know, all those professional photos and pictures you get riding certain rides? Yep, you get ‘em included.) Both services are included for an introductory price of $10 per ticket and can be purchased through the Disneyland app.
KidTripster Tip: This one is for my fellow mamas of babies. Disneyland has a baby center - complete with high chairs, sinks, baby food, formula, and private nursing stations equipped with rocking chairs - towards the end of Main Street. It’s an excellent place to take a break with your baby. And fun fact: the area was launched by Walt’s mom. There’s a picture of baby Walt Disney when you walk in the door.
Where to eat?
Here’s my philosophy on doing Disney right. Start the day early with a big breakfast at your hotel. Then get to the parks before they open so you don’t have to wait in an ultra long security line.
As for eating, are you part of the club of non-eaters, like my kiddos? My sons are very picky, and I often have to find a restaurant that serves pizza and macaroni. Go figure. There’s actually a great spot in California Adventure that serves just that. It’s called Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta, and it’s nice (but quick) and good (but affordable). Disneyland has a similar restaurant, Alien Pizza Planet, in Tomorrowland near the Jedi training show.
KidTripster Tip: Lunch lines get long. If you eat breakfast early, try to also eat lunch early before the rush.
If you’re not in a rush, I’d recommend going to Downtown Disney for dinner. It really is cool and fun for the whole family. (Need a glass of vino, mama? This is for you.) There are plenty of eateries to choose from, and more are coming. In fact, my Disney insider let me know there are big plans for revamping Downtown Disney in the near future, so stay tuned for more interactive restaurants.
KidTripster Tip: Make a reservation! Even though Downtown Disney isn’t inside the parks, restaurants here still get very busy. Call ahead.
Where to stay?
I found the area’s hidden gem… even though it’s not so hidden! The Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel is a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel; in other words, Disneyland has given its stamp of approval and so do I.
The castle-themed hotel is a favorite for families, especially my sons who were obsessed with the knight display that greeted us upon arrival. Located across the street from Disneyland, the hotel is situated on 13 acres of strolling gardens with courtyards, a fountain, rose garden, and koi pond. It features a outdoor heated pool and whirlpool, fitness center, game room, and video arcade.
The Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel has smoke-free guest rooms, averaging 500 square feet. You read correctly… 500 square feet! The hotel is known for its spacious rooms and themed suites. We easily fit our family of five with room to spare.
KidTripser Tip: Book a castle bunk room or a renovated castle turret suite.
The hotel offers dining options from a quick bite in the California Deli (which also offers affordable desserts) to a more relaxed experience in the Garden Court Bistro, featuring indoor and outdoor dining. I’d recommend eating breakfast here. The buffet is amazing! Try the banana French toast.
Oh, and after a long day with Mickey and Minnie, treat yourself to a cocktail at the Garden Court Bar and Lounge. Cheers… that drink is well-deserved.
KidTripster Tip: Visit the Disney Desk located in the hotel lobby to buy multiple-day Park Hopper tickets for the whole family and skip the line at the park.
KidTripster Tip: Enjoy the hotel’s free shuttle service every 30 minutes to and from the parks.
Photo courtesy: Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Parks are located in the heart of Anaheim, California. The drive from San Francisco is 6 to 7 hours, depending on traffic; from Phoenix, it’s 5 to 6 hours. You also can fly into a Los Angeles-area airport; John Wayne Airport in Orange County is closer to the parks than LAX.