After years of our daughter hint dropping, whining and complaining that “everyone has been to Disneyland except me”, my husband and I decided that this was the year we would take our children to California.


After much planning and rearranging we settled on the first week of December to make the most of smaller crowds, cooler weather and ample airfare options. We also pulled the classic parental practical joke; we didn’t tell them we were going on vacation until 15 minutes before we left the house. While we didn’t get the huge over the top reaction we wanted, the stunned silence was quite amusing in itself.

We had a great time exploring both Disneyland and California Adventure Park and left in awe at the absolute attention to detail; Cars Land blew our minds and my son was awed by the Hudson Hornet’s 3 Piston Cups.

Lightning McQueen


hudson hornet piston cups



We may or may not have scarred our children for life by taking them on rides they thought were too scary (ahem, Tower of Terror).


Disclosure; my daughter thinks every ride is scary. But now we can all say that we have the same favorites including the Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Star Tours. The jury is still out on the Indiana Jones adventure; she had her eyes closed the whole time.

Disneyland Haunted Mansion

My son is as much a Star Wars geek as I am. He was disappointed that he didn’t get to participate in Jedi Training Academy but just about fell into my lap when Darth Maul loomed over us.

darth maul

Somewhere along the line, my husband’s love of classic literature has been absorbed by our children and they really loved riding on the Mark Twain Riverboat and visiting Tom Sawyer’s island because they had read all about it and been to a theatre production of Tom Sawyer.

Disneyland: Mark Twain Riverboat

I know there is a lot we missed, but the way I see it, it just gives us a reason to go back! And when we do go back, I will be better prepared. Here are a few of my tips:

Go off season and mid-week: I hate crowds, and knew I wanted to go off season for that reason. During the first week of December the weather is cooler and the lines are reasonably short. Anyone who has spent hours in swelteringly hot amusement parks knows that cooler is actually better and we happily discovered the parks were not overwhelmingly crowded.

Use Technology (part 1): Send one adult early to get your FASTPASSes for the day and also install the free wait time app to really maximize your ride times.

Bring snacks: I forgot to bring snacks the first day. Total mistake. Snacks serve two purposes for us; they stave off the hangrys and distract from boredom while waiting in line or for a show to start. Buying snacks at the park is expensive however so on the second day I brought our own. One very good tip from one of the locals I talked with was to bring fruit because they sell it at a premium in the park. Excellent advice especially if your kids are big fruit eaters! I had little boxes of cereal (which may or may not have been taken from the breakfast buffet), cups of goldfish crackers, apples, oranges and bottles of water from the local Target.

Use Technology (Part 2) Hand over the tablet/smartphone during long lines. Radiator Springs Racers is hands down the most popular ride in either park. We arrived shortly before 10 am the first morning to find all the FastPasses for the day had been claimed and the line was already 70 minutes long. We chose to wait in the line but the only device we had was an ancient cellphone. I envied the parents who handed over the smartphone to their unhappy offspring and were able to make the wait more bearable for everyone.

Go with the flow: if you’re all tired, go back to the hotel for a nap. If someone doesn’t want to go on a ride, go on a different ride and try again later. Hungry? Don’t wait to eat! Remember that you’re there to have fun and make memories.

Thank you to the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau and to Disney Parks (Canada) for helping arrange our visit to Disneyland

For more great ideas of family fun things to see and do in Southern California, be sure to visit