Welcome to The Disneyland® Guide for Families (Unofficial). You don't have to be part of a family to use this reference guide. By all means, anyone is welcome to use it. Just find what is useful for you and your situation.

This blog began it's life as a manuscript for a book that was never published, so there is a ton of content here. The bulk of the information that is only occasionally updated is listed under the "Chapters", and will probably be where you spend most of your time. The "home" page has additions that are more like comments on current events related to the Disneyland® Resort, or just fun things that I continue to find.

I love to hear from people who have used the information contained in this blog. Please let me know if you have found the information helpful, and if there is something else you think I should talk about, let me know!

The Big Day! Going to the Disneyland® Resort

Breezing through Security Check at the Disneyland® Resort

Before entering the parks you will need to pass through a security check booth. Booths are located at both ends of the plaza between Disneyland® park and Disney’s California Adventure® park. They will check all bags, including diaper bags and fanny packs that are being brought into the park. They are quick and efficient, but there are a couple of things you can do to help speed the process. As much as possible use clear tote bags. I never took my usual diaper bag into the park. We used a large clear bag (it still had a zipper and handles, it wasn’t a plastic baggie) for diapers, wipes and everything else we were hauling along for the baby. It was mostly for things I was pretty sure no one would want to steal. If someone needs a diaper that bad, they are welcome to it. To help the line move along, have your bags out and ready for inspection. Have any opaque bags open (I keep my camera and wallet in an opaque bag that I carry with me all the time) and your clear bags ready to put on the table. The best thing about a clear bag is that security personnel don’t have to open them. We never went through the security booth that the security personnel didn’t comment on how much they appreciated the use of a clear bag.

The security personnel never said anything about all the baby food and snacks we were carrying, just in case you are worried about bringing those sorts of things into the park. Just remember to treat the security check like you would at the airport and not make jokes about bombs or terrorist activities.

Keeping Kids Safe at the Disneyland® Resort

Lost Child Booth in Disneyland®:
The lost child booth and baby center is located to the right of the Plaza Restaurant on the Central Plaza end of Main Street USA, next to First Aid.

Lost Child booth in California Adventure®:
The lost child booth and baby center is located to the left of the Mission Tortilla Factory.

The lost child booth is where lost children under the age of 10 are taken. If someone in your party over the age of 10 is lost, they are welcome to leave a message at City Hall or Guest Relations Lobby.

Every parent’s greatest fear is the lost child. Even the most diligent of parents can get separated. 10 minutes of being lost can be excruciating for both parent and child. If this happens, the first thing you should do is enlist the help of the nearest cast member. The people with walkie-talkies are the best, but any cast member will do. Lost children are taken to the lost child booth, so that is a good place to look if 5-10 minutes of looking in your immediate area doesn’t locate your child.

A good way to prepare against an extended separation is to provide your child with contact information to keep on their person. I’ve heard of ID necklaces or bracelets, to a simple piece of paper in the child’s pocket. However, cast members won’t search your child, so identity information should be fairly easy to find, especially if your child is too small to produce the piece of paper his or herself. ID tags, intended for pets, can be made inexpensively at most pet stores. The ID tag can be worn as jewelry or pinned to a child’s shirt, or laced into their tennis shoes. Remember, a stressed out child may only remember your name as “Mommy.” The identity information should include the child’s first name and your name and cell phone number. Then make sure you always have your charged cell phone with you. You can also instruct your children to seek help from the people with Disney nametags.

A good topic to cover in your family meeting before entering the park is what to do if you get lost. Exact instructions will depend on the age of your children, the type of ID you have for them, and the park you are going to that day. This is one of those situations where a little pre-planning can make a big difference. It might even be worth a little of your time in the park to stop and find the lost child booth together as a family.

Don’t forget that while it’s important to hold a child’s hand to keep them close to you and safe, you are also holding their little hand above their heart, which makes it “go to sleep”. That prickly feeling can get very uncomfortable, so give your little ones a break and let them ride in a stroller, or even carry them every once in a while to give their hand a rest. There are child harnesses that you can buy, but be careful that the leash doesn’t become a tripping hazard for other guests in the park. You don’t want Grandma to trip over your child’s leash and end up with a broken hip.

Overall, Disneyland® Resort is a very safe place. It is safer inside the parks than out. There are cameras everywhere, even inside most of the rides. If you have responsible older children (12+) they should be just fine to go and do things inside the park on their own. Just make sure they have charged cell phones, there are at least two of them and they have strict instructions to not leave the park, no matter what. I would set up a regular calling schedule with them as well, like “call me after every ride” or “call every half hour, if you aren’t going on the attractions or if you are in a really long line.” Make sure both you and they have your phones on vibrate, so that even if they don’t hear you call (a very realistic possibility) they will still know the phone is ringing.

FASTPASS®, Rider Switch Pass and Early Park Admission

All three of these things make enjoying the parks easier. FASTPASS® is a service that comes with your Park Pass. Many rides have a FASTPASS® kiosk (labeled FASTPASS® Distribution) where you insert your park pass and you are given a FASTPASS® return ticket that has your return time stamped on it (as well as returning your park pass; don’t forget it!). Go, and enjoy other parts of the park, and when it’s your FASTPASS® return time, you can enter the ride via the FASTPASS® entrance (labeled FASTPASS® Return), where the wait is considerably shorter, often you walk right onto the ride. FASTPASS® return times are usually equivalent to the current wait time for the line at the time you insert your park pass. It essentially holds your spot in line while you go and have fun doing other things in the park. Not all attractions have the FASTPASS® option, most notably the rides in Fantasyland in Disneyland. (That is why it is important to take advantage of early park admission; see Early Park Admission below) And not all rides that have FASTPASS® have the FASTPASS® distribution booths open all the time.

Your park pass can only have one current FASTPASS® ticket at a time, and each rider needs his or her own FASTPASS® ticket to use the FASTPASS® entrance. The FASTPASS® ticket has a time range in which you may return. As soon as the first of that time range is reached you can get another FASTPASS® ticket, whether you have used the previous ticket or not. Be sure to retrieve your park pass from the kiosk as well as your FASTPASS® ticket. There are plastic envelopes attached to lanyards that can be worn around the neck for sale around the park. These are great for holding your park passes and any fast passes, with less concern about them being lost or water damaged.

The Rider Switch Pass is not as formal a process as the FASTPASS® system. While one adult stays with a child who is too small or uncomfortable riding a particular ride, the other adult and a companion, if desired, rides the attraction. As they are in line, they ask the first cast member they come to for rider switch passes. The cast member should also provide you with the return location for the switched riders. It’s usually the FASTPASS® return or the exit to the ride. After the first two exit the ride, the adult that stayed behind takes their turn and can be accompanied by the same companion that rode the first time.

One day of Early Park Admission to Disneyland® park comes with all multi-day park passes. On select days of the week, guests are allowed into the park 1 hour before the regular park opening. This is an opportune time to enjoy Fantasyland. Fantasyland rides are about all that are open, but since the Fantasyland rides don’t have the FASTPASS® service, this is a great chance to enjoy the rides with a dramatically smaller crowd. It’s also a chance to be waiting inside the park as close as possible to your favorite ride when the park does open, and you can beat the crowds that way as well.

Long Line Entertainment at the Disneyland® Resort

Despite FASTPASSES®, long lines do occasionally exist in the Disneyland® Resort. Long lines are hard on little ones’ (and some big ones’) patience. But, isn’t going to Disneyland® all about spending time with your family? Why not make standing in line a prime chance to talk and interact with your kids. Don’t just talk to the other adults with you; let your kids talk. Ask your kids questions, and listen to their responses. You can talk about the rides in the park, what they want to do next or where you want to eat lunch. You can call a Grandparent on the cell phone and let your child give a vacation report on what you have done so far; you’ll get to hear what your child thinks of his or her vacation.

Also, you can have interactive things to play with in line. Older children can be entertained with string games like cat’s cradle. String is easy to stuff into a pocket when it’s time to go on the ride, and if it gets lost, it’s no big deal. Small children can be entertained for a very long time using bubbles. An adult should be the one controlling the bubble wand to make sure the bubbles are entertaining for others in line with you and not an annoyance. The best thing about bubbles is that you can help keep the other kids in line from getting whiney, because bubbles are easy to share. If an adult is controlling the bubble wand and bottle, other children’s desire to hold the bubble paraphernalia is reduced. If they do ask to hold the bubble stuff, it’s easy to say “Sorry, this is the grown-up’s job, but I’m glad you like them”. I would save bubble blowing only for very long, slow moving lines, for those situations bubbles are a great distraction. Also, be sure to alert park personnel if a spill occurs and a slippery spot is created. A bottle of bubbles costs less than a dollar, can be stored in a Ziploc baggie to avoid leaks, and carried in a fanny pack or cargo pocket.

Thumb wrestling, patty-cake games, and singing songs are free and don’t require any extra baggage. If walkways are visible (especially while waiting for a parade to start), play the “How Many Do You See” game. Count the number of Mickey Mouse ears you see, how many Donald Duck T-Shirts, or whatever your kids are interested in.

Avoid line entertainment options that are annoying to others in line. Bouncy balls get into out-of-bounds spaces very easily and are lost, while probably hitting other guests. Yo-yos can hit other people as well. Think about how the entertainment will be used. If it’s noisy, something that can only be used by being thrown or is seriously messy it can, and will, annoy line mates. Think about how easy transport of the entertainment is and how much it will be missed if lost. A favorite stuffed animal would be heart breaking to lose and will be awkward to carry on many rides. An MP3 player can pop off a waistband while on a ride or get wet and ruined.

Staying Fed and Watered at the Disneyland® Resort

Keep Hydrated
It’s wise to make a habit of drinking some water after every ride or two. Any hiker will tell you, by the time you feel thirsty, you are already getting dehydrated. Drinking more means more bathroom breaks and carrying water around with you. You can bring water into the park with you, buy it bottled in the park, or take the time to find one of the sparse water fountains. The water in the park’s water fountains is the same as local tap water, not the best tasting but sanitary. You can refill a water bottle at one but don’t count on a fountain being in a convenient location every time you or your children are thirsty. You are also welcome to fill water bottles using the water at the restaurants. There is a small lever for water on the soda stations in all the restaurants that have self-serve fountain drinks; this water is filtered and is nice and cold.

There are many options for keeping your family fed. Bringing your own food for picnicking in the picnic area just outside Disneyland® park is the least expensive option. You can leave the resort campus to eat at other local restaurants, you can leave the parks and eat in the restaurants in the Downtown Disney® District or in the hotels that are part of the resort campus, or you can eat at one of the many dining options available inside the parks. The biggest problem with leaving the park to eat is; leaving the park, the travel time can be frustrating. Plus if you are considering eating at a restaurant outside the park, almost all of the closest options are sit down restaurants that are close to being just as expensive if not more so than eating inside the parks. While eating inside the parks is more expensive than eating at home, the food quality is often very good. There are many healthy options, even for snacks, that are available. Choices of dining options inside the parks range from snacks, quick service, casual dining, fine dining and character dining.

Snacks are usually available from a walk up counter of some sort.

Quick service meals are also walk up counter service but with more meal oriented foods, and they’re just that, a quick way to get a meal.

Casual dining is usually served more in a cafeteria style, where you can choose meals, which are served on a plate, pay at the end of the line and seating is available inside the restaurant.

Fine dining is just that, excellent food in a wonderfully themed atmosphere, the only fine dining establishment inside either of the parks is The Blue Bayou Restaurant inside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland® park. You actually sit down with a menu and are served at your table.

Character dining is covered in the “Meet the Mouse” section later on this page.

It’s wise to have priority seating arrangements made in advance for any of the character dining experiences, The Blue Bayou Restaurant, or for Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure®. Calling exactly 60 days in advance will give you the widest range of available time slots, but if you are visiting during the off-season and you haven’t made reservations it doesn’t hurt to stop and see if there is a table available.

As I mentioned earlier, alcohol is not served in Disneyland® park; even the mint juleps that are served in The Blue Bayou, and at the Mint Julep Bar are non-alcoholic. However, that is not the case in California Adventure® park. Alcohol is served in several dining establishments, but only as table service, Wine Country Trattoria is one of the restaurants that offers table service.

Meet the Mouse at the Disneyland® Resort

Disney characters (cast members in costume) are all over the parks. There are a couple of different ways to enjoy the characters with your family. Some children enjoy interacting with the characters, and some don’t. Don’t force a child to interact if they’re reluctant, there’s plenty to do and see, and they shouldn’t have to face their fears while they’re on vacation. However, the cast members are very good at putting children at ease. Just remember that your children should be polite and never hit or push the characters. There are people inside the costumes.

Meet and Greet
One way for kids to interact with the characters is to meet them in the parks. Meet and greet locations are marked on park maps. The usual protocol is to wait your turn in a line. Sometimes a handler cast member will be there to help establish the line, sometimes not. If the line is long, it’s only polite to the others in the line to keep your visit to an autograph, photo, and a quick hug. If the line is short the character may initiate some interaction; let your child enjoy this personal attention, and take plenty of photos. It will be a moment to remember.

Character Dining
Standing in a meet and greet line may not be the way you or your older children want to spend your time in Disneyland®. If that’s the case and your younger children really DO want to meet the characters, you should consider a character meal. You can schedule breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of the various restaurants on the resort campus that offer character dining. These often fill up quickly, so it’s wise to make reservations for priority seating ahead of time (see “Useful Information” for phone numbers). You can make reservations up to 60 days in advance. A current list of locations for character dining is on the Disneyland® website under frequently asked questions in the dining category. At character meals a variety of Disney characters come to each table, and spend time with each child. Children can get autographs and have their picture taken with the characters in a more laid-back atmosphere. Since the characters come to you while you are eating, it’s a great way to save time while still indulging a smaller child’s desire to interact with the characters. Character meals are more expensive, but gratuity is included in the price since you are paying for all of the cast members that come to
your table.

Mickey’s House
If you only want to meet Mickey, go to Mickey’s House in Mickey’s Toontown. At the end of the walk-through, you get a semi-private photo shoot with THE Mouse himself. Professional photos will be taken that you have the option to buy through the PhotoPass® system, or you can take pictures with your own camera. Usually a cast member is available to take a couple of pictures with your camera for you. Unfortunately, the lighting is pretty crummy for your own photos and the professional ones really do come out better.

Breaks inside the Disneyland® Resort Parks

Sometimes it’s nice, and absolutely necessary, to take a break inside the park. You don’t always want to go back to the hotel, either because it is too far, or your children will be too resistant to leaving, or you just need a break NOW. There are benches almost everywhere in the parks, but there are some areas that are quieter than others. The term “Break Spaces” as it is used in this blog means quieter places to sit and take some time out. As you read through, they are listed at the beginning of each land’s section. This is so that they are easier to find based on where you are in the park. Just so you know, there are no grassy areas available in the parks for walking on, probably because the high volume of traffic would kill any grass. However, there are places that your kids can play while you sit and watch. The majority of Mickey’s Toontown in Disneyland® is based on this format. Donald’s Boat, Goofy’s Playhouse, and Chip & Dale’s Treehouse are all perfect for this type of activity. So are Princess Dot Puddle Park, and Bountiful Valley Farm in California Adventure®.