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A Trip to Disneyland: What to Do & What to Skip!

Before having kids, I never felt a big impulse to take on a Disney park, but seeing the rides and characters through my kids’ eyes has always felt like magic… so much so that Justin and I keep wanting to go back!! So, when I had to head down to California for a very special photoshoot with Joe Fresh (more details on that to come!), we decided to make it a family vacation to Disneyland with Auntie Shay (@shaymerritt) and Uncle Cam!!!

Shay Merritt, Justin Pasutto and Annie Pasutto at Disneyland

Let me start by setting the scene for this Disneyland vacation. As many of you know I have previously visited the park as part of a partnership with Disney, and with that came many perks. I’m really grateful for those past experiences to now know all the ins and outs of the resort to now venture on our own. All that to say… I consider myself somewhat of a Disneyland expert at this point🤪 *Also, an important note here: this trip to Disneyland was NOT part of a partnership. We did this entirely on our own. So, today on the blog, I thought I would go through some of the things we incorporated into this recent Disneyland trip and let you know what was and wasn’t worth the investment of time and money. Let’s dive right into it!!

Jillian Harris's Dos and Don'ts of Disneyland
Jillian Harris's recommendations for a day at Disneyland

Genie Passes – Do

I’ve spoken about how Genie Passes work in my previous blog post, Disneyworld versus Disneyland, but when we visited the park the other week I heard someone say, “these Lightning Lanes suck!!” I totally disagree with that person’s opinion… I think Genie Passes are GREAT, you just have to use them strategically. Here’s how:

  • Designate someone in your group to be the Lightning Lane organizer! (That was me of course, LOL.)
  • Plan out your day ahead of time, including which rides you are going to use your Genie Passes for.
  • Don’t use a Lightning Lane for a ride that has a wait time of 35 minutes or less—it’s not worth it!
  • Book your Lightning Lanes an hour ahead of the time you want to ride them.
  • Between 2pm – 5pm, book your next round of Lightning Lanes. 
Jillian Harris and Shay Merritt at Disneyland Cars Land ride

Taking Young Kids to Disneyland – Do

Everyone always asks Justin and I, is it worth booking a trip to Disneyland with young kids? That’s a fair question for a couple of reasons: (1) Disneyland is typically a high-energy vacation and little kids typically need naps and (2) there are height restrictions on a lot of rides. Here are my thoughts on that…

We’ve done Disney 4 times in the last three years, and while Annie is young, she’s also very adventurous… including having a BIG love for scary rides!! So while a lot of kids would be content to go on the more low-key rides all day like Peter Pan and the Teacup ride,  Annie used to have meltdowns if she wasn’t tall enough to go on the big kid rides. Here is my takeaway from having an extremely adventurous little one:

Forty inches is the magic height for toddlers and kids at Disney. If they’re under 40 inches, you will definitely be limited, whereas if you’re OVER 40 inches you now get access to Thunder mountain, Guardians of the  Galaxy, Soaring, Rise of the Resistance, and other great rides the kids will love!

That being said… I CANNOT WAIT until my kids are 48 inches so we can go on The Incredicoaster as a family… I just know Annie is going to LOVE it.

Jillian Harris, Justin Pasutto and Annie and Leo at Disneyland 2023

Indulging in a Sweet (Alcoholic) Drink at Disney – Don’t

I’m going to tell you right now… get a beer! LOL. Maybe Shay and I don’t have the biggest sweet tooths or something… maybe it’s a Canadian thing… who knows!! But, the cocktails we got in Disney were WAY too sugary for our taste buds. I would definitely recommend if you’re going to purchase an alcoholic beverage at the park (which you can enjoy at California Adventure Park, not in the Disneyland Park itself) to get a beer instead.

Jillian Harris and Shay Merritt enjoying drinks at Disneyland

The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – Do

This time we spoiled Annie with a classic Disney Princess-inspired makeover!! And she LOVED IT!! Now, full disclosure, this is definitely a splurge of an experience. There are several packages you can choose from for this, and Annie went with The Castle Package, that costs $199.95 USD (before tax). Yep… not cheap… but I have to say I still feel the experience was worth it if it’s within your budget. Annie got her hair and makeup styled and she got to keep the princess dress and accessories of her choice, which were really nice keepsakes that I can see her continuing to dress up in for as long as they fit her. Overall, this was a highlight!

Annie Pasutto Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Disneyland

Stay at the Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa – Do

This hotel really is the Fairmont of Disney. Not only is the decor really spectacular and Disneyfied (they have someone in the lobby playing Disney songs on a grand piano), but it’s also on the Disney grounds—which is HUGE!! While typically staying on site is more expensive, when I worked out the amount we saved with breakfasts included, the peanut butter-jelly sandwiches provided by the hotel that we could take with us to the park for a snack, and not having to travel back and forth between the park and a hotel off-site… it all felt worth it to me. 10/10 would recommend!!!

The Craftsman Grill – Do

If you DO stay at the Disney Grand California, you absolutely HAVE TO dine at The Craftsman Grill… seriously, so good (I’m drooling just thinking about it, LOL.) It’s located outside by the hotel pool and they serve the best pizza and nachos imaginable. I miss it… haha.

*NEW* Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway Ride Do

This brand new ride is SUCH a blast… but forewarning: it’s popular!! My best advice to combat the long lines is to book a virtual queue as soon as you get into the park first thing in the morning. You can book Lightning Lanes for this ride but because it’s a very popular one it costs an additional $20 per person to do so. I think whether that extra $20 is worth it really depends on how many people are in your party (the more people the more expensive it gets) and how much your group loves this ride. 

A Meal with the Disney Characters – Don’t

I had seen a lot of families do this before we ever took the kids to Disney, but after trying it for ourselves, I don’t feel like this particular activity is worth the money. Here’s why: an amazing feature of the Disneyland park is that they have the characters walk around ALL DAY for meet & greets that are FREE!!! And, now photos with the characters are also complimentary. (BONUS!!) And, from our experience, the kids got more time to talk and meet the characters at the park than at the sit-down meal.

Also, as a foodie, I just have to mention this important point… the food isn’t my absolute favourite at the buffet with the Disney characters, and given that there are so many other food options nearby, I definitely think this activity is worth skipping.

Shay Merritt and Leo and Annie at Disneyland meeting Cinderella

Bring a Stroller to Disney – Do

Our kids are 5 & 7 now and even at this age when they are usually running around with TONS of energy, I STILL think bringing a stroller is worth it because eventually one kid inevitably gets tired and needs a break. So, you can always let your kiddo have a nap in the stroller while you walk around the park. This is especially helpful if you booked a hotel off-site and it’s not easy to quickly go back to the hotel for a rest mid-day.

*Quick note here: a lot of people have asked me about the stroller attachment we use. Here is the link to the stroller we have! Totally worth bringing!

And, there you have it! Our family’s dos and don’ts of Disneyland! If you want to hear all about our last trip to Disney World (in 2022), you can read all about that experience here.



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