Disney Love

Top 10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland with Big Kids

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A few years ago, I wrote a blog about my Top 10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland with Toddlers…and today, I’m going to share my top 10 tips for visiting Disneyland with big kids!

Disneyland Tips

Photo credit: Disneyland

1. Set a budget

Disneyland is SO fun! And can be SO pricey.  I find it’s easier to have a quick conversation with your spouse (and even kids, if they are old enough to participate) about what’s important to you all during your trip.

For example, how many meals will you be eating there?  Do you want to bring snacks or buy snacks?  Will the kids be getting souvenirs?  Face painting?  By establishing these simple budget parameters before the trip, everyone can be on the same page.

2. Pack a family backpack

Just because your “littles” are now “bigs,” doesn’t mean you still won’t need a few things for the day.  The night before (to save time and sanity), I pack the following:

– Water bottles for each family member (that can be refilled at water fountains, throughout the day).

– Sunscreen (hats too, if it’s a hot/sunny day)

– A change of clothes for the kids, if you plan to go on any water rides.

– Hoodies for the kids (if you plan to stay into the evening).

– Baby wipes and hand sanitizer.

– Snacks, snacks, snacks.  They more you bring, the more you save.  And the more you can avoid potentially cranky kids.

– Band aids and or any medications you might need

– A phone charger

– Your camera (if separate from your phone)

– A small wallet/wristlet with your essentials (instead of your jumbo wallet), that can fit in your backpack OR in your pocket (so much easier than carrying a purse).

3. Visit the locker room

And, if you don’t want to lug the backpack around all day, you can easily store it in a locker, right off of Main Street.  For between $7-$15/day (depending on the size of the locker), you can have your belongings safe and sound, without having to take your stuff with you on every ride.  Now that the kids are big, you aren’t obligated to carry around a backpack or diaper bag all day – woo hoo!

A bonus?  There are outlets to charge your cell phone in the locker room.  I learned this on my last trip when my phone died.  Always good to know where the outlets are!

4. Big kids, big rides, big expectations

I find that with my big kids, they have big dreams of riding the BIG kid rides.  Which is so fantastic since my husband and I love them, too!  However, these popular rides tend to also be the busiest rides.  Talk to your kiddos about their top two or three rides that are a MUST.  This will help manage expectations…and any other rides you can squeeze in are a plus!

Disneyland Family Picture 2015

5. Develop your FastPass plan

Speaking of, let’s talk about FastPasses again.  Here’s a quick reminder of how they work…

This is a free service you can take advantage of at the Disney theme parks.  This is a way to “save” your place in line at some of the most popular attractions, cutting wait time to a minimum.  Score!

You can only FastPass one ride at a time per Disneyland ticket (kiosks can be found by the ride, if it’s available), and they give you an hour time frame to come back. You just go to the FastPass line, hand them your FastPass ticket, and usually only have to wait 5-10 minutes for the ride.

FastPass what you think is going to be the most popular ride first. 
Go to the next ride on your list and wait in line.
  Usually, by the time you’re done with that ride, your FastPass will be ready.
  Go to your FastPass ride and enjoy!  
Get your next FastPass immediately after, and then repeat the cycle.  

Per this Disneyland FastPass site, here is what you can FastPass in the Disneyland Park:

– Autopia
– Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
– Fantasmic!
– Indiana Jones Adventure
– Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
– Space Mountain
– Splash Mountain
– Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
– Storytelling at Royal Theatre

6. Be in the know with Disney apps

Apps can make life so much easier, right?!  Take advantage of some cool Disney apps that can help you during your visit to the park.  My husband’s favorite is MouseWait, designed for iOS.  It’s a real-time app that tells you all about popular ride wait times and park information.  There are so many apps out there that can be a great resource – I suggest surfing around before go, and find one that works best for you and your phone.

7. Make lunch reservations

The last two times we visited Disneyland, we ended up making lunch reservations, per my brother-in-law and mother-in-law’s suggestion. O.M.G.  Why didn’t I think of this before??  Unless you plan to grab a quick burger or hot dog (and if so, I suggest doing this at off-times to avoid long lines and crowds), then go to this site and peruse the restaurant options.  Then, make reservations for your family.

Here’s my two cents.  I’m a mama on a budget, and typically pick the less expensive option for food.  However, I’ve found that some of these sit-down restaurants aren’t that much more expensive than the “quick burger” places.  The quality of food is much better, you get to sit down and actually relax, and with your reservation secured, you don’t have to wait in long lines with a hungry family.  Win-win-win!  My favorite place right now is Carnation Cafe.

8. Need a break?  Visit Innovations.

Sometimes, you just need a break.  From the crowds, from the lines, from the chaos.  We’ve found that Innovations in Tomorrowland is the perfect place.  My kids love all of the fun, cool technology to play with, including watching the awesome robot, ASIMO, the humanoid robot. The kids spent at least an hour at Innovations during their last Disneyland visit, giving everyone the perfect break to breathe and chill out for a little while.

9. Make a meeting place

When kids get a little older, they want more freedom, right??  If you choose to let your kiddos go off on their own for a little bit (side note – my kids are still way too young to do this, even though they consider themselves”big” kids)…or even if you don’t, and you accidentally get separated in the crowds, it is absolutely imperative that you make a meeting place with your kids.

Now that they are “big” kids, they should understand how important it is for their own safety.  Pick a central place, and have that be “your spot” every single time you are at the park.  So there is no uncertainty, no confusion.

I also suggest you be specific – “in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle” still may not be much help in large crowds.  For example, I would say in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, right next to the churro cart to the right of the castle.  Or in front of the Walt Disney statue in the little garden area in front of the castle.  Or, better yet, if you ARE taking advantage of the locker room, meet in front of your family locker.

10. Yes, there is now a Starbucks. IN the park!

Parents, it’s true!  There is now a Starbucks on Main Street where you can get your Venti caffeine fix.  Just be prepared to wade through the long zig zag lines…it is a BUSY place (as you can probably imagine!).  I usually leave the kids with my husband in a ride line, and let them enjoy a ride that I’m not interested in, while I make the coffee run.

Next, stay tuned for an upcoming blog where I’ll talk about my top tips for visiting Disney California Adventure with big kids!  My newest favorite…Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome…perfect for anyone who loves Frozen!

Do you have any great Disneyland tips to share?  Please comment below!

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Cinderella Review

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I was invited to take my family to a magical IMAX screening last weekend of Disney’s Cinderella 2015 coming to theaters March 13th.

Event images right of movie poster in collage below by Maribel Farina Photography

Cinderella Movie 2015
Cinderella, the classic Disney fairy tale we grew up with is coming to theaters this Friday in a new production unlike any Cinderella you have seen before.

We had the pleasure of viewing Cinderella The IMAX Experience in which the picture and imagery was so visually appealing it felt like the sparkles from The Fairy Godmother’s magic wand might actually jump off the screen and sprinkle the audience!

The movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh, stays true to the original movie, with few changes.

A young girl, Ella (Lily James) loses her mother as a girl and years later her father remarries a widow. Sweet Ella, in a promise she made to her dying mother to “have courage and be kind,” is ready to welcome her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera) into their home with open arms and an open heart.

After her father dies unexpectedly, Ella is forced to move into the attic and at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, turns into a servant having to sleep by the fireplace to keep warm thereby inspiring the nickname, “Cinderella.”

After a chance meeting in the forest with a handsome young man (Richard Madden), which Ella doesn’t know to be the prince, he becomes so enchanted he throws a ball in which every maiden in the kingdom is invited to attend in hopes of finding her again.

We all know what happens next… Cinderella is forbidden to attend the ball but then in her despair meets her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) in the garden and a magical transformation ensues and she is off to the ball. Then, as they say, the rest is history.

Cinderella The IMAX Experience Review

There were so many things I loved about this movie.

The scenery (filmed in England) was absolutely breathtaking. IMAX made it come to life – the intense picture makes you really feel like you are a part of the story. Which also made the spectacular costumes just that much more vivid. And I mean, they were truly spectacular.

For the acting, Cate Blanchett was perfection. To have a woman so strikenly beautiful on the outside play a character so evil to the core was a feast for the eyes. Her darkness was exposed in every smile and glance.

The Fairy Godmother scene was one of my absolute favorites, and Helena Bonham Carter lit up the screen almost as much as the magic. My only regret was that we didn’t get to see more of her!

The leads were fantastic and perfectly cast. Cinderella and the Prince shared a palpable chemistry, which was still wholesome enough for families.

Cinderella Collage

Is Cinderella 2015 acceptable for small kids?

We took our girls (5 1/2 and 8 1/2) to see the film and my gut reaction to that question is,  yes, it was acceptable for them at those ages.  They both really enjoyed the movie and left with a skip in their step.

It has a PG rating and some scenes might frighten younger children, but I felt mine were old enough for it.

Something to note: The story of Cinderella begins with a VERY tragic, sad storyline with Ella’s angelic mother dying (my kids were in tears) and then the father dies soon thereafter. It’s really a horrible story for this poor girl!

But then once Ella takes off on her horse into the woods, we were out of the woods (pun intended) as far as the sadness goes because the story turned up from there. So just know, it starts sad, but then gets more and more fun with the magic elements and love story.

Cinderella Messaging for Young Girls 

As I was watching the film, I had to sort of giggle to myself, because the story of the prince having a ball to choose his bride really was the original “Bachelor” (minus the hot tub scenes of course).

And yes, there were undertones of the girl being rescued by the prince, but truly I didn’t mind that part and it would have been over my girls’ heads anyway.

What wasn’t over their heads were the following messages I did love, namely:

– Have courage and be kind (Yes!)
– Be strong
– Marry for love
– Find someone who loves you just as you are
– Do the right thing
– Stay positive even in the face of adversity

Lily James did a beautiful job of portraying a female character that was kind, strong and resilient. One I felt really good that my girls had to look up to. The positive messaging was more impactful than any other themes that might be criticized.

Overall, I would definitely recommend taking your kids to see the movie.

Click here to find an IMAX Cinderella showing near you -> www.imax.com/cinderella-the-imax-experience

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What to Expect at Mickey’s Halloween Party (Hint: FUN!)

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Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland

All you have to do is take one look at my younger daughter’s CRAZY excited candy eyes in the photo above to tell you just how much fun we had at Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland last Friday night when we were invited to attend  a special media event.

For all of the details and dates on this special separate ticket event, please click here to read my post on Mickey’s Halloween Party 2013. This post will be focused on our firsthand experience and tips on how to get the most out of this boo-tiful party.

Studio Disney 365

To kick off the event, my daughter was treated to a complimentary rock star makeover by the girls at Studio Disney 365 in Downtown Disney. Made for ages 3 and up, girls can get primped and camera ready with hairstyling, makeup and wardrobe packages.

Every girl is made to feel like a celebrity and their transformation is kept secret until the final reveal. They currently have a Take Two! package for Halloween which includes a hairstyle, glitter, Minnie Halloween headband and makeup pallet to keep ($39.95). Call 714.781.STYLE for reservations. P.S. Would be a great place for a birthday party!

Studio Disney 365

Mickey’s Halloween Party 2013

Once she was glammed up, we were ready to hit the party! Mickey’s Halloween Party tickets allow you to arrive up to 3 hours before start time to “mix in” with the guests, then when the party starts, daytime guests are escorted out and only Mickey’s Halloween Party guests remain in the park.

Our Favorite Things:

Costumes! Guests of all ages are invited to wear their (Disneyland appropriate) costumes. It was so fun to see all the kids in costumes and my girls loved an excuse to wear theirs early.

Trick-or-Treating! All over the park you will find treat trails where kids can take their (provided) bags and trick-or-treat for candy. Can you imagine anything more fun to a kid than trick-or-treating at Disneyland?? The day we were there trick-or-treating opened an hour early at in Toontown. Keep your eyes open for this opportunity.

Space Mountain & Haunted Mansion! Both rides are decked out in Halloween decor with spooky additions. If your kids like this sort of thing – these rides are a must see.

– Halloween Screams fireworks! My kids hung in there for the fireworks show and it was simply spooktacular. If your kids can stay up, please, please watch the fireworks show. Amazing.

Monsters U Show and Dance Party!  This was the surprise hit of the night at Tomorrowland Terrace! Everyone danced to the tunes the Monsters U D.J. was spinning and we saw special performances by the cheerleaders and Monsters U characters. Shake your groove thing! 

My girls even got invited onto the stage for a special “Scream Contest.” Yeah, they were just a tad excited.

Monsters U Dance Party

Mickey’s Halloween Party Tips:

1. Wear a costume that is comfortable and allows you to get on and off rides easily.

2. Purchase tickets online early to save money.

3. Arrive 3 hours early so you can take advantage of the extra park time.

4. Bring a stoller. Even with older kids, it’s our sherpa-mobile for stuff, especially the candy bags.

5. Bring your kid’s jammies and toothbrush! My kids were SO tired leaving the park at 10pm. I wish I would have thought to brush their teeth before leaving the park (you will need to after the candy) and I wish I had their jammies to change them in the car. They were both out like a light within minutes and it would have made for an easier car to bed transfer. Next time!

For more information on Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland and how to purchase tickets visit: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/events-tours/disneyland/mickeys-halloween-party/

Here is a group photo of the bloggers that attended the event. Thank you Disneyland!
[photo credit Disneyland]

Halloween Blogger Event

Disclosure: My family was provided complimentary tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party to facilitate a firsthand review. 

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Mickey’s Halloween Party 2013

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Mickey's Halloween Party 2013

Mickey’s Halloween Party 2013 at Disneyland Resort is creating a spooktacular good time for families and I am here to share the frightfully fun details with you!

My family will be heading to Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland tomorrow night for a special Media Event. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with hashtag #HalloweenTime to see what boo-tiful festivities can be found at this special party.

Mickey’s Halloween Party is a separate ticket event during the Halloween Time season on the following nights: Friday, Sept. 27; Tuesday, Oct. 1; Friday, Oct. 4; Tuesday, Oct. 8; Friday, Oct. 11; Tuesday, Oct. 15; Friday, Oct. 18; Monday, Oct. 21; Wednesday, Oct. 23; Friday, Oct. 25; Monday, Oct. 28; Wednesday, Oct. 30; and Thursday, Oct. 31.

Adults and kids alike are welcome to wear their Halloween costumes and can trick-or-treat at stations throughout Disneyland and collect both candy and healthy treats (love it!)

The separate ticket price includes:

~ Mix in with regular Disneyland guests for 3 hours prior to the start of Mickey’s private party
~ Monsters U Dance Party at Tomorrowland Terrace (NEW!)
~ Halloween Screams boo-tiful fireworks spectacular
~ Mickey’s Costume Party cavalcade featuring your favorite characters performed twice nightly
~ The Cadaver Dans ghoul quartet, performing in a drifting graveyard-themed raft on the Rivers of America
~ Photo locations with characters
~ Disney Villains prowling the park
~ Lively music, creepy crafts and activities for the family
~ Complimentary parking for one standard-size vehicle

Tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party 2013 purchased in advance are $59 each for select nights; tickets purchased day of the event are $67 each. So it really pays off to purchase your tickets ahead of time.

Tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party 2013 for Weds. 10/30 and Halloween Night, 10/31 are $74 each.

Visit www.Disneyland.com for more information and please follow me tomorrow night!

[Disclosure: My family will receive complimentary media tickets to the event to facilitate a review. All opinions are my own.] 


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Disney California Adventure Tips for Little Ones

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Okay, mamas – get ready for my Disney-theme follow-up – this one is all about my tips for visiting Disney California Adventure, a fabulous park that has LOTS of toddler-friendly, fun rides and activities. In case you missed my last post, here are my top 10 tips for visiting Disneyland with toddlers.

Here they are in no particular order…I hope these tips and tricks for visiting Disney California Adventure (or DCA) in Disney lingo!

Don’t Miss These Rides!

1.  “A bug’s land” is a great area for toddlers.  The rides are similar to “Fantasyland” at Disneyland – the Francis’ Ladybug Boogie is like the teacups, the Flik’s Flyers are like Dumbo, and so forth.  My munchkins love this area, and can easily spend awhile here.

Bonus?  There is a small splash pad to let the kids cool off on hot days, so make sure to pack a swimsuit, towels, sunscreen, etc. if you plan on getting wet

Note to mamas – the bug’s It’s Tough to be a Bug “live show” can be scary for little ones – it’s a cute show, but is “underground” and the majority of it is in the dark with…well…bugs.

2.  Cars LandA super fun “land” that tends to be one of the busiest places in the park to visit since its grand opening.  A word of advice – if you know that the Cars “Radiator Springs Racers” ride is really important to you and your kids, go straight to the FastPass line, like first thing when you enter the park (walk straight in, pass the Carthay Circle Restaurant on your left, and it is tucked in on the left). The ride is pretty awesome, but is typically a 90-minute+ wait.  FastPass is the only way to go, but they run out quickly.

I also have to give a shout-out to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree.  Super cute ride, cute music and cute things to look at in line.

Note to mamas– most of the line is covered – important in warm weather!

If you can, try to be walking along the Cars Land “main drag” at dusk…they light up the streets and play music like they do in the movie (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the movie 83 times, like I have).  Super cool and super cute.

3.  Take a ride with the Little MermaidI have never waited more than 10 minutes for this ride (usually five minutes!).  It is air conditioned, adorable, and my kiddos want to go on it multiple times.  Works for me!

Note to mamas – if your kids are uncomfortable in the dark, this ride is not for you.  I wouldn’t consider it scary at all, but you are “under the sea,” and there are pockets of darkness in between the singing and character displays.

4.  Love Toy Story?  My kids do.  The 4-D “Toy Story Mania!” is a must, but always has really long lines…with no FastPass option.  So if you know you want to do this, head over after you pick up your Cars Land “Radiator Springs Racers” FastPass and try to avoid the crowds.

Need a Break?

5.  Disney Junior – Live on Stage.  THE show to be at, according to my kids.  Yes, mamas.  There is an actual “live” show that  features Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First – interactive, air conditioned, and lots of room to squeeze in people (you sit on the floor…lots of room and I’ve never actually been turned away from a show…there always seems to be enough places to sit).  This show is so cute…and such a fun way to get off your feet, cool off, and enjoy seeing your kids go nuts over their favorite Disney Junior characters!

6.  The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.  This is a cute play area next to the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and is a GREAT place to let your kids run around and burn off some excited energy.  There is an obstacle course for the kids, caves to walk through, slides for little ones, a “zip line” for older kiddos, and even a chance to earn a “Wilderness Explorer badge,” by searching for clues (on a guided map).

Note to mamas – no strollers allowed, they must be parked outside of this area.

7.  The Grand Californian Hotel and Spa has cute little rocking chairs with fun, black and white Disney cartoons on televisions in their lobby, if you and your kids need a break to cool off.  You can enter from the DCA park, but remember – make sure to get your hand stamped for re-entry!  Also, the entrance to DCA from the hotel is reserved for hotel guests, so beware that you may have to re-enter the park from the main entrance if you plan to return.

Rumbly in our Tumblies

8.  We took our daughter to Ariel’s Grotto for a “princess lunch” on her birthday (they also do breakfast).  Oh.my.word.  This was SUCH a cool experience for both of my kids.  The food is fabulous (several courses from a fixed menu), the atmosphere is beautiful and Ariel and her princess friends are announced to the room, enter, and actually walk to each table to chat with you and take as many pictures as you want.

My little girl was in heaven.  When we were there, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White were part of this experience (in addition to Ariel greeting each family as we walked down the staircase and into the dining room).  Make sure to call ahead for reservations (I would make them as far in advance as you can) – (714) 781-DINE or (714) 781-3463.  It’s a little pricey, but it is WORTH it!

9.  Disney California Adventure has lots of yummy places to eat, so you really can’t go wrong.  My personal favorite is the Pacific Wharf Cafe on the “Wharf” – they have great salads, fresh bread bowl soups, fruit, nice, plump sandwiches…yum! (Note to mamas – seating is outside on the wharf).

Keep an Eye Out for Characters

10.   On “Hollywood Lane,” we typically find the Disney Junior characters right outside of the Disney Junior – Live on Stage area.  Toy Story characters are usually on the Paradise Pier in the little gazebo across from the carousel.  We’ve seen Buzz Lightyear, Jesse the Cowgirl and Woody – super cute and rarely long lines.

Who else loves Disney California Adventure as much as my family does?  What tips and tricks do you have?  Please comment below and share your ideas!


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