So we went to Disneyland with the boys for five days. When we came up with the plan we didn't tell the kids thinking it would be an awesome surprise. When we finally told them it went like this.
"We're going to Disneyland!!"
"Awww. Do we have to?"
The kids had never been to Disney and I think they thought it would be nothing but princesses, pixies and baby stuff. They changed their tune once we got there.
We stayed at one of the Disney hotels, Paradise Pier. It wasn't anything too special but it was an easy walk to Disneyland and California Adventure.
A few things I would suggest if you're thinking of going. One, get this book. It is an excellent guide to all things Disneyland and really explains a lot about how to best take advantage of all the parks have to offer. It features touring plans that seem really crazy and draconian at first but after a few hours at the park you realize that you must have a plan or all your time will get sucked up by, "I dunno, what do you want to do?" and waiting in lines. The book explains how the Fastpass system works. I was amazed by all the people who didn't understand and/or use Fastpasses at the parks. Only a handful of attractions offer Fastpasses. They are a timed admission to a particular ride. Instead of waiting in a huge, long line you go into a special jump-to-front-of-the-crowd line. The trick with Fastpasses is that even though they give you a one hour window, say 11:30-12:30 to enter the attraction, they actually work anytime after 11:30 until the end of the day. Once 11:30 rolls around you can get another Fastpass. Or if your Fastpass isn't good for several hours you can get another after two hours. Grab up all the Fastpasses you can early in the day and skip all the long afternoon and evening lines.
You should also make all your dining reservations long in advance--weeks in advance, if possible. There is nothing worse than being tired and hungry with tired and hungry kids and having to wait an hour or two to eat. All the food in the park and Downtown Disney is pretty mediocre and insanely expensive. The only good meal I had was the Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland. For $20 per person, less for kids, you get all you can eat BBQ ribs and chicken, corn bread, beans and cole slaw. The service was also the best of any of the restaurants in or around the parks. Normally I don't spend $20 on lunch but I'd rather spend $20 and get a good meal than spend $10 on a crummy one. Keeping the kids well fed was crucial to enjoying ourselves. Once anyone gets hungry and cranky (parents included) it all went downhill fast.
Staying so close to the parks made it easy to take a break midday when it was hottest and the parks were the most crowded. Wes took the boys swimming at the hotel and I would take a little nap. Made the evenings a lot nicer for everyone. And we could head back to the park with a pocket full of Fastpasses and jump all the lines.
We would go the Disneyland right when it opened each morning and go straight to the Matterhorn. It always has really long lines and does not have Fastpasses.Then we'd hit Space Moutain and grab Fastpasses for later since it is Older Son's favorite ride. Younger Son is afraid of absolutely everything and went on very few rides. In the morning the lines are still pretty short and you can go on several rides with very little wait. At 10 am California Adventure opens. The favorite attraction is Toy Story Midway Mania. It doesn't have Fastpasses either and gets huge lines. Although the lines moves very swiftly we would head straight there. It's right next to California Screamin', the roller coaster I posted the video of yesterday. I'm very height-phobic and the 107 foot drop had me too scared to ride so Wes went with Older Son. Once I got the report back that it wasn't so bad I decided to try it myself. It has a 55 mph take off. Whoa. I kept my eyes closed for most of the first ride. Each time I rode it I kept my eyes open more but I still closed them for the take off and the huge drop.
My favorite attractions at DCA were Muppet Vision 3D, Turtle Talk with Crush and California Screamin. The Muppet movie combines a 3D film with animatronics and live puppetry. It is loads of fun and very silly. It's perfect for all ages. Turtle Talk with Crush is an amazing real-time animated chat with Crush from Finding Nemo. Audience members can ask him questions and he interacts with the audience. It's all animated in real time. It's utterly charming and completely fun. Also great for all ages.
At Disneyland I loved the Big Thunder Railroad. It's a relatively tame roller coaster but a really fun ride. Space Mountain is a roller coaster completely in the dark. It's a little more stomach-dropping and very exhilarating but not for anyone who is afraid of the dark.
Last tip is save Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run for the end of the day or before heading to the hotel. You can get completely soaked and it's not fun riding on roller coasters in wet underpants. Believe me.
This was my first trip ever to Disneyland and I really loved it. Despite the crowds and the heat and the long lines it really is a fun time. I dragged Wes and the boys to some silly attractions like the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Peter Pan ride. I tried to get someone to go on the Dumbo ride or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride but no one would. And I think an adult going on either of these rides by herself is borderline creepy.
So my Disney advice in a nutshell: Have a plan!