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#Lifehacks: Disney Edition

We're here!Anyone who’s ever traveled with me knows I like to do my research. But when you plan for a trip to Disneyland, there are some hilarious things you’ll end up learning! Here are some of the things I discovered during the planning process, as well as some other tips I picked up while actually on the trip.

Not all of this will be relevant to every Disney trip, but they’re some of the things my friend and I encountered. Maybe someone out there will find this useful! I’m no Disney expert, but please leave a comment if you have any questions!

Destination: Disneyland and California Adventure parks in Anaheim, Calif.
Ticket: Three-day Park Hopper pass.
Travel Dates: May 1 – 6, 2014
Hotel:
 Quality Inn & Suites (1441 South Manchester)
*You can read my review of the hotel on Trip Advisor here.

Mailing Postcards

There are no stamps sold anywhere in Disneyland or California Adventure, despite the many, many mailboxes that are located within both parks. Mail that is put into those boxes are taken to a local post office, where the postmark will show up as “Anaheim.”

But if you leave the park and visit the Grand Californian Hotel, the Disney resort hotel adjacent to California Adventure and Downtown Disney, you can ask a front desk staffer to send the postcard for you. Even though I didn’t have a stamp and wasn’t a guest at the hotel, a hotel staff member happily accepted my postcard with a promise to put it in the mail.

Photos with Anna and Elsa of Frozen

One of the village houses in Disneyland’s Fantasyland was recently refurbished to look like a winter lodge and is the only place, as far as I know, where Frozen‘s Anna and Elsa can be found. But be warned – the lineup to get photos with them ranges anywhere from two hours to five hours long. (Note: A cast member coordinating the lineup said two hours is considered a short wait time. He said families have also tried to bribe him with cash in order to skip the line, or have even successfully bribed other families to trade places in the line.)

With certain Park Hopper tickets, you receive one Magic Morning entry that allows you entry to the park one hour before general opening. A lot of people use this Magic Morning entry to get into the lineup for Frozen. It’s recommended that you’re ready and waiting at the park gates 30 minutes before the Magic Morning opening time. Once the gates open, people run – I’m not kidding – down Main Street, past the Walt Disney statue, through the Sleeping Beauty castle, and into Fantasyland to get in the line-up. Even then, you’ll still have to wait another hour since Anna and Elsa – and be aware that you’re not always guaranteed both sisters – don’t make their appearance until general park opening.

This is still a lot of waiting just to get a photo with actors dressed as characters from an animated film, but getting it done early in the morning beats a three-hour lineup in the middle of the day when the park is much more crowded. Alternatively, a lot of families seem to send a runner to hold their place in line, while someone else takes the kids on rides during that first hour of park opening. So if you’re a parent whose child is obsessed with Frozen, you’d better start stretching for that run and make sure you’ve got a game plan.

Buttons

If you’ve never been to Disneyland, you might be wondering why people are wearing 3″ buttons everywhere. The answer is because those buttons are free and they’re awesome. There are buttons for birthdays, first-time visits, generic celebrations, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, etc. Did I mention they’re free?

In Disneyland, you can head to City Hall on Main Street, just to your left after entering the park, to get the buttons from guest services. In California Adventure, the buttons are available at the Chamber of Commerce, also on the left side after entering. You can also ask counter staff in the Main Street gift shops; many of the shops will have a box of buttons under their counter.

Just kindly ask the guest services staff at the counter what kind of buttons they have, if you don’t have a specific one in mind.

Radiator Springs Racers

One of the newer attractions at Disney’s California Adventure is Cars Land, completely re-designed to look like Radiator Springs from the movie Cars. It’s super cute and really fun to check out. Cars Land’s main attraction, however, is Radiator Springs Racers, a combination story ride-through and thrill ride. The ride regularly sees lineups up to three hours long.

The best way to get on the ride without having to wait for hours is to grab a FastPass. (If you’re not familiar with Disney’s FastPass system, read up on it here.) But note: FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers often run out within the first hour of the park’s opening so make sure you get there early. Alternately, we heard from some other park guests that the lineup can be as short as 30 minutes if you’re willing to split up your group and go through the single-rider line.

World of Colour

World of Colour is a new show that happens in California Adventure’s Paradise Pier. The show combines water fountains, pyrotechnics, projections, lasers, and lighting to create an amazing multi-layered show that takes you through all the Disney canon classics, as well as some of their newer films.

You can see the show from a number of different spots but I would suggest getting a World of Colour FastPass that allows you into a sectioned-off viewing area. It’s still crowded, but if you arrive about 40 to 30 minutes before your FastPass listed time, you should be able to stake out a pretty decent spot to enjoy the show. (Note: Usually, you’re only allowed to hold one valid FastPass at a time. World of Colour FastPasses are among the exception. You can grab one for the show, and still get another FastPass for another ride or attraction.)

Ariel’s Grotto

Ariel’s Grotto is a restaurant located near Paradise Pier that offers character dining. We were seated out on the patio, which was really nice because the view was great, and it wasn’t as loud or crowded as it was inside the dining room. Note that the patio is also where they seat larger group reservations, so you may still end up with a longer table next to you, and some kids running around nearby.

Since it’s Ariel’s Grotto, Ariel poses for photos with every guest that enters the dining room. A professional photographer will take your photo and later, a cast member will come to your table with printed copies of your photos in a decorative folder. You are not required to buy the photo package, but they’re hoping you’re more inclined to do so if you see it in its fancy framed folder. The package is about $35 and includes one 8×10″ print overlayed with Ariel’s signature, and three 4×6″ prints.

Other princesses that made their way through the dining room included Belle, Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella. The princesses stop at each table to pose for photos, but won’t stay for long. If you’ve got kids who just want to meet them and take a photo, this is a good way to check off several princesses at once without having to look for them all over the parks.

As a side note, the food was actually delicious. I don’t always expect the best at theme park restaurants since it’s clearly designed with tourists in mind, but I enjoyed my meal and the service was great. (Well, as great as it can be with so many kids running circles around the staff.) The drink menu wasn’t bad either! I would highly recommend making a reservation well in advance.

Innovations: Captain America and Thor

Inside Disneyland’s Tomorrowland area is the Innovations attraction. It’s indoors, it’s shaded, it’s a nice break from the sun. Other than that, it’s mostly just video game displays and photo ops with Iron Man suits, Thor and Captain America.

The Thor attraction includes a number of artefact displays which are actually pretty cool, and can be viewed while in the line-up. Later, they usher in a group of about 20 people at a time, and there are some special effects before you’re taken into the throne room where Thor appears. There’s a neat trick they do with Thor’s hammer, where they ask someone to try to pick it up but of course, it’s ‘too heavy’. Thor then goes down the line and poses for photos with everyone before the group is ushered outside.

The line-up for Captain America is a little bit longer since they bring in guests one at a time, instead of in a large group. Captain America will take time to chat with you for a couple of minutes before posing for photos. The difference between the two is that Thor was a bit more of a show, whereas Captain America was more of a character encounter.

Other Tips

Line-ups: A lot of people around us who were attending Disneyland with a small group or family used their smartphones to play Charades or a variation of Headbands while waiting in line-ups. It’s a nice way to pass the time and definitely keeps kids entertained in what might otherwise be a land mine for whining and temper tantrums. You can find the app Heads Up! in the Apple Store.

Autograph Books, Pin Trading and Penny Presses: For parents traveling with younger kids, autograph books seem like a great way to have them engage with the park. For older kids and pre-teens, pin trading might be a better option. A lot of folks suggest ordering a starter pin set off EBay, instead of buying in the parks, since it’s much cheaper that way. Personally, I went with the penny press! The machines are located all over the park in gift shops, and it’ll only cost 50 cents and one shiny penny.

FastPass Lanyards: If your kids are old enough to hang on to their own park passes (for the purposes of collecting FastPasses) and not lose them, perhaps consider a park pass lanyard. Goodness knows I could’ve used one! Alternately, make sure you have a backpack or purse with an easy-to-access pocket where you can quickly slip your FastPasses.

Dining: Pack snacks! Eating in the parks can get expensive very quickly so definitely pack in juice boxes, granola bars, or yogurt cups if you can. We ended up packing snacks from the breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning, and stopped only for lunch and dinner. We usually just grabbed snacks for lunch, and then splurged a bit on dinner.

Getting Soaked: Hit up Splash Mountain or Grizzly River Run during the day since you WILL get soaked and you’ll want to dry off in the sun. However, if you’re willing to brave those rides in the evening, the line-ups are much shorter. But hey – it’s California. Even in the evening, you’ll dry off pretty quickly.

Closed Rides: Check the day-of entertainment schedules on disneyland.com. It’ll list what rides are closed for refurbishment on any given day you’re visiting. This will prevent disappointment, especially if there’s a specific ride you’re looking forward to.

Shows and Parades: If you’re on a multi-day Park Hopper pass, perhaps plan to watch the parades on one day, and all the shows on another. It gets pretty hectic trying to catch all the entertainment but if you know you’re only aiming for one or two scheduled events each day, it makes it much easier to enjoy the parks without rushing around too much.

Merchandise: A quick note about Frozen merchandise: There is very, very little being offered in the parks that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere or back home. There’s a very coveted Olaf stuffie that is often sold out, so if you happen to see it and you want it, buy it!

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