5 Things I Learned From My First Trip To Disneyland

Phew, we did Disneyland! And we seriously had a BLAST. My husband and I brought our two little boys (ages 2 and 4) and met up with my sisters, my niece (2), and my sister’s boyfriend. None of us had ever been to Disneyland before, so this trip was basically 9 fools trying to make sense of the magic and madness of Disneyland. 

I’m hoping it might be helpful for me to share a “guide to disneyland from a first-timer,” because I know there are plenty of y’all reading this who are also thinking of going on your first Disney trip! 

There are obviously plenty of Disney pros out there who can share all their tips and tricks. I was the lucky recipient of lots of those pieces of advice! A few of my friends are absolute Disneyland geniuses, so they gave me all their insider ideas that might be helpful. 

But the truth is that you really just have to get there and figure it out! I used a lot of advice that my friends gave me (thank you Krystal and Kimi!), but there were a lot of things we just didnt’ know until we were there. So, here ya go! 

Disneyland Tips From A First-Timer

Like I said, there are so many people out there who are way more qualified than I am to share ALL THE DISNEY THINGS.

Like, all the things. Haha.

But I have the unique perspective of someone who’s a total newbie to all of this! If that’s you, hope you find a few helpful tidbits in here.

We went to Disneyland in February during Presidents Day Weekend. I think almost everyone in our group had been to Walt Disney World in Orlando once or twice as kids, but all of us were Disneyland newbies. 

The park was a bit crowded because of the holiday, but I wanted to take advantage of my son’s long 4-day weekend break from preschool. So mid-February is what worked out for us!  

That first glimpse of Mickey Mouse near the park entrance!

We flew in on a Friday morning and bopped around for the day, checked into our awesome airbnb, and got a good night’s sleep. And then we went to Disneyland on Friday and Monday (there are two parks, so we did one park each day) and took a break on Sunday to rest/let the kids take naps/explore California a bit. 

As far as the schedule went, it couldn’t have been more perfect! I’m so happy we decided to put a rest day in between our two Disneyland days. The parks are fun, but they’re exhausting! We were basically on our feet for 12 hours straight, and the 2-year-olds didn’t get their naps so they really needed that rest day in-between. (Dayton slept for about 15 hours the night after Disneyland – yowza!)

My good friend Krystal is from that area, and so I asked if she had any babysitter connections…and she was so kind to reach out to her sweet sister-in-law, who kindly agreed to babysit for us for a few hours on Sunday. It was actually Nate’s idea to arrange this, and I’m so glad he thought of it! He was like, “hey, we’re spending thousands of dollars on this Disneyland trip to California, and it will be fun but also exhausting. So what if we take a few hours to ourselves and enjoy a relaxing kid-free afternoon and do some brewery hopping?” 

So smart. Good move, Nate. 

I’m also SO happy we rented our airbnb. We had a big group and needed 5 bedrooms, and we ended up booking this one. The hosts were wonderful, the home was perfect for a big group, and the cute backyard was lots of fun for the kids. It was a 20-ish minute drive from the park, so that was easy, and it was a lot more cost effective than trying to book something 10 minutes away. (The 20 minute drive was honestly nbd!) We did a load of laundry every day, enjoyed having a kitchen to cook in, and generally just LOVED all the space. When the boys are older I can see us staying at a resort at the park (the Grand Californian looked so fun!), but for now, it’s really nice to have separate bedrooms for the boys, who go to bed early, and the laundry room/kitchen/living room/playroom. 

5 Things I Learned From My First Trip To Disneyland

1. Book way far in advance

Get all your park tickets/reservations/Genie+ a few months before your trip!

Disneyland isn’t like Six Flags or other amusement parks where you can just grab tickets the night before. People buy tickets MONTHS in advance. And you can’t just buy a ticket – you have to use your ticket to make a specific reservation for a certain park. 

I’ve actually just used our Disney travel agent to do all of this for me (she also booked our Disney cruise that we did in 2023) and she’s AMAZING! Disney travel agents get paid a commision through Disney, which means that I don’t have to pay anything extra. I’ve used Allyson Gosselin at Tink’s, and she’s incredible. 

I literally just emailed her and said, “we’re doing Disney in a couple months during the third weekend of February. Which two days will the park be the least crowded?” And she ran the numbers through her park scheduler, recommended two days to me, and then she took care of booking tickets/making reservations/getting Genie+. It took 5 minutes of my time and I didn’t have to worry about anything. (And I also love that I get to support a female entrepreneur and help her earn commissions at no cost to me – always a fan of helping woman-owned businesses!) 

We sadly had one person in our party who had a CRAZY stressful month and was planning to get their ticket the night before, and Disneyland was completely sold out…and it was absolutely heartbreaking because it means they couldn’t get in to the park. I mean, heartbreaking. But Disney is really firm that the rules are the rules (they can’t fill the park over capacity because that wouldn’t be safe). Next time, I’m just going to put myself in charge of booking ALL the tickets through my travel agent and make sure it’s done far in advance.

2. No need for park-hopper tickets

If it’s your first time going to Disneyland, just do one park per day. 

Ha, here’s an accurate glimpse at just part of our group. There was not a lot of “hopping” happening, lol. Slow and steady! 

They sell park-hopper tickets where you can go between the two parks (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure), but with a big group/3 littles/two strollers, we had plenty to do in one park each day! Trying to hop back and forth would have been stressful. 


3. Genie+ is totally worth it

Yes, definitely get Genie+, and then load all your Genie+ passes onto one phone.

We did SO many rides thanks to Genie+!!!

Do this!! My friend Krystal recommended we do this, and it’s very easy (you just use the Disneyland app to scan everyone’s tickets). That way, one person can just select the entire party when you’re getting on the waitlist for a Genie+ ride.

There are a lot of opinions about if Genie+ is worth it, and IMO it 100% is! I mean, you’re already paying thousands of dolalrs for flights, car rental, airbnb, and Disneyland tickets…so just pay the extra 30 bucks for Genie+. We used ours for about 3-4 rides each day, which probably saved us about 3 hours of time that we would have been standing in line. We used this time to ride a bunch of the little rides with no lines (like carousels and little spinning rides) or eat food instead of standing in line with three rambunctious little ones. Soooo worth it! 

4. Get there early in the day

Start your day early, especially if your kids wake early!

Since we were going from central time to west coast, we were up early! The park wasn’t too crowded early in the day but gradually got fuller. I’m so glad we started early, and then when we felt like we were done for the day, we just left and didn’t have any regrets. 

I think we ended up staying at the park for about 12 hours each day, which was a pretty long day! We slept very well. Haha. 

5. Take it easy

If your trip allows it, take a day off in between your Disneyland days. 

We all agreed that this was the best decision we made during this trip! Haha. 

We had three full days in California, plus a day of travel on each end. We contemplated doing three days at Disneyland, but then decided to just do two days (Saturday and Monday) and put a day off in the middle. 

I equate this day of Disneyland to a skiing trip…lots of fun, but also very exhausting! Sure, you could go three days in a row (especially if you’re not traveling with children or they’re a bit older than mine), but with 2-year-olds and a 4-year-old, we really needed that day off in the middle. 

And the adults had so much fun! We booked our babysitter, who was seriously SO sweet to come to our airbnb and hang out with the three little ones all afternoon while we enjoyed a relaxing few hours of visiting some incredible California breweries. 

I got to catch up with a friend of mine who lives in California, Nate and I got to actually relax on a vacation (imagine that!!), and we all enjoyed time with each other where we could sit in the sunshine and sip a west coast IPA and talk about something other than which ride we were going to try to go to next. It was seriously so much fun. I’ll always remember our first trip to Disneyland and the two days at the park, but I’ll also remember this fun day in the middle with my sisters and Tyler and my husband. We had a blast! 

Bonus: a word about rain

One more little bonus tip that I just thought of! Hopefully it doesn’t impact you, but if you happen to get a rainy day during your Disneyland adventure, just put on your smile, don your ponchos, and  roll with it! 

The mega perk is that the lines will be really short. We had nonstop rain on our day at Disney California Adventure, and the kids did SO great! We did pretty much every ride because the lines were so short, and we had a great day! 

Sure, it would have been a slightly easier day if it was sunny. But everyone in our party had a wonderful attitude about it, and it helped that no one was griping or complaining. After all, the tickets were booked and we couldn’t control the weather – so we just controlled our attitudes and made sure that everyone had a fun day! 

So if you happen to get rain, just focus on the positive: you get much shorter lines than most people experience at Disneyland. Enjoy!!

Here's Everything We Did In California (Besides Disneyland)

We landed in Friday morning and had the full day ahead of us! 

****Note: don’t be a dumb dumb like me and fly into LAX. I seriously had so many people tell me NOT to fly into LAX and instead book tickets to John Wayne airport. But I had a bunch of United miles I needed to use which would completely cover round-trip tickets for my family of 4, so I figured, “how bad can LAX actually be?” and the answer: very, very bad. It’s just so far from Disneyland, it’s a nightmare to find luggage, it took forever to get to my Turo car rental, and it was just annoying. Now I know!****

We stopped for lunch at Beachwood Brewing. The pizza was awesome, and Nate tasted approximately 835 west coast IPAs. Haha. I think this moment might have been his favorite part of the trip. (Only kind of joking.) 

It was pretty empty that early on a Friday afternoon, so we had a bunch of space for the kids to play with their auntie CC while we all ate. 

I love me some Ellie!! 

We drove 15 minutes to Huntington Beach. Nate’s foot can’t really handle walking on the sand, so he checked out Riip Beer while my sisters and I took the kids to the beach. 

It was chilly in the wind, but Milo and Ellie loved running in the shallow waves! Dayton mostly dug a giant hole in the sand and then rolled around in it. 

On Sunday, which was our “break day” between the two Disneyland days, we all slept in and then headed out for some massive breakfast burritos! 

Tacos El Gringo was delicious! 

It was a gorgerous, sunny morning, so we got our burritos to-go and enjoyed them at the park while the boys ran around. 

And then in the afternoon, while the babies napped…

…and played with the babysitter, the adults headed out for a relaxing afternoon! 

First stop: coffee! We went to Play Coffee in Orange, and it was seriously phenomenal. It was built in this old bank building. Super cool. And they had like 12 different options for unique pour-overs, including some natural/funkier options. It was very fun! 

Then we went brewery-hopping! We went to three different places. I was DD so Nate could just relax and let lose and have fun, but I tried sips from several flights because holy moly the west coast IPAs were sooo refreshing! 

My favorite brewery we went to was Green Cheek Beer. Co. 

And then after the we got Milo, Dayton, and Ellie bathed and in bed, we ordered a bunch of food from Khan Saab, which is on the Michelin guide to Orange County. 

HOLY MOLY, this was the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. Insane! 

We had enough leftover to enjoy it for dinner the next night too. I’m back in Austin now and hunting for an Indian restaurant that could compare, but no luck thus far. 

I just realized that I’ve planned Disney winter trips two years in a row now. Last winter we did our first Disney cruise, and this year we explored Disneyland. I didn’t do this intentionally..it just happened! I wonder if we’ll do another Disney trip next winter?

PS: want to check out more of my travel recaps? You can read them all right here! 

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