Saving Up for Disney

Budgeting Tips for Your Entire Life!

Leave a comment

Essential Disneyland – What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

For anyone visiting Disneyland for the very first time, this is what I’d call the definitive list of “must-do” items inside Disneyland Park. After these things, everything else is just gravy!

As a first time Disneyland visitor, you’ll want to get the best feel of what makes the Park “tick” and where its heartbeat lies. These attractions are classic Disney and will completely immerse you in the magic! It’s not everything of course because you’d need a lifetime to experience it all but these are the essentials that are do-able for a visitor’s first Disneyland day!

Main Street Vehicles – No thrill rides here, just a good ol’ fashioned ride down Main Street U.S.A. to get you in the mood of the Park . Hop aboard a horse-drawn car, jitney, fire engine or omnibus. Our travels have always included a chat with the drivers, who are knowledgeable about Disneyland facts.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

The Mad Hatter – It’s the place to find a hat for every occasion! What better way to show your #DisneySide than with a pair of Mouse Ears that reflects your personality? We bought my son’s Pluto hat here which he’s continued to wear on nearly ever Disneyland trip for the past 6 years.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Silhouette Studio – Get into the vintage Victorian vibe by having the artists hand cut your silhouette out of paper for the perfect souvenir. I have my silhouette from when I was about four years old, curly ponytail and all!

River Belle Terrace – Skip the Starbucks and head straight here for the best breakfast in the Park. The adorable Mickey Mouse pancake will start your day off right. This restaurant is a 1955 original and has one of the prettiest views of the Rivers of America.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

He’s eyeing that cherry nose and you can believe it was in his mouth before I set my camera down!

Disneyland Monorail – Get the aerial lay-of-the-Land and take the 2.5 mile Monorail route. Jump on in Tomorrowland, pass through Disney’s California Adventure and hop off and on at Downtown Disney, if you wish (you’ll need a valid ticket to get back inside the Park!)

Autopia – Though you’re only driving about 7 miles per hour, you’ll feel the freedom of the open road! This attraction dates back to opening day in 1955, before there was a center guide rail keeping your car on the road. I love the little bridges, lush landscaping and “off road” section. Being tall enough to drive your own Autopia vehicle is a rite of passage!

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – When this first opened, my parents literally dragged my brother and I to get on the ride! We were scared of what looked like a runaway train. Of course, we’ve come to love the “Wildest Ride in the Wilderness” and new additions to the attraction make it better than ever. It’s my favorite Disneyland Mountain!

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Carnation Cafe – Serving up classic American comfort food, this is where Walt used to eat. In fact they still serve his favorite chili. We sat outside on the patio and ate dinner here one evening and it was relaxing and sweet under the striped umbrellas.

Disneyland Railroad – Hop aboard on Main Street U.S.A. and take the grand circle tour around the Park, a total of 1.2 miles. Not to be missed is Primeval World, a large diorama that takes you back to the prehistoric times and features dinosaurs and volcanoes! (images from Vivid Editions on Etsy)


The Enchanted Tiki Room – Let’s all sing like the birdies sing! 200+ Audio-animatronics perform before your eyes in this tropical paradise. The show is lively, the music is charming and you may find yourself singing along (go ahead, everyone else will be singing too!). And you can have Dole Whips inside from the Tiki Juice Bar…enough said!

Dumbo – If an elephant can fly, then what can YOU do? Music played on an authentic fairground organ built in 1915 accompanies your flight! Little ones direct the flight with a knob that makes Dumbo rise and dip in the air.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!  Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

French Market Restaurant – The New Orleans Square feeling is alive here! After choosing your meal in the buffet line, take a seat outside to enjoy the Dixieland Band. The meatloaf and mashed potatoes are divine and my son can’t miss the corn chowder in a bread bowl. It’s my favorite dining spot. Treat yourself to Mickey Mouse shaped beignets and a mint julep from the Mint Julep Bar for dessert!

“it’s a small world” –  If pressured to choose a favorite attraction, I’d have to say that this one is it. It’s happy and colorful and carries a message that simply uplifts your heart. Curmudgeons give this one a bad rap because, well the song by the Sherman brothers is slightly catchy. I love the addition of classic Disney characters throughout the attraction, they are fun to spot throughout.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Don’t miss the dancing parade of dolls that emerge from the clock.

Golden Horseshoe – Pull up a sundae with the works and enjoy a silly show in what is one of the original buildings from 1955. I still miss Billy Hill & the Hillbillies, who headlined here for years but the Laughing Stock Co. gang will give you a giggle. It’s a nice place to take an ice cream break and imagine when Walt Disney himself was sitting in the upper right reserved box.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Haunted Mansion – I was in my 20s before I actually rode through this attraction with my eyes open!! Appropriately spooky, the Haunted Mansion has just the right amount of fright and fun (but you’ll only catch the humor if you have your eyes open!)

Storybook Land Canal Boats – At times overlooked because of the gentle, slow pace this tour of fairy tale lands has always been one of my favorites. Your guided boat with glide past the Seven Dwarves cottage, the royal city of Agrabah from Aladdin, King Triton’s underwater oasis from The Little Mermaid and newly added, the land of Arendelle from Frozen.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!  Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough – The story behind the iconic castle comes to life with three-dimensional displays. The attraction is beautiful done but it’s awesome enough on its own just to be inside the actual castle!

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

This lovely statue is just outside the entrance to the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough

Jungle Cruise – Another 1955 original, this one evolved over the years from a serious African jungle tour into a slightly silly romp through the rain forest, complete with jokes from the skippers. Each skipper puts their own spin on the tour along with incorporating classic gags from year’s past.

Mad Tea Party – Go ahead, spin it if you dare! Though motion sickness prevents me from ever stepping foot in a teacup again, this is still one my favorite areas in the entire Park. From the festive lanterns hanging over head to the bright colors and patterns of the twirling teacups, this is one bright spot in Disneyland that can’t be missed!

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!  Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Peter Pan’s Flight – Arguably the best Disneyland dark ride, this one is getting a facelift in anticipation of Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration. Hope that the beautiful details remain, like flying over a miniature London and tiny Neverland with twinkling lights above and below.

Mark Twain Riverboat – The tour will take you around the Rivers of America, past Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island where you can spot frontier fun along the way. The ride features a narration by an actor reading as the author Mark Twain, whom this paddlewheel steam engine riverboat is named after.

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Pirates of the Caribbean – Truly one of the best amusement park rides, the detail and special effects are incredible. New additions based on the movies have been added to enhance the story line. Floating through the foggy battle scene, you will feel completely transported…it gives me goosebumps every time!

Plaza Inn -Walk by and it will be hard to resist the urge to go in and order yourself a big plate of fried chicken! Perfectly crispy, this is a large dish that we share. The ornate Victorian designs inside, especially the beautiful stained-glass ceiling are best appreciated in the daytime. Breakfast is also served here, as the fun buffet, Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park.

plazainn1   plazainn

Fireworks – Okay, so you’ve seen fireworks before. But if you haven’t seen them at Disneyland before, this is not to be missed! Over the years we’ve watched the show in the sky from where ever we were in the Park. I’ve even sat outside the Park on the esplanade to watch. But absolutely nothing beats watching them from the center of Main Street. I cried, seriously, it’s the perfect way to close out a Disney day!

Essential Disneyland - What You HAVE to See, Do and Eat on Your First Trip!

Oh, it’s so hard to narrow it down to just a few when there are so many spectacular attractions at Disneyland!

Did I miss including your favorites? Tell me in the comments what rides and attractions are “can’t miss” in your book!











Avoid the Disneyland Meltdown! – List of Quiet Spots in the Parks

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}

With  a 10-year old child on the Autism spectrum (as well as another ten-year old and a two-year old), our family goal when going to amusement parks is to completely eliminate the dreaded “meltdown”. We do this by taking the day at an easy pace and by taking plenty of breaks. Snacks and drinks are frequently handed out to keep blood-sugars level and we never cram too much activity into the day.

Stopping and redirecting immediately if we see a change in attitude or sense that a meltdown is developing is crucial. There is no attempt to try and squeeze in “one more” event; We immediately head for one of these quiet spots at the Disneyland Resort for a little decompressing. These would also be great places to sit with a child who is sleeping in their stroller!

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}


Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island has many shaded areas to sit, relax and people-watch from across the Rivers of America.

On the right hand side of Sleeping Beauty Castle is Snow White’s Grotto. The water-feature with the twirling fish is rather hypnotic! Toss some change into the Wishing Well.

Our daughter wanted to meet Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow. We requested an alternative waiting area (instead of the noisy line in the sun). We waited as long as everyone else (about 30 minutes that day) but were given a shaded area where she could spread out and not have the noise or crowd.

At the exit to the Jungle Cruise, just outside of Aladdin’s Oasis is a quiet spot to sit and have a snack. I like to pick up a beef skewer from Bengal Barbeque and sit here to enjoy it.

On the lower deck of the Hungry Bear Restaurant, tucked all the way in the back is a sweetly shaded resting spot overlooking the Rivers of America. It’s also where the ducks gather so toss them a few bread crumbs!

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}

Next to the entrance of Rancho Del Zocalo Restaurante is a covered walkway with tiled seating and a restroom nearby. It’s particularly pretty here in the evenings.

Inside the accessible space to view the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough on a high-definition screen. It’s a quiet location with little trinkets on display.

Take a trip around the Rivers of America on the Mark Twain Riverboat. Lots of benches in the shade and you’ll get a cool breeze across the water.

Pet the goats in Big Thunder Ranch – the perfectly calm way to decompress.

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}

Between “it’s a small world” and the Matterhorn (next to Edelweiss Snacks) is a quiet boat pier overlooking a lovely water feature. It has a covered awning and bench seating and is a perfect place to rest between rides.

After you pet the goats in Big Thunder Ranch, mosey back through the gates to the usually quiet picnic benches. It’s a shaded spot that perfect for break-time (if a band isn’t playing on the stage).

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}


In Hollywood Land, just outside of Monsters Inc are benches under shade. Arrive before dark, when the very loud and rambunctious Mad T Party starts!

Stop over at Sonoma Terrace for a snack in the covered patio that overlooks the Pier.

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}

The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail offers not only busy-body activities like rope swings and rock climbing walls but a few restful benches under the trees.

The umbrella-covered tables in Paradise Garden Grill are an out-of-the-way locale for lunch.

Rest yourself on one of the benches around the covered promenade underneath the Silly Symphony Swings. You’ll get a nice overview of Paradise Pier (though this area isn’t exactly the most quiet it does not have much foot-traffic).

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}

In front of the Tower of Terror there are places to sit in the shade. Even better, in front of the shop by the exit of  the ride there is an out of the way bench. After a while, you won’t even notice the screams!

Walk Grizzly Trail behind Grizzly River Run for a quiet and cool pace and perhaps a refreshing mist from the water ride!

There is a relatively quiet path between Cars Land and “a bug’s land”. It’s a peaceful walk and transition between Lands (though I don’t recall any seating).

How to Avoid the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown! - A List of Quiet Spots in the Parks {Saving Up for Disney}

Likewise, just as you pass under the rock formation in Cars Land into the Pacific Wharf area there is a quiet shady space.


Sometimes despite our best efforts our kids sometimes do have a mini-meltdown. Fortunately we’ve been able to avoid anything catastrophic at the Happiest Place on Earth but we live and learn through each situation.

Tips for avoiding the dreaded Disneyland Meltdown

The last time we had anyone in our group upset was because we didn’t plan our fireworks viewing area properly. When the lights went out and Guests rushed into our area to see the show, our daughter was pushed out of her spot and under a tree where she completely missed seeing Tinker Bell fly across the sky. She didn’t appreciate the tight quarters, the jostling or the blocked view. As you can see in the photo above she was very upset and had been crying. After the show, we were able to sit tight in our spot until the crowd cleared and regrouped. After a rest she was ready for a few more rides before we ended our evening.

Having learned our lesson on that trip, we were able to choose a better fireworks location on our last visit where she had more space around here and an open view. Making your Disney day enjoyable is as much about doing your Park research as it is about knowing, listening and watching your child for potential break-down.


Keep in mind that if you have a special needs child, the DAS (Disability Access Service) is available. More about that program in my post, Disneyland’s Disability Access Service (DAS) – How We Made it Work for Us.



Leave a comment

Disneyland with a Toddler – Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day at the Happiest Place on Earth!

For some little ones, Disneyland is an enchanting place! They delight in the rides, the brights lights and color and the unique sounds throughout the Parks. For other kids, Disneyland can be an exhausting overload to the senses with large (sometimes frightening) characters, swift moving rides and too many things they are unaccustomed to. To be honest, I could be describing the same toddler – depending upon if they’ve napped or had a recent snack!

Top 14 Tips - Disneyland with a Toddler

Here are my top 14 ways to have an enjoyable time at Disneyland with your toddler.

Have a plan. Avoid traveling during “peak season” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Summer) to minimize crowds and wait times. Aim for a trip mid-week, as a Wednesday is considerably less crowded than a Saturday. Purchase your tickets ahead of time on the Disneyland website. Keep in mind that children under three do not require an admission ticket. Two-year olds and under receive free entry, hurray!

2013-10-02 23.18.38

Size them up! Measure your child’s height so you can know ahead of time which rides have height restrictions.

2013-10-02 17.13.27

A few inches too short for Soarin’ Over California.

Figure out before your trip which rides are a “must-do”. Just know ahead of time that you won’t be able to see or do everything. If you know that your toddler is going to love “it’s a small world” then make sure that happens. Just realize that it might happen more than once if it’s a ride they fall in love with and request you ride again and again! Read up on the rides on the Disneyland website to know what is most appropriate for your toddler. This interactive list from the Disneyland site shows which rides and attractions are well-loved by most toddlers.

2014-10-04 09.44.47

Bring what you can from home. You can purchase quite a bit inside the Parks but it’s going to come at a premium price. So make sure you pack enough diapers, wipes and snacks for your trip. Bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for each member of the family.

Disneyland with Toddlers -Top tips!

Wary of characters? Some toddlers are frightened when they finally see their favorite characters in the Parks. After all they are used to seeing these guys tiny on the television screen or on the pages of a book! Now Mickey is larger than life and that could be very unnerving from some kids. First try looking at the characters from afar. Talk aloud with your toddler, noting how the other people are interacting and how friendly the character is. Only if your child is willing should you try to approach the character. There is no point in pressuring your toddler to try and get their picture with Mickey if they are terrified and crying – this will only make them more tense for the rest of the day. Only book a character dining experience if your toddler is happy meeting different characters.


Let them stretch their legs. Make sure to let little ones burn off excess energy by hitting one of the play areas in the Parks. At the Disneyland Resort, kids can climb up and down the stairs in Tarzan’s Treehouse. In Toontown, Goofy’s Playhouse has an indoor/outdoor play yard. On a hot day, toddlers can splash at Princess Dot Puddle Park in Disney California Adventure Park.


Big  and little. It can be challenging to please everyone when you have a toddler and older children in your group. With two or more adults, you might consider splitting up during the day to make sure everyone gets their fair share of entertainment. On our last trip while the two big kids rode with my husband on Radiator Springs Racers, Dillon and I visited with Mater and Lightning McQueen. Consider taking advantage of the “Rider Switch” service that allow parents (and older siblings) to take turns riding certain rides that aren’t intended for small children, without standing in line over again. See a Cast Member at the entrance for a special pass.

Carsland at Disney's California Adventure

Take in the entertainment but know your audience. Dillon adored Mickey’s Soundsational Parade on our last visit. He happily sat in his stroller and clapped and waved to the characters on the floats. It was adorable to see him enjoy himself so much. He also loves seeing his favorite characters in the Disney Junior Stage Show. Though I love Disney’s Aladdin:  A Musical Spectacular, I know that at only 2-years old Dillon’s probably not ready to sit through a 40-minute stage show. The show also has some dark elements that might frighten young children. Know your child and review the Disney Parks website entertainment sections before planning what shows to watch with your toddler.

Top 13 Tips

Nervous on rides? When I took my now ten-year old to Disneyland for the first time he was only 15-months old and the unfamiliar motion of the rides made him tense. Again, there is no reason that children should be pressured to ride if they are scared. Read my article Encouraging Kids at Disney Parks for more tips about making your children comfortable with trying new experiences in the Park.

2013-05-01 14.58.28

No nap! If you have a little one with you, plan the day around your toddler’s schedule. I’d recommend hitting their favorites first thing in the morning. We like to get to Fantasyland first and circle this intimate area with our 2-year old just after the Park opens. From there we will stick to one Land at a time so there isn’t a lot of walking and criss-crossing the Park. Once naptime arrives, the adults or older children in our group take that time to hit a few of the thrill-rides. We choose to let our little guy nap in his stroller but I’ve found that stroller naps are never quite as long or as “effective” as a real nap. You may want to consider taking your toddler back to the hotel for a proper naptime.

Top 13 Tips - Disneyland with a Toddler

Hunger = Crankiness. Bring with you plenty of healthy snacks from home for your toddler to nibble on throughout the day. You can bring in a sippy cup and request ice water from any counter service restaurant for free.

What to do at Disneyland when the temps soar!

Use a stroller, even if you don’t think you’re going to need one. Disney days can be long and toddler legs can only take so much walking! It’s also nice to have the storage basket underneath the stroller to hold diapers, snacks and souvenirs. I bring a lightweight blanket to drape over the stroller and use as a sunshield at nap time. At the end of the night your toddler may fall asleep and after a long day, the last thing you’ll want to do is carry your heavy kid back to the car or hotel! We live close by the Parks and always bring our own stroller. If you are traveling and don’t want to pack a stroller you can rent one at the Parks.

Napping on a pillow of cotton candy…only at Disneyland!

Map out the bathrooms. Especially important if your toddler is toilet-training, you won’t want to be in a Land without knowing where the closest potty is! Both men’s and women’s restrooms have diaper-changing areas (bring a cushioned, wipeable changing pad). We love to make a stop inside the Baby Care Center. They have teeny-tiny toilets and clean changing tables. You can also purchase extra diapers and wipes here if needed.

Top 14 Tips - Disneyland with a Toddler

One of the most important things when bringing your toddler to Disneyland is to remember to “Go with the flow!” Make happy memories, take lots of pictures and simply have a great time. If you find yourself or your toddler getting stressed out, take a break – Go back to the hotel, go swimming, have a snack or simply take the Grand Circle Tour on the Disneyland Railroad around the Park.


If you are new to my blog, please consider subscribing to my newsletter so you don’t miss any posts. Thanks for stopping by!