Ok this is totally what worked for us. Something else might be better for your fam but we were going with a few goals: #1 FUN, #2 Convenience and #3 Budget. Some of these tricks were mine but a lot are from my sister and friends.
Pull your kids out of school and go when the crowds are low! We went over Case’s birthday (Oct. 4-11) and although it seemed crowded in the park, we rarely waited more than 5 or 10 minutes to get on a ride.
If you have little kids go with family or friends. There were a lot of rides Sawyer (or preggo Jessica) couldn’t ride. We all took turns waiting with S or taking her on a different ride. Wait until your kids either don’t nap or cat nap in the stroller. Getting to/from and in/out of the part takes a really long time. We only left during the day once.
Buy your tickets once you get there. If you loose the receipt or it gets stolen anyone can use them! We bought them at our hotel. Once you get the ticket with your name on it (1st day in the park) take a photo with your phone. If you loose that ticket they can replace it but the photo makes it a lot easier. Also do this for your photo passes.
Use the Disney wait time app on your phone. Life saver! My strategy was just to always go to the ride with the shortest wait time. I went on Ariel 3 times in a row with Sawyer. I love her. She still talks about how Ariel waved to her. Also, I think we rode almost every ride there.
Wear your ugly worn out walking shoes. I did this and never once did my feet bother me. You’ll walk 10 miles easy in a day.
Bring a stroller. One with a basket! Even if you think your kids could handle not using one. My sister ended up buying one for her 5 year old. More than once we had every kid asleep or almost sleeping on the way out of the park.
We stayed at The Embassy Suites about a mile from the park. Loved it. Two rooms, free hot breakfast, free unlimited happy hour (!!) and a shuttle takes you to the park every day. The shuttle costs about $7 for us (the girls were free). I should note that I always swore I would stay in the park with my kids, but once I punched those dates in and saw the extra $2500 price tag taking a shuttle sounded pretty nice!
We got a 5 day park hopper pass (DON’T skimp on the park hopper pass!) and had a pool day in the middle. The pool day MADE the trip. The kids loved it and the restful day was awesome!
When we went in Oct. it was HOT. Like mid 90’s. We would start the day in DIsneyland and once it got crowded we would head over to CA Adventure. There are a lot of indoor shows (with AC!!) and the lines are mostly in shade. DL isn’t. It’s hot. Also get one of these. My little sister bought one and we all shared it. It was aaaaaaamazing. They’re huge so you could get one and cut it in 1/2.
I packed a ton of food. Don’t do this. Maybe grab a bag or trail mix and bring that, but Vons delivers for free (over $50) and their prices weren’t crazy high. Get a couple cases of water. If it’s hot out freeze a couple and then you have super cold water all day.
Go to the Aladdin show!! It’s hilarious. We all loved it, even Sawyer. Also Disney Jr. show was cool. CA parade is SO FUN! We did it twice.
Ok… Cars. The line is always long. Like the longest in the park. Just go when they open and go straight to the ride. We did and it was hilarious to see the HUGE line for fast passes when they could have just gone straight to the ride.
If you want to see Elsa and Anna use your magic morning pass and once you are all in the park (really… they know if you aren’t in the park) send your man to RUN to the fast pass line. We ended up getting to see Elsa at 9:30 and waited 10 minutes with the fast pass. Our guys waited maybe 20ish minutes to get the fast pass while we did some rides with the kids.
Don’t expect much on your magic morning. Only a couple areas are open so it’s pretty crowded.
To use my sister’s advice: Get the churro, corn dog and dole whip. Bomb. (Do people even say that anymore? Cause I do.)
Ok meals… I would pack snacks, a PB and J and waters. We would buy a snack or something little and go to an early dinner. People… this saved hours. We never waited to get in, the kids weren’t melting down yet. It was awesome. We did sit down for lunch a couple times at Earl of Sandwich. Dude. This place is SO good and not even that spendy. We could all eat for under $30. Go. (maybe pass on tortilla joe’s… case’s dinner came back up. Also very spendy for ‘meh’ food).
Play Head’s Up on your iphone while you wait in line. We didn’t do this until the last day but we laughed til we cried! There was some singing and dancing involved. Plus it takes a video of the people acting the words out so you can re-watch. Don’t pack toys for your kids to play in line. Too much to carry and we never needed them.
Wait in line for the characters! It’s worth every minute. Buy an autograph book on amazon before you go. Way cheaper.
Ok. That’s all I got for now. BEST TRIP EVER!
Oh!! Get the parent pass when someone stays behind with the little one. They basically give you a fast pass for an adult and 3 kids to do the ride again.
Ok one more… Get a birthday button if your celebrating a bday. The characters and staff go out of their way to wish them happy birthday! They’ll even walk up from the parade.