One of my favorite highlights from this summer was visiting Disneyland. In mid-July I took a short weekend trip to California and got to spend exactly one day at the happiest place on earth. And, if you’re a big Disney fan like me, Disneyland really is the happiest place on earth. I’ve been meaning to share some trip highlights and tips with you and now that the summer is winding down I figured I’d better get to it!
Here are the best lessons I learned around food, health, photography, and everything else Disney.
- Research before you go. Whether you have dietary restrictions, food allergies, or just want to eat a little healthier on your vacation, my best advice is to do your research before you go. All the options for dining at Disney can be found here and you can search by park, type of cuisine, and price. Prior to the trip I came up with a list of my top three favorites at Disneyland and Downtown Disney (since we weren’t visiting California Adventure) so I would have options and could decide based upon what we were craving (and how crowded it was).
- If you have a special place to dine in mind, make a reservation. We ended up eating at off-hours (to avoid crowds) and doing a casual dinner so I didn’t make reservations ahead of time, but I would definitely recommend this if you want to eat dinner at one of the restaurants.
- If you have special dietary needs or food allergies, check out Disney’s Special Dietary Requests. You can always notify restaurants ahead of time if you need special accommodations, but I was honestly pretty impressed with the variety of options in the park. I noticed that the majority of menus had salad options, vegetarian (and some vegan) options, and items without gluten. We opted to splurge on lunch at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ and grab grilled salmon salad as a lighter dinner. (Note: Big Thunder Ranch BBQ does have veggie skewers, but if you’re vegetarian/vegan, I would probably recommend picking a restaurant with more variety.)
- Disneyland does allow you to bring food into the park so take advantage of this and pack your own snacks. Not only is it much more affordable, but this is a great way to make sure you have some healthier options available throughout the day. My snack stash included Justin’s Almond Butter Packets, celery sticks, a cucumber, a peach, and a Natural Calm magnesium packet for a late-day energy boost. However, if you forget your snacks, the park does have plenty of stands with fresh veggies and fresh fruit. (Just prepare for it to be a bit expensive!)
- If you are bringing a meal or snacks that need to be kept cold, I opt for my ziplock bag trick: Fill a quart-sized bag with food or snacks and then fill one gallon freezer bag halfway with ice. Place the food bag inside your ice bag then seal up! This trick is handy because you can replenish the ice as needed, or dump it out when you’re done. The bags end up weighing less and taking up less space than ice blocks.
- Plan your treats. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you probably know that I live by the 80/20 rule and believe in eating healthy overall and indulging in treats in moderation. One of the challenges I usually see for folks going on vacation is they use vacation as a time to “go wild” and eat everything under the sun. Although this sounds like fun and it sounds like it will make your vacation more enjoyable, I have personally found that this usually results in me feeling sick and then not being able to enjoy my vacation. Keeping this in mind, my approach for this trip was to plan for specific treats and splurges ahead of time, then eat healthy the rest of the time. Since I knew we’d be eating a big lunch, I made sure my breakfast and dinners were on the fresher side and included veggies as my snacks. I also avoided sugar, with the exception of my peach in the afternoon and a small dessert after dinner. This approach worked out really well for me because I didn’t end up with a stomachache or having sugar crashes, but I did still get enjoy my vacation with a few (pre-planned) treats.
- Make sure you get a good night’s sleep! Feeling rested will give you more energy to enjoy the day and will also mean you are less-likely to turn to sugary treats for an energy boost.
- Pack a water bottle and stay hydrated. Between the heat, crowds, and walking, it’s really important to stay hydrated, and this will also help keep you energy levels up. I have a BPA-free Nalgene bottle that I use when traveling in hot climates because the wide-mouth makes it easy to fill with ice at soda machines.
- Since you’ll be in the sun, make sure you bring sun protection, whether that means sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, or long-sleeve loose clothing. For this trip, I opted for a hat and stayed out of the sun as much as possible.
- Perhaps this is a random tip, but if you wear contacts you might want to bring a bottle of eye drops. Due to all the rides, my eyes tend to dry out during the day so it was great to have my contact solution with me to re-wet them as needed.
Enjoying the Park:
- Alright, now for the fun stuff! Let’s talk Disneyland! The most important piece of advice I can give you is this: go early. I would recommend planning to be at the parking garage about 45 minutes prior to the park opening (this meant 7:15 am on the Friday we went). It can easily take 45 minutes to park, get tickets and get into the park and being among the first in means you’ll have the shortest wait times for the best rides. Most of the big rides only had 10 – 20 minute wait times from about 8 am – 9:45 am!
- Get your Fast Passes ASAP. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain have Fast Passes and since these rides tend to have the longest lines, I would recommend getting your Fast Passes for one of these first.
- The Fast Pass will give you an hour window during which you have to use it, but as soon as that window starts, you can get your next Fast Pass. So, if your Fast Pass is 9:05 am – 10:05 am, at 9:05 go get your next Fast Pass and then go ride the ride.
- Plan ahead! Since we could only visit the park for one day, I did a ton of research before we left and came up with a sample schedule for the day. I was surprised at how well my plan worked out, with the exception of one big factor: I didn’t double check the ride closures! I had naively assumed that in the middle of July they wouldn’t have any rides down for maintenance. Not true! Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is currently under construction and this threw a big wrench in my plans. However, we were able to visit Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Matterhorn, Autopia, and several Fantasyland rides all before 11 am. Lesson learned: go early, get Fast Passes ASAP, and have a plan ahead of time (so you don’t waste time standing around and trying to decide).
- Take a break in the middle of the day. We knew that noon – evening would be the busiest time in the park, so we used these as the hours to stroll around the park, shop, explore Downtown Disney, and rest. We also used this as a chance to visit the rides with lesser wait times like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise, paddling the canoes, and riding the riverboat.
- Use Splash Mountain to your advantage! I think Splash Mountain is one of the best rides, plus it’s super cute. I mean, who doesn’t love all the adorable rabbits with their giant veggies? We rode Splash Mountain three times in our trip. Once in the morning because the line was short, once in the hot afternoon (using a Fast Pass) to cool off, and again in the evening because the lines had died down. One of my favorite things is to visit Splash Mountain early in the morning or late in the evening because the lines are significantly shorter. Of course, this comes with the downfall that you will probably get wet and (if you’re like me) then that means you’ll be cold. My advice is to pack a plastic poncho or bring a change of clothes. I also had great luck with sitting in the back and keeping my backpack on my lap (which meant my lap stayed dry).
- The biggest photography tip is to definitely bring your DSLR. On past trips I’ve always left my camera at home because I was so worried about it getting lost, stolen, or broken, but I’m really glad I took it with me this trip. I’ve had my Canon Rebel T2i for three years now and I love it. For this trip, I didn’t want to carry around extra camera equipment so I opted to only bring my 50mm lens which is a great all-around lens for portraits, landscape, and of course, food.
- I own a camera bag, but since I was bringing my DSLR to a theme park, I wanted something a little smaller and easier to carry. I ended up purchasing this Case Logic Day Holster, which I love. This is basically a padded pouch that sits over the camera. The great thing is that it’s light enough that you can carry your camera on your shoulder the entire day without feeling sore. It’s also small enough that you can easily pack your camera into a backpack or a large purse. Over the past few months I’ve been using this for weekend trips to the farmers market and am definitely getting my use out of it. (If you don’t own a camera bag I also saw that it can be purchased as a set.)
- One of the funniest things I realized on this trip is that if you are bringing your DSLR and plan to have someone else take photos of you, you should probably give them a DSLR tutorial ahead of time. My poor travel companion quickly got overwhelmed and frustrated with all the settings on the camera and my directions for how I wanted pictures to look. To make things easier, I had them be a stand-in so I could check the lighting and adjust the settings and then I’d have us switch places. However, this was a huge pain with all the Disney crowds and I definitely will plan for this a little better on future trips.
- And, of course, if you plan to be photographing a lot on your vacation, have a backup battery. The last thing you want is a dead battery to limit your vacation pictures!
What are your tips for visiting Disneyland? How do you stay healthy when traveling on vacation?