Mistakes I’ve Made While Planning and Visiting Disneyland

Updated February 2016

My husband might not believe I’m admitting to this, but I have made a few mistakes over the years. Several of these mistakes happened while planning a Disneyland visit or actually while we were at the parks. Luckily, I’ve learned from them.

Life is all about learning, and I hope my ‘fails’ can prevent your own. Let’s get started!


1. I over-packed.

Mistake: I still do this today, but I’m improving. In the past, my Disneyland backpack could have fed a family of 12, provided first aid to twice that count and outfitted everyone in winter gear for the evening hours, too. The problem here is that the backpack became more harmful than helpful.

Solution: I’ve scaled down quite a bit and only bring in what is necessary. I’ve eliminated cold-weather gear that we never used, condensed my first aid supplies, simplified our snacks and removed unneeded extras.


2. I over-planned.

Mistake: I used to have our day planned from 7:30am to midnight, with absolutely no room for error. I didn’t allow time for improvisation or repeating attractions or anything else at all, really. I didn’t leave the park mid-day for a break and to avoid crowds.

Solution: Since then, I’ve lowered my expectations and am more reasonable with what our day entails. I include the kids’ input and we plan what works for everyone. We do still plan and use our time wisely, but I’m more aware now of everyone’s needs. We also leave for those crowded and hot mid-day hours. Everyone’s refreshed after a break at the hotel.


3. I expected everyone to be happy all of the time.

Mistake: In my head, I walk through the park like Mary Poppins, in perfectly pressed attire singing gleefully with chirping birds occasionally landing on my shoulder to accompany me. In reality, 1/3 of my children are disgruntled at any given time, we have churro sugar in our hair and the ducks flee whatever area we are about to enter.

Solution: After lots of trial and error, I now know that not everyone is happy all day at Disneyland. Everyone responds differently to the parks and regardless of the picture perfect destination, occasional meltdowns occur and they’re not reserved for just children. I’ve relaxed quite a bit over the years and now have a much more laid back approach to Disneyland.


4. I had no plan in place for meltdowns.

Mistake: I can recall two significant child meltdowns at Disneyland and one of those was so impressive that a stranger felt the need to video it with his phone. (That was a low point.) There are really no words for that experience.

Solution: When the second epic meltdown hit our family, I removed my daughter (most often the culprit) from the group and let her fall apart out of site. It took about 20 minutes for her to fully regain composure. There’s simply no need for everyone to have to suffer through that. If a child is acting out – regardless of age – I allow the others to enjoy an attraction or have another adult take over and remove the one having a hard time. (This works on adults, too.)

Find a corner somewhere or a bathroom stall….anywhere but in the midst of prying eyes. Those tantrums are hard on the one throwing them, too. A little privacy usually helps.


5. I didn’t dress my kids appropriately.

Mistake: While I’ve managed to almost always like what I wear to Disneyland, I’ve made a few mistakes with my children. Solid prints don’t work for us, as we spill a lot and often look like a mess. Kids have worn uncomfortable shoes. I’ve also failed to bring a jacket for late night visits.

Solution: My kids are almost always in patterned clothing of some sort to hide stains and generally look more put together. Everyone has on comfortable shoes and I have socks packed for those who insist on wearing none upon entry. And, I always have fold-able jackets in my not-too-full backpack.

Map to the Garage

6. I woke a sleeping baby. Twice.

Mistake: My little ones used to fall asleep in their stroller prior to us leaving for the night. Disneyland does not allow kids to sleep in strollers on the tram back to the garage, so I woke them a couple of times hoping I could hold them for the ride. Big mistake.

Solution: I found a sidewalk (above) along Disneyland Drive that allows you to walk to the garage, rather than taking the tram. Keep this sidewalk in mind for nights you simply don’t want to wait for the tram, too. The walk isn’t too bad and always a better solution than waking babies!

Bonus tip: If you parked at the Mickey and Friends Parking Garage and are planning to leave around fireworks time (9:00pm-ish), by all means leave before the fireworks end. There is such a small line for the trams at this time. Once the fireworks end, people flood out of the parks and the tram lines are super full. If you do stay for the fireworks, remember this sidewalk because it will get you to the garage quicker than waiting for the tram.


7. I aimed to ride and do everything.

Mistake: I used to think we had to ride everything. Every attraction in the park. It’s not realistic and I don’t recommend following that agenda.

Solution: Now, we plan ahead, use FASTPASSES and know what we want to accomplish before we arrive. Everyone seems more at ease now and we’re generally meltdown-free for the most part. (Generally.)



Years ago, at another theme park (gasp!), I was having a really hard time with my then 1 and 2 year olds. It was total mayhem and I must have been showing my anxiety in a big way. A kind (and now that I think about it, brave) woman chatted with me for a moment and said, “Well, there are worse places you could be. Take a deep breath and try to enjoy it.” I’ve always been grateful for those simple words of wisdom.

And, with all that planning and preparation, mistakes will still be made. Meltdowns will happen. Kids will cry. Try to go with the flow and remember the intention of the day – to have fun.

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  1. those are great tips.. We took our kids for the first time last October. It was still extremely hot the week we went Kids had a double strollerand slept between attractions. But I swear my husband and I had a couple GOOD meltdowns. Love your site.

  2. Ms. Starnes,

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I agree with you on all of your advice, but I can’t agree more on # 6. Whether you have a sleeping baby or not, the advice # 6 should be known to everyone!

  3. We are so excited to have booked our first trip to Disney… We’re heading to Florida for two weeks in summer 2017… Both my husband and I are serious organisers… we like to plan everything down to the finest detail which I guess really won’t work for us and will probably stress everyone out… so I’m really glad for your top tips… I know we have a whole year for “planning” but i’d be most grateful for any help you could offer in getting the most out of our experience 🙂 Thanks so much… Sara

  4. Very good advice! My husband usually has the meltdown… it is always over food. My blood sugar will drop, and when it does – nothing sounds good to eat even though I HAVE to. So I pick some random thing I want (last time was mashed potatoes) I unknowingly get strung along to every eatery in the park – only to be over my sugar issues by then and still don’t want food. My husband goes nuts – and there you have it! Adult time out! My son is 6- we took him last January and my biggest complaint was that he had absolutely NO reaction face on any of the rides. Space Mountain he looked positively bored. Splash Mountain he was squinting from the splash – and he was ASLEEP on Cars!!! We are going to DL April 30th. I keep reminding him to smile. HAHAHA – I will have great pictures!! I also noticed I will be one day shy of making it to your party. Wish I could be there!!

  5. I could not agree more & this could’ve been my exact advice after my first trip to WDW. I immediately wanted a “do over” for my 4 year old who I over scheduled, over stimulated, over indulged all in the name of making it the most magical time ever. At times it was a complete disaster. Not to mention I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and very ill myself… But dang it, I had planned his birthday trip well in advance & determined to go no matter what!
    Well I did A LOT of thinking when I got home & wondered what was wrong with ME, not my child LOL!!
    We got that “do over” 4 years later when we took both of the kids back to WDW & did everything differently (everything suggested on your list!!) and it WAS MAGICAL! The main thing I suggest to friends is LISTEN to your kids & WATCH their cues. Even when I wanted to stay for a parade or show, we left or took a break when THEY got restless or tired & we all had an amazing time & have vowed to have this relaxed approach each time we return.

    We are now planning a DLR trip sometime within a year so I look forward to reading your site & getting lots of tips! Thank you!

    • I’m so glad to hear that. Many parents want their kids to fall in line and be grateful and not question a move they make. Kids don’t work like that. And I think everyone does better if we can learn to watch their cues, as you said. Let me know how I can help with your Disneyland trip!

  6. Great tips! I’ve always loved Disneyland, but unfortunately have only been twice and the last time was over 20 years ago. Any suggestions on a plan for a 6 or 7 year olds girls first visit? What the best rides/attractions there are for a child of that age? I’m wanting to focus on the best stuff for her age instead of seeing it all. Looking at getting a 4 or 5 day pass. Thinking it maybe best to focus on one park and leave California adventure for another trip. Thoughts?

    • If you’re going for that amount of time, you should be able to see everything in both parks. I would plan on 3 days at Disneyland and 2 at California Adventure. Focus on Fantasyland for princess stuff if that is what they’re into. Enjoy!

  7. I don’t have any children but I definitely have done a couple of the things you mentioned whether that be wear uncomfortable clothes (ahem shoes) to look cute or try and see and do everything in one day. I also have gone with friends and was bummed when they didn’t share the same level of…. Disney obsession as me. I still have to realize not everyone loves the parks as much as me. My boyfriend will go because he knows I love it but he would much rather prefer to go to six flags.

    • I totally agree with having real expectations! We went for our first time end of February 2014. I am a planner and make lists for everything. I had every ride planned in order. When we got there, I realized that putting such an agenda on us, was a bad idea. We ended up asking our kids what land they wanted to start at and just went from there. Not having an agenda, helped us just take it all in. We had the best time!!

  8. Those last two paragraphs are so important. I remember getting upset when my oldest was younger because “you are supposed to always be happy and have fun at DL!” We have 4 day hoppers for our Spring Break trip so I am going to try hard for a relaxing trip.