My family recently got back from a trip with my husband’s family. This is the first time that we have gone to Disneyland where everyone in the party was tall enough to go on every ride. Doing this trip with older kids and teenagers looked differently than it did when we had little kids but it was equally as fun. My husband’s family had never been so it was extra fun for me to show off what we love about the parks. My brother-in-law wasn’t convinced that he would be a Disney fan, and I was happy to take on the challenge of proving him wrong! We were really looking forward to this trip because we live in different cities and don’t get to see each other as much as we would like. Disneyland is the perfect place to meet up. Lots of electronic-free family time, something that’s hard to find with teens that prefer to be playing video games or be on their phones.
The first day, we (who am I kidding, they had never been so I was calling the shots at this point) decided to concentrate on just Disneyland. There’s so much to see and explore. With newbies I think it’s best not to go crazy with park hopping on the first day. We had 4 days together in the park so we figured the other 3 days would be good to hop around. We decided to get an early start to the day and were heading to the park by 7:20 am. Not a simple task considering the ages of our kids (7, 10, 11, 13 and 16). It took a good 15 mins to get through the security line, and we sped walked to get through the crowd, which paid off because the line quickly piled up behind us for the 8:00 am park opening. My brother-in-law was not too happy with me. I think he thought if this is the pace we are going at all day, he isn’t into it. There are times to rush, and there are times to take your time. I would rather rush to get through security and then once we are in the park we have 20 mins until the rope drop (Main Street is open but they rope off the different directions into the park until the official opening). This gave us time to get a group photo on Main Street and a Starbucks.
Hitting the Rides
The beauty of going to Disneyland with older kids is that we didn’t have to worry about baby switch passes (read more about that here) or finding a ride for the whole group to go on without height restrictions. Taking a left off of Main Street, we headed to Critter Country through Adventureland. My husband went just ahead of us to grab Fast Passes for Indiana Jones since it was on the way to Splash Mountain. (Pro Tip: Have your admission passes readily available to hand off to a runner.) The return time for Indiana was starting at 9:15 am which was perfect. In July it’s hot right out of the gate so we decided to do Splash knowing it’s a walk-on in the morning but can get up to a 3 hr wait in the heat of the day. In fact, because of the heat the line-up stayed long even into the night hours. It didn’t really cool off at all. It was such a walk-on that somehow my 7 yr old son and 11 yr old niece ended up in a raft on the ride completely alone! It was moving so fast and the kids were so excited that they ran ahead of us. My niece looks like she’s 16 so they put them right on without us. Not going to lie… I panicked a little bit. Make sure whoever is at the front of your party is heads up enough to 1) know how many people are in your party and 2) wait for your party! Disney is a well-oiled, efficient machine. They are all about keeping the line moving, which IS awesome when you are waiting in a long line. All was good, my son and my niece had a great time and thought it was awesome being on their own. Everyone loved it so much we decided to do it again right away since there was still no line. This is why we get a photo as soon as we get in the park. Bye bye pretty hair!
I cannot stress enough the benefit of getting into the park for opening. You get so much accomplished in the morning. Even in July, which is peak season. I have to remember to take a before and after picture of the morning vs. the afternoon as far as crowds go. If you follow the general structure of our favourite way to do a day in Disneyland, you won’t be sorry. Sadly, Big Thunder Mountain was closed while we were there. That’s one of the “big” rides in Disneyland and I know our whole group would have really loved it. Disneyland only posts their closures about 6 weeks in advance, so unless you are booking last minute you won’t know what is closed. Typically there aren’t any bigger rides closed during peak season.
Since we were able to maximize our Fast Passes and get so much done in the morning, we decided to walk back to the hotel in the afternoon for a pool break. It was so hot, we just needed a chance to regroup. I was proud of our group for getting up early and get in the park early. If your teens are big sleepers, this is a great time to take a nap and reset for the evening. The best part about having older kids? You can close out the park! Now I have to admit, we didn’t ever make it late enough to close the park. In the summer it closes at 12 am and we just found our group was done around 10:30/11:00 pm. The majority of our group was still young enough that they were wiped and ready for bed. After being in the park for 15 hrs (minus the 2 hr pool break) we felt we had gotten the rides we wanted in. But it is my goal when the kids are around 14-17 to close out the park.
I love Disneyland at night. The lights make it even more magical somehow. I could literally just wander around and I would be so happy. You will find the park gets packed at night. A lot of annual pass holders come at night (wouldn’t you?), so overall the crowds are at their highest. You will find that after Fantasmic and the fireworks there is a mass exodus and the park clears out quite a bit. So either plan to leave before the fireworks end or wait for the masses to depart. Trust me, you won’t be going anywhere fast. It’s a slow shuffle out of the park along with the thousands of others also wanting to get tired kids home to bed.
Feeding teenagers, as you may already know, can feel like a daunting task on the go. Filling them up without busting your budget is something to consider before you go. Check out our blog post with our best food budget tips and tricks. For this trip we found that packing a lunch (just bigger portions) still worked great. For snacks, more substantial protein bars instead of just granola bars helped keep them full longer. My sister-in-law budgeted $20/day per person for food and snacks, and they easily kept under that amount. The boys actually preferred to eat dinner at McDonald’s rather than in the park (20 nugget meal for $5 anyone?). The hotel we stayed at had breakfast which is another great way to save with older kids. As long as they get up in time for breakfast they can eat as much as they want before heading to the park.
If you have a teenager, especially a girl, you know it’s all about the gram. It was fun playing around with different ideas and trying to get good pictures. The boys were not so much into it, but the girls were all about it. And if you have been going to Disneyland for a long time it’s so much fun to try and recreate certain pictures. Even my nephew was into that. If you couldn’t already tell, we are into the matching shirts. Yup, we are THAT family. It just looks so good for pictures, and it’s all part of the fun. Don’t worry, in Disneyland you won’t stand out. It’s kind of a thing.
Overall, the trip was amazing, but I did come away with a few regrets. With the group being older, there were some things that we just didn’t bother to do because we were more big ride focused. Here are the things we would change:
- Going back to the pool only 2/4 days. Even though it was so hot and we all enjoyed the break from the heat and the chaos, I wouldn’t go back every day next time. When you go back to the hotel you forfeit some of the smaller things in the parks. My niece and daughter really wanted to meet the Princesses, which is not something you want to do in the morning or the evening we found. It would have been a perfect thing to do mid-afternoon.
- Not going to the Disney Animation Building in DCA. This is something we have always done in the past, and is another great option for the afternoon if you stay in the park. There are lots of fun activities; such as Disney personality tests in Beast’s secret library and Turtle Talk with Crush.
- Maximizing the PhotoPass with the MaxPass. When you are paying $10/day per person every day, make sure you utilize the PhotoPass. It’s super inconvenient in the moment to stop for a photo. It’s hot, and there are line-ups to wait for the Disney photographers. But I am one that loves photos, so I wish we had stopped for more.
- Not seeing the fireworks. We ducked into a viewing section 15 mins before the fireworks started but the beautiful trees unfortunately blocked about 80% of them. We should have looked for a better viewing area (down Main Street center is generally a great place to watch). I wish we had stayed another night to watch them.
- Not seeing Frozen – Live at the Hyperion. Another activity that is perfect for the afternoon. We just didn’t ever feel like we had the time. It’s such a spectacular show and I know that even the teenage boys would have enjoyed it (but would never admit it).
- Dumbo. We didn’t do Dumbo. How sad is that? I don’t care how old you are, riding a flying elephant is magical.
- We missed the Paint the Night Parade in Disney’s California Adventure. It’s my FAVOURITE parade of all time. It just happened to always be during the same time as one of our Max Passes. Or we were in Disneyland and didn’t want to trek over to the other park. In the moment it felt like “whatever,” but now I regret not seeing it.
As tempting as it is to just hop from one thrill ride to the next, make sure to try everything. Even the “little kid” rides. Disneyland is about more than just the big rides. It’s about the shows, the experiences, and ALL of the rides. I always encourage people to try everything at least once (and then I didn’t listen to my own advice – regrets). You don’t really need to do Pinocchio more than once but it’s fun, quick and usually has a small line-up. Encourage your teen to put away their devices and be in the moment (that goes for us parents too). There are lots of fun group games you can download on your phone to play during line-ups. One of our faves is Heads Up. Play Disney is a new app that Disney just came out with. You can add multiple players, and it’s interactive throughout the park. We didn’t explore it very much, but I’m sure your teen or child can figure it out faster than I could explain it! Overall I really enjoyed the fast pace of Disney with older kids and teens.
Thanks for stopping by and have a magical day!