Shandelle Battersby has some tips for making your time at the Happiest Place on Earth live up to its promises.
Plan your day
Reaching the parks early — there is California Adventure Park (CAP) to tackle as well as Disneyland Park (DP) — is key to getting the jump on both the crowds and the heat. Many people in Southern California buy Annual Passports, meaning a trip to Disney is something they dip in and out of at will, often descending on the park in droves later in the day.
Once you're through the various security checkpoints (note that: taking a backpack will slow you down), head for the ride you want to do most and, if there's already a queue, get a FastPass from the nearby kiosk. This free service gives you an allocated time when you can skip the queues, and you can select one ride every two hours — if the passes don't run out first. In DP, Space Mountain FastPasses go first, followed by Indiana Jones Adventure and Star Tours, Manhattan Bobsleds and Splash Mountain. In CAP I'd recommend Soarin' Around the World, Grizzly River Run and the Radiator Springs Raceway as your priorities and, if you can stomach it, Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout.
Single rider lines are also available at some of the rides — you can queue with your mates or family and then jump into separate seats once you get to the front. This can work out much quicker when the wait time is 50 minutes or more.
It's easy enough to move between parks but your time is probably better spent strategically concentrating on one at a time. As a rough guide, DP is the one where you'll find the nostalgic rides like the Mad Tea Party and It's a Small World. CAP is more contemporary (think Cars and A Bug's Life) and reflects the Golden State's landscape, culture and history — one of the lands is based on a Californian national park and there's also a Hollywood Land.
See the new stuff
The new Pixar Pier is now open in CAP, with four new neighbourhoods themed by Pixar films and the high-speed Incredicoaster as its centrepiece. This time next year the highly anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge themed land will open on the DP side, which will be a bigger deal than Darth Vader revealing himself as Luke's father.
Make some time to enjoy the other special events the parks host on a daily basis. At the moment, as part of the summer-long Pixar Fest, these include a twice-daily Pixar Play Parade featuring characters from Toy Story, Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life, and the 9.30pm pyrotechnics and projection extravaganza that is the Together Forever: A Pixar Night-time Spectacular. There's also regular live music, appearances by characters, film screenings, Jedi training sessions and much more.
Search out the best food and drinks
Okay, so it can be boring taking your own snacks and there is temptation everywhere when it comes to food and drink in the parks. There are concession stands every few metres and a raft of eateries ranging from Starbucks to fancy restaurants. Prepare to queue if you fancy trying the highly Instagrammable Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats at CAP — lemon soft serve icecreams with a blue raspberry swirl topped with a cherry. The line is insane. Hundreds of #adorablesnowman posts attest that the wait is worth it for that money shot.
DP is completely alcohol-free but you can find beer, wine and cocktails throughout CAP and at the hotels and restaurants in Downtown Disney. Pick of the bunch is reportedly the Carthay Circle Lounge on Buena Vista St for its craft cocktails.
Ease the pressure
The beauty of a multi-day Park Hopper pass is that you can come and go from the parks as many times as you wish within 13 days of first entering. It can be tiring so take a rest day and do something else — book a Karmel Shuttle (karmel.com) back into Los Angeles for a day at Universal Studios or touring Hollywood, or head south to San Diego to Legoland or its world-famous zoo. You can buy ART passes for the Disneyland shuttle buses that will almost certainly get you near your hotel, or you may be staying somewhere with a shuttle of its own. We stayed at the Residence Inn Anaheim Resort/Convention Center which was a 10-15 minute walk.
Great Wolf Lodge, 10 minutes' drive from the parks, is a great option for Kiwi kids who have endured that long plane ride and want to blow off some steam. It has multiple dining options and entertainment for the whole family as well as a guests-only, all-ages indoor water park, which has a FlowRider machine, wave pool, epic tangle of hydroslides, private cabanas, splash pad and much more. Regular shuttles will take the family to the parks when they've had enough water.