Karen Walker gives an expert's tips on making the most of Disneyland.

Surviving Disneyland

Sometime mid last year my 9-year-old asked if I was ever, actually, going to take her to Disneyland or if it was just something I said. My response was that, like all sensible parents, no, I had no intention of ever taking her to Disneyland and that it was merely an empty statement designed to get the desired behaviour out of her. Parenting 101.

However, there was something about her exaggeratedly pleading eyes and my own memories of how much I'd loved my first trip to Disneyland, at age 7, that cut through and I heard myself asking: "Do you really want to go?" The answer was obvious and within days the flights were booked. We enjoyed it so much that we were all back there again a year later, doing it all over again.

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Having been at the coalface twice, not to mention having spent the past year immersed in all things Mickey and Minnie in advance of our upcoming 90th birthday celebrations collaboration, I do consider myself something of a Disney expert and here are my tips for those considering a trip to "The Happiest Place on Earth".

Justin
You know the stories around the waiting time for rides. Well, there's one failsafe way to avoid those pesky things and his name's Justin. He's one of many VIP guides and he's incredible. When you're with Justin, or any guide, it's straight to the front of the queue, in through the out door. "I have three," Justin says and we're all waved right on through. The longest we had to wait to get on a ride was 45 seconds. Literally. I counted them. We had Justin for eight hours. After six we just couldn't handle any more. We'd done all the big rides about five times each and when your 10-year-old says "I can't handle Space Mountain again," you know you're done and it's time to go home. To the rides where Justin gets you immediate access, add any character you want photo ops with and he knows everything, I mean everything, about the park's history and ins and outs and it was wins all around. These guides are expensive, really expensive, but you can have up to 10 guests and one day with a guide is worth four days without, so, round up a posse and it's a no-brainer.

Karen Walker and daughter Valentina.
Karen Walker and daughter Valentina.

Stay at the park

If you're not going to go with the guided option, best to hunker in and stay. On our first family trip we did three nights at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, which opens right on to both of Disney's Anaheim parks. Guests get one hour of early access to one of the parks each day, which is definitely worth doing despite the early start.

Fastpass
On my first visit with my daughter, many people had recommended an unofficial guide you pay cash to and they stand in line for you. It was okay but it was basically like being led around by Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, complete with moustache and a child's stroller (no child, this was for our bags). He was earnest and took it personally when I said we had no interest in "It's a Small World" Holiday or Storybook Land Canal Boats. He also, at some point, actually said, straight-facedly, Hey-diddly-ho. My advice: ditch this model and just pay the extra US$10 (NZ$15) for FastPass and do it yourself. Get the Disney app on your phone and pre-book throughout the day for the big rides, they give you a time to get there and you generally walk straight on. Wi-Fi's not amazing in the park, however, so a local SIM is helpful.

Suspend disbelief and get into the vibe
I've met a lot of celebrities but standing side-stage in Mickey's Playhouse (thanks Justin) I actually found myself being a little nervous about meeting the mouse and rehearsing what to say. Once I met him I actually thought, oh, he's shorter than I expected. That's the power of the Disney brand right there.

All I can say is: suspend disbelief, wear the ears, smile and be in the moment.

Packed lunch
No one goes to a theme park for the food, so my preference is to take a bag of fruit and snacks and to graze as we walk.

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The antidote
Do Disneyland first then have a mummy-time chaser of pool-time somewhere
really nice. It takes at least three days for It's a Small World to stop playing in your
head and a luxury hotel is the best way to do it. My picks are Parker Palm Springs or the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Both are perfect antidotes.