Christmas at Disney California Adventure Park – The Happiest Place on Earth Just Got Merrier!

Christmas at Disney California Adventure Park

With the addition of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, Disney California Adventure Park has experienced a rejuvenation of sorts during the holidays. Gone is the beachy-keen themed Christmas of old (and Santa in a surf-inspired shirt…really, I have pictures!) and the decor has instead taken on a sophisticated and elaborate theming that we’ve come to expect from the Happiest Place on Earth!

Here are the holiday highlights for Christmas at Disney California Adventure Park –

Towering over Carthay Circle is a fantastic 60-foot Christmas tree. The buildings around Buena Vista Street are decorated with 1920s-approprate garland and vintage-style ornaments. There is a tree-lighting ceremony each night at 5 pm.

Christmas at Disney California Adventure Park

Our last Christmas-time visit included a chat with Santa at Elias & Co. (the main department store along Buena Vista Street). As you can see, my daughter was having none of it!

Christmas at Disney California Adventure Park

“a bug’s land” is decorated with giant Christmas lights and over-sized ornaments. This is a fun area any time of year but even more whimsical with the wildly-large decor!

What is Christmas at Disney California Adventure Park like?

Just outside the entrance to Cars Land, take your photo with a whimsical “snowcar”. Draped over Route 66 are garlands made of auto filters and snowflakes made from wrenches. Each of the shops and restaurants along the route feature holiday décor that reflects the personality of the “Cars” character who lives there. Don’t you love the Christmas tree, glowing with the shine of new hub-caps?! Look, even Stanley has the holiday spirit and is wearing a Santa hat!

Disney California Adventure Park - Christmas

Get Frozen for the holidays! Warm up your singing voices at For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration then play in Olaf’s Snow Fest , a winter-appropriate wonderland (Snow Fest is only open through Jan 6th, 2016). You can go sledding on real snow, enjoy special treats & meet Olaf.

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

I’ve yet to experience the new  “Disney ¡Viva Navidad!” at Paradise Gardens. The Disney website describes this as a daily celebration inspired by the warmth and joyous spirit of Latino culture and holiday traditions, with festive music and dancing, vibrant colors, delicious food, Disney character appearances and the lively “Disney Viva Navidad! Street Party.” Sounds like a fantastic time to me!

“Disney ¡Viva Navidad!” will conclude with a five-day celebration of the traditional Three Kings Day, Jan. 2 through 6, 2015.

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Special holiday food items include sourdough bread in holiday shapes at Boudin’s and homemade turkey pot pie soup in a sourdough bread bowl at Pacific Wharf Café. Elf Mickey premium popcorn buckets and drink steins are available in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Paradise Pier has a lovely seaside Christmas theme and Donald was greeting guests last time in his snowflake-sprinkled winter attire. I adore this tree, studded with sea-inspired ornaments and a spiralling shell tree-topper!

Christmas at Disney California Adventure Park

After its successful 2013 debut, “World of Color − Winter Dreams” returns with several “Frozen” songs in the show. The holiday version of the popular “World of Color” show features classic winter scenes from such beloved Disney and Disney●Pixar films as “Bambi,” “Toy Story” and, of course, “Frozen.” For Christmas 2015, World of Color – Winter Dreams will be shown before World of Color – Celebrate!, so you can actually watch both shows in the same evening!

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Have you ever visited Disney California Adventure Park during the Christmas season? Which area would you like to most visit? Share in the comments below!

I recommend purchasing tickets from Park Savers ahead of your trip. Save a few dollars off the price as well as time at the gates.


Disneyland Vacation – Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Considering a Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank? Here are tons of options to help you decide!

The great debate – Should you budget or break the bank for your Disneyland vacation? Do you want to go all out and live it up on this trip? Or are you content to stick to your frugal ways for your stay? How about a nice balance of both! Pick and choose what items are most important for your vacation and be thrifty in some places and more free with your money in others.

Budgeting on a Disneyland Vacation? Or Go for Broke?

Pinch pennies or break the banks? Tips for planning your Disneyland vacation


In Anaheim, there are hundreds of area hotels and motels in every price range to choose from for your Disneyland stay. Some are literally a stoplight away, directly across the street from the entrance esplanade. Take a look at Disney’s recommended “Good Neighbor” hotels for reasonable suggestions. Consider Priceline if you’d like a fancier hotel at a cheaper rate. You won’t be able to choose your location but you can choose your price and the star-rating. Don’t forget to ask for a discount or if the hotel accepts AAA (or another discount card).

Pinch Your Pennies – Cheap motels can be found all over Anaheim, some within walking distance of Disneyland. These are no-frills, un-themed basic motels with doors that face outside. Some of these motels offer a do-it-yourself breakfast. Most have very basic swimming pools. Some motels are better than others; some are quite nice for the price and others are frankly, dumpy. Read Yelp or my reviews for advice).

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Room at the very lovely Wyndham Anaheim Garden Grove

Break the Bank – Some of the more pricey hotels have Disney themed rooms or special features, like bunk-beds for the kids or a kitchenette. Pools are usually larger and offer more amenities. Some nicer hotels offer breakfast included in the price, but most do not. Some of these hotels also offer complimentary shuttle service to the Parks, but again many do not (or they charge an additional fee).

As an alternative to a hotel, there are local vacation homes available. Some have elaborate theming and play spaces for children. This is particularly nice if you are traveling with a large group and want to stay all together.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

The hotels of the Disneyland Resort are completely themed and immerse you in that “Disney Magic”. Pools may have bar and food service and offer life vests and swim diapers for little ones. The Resort hotels are all within close walking distance to the Park entrances. Grand Californian Resort and Spa has an exclusive entrance for Resort guests (with valid Park ticket) to enter Disney California Adventure Park. Disneyland Resort guests can also take advantage of Extra Magic Hour that allows them entrance to the Park one hour earlier (according to schedule).

Go for Broke – For an additional fee, you can add Club-level service to your Resort stay. The room will be exactly the same however you’ll receive access to the Club lounge which includes continental breakfast, sodas and snacks throughout the day and a wine and cheese reception at night. You’ll even receive special treats before bed! We’ve stayed on the Club-level floor at the Paradise Pier and it was lovely to pick up snacks and sodas before going to the pool or into the Park and be greeted with chocolate-dipped Mickey-shaped rice cereal treats on our bed at night!

Rent a poolside cabana for the day at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels. Last summer while swimming in the Disneyland Hotel pool, we *ahem* saw Adam Sandler coming in and out of his poolside cabana!

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Make it Rain– Book a beautiful suite or signature suite at either the Grand Californian Resort and Spa or the Disneyland Hotel. At the Grand Californian, suites are themed in a rustic but elegant art-deco decor. The Disneyland Hotel has amazing signature suites that are beautifully themed to the Park.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?


Pinch Your Pennies – If you plan to be only visiting the Disneyland Resort during your California stay, there is no need to rent a vehicle. The Disneyland Resort Express bus (affiliate link) will take you from the airport to the Anaheim area for a fee. Choose a motel within walking distance of the Parks and simply let your feet be your guide. If your motel is a bit too far to walk, The Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) runs to many of the local motels and other area amusement parks for a small fee. There aren’t any grocery stores within close walking distance of the Resort (only convenience stores) so you may need to take a bus or cab to get to the nearest Target.

Break the Bank – If your trip includes stops in Long Beach, Orange County or San Diego then renting a car is the best way. You can also take the train for a unique experience. It can be convenient to have a rental car with you to drive yourself from the airport to hotel, for shopping and for travel within the area. Parking at the Disneyland Resort is $15.00 per day. Your hotel may have per night fees for parking as well.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Time of the Year

Pinch Your Pennies – When you’re budgeting, Disneyland’s “Value Season” is your bread and butter. You will choose an off-peak time period (not over a holiday, 3-day weekend or school break). You will go to the Parks mid-week, never on a weekend for the best motel prices. Unfortunately Disney often schedules ride refurbishments or closures during Value Season so there may be a chance that you’ll miss riding your favorite or being able to see fireworks. Park hours are often shorter during Value Season.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Christmas inside the Disneyland Hotel

Break the Bank – A visit during Peak Season takes patience and a bit more money. Prices skyrocket at Disneyland over the holidays, in particular the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. However the Parks are dressed to the nines in holiday fashion and there are special events planned, like ice skating in Downtown Disney at Olaf’s Frozen Ice Rink (additional fee). Ride refurbishments are at a minimum during Peak Season and hours are usually longer.

Go for Broke – The holiday season is joyous! Enjoy an elegant Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at one of the Resort hotel restaurants and an over-the-top New Year’s Eve Gala at Napa Rose with dinner and dancing.

Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?


Pinch Your Pennies– Plan to spend one day in each Park, minimum. Purchase a two-day base pass, one Park each day. Just know in advance that you won’t be able to see and do everything in two Parks in two days! Check with your AAA office, Human Resources department, Costco or local grocery stores for possible discounted passes. I recommend Park Savers, as you can save several dollars off the cost of each Park ticket (affiliate link).

Break the Bank – Purchase a 5-day Park Hopper Pass. The entrances to the Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park face each other across a short esplanade, which makes Park Hopping possible within minutes! If you plan on staying longer than five days, consider investing in an Annual Pass, which will also give you discounts on select dining and merchandising.

Go for Broke – Book a Guided Tour and receive special access and behind-the-scenes peeks. Some tours offer special ride access or reserved viewing for certain shows.

Make it Rain – Request VIP Tour Services for your days in the Parks. You’ll have the assistance of a dedicated guide, reserved viewing/seating and more (all for an hourly rate).

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?


Pinch Your Pennies – Pack your own meals and snacks in a soft-sided cooler with a chill pack inside. Bring bottled water (or request ice water for free from any walk-up dining location). If you choose to dine inside the Park, choose meals that are large enough to share. We often purchase two different platters, request extra plates and share between us all. We pad out the meal with snacks (like cheese sticks or carrots) that we bring from home.

Break the Bank – Make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) for some of the elegant dining experiences in the Park and Resort Hotels. At Blue Bayou Restaurant (Disneyland) guests dine waterside inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride! Carthay Circle Restaurant (Disney California Adventure Park) offers alcoholic beverages and fine dining inside their bar/restaurant. Napa Rose (Grand Californian Resort and Spa) offers award-winning cuisine in an upscale setting. Enjoy breakfast or dinner at Steakhouse 55 (Disneyland Hotel) with a specialty in steaks and chops.

Snacks are sold throughout the Parks, many with adorable themes like these cute Olaf marshmallow treats or an enormous candied apple. Some of these premium snacks may set you back $5-10 each

.Should you pinch your pennies or break the bank for a Disney vacation?

Book a World of Color dining package at one of three participating Disney California Adventure Park restaurants and received a three-course prix-fixe meal and a voucher for reserved space at that night’s viewing of World of Color.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Character meals are one of the most fun family dining experiences you’ll have! Enjoy a bounty of food and get one-on-one photo ops with the characters as they visit your table. For breakfast only choose Surf’s Up! Breakfast with Mickey and Friends at the PCH Grill (Paradise Pier Hotel), Chip n’ Dale Critter Breakfast at Storyteller’s Cafe (Grand Californian Resort and Spa) or Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park at the Plaza Inn (Disneyland Park).  At Ariel’s Grotto Restaurant (Disney California Adventure Park) you can pick from breakfast or lunch and meet the Princesses throughout your meal. Goofy’s Kitchen (Disneyland Hotel) offers a rollicking breakfast or dinner, buffet-style.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Downtown Disney

Like a long outdoor mall, Downtown Disney has the Disneyland Hotel at one end and the esplanade to the two Parks at the other. In between are various restaurants, shops, concert venues, Monorail station (with direct access to Disneyland Park) and a side entrance to Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa.

Pinch Your Pennies – Take in the ambiance and one of the free concerts that are hosted on weekend evenings. Play a bit at the Lego Store. Buy a sweet treat to share from Marceline’s Confectionary or a bag of kettle corn from a kiosk. After a bit of window shopping, hop on the Monorail and take a ride back into Disneyland Park (valid Park ticket required).

Should you pinch your pennies or break the bank for a Disney vacation?

Break the Bank – Young guests (ages 3-15) can visit Anna & Elsa’s Boutique for a frosty make-over. Moms can get their own make-up fix at Sephora. Make your own custom souvenir at Build-a-Bear Workshop or RideMakerz. Take in a concert at the House of Blues. Dine at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen or Catal Restaurant. I love a stop inside WonderGround Gallery for a peek at unique Disney-inspired artwork.

Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?


All throughout the Parks, Disney PhotoPass photographers offer their services to take photos of your family. They will use their camera and give you a scannable card that you’ll present to other Disney PhotoPass photographers. Once home, you can view and purchase images online from your trip!

Pinch Your Pennies – Hand your own camera to the Disney PhotoPass photographers and they will happily snap away…No charge!

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Picture taken with my camera by a Disney PhotoPass Photographer

Break the Bank – Preorder Disney PhotoPass+ before your trip. Disney-themed enhancements can be added to your photos for whimsy. Once you return home you can check out your PhotoPass shots online and purchase photo gifts and books with the pictures from your magical vacation!


Souvenirs can be found throughout the Parks and in Downtown Disney in a wide range of costs for any budget (or lack of budget!)

Pinch Your Pennies – For a classic souvenir that respects your wallet try a pair of embroidered Mouse Ears! Pressed pennies are well-loved and you can display them in a shadow box as a trip memento. I like something practical that my kids can use trip after trip or can wear at home, like my son’s Pluto hat with the really long sun-shading brim. He wore this hat every visit to the Parks for years!

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Or skip the souvenir stand altogether and buy things ahead of time. Disney themed shirts can be had from the Disney Store (affiliate link) for a great price. Purchase a cheap blank notebook and a pack of inexpensive stickers for character autographs (don’t forget the pen!) Buy glow sticks at the 99 cent store and present them to the kids in the evening. Bring your pre-bought goodies like lollipops, little stuffed animals or inexpensive trinkets to hand out to kids at the end of the day so they don’t have to shuffle past the souvenir stands empty handed.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Break the Bank – Take home a memento like an animation cell, giclee or Dooney & Bourke handbag (affiliate links) and you’ll have a timeless treasure.

If staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel, you can request that your purchases be sent directly to your hotel room. Handy if you’re in the Parks and don’t want to lug your souvenirs around.

Princess (or Prince) for a Day

Pinch Your Pennies– Does your child have a Disney-themed costume they love to wear? If your child is under the age of 10, they are permitted to wear costumes in the Park. So feel free to let your little Tinker Bell wear her pixie dress or your tiny Captain Hook wear his pirate hat! Create a cute hairstyle, toss a bit of glitter around and wear something fun and sparkly! Just make sure they are wearing comfy shoes; dress up shoes are simply not appropriate for walking in all day.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?

Break the Bank – Book your prince or princess (age 3-12 years) a date in the Bibbidy Bobbity Boutique for a royal treatment. Gentleman become knights, complete with suave hairstyle and a shield and sword. Little ladies have more of a variety to choose from including a few treatments that will doll her up from the top of her glittery head to her glass-slippered toe!

Go for Broke – With the Castle Package (starting at just under $200), newly crowned princesses will be escorted in a mini-processional to skip the line at the Fantasy Faire and go directly in to meet with the Disney princesses inside.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation - Should You Pinch Your Pennies or Break the Bank?


Pinch Your Pennies – Are you celebrating something, anything at the Parks during your visit? Visit Guest Relations inside either Park to request your complimentary birthday, anniversary or first visit button.

Break the Bank – Celebrate big days in style with the help of Disney specialists. Whether it be a Quinceanera, FairyTale Wedding or Vow renewal or anniversary you can have the celebration of your dreams! Disney Floral & Gifts can help with delivery of flowers, gift baskets and presents to your Resort room. You can also order special cakes to be delivered for celebrations at your Resort dinner.

Let me know how you like to vacation – Do you pinch your pennies or break the bank? Let me know in the comments below!

If you would like to receive future updates when posts are listed, please sign up for my newsletter!








Disneyland with a Toddler – Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day at the Happiest Place on Earth!

Disneyland with a Toddler - Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day at the Happiest Place on Earth!

For some little ones, Disneyland is an enchanting place! They delight in the rides, the brights lights and color and the unique sounds throughout the Parks. For other kids, Disneyland can be an exhausting overload to the senses with large (sometimes frightening) characters, swift moving rides and too many things they are unaccustomed to. To be honest, I could be describing the same toddler – depending upon if they’ve napped or had a recent snack!

Here are my top 14 ways to have an enjoyable time at Disneyland with a toddler.

5 Things You Need to Do Before Your First Disney Vacation

Have a Plan

Avoid traveling during “peak season” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Summer) to minimize crowds and wait times. Aim for a trip mid-week, as a Wednesday is considerably less crowded than a Saturday. I recommend that you purchase your tickets ahead of time at Park Savers (affiliate link). You’ll save time at the gate in the morning & a few dollars off each ticket. Keep in mind that children under three do not require an admission ticket. Two-year olds and under receive free entry, hurrah!

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Size them up!

Measure your child’s height so you can know ahead of time which rides have height restrictions.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

A few inches too short for Soarin’ Over California.

Figure out before your trip which rides are a “must-do”

Just know ahead of time that you won’t be able to see or do everything. If you know that your toddler is going to love “it’s a small world” then make sure that happens. Just realize that it might happen more than once if it’s a ride they fall in love with and request you ride again and again! Read up on the rides on the Disneyland website to know what is most appropriate for your toddler. This interactive list from the Disneyland site shows which rides and attractions are well-loved by most toddlers.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Yee-haw! Swinging around at Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

Bring what you can from home

You can purchase quite a bit inside the Parks but it’s going to come at a premium price. So make sure you pack enough diapers, wipes and snacks for your trip. Bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for each member of the family. Check out this post on what to bring to Disneyland (and what to leave at home).

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Wary of characters?

Some toddlers are frightened when they finally see their favorite characters in the Parks. After all they are used to seeing these guys tiny on the television screen or on the pages of a book! Now Mickey is larger than life and that could be very unnerving from some kids. First try looking at the characters from afar. Talk aloud with your toddler, noting how the other people are interacting and how friendly the character is. Only if your child is willing should you try to approach the character.

There is no point in pressuring your toddler to try and get their picture with Mickey if they are terrified and crying – this will only make them more tense for the rest of the day. Only book a character dining experience if your toddler is happy meeting different characters. Check out these posts about the Sure-Fire Ways to Meet Mickey (and other characters) and How to Encourage Shy Kids to Be Brave at Disney.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Breakfast with Pluto at Mickey’s Surf’s Up! at the Paradise Pier Hotel

Let them stretch their legs

Make sure to let little ones burn off excess energy by hitting one of the play areas in the Parks. At the Disneyland Resort, kids can climb up and down the stairs in Tarzan’s Treehouse. In Toontown, Goofy’s Playhouse has an indoor/outdoor play yard. On a hot day, toddlers can splash at Princess Dot Puddle Park in Disney California Adventure Park.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Sliding at Goofy’s Playhouse

Big and Little

It can be challenging to please everyone when you have a toddler and older children in your group. With two or more adults, you might consider splitting up during the day to make sure everyone gets their fair share of entertainment. On our last trip while the two big kids rode with my husband on Radiator Springs Racers, Dillon and I visited with Mater and Lightning McQueen. Consider taking advantage of the “Rider Switch” service that allow parents (and older siblings) to take turns riding certain rides that aren’t intended for small children, without standing in line over again. See a Cast Member at the entrance for a special pass. Be sure to read this TravelingMom post Tweens & Toddlers at Disney – What You Need to Make Everyone Happy.

Carsland at Disney's California Adventure

Take in the entertainment…but know your audience

Dillon adored Mickey’s Soundsational Parade on our last visit. He happily sat in his stroller and clapped and waved to the characters on the floats. It was adorable to see him enjoy himself so much. He also loves seeing his favorite characters in the Disney Junior Stage Show. Though I love Disney’s Aladdin:  A Musical Spectacular, I know that at only 2-years old Dillon’s probably not ready to sit through a 40-minute stage show. The show also has some dark elements that might frighten young children. Know your child and review the Disney Parks website entertainment sections before planning what shows to watch with your toddler.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Inside the Disney Junior: Live on Stage show

Nervous on rides?

When I took my now ten-year old to Disneyland for the first time he was only 15-months old and the unfamiliar motion of the rides made him tense. Again, there is no reason that children should be pressured to ride if they are scared. Read my article Helpful Tips for Calming Scared & Nervous Kids at Disney for more tips about making your children comfortable with trying new experiences in the Park.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

No Nap!

If you have a little one with you, plan the day around your toddler’s schedule. I’d recommend hitting their favorites first thing in the morning. We like to get to Fantasyland first and circle this intimate area with our 2-year old just after the Park opens. From there we will stick to one Land at a time so there isn’t a lot of walking and criss-crossing the Park. Once nap time arrives, the adults or older children in our group take that time to hit a few of the thrill-rides. We choose to let our little guy nap in his stroller but I’ve found that stroller naps are never quite as long or as “effective” as a real nap. You may want to consider taking your toddler back to the hotel for a proper nap time.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Hunger = Crankiness

Bring with you plenty of healthy snacks from home for your toddler to nibble on throughout the day. You can bring in a sippy cup and request ice water from any counter service restaurant for free.

What to do at Disneyland when the temps soar!

Snack, stroller, sunglasses & sunhat…I’m ready for a Disneyland day!

Use a stroller, even if you don’t think you’re going to need one

Disney days can be long and toddler legs can only take so much walking! It’s also nice to have the storage basket underneath the stroller to hold diapers, snacks and souvenirs. I bring a lightweight blanket to drape over the stroller and use as a sunshield at nap time. At the end of the night your toddler may fall asleep and after a long day, the last thing you’ll want to do is carry your heavy kid back to the car or hotel! We live close by the Parks and always bring our own stroller. If you are traveling and don’t want to pack a stroller you can rent one at the Parks.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Napping on a pillow of cotton candy…only at Disneyland!

Map out the bathrooms

Especially important if your toddler is toilet-training, you won’t want to be in a Land without knowing where the closest potty is! Both men’s and women’s restrooms have diaper-changing areas (bring a cushioned, wipeable changing pad). We love to make a stop inside the Baby Care Center. They have teeny-tiny toilets and clean changing tables. You can also purchase extra diapers and wipes here if needed.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

One of the most important things when bringing your toddler to Disneyland is to remember to “Go with the flow!” Make happy memories, take lots of pictures and simply have a great time. If you find yourself or your toddler getting stressed out, take a break. Go back to the hotel, go swimming, have a snack or simply take the Grand Circle Tour on the Disneyland Railroad around the Park.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

If you are new to my blog, please consider subscribing to my newsletter so you don’t miss any posts. Thanks for stopping by!


Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Disneyland Restaurant Review – Wine Country Trattoria

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

Wine Country Trattoria is an elegant but still relaxed and rustic restaurant. located in the middle of Disney California Adventure park. We took a mid-day break here for lunch recently.

We’ve eaten at Wine Country Trattoria several times in the past and this is what brings us back:

  • Wine and beer. No doubt, this is a highlight. Though I was 35 weeks pregnant on this last visit and was not imbibing, I usually do indulge in a glass of white wine when we dine here. My husband appreciates the fresh beer on tap and it’s a great break in our day to sit here and relax with a drink.
  • The atmosphere and design. With both indoor and outdoor seating, I like that the restaurant is raised up a bit on a slope so it doesn’t pick up a lot of noise from the walkway below. If you can get a patio seat during the Pixar-Play Parade, you’ll have a nice view!
  • We had eaten here once before, when we ordered the World of Color prix fixe meal dining package for this restaurant. This was quite a while ago, when it was more of a light “grab and go” meal. Now it’s a full three-course meal and guests are given a voucher for admission to that evening’s World of Color show.
  • The flavorful Italian dishes that are not typically served at an amusement park, so it’s a nice break from burgers, nuggets and fries.
Wine Country Trattoria -Disney's California Adventure {Saving up for Disney}

World of Color lunch with my two silly kids!

In the late summer of 2012 my family and I ate at Wine Country Trattoria inside Disney’s California Adventure. The restaurant has a beautiful Mediterranean setting and we were seated outside on the patio for lunch. My husband ordered the “sustainable fish of the day”, which happened to be sea bass served with fingerling potatoes and tomatoes. He was in heaven and said it was wonderful. And this is from someone who A.) Doesn’t like to eat in restaurants, B.) Doesn’t like to spend money on food and C.) Is a fisherman who knows fish and is picky about quality.

Wine Country - California Adventure {Saving up for Disney}

Sea Bass with fngerling potatoes

I ordered the lasagna on that trip which was also very tasty. The kids ordered off their menu (spaghetti & meatballs for my son, grilled chicken and broccolini for my daughter). At that time we were served beautiful rosemary rolls with olive oil and cracked black pepper on the table. I could eat those rosemary rolls all day and those were so fresh and warm with a nice crust.

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

On our recent visit (March 2016), I was disappointed to see that the rosemary rolls have been replaced by focaccia bread. Unfortunately the bread was cold and I didn’t care for the texture, which was more spongy. A drizzle with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar helped a bit, but I was still disappointed that the rosemary rolls we’d enjoyed previous were no longer.

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

Focaccia bread basket

My husband wasn’t interested in the fish offering that day (salmon) because he’d just eaten salmon the day before but he enjoyed a beer while we ate. My older son ordered the soup of the day, Italian wedding soup. He loves soup and seemed to enjoy this one, though at $7, it was a smaller than expected portion.

We ordered 2 kids meals and the two younger kids shared. They dined on an “Antipasti” of celery, carrots and grapes then their main course of pepperoni pizza and grilled chicken breast. The chicken plate was served with pasta primavera and broccolini (that was slightly overcooked, so the kids didn’t finish it).

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich. The herbed chicken breast was nicely sized and served with provolone, arugula, roma tomatoes, and pesto aïoli. The green salad was a little heavy on the Caesar dressing but had a great flavor.

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

Though there were a few changes on our latest visit I still highly recommend this restaurant, especially if you need a peaceful respite (and perhaps a glass of wine?) in the midday.






Christmas at Disneyland – Meeting Santa

We’ve had the pleasure of meeting the man in the red suit three different times at Disneyland over the course of the years. Each location was different and each time Santa looked representative of that area.

Meeting Santa at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

First was in 2007, at Disney’s California Adventure. Santa was in a laid-back, California vibe… check out that shirt and those cool sunglasses! There was a fun surf set-up in Sunshine Plaza (now gone).

Meeting Santa at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

We met up with Santa in 2008 over in Frontierland at Disneyland and he was sporting a nifty curled mustache. They had Santa inside a rustic cabin for his meet and greet.

Meeting Santa at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

And my favorite in 2012, Santa was inside Elias & Co. in California Adventure, with a very 1930s retro feel. It was Baby Dillon’s first Santa meeting and he loved the fluff on Santa’s sleeve. Alonna didn’t want to have anything to do with Santa and refused to turn around! Oh well, we look back at this photo and laugh now.

Meeting Santa is one of the highlights of Christmas time at Disneyland! Have you ever met a Santa at a Disney park and was he dressed differently depending upon his placement in the park?



Christmas at Disneyland – Winter Decor and Extra Sparkle!

From the resort hotels, to Downtown Disney and in both California Adventure and Disneyland Park, Christmas decor abounds!

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Disney Resort Hotels

On the left, the Disneyland Hotel Fantasy Tower Christmas tree was silver with bright purple, pink and turquoise balls. The tree on the right, in the Frontier Tower, was more rustic and covered with nature-inspired ornaments.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Downtown Disney

Passing through Downtown Disney we loved the snowy trees and giant packages scattered throughout.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Disney’s California Adventure

The decorations in California Adventure’s entry way were simple and sweet and appropriate for the time they represent.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}


The Carsland decor is absolutely inspired! Auto filter garlands, white-wall tire wreaths and a Christmas tree decked out in shiny hubcaps! And this cutie…a “snowcar” complete with top hat and pylon nose!

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Disneyland Main Street 

Over at Disneyland, there was a huge tree in the Main Street square dressed up with enormous ornaments, perfect for posing by.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

New Orlean’s Square

New Orleans Square was decked out top to bottom with amazing Christmas decorations. Garlands and ornaments were literally dripping from every corner!

Of course, the Haunted Mansion got in the spirit with its Haunted Mansion Holiday, inspired by the Nightmare Before Christmas.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}


Toontown is naturally bright and festive, with lots of large ornaments and oversized bows!

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

It’s a Small World

Finally, my favorite It’s a Small World Holiday, when the facade is bejeweled with tiny colorful lights and our favorite clock dons a Santa hat!

Disneyland is magical every day, but there is something about going during the holidays that make the season even more special!


Christmas at Disneyland – Characters in Winter Wear

Donald Duck decked out in snowflakes for winter {Saving up for Disney}

One of the charming things about Disneyland during Christmas time is that the characters often have sprinkles of winter decorating their costumes! Isn’t Donald adorable with the dazzling snowflakes designs on his hat and shirt? Goofy has donned a bright red sweater for the season, also covered in snowflakes!

Winter wear on the characters at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Pluto has had several winter-wear looks, including these holly covered antlers and a snowflake studded cap.

Plutu has several winter wear outfits at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

My favorite look is Minnie’s! She is seasonal from the top of her beret to her red and green skating skirt! My little one especially loved the pom-poms that hung from her sweater. I love the seasonal looks and special winter-wear that the characters have during Christmas!

Minnie is decked out in her winter wear at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}




Dining at Disneyland? Favorite Restaurants & Meals in the Parks

Dining at Disneyland? Favorite Restaurants & Meals in the Disneyland Parks

Dining at Disneyland?

A trip to Disneyland could easily be as much about the restaurants and food as it is about the rides and attractions! Some of my favorite snacks and meals were never captured on film because, well I ate them as soon as they were in front of me! Here are a few of my favorite dining spots and some suggestions and links on how to choose what to eat.

Chocolate covered bananas {Saving up for Disney}

Favorite places to eat inside Disneyland and California Adventure

Counter Service

Counter service varies from location to location. For instance, at the French Market and at Rancho del Zocalo, though you self-serve your food (cafeteria style), you are served on a real dish with real flatware and someone will bus your table when you are done. However, at other places like the Bengal Barbeque or the Golden Horseshoe, your food is going to come in either paper or plastic with plastic flatware and you’ll be responsible for clearing your own table when you’re done eating.

Disneyland Restaurant Review - French Market Restaurant

The French Market – Disneyland (read the full review)

The French Quarter citrus chicken, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and the cornbread! I regret not taking a picture of this beautiful dish but well, I was hungry and the food was soooo good! I’ve ordered the Cajun Meatloaf and yes, equally delicious. These platters are large enough to share. My husband and son are sold on the chowders served in a sourdough bread bowl. Added bonus: Entertainment from the jazz band during your meal! You are instructed to leave your plates and silverware on the table, the employees quickly bus the tables and clean them off for the next guests.

Just next to the French Market is the Mint Julep bar where you can pick up Mickey-shaped beignets and mint juleps, naturally. I recall one very hot day when my dad bought us each a julep and they were so refreshing that he said, “Let’s have another one!”  Can’t argue with that!

Mint juleps -Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

The Golden Horseshoe -Disneyland

Meals are typical (chicken nuggets & fries) but the sundaes are wonderful! A perfect place for a cooling off on a hot day. Enjoy the air conditioning, watch a show and share a sundae!

Tiki Juice Bar – Disneyland

Dole Whips, if you don’t mind waiting in the line that takes FOREVER!!! Go inside the queue for the Enchanted Tiki Room as the line is usually shorter on this side. You can even get it with pineapple juice as a Dole Whip float…my favorite!


Pacific Wharf Cafe – California Adventure

Nicely sized fresh sandwiches and soups, served with the Boudin Bakery’s sourdough bread (baked right on site!). Nearby you can pick up a margarita or a cold beer, too.

Corn dogs at Disneyland  {Saving up for Disney}

Little Red Corn Dog Wagon – Disneyland

Yes, these are the best ever! Perfectly crispy and greasy. It’s “fair food” that’s a special treat!

Rancho del Zocalo – Disneyland

Nicely sized for sharing, this may not be the place to eat if you are used to authentic Mexican food, but it’s pretty tasty all the same (though light on the spice). You can’t beat the beautiful dining area at night though. Gorgeous colored lanterns are lit overhead and it’s a magical area!

Mickey Pancakes at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

Plaza Inn – Disneyland

Around dinner time the Plaza Inn emits a smell of fried chicken that you won’t be able to resist! Perfectly crispy and delicious and served with mashed potatoes, a biscuit and veggies, this is another platter large enough for sharing. We buy two and share between the five of us.

In the morning the Plaza Inn hosts the Minnie & Friends Breakfast, which is a large buffet where various characters visit each table. Donald visited us and helped himself to our strawberries! Read the review of Minnie & Friend’s Breakfast in the Park.

Disneyland breakfast {Saving up for Disney}

Full Service 

Carnation Cafe -Disneyland

I have no idea why I’d never eaten here up until our most recent trip. Perhaps because it’s on Main Street and I don’t always make my way there at dinnertime. We had a perfect meal here and I’m sure this is going to be a new favorite restaurant for future trips too. My son had Walt’s Chili, which he said was delicious. My husband ordered the Angus beef cheeseburger and I ordered the turkey sandwich on a multi-grain roll and we shared. For my toddler we got a fruit plate with yogurt and a mini muffin and I think he licked the plate!

Wine Country Trattoria – California Adventure

We stopped in for lunch and it was a quiet respite that felt equally upscale and relaxed. I ordered the lasagna, which had a nice layering of bolognese, pasta and cheese. My husband had the fresh fish, which he said was perfect. He’s hard to please, so that’s a major compliment. They also serve wine, beer and specialty drinks…lovely! Here is a review of Wine Country Trattoria.

Wine Country - California Adventure {Saving up for Disney}

Blue Bayou – Disneyland

Always a treat for the ambiance of eating inside “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but really quite pricey. The menu has been revamped since I last ate here to include some beef and chicken dishes which is good because it was earlier quite a bit of gumbo and jambalaya!

Storyteller’s Cafe – Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa (read the full review)

Just a few steps outside the Parks, this rustic styled restaurant serves buffet for breakfast and dinner. Lunch is served off a menu and that’s what we dined on recently. Bacon avocado burger, unique tuna sandwich and corn chowder left us happy and satisfied.


Snacks & Sweets

Of course there are always lots of fun snacks and treats, especially in the shops on Main Street. We walked out with some heavenly toffee last time! Each Land will also have some of their own specialty treats. There are also special offerings during events and holidays.

Healthy Options

Just because you’re at Disneyland doesn’t mean you’ll be relegated to only eating “fair food”. There are plenty of healthy options throughout both parks, resort hotel restaurants and in the Downtown Disney District as well. Be sure to read this post about healthy dining options, How to Eat Healthfully at Disneyland (and Still Treat Yourself!)

Storyteller's Cafe at Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

Split a Meal

Portions are generally quite large so for main meals we’ve always gotten one platter to share between us, and then maybe purchase a side of fruit. Here are ideas for great dishes to share, What are the Best Meals for Sharing at Disneyland Resort?

Bring it With You

Did you know that you are allowed to bring in your own food as long as you follow the Disney parks guidelines? And of course, use common sense. Since you can’t bring in a hard-sided cooler, mayonnaise-based meals or things that need to be kept cold wouldn’t be the best choice. And I’ve lived and learned in 100 degree heat, neither do granola bars with chocolate!

My husband is very health conscious so he loads up his backpack with bottled water, powdered Gatorade to mix in, individual zip-bags of dried plums, apples, trail mix, clementines, peanuts & granola bars, along with some 100% juice boxes for the kids.

Handy links to Disneyland dining

I recommend looking online for menus in advance to loosely plan your meals. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful when budgeting for a trip or when figuring out who-wants-to-eat-what ahead of time.

Disneyland Dining Guide

The Disney Food Blog

All Ears – Disneyland menus

Food Beast – 15 Stunning Disneyland Foods Worth Waiting in Line For

Disneyland {Saviing up for Disney}

Gotta love those chocolate covered bananas!


Dining at Disneyland? Favorite Restaurants & Meals in the Parks


Disneyland Magical Moments – Princess Hugs and Kisses

Now that my “little guy” is ten, it’s been a while since he’s been interested in meeting Princesses. But Once Upon a Time, we ate at Ariel’s Grotto. This was a trip I took to Disney’s California Adventure with Ian and his older brother back in 2006.

Ariel's Grotto {Saving Up for Disney}

We started off fine, greeting Snow White and Mulan. But once the food arrived, for all it mattered to him those pesky princesses were getting in the way of his meal! Ian was not willing to give up his delicious lunch to pause for more than a few moments when the Princesses came to the table. Nearly every picture has him stuffing his face!

Can't pause for Princesses! Ariel's Grotto for lunch {Saving Up for Disney}

My favorite moment came with Cinderella. She knelt next to him and tried to get him to lay off the carrots and ranch for a bit so they could take a photo. Instead Ian generously offered a ranch-soaked carrot to Cinderella!

Offering Cinderella a carrot at Ariel's Grotton {Saving up for Disney}

She refused, naturally, looking at Ian’s older brother and offered some wry advice about silly little brothers. Cinderella handled the challenge with grace and I love the surprised look on her face when confronted with the carrot! This is one of my most favorite Disney memories.

Oh, little Brothers! Ariel's Grotto 2006 {Saving up for Disney}

“Little brothers sure can be challenge sometimes!”

Ariel's Grotto 2006 {Saving Up for Disney}

The meal closed with a visit from Ariel. Finally food-free, Ariel took her chance!

A kiss from Ariel - Ariel's Grotto 2006 {Saving Up for Disney}

Ian ended the meal with a smooch on the cheek from Ariel and a lipstick memento! What an excellent meal and as Ian proved, the food was as good as the company!