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Common sense tips may lead to an uncommonly successful Disneyland vacation

Common sense tips may lead to an uncommonly successful Disneyland vacation

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With the 50th anniversary of Disneyland right around the corner, many families will be planning that first trip to "The Happiest Place on Earth." Or perhaps a return visit after a long absence. You have all the essentials: tickets, hotel, transportation and passes. But what do you do once you get there?

Many people wander the park aimlessly with this blank and overwhelming look on their face. It's like a kid on overload. A tantrum is right around the corner.

So how do you avoid making those mistakes that could ruin your vacation? Take advice from an expert.

As I write this, I am secretly planning my 24th visit to Disneyland for my youngest son and me. He has no clue that -- in a few short weeks -- he will be magically whisked away to one of his favorite places on earth.

Two years ago I took all four of my teenage boys to the Magic Kingdom by myself and I did not lose one. No one had a tantrum, no one got lost, no one was sick and no one complained, not once! We all left with many treasured memories of days filled with laughter and good times.

After 23 visits to Disneyland, four to Walt Disney World and one Disney Cruise, I am here to tell you there are some things you should do and many things you shouldn't. I have made many mistakes, wasted a lot of precious time and spent a small fortune on food that wasn't fit for human consumption. I've been shoved, tripped, and yelled at by a total stranger. But yet I keep returning.

The Gift of Time: My first piece of advice is give yourself the gift of time. Many people think you can do Disneyland in a weekend. 13 years ago, I was one of those people and that was before California Adventure was open. I was exhausted at the end of three days and there were so many things I didn't even see, I cried (had a tantrum) because I wasn't ready to come home.

Six months later, I was back. This time for five days. That is the shortest time period I would suggest especially if you are traveling from far-away places. Once I actually went for eight days. It may seem like a long time. But it was the most relaxing trip to Disneyland I've ever had.

What time gives you is less pressure. You can spread out your visit and take breaks throughout each day. An afternoon spent on the front porch on Main Street with a dish of ice cream is one of the greatest ways to relax in Disneyland. I realize not everyone can afford five days in Disneyland. But -- if there is some way to swing it -- you won't regret it.

Staying Off Property or On: Staying off property or on property is a question many people ask. I have done both and I have never regretted staying in a Disney hotel. By staying at a Disney Resort your vacation continues even after you leave the parks. Each Disney hotel has special amenities. They offer their guests story time, kids clubs and themed swimming areas, just to name a few.

Downtown Disney successfully connects the Disneyland Hotel, the Paradise Pier, The monorail and the parks in a way that was missing before. The staff is almost always friendly (you may find a sourpuss here and there) and they really do go out of their way to make sure you have everything you need. The magic that most experience in the various Disney parks really continues throughout all their resorts. It's the little Disney touches that surround you, which immerse you in your experience. Some you may not even notice, but they affect your every sense.

If you stay off property, be wary of the hotels that claim to be two blocks from the main gates or across the main gates. There are not many and those blocks are city blocks, which are a lot longer. They also count the gates into the parking lot as the "main entrance", which is a long way from the turnstiles. The parking lot and California Adventure encompass roughly 100 acres and that is much longer then a "few short blocks" to the main entrance of Disneyland.

Besides the Disney hotels, the only hotel that is directly across from the main gates of Disneyland is the Best Western Park Place Inn. It is a little run down and the walls are thin, but it is cheap and across the street. You may be saying, "how bad can a few blocks be?" After possibly walking the better part of 12 hours and many miles, those few blocks will feel like a thousand. We call it the walk of shame.

Mandatory Nap Time: It is my firm belief that no one is to old for a nap and -- with the exception of my first visit to Disneyland -- every trip has had relaxation built into the middle of the day. The crowds tend to peak around lunchtime and begin to taper around dinner. If you've allowed yourself five days to see the park, you deserve some midday rest.

Another benefit of staying on Disney property is that each hotel has a fantastic swimming area and it is just a short walk to the hotels from both parks. Before or after lunch every day, head back to your room, throw your kids in the pool and relax poolside with a book or magazine. Order your choice of beverage and you're set for the afternoon. After some splashing in the cool water and laying in the hot sun the only thing left to do is sleep.

After swimming, a nap is a necessity for everyone. Not everyone sleeps every time. But -- between books, television or Game Boy -- everyone has a chance to relax and recharge. As weary parents head out of the park dragging their hungry, over-tired, crying children, you'll feel spry as you re-enter, ready to go late into the night. You can't help but smile as you skip through the gates, ready for a few more hours of fun.

Pamper Your Feet: Don't bring one pair of comfy shoes, but two. Shoe rotation will save your feet. That doesn't mean you should run out and buy a new pair of shoes two days before your trip. Shoot for six months and wear them around a bit. Not wear them out. Just break them in slightly. The same goes for the second pair as well. It could be sandals or another pair of tennis shoes. But the second pair is equally important.

Every shoe rubs and supports your feet in different ways. By rotating them, you give the spots that are being rubbed a break and change the support & pressure points. A sock that is nylon will save your feet too, as cotton doesn't breath and will be the root of all blisters. Look for a sock made for runners and your feet will thank you.

These are just a few simple choices I make every time I visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World. It has taken many visits to find what works and what does not, there are many more where these came from! Over the years I have passed this advice on to friends with small children and friends with no children. Either way, they experience the same success as I do.

You've spent a rather large sum of money. Why wouldn't you want to make the most out of it? It is much better to leave wanting more, then to leave miserable and frustrated. It's your choice and I'm here to help!

Until we meet again, have a magical day!

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