Today, I’m so excited to be sharing a guest post by Nicole from Coffee and Carpool who is inarguably an expert in all thing Disneyland! Nicole tells us all about that Disney Magic and Where to Find it!
It was another gorgeous day in Southern California and my family and I were walking right down the middle of our favorite street: Main Street, USA.
My daughter, dressed in a hand-made Mary Poppins costume stood next to her brother who was dressed like Burt, each clutching their character signature books they wanted signed.
Their eyes got bigger and bigger as they looked around and soaked it all in.
They weren’t excited because Disneyland was new to them. We come here often. If you ask my daughter, we’ve been a gazillion times.
They were excited because of the potential of the day.
The potential of the magic they would be a part of.
And I knew they wouldn’t be disappointed.
Disneyland rarely disappoints in the magic department.
But if you’re visiting Disneyland for the first time—or at the wrong time of year—some of the magic will get lost in the crowds and the line waiting or the heat.
So before you can find the Disneyland magic, you have to know these tips and tricks to make your day at Disneyland easier, more efficient, and less stressful.
Then, you can find the Disney magic if you know where to look.
Or if someone who’s been there a gazillion time tells you where to look.
What is the “Disney Magic?”
Disney magic can be hard to describe until it happens. Until you experience it.
Disney magic is a moment, usually a pretty quick moment, where your child feels extra special and truly connected to the experience of being at Disneyland.
It’s Cinderella holding your daughter’s hand as they walk off together.
It’s your child getting special treatment and being called on stage to dance with Minnie or roar like Simba or to battle against Darth Vader.
The moment can often be over before you can even hit record.
But it’s these moments that will stay with your child for years. And because these moments of magic are rarely replicated, they stand out in our memories.
When my brother-in-law was young, he was plucked out of the Fantasyland crowd in front of the carousel to see if he was the one with the pure heart to pull out King Arthur’s sword when no one else could.
And of all the thousands of people who have tried-and still try to this day- my brother-in-law pulled it out.
The sword was his. The moment was his. The magic was his.
And now that he’s a grown man, my brother-in-law stops by that sword and tries to pull it up whenever he visits.
It’s these moments where the magic is found.
Where to look to find the Disney Magic
When it’s a super crowded day at Disneyland, and it feels like everyone is heading to the same ride as you, nothing feels magical.
When it’s a super hot day, forget it. No one’s feeling magical in 104 degree heat. Not even Mary Poppins or Tink.
But, if the pixie dust is flowing and you wish upon the right star you’ll find the Disney magic.
Or you could try these tricks to increase your chances.
Find Magic in What You Do
- Prioritize your day
Disney magic will rarely be found in the crowds, in the lines, or when you’re racing from ride to ride.
I have been to Disneyland with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and now tweens. I have been there super preggo, in the dead of the summer, and during the craziness of Christmas.
The number one way to enjoy Disneyland to its fullest and find magic is to prioritize what’s important to your family.
Decide before you go what your must-go-on rides are, the characters you are willing to stand in line for, or the snacks you really, really have to try.
And to avoid the lure of the shops, purchase Disney souvenirs ahead of time. These are some of our most treasured Disneyland gifts.
- Go Slow or Go Slower
Slow down and don’t see how many rides you can squeeze into the day (unless that’s truly your priority, then go for it). But when you slow down and don’t try to kill yourself or your kids dragging them to get to all the things, you’ll have time to look for the magic.
So purposefully seek out the quieter activities or the “time suck” activities like dance parties, shows, and horse drawn carriage rides down Main Street.
That’s where you’ll find more magic.
Because the Disney magic almost always happens in the quieter, slower spaces.
You’ll meet Tiana when you ride the Mark Twain riverboat.
You’ll recite the Wilderness Explorer’s Pledge with Russell and Doug when you head to the Redwood Creek Trail Challenge.
And you’ll talk to Belle about your pretty shoes when you stay after her Fantasy Faire play.
- Go with the flow
We have been on route towards meeting up with the rest of our group when we passed by Doc McStuffins. You guys. My daughter flipped her lid. She had never met Doc before. She just had to meet Doc. So we changed our plans and took the time to get Doc’s signature and a cherished picture.
When you see something cool or different at Disneyland, like Storm Troopers interrogating passerbys, the ride can wait. Follow the Storm Troopers around and hope they question you next until you pledge your allegiance to the First Order.
Find Disney Magic with Characters
The characters, especially the ones who are allowed to speak, almost always bring the magic.
And while each character takes the time to interact with people who are near them, there are ways to make it more magical.
Obviously the more your child loves a character, the more magical it will be, so choose who to meet based on that.
I’ve stood in line to meet every character there is because my kids collected signatures and pictures with over the top enthusiasm. And once we got Daisy’s signature, we knew we were golden. She was the hardest of them all to find a few years ago.
Fairies are fun. Princess are sweet. But it’s the villains and sidekicks that are hilarious.
The Mad Hatter will tell you a joke if you ask him. And he’ll patiently listen as your kids tell him jokes. You can find him wandering Fantasyland.
Cruella de Ville is hilariously mean and throws around insults that are way over your kids’ heads.
And call Captain Hook, who often wanders around Fantasyland a “codfish” and see what happens. It’s pretty awesome.
- Find the character you want
If you’re on the hunt for a specific character for your child to meet, you can inquire at City Hall. They should have a character list with locations and times.
We always knew where Mary Poppins and Bert would be and when during my daughter’s Mary Poppins obsession phase. We found them and they would sing and dance down Main Street holding my daughter’s hands.
Princesses hang out in the Fantasy Faire and sometimes are right at the entrance to the park, especially in the afternoons. Or if you’re lucky, instead of crossing the drawbridge of the castle into Fantasyland, go to the right and pass by Snow White’s Wishing Well. You’ll sometimes find Snow White or Peter Pan or the Evil Queen.
Mickey and Crew are almost always at the top Main Street and also hang out in ToonTown. Mickey and Minnie stay in their homes and the other characters hang around the front of their houses.
The Star Wars villians and heros are in the Star Wars Launch Bay and will most likely move to the new Star Wars Land. Storm troopers roam Tomorrowland often “harassing” people, but the real magic is Jedi Training. Ask where the sign up is first thing in the morning and they’ll give your padawan learners a return time to battle Darth Vader or Kylo Ren.
- Get the character interactions to last longer
If your child likes to dress up, make sure they meet the character they’re dressed as. Especially if your child dresses up as a unique character.
When Goofy met my daughter who was dressed as him or when Mary Poppins met her mini me, it was pure magic.
To make each interaction last longer, ask for a signature, or a special pose for a picture, or show the character a stuffed animal of themselves. Goofy thought it was hilarious my daughter had a Goofy doll and showed it off to everyone in line. And my daughter told everyone who would listen about it.
- Know where the characters come out from
As the characters come out to visit with guests, they exit the cast member only areas from a specific door. If you know where these doors are, you’re more likely to see more characters.
As you leave Fantasyland and head towards Frontierland and Star Wars Land, there’s a gate on your right where a lot of characters come out of. That’s where I ran into Belle and had my magical moment as we bantered about the “grey stuff” dessert I had just purchased.
If you spend any time in Fantasyland, you’ll see characters walking to and from this gate including princesses, Peter Pan, and Captain Hook. The Red Rose Taverne Restaurant has a great vantage point if you eat outside.
In ToonTown, if you want to be first in line to see Goofy, Donald or Pluto, you have to listen. When the bells chime in ToonTown, head to ToonTown City Hall’s double doors…that’s where they’re coming from.
On Main Street, the characters often come out right next to the hat store by the Opera House. The characters often skip or walk to their designated spot holding the hand of a child. If you’re there at just the right moment, it could be your child’s hand that gets held.
At DCA, the Marvel characters hang out in Hollywood Land, the Disney Junior characters hang out in front of the Off the Page store, and the Pixar characters hang out along the pier. Lightning McQueen, Mater and Red take turns greeting guests in Radiator Springs.
- Make reservations for Character Meals
My in-laws have splurged on a few of these meals and they’re great ways to ensure meaningful interactions with characters where there’s no one in line behind you impatiently waiting their turn.
Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel has Mickey and Friends. And the Plaza Inn in Disneyland has Minnie and random characters. We’ve met Captain Hook, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, and Rafiki.
Because this is where the characters take the extra time to connect (because you paid for the connection). But they also let kids get extra close. Or let kids take their time to get comfortable before approaching.
Find Disney Magic in the Rides
There are a few rides in the park that offer special treatment if you simply ask.
- Get special treatment on rides
You can almost always sit in the front row of any ride if you are willing to wait another turn before boarding. Same is true if your kids are desperate to be in the monkey cage on the Casey Jr. Circus Train.
You can ask to sit in the front of the monorail with the driver. It’s a bird’s eye view of Disneyland as you circle the park and it’s pretty awesome. You’re allowed to go roundtrip back to where you started, but again, you might have to wait an extra monorail or two before it’s your turn. It’s worth the wait though.
Your young kids can sit criss cross applesauce on the bow of the boats on Storybook Land if you ask. My kids love being the first to enter Monstro’s mouth.
And on the carousel, you can ride Mary Poppins’ horse, Jingles. She’s the horse covered in jingle bells that Mary rode in the chalk drawing.
- Know some fun trivia facts about the rides
We love reading Disney trivia books and learning about the different rides and the “secrets” of the ride. Knowing them and sharing them with our kids helps us feel like insiders into the park.
Some of the best trivia is about Pirates of the Caribbean.
The ride was once staged with real skeletons that were donated to science but no longer needed. Now that fake skeletons are made more realistic looking, there’s only one real skull and crossbones on the ride: it’s on the headboard of the pirate’s bed.
Walt Disney paid for the ride from the movie profits of Mary Poppins. And the ride is three stories high. You just board the boats on the top floor and then drop down until you work your way back up to disembark.
- Find Hidden Mickeys
Disneyland has Mickey’s famous silhouette hidden all over the park: in fence posts, signs and even plants.
And they’re hidden on rides too. You can use this book (LINK) to help you find them or you can search on your own.
Our favorite hidden Mickey is a new find: while waiting on Star Tours R2D2 has Mickey ears that only appear for about 2 seconds. We all cheered and high fived each other when we saw it, and the people in line with us looked at us like we were nuts. But we were too excited to care.
- Look up and behind you
Disney often honors their history.
So when they tore down my favorite Bear Country Jamboree and replaced it with a Winnie the Pooh ride, they left a little piece of history.
About halfway through Winnie the Pooh, if you look up and backwards, you’ll see the three mounted animals that always opened every Bear Country Jamboree sing-along still hanging.
In Indiana Jones there are three hidden Eeyore parking signs because the ride was built over the old parking section when they expanded the park.
Over the firehouse on Main Street, Walt Disney had an apartment. To honor his memory, the light in the window is always burning.
And if you touch the golden apple in front of the the entrance to Snow White’s Scary Adventure, the Evil Witch will appear in the window over the ride.
- Walk through the castle
You can of course walk over the working drawbridge into Fantasyland like the thousands of other people next to you. But once you’re in Fantasyland, you can climb up the castle to experience the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough.
It’s dark, narrow, and not wheelchair accessible, but you get to walk through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. And most people walk right by the entrance without ever realizing it’s there.
Other Ways to Find the Disney Magic
You can ask any store for a button if you’re celebrating a first visit, a birthday, or a special occasion. If it’s your birthday, almost every cast member will stop and wish you a Happy Birthday.
- Emporium Windows
Stop by the Emporium windows on Main Street and watch them magically move and morph to tell Disney’s best stories. My kids love watching them!
- Mail yourself a letter from Disney
You can mail yourself a letter or postcard from Disneyland. It will extend the magic way past your visit.
- Sign up for scavenger hunts
We partake in every scavenger hunt Disneyland offers because my kids love finding things. We love the Easter egg hunt in spring and the delicious churro challenge.
No matter how you do Disneyland, when you take the time to look for the magic, you’ll almost always find it.
And it’s pretty, well, magical.
Even if you’ve been to Disneyland a gazillion times.
PS – I wanted to share an awesome resource with you that I use when booking my Disneyland vacation.
Get Away Today is a family-oriented travel agency that offers the ONLY refundable Disneyland tickets and they are often having amazing sales or deals.
You can book your park tickets, hotels (Disney and off-property), transportation and more activities to fill up your vacation through them – and it doesn’t cost you anything extra. (You actually usually end up saving a ton more than if you were to try to book all of these things on your own.) They are fully accredited by Disney and often offer cheaper park tickets than you can purchase directly from Disney.
Nicole Black is a recovering elementary school teacher, a mom to three super busy kids, and mostly survives on strong coffee. She shares her best parenting tips and tricks for intentionally raising kind kids, creating a stronger family connection, and bullying prevention at Coffee and Carpool. Follow her at www.coffeeandcarpool.com or find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/