What do you get when you take one Grammy, 4 grandkids ranging in ages from tween to tweenager and the Disneyland Resort? Magical memories that last a lifetime! Think you can’t do it well think again because surviving And thriving through an epic Grandma and Me adventure is not only as easy as saying “Mickey Mouse” it’s the best adventure you’ll ever take.
To celebrate the end of summer we decided that we were in need of some extra magic before school started and decided to embarking on a Grandma and Me trip with enough magic and memories to last a lifetime. As the planning started to unfold and the dream slowly turned into a reality, before I knew it two of of my sons and my daughter-in-law decided to join in this magical journey. Someday, I will actually live out my own dream of all the kids from all three generations all together for the trip of a lifetime but for one perfect weekend this summer, memories were created, laughter and giggles surround us and family spending time together was the true magic of of it all.
As a lifelong Disneylander who has been visiting the Happiest Place on Earth since it first opened in 1955 at the ripe old age of 9 months old, Disneyland has been the one constant not only in my life but in the lives of my children and now grandchildren and over the years I have been lucky enough to share this legacy with not only my own kids but their kids as well and each visit brought about a new magic and memory and something that would make that trip a very unique and special place in my heart but as experienced as I am, and as proficient as I had become at taking infant, toddler and young children,
I will be the first to admit that I might have been just a little bit nervous at the prospect of taking 3 tweens and one full fledge tweenager on my own for the weekend as I had heard the tales from others but I am happy to report that all my worries completely faded away once I saw their faces light up as we boarded the plane and when you bring 4 cousins together and 2 brothers and one daughter-in-law for a weekend where the rest of the world faded away, this was the real magic of Disney.
Walt’s guiding principle behind Disneyland was that it would be the first place of its kind where children and parents could go to enjoy themselves and have fun and 63 years later, I am here to tell you that Walt’s vision of creating something that families can do together has indeed become a reality. Surviving and thriving a multigenerational trip to the Disneyland Resort doesn’t have to keep you up at night. Here are a few of our favorite tips that we learned during our magical adventures to the Disneyland Resort.
Know Before You Go
So just where do you start when trying to plan out the most perfect of trips that will ensure that all of their dreams come true? It’s easy-just ask the kids. 4 grandkids mean four sets of favorite things and multiple lists of must-sees and must-dos and while there may be things that they all agree, you want to make sure that everyone gets to check items off of their own personal Bucket Lists.
For us that started with what resort to stay at and all four kids quickly agreed that it was all about staying at the Disneyland Hotel because of the pool and the monorail waterslides.
For Hailey Lightyear it was all about meeting her hero, Buzz Lightyear and for Lyssie and Moya the faster the coaster the better and for Ivan our non-ride enthusiast, Tarzan’s Treehouse was the perfect alternative as was Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island.
For me, it is not a trip to Disneyland without a ride on the world-famous Jungle Cruise even Ivan was sold on the fun of Splash Mountain which thanks to MaxPass we were able to ride over and over and over again.
Everyone wanted to experience the all-new Pixar Pier and ride Incredicoaster and then drop in at Guardians of the Galaxy. Time at the pool was a unanimous choice for the grandkids and for the “older kids” they wanted to make sure that we saw Fantastmic! as well as “Remember…Dreams Come True” Fireworks Spectacular and the Paint The Night Parade. Many of the lists for both the young and the young at heart had the same “must do” things on them but talking about it ahead of time made sure that each and every person had their own magical moment at some point during the stay and helped in the planning of each day to get the most out of each day.
This was the first time ever that height restrictions for certain attractions did not need to be taken into consideration but in the past, it was always one of the first things that I checked, thus avoiding disappointment later on. Trust me when I say, there is nothing more heartbreaking than finding out that your grandchild is an inch too short to go on Guardians Of The Galaxy
Another important thing I have learned is to check the park hours before you leave on your trip so as to not discover after you’ve planned out the perfect evening at Disney California Adventure Park that it will be closing early that particular night for a special event. The more you know before you go, the easier your trip will be.
Location, Location, Location
Staying on property means an extension of the magic of Disneyland from the moment you arrive. From more family time to the convenience of being mere steps away from the entrance of both Disneyland as well as Disney California Adventure Park as well as the Downtown Disney District plus being just steps away from the Parks
means it’s perfect for that afternoon swims and some downtime to gear up for a full evening of nighttime fun, either in the parks, or watching fireworks right from your resort as the music plays right in your room.
One of the greatest perks of staying on property is having access to the Extra Magic Hour which is an early admission option, that only registered Disneyland Resort Hotel Guests enjoy—during every day of hotel stay which gives you admission to select attractions, stores, entertainment and dining locations in Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park for one full hour before the parks open to the general public on select days it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Add in being able to start the day with a wake-up call from one of your favorite Disney characters, an unforgettable mealtime that comes with a character dining experience, a Key to the Magic ard which not only acts as your room key but allows you charge meals and merchandise right to their hotel room, package delivery which allows you to have all of your purchases delivered right to your room and pools and grounds as only Disney can do, the list is endless but the best reason to stay at one of the three Disneyland Resort properties is the looks on your grandchildren’s faces when Goofy greets them the moment they walk through the door or the look on your son’s face as he remembers staying there when he was the same age as his kids.
It is all about making those magical memories that will last long after the trip is over.
Disney MaxPass For The Win
Having gone to Disneyland for 63 years and counting now, I can say without reservation that the Disney MaxPass is the greatest invention of all time and the only way we were able to do every single thing that every single person wanted to do, on the last weekend of the summer before school started and most of the things, we could do over and over again, all thanks to the genius of MaxPass. As a Disneylander, I have always loved the thrill of being able to live in the moment and walk up to the attraction of my choice and pull a paper FASTPASS and although I have become quite proficient at the art of the FastPass+ at Walt Disney World, I still have never quite gotten used to having to decide 60 days ahead of time what attraction I want to go on but the Disney MaxPass takes the best of both and combines them into one all from the convenience of the Disneyland mobile app.
The Disney MaxPass allows you to maximize your time so that you get the most out of your visit. Now with the touch of a button, you can book your Disney FASTPASS selections on your mobile device using the Disneyland app while you’re in the parks and even better, if you have Park Hopper Tickets, with the MaxPass you can make selections for attractions either theme park. Each morning, we would walk over to the Monorail entrance from our room at the Disneyland Hotel and book our first FASTPASS of the day and by the time we were in the park, we were ready for our first ride of the day.
Thanks to the MaxPass, we were able to ride Splash Mountain 5 times in one day-it is quite simply the most brilliant invention ever and it gave each member of Team Turner multiple chances to pick the next attraction. But even better, not only did it save us precious time by not having to wait in line or running from attraction to attraction to get our next FASTPASS, the Disney MaxPass also give you the ability to capture all of your memories with unlimited Disney PhotoPass photo downloads for a day.
This means that you can download and share photos from select dining locations, attractions, Character Greetings, Disney PhotoPass Photographers and Magic Shots. For only $10 a day per ticket, it is the best investment you will ever make and it allows you to experience more of the park with the people you love. And if you’re lucky enough to be a Premier Passholder like I am or some of the other specific Annual Passholder levels, the Disney MaxPass is already included as part of your pass, making it just one more reason to become an annual passholder.
Don’t Let “Hangry” Happen
Skipping, laughing and walking through the magic requires energy and energy requires fuel. Luckily at the Disneyland Resort, whether you’re in the parks enjoying the day or taking a leisurely stroll through the Downtown Disney District, with so many great eateries and establishments, there’s no reason for any of your crew to ever go “hangry”.
And remember you’re on vacation with lots to see and do so it is not only ok but part of the magic to eat the churro ,
have ice cream at any time of the day or night, that pizza for breakfast is acceptable the best part of the Extra Magic Hour means that you can ride Incredicoaster twice, Radiator Springs Racers back to back and then fuel up at the Flo’s V8 Cafe and still have the best part of the day in front of you.
Full tummies mean happy grandkids and happy grandkids make for a magical day.
You’re Never Too Old To Meet Mickey
While navigating the realms of parks of Disney with tweens can seem intimidating at times, the basic and most fundamental rules still apply no matter what their age is and the is that you are never too old to meet Mickey Mouse and your other favorite characters.
Someone, coming face to face with your all-time favorites just make everything right with the world, and remind all of us that while at 11 and 12 years old they may feel all grown up and ready to take on the world, that on the inside, it’s all right to live in the moment and believe in the magic.
Whether you are in the parks, at your Disney Resort Hotel or at a Character Meal, there is no better experience to ensure a lifetime of memories than watching the face of your grandchild as they meet their idols at the place where dreams come true.
Be sure to have those cameras ready share a magical moment together and snap a photo to capture the memories forever or better yet, let the Disneyland PhotoPass photographers create those magical keepsakes for you which means you can be in the picture too.
TIP-Make sure not to leave home without your autograph book but luckily there are plenty of collectible autograph books throughout the parks and hotels available to fill with famous signatures.
Character Dining For The Win
If you’re like many families who embark on whirlwind weekend adventures, more often than not you’re arriving at the Happiest Place on Earth later in the afternoon or early evening and while you want to start those magical moments immediately and the best way to do that is with a Character Meal right at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels.
Our personal favorite is Goofy’s Kitchen located at the Disneyland Hotel where dinnertime becomes a time where you can feast on twice the fun when a special guest chef helps serve dinner—with a heaping helping of giggles on the side. With some of the greatest selections and choices of food, it’s the perfect buffet meal to satisfy the 4 totally different culinary tastes of each and every grandchild.
Between the photo ops, autographs, dancing, and hilarity, with 5 all-you-care-to-enjoy stations serving hearty fare that’ll make you smile. Create your own plate with succulent meats from the carving station, fresh catch of the day, seasonal vegetables, chilled tossed salads, mac & cheese, grilled hot dogs and assorted pizzas. Don’t forget to save some room for the pièce de résistance—a dessert buffet featuring warm cinnamon monkey bread, fruit cobbler, and other delectable delights.
One of my favorite tips is to begin your first big day in the parks the Disney way at the “Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park,” which is an all-you-care-to-enjoy spread of all your morning favorites. Imagine being able to stroll down Main Street USA before Disneyland is open as you head up the street to the Plaza Inn where made-to-order omelets and Mickey waffles, French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, breakfast potatoes, fresh-baked pastries and breads, fruit, and hot and cold cereals and a host of characters are waiting just for you with a view of Sleeping Beauty Castle as your backdrop.
From there it is just a hop, skip and a jump to all of your favorite classic Disneyland attractions. And as you’re walking down Main Street USA with no one else in sight, and your granddaughter whispers to you that you must be magical because you got Disneyland to open just for our family and no one else-pretty much the best day ever.
Say “YES” To The Electronics
Everyone knows that it’s almost impossible to separate a child from their electronics but luckily for you, Disney has a magical solution with their all-new Play Disney Parks mobile app for your IOS and Android phone. Now you can turn wait time into playtime and never has walking around or waiting in line been so much fun.
From the trivia games, which apparently I don’t know as much trivia as I thought I did, to the ability to download songs from your favorite park attractions to the fun of unlocking achievements it’s the perfect addition to your Disney day and the smiles on the faces of the grandkids told me everything I needed to know plus as a mom, there was just something magical about seeing my own kids as “brother vs. brother” competed against one another.
The Play Disney Parks app brings to life unique interactive experiences that enables people of all ages to access a wide range of activities including themed games, Disney trivia, digital achievements, music and so much more – whether they are playing on Main Street, U.S.A. or waiting in line at beloved attractions.
Developed in close collaboration with Walt Disney Imagineering, Play Disney Parks was designed for families and guests to enjoy together, with group play options that enable everyone to join in on the fun while staying fully engaged in the immersive environments of Disney parks and this grandma heartily approves and the best part-it’s free to download and play. At the newly reimagined Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure, I had the chance to have fun with “Playset Party” while progressing through the queue of Toy Story Mania! and preparing to take a spin on one of my all time favorite attractions.
Earn Themed Achievements
Once we signed into our Disney account, the kids had a chance to earn, collect and share uniquely themed achievements, rewarded for experiences both in the app and across the Disney parks. Whether venturing to certain attractions in the parks or accomplishing an impressive feat at an in-queue game, we were able to use this feature to showcase our in-park experiences and Disney fandom while filling your “Playfile” with these special achievements.
Listen to the Songs and Sounds of Disney
My favorite part was the chance to celebrate our Disney vacation with an enchanting audio experience featuring the music of Disney and the classic sounds of the Disney theme parks and listening to the grandkids all sing-along.
No Hesitation -Make Reservations
With 9 people and a long, long list of everything everyone wanted to make sure to experience, time was at a premium and with seeing Fantastmic! at the top of everyone’s must-do list, we were able to save time and still experience the nighttime show in a deliciously spectacular way by taking advantage of the On-The-Go meal that includes reserved viewing for Fantasmic and it could not have been easier!
With the swipe of the Disneyland Mobile app we could easily pick from one of 4 delicious entrees from a menu created especially for this event—cedar salt-roasted sustainable salmon, barbecue chicken, blackberry barbecue pork riblets or an amazing mushroom and leek frittata all of which came with medley of wild rice and cranberry-apricot grains as well as kale and garbanzo bean salad and select our time to pick up our meals at the Hungry Bear Restaurant .
Each meal came with a voucher that granted us entry to the reserved viewing area for that evening’s performance of Fantasmic! Being able to select what time we wanted to eat, then being able to go from Splash Mountain, over to pick up our meals and then ride Splash Mountain one more time before heading over to our own viewing area for this nighttime spectacular of Mickey as he battles good vs evil was the perfect way to get even more magic out of our day.
Let The Children Lead The Way
Now that the kids are older, the best way to make the most and savor your Grandma and Me trip to the Happiest Place on Earth is to simply sit back, and follow their lead. Immerse yourself in the magic and see it through their eyes.
Take all those “perfect plans” and itineraries that you created and throw them out the window because when you’re embarking on this adventure with tweens and tweenagers, it is all about doing the things that they want to do.
Let them have the camera and capture the moments as seen through their perspective, spend the afternoon at the pool, ride Splash Moutain over and over again, get drenched on Grizzly River Run, know that while you may think a reservation at Blue Bayou for dinner is the best, for them it is all about eating at Alien Pizza Planet and most importantly sit back and
watch the magic of cousins who don’t get to see each other nearly as often as they’d like come together because, at the end of the day, the real magic of Disney is in the family.
And yes, take the selfies, do the silly filters and allow yourself to be a kid again because at the end of the day, life is short, tomorrow is never promised and it is in these memories that you’ve created by the gift of you being present in your life that is the best gift of all.
You Don’t Need To Do It All
It’s easy to be swept away with the feeling of wanting to do it all and see it all, but let your grandchild be your guide, Follow their pace. You may be certain that the only way they will truly remember this trip is if they ride every single coaster,
but if you follow their lead, you may quickly realize for them the real magic is in chasing after a mommy duck and her newborn babies, or shooting baskets with a cast member that they take away from the day for years to come.
And You Don’t Have To Buy It All
As a grandparent, it’s hard to overcome the urge to buy them everything they see and you see. Surprising them with a bubble blower might be great for fun in the Park, but when they take it home and use on the pet bunnies, it may not seem like such a good idea anymore, especially to their parents. Instead, invest in memories that are unique to you and your grandchild.
Consider a pressed penny book that they can add to the next time you take them. Start them with their first lanyard and teach them how to pin trade. Purchase postcards and write down your favorite memory of that day and keep them in a book to add to over the years. And in the end, if you cave in and end up buying a stuffed keepsake, seeing them cuddled up with it over the years to come will serve as a reminder of that moment in time that Grammy took me to Disneyland.
It’s The Memories You Create Along The Way
All and all, if you thought that it just couldn’t get any better than experiencing Disney through the eyes of your child, just wait until you get to do it with your grandchildren or better yet, watch your grown sons as they watch their children, and in your mind you’re remembering a time gone by in what seems like a blink of an eye of a time not all that long ago when they were that age.
Your joy multiplies in ways you never could have imagined. Suddenly it’s not just about creating a magical day and lasting memories, it’s the legacy. You’ve ensured that an intricate part of who you are has been passed down conversation-by-conversation, memory-by-memory for many generations to come and with a little advanced planning and allowing yourself to just be a kid again, it will be remembered for all the right reasons.
To all the grandparents out there who aren’t sure if you’re up to the challenge of a Grandma and Me trip with tweens-I am here to tell you that YES-YES AND YES! You’ll thank me! Don’t wait-do it today. There’s no better gift to give to your grandchild and yourself than that magical gift of time and creating the memories that will stay in your hearts long after the trip is over.
Disclosure: We were given media passes for the purposes of this article however all thought, opinions and the magic we were able to create are 100% our own
Coming up next- Which of the three Disneyland Resort hotels is the right one for your family?