10 Disneyland Tips for Single Parents

From how to save money to how to spend your time, we have it all covered.

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Disney as a Single Parent Can Be a Blast!

Disney Single Parent tip 1

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Confession: I’ve never thought of myself as a Disneyland person. I went once as a young kid and have very vague memories of being terrified by a ghost seated next to me on Haunted Mansion and shrieking for help while my dad laughed. Rollercoasters scare me. I don’t like being scared.

But one year, when my son was 10, I decided on a whim to spend a day at the parks with him on the tail end of a California trip. I had no idea what to expect, and as a single parent, no partner to help plan or tag-team at the parks!

Fast-forward three years and we just completed our third Disneyland trip together—we always have a blast!

Here are my 10 best tips for fellow single parents at Disneyland/California Adventure!

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Do your research on hotels/packages before you go.

Big Thunder Mountain

Photo via Parents

Photo via Parents

Use sites like mousesavers.com to guide you—they often list discounts and deals you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. I ended up saving over $300 on our hotel room this last time, and scored a nice discount on park passes!

Also check out the Disneyland sub-reddit which is chock-full of great info and inspiration for your trip—they’re also great about answering questions!

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Consider an on-property hotel.

Disney Single Parent tip 2

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

One of the most inexpensive hotels is Paradise Pier. We stayed there for one night on our first trip and it was fine, but no-frills. This last time, we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, the mid-priced option.

Consider chatting with a travel agent and ask them to watch for lower fares for you within certain date ranges. Staying on-property was worth it: easy access back to the hotel for taking breaks, an extra hour at the parks in the morning before they open to the public, and when you buy merchandise at the parks, they’ll send it to your hotel for you so you don’t have to carry your purchases around with you!

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Take breaks!

Disney Single Parent tip 3

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

On our first two trips, we crammed everything into just one or two days. I learned the hard way that this is TOUGH—on your feet, especially. Consider extending your stay to four or five days and breaking up your days. Maybe take one day off in the middle, to rest.

The mornings and evenings at the parks are much less crowded (and less hot!), and honestly I enjoy going during those times way more. At night, everything’s lit up and the outdoor rides—like Radiator Springs Racers, especially—are REALLY fun in the dark! So head to the parks in the morning, then go back to your hotel for some pool time or naps or whatever you need to rest and relax, and then head back for more rides, food, and fun. Plus, when you head back at night, you’ll be much more awake for the fireworks!

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Give the rides a try.

Disney Single Parent tip 4

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Nervous about the rides? Give ‘em a try anyway. As a single parent, this was my biggest struggle. What if my kiddo wanted to go on rides that I was too much of a wimp to go on? If your kids are old enough (8 or older), they can ride by themselves. You can actually walk through the queue with them and then ask the cast member for an exit right before entering the ride, if you chicken out.

BUT, I encourage you to try! I was terrified of rollercoasters, but now my favorite ride is Big Thunder Mountain! I forced myself onto Space Mountain too. Yeah, I closed my eyes and screamed the entire time, but it’s a memory I’ll always hold dear because I experienced it with my son, who had a blast!

Also check out YouTube POV videos to get a feel for the ride before you go on (search for Splash Mountain POV, etc). If you’re worried about motion sickness (I was), ask your doctor about Zofran, or grab an over-the-counter non-drowsy Dramamine or Nauzene.

Bonus tip: If you ask at one of the first aid stations in the parks, they’ll give you some anti-nausea medicine in a pinch!

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Make standing in lines less painful.

Disney Single Parent tip 5

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

I highly recommend using the MaxPass system to save you time. It’s $10/person per day and allows you to reserve a time on the most popular rides for later in the day as soon as you enter the park, right from your phone. As soon as you scan in that pass, you can select another one! This saved us SO much time, and you can get all of your in-park photos on it for free, too.

Also consider an app for your phone to help pass the time. Lots of people play games together like Head’s Up or Charades. And, use the Disneyland app to check for shorter wait times—it’s free and will save you a bunch of time!

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Bring a portable charger—or use the ones at the parks!

Disney Single Parent tip 6

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

You’re gonna be using your phone a lot—especially if you get the MaxPass—so your portable charger will come in handy. But if you forget to bring one, the parks now offer charging stations.Pay $30 for unlimited fuel rods, which come with dongles and attachments for any phone. When your first one runs out of juice, just bring it to another station and you can keep using/replacing chargers without paying again for the length of your trip!

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Know where to eat to keep your meal costs down.

Disney Single Parent tip 7

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

There are lots of reasonably priced options in the parks, you just need to know where to find ‘em! My son and I discovered the Bengal Barbecue and it’s our new favorite place to eat. They sell saucy skewers full of beef, chicken and veggies and they’re around $5 each. You can also grab pineapple spears for just a few dollars at select food carts or split the $10 Jolly Holiday Combo, a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, that were both super tasty.

And don’t miss the beignets at Ralph’s Jazz Alley Kitchen Express—absolutely delicious for breakfast under $10 for you and your kids (they also do protein-based breakfast bowls and other non-sweet stuff, too)!

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Play non-digital games while waiting for food/fireworks/rides.

Disney Single Parent tip 8

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Don’t wanna stare at your phones? The parks are awesome for people-watching. My son and I like to play a game we call "First to Find," where we think of funny things you can find in the park, such as a man wearing Minnie Mouse ears, someone with a Nemo tattoo, a kid who’s clearly in need of a nap, etc. Take turns coming up with things/people to find. It makes waiting around a lot less painful!

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Create a merch budget.

Disney Single Parent tip 9

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

My son is big into collecting the Disneyland pins, but they add up quickly. I gave him a merchandise budget before the trip and put him in charge of sticking to it. It helped him make good decisions so he didn’t spend it all at the first shop we entered, and he got what he really wanted most. Without a budget, my entire paycheck would’ve flown right out the window on t-shirts and hats and Mickey ears because there’s something about being in the parks that just makes you want #AllTheThings. Save yourself!

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Treat your feet.

Disney Single Parent tip 10

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gina Cohen

On our last trip, we walked 40 miles. FORTY MILES. Our feet were HURTIN’ for certain. Bring band-aids. Bring moleskin. Bring topical pain-relief cream. Bring comfortable shoes for everyone and extra socks, because if you end up splitting your day up (parks, pool, parks), you’re not gonna wanna put your sweaty socks back on, post-swim! The good news is you’ll get puh-LENTY of steps which offset all the churros. There will be multiple churros, trust.

Gina Cohen is a freelance writer whose work appears in The Washington Post, MSN, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Redbook, Woman’s Day and more.  Come find her on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.