This is it… the original theme park where it all began. Opened on July 17, 1955, the amazing thing about this theme park is that it retains all the magic it set out to create over half a century ago.

The only theme park to be designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney himself, on the opening day, the creator announced: “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

To be honest, theme parks have never been top of my family holiday bucketlist. But oh, what a surprise lay ahead for me at Disneyland’s latest addition – California Adventure Park. Built on Disneyland’s original car park site this park was opened in 2001. And lo and behold, upon making our way through the gates, there were all the characters my two-year-old had grown so fond of in the previous year: Mater from Cars, Nemo, Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, Flik from A Bug’s Life, even

Prior to the arrival of my firstborn, I had always loudly stated my opposition to all things televisual for children under three; by the age of two, he could pretty much recite the entire Pixar movie catalogue. So watching him walk into a theme park where all his two-year-old movie heroes were suddenly (and quite literally) larger than life, was about as magical an encounter as I could have imagined.

Five top tips for families planning a trip…
1. Book a room. Not only is Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa a sensational hotel with interiors that echo California’s Redwood forest heritage, but staying here also means you can tumble out of bed, through the door and directly into California Adventure Park’s Redwood Creek Challenge Trail for some serious running around before you head off to wait in queues over the next few hours. Most importantly, by staying onsite, you can head into the park before the crowds arrive to enjoy some quieter time in the park,
2. Break up your day. Head into the park early in the morning, then retire to your room for an afternoon nap, lunch or just some downtime at the pool, then head back into the park for the evening session, when the exhausted day-visit crowds have thinned (ever so slightly) and the evening entertainment is just kicking in.
3. Plan your FastPass schedule… Before you queue up for one of the less crowded rides, make sure you have a FastPass in hand for the next busy one.
4. Make it a three day plan… The fact is that you never know which of the two parks you, or more specifically your child, is going to fall passionately in love with. So give yourself one day at each of the parks, then a third to go back to the one that they simply adored.
5. Scout out a spot for the big parade early in the day… or book a celebrity meeting to give you a seat in the VIP section. The daily parades are hugely popular, and with good reason. They really are a magical moment in the daily schedule and you want to have a good spot where you not standing behind a crowd with your toddler (or five-, six-, or seven-year-old) on your shoulders for the whole 45 minutes. The best trick of all is to book a Disneyland Resort VIP Tour Service, one of the benefits of which is that you can reserve seats (actual seats on benches) in a roped-off section for these parades. This convenience comes at a price, with the cheapest option being the Standard VIP Tour; this costs US$195 per hour (US$175 in off-season) for a group of up to 10 people, and requires a 6-hour minimum booking. contacts you before your arrival to discuss your visit, helps make any dining reservations you need, and requests reserved viewing at the shows you wish to see. Your host greets you when you arrive at the Resort (valet parking at the Grand Californian Hotel is included with the tour), and remain with you during your tour. your tour guide can act as a Fastpass runner, collecting Fastpass tickets at one attraction while your group rides another. VIP hosts are trained as Disneyland Resort tour guides, and can point out often-overlooked details, share Disney history and stories, and answer questions about the parks and resorts.

We will shortly be including our round-up of Best Ofs features for Toddler, School-Age, and Tween families at both Disneyland and California Adventure Park.