“Relaxing” isn’t a word this father of two (young girls) would use to describe a family vacation at the Disneyland Resort, in Orange County, California.


Sure, a few days with my girls at “The Happiest Place on Earth” can make them happy (most of the time). And, yes, there are moments—rare moments—when my wife and I can kick back and enjoy a moment of solitude (before we face-plant into our pillows at night).


Most of the time, however, I liken visiting California’s most famous theme park to playing a hard-fought game of football: Do it right and you feel it in your bones, an ache that satisfies.


What causes this phenomenon?


Let’s start with the physical demands. The Disneyland Resort (that is, the tandem of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park) sits on a 500-acre parcel. To see it all, this means you’ve got to walk. A lot. In most cases, we dudes are the ones pushing the strollers and/or carrying the kids. That gets old. Quickly.

Baby and Pluto, 2012.

 

(On our last visit, my younger daughter, who was 10 months old at the time, fell asleep in my arms and stayed there for two hours. Adorable, right? But when she woke up, I couldn’t bend my right elbow. For a long while.)


Next up: Psycho-emotional demands. FASTPASS tickets or not, most rides require riders to wait before they can ride. This, in turn, necessitates some form of entertainment for the kids. Telling stories, telling jokes, even using the iPad to search YouTube for old Officer Byrd videos can be tiring.


In many families, playing Jester like this falls on Daddy. And it’s hard work!


Last but not least, there’s the issue of hydration. Southern California is hot. Especially in summer. While you’re traipsing around the resort and/or waiting in line, the sun gradually wears you down. Even if you bring a Camelbak, even if you refill it maniacally, dehydration still can strike and leave you wobbly.


(Oh, and just as an FYI, fighting “the spinnies” with copious amounts of coffee only makes it worse.)


Thankfully, small steps to counterbalance what I call the “Disney Stupor” can go a long way.

Viewfinder Tip: Adults seeking adult beverages can find everything they want and need inside Disney California Adventure Park.

No. 1: Embrace Rider Switch, an unheralded-but-totally-awesome way for parents with young children (who are too small for most attractions) to switch off on certain rides without having to wait in line twice.


It also pays to use technology to get a sense of which lines are the longest so you can figure out which rides to avoid. Disneyland Resort has its own apps, but over the last few years, a number of independent apps have come out to provide users with a mostly real-time sense of wait times, too. (Even though I’m not an Apple guy, I’ve had success with MouseWait. Other good ones include the Walkee Disneyland Guide and Wait Times.)


Finally, of course, let’s be honest: Especially for us dads, it’s critical to know exactly which lounges serve alcohol (and have TVs!), and how far we are from these spots at all times.


My personal fave: the Carthay Circle Lounge, an Art Deco masterpiece downstairs from the new Carthay Circle Restaurant on Buena Vista Street inside California Adventure. Cocktails here steal the show; in particular, the Pimm’s Cup is perfect on a hot day.


No, one drink and a bunch of line-beating tools won’t make the Disneyland experience any easier on a Dad’s body. That said, these strategies certainly can guarantee a good afternoon at “The Happiest Place on Earth.” If you’re lucky—if the kids cooperate—you might even have a bit of fun.

What are your secrets for minimizing stress when you visit theme parks with young kids?