On our trip to Southern California, we spent two wonderful days at Disneyland and California Adventure. Here are some of our top tips and tricks for getting the most out of your time at Disney!
The Night Before
We planned to arrive in California and check into our hotel in the evening. After getting settled into our room, we hopped on a hotel shuttle over to the park. We spent the evening browsing the shops at Downtown Disney and got some dinner. We were ready to go – ears and all – the next morning before we had even been in the park. This was so convenient because then we didn’t waste as much time in the park looking for souvenirs. The other thing we did, which we HIGHLY recommend, was purchase our Disney Park tickets ahead of time. We got ours the night before so there was one less line to wait in the next morning. If it can be avoided, don’t make the mistake of waiting until the day of to purchase your tickets.
Know the Park Hours & Arrive Early
They will actually let you into the park before it opens, and you can get all the way to the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (or Buena Vista Street if you are in California Adventure). It doesn’t seem like much of an advantage, but trust us, it is. We already had our tickets scanned and got the classic Disneyland entrance and castle pictures taken before the park was even open. As an added bonus, if you get a pass for 3+ days, you get a Magic Morning to enter one of the parks one hour before it opens. If you are staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, you can also take advantage of the Extra Magic Hour.
Start Each Day in a Different Park
We started out in Disneyland for our first day and started in California Adventure on our second day. Each park has a few attraction that are going to be busy no matter what. In Disneyland, Star Tours, Space Mountain, and Indiana Jones are usually among the longer waits. In California Adventure, Cars Radiator Springs Racers and Toy Story Mania typically have the longest wait times. The lines in the morning are usually quicker if you get there fast enough, or you can get Fastpasses for later. We highly recommend this for Radiator Springs Racers especially. We were in the Fastpass line about 5 minutes after the park opened and still had to wait for a few hours before we could go back and ride. Last time we were in California Adventure, the Fastpasses for the entire day were gone by 10:00 am. If you decide to brave the standby line, prepare to wait for anywhere from 1-3 hours to get on the ride. We are not kidding you when we say that the wait time was already 45 minutes when we checked at 9:15 am (15 minutes after the park opened).
Speaking of Fastpasses, you will definitely want to take advantage of this perk. If you haven’t used Fastpass before, or don’t know what it is, in a nutshell it is a special ticket you can use to get in a shorter line at a future designated time. Keep in mind that you can only have one Fastpass at a time, so choose wisely. We lucked out and only had to get Fastpasses a few times because most of the wait times weren’t that long. On busy days, Fastpasses are a necessity!
Check the parade schedule, as well as the schedule for any shows you want to see, the fireworks, etc. This way you can be sure to see the parades and shows you want to, and if there are any you don’t want to watch, you can visit other attractions during that time and take advantage of shorter lines. We chose to watch the World of Color at California Adventure on Thursday night, so we went to Disneyland after World of Color and rode Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and the Haunted Mansion again during the fireworks – so the lines were non-existent! We then watched the earlier Paint the Night parade in Disneyland on Friday night, and sadly the fireworks were cancelled that night, so we went to a couple more attractions during the later parade.
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, Disneyland has some great food options. If there are certain places you want to eat, plan to be in that area of the park around the time you want to eat so you won’t have to trek back and forth across the park just to get to a restaurant. On the other hand, if there isn’t anywhere specific you want to eat, you can simply check the map to see what food options are nearby when you get hungry. We did a bit of both on this trip, and it worked out perfectly because we were able to eat our favorites, like gumbo at the Royal Street Veranda and Mexican food from Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, but we also tried out a couple new places.
Plan by Lands
You don’t need to precisely plan out your entire schedule for each day, but if you are in a certain area of the park, look around and plan out what other attractions you might like to visit while you’re in the vicinity. For example, we knew we wanted to go on Indiana Jones early in the day on Thursday, and then we went to some nearby attractions from there, like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. You can also use the Disneyland App to check wait times, so if you notice that all of the wait times are fairly short in Tomorrowland, for instance, you’ll know it’s a good time to go there.
The Disneyland App
The Disneyland App was a lifesaver during our trip. There is so much useful information. The main thing we used the app for was to check wait times; these are updated frequently and are pretty accurate. There are many other things you can do with this app as well – from learning where you can find your favorite characters to checking out shows, dining options, and shops, this app is pretty much the only thing you need. Another cool feature is that the Disney PhotoPass is now on the Disneyland App. Anytime you get your picture taken at a Disney PhotoPass location in the park (like pictures with characters), you can access that picture from your app.
Okay, we all know it’s true – Disneyland souvenirs can be expensive. However, if you’ve given yourself a bit of an allowance and you see something you really like, buy it! It might not be in other stores. For example, The Star Trader (the store right outside of Star Tours) is perfect for Star Wars-themed souvenirs, and the other Disneyland stores don’t have all of the same items. On the other hand, there are some items that can be found in multiple stores. We wanted to see the Alex & Ani bracelets at Disneyland, and sadly they didn’t have the exact one that Kaycie wanted, but we were able to check three different stores that carried Alex & Ani bracelets to make sure we covered our bases. If the store is out of an item you want, ask a Cast Member to see if any other stores might carry it as well.
If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, chances are fairly good that they will have a free shuttle to and from Disneyland. This is a great option because it saves you the hassle of parking and then taking the Disney shuttles over to the park, as well as saving you the money you would spend on parking. Be sure to take a copy of the shuttle schedule with you so you don’t miss your ride back! Another tip – if you’re planning to leave the parks late, be sure to give yourself enough time to walk to the shuttle pick-up area. We cut it a little close on Friday night because we didn’t realize it would be so difficult to navigate through the crowds in Disneyland during and right after the second Paint the Night Parade.
What are your best tips for making the most of your time at Disneyland?
Written by Caroline Larson and Kaycie Jordan.
*All photos in this blog article are taken by and property of Caroline Larson and Kaycie Jordan.