50 Spectacular Disneyland Tips
Being a Walt Disney World veteran, planning a Disneyland trip was harder than I expected. Now that I’m back and somewhat of an “expert,” I have some seriously awesome Disneyland tips to share with you.
And I broke them into 4 categories:
If you only want to follow one tip…
Follow this one. To have a successful Disneyland vacation you just have to read one book. And that’s The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland.
A few days before your trip, check Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure park hours to plan your trip accordingly. You can write them down and take a picture of that paper or take screenshots if you’re on your phone. Even better, if you have the Disneyland app downloaded on your phone, the park times are listed there, and quickly updated if they change for any reason.
Get to the park 40 minutes before opening time. You won’t be the only family there, far from it. If you come early then you can get there for “rope drop,” right when the park opens and people can enter. This is when wait times will be the shortest, so sprint to that one ride you HAVE to get on. I promise you will thank me later. If you don’t get there early, you’ll need at least 5 days at the parks to do it all. And who sleeps in at Disney?????
World of Color
World of Color is Disney California Adventure’s nighttime show. The best way to see it with the minimal amount of effort is by getting a FastPass as soon as you can. It’s actually known to be the only way to be able to see the show. Find the FastPass machine near the entrance of The Little Mermaid.
World of Color generally starts around 10pm, and it’s only 22 minutes long. It’s definitely worth it to put the extra effort in to get good seating and stay up for the show.
There were a lot of rides closed up until the day I got to California. Thankfully, I checked beforehand and was able to go through the disappointment before my trip. Ride closures happen and they’re hard to miss. Don’t mourn too much over them. Researching and doing even just a little planning of your must-dos will help you map out your day and be prepared for any current changes going on in the parks.
If you’re staying at one of the three Disneyland hotels, make sure to take advantage of the early hours they offer. It’s a really, really good way to get a step up on the crowds. I picked which park to go to each day based on which one had the early hours that day. It’s an amazing benefit to staying on-property.
The Disneyland APP
A must-have for your trip. You can make reservations, have a map handy, AND check wait times. The app is very well designed and user-friendly, and the wait times reported are kept up to date. Along with that, you can save time and use the app to order food. All in all, it’s a lifesaver.
Disneyland can be reached by three airports, John Wayne, Long Beach, and LAX. John Wayne is said to be the best one to fly into. It’s nicer, less crowded, and easier to navigate. It’s also closer to Disneyland.
Meet the Characters
Character meals are the BEST and easiest way to see characters and get those signatures and photos. There are a few offerings but Storyteller’s Cafe at the Grand Californian is fantastic. The food there is great quality, and the character interactions are amazing. Bonus: the characters have very cute restaurant-specific outfits.
Best Time to Go
I did endless research on Disneyland before I booked my trip. Everything I read told me to go in September, and I am so happy I did. The Halloween decorations were up, crowds were low, and the weather was perfect! Most kids at this time of year are just going back to school, and the weather is warm but not as intense as the summer heat. Just look up on Disneyland’s calendar for when they put the Halloween decorations up, and that’s when you should go!
Charge your phone in the parks! Right now, Disney parks have Fuel Rods you can use. While you can still bring a charger and try to find an outlet, these portable chargers are extremely convenient. The way this work is that you purchase a pack with a fully-charged fuel rod and charging cords for both iPhones and Androids/other devices. They can be purchased in the parks, as well as in the Disneyland resorts. The initial pack is $30, but after that, you have unlimited swaps.
When you are in the parks and you’ve used up all the charge in the fuel rod, then you just find a machine and exchange it for a new fully-charged one. You can switch for new ones as much as you need. Disney tried last year to make each swap $3, but they quickly reversed the decision, and the rods remain swappable with no extra fee.
Whether you use Disney’s fuel rods or get your own, I really do suggest having a battery pack. Make sure to get a high-quality power bank like this one that can CHARGE YOUR PHONE UP TO 5 TIMES or more! ($39.99)
If you are visiting for a special occasion, like a first visit, engagement, birthday, etc, you are eligible for a free pin, so don’t forget to ask a Cast Member for one! Just go into the first store you see and tell them what you are celebrating!
Late Night Shopping
Disneyland stores are open an hour past closing so save your shopping for the end! At the official closing time, all of the lines for the rides are cut off, but shops on Main Street remain open later. It’s nice to meander through the stores on your way out of the park, and maybe pick up a souvenir you were eyeing early but didn’t buy!
Disneyland still uses paper tickets so make sure to take a photo of the back of all of your tickets in case you lose them, or have everyone get a lanyard and put them in there for safekeeping. Disneyland is trying to transition over to paperless tickets like Walt Disney World, so there is now the option to have your tickets and fastpasses on your device, but some people still like having the physical ticket (I do! It’s a nice souvenir.). But it’s up to you!
You can start making dining reservations for your Disneyland trip 60 days in advance. Some restaurants book very quickly and reservations are highly recommended.
Napa Rose is Disneyland’s #1 restaurant and one of the best in Orange County. The restaurant is located in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and is Fine/Signature Dining. That means you need to dress a little nicer than normal, and the service will be amazing. The prices are high, but the food from award-winning Chef Andrew Sutton is well worth it. Make sure to make reservations as soon as possible.
A visit here is a must do. Reservations are also highly suggested. Not only is the food delicious but the meal will be budget savvy, and there are at least three must-try food options on their menu.
Food Must-Try #1
The Monte Cristo sandwich at Cafe Orleans is a must-try. Not only is the sandwich AMAZING, but the portion is good for two. For only $20.00, you can’t go wrong.
Food Must-Try #2
Also at Cafe Orleans, the Pommes Frites are so good. They are only $7 and pair well with the Monte Cristo sandwich. If you like french fries at all, you are going to like this dish. They have garlic, parmesan, and parsley sprinkled on top, served with a side of their delicious Spicy Cajun Remoulade.
Food Must-Try #3
To finish off your visit at Cafe Orleans, you HAVE to try the Mickey-shaped Beignets. Four come with the order and they are well-sized. Definitely get these! They’re an easily shareable dessert and are currently all the rage.
Carnation Cafe is one of the most historical table service restaurants at Disneyland. It has a Victorian-style dining room, and they serve amazing classic comfort food, including some of Walt Disney’s favorites, like the Homemade Meatloaf! Everything on the menu is tasty (Try the fried pickles!) and the prices are great.
Food Must-Try #4 and #5
Before you head to Disney California Adventure, make sure to watch at least the first Cars movie. Cars Land is so awesome, and it’s hard to appreciate it otherwise. For these two foodie must-trys, we are going to head to the Cozy Cone Motel, particularly Cozy Cone #3. Here’s where you’ll find the Chili Con Queso Cone and the Bacon Mac n Cheese Cone. Two of the best food items I’ve ever had at DCA.
Disneyland Bar Crawl
The best thing about Disney is how great it is for the entire family, but this tip is specifically for adults. Similar to Epcot’s Drinking Around the World, you can go on a Disneyland Bar Crawl around the parks. It’s a new way to experience the parks, and a great way to have fun when visiting with a group of adults (or if you manage to sneak away from the kids). Read more here.
Food Must-Try #6
My mom isn’t a huge texter, but on my 2nd day at Disneyland, she texts me to make sure I try this treat that’s all the rage, called Dole Whip. Have you heard of it? It’s pretty well-known for visitors of Disney as one of the best desserts in the parks. Located in Disneyland Park near the Enchanted Tiki Room, this pineapple dairy-free frozen dessert is a staple at Disneyland.
Until recently, you could only get alcohol at Disney California Adventure, and not Disneyland. But with the opening of Galaxy’s Edge comes Oga’s Cantina, and Disneyland now offers alcohol to general visitors for the first time ever!
My first tip of this article was to purchase The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. At the back of the book, you will find touring plans for each park. As much as I know about the Disney parks, I live by these touring plans. I purchase this book every single year. No expert can tell you how to tour the parks the way they do.
FastPass (FP) for Soarin’
Soarin’ is a family-friendly ride located in Disney California Adventure and it is a must-do ride. The lines were very long for the entire time we were there. Thankfully, I was able to pick up a FP late morning, for a return time of around 2:30pm. In order to get on Soarin’ make sure to get a FastPass for this ride before 2pm.
FastPass (FP) for the Haunted Mansion
It just so happened that I had plans to ride the Haunted Mansion the day after it reopened with its Halloween decorations. Because of the changeover, the wait that day went up to 400 minutes! Even on regular days, the Haunted Mansion is a popular attraction, so grab your FastPass for the Haunted Mansion as soon as possible.
First Ride at Disneyland
Riding Peter Pan first thing is a must if you want to get anything done. I walked straight to the ride after the park opened and still waited 15 minutes. Don’t FastPass it or anything else. It’s easiest to just ride it in the morning before you do anything else, as Peter Pan gets insanely busy throughout the day.
Like any other adult, I have my alcoholic beverages of choice. Beer is one of them, but so are Piña Coladas. Both WDW and Disneyland have what’s called a Piña Colava, which is a Piña Colada with raspberry puree. It is soo good, I can’t get enough of it. If you like fruitier drinks like a Piña Colada, you definitely need to try this! It’s available wherever you can get alcohol at Disneyland.
When it comes to WDW, I never suggest the Park Hopper option. But at Disneyland, it’s very different. Switching between the parks takes less than 7 minutes, as they are literally across from each other. While at Disneyland, it’s actually a lot easier to tour the parks and see and ride everything if you have the Park Hopper. With the add-on, you aren’t restricted to spending all day at one park and can jump back and forth depending on your mood. Plus, at Disneyland you only have to go through security once to enter both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Park Hopper is well worth the additional cost.
Grizzly River Run
This is a great ride at DCA and the wait is never very long, but I had to put it on this list. Why? Because you get SOAKED. Luckily, we did this right before our midday break where we head back to the hotel for some rest, but a poncho would do the trick too. Riding Grizzly River Run is something you should plan ahead for, so think about that when you are mapping out each day.
Rides at Disneyland constantly close and reopen. I have no idea why, but it happened all the time while I was there. But what I also noticed was that a lot of the times they closed, the rides reopened soon after, so don’t get discouraged. Just keep checking the app. Also, if a ride breaks down when you have a FastPass, talk to a cast member, because most of the time they will give you a replacement FastPass for the same attraction or other attractions in the same Tier.
FastPass (FP) for Space Mountain
Space Mountain is a ride that always has long lines, no matter what Disney park you are at. Make sure that you get a FastPass for this ride if you want to go on it. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning, but I would definitely try to grab one before 2pm.
FastPass (FP) for Guardians of the Galaxy
I almost missed riding this because I tried to get a FastPass after 10am. Don’t ride this first thing in the morning but definitely grab a FastPass as soon as you can. Most touring plans tell you to get a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers first, and I agree but next stop has to be Guardians of the Galaxy.
FastPass (FP) for Guardians of the Galaxy
I almost missed riding this because I tried to get a FastPass after 10am. Because it’s more of a thrill ride, I don’t recommend riding this first thing in the morning unless you have a steel stomach, but definitely grab a FastPass as soon as you can. Most touring plans tell you to get a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers first. I agree with that, but second on the list has to be Guardians of the Galaxy.
FastPass (FP) for Radiator Springs
Getting a FP for Radiator Springs first thing when you get into DCA is important. Everyone rushes to ride the ride right away. With less effort and stress, you can get a FP at the beginning of the day, and then enjoy three to four rides while you wait for your FastPass time.
Disneyland Park Fireworks
Remember…the current Disneyland fireworks show, Mickey’s Mix Magic, is a show not to be missed, and that’s what almost happened to me. I’m a Disney World veteran, and when I visit the parks in Florida I usually show up 15 minutes before the nighttime castle to get a good view. So when I showed up 45 min before the Disneyland show, I was surprised to find that I could not see it at all. It was unbelievable. Disneyland’s circle has a lot more trees and the castle is smaller. I suggest getting there two hours beforehand to grab a good spot. Use it as a break time OR have one person hold the spot and alternate riding rides.
Fireworks Viewing Spot
This was my second time trying to see the show and I was going to get a good spot FOR SURE. I found the best spot ever to watch the show, though it’s hard to describe. When the Mickey and Walt statue is right in front of you, you want to find the bench that is outside of the statue circle on the left-hand side. There is a snack kiosk to the left of this bench and the entrance to Frontierland is in front of it. Get that bench, the view from there is perfect! See image below with the area circled in red.
This is easier said than done, but trust me on this one. Earlier in this post, I mentioned the importance of waking up early and getting to the park 40 minutes before opening. Along with the benefits of shorter wait times, this will also allow you to take a much-needed afternoon break. Go back to the room, head to the pool, have an inexpensive lunch and relax. Seriously. The parks are open until 10/11/12am. It’s impossible to make it all day. Take a quick rest, then go back to the parks renewed and happy!
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is an often overlooked ride, but it’s ever so important to experience. It first showcased in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair and Walt Disney worked on it himself. Not to be missed! Also, since it’s not as popular as some other rides in the park, this can be a great place to take a break from the crowds and noise.
What a great show. It really was a highlight of my trip, both because the show was so good and because it was a very romantic time for me and my girlfriend. Anyway…you want to make sure you see the second and last show of Fantasmic, for two main reasons, it’s less crowded, and seeing the second show gives you more time to enjoy the park. You also HAVE to get a FastPass for the show. You can do so grabbing one from the machine by Big Thunder Mountain or doing a Fantasmic Dining Package.
Frozen at the Hyperion is a great show, but it’s also an hour long. When I went to see it I only had that first piece of news, so little did I know that I was going to be sitting there for a while. This isn’t a note saying not to go, as it was very enjoyable. But it’s much better to get a heads up about the length of the show before deciding to go.
Rides at Night
Try Big Thunder Mountain and the Jungle Cruise at night. With the lights, they turn on at night and the surrounding dark skies, it’s a totally different experience. For the Jungle Cruise, the darkness makes the animals seem more realistic, which is an added plus.
PhotoPass Photographers will take your picture with YOUR camera, so don’t be afraid to ask. Considering how they’re everywhere and always offering the Photopass, it’s definitely tempting to just let Disney’s photographers take your picture. But if you would rather just have photos on your phone, they will do that for you.
You don’t need to hold onto the paper FastPass, it just serves as a reminder. You’ll scan your tickets to go through the FastPass line.
There are a few essentials you definitely want to bring to the parks with you. Two of those are water and snacks. Touring the parks makes for thirsty and hungry business. You can bring in your own food and drinks and can save yourself a good amount of money by following this tip.
My Suggestion: This WATER RESISTANT BACKPACK that folds into a compact square and fits a ton of stuff. ($15.99, available in multiple colors)
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Raise.com allows you to purchase discounted gift cards from multiple retailers. I’ve used them myself without issue. There are gift cards offered for gas, restaurants, Disney, etc. This can be super helpful for trips to Disney, as a few discounted gift cards can save you a bit of money. You can get giftcards for 5-12% off here.
There is a Walmart less than two miles from Disneyland with an entire grocery section. I’m not kidding. It’s so close that an Uber is $5. Your first ride is free with referral link or code virginias515ue. Head to Walmart when you first arrive at Disneyland and save a ton of money by purchasing the following: drinks/water (or use a refillable water bottle), snacks, maybe breakfast, maybe alcohol, cheap Disney souvenirs. Walmart carries great Disney shirts, toys, and other items worth taking a look at.
Get Away Today has the best Disneyland ticket deals. They sell at the cheapest, are the most efficient, and the safest. I don’t recommend any other company. I used them and picked up my tickets when I checked into the Grand Californian.
You can save even more money on your Disneyland trip by booking a ticket + hotel package with them. Use promo code PLANNING10 for an even better deal.
And the best tip I can give you is to immerse yourself and lose yourself in this vacation. Learn as much as you can before you go, even make a list of things you can walk around with but remember there will be hiccups but it will still be magical.
Want more? Read my post on going to Disneyland on a Budget