We knew we had to make Disneyland a part of our West Coast Road Trip. We are huge Disney fans and firm believers that every family needs to experience the magic of Disney parks at least once. Out of all of the Disney franchise locations around the world, there is just something special about visiting the birthplace of Walt’s dream. But with eight themed lands on 85 acres, “The Happiest Place on Earth” can also be the most overwhelming. Especially if it’s your first trip.
Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can make a huge difference in how well your trip goes. We spent a lot of time researching and picked up a ton of tips and insider tricks we want to pass along to help you plan your best vacation yet. From ways to save money and avoid crowds to what to eat and attractions you can’t miss we’re sharing our secrets with YOU!
Read on to learn our best Disneyland Tips and Tricks!
Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link.
Let’s jump right in!
1. BUY TICKETS IN ADVANCE ONLINE
First and foremost, you’ll want to take care of your tickets. Lines to buy tickets at both Disneyland and California Adventure parks are long, especially at opening time. Save yourself precious time by buying your tickets ahead on-line. Not only can buying your tickets ahead of time save you from waiting in line but it can also be substantially cheaper.
2. BUNDLE AND SAVE
Disney doesn’t discount their tickets often but one great way to save on admission if you are planning to hit some of the other awesome attractions in Southern California is with the Southern California CityPASS. With this pass you can choose to purchase individual tickets to Disneyland Resort (2-5 day park hopper tickets), Universal Studios Hollywood (1-2 day tickets), SeaWorld San Diego (1 day ticket), LEGOLAND California Resort (1-2 day tickets), and San Diego Zoo OR Safari Park (1 day ticket. The pass is customizable and is valid for 14 consecutive days, including the first day of use. This gives you plenty of time to visit the other included California theme parks and lots of flexibility to choose what you want to experience. The best part of course is saving over the prices you would have paid at the gate by bundling more than one park offered, together. Depending on the attractions you choose, you can either print your tickets, pick them up at Will Call upon entering the park, or use the QR code you are sent via email.
3. PLAN FOR 3 DAYS OR MORE
The minimum you need to take in all that Disneyland and California Adventure has to offer is two days. To really savor the parks and see it all, you should give yourself three days or more. We spent three days on our trip with kids who no longer need to nap and we could have easily stretched it out to four. Disneyland especially needs two days entirely as there are simply so many rides, attractions and shows you won’t want to miss. Give yourself some time to explore Downtown Disney and enjoy your hotel pool too.
Keep in mind that when assessed on a cost-per-day basis, one-day tickets are much more expensive than multiple days. Your park admission may not go up very much when you add another a day or two to your ticket. In fact, if you are relatively local to Disneyland and plan to go more than once you should really consider getting an annual pass.
Getting a three-day ticket also is highly advantageous because guests can get one Magic Morning early entry on 3+ day tickets. Magic Morning allows guests to enter Disneyland park only (not California Adventure) on either Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays one hour early. It’s the best time to ride some of the classic Fantasyland and Tomorrowland attractions with minimal waits. One caveat – you must book your park tickets in advance to get the Magic Morning benefit.
4. KNOW WHEN TO GO
Once you know how many days you would like to spend visiting the Disneyland Resort, you’ll have to decide when to head to Anaheim. Timing your visit to avoid the crowds can be the secret sauce to an amazing Disneyland vacation.
While you can still have a good time when Disneyland is crowded, it’s so much nicer to visit during off-peak times when possible. We planned our whole west coast road trip around the crowd calendars put out by Touring Plans, Is It Packed and Undercover Tourist to predict what days are better for visiting so you spend more time on rides and less time in lines. In general, you should avoid major holidays and anytime school is out of session.
5. PLAN TO PARK HOP
Unlike Walt Disney World in Florida the Anaheim Parks are a short walk from one another. This walkability between Disneyland and California Adventure is one of the best attributes of the resort. Make sure to take full advantage of the proximity by getting the “Park Hopper” tickets that allow you jump around from one park to the other.
6. DOWNLOAD THE DISNEYLAND APP
Prior to visiting Disneyland, download the official Disneyland Resort mobile app. This free app has a ton of great information on park hours, parade and show times, character meet & greets, ride height requirements, dining options, bathroom locations and best of all, attraction wait times listed in real-time. This can help you save a ton of time both in navigating the parks and waiting in line. You can use the app to book fast passes, make dining reservations, and view and download Photo Pass images –more on that in a bit. You can also add your tickets to the Disneyland app for ease of use at FastPass locations and at the entrance gate!
7. USE FAST PASS
Use Disneyland’s free FastPass service to avoid waiting in long lines. The Disneyland FastPass system is essentially a way to reserve a return time for an attraction when you can ride with little to no wait. Fastpasses are distributed at machines which in most cases are located near rides that have them available.
Simply insert each of your party’s tickets into a fast pass machine and you will get a printed stub letting you know when your one-hour return window is to come back and ride without having to wait in the regular standby line. Note that once you insert your ticket, you fast passes are then tied to your tickets electronically. Essentially all the printed ticket functions as is a reminder stub. When you return to ride your hard tickets will be scanned or you can use your phone if you have downloaded the Disneyland App.
FastPasses do not cost extra and are available to everyone with any type of Disneyland ticket. Park tickets must be activated at the front turnstiles (or Downtown Disney monorail station) before being used to obtain FastPasses.
8. SPRING FOR MAX PASS
Take the FastPass system further by leveling up to Disney’s new “MaxPass” system. MaxPass lets you secure FastPasses anywhere in the park without having to physically visit a FastPass distribution machine. With MaxPass your FastPass reservations can be made the minute you walk through the park entrance from the convenience of your mobile device through the Disneyland app. You do not have to physically go to a FastPass distribution machine. This saves so much time and walking!
Many MaxPass return windows are just a short time away … as in zero to a few minutes away. You can simply reserve and ride! As soon as you scan your ticket at a ride, you can immediately reserve the next ride while you wait for your current ride — traditional FASTPASS users have to wait, ride the ride and then walk to a distribution machine. The return windows offered through MaxPass are often sooner than the traditional FASTPASS windows that are being distributed at the same time. And the BEST part is that the length of maximum waiting period is shorter with MaxPass –1.5 hours versus 2 hours with the traditional FastPass.
It gets even better! MaxPass also comes with unlimited Disney PhotoPass photo downloads taken any day MaxPass is active. You can download and share all of your photos from attractions, Character dining and meet and greets and any shots taken by Disney PhotoPass Photographers including “Magic Shots” where they add special overlays.
To use MaxPass you must download the Disneyland Mobile App and link park tickets. You can make reservations for anyone whose ticket is linked to your account in the app. Once you have entered a park, you can be anywhere inside or outside the parks when you make reservations. Guests with Park Hopper Tickets can even make selections for attractions and entertainment in both theme parks. This means if you are at Disneyland and plan to head over in the evening to California Adventure you can obtain a FastPass for a California Adventure attraction before you even enter that park.
Disney MaxPass is available for only $15 per day, per ticket. Not that neither FastPass or MaxPass are available for attractions in the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area but it is still well worth the upcharge. You can purchase Disney MaxPass as an add-on through the Disneyland Mobile App. You may link tickets ahead of time if you have a barcode or ticket number, but MaxPass won’t be active until the day you visit. Also, be aware that a multi-day MaxPass ticket will charge you for the cost of MaxPass for every day of the ticket. A 3-day MaxPass ticket will add $45 per person. If you aren’t sure you want all three days of MaxPass, wait to purchase MaxPass each individual day when you get to the park.
9. PAY ATTENTION TO RETURN TIMES
Look for fast passes that have return times soonest and grab those first. You can see what the returns times are in the handy Disneyland app. You can’t collect a bunch of Fast Passes at once –with a couple exceptions we’ll talk about in bit. Generally, once you have a fast pass you can’t get another one until the return time on your pass. However, if your return time is more than two hours away, you can get another fast pass in two hours –even if you haven’t used the first FastPass you pulled. For example, if at noon you get a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers that isn’t valid for return until 3:00 PM you can actually pull your next FastPass at 2:00 PM. Essentially, it goes by whichever time comes first –the return time or when two hours have passed. If you are using Max Pass this info will appear in the Disneyland app.
10. USE PHOTO PASS
If your family is like mine and LOVES to have photographic memories of your vacation, then I highly recommend utilizing the PhotosPass program. This handy system allows you to get unlimited photos taken by resident photographers throughout the parks as well as have access to ALL of your ride photos. Max Pass includes unlimited downloads of Photo Pass images for just $10 per person. One hundred percent worth it! You can get a whole photo shoot done if you are feeling photogenic and find a fun PhotoPass photographer. They can be found in scenic spots all over the parks.
11. GET FAST PASSES EARLY FOR FANTASMIC & WORLD OF COLOR
Pick up fast passes early for Fantasmic at Disneyland. Same goes for World of Color at California Adventure. Fast passes for Fantasmic and World of Color operate independently of the park’s other fast passes. Meaning that you can get a FastPass for either of these shows even if you have a FastPass assignment pending for another attraction. FastPasses for these shows give you access to special reserved seating areas.
12. ARRIVE AN HOUR AHEAD
You’re on vacation, so you want to sleep in. So does everyone else. To make the most of your Disney days you want to stay ahead of the crowds. Shoot for arrival at least an hour before park opening. This is when the parking areas open. You will pretty much need that entire hour between parking, queuing for the tram, taking the tram, walking from the tram drop off to the park entrance and queuing again to enter the park. It will be worth it! I promise! If you’re willing to get up early, you may be able to ride more rides in the first few hours than you can in the rest of the day combined.
13. MAKE USE OF MAGIC MORNING OR EXTRA MAGIC HOUR
Anyone who buys 3-day or longer park hopper tickets gets to enter Disneyland park one hour before the posted opening time on either Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. You must select one of the available days for your early entry. Similarly, Extra Magic Hours are a perk exclusive to guests staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels and includes an hour of early entry each day of your stay. It’s good for Disneyland early entrance on the same days that Magic Morning is offered and for early entrance into select areas of Disney California Adventure Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the only way to get into Cars Land before it opens to the public.
14. AVOID MAGIC MORNINGS AND EXTRA MAGIC HOURS
On the flip side if you are not utilizing Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour entry then be sure to head to the opposite park than the one offering early entry. Unless you can get that jump start to your day your best bet is to select the park that is likely to be much less crowded. So, head straight to Disneyland on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and start at California Adventure on Tuesday and Thursday.
15. EARLY ENTRY ANYWAY
We’ve already mentioned that staying at a Disney hotel gives you early admission on select days as well as purchasing a three-day park hopper ticket including one Magic Morning. Even if you don’t have either of these early entry options you can still get INSIDE the parks before the official opening time. Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will start letting you enter the park up to an hour prior to the official opening time. During this time, you can walk Main Street USA (in Disneyland) or Buena Vista Street (in California Adventure), shop, get some great photos without crowds behind you and head in the general area you plan to go upon rope drop.
16. REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARKED
Parking is shared between Disneyland, California Adventure and Downtown Disney in one of the largest parking facilities in the world. Take a photo of the name of your parking section, number of your section, level and row – it is easy to forget where you area and the sections all look pretty much the same. Another option is to mark where you are parked right on the receipt where you’ll find a handy table printed right on it. Just be sure to put it someplace safe.
17. TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR TICKET
You should also take a photo of the BACK of your hard tickets as soon as you get them. Be sure to include the full bar code and numbers under it. This can come in handy if your tickets are lost or happen to get damaged (think water rides). Even if you link your ticket to the Disneyland App –which I highly recommend you do – this can make getting a replacement ticket easier should the app go down. Guest Services at City Hall should be able to help you get a new copy if you have a picture of the barcode. Note that you will also need to show your ID.
18. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RIDER SWITCH
Another way to get a leg up on waiting in lines is by utilizing the “rider switch” program. If a Guest doesn’t meet the boarding requirements or doesn’t wish to experience a particular attraction, it’s not a problem for family and friends who do! One parent (or supervising guest aged 14 or older) stays off the ride and waits in a designated area –usually outside the attraction –with the non-riders. This guest will have their admission media/tickets scanned to indicate that they are doing a rider switch.
Meanwhile the rest of the party enjoys the attraction. When they are finished the guests simply swap roles and the person who initially stayed back should then return to the appropriate attraction entrance (usually the FastPass queue or attraction exit) to have their admission media/tickets re-scanned by a Cast Member at which point they are given a chance to ride without having to wait in the regular que again.
But wait! There’s more! The best part about the child swap is that is that the second parent can take the kids who did meet the ride requirements with them. So, several people in the family get to ride twice!
19. RIDE SOLO
Another tip to minimize your wait times is to use the Single Rider lines. Guests 7 years or older, can use this option. Since most people ride in groups of two or more, if there is an extra spot available the attendants will ask for a single rider to fill up the seats from an uneven party. The single rider lines are always shorter and move faster than the regular que. This is a great option especially when you want to repeat an attraction and it’s not important to you to “ride together”. It works especially well with Radiator Springs Racers and goes really quickly in the morning.
20. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF REGULAR LINES TOO
I just got done telling you all these ways to avoid lines and now I’m going to do a complete 180 and tell you not to. Disney does a phenomenal job of theming their ride que areas. If the park isn’t crowded and the wait times are not especially long I’d actually recommend going through the normal que if you want the full experience. This is especially true of the rides like Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Beakout, Star Tours, Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones Adventure.
would be completely missed if you go through the Fast Pass line. It all comes down to how much time you have in the parks. I’d say if you have several days make sure to do the regular ques at least once.
21. READ UP ON RIDES BEFORE YOU GO
Certain rides and attractions at the theme parks have restrictions based on height. Familiarize yourself with the requirements and prepare younger or shorter children to not be able to ride certain rides. Some rides require children to be accompanied by an adult while others simply won’t allow kids under a certain height. All rides have health and safety warning signs posted at their entrance. Make sure you read them and know ahead of time where rides are right for you and your family.
22. KNOW WHAT IS DOWN FOR REFURBISHMENT
This tip again is all about mitigating disappointment. Find out which rides will be closed for refurbishment while you’re there by checking the Disneyland calendar and clicking on each day you’ll be visiting.
23. PLAY DISNEY PARKS
You can turn wait time into play time with the “Play Disney Parks” mobile phone app. The app offers a range of activities including themed games, Disney trivia, digital achievements music and more. The locations for the achievements and the games are indicated on stylish maps of each of the parks that are included in the Play Disney Parks app. For example, you can design your own rocket ship while waiting in line for Space Mountain or make Tinkerbelle magically appear in a lantern in the que for Peter Pan’s Flight. Play Disney Parks is available for free to download from the App Store and Google Play for both Apple iOS and Android platforms.
24. OLD SCHOOL LINES BUSTERS
If you don’t want to use a lot of phone battery plan on playing some other games to pass the time spent in line. A deck of cards comes in handy when waiting in one place for a show or when a ride goes down and the line stops moving. Other ideas include I Spy, Would You Rather, 20 Questions and Two Truths and a Lie.
25. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR CAMERA READY
Another must pack item to have on-hand is your camera! One thing that really stood out to us about Disneyland was the random and unexpected Character interactions. Princess Tiana happened to be onboard the Mark Twain with us. We watched as Alice and the Matter Hatter jumped in a tea-cup to take a spin with another family. The Evil Queen from Snow White stepped in front of my camera as I was taking a picture of the Matterhorn. Peter Pan pulled a silly face for me too! It’s so fun not knowing when and where these beloved characters will turn up. For tips on how to make the most of your camera gear and get great shots check out my guide to taking batter family vacation photos.
26. GET AUTOGRAPHS
You will have a ton of opportunities to meet your favorite Disney characters. You will be able to take photos with them and interact and they are also happy to give you’re their unique autograph. Pack an autograph book and Sharpie in your bag to avoid paying a lot for them once you’re already in the park. Another option is to bring a Disney t-shirt or pillowcase with you and have that signed instead. Collecting signatures in a book can be fun but you may find that a shirt or pillowcase gets more use after the fact.
27. NIX SELFIE STICKS
We are all about the photo ops but one thing to know about capturing that perfect image in Disney to not attempt to use selfie sticks in Disneyland. They are totally banned from inside the parks. If you do manage to sneak one into the parks and bring it on any ride, that attraction will be shut down.
28. FORGO THE FLASH
The other photography faux pas is using the flash on your camera!!! There is nothing worse than having a flash go off on Disneyland attractions and at shows. It ruins the magic and doesn’t even some out well. A much better bet is to bring a lens with you that lets in a lot of light. I talk about this and everything else you need to get great shots here.
29. BUY GEAR BEFORE YOU GO
I’m a sucker for theme park souvenirs (especially ears!) but they can add up fast. You can save a ton of money by buying some things ahead of your vacation on Amazon. You won’t be as tempted to blow your budget on all the amazing merchandise if you have planned out in advance what to buy beforehand and what to get there.
If you plan on staying for the evening shows and fireworks, it’s tempting to want to buy the glow-in-the dark souvenirs for your kids. Skip the expensive Disneyland glow sticks and get similar items for much cheaper from your local dollar store or on Amazon! You can find a tons of Disney themed items at Dollar Tree. When our kids were younger we would use these small items as gifts left by Tinkerbelle in our hotel overnight as a reward for good behavior in the parks that day.
30. GET COORDINATED
Another great reason to buy some gear before you go is because it makes it easy to coordinate your park outfits. And coordinating your park outfits not only looks awesome in vacation photos but helps you spot your family in a crowd easily. When we wear our Incredibles shirts I just have to look for the color “red” and get a quick headcount. If one of your children gets lost all you have to do to explain to anyone helping you in your search that they are looking for another shirt or hoodie or hat like the one you and your other family members are wearing.
31. PUT CONTACT INFO ON YOUR KIDS
Another tip if you worried about wandering is to write your contact info (your name, not your child’s) and phone number on an Avery No-Iron Clothing label using a fine-point sharpie and stick one to the inside hem of your child’s t-shirt. These labels are long-wearing, washer and dryer safe, and stick tight without being ironed.
32. SET A SPECIFIC MEETING POINT
Establish a specific meeting point for your group in case you split up. Do this every time you enter a new land or area of the park. Choose a location that is easy for kids to remember. You should also tell kids that in the event they do get lost to look for someone with a Disneyland name tag. The Disneyland Cast Member who finds your child will make sure that they are always accompanied until they are reunited with you.
33. BE STROLLER SAVVY
Strollers are available on-site to rent or you can bring in your own. Consider having one on hand for anyone under seven. It’s not uncommon to walk 5-10 miles or more in a Disney day and having a stroller can be a life saver for your little ones –and you! Take a smaller model that handles well if possible. Plus, it’s a great place to store park essentials like water bottles, snacks, sunblock and ponchos. There is stroller parking outside nearly every ride where you can stash the stroller for hours if you’d like (theft from strollers is extremely rare at Disney, but don’t leave your wallet in it!). It may not be in the exact same place when you come back. Don’t freak out! This is completely normal. Disney cast members sometimes move strollers around to keep the area tidy and minimize how much space the strollers take up. Lastly if you’re renting a stroller, bring something to mark your wheels so that you can find which stroller is yours when it’s grouped with other rental strollers.
34. SET SOUVENIR EXPECTATIONS
This tip goes out to the kids …and the adults that feel like kids when so much magical merchandise surrounds you…It’s unavoidable you and your kids are going to want to take home a treasure to remind you of your incredible Disneyland vacation. Just know that almost every attraction ends in a gift shop.
If you tell your kids at the beginning of the trip that they have a certain amount to spend on souvenirs they are less likely to beg for everything in sight. One fun way to handle this is to purchase a Disney Gift Card ahead of your trip. This sets a built-in limit. We also like to do all our souvenir purchases on the last day of our trip.
This gives our kids time to think about what they want most, encourages delayed gratification, and increase the odds that our kids will feel gratitude and appreciation for what they get. We lay out this plan and chat about expectations well before we get to the park for the first time. That way whenever a wistful remark comes up, we can refer back that initial conversation and make a plan.
35. SILLOUETTE SOUVENIRS
If you are looking for a cheap, memorable and truly unique souvenir, we highly recommend having silhouettes made on Main Street. Incredibly talented silhouette artistss will produce a one-of-kind likeness for only $9.99 per silhouette! I had mine done on my third birthday when my parents took me to Disneyland and I still have it today. We had our kids’ silhouettes done at Disney World when they were little and they have hung them in our hallway for years. We just had a new set done on this trip and I will treasure them for many years to come.
36. TRADE PINS
Pin Trading is another super fun way to take a little Disneyana home with you. These small enamel pins come in hundreds of different styles and can be purchased all over Disney properties. But buying them is only half the fun! The real joy is in trading them with another collector for a worthy swap. Most cast members sport some kind of satchel or may even have a board or booklet of pins and we found them to be agreeable to any trade. Just remember than only Disney pins can be traded and every trade is a pin for pin exchange.
37. SHOP DOWNTOWN DISNEY
If you missed out on shopping inside the parks or just don’t want to carry bags full of merch around all day you can still hit World of Disney on your way back to your vehicle. Located in Downtown Disney just before the tram loading area, it’s teeming with Disney character merchandise and souvenirs —most of which is the same stuff you’ll find inside the parks…and some of it actually better!
38. THE BEST VIEW IN CARS LAND
For the best view in Cars Land, enter from the Paradise Pier side of the land. This is will provide a breathtaking view of the Radiator Springs Racers attraction set against the backdrop of the Cadillac Range –inspired by the Cadillac Ranch in Texas where a row of Cadillacs are buried hood first in the ground. Each peak is named after the model year that inspired it; Mount 57, Mount 58, Mount 59, Mount 60, Mount 61 and Mount 62. Splitting the range is Mt. Ever-Rust, Carburetor Canyon and the Lincoln Continental Divide.
39. PACK SNACKS
Unlike a lot of theme parks Disney does allow outside food and drinks to be brought into the parks provided it’s not in glass containers or alcoholic. You can even bring in small coolers. So take advantage of this money saving option to pack a supply of healthy easy to eat snacks like trail mix, fruits, granola bars and jerky. Of course there are a ton of terrific snack choices at the parks if you just don’t want to carry anything. We like to split a Mickey Pretzel!
40. PLAN TO EAT AT THE PARKS
While the best way to save money in the park is to bring your own food, Disneyland’s delicious eats are all part of the experience. There are a ton of great places to eat inside the parks and Downtown Disney. I highly recommend eating at one of the themed restaurants like Lamplight Lounge (try the lobster nachos!) or… It’s truly part of the Disney experience!
41. MAKE ADVANCE DINING RESERVATIONS
One thing that’s become increasingly difficult at Disney is spontaneity. Especially when it comes to their more upscale eateries. To snag a table at one of the popular sit-down restaurants like Blue Bayou or Carthay Circle you will need to plan ahead. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance and cancel those reservations up until 24 hours before your seating. After the 24 hour mark any changes will be billed a $10 per person cancelation fee. Visit or use the mobile Disneyland Resort Mobile app to make dining reservations. Be sure to make any special requests at the time of your booking and to let them know if you are celebrating anything.
42. SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH
Calories don’t count on vacation so go ahead and indulge in some of the delicious treats that Disneyland and California Adventure have to offer. Whether is a Matterhorn shaped macaroon from Jolly Holiday Bakery Café, a scoop of Gibson Girl Ice Cream or a gourmet churro there is no shortage of delectable desserts to choose from.
43. THE MONTE CRISTO SANDWICH SECRET
One of the most popular and most expensive restaurants in Disneyland is the Blue Bayou, located inside Pirates of the Caribbean. If you want the same great taste for less, you can make a reservation for Cafe Orleans, located right across from the Blue Bayou. The atmosphere is authentic New Orleans and they serve the same Blue Bayou’s famous Monte Cristo sandwiches.
44. MICKEY BEIGNETS
The famous French-style donuts dusted with a mountain powdered sugar and in the shape of Mickey Mouse are the signature dessert at Café Orleans. Here are served with vanilla crème anglaise and raspberry Coulis as dipping sauces. If you are looking for a quick snack and willing to forgo the sauces, you can also find Mickey-Shaped Beignets at the counter service Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square. Here, the treats are served in a paper bag, tossed with a ton of Powdered Sugar and are available in a six count if someone expects you to share.
45. CONSIDER CHARACTER DINING
If your kids are excited to meet the characters and get autographs and photos, Character dining can be a great way to meet characters without using a lot of your touring time. There are quite a few character dining options between the two parks and the Disney hotels. Typically, 4-5 characters that make their way around the room, stopping at each and every table to interact. Kids under three even eat for free at character dining buffets. The only exceptions to this is Ariel’s Grotto’s Princess Celebration breakfast or lunch, because it is a table service restaurant where you order off of a menu. Children under two are able to share meals with anyone else in the party for free, however if you order from the menu for them there will be a charge. Reservations are a must!
46. COUNTER SERVICE SAVINGS
Counter service meals can be the best way to stretch your food budget at Disneyland. Most of the main restaurants in Downtown Disney, like La Brea Bakery, Tortilla Jo’s, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen and Napoli’s Ristorante have a quick-service version next door to the main restaurant. The express restaurants serve a limited menu of the exact same food for a fraction of the cost. The Earl of Sandwich even emails coupons if you sign up for their subscriber list. Pizza Planet is a great money-saving option in Disneyland as you can order a whole pizza instead of paying by the slice. The Cones in Cars Land offer cheap and yummy options in California Adventure and you have to try at least one of Corn Dogs. You can find these deep fried delights at Corn Dog Castle in Pixar Pier or The Red Wagon Corn Dog cart and Stage Door Café in Disneyland.
47. ORDER FOOD FROM YOUR PHONE
Another great thing about counter service meals is that you can order your food from your phone. No need to wait in line! Simply use the Disneyland app to select menu items, customize your order, and pre-pay for your food. Easy peasy!
48. LET MICKEY MELT
Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches are a classic indulgence but in order to keep these fun treats frozen at the carts where they are sold Disney has to first freeze them in sub-zero temperatures. They can be rock-solid when you first open them so let them thaw for a bit before digging in.
49. TRY THE GRAY STUFF
It’s delicious! Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes! Seriously though, the dessert called Grey Stuff Gateau, consists of white chocolate mousse with cookie crumbles blended into it, red velvet cake, edible chocolate pearls, raspberry jam and an actual raspberry center all sitting atop a shortbread cookie. This slice of heaven that perfectly replicates the exact look of the gray stuff in the animated film Beauty and the Beast can be found at Disneyland’s new Red Rose Taverne.
50. DON’T WAIT FOR DOLE WHIP
No trip to Disneyland is complete without savoring the classic frozen pineapple treat known as the “Dole Whip”. The line at the Tiki Juice Bar is often long but you can hop inside the outdoor waiting area for the Enchanted Tiki Room or better yet, check out the brand-new Tropical Hideaway café where they also serve up several versions of the beloved treat.
51. FILL UP ON FREE WATER
It’s important to stay hydrated! Take advantage of the many water-fountains throughout the Disneyland Resort for refreshment. Bring a reusable water bottle or buy a bottle of water early in the day and refill it as needed. In addition, most quick dining locations will happily serve you a free cup of ice water if you ask.
52. DO THE DINNER PACKAGE
If you are interested in seeing the evening shows and want the best viewing possible without having to stake out seats well in advance or worry about nabbing FastPasses then a Dinner or Dessert package may be your best bet. These packages include a meal or special dessert buffet along with reserved seating.
53. A TIP FOR TIPPING
A gratuity is automatically added to the bill at some Disney restaurants. Be sure to check your bill and tip accordingly.
54. HIT FANTASYLAND FIRST
Lines for Dumbo the Flying Elephant get pretty long later in the day and never really subside, so if you hit it first, you’ll get right on. Your other priority should be Peter Pan’s Flight. A favorite in the park the wait times get long almost immediately. You’ll have the best shot at riding first thing in the morning. Another good time to get in line for Fantasyland attractions is right after the fireworks. Disney closes Fantasyland for the show, so line up at the back of the land before the fireworks stop.
55. FANTASYLAND FRIGHTS
One more important thing to know about Fantasyland is that even though it’s geared toward little kids many of the rides can actually be quite scary for wee ones. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey and Mr. Toad’s Wild ride are among the ones that you should ride you should check out ahead of time and ride with caution if your kids scare easily. And it’s not called Snow White’s Scary Adventures for nothing.
56. RIDE BOTH SIDES OF THE MATTERHORN
The Matterhorn Bobsleds has two separate tracks that offer a different experience. When facing the Matterhorn, the track on the left (Tomorrowland side) is a bit more adventurous in that there is a pretty good dip as it goes below the other track. The right-side track (Fantasyland side) is a few seconds longer, and it is slightly smoother, and doesn’t have that dip that the left side has. To get the full Matterhorn experience make sure to try both bobsleds!
57. SCORE BIG ON BUZZ LIGHTYEAR
To maximize your scoring potential on the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, aim for targets that are lit up, moving or far away as they tend to yield the most points. Different shapes are worth different point values too with triangles awarding the most points at 10,000. In the second room there is an invisible trigger on Emperor Zurg’s chest worth a whopping 50,000 points. Aim for the “Z”. If you just can’t seem to hit anything at all don’t sweat either! For every five times you shoot and miss you get 100 points just for trying so just keep pulling the trigger.
58. RE-RIDE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
If thrills are your thing you will want to ride Guardians of the Galaxy more than once. Not only is it an incredible ride (our unanymouse family favorite) it’s different each time! The drop sequence is random and the music.
59. PICK YOUR PIXAR PAL AROUND WHEEL EXPERIENCE
Speaking of thrills…the Pixar Pal Around Wheel can be tame or terrifying. Okay I may be exaggerating a little but seriously if you just want a tranquil trip choose one of the “Non-Swinging” stationary gondolas on the outer edge of the wheel. And if you or your (evil) kids want to kick it up about a gillion notches go for the Swinging gondolas.
60. GO LEFT
Several ques at Disneyland Resort will split at some point. Most people will instinctually stay to the right leaving the left side of the line shorter. It may sound almost too easy to be true, but it really can make a difference. The only exception to this advice is Pirates of the Caribbean where the actual pathway is longer on the left side. The go left strategy even seems to work at Counter Service dining locations.
61. STEER THE MARK TWAIN
The Rivers of America are home to a few attractions, but the Mark Twain Riverboat one is our favorite. You can steer the Mark Twain Riverboat. Just ask a cast member where you board. After you steer the boat, you will get to sign the captain’s log and even get a pilot license.
62. REQUEST A ROW
Want to ride in the front row on Space Mountain? Or do you dig the back Big Thunder? All you have to do is ask! Cast members will kindly accommodate your row preferences if you don’t mind waiting for a few more minutes.
63. RIDE RADIATOR SPRINGS RACERS EARLY
Radiator Springs Racers has been the hottest ticket in town since it opened. Grab a FastPass first-thing upon entering the park or hop in the standby line immediately. The single rider line here is always a great option to cut the wait time down. If the Single Rider line stretches back past the bridge that crosses over the queue, hop out of line and come back to this attraction later.
64. SNAP YOUR RIDE PHOTO I.D.
Many of the attractions take on-ride photos. These photos are displayed on a screen as you are leaving the attraction. You are welcome to take photo of these photos to without having to purchase them. If you signed up for the MaxPass (again, you should), you’ll want to enter in your unique photo ID number. If you don’t want to take the time to do this right away snapping a quick pic of the ride photo screen is a great way to save the number to enter later when you are ready to download it.
65. RETURN TO CARS LAND AT NIGHT
Even though we encourage you to ride the Radiator Springs Racers as early as possible (with a fast pass) you’ve still got to make your way back to this amazingly themed area at night. The neon signs lights come on every night at dusk with a special “sh-boom moment.”
66. BREAK UP THE RIDES AND LINES
When the kids are tired of standing in lines or just need a break from rides head to one of the park’s play areas. The Redwood Challenge Trail in California Adventures is a huge playground that offers lots of things to climb, rope bridges to cross and pathways to discover. Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland is also a very fun place to explore. Toddlers will also love the Toontown play area that’s perfect for their age.
67. SEE THE SHOWS!
It’s easy to spend so much time racing from one ride to another that you miss the shows, which are extremely well done and will give everyone much needed time to sit and relax. California Adventure especially has a good selection of shows. Frozen is especially spectacular! It’s a Broadway quality show and clocking in at hour-long will give you plenty of time rest. Find the schedule for shows on the Disneyland app, or on a flier as you go through the turnstiles entering the park.
68. DON’T PASS UP THE PARADE
Yeah, I know lots of Disney insiders will tell you to use parades as prime time for hitting the rides but do yourself a favor and make sure to see at least one. No one does parades like Disney!
69. STAKE OUT SEATS EARLY FOR ENTERTAINMENT
Get seats early for entertainment, especially during the busy season. Not only do other visitors start to stake out a spot an hour or two in advance for the most popular shows, Disneyland has a lot of local pass holders that will often come to the park to “catch the fireworks” or “watch the parade” and are willing to sit and wait for a few hours. Have a few people from your party sit at time while sending runners for food and to use the bathroom.
70. WATCH FROM THE BEGINNING
Watch the parade at the very beginning of the route where it starts next to “it’s a Small World.” Watching from the beginning point means that you will be done viewing the parade while thousands of other people are still waiting to watch, and you can quickly jump in line for a ride.
71. USE THE RAILROAD TO REST
If you’ve got sore legs from a long day of walking through the park, take a rest on the Disneyland Railroad. The Disneyland Railroad’s narrow-gauge steam trains make a 20-minute loop around the park, stopping at Main Street U.S.A., New Orleans Square and Tommowland, which is the perfect amount of time to get off your feet and learn some Disney park history while you relax.
72. MAKE USE OF THE MONORAIL
Another way to get off your legs and save some walking is to use the Monorail. If you are staying in the Disneyland Hotel or if you parked in Mickey and Friends but prefer to avoid the tram, you can cut your walk back in half. Hop on the Monorail in Tomorrowland and ride it to the end of Downtown Disney. Just note that the Monorail is closed during fireworks.
You may even be able to ride in the front of the Monorail, depending on the weather and crowd levels. Simply ask a cast member at the loading dock and if they have this option available. If someone else has beat you to the punch in asking for the front, you may have to wait for the next time but it is a really unique experience.
73. CATCH THE LATE SHOW
Certain Disney shows, like Fantasmic, offer two different performance times. If you (and more importantly your kids) are able to stay at the park late, attending the second showing is a great way to beat crowds as the later nighttime shows are much emptier. Take the time to enjoy short lines on popular rides during the first showtime.
The first showing is always more crowded, so that’s a good time to hop on rides. And by the time the second showing comes up, more kids have tuckered out for the night, meaning it’s easier for you to get a good spot.
74. FANNY PACKS ARE YOUR FRIEND
Not only are fanny packs making a fashion comeback they are a super convenient way to pack park essentials and save your back from aching as day goes on. Embrace the 90’s throwback for your sunscreen, sunglasses, mobile charger, pain reliever, band-aids, and most importantly snacks. Give kids their own fanny packs for snacks too! A simple granola bar or bag of apple slices can make a long wait in line with hungry kids much more manageable. And the great thing about all Disney attractions is that you can keep your fanny packs on for all the rides.
75. PACK PONCHOS
You will also want to make sure to pack a poncho! These can keep you dry on water rides and in the occasional California downpour. We like to use the kind that come in their own bag like or you can pick some up at the Dollar Store if you don’t want to reuse them. Splash Mountain hands out handy zip-lock bags meant to keep your valuables dry but they also make a great baggie for ponchos post-ride.
76. KEEP VALUABLES DRY/FREE LOCKERS
A poncho won’t save you from getting drenched on Grizzly River Run. There is no avoiding getting wet on this raft ride as the water comes up and at you from all directions. If you do ride be sure to leave any cameras or valuables with a non-riding member of your party or use one of the nearby (free) short term lockers.
77. BRING A JACKET
The other item you will want to have on hand is a light sweater or hoodie. While Disneyland is located in warm southern California you can expect cold evenings and mornings. We prefer something that can tie around our waist easily.
78. WEAR COMFY SHOES
You will spend a ton of time on your feet. You can expect to do a lot of walking along with plenty of standing in lines (especially if it’s crowded.) This isn’t the occasion for a cute pair of heels or even flip flops. You will either want to go with some sensible sneakers of a pair of sandals with arch support. Besides wearing comfy kicks, you should also slip some good band-aids or moleskin for your feet into that fabulous fanny pack!
79. REMEMBER SUNSCREEN
Bring sunscreen and remember to reapply throughout the day. It’s especially easy when the weather is not to hot to underestimate the sun. Nothing will ruin a vacation quite like a bad burn so apply liberally when you are getting ready in the morning and then set an alarm or reminder to remember to apply.
80. HAVE BACK UP BATTERIES OR POWER BANKS
Between using the Disneyland app to check wait time and book FastPasses, taking pictures and posting about your fabulous vacay on social media you will burn through your phone’s battery faster than usual. Having a portable power bank on hand will come in really handy for a recharge! You should also consider bringing a back-up battery for your camera.
81. HIJACK SOME JUICE
While I highly encourage bringing a back-up charger or power bank there are hidden outlets throughout the parks where you can charge your phone. They may be covered by a plate so that they are not noticeable. Most of the lamp posts in California Adventure contain an outlet and several restaurants and table areas will have outlets as well.
82. TURN ON AIRPLANE MODE
One way to ensure to don’t run out of power in the first place is to put Your Phone on Airplane Mode for some rides. The lines for Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion all either go underground, or have terrible service. You won’t be able to use your phone for much in these areas anyway and your battery will quickly be depleted as your phone searches for cellular service. The solution is to throw it on airplane mode.
83. ASK THE EXPERTS TO TAKE A PIC
While the PhotoPass photographers are on hand to take professional photos for guests to purchase, they are happy to help with personal photography if you ask. Just ask them to snap a pic with your cellphone or camera. Unlike taking a chance with a stranger you can rest assured they know what they are doing!
84. TAKE A BREAK
A day spent at Disneyland can start to feel a bit frantic, and it’s easy to get stressed out when dealing with crowds, lines, and kids who might be getting cranky. Disney is notorious for meltdowns and not just from wiped-out wee ones. If it starts to feel overwhelming, overstimulating or just plain exhausting take a break. Find someplace to sit and slowdown. Get some food or a fun treat, and just watch what goes on. Disney does an amazing job with entertainment and you’re bound to find a mini-show or music right around any corner at both of both parks. If your hotel is nearby, you may even want to head back for a nap in the middle of the day or even a swim. It’s worth it to recharge so you can enjoy the rest of your day.
85. PACK CAREFULLY
Careful packing will cut down on unwanted expenses during your trip. Forgotten toiletries such as tooth-paste and sunscreen can be marked up outrageously. Check out our post on How to Pack Like a Pro for Your Family Vacation for everything you need to know.
86. TIKI ROOM TIP
The Tiki Room is the perfect place to get off your feet and enjoy an air-conditioned attraction without a wait more than the amount of time before the next show to experience it. If you want to be a part of the show yourself ask a cast member for the opportunity to wake up Jose’, the red, white and green audio animatronic parrot that hosts the show. Another fun thing to note is that guests are welcome to bring snacks in to eat while enjoying the show. So go ahead and dig in to that Dole Whip!
87. CELEBRATE WITH A FREE BUTTON
Whether it’s your first time in the park, you’re recently married, or celebrating a birthday or anniversary, pick up a complimentary celebration button to mark the occasion. Buttons are available at guest services in City Hall in Disneyland Park and at the Chamber of Commerce at California Adventure as well as various shops throughout the parks. These buttons let everyone know that you are celebrating and you will have cast members and park visitors alike offering their god wishes and congratulations.
88. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OTHER FREE SAMPLES & SOUVENIRS
There are several other souvenirs you can get at no additional cost. You can score a free sample of sourdough bread at Boudin and some Ghirardelli chocolate from the Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure. Ask for a free antique-style map of the Jungle Cruise when exiting the attraction. Or, go to a free drawing class taught by a real Disney animator and keep your masterpiece.
89. KEEP RECEIPTS
If a souvenir breaks or has issues you can exchange it. Just make sure to hang on to the receipt to show the store attendant where you bought it or head to guest services in City Hall . You can even replace popped Mickey balloons free of charge by bringing the scraps to any balloon vendor. Disney is awesome at customer service, just ask.
90. ASK ABOUT ALLERGIES
If you or someone in your family has food allergies or specific dietary needs, you know how hard it can be to travel. Luckily, the Disneyland Resort is an industry leader when it comes to offering allergy friendly options and regularly receives recognition and awards for being the best at accommodating any dietary needs. You can review all Disney dining menus ahead of time on the Disneyland app or website and you can get a list of all ingredients used at each restaurant at City Hall on Main Street but if you are looking for further peace of mind you can ask to talk to the chef at any dining location.
A chef will come out and talk with you. They can tell you exactly what is safe to eat as is, and they can go through any items that can be swapped out to become safe. Sometimes they can even whip up something special just for you. Never hesitate to ask!
91. MAIL A LETTER
You can find real working mailboxes hidden throughout both Disneyland and California Adventure. The mailboxes match the theme of their respective lands, much like the various styles of trashcans and benches. To send a letter or post card simply drop it into one of the mailboxes and a Disney cast member will retrieve it at the end of the day to be sent on to local post office. While Disney no longer offer’s its own cancellation stamp the letters are stamped as coming from Anaheim.
92. USE PACKAGE PICK-UP & DELIVERY
You don’t even have to lug around your souvenir! If you are staying at an on-site Disney hotel you have the added perk of being able to have your purchases sent right to your hotel room. Note that this option isn’t available on the day you are checking out. There are also specific locations that will hold souvenirs for any guest so that you can pick them up at the end of the day. These shops are the Disneyland Resort Stroller Shop, Elias & Company in Disney California Adventure Park, Pioneer Mercantile at Disneyland Park, Port Royal at Disneyland Park, and The Star Trader at Disneyland Park. Just make arrangements at the register and pick up your items before heading home.
93. LINGER LATE
Attractions don’t actually shut down at the exact moment the park closes. It’s only the lines to attractions that stop admitting guests at the time the park closes. This means that if you are in line for a ride at the time that the park officially closes, in most cases, you get to stay in line and finish that ride. Stores along Main Street in Disneyland and Buena Vista street in California Adventure also remain open up to an hour after park closing most nights. Just expect the stores to be crowded during this time with other folks making last minute purchases.
94. GET FAMILIAR WITH DISNEY MOVIES
It’s hard to throw a stone without hitting something touched by the Disney brand but it’s worth noting that to get the full impact of the Disneyland experience, I highly recommend watching the movies or TV shows featured at the parks before visiting. There are so many details and things within the theming that you will appreciate so much more if you know what they are referencing. Obviously, not everything is appropriate for all audiences, but you can definitely find something for everyone in your family.
95. GET FAMILIAR WITH THE PARKS
In the same vein, it’s a great idea to get as familiar as you can with the parks themselves. Plus, it’s a fun way to build excitement for your trip. We love to watch YouTube Videos featuring attractions, dining options and updates. Our favorite for all things Disney theme park related is Tim Tracker…wouldn’t you know we happened to run into him in Cars Land on recent trip! My kids were utterly star struck.
96. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A RAINY DAY
Don’t let rain stop you from enjoying the parks. A rainy day can turn out to be the best time to visit because so many people head home or don’t come at all and you will feel like you have the park all to yourself. While some outdoor rides may get temporarily shut down both Disneyland and California Adventure have many indoor attractions with ques that are fully enclosed from the elements. Just put your ponchos on and some shoes that can get wet (I love my Teva’s for this!) and enjoy!
97. IF YOU REALLY WANT TO GET WET
Don’t want to wait for a rainy day to get soaked? Head to Splash Mountain in Disneyland and Grizzly River Run at California Adventure. Some of it is luck of the seat but you can increase your chances of being drenched by sitting on the front row of Splash Mountain. Placing heavier riders in the front also creates a bigger splash.
98. LOOK FOR HIDDEN MICKEYS
No Disneyland tip list would be complete without pointing out that little something extra…Hidden Mickeys! Disney imagineers and artists will oftentimes stamp their work with a Mickey silhouette. These hidden Mickeys can be found throughout the entire Disneyland Resort – in attraction queues, inside attractions, on store signs and more. It is fun to see how many hidden Mickeys your family can find.
99. CONNECT WITH THE CAST
Talk to the Disney Cast Members whenever you get the chance. Getting to know the people who work at Disneyland makes the experience that much richer. Some of our best memories and most memorable Disney experiences have come from striking up a conversation with the people who work in the parks.
100. GIVE A SHOUT OUT
Take the time to write down the names of any Disney Cast Members who were doing a fantastic job or added a little sprinkling of that metaphorical magic pixie dust to your trip. You can leave this list of names and comments with Guest Relations at either of the parks on your way out. These comments go into their permanent file and help with recognition and promotions.
101. GO WITH THE FLOW
Finally, we want to to tell you to make all. the. plans. But don’t hesitate to throw them out the window when they get in the way of whats really makes the “happiest place on earth” truly happy. your family happy. That might mean skipping the rollercoaster you’ve been dying to ride or heading back to your hotel for mid-day naps instead of sticking to your itinerary. It might be lingering a little longer over lunch or stopping to take an unexpected photo with a character or even cutting out on the evening show because you’re all wiped.
There is no right way to do Disneyland and certainly no medals, it all just about making memories.
I hope that these Disneyland tips and tricks are helpful in improving your Disneyland vacation. If you have any questions that I didn’t cover, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll follow up with you! Or if you have a great tip to share let me know below too!
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