Disneyland and Disney World are magical places, but if you don’t plan before you go and know the hacks – prepare to be very overwhelmed. Once we booked our first trip to Disney, the anxiety immediately set in. Our first Disney experience was Disney World, so when we planned our Disneyland adventure I was ready!
Some big advantages to visiting Disneyland are it’s a smaller property, it’s easy to get to, and it’s much less chaotic than Disney World. Disneyland is also the original mouse house so there’s a special feeling you get when you enter the gates. I already can’t wait to go back!
Before you go here’s what you need to know:
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or just want the convenience of someone planning the trip for you, I highly recommend having an authorized Disney Vacation Planner assist you. We use Dream Maker Melissa! It’s completely free and takes all the guesswork out of your planning. She’s great and I highly recommend her.
Get the App
Whether you enlist someone to help or plan yourself, you first need to download the Disneyland app as you’ll use this throughout your planning stage and visit. The app allows you access to your tickets once you load them, view your agenda, get FastPasses through your phone vs the machines, order food, shop, play games, and shows all the photos you take around the park with Disney photographers. You get free downloads for all your pictures with MaxPass. With the app, you can also check wait times for each ride and use it as a map.
Next, it’s time to plan on where you’ll stay. Because it was our first time to Disneyland as a family we choose to stay at The Disneyland Hotel. This was the original hotel for Disneyland and I loved the nostalgia of it. There are plenty of less expensive options nearby, but we loved the close proximity to the parks (a 5-minute walk), all the Downtown Disney District shops and eateries, the pool area, and the hotel itself. When you book a Disney hotel you get the advantage of getting a magic hour, meaning you get to enter the park an hour earlier than everyone else. This was great for early FastPass access and getting a few rides in before the masses.
Chose Park Tickets
We only had two days at Disney so we bought individual tickets for a one-day pass at both Disneyland and Disney Adventure. We knew this would be enough time for us to enjoy each park. We also went during the week (Tuesday/Wednesday), so it was less busy than the weekend.
If you are going during a peak time, there for more than two days, or have older kids that can last all day at the parks, I highly recommend buying a hopper ticket. This ticket allows you to bounce back and forth between Disneyland and Disney Adventure. They are across from each other, so very quick to walk from one park to another. Disneyland is open later than Disney Adventure Park, so with the hopper pass, you can get in all your rides at Disney Adventure than still have a lot of time to explore more of Disneyland. Disney Adventure is a smaller park and usually less crowded as well.
Ticket prices vary depending on what you want and how many days you are there, but if you go through third-party vendors sometimes you can get deals.
Max Pass / Fast Pass
When you decide on your park ticket, you’ll want to add MaxPass. It is SO worth it and runs $15 per person. MaxPass allows you to get FastPasses through your phone versus having to use the machines. As soon as you enter the park you can choose a FastPass, then once you scan that fast pass you can choose your next ride while in line. This system is much easier than Disneyworld and you get a lot more FastPasses to use. Side note – you want to look at rides ahead of time to check height requirements and chose which ones are your must-rides. This will help you make the most of your day in the magic land.
The most popular rides that you’ll want to get FastPass for at Disneyland:
Star wars (tip – gets less busy later in the afternoon), Indiana Jones, Bobsleds, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, Peter Pan Takes Flight and some classics like Pirates of the Caribbean. You can also use FastPass for the light show, Fantasmic. You can purchase dinner packages that include VIP seats for the light show, too. We bought a dinner package in both parks for the reserved seating. In Disneyland, we ate at the restaurant which was located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It was so cool! They gave us souvenir seat cushions to use on the ground when watching the light show too.
The new Star Wars World is insane! You feel like you’re on the movie set.
Rides you’ll love at California Adventure:
Incredicoaster, Guardians of the Galaxy, Toy Story Mania, Radiator Springs Racers (my fave!), and World of Color the light show.
If you’re traveling with toddlers or even pre-teens, bring or rent a stroller. My youngest was five and the oldest was eight and we rented a double stroller. It gave them a break from walking, held our items and gave me something to lean on when I got tired. The rental is $13 for the day and definitely worth it. Carrying a kid around all day is not fun – get the stroller.
Bring your own snacks and water bottle! Disney allows you to bring in snacks and beverages (non-alcoholic). We each had a little drawstring backpack I bought from Etsy filled with bottled water and several snacks. The bags also allowed for a few souvenirs. The boys loved these bags, they were light and comfortable and it saves mom from carrying everything. Am I right?!
Buy your swag before you go. You can find family shirts and all kinds of Disney swag on Etsy or Amazon. Save your money at the parks.
Use your app to order food. They let you know when it’s ready so you can avoid lines. The options were good and less expensive. If you want to sit down and enjoy more selections, head out of the park and find an eatery in Disneyland District. There were so many options and the food was way better.
Use rider swap. If you have a little one that doesn’t meet the height requirement, Disney allows you to wait while one parent goes and then you are able to get on right away once the other parent returns. We would also use FastPasses for our little one, then let my older son use it with the other parent so both of us got to enjoy the ride.
Wear comfortable shoes with support. Each day at Disney we walked a minimum of 20,000 steps. You will be miserable if you’re not comfortable. Also, bring a sweater or coat. It gets cold at night and even with our light sweaters on in the evening, it was chilly.
Before You Leave
Stay for the fireworks! They are worth it and magical. Catch the parades or special events. We went during the holidays and bought the additional tickets for the parade and dessert bar. If you’re not a firework person, head to the rides as you’ll find shorter lines.
Don’t forget to stop at all the shops in Disneyland District. They even have a pop-up Mickey Museum!
Lastly, take it all in! The magic is real and the look you see on your kids’ faces is priceless. See the magic below.
Enjoy your Disney adventure and share any tips below!