Whether it's your first time or your 20th, have your best trip yet with these tips.
You may know a Disneyland pro. They’re the ones who’ve been going to Disneyland regularly since they were kids. They know all the ins and outs of each park—the hidden Mickeys, the alternative entrances, the secret menus, the obscure trivia, and the inside jokes. They’re the ones who serve as confident guides to friends and family. Perhaps you’re one of them yourself.
But even if you’ve never been to Disneyland, you can still arrive armed with insider information that’ll help you make the most of your visit to the Magic Kingdom. Here are some key strategies that everyone—from beginners to pros—can use.
Give yourself time.
Sure, you could try to do Disneyland in a day, but you run the risk of ending the day disappointed about rides not ridden, shows not seen, and Dole Whips not slurped.
Three days is ideal for out-of-towners, but even two will make for a more relaxed, fulfilling experience. It’ll give you the chance to experience not one but two nighttime extravaganzas: the exhilarating Disneyland Forever fireworks show and World of Color at California Adventure. If you do stay longer, you definitely want to opt for Park Hopper tickets, which let you visit both Disneyland and California Adventure—on the same day, if you wish.
Plan, but be flexible.
A few days before arriving, make a list of your priorities—the rides, characters, and experiences that are most important to you and your group—and bring it with you so you can check off items as you go.
But don’t be blue if you don’t hit everything on that list. Some of the most magical Disney experiences are impromptu, such as when Mickey takes your child’s hand and walks her down Main Street. Sure, that unexpected bit of magic might take time away from something on your list, but it could be the thing your child (or you) remember most.
Another reason to stay flexible: Sometimes one of the theme parks might close early (for a private event, say). If that happens, the other park will usually stay open late. To find out, check each day’s schedule. While you’re at it, the Los Angeles Times’s well-researched Disneyland charts tell you the best days to visit and the best times to try each ride.
Use the apps.
The first lets you check wait times, find characters, and order food ahead of time. (Be sure to load your credit card information into it in advance.) And the latter turns your journey through the parks—including while you’re waiting in line—into a game.
If you’re relying on your phone to maximize your time at the park, take care of its battery: What with taking pictures and running apps, it won’t last a full day on a single charge. Bring a portable charger or charging case, or plan on spending some time at one of the charging kiosks throughout the parks. Disneyland also sells portable charger kits for $30; if you use up one charger, they’ll trade you a fully charged one for no cost.
Get the MaxPass.
Pros know that adding the MaxPass to your ticket is well worth the extra $15. Once you’ve enabled the feature using the Disneyland Mobile App, it can make your visit better in several ways.
First and foremost, it lets you get a FastPass for any of the 20 attractions that offer it—from anywhere in the parks. You still have to show up at the ride’s VIP line within your allotted time-slot, but that time is shown in the app on your phone. The MaxPass eliminates the need to go to an attraction to get the FastPass, then return later to actually go on the ride.
Smart Tip: Book the rides you most want to go on first. The one exception to that rule: Reserving priority viewing for World of Color and Fantasmic as soon as you walk into the park.
MaxPass also lets you download all of your official Disney photos—both those snapped by ride cameras as well as those taken by professional Disney photographers stationed wherever there’s a character to meet.
Maximize your time.
To experience as much magic as possible, arrive at the parks as early as possible and go through the gates as soon as they open. That means arriving at the park well before it opens, to allow for parking your car, transiting from the parking lot to the ticket booths (walking is actually faster than the shuttle), buying tickets (if you didn’t buy ahead), and going through security.
Once you’re in the parks, use your Disneyland app to check on ride wait times. If the people in your party don’t mind sitting separately on a ride, use the faster-moving Single Rider lines.
If you have small children who can’t yet go on the thrill rides, use the Rider Switch service: One parent waits in line and rides while the other stays with the kids. Then the kid-attending parent gets to skip the line.
To get faster food service, order through the Disneyland app. Plan to eat at least one meal on the go—the line for a ride or a prime spot for watching a parade is a great place to enjoy a sandwich from La Brea Bakery or the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe. If you’re planning a sit-down meal, try an unconventional time (lunch at 2:00, say).
If you stay at one of the onsite Disney hotels, you can take advantage of the resort’s “Extra Magic Hour,” which allows hotel guests to enter the parks an hour before anyone else, via a special entrance. (This is a great time to hit Peter Pan’s Flight or the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, since those rides don’t offer FastPasses.)
Hotel guests also get to send merchandise to their rooms so that they don’t have to carry it around. And it’s helpful to have a place to retreat for naps, especially if you’ve got little ones.
Not staying onsite? Use the quick public entrance under the Monorail stop.
Check the calendar.
Regular seasonal events include the well-known Festival of Holidays, Halloween Time, Lunar New Year, and Food & Wine Festival, and also less official festivities like Dapper Day. But you should still check the resort’s calendar prior to your visit, since Disney is also great at finding one-off reasons—such as Mickey’s 90th birthday—to celebrate.
If you’re celebrating a personal milestone, Disneyland can make it special. At the ticket booth or at City Hall, tell a Cast Member that it’s your birthday, that it’s your first time visiting, that you just got engaged, or that you’re honeymooning, and they’ll give you a button to wear that marks the occasion so that you’re congratulated all day long, and possibly even given preferential treatment for park perks. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, tell the front desk and they’ll put something together to help you commemorate the occasion.
AAA Members who buy their Disneyland ticket and hotel stay from AAA get a Disney gift card worth up to $150, plus a Disney coupon book and expert planning and booking help from a AAA Disney specialist—at no extra cost, since this service is already included in your AAA benefits.