Disneyland is such a magical place and there are gagillions of tips and tricks to make your visit more enjoyable. Here are 21 of my favorite, some of which I’ve never read online. Please leave a few of your best tips in the comments section.
1. Go Early – This seems obvious to me but I can’t stress it enough. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the park opens to make the most of your time there. You will be one of the first people in the park and this will be the best time to ride the most popular rides without mammoth waits.
2. Listen to the Experts – Find an awesome guidebook and read it cover to cover. My absolute favorite is the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. We’ve been twice using different editions of this book (they come out new every year) and I completely owe our touring success to the tips, suggestions and plans it contains. Their companion site www.touringplans.com allows you to enter your ride and event preferences for the specific days you’re going and then they use their algorithm to develop a customized plan for you that’s proven to save 2-4 hours in line waiting per day. A 1-year subscription to the site costs around $10 and is totally worth it, even if you’re just going for a couple of days.
3. Check Ride Closures in Advance – Either on the Disneyland site or on www.touringplans.com, find out what will be closed during your visit. It’s a huge park and there will always be thousands of things to do and see, but if the one ride you care most about is closed, it helps to know in advance.
4. Food Budget – If you can afford to, set aside a generous food budget and then forget about it. Consider the money as spent before you even get there and then enjoy your day, not agonizing over every $10 corn dog. My family of 5 ate 2 meals and 2 snacks per day in the park for between $150 and $200 per day and we didn’t eat at any of the nicer restaurants. I would recommend budgeting $50 per person per day for food and then if you don’t spend that much, you’ll think you got a great deal. Disneyland is too much fun to spend your time complaining about food prices. Go to the Cozy Cone, stuff your face and rejoice. We also brought in our own snacks to fill in the gaps.
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5. Ice Water – Staying hydrated is super important at Disneyland. We were there in February and it was 90 degrees. We averaged 10 miles per day walking in the park so hydration was priority one. You generally have two choice for hydration. Bring your own water bottles and refill them at the lukewarm water fountains or pay $1,000,000 for bottled water every time you’re thirsty. But there is a third option. Even if you’re not purchasing food, you can go up to any food counter and ask for a free glass of ice water at any time. I wouldn’t suggest doing this at peak mealtimes, but in the morning or late afternoon, this is a great way to stay hydrated.
6. Combine Child Swap WITH Fast Pass – If you want to ride a popular attraction without waiting in a long line, you can get a Fast Pass at a booth near the attraction that gives you a time window to come back and you will be ushered past the majority of the people waiting in line. Very cool. With Child Swap, one adult and your older kids can stand in line for a ride and they tell the cast member that they want to use Child Swap. They are then given a Fast Pass for the other adult in your party (good for up to three people) to ride again without waiting in line. Very cool as well. We discovered while we were in the park last month that you can combine the two! It works like this. You get Fast Passes for the older members of your party. Then you use the Fast Passes to go through the expedited line. Once at the front of the line, ask to do a Child Swap and they will give you another pass good for three people to skip to the front of the line. This allowed Dan to ride with the big kids with almost no wait and then me to ride with the big kids with almost no wait. Our kids rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad twice in 20 minutes while other people were waiting almost an hour in line to ride once. Not bad.
7. VIP Parade Seating – This is one you won’t find in the guidebooks. In Disney California Adventure last month, we stopped by the information booth at the entrance to Cars Land to ask where the best place was to watch the parade. The girl working there asked us how many people were in our party and then told us that she was setting up a VIP parade event across the street on a raised terrace and invited us to join them. It ended up being just my family of five and another couple in a raised courtyard along the parade route with a perfect view of all the festivities. We didn’t have to fight for space or sit on the ground and the information desk employee was there throughout to answer all of our questions about the parks. I know this sounds like a fluke, but she told us that they set up these events on a regular basis and often have extra space available. So, I would suggest stopping at the information booth and asking. The worst they can do is say no. And if they say yes, you’re in for an awesome parade experience.
8. Fast Passes for Fantasmic – In the last couple of months, Disneyland has instituted a Fast Pass system for seating during Fantasmic. The 2015 guidebooks don’t mention it. It’s NEW. Your Fantasmic Fast Passes do not “count” as fast passes so you can still get passes for other rides while holding those passes. I would highly recommend getting them I you have any interest in seeing the show. Spots for viewers without passes are very limited and require a lot of waiting.
9. End Your Trip on a Friday – During the year, Disneyland closes earlier on weekdays and has fewer evening attractions. Friday and Saturday nights are when the big magic happens but also have bigger crowds. Consider scheduling your trip to end on a Friday night. That way you have smaller crowds for the majority of your visit, earlier hours so you can save up your strength and then the option of staying up all night on your last day in the park.
10. Pin Trading – There are hundreds of official Disney pins available for sale throughout Disney parks. Any Disney cast member with pins on his lanyard will trade them with you if you ask. They’re sort of like human trading posts. In the park, the pins are pretty pricey. So before we went, we ordered a random assortment of used pins on Amazon for about $1 each and divvied them up amongst our kids. Trading pins was a fun activity for them to do during down time. They loved looking for cast members with lanyards and scoring cool trades. Those pins are a treasure and they cost almost nothing.
11. Parade Seating – Find out where the parade starts and sit as close to the beginning as possible. That way you will be done with the parade while thousands of other people are still watching and you can take advantage of shorter wait times for rides and attractions. You probably want to get seated 30-60 minutes prior to the parade.
12. Animation Academy – One often overlooked attraction at Disney California Adventure is the Disney Animation Academy. Running frequently throughout the day, artists teach a step by step class on how to draw your favorite characters. It’s air-conditioned. It’s fun. There’s very little wait. And you walk away with a free custom-made souvenir.
13. Where to Stand for Cars Fast Passes – As you enter Disney California Adventure (early, right?), one member of your party should have one destination and one destination only, the Radiator Springs Racers Fast Pass Booth. This ride is amazing, possibly the best ride experience in either park and it has the lines to prove it. You steadily have a wait time of over an hour for this ride, even during the slowest times of the year. You need to get Fast Passes if you don’t want to waste time in line. However, because the ride is so popular, the entire day’s Fast Passes run out very early in the day.
So, go early. The cast members will let everyone in before the official opening but then they corral you in an area just inside the park and slowly release you when the park officially opens. If you want to get Fast Passes for Radiator Springs, stand all the way to the left in the crowd and once they let you in for real, make your way along until the group stops moving. This will be the line for the Cars Past Passes. The first day I got there early and rushed straight to the Fast Pass booth (not located in Cars Land or anywhere near the ride, by the way) only to find that the line had been forming for miles behind me.
14. Stay in Line at the End of the Day – If you’re still in line at closing time, you can stay in line until you get to the front and ride the attraction. This is a great way to extend your stay and experience shorter wait times for popular rides.
15. Buy Disney Shirts in Advance – You will save a fortune on Disney t-shirts and other souvenirs if you purchase them in advance. I bought our shirts on sale at the Disney store and Walmart for about ¼ the price of similar items in the park. Of course some souvenirs are just more fun to buy in the park. I suggest having your kids design their own light sabers at the gift shop in Tomorrowland as you exit Star Tours.
16. Stay Cool at the Nemo Claustrophobia Ride – On a boiling hot day at Disneyland, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage – Claustrophobia Edition is reported to be the coolest place in the park. It also has very little wait time. Just ask the cast member directing the line where to go for the version of the ride for people with claustrophobia and they will direct you.
17. Cell Phone Lockers – For $2 per hour you can charge your cell phones in charging lockers located on Main Street. They come equipped with basic charging cables and electrical outlets if you want to bring your own.
18. Dress Like Royalty – Princesses at Disneyland are given special love and attention by Disney cast members. I can’t tell you how many times a ride operator would greet my five-year-old with a, “Oh my. It’s Princess Snow White! Thank you so much for joining us today, your highness.” Fuel your fun and imagination by dressing like roaylty. While younger kids love wearing traditional princess garb, older kids and grown-ups can get in on the fun with more subtle wardrobe choices. A red hair bow and yellow t-shirt for Snow White. A white t-shirt with a blue cami over top for Belle. A blue puff-sleeved t-shirt and a silver headband with your hair in an up-do for Cinderella. Get creative.
19. Line Games – Bring something fun to do while waiting in line, notepads and pencils, cards for slower lines. We saw several groups, including one mass of extremely cheerful bikers, playing Heads Up! on their phone. You can also buy the Hidden Mickeys book and hunt down all the images of Mickey Mouse hidden throughout the park. A spoonful of advanced planning helps the line wait go down.
20. Gifts For the Princesses – Bring a picture or a small gift for your favorite princess. Waiting in line to see Anna and Elsa (now on a Fast Pass so it was only a 20 minute wait), my daughter noticed the girl in front of us giving the princesses a small present. Her face fell.
“Mom! I didn’t bring them anything.” We rummaged through my pack and came up with an unopened pack of gum that she proudly handed to them. It was adorable. They went on and on about how much they loved the gift and how they didn’t have gum in Arrendale. It was a small thing and I’m sure their handlers threw the gum away but it gave us something to talk to them about and made my daughter feel special.
21. Fanny Packs – Nerd Alert! Yes, I said fanny packs. Our favorite guidebook suggests that the best way to cart stuff around Disneyland is in fanny packs and we heartily agree. They’re small. They’re easy to take on rides and hard to lose. They’re big enough, however, for each kid to carry around his own snacks and line games. There’s no, “Mom! Can I have some goldfish crackers?” every five minutes. If your kid wants goldfish crackers, he gets a few himself and you don’t turn into a snack-dispensing pack mule. If you feel too nerdy, you can always clip the strap together and wear it over the shoulder like a purse, but trust me the pack is uber-convenient.
Have a wonderful time on your trip and please leave your own best tips and tricks in the comments below!
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