Going to Disneyland is a major production. Everyone knows this. You plan it for months, spend a lot of money, and sometimes you get there and you realize that you’re flying blind. You end up wasting time on long lines for rides, character meet and greets, and on food, when you should be skipping along to your favorite Disney tunes and having the BEST. DAY. EVER.
So on my recent trip to Disneyland, I decided I’d come up with a list of things you should know before going on your magical adventure. As someone who isn’t a local (I live in the Philippines), but who goes to Disneyland as often as she can, I do have a few things up my sleeve I’d like to share.
*Just note, that this is for Disneyland, not Disneyworld. As my last trip to Orlando was in 2014, I’m not confident that my tips will be up to date.
1. Buy your tickets in advance
As previously mentioned, I’m not a local, so just the thought of getting to the parks without a ticket already in hand gives me anxiety. Check your itinerary, set the date/dates of your park visit, and purchase the tickets either online, or at the hotel you are staying in. You can also go to Disneyland the day before and buy it outside. Whatever the case, don’t buy it on the day of your visit.
The more days you get the cheaper it’ll be in the long run, but if you can only go for a day it is possible to get everything done, as long as you follow the next tips.
2. Get there early
This seems pretty obvious but the parks are still most full around midday. Arrive before the parks open and you won’t have to wait in line as long. If you’re with excited children, or, well, excited adults, the lines will stress you out before your day even begins. I like to arrive an hour before opening hours. I know that seems excessive but besides the excitement, there’s all that security you have to go through before you enter. Which brings me to:
3. Prepare for Security Check
Have your bags open, and your electronics out. It just speeds up the process, and you don’t end up fumbling with your things when it gets to your turn. Trust me, everyone will thank you for it.
4. Download the Disneyland mobile app beforehand
This gives you show times, wait times, restaurant menus, character schedules, maps, and everything you could possibly need.
5. Get the Disney MaxPass
Best $10 I ever spent. This allows you to book FastPasses through the Disneyland app, and gives you unlimited PhotoPass downloads for the day. If you don’t know what these are:
a FastPass allows you to pick a time slot for the most popular rides that usually have the longest lines. With the MaxPass, you can simply check which rides have available FastPasses online, book, and get to the ride at your selected schedule. No lines, no hassle.
a PhotoPass allows you to have those nice photographers stationed around the park take photos of you and your party. This way no one gets left out of your photos, and you avoid the awkward “Can you take our picture” conversation with the other guests. You get beautifully captured photos on your camera or phone, and by the end of the day you can download the professional photos they took on their cameras (sometimes magically edited) through the Disneyland app.
When you download the app before your trip, grab your Disney notebook and make a list of the things you want to do and see in order of importance. If you aren’t a ride person for instance, and you want to do character meet and greets, check your favorite characters’ schedule and location on the app and base your itinerary on it. Of course the schedules can change, but you will most likely find the same schedule if you check the app the day before you go. Write down show times and wait times as well so you know which rides will most likely have the longest lines. I’m a bit anal about this but I can confidently say that I’ve never gone home from a Disney trip feeling shortchanged. So trust me. Plan.
7. Get a locker
Bags start out manageable when the day starts. You think, hey I don’t mind bringing this along the whole day, it hardly weighs anything. Then it’s after lunch and your shoulders start to hurt, your back aches, your feet are sore. Get a locker. That’s the first thing you should do if you’re carrying a lot of stuff. (Lockers are located on the right by the flower bazaar when you enter Main Street) Have a small bag with the essentials, then leave the extra clothes and ears in the locker. For $7 a day (for the smallest locker), that saves you so much effort. *If you want to know what I bring to Disneyland, my What’s in my Disney Park Bag post is up now!
8. Wear comfortable shoes
I like looking cute and Princessy as much as the next Disnerd. But never ever bring shoes that haven’t been broken in to the parks. You will do more walking in there than you think. It looks quaint and harmless, but nothing will hurt your feet more than a whole day in Disney. Leave the adorable sandals and wedges that go perfectly with your dress at home. And pick your go-to walking shoes instead.
9. Bring a change of clothes
If you’re planning a “rope drop to fireworks” day in Disney, or if it’s hot/raining, bring a full set of extra clothes. You never know what’ll happen – whether you sweat through your shirt, or if you spill soda on your pants, or you get wet on one of the rides. Plus it feels really good to put on fresh clothes when you’ve been running around all day. You don’t want to spend $30 on a Disney sweatshirt that you’re probably never going to use again. Come prepared. And again, just leave everything in the locker.
10. Check the weather
This will determine your entire look for the trip. So check in advance, bring an umbrella or a poncho. Those things are always overpriced in the parks, so have those with you beforehand. Bringing a hat is another option, since it helps block out the sun and the rain. And dress appropriately. But:
11. Don’t be afraid to dress up
This doesn’t mean you can’t look cute while being practical at the same time. I just got into Disneybounding, which is a fun and easy way of dressing up in Disney. Just incorporate comfort and practicality into your look, whether through a cute pair of Minnie Ears, a themed bag, a sparkly skirt, or a good old Disney tshirt. More adults have gotten into dressing up in the parks, so don’t be afraid to let the kid in you shine. This highly depends on what you’re doing that day as well. If you plan on doing roller coasters all day, obviously a sparkly skirt isn’t for you. Again, it doesn’t hurt to be too prepared.
12. Make use of the Single Rider Lane
If a Fast Pass isn’t available and if you aren’t too particular about who you’re beside when you go on the attractions, I highly suggest the Single Rider Lane. This goes by much faster because they don’t have to worry about seating you with your party. I mean, you can’t do much talking on most big rides anyway, so if you’re a bit tight time-wise, go for the Single Rider so you can do as many rides as you can.
13. Go when it isn’t peak season
When my best friend and I were there in September, we practically had the park to ourselves (as you can see). Taking photos, hopping on and off rides, and meeting characters were a breeze. Make sure to note though that the fireworks show doesn’t push through and the park closes earlier when it is a low season weekday. I suggest doing both a weekday and a Saturday or Sunday to get the best of both worlds – say Thursday to Saturday, so you can end your trip with fireworks. Also make sure to check the park operating hours and event schedule before you go so you can plan your trip accordingly.
14. Bring water and snacks
You don’t need to bring a large thermos with you, as there are several refilling stations everywhere. You can even go to restaurants to ask them to refill your water and they’ll happily do it for you for free. Don’t spend those $3 on a water bottle. Be kind to Mother Nature. Bring a small reusable thermos you can take with you throughout the day. Bring snacks as well so you don’t need to fall in line every time you need something to munch on.
15. Eat during off hours
This is pretty simple, but really important. Take your meals an hour early or an hour late. This is where snacks are important. If you get hungry, eat a snack and wait until the lines aren’t as long. Your temper will thank me. Check the app to see the restaurants available throughout the parks. You’ll also find the price range there so you know which place will suit you best.
There are a lot of quick service restaurants and stands where you can get corndogs, mac n cheese, turkey legs, ice cream and the like. Take those to go and eat outside if the weather is pleasant. You can even take your food to your parade spot and kill two birds with one stone.
17. Get a good parade spot
You can’t miss the Disneyland Parade. It’s glorious. An hour before it starts, pick a spot on the curb and sit. This way no one can stand in front of you, since the only thing in front of you is the street. This is where I use the eat-on-the-go technique. I have my lunch at my parade spot. This way I’m not bored while waiting. And since the parade usually starts at 3pm, there are hardly any lines in the restaurants!
18. Use the other Dole Whip line
I still cannot believe people don’t know about this yet. There are TWO LINES for Dole Whip. Use the one inside by the Enchanted Tiki Room. The last time we were there, there were about 50 people lining up for Dole Whip, and my best friend and I were the only people on the inside line.
19. Save the shopping for after your day at the park
Buy those souvenirs at the end of your trip. Don’t lug those plastic bags around. Unless you’re buying ride specific items, Main Street has pretty much everything the rest of the park has. If you do find something, say at the end of Star Tours, drop it off at the lockers when you get the chance. You’ll want your hands as free as possible during the day.
20. Take the time to interact with characters and cast members
My favorite thing about Disneyland that I don’t think Disneyworld has, are the people who take the time to talk to you. I feel like everyone in Disneyworld is in such a rush. Parents wanting to complete rides and get their money’s worth, children who want to wait 4 hours in line for a photo with Elsa, cast members who are trying their very best to keep everyone happy – it’s so different from Disneyland, where characters are casually walking around greeting everyone, and cast members initiate conversations (mostly about Disney) with guests. They really make you feel like you’re home. So pause for a bit and smile at a cast member or a character. You’ll be surprised by how many friends you make while you’re there.
21. Most important of all: Have fun.
Appreciate the magic around you – the painstaking detail Disney has put into every land, the care with which they choose the music, the love they put in their shows, and the kindness they give to everyone who enters. There’s a reason Disneyland has been around for so long. They’ve perfected the art of making people happy. For as long as you go into it with an open heart, there’s no way you won’t have the best vacation ever. So put a skip in your step and a smile on your face, because this is the place where dreams come true.
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” – Walt Disney