Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience at Disneyland has changed drastically. Most advice here still applies, but Fastpasses has been replaed with Genie+/Lighting Lane along with a few other things. To get the updates on the new experience, please watch this Instagram reel and don't hesitate to reach out with any other questions!
Disneyland is one of my favorite places of all time - there’s just something about the theme park that just brings me excitement every time I go. Both Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure (DCA) have their appeal, but figuring out how to maximize the utility of your day is difficult. With ticket prices increasing, ever-growing crowds, and the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, it’s getting more and more frustrating to justify spending a day in the park.
My goal for this article is to help you find the best way to spend one day at Disney. After this article, you may think I’m somewhat crazy for saying that this is the only way to make your day worthwhile. However, if you model your day with my Disneyland hacks, you’ll be much happier. Of course, these plans are not one size fits all, so you’ll have to tweak the itinerary to make it fit you/your group’s needs. I hope you find this article helpful!
Disneyland Park and DCA are both in Anaheim, California. The parks are easily accessible from anywhere in Orange County, with many different ways to access the park. Both parks are expanding at a rapid pace, so some parts of this guide might not be updated when you come to read this.
Ticket prices really depend on the day you go, as Disney shifted to a demand-based pricing structure some time ago. You’ll have to check the website for the price on the day you go, but you can assume these principles:
You definitely want to go on an off peak day, but that may not be possible. Despite this, you can still get the most out of your visit!
There are various hotels around the park, but I recommend just driving and paying for parking ($30 per car) or getting someone to drive you and drop you off. If you are getting a hotel, the closer to the park the better (your legs will thank you at the end of the day).
If you are driving, you pretty much have to cough up the $30 or try to find residential parking and Uber to the park. Now, I have yet to find a place that is easily accessible, but the catch with this is that you’ll need to find a spot that does not require a residential permit, doesn’t have street sweeping during the time you’re in the park, and a round-trip Uber would be cheaper than $30.
Planning A trip to disney
This is one of the most important parts of the process - how prepared you are can drastically affect your experience when you get into the part. I’m going to try to break it down into things you should consider:
*** You may be reading this and saying to yourself, this is ridiculous! Jason, are you kidding me? But you HAVE to trust me on this, as getting to the park early is the best way to beat the lines. The reason this strategy works so well is because families with kids and old people can't wake up early (try waking up a 6 year old at 5am). Most of the people usually trickle in the late morning, and then the crowds start to grow after that.
If you get nothing else from this guide, just remember that the earlier you get to the park, the more things you'll be able to do, and the better your day will be.
On The Day
The day is finally here! You and your friends are really excited to go to the park but now you’re not sure on how to tackle it. What should I do first, and in what order? When should I eat lunch? The list of questions goes on and on. The general rule of thumb is that you want to be fast walking as much as you can. You might not like this, but if you snooze, you lose. I personally like to tackle all the rides in the morning, and then “chill” in the afternoon when the lines are long. However, this really depends on you.
The important thing here is that this plan I’m outlining is only a structure that you should follow - you may or may not need to modify this depending on you or your group’s needs. You don’t need to stick to this exactly, but you do want to get the general idea.
IF YOU AREN'T PAYING FOR GENIE+
The general plan is that you want to designate someone in your group as the “runner” - this person should be able to walk consistently fast throughout the day and is trustworthy. Let's say there's Ride 1 and Ride 2 that you want to go on, and Ride 1 has a higher wait time than Ride 2. How it works is that as you wait in line for Ride 2, the “runner” will hop in the line for Ride 1. If this all works correctly, then your group will be done with Ride 2 and you can hop in line with the "runner" in Ride 1. Then, rinse and repeat.
Try to eat lunch before the lunchtime rush (about 12pm-2pm) or eat the snacks you bought while you’re in line. Also, if you want to watch a show or a parade, factor that into your schedule as those happen at specific times. If you’re trying to watch a show, get there early as seats fill up fast. If you go too late, you’ll get a spot that isn’t optimal and then you won’t be able to see much.
If you’ve followed my plan and have gotten to the turnstiles before the park opens, you’ll have to wait to get into the park. Once the park attendants start letting people in, you want to make a beeline to the next “checkpoint”. What I mean by checkpoint is that you won’t be able to advance further into the park because the employees are blocking it off with a section of rope, When it reaches opening time, the rope drops and you are free to explore as you please.
Usually people tend to leave after the fireworks/World of Color/Fantasmic, so there’s usually a big mob heading towards the trams to get out of the park. If you wanted to do some shopping, this is the time to do it. However, I would recommend waiting a little before you start heading out as waiting behind the horde of people usually makes you feel more tired.
Plan for Disneyland Park
With the implementation of Genie+ and the discontinuation of Fastpass, the strategy has changed. This Reddit megathread is very helpful to read. Basically, Lightning Lane is a "Fastpass". Only some attractions offer Lightning Lane and you can only use Lightning Lane once per ride per day. You can only get one Lightning Lane every 2 hours or after you use a current Lighting Lane reservation.
Rise of the Resistance, Spider-Man: Web Slingers, and Radiator Springs Racers are part of LL, but they're excluded from the criteria above since you have to pay extra to ride them. It can range from $12-$20 for each, depending on the time of day and the demand.
Once they let the rope down, try your best to follow this plan (depending on what you want to see or ride):
You definitely want to watch the fireworks - the two main shows are the fireworks that happen at Cinderella Castle, or Fantasmic. I recommend both, but usually you can only watch one or the other because they usually happen at the same time. If it's your first time at the park, I recommend watching the fireworks at the castle as that’s the “classic” - but Fantasmic is also fantastic (ha ha, see what I did there). If somehow you still have energy at the end of the day, watching both is doable.
If your group is dead set on watching the fireworks, I would recommend waiting for a spot early - the best spot tends to be on Main Street closer to the castle. That way, you can see the fireworks and the lights and animations that go on the sides of the shops.
Despite how overpriced the food is, I would get some of the things occasionally - I like some things more than others, but this comes down to personal preference.
Turkey legs - You’ll want to try these. The legs are humongous and this is actually one of the food items that has good value. The leg is simply just meat and grease but it tastes very, very good. The stall's location may vary, but you can usually find them in Frontierland.
Dole Whip - This is a Disneyland classic! The Dole Whip float is what you’ll want to get as it is decorated with a little umbrella. Prepare for a very pineapple-y ice cream and juice.
Other items - Popcorn, garlic twists, churros, etc.
Plan for Disney California Adventure
DCA is a little smaller than Disneyland and the whole park can definitely be done in a day. When you get inside the park, you want to be running towards one of the rides that requires a paid LL as FAST as you can. This is because the standby wait time for the most popular rides can get to at LEAST 1.5 hours at any given time of the day.
I highly recommend watching World of Color, as I like to think of the show as the Bellagio water show in Vegas on steroids crossed with a rave. It’s tastefully done and it’s very impressive. For this, you’ll want to get a good area to sit because you want an ideal spot to see everything.
Sadly, I don’t eat much food at DCA so I don't have much input here. But, some people like the food at DCA better than at Disneyland.
Hopefully you’ve read through this entire guide of Disneyland tips without feeling too overwhelmed! If you follow this guide pretty closely, you should be done with all of the major attractions by midday and have the rest of the day to “relax” and just enjoy the atmosphere. However, this plan requires you and your group to have high stamina and the ability to criss-cross the park to get Fastpasses. If you follow even some aspects of this guide, your day at the park should be slightly better!
If you have any other Disneyland tips or tricks, please don’t hesitate to send them my way. Until next time!
Planning Your Day
On the Day
Plan for Disneyland Park
Plan for Disney California Adventure
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