I was lucky enough to grow up and then go to college less than an hour from the Disneyland Resort. As kids, we only went every year or two, but once I got into college I feel into a group of friends that all got annual passes. Being a college student with a flexible schedule we’d regularly head down even just for a couple hours and dinner, or sometimes full day adventures.
One of these years I even visited the park over twenty times and trust me there are many passholders who more than double that. Along the way though, you pick up a lot of tips and tricks for getting the most out of the park. Now that I’m not a passholder and only go once a year or less these tips are even more helpful.
From planning your trip, to how you spend your money and time here are a set of tips to help you make the most out of Disneyland and California Adventures.
Note: You’ll find affiliate links in this post which allow me to continue to improve Traveling Nine to Fiver. I hope this article is useful for you.
Before You Go
Buy tickets ahead of your visit.
One line that isn’t worth waiting in is the ticket line. You can purchase your tickets ahead of time online, sometimes this will only save you five minutes but others it can save you an hour.
If you can, don’t try and do it in one day.
If you’re traveling to visit the parks I really recommend spending at least two days. This is the only way you can really see everything in both parks and do it without running yourself ragged. Doing a two-day ticket, visiting one park each day, is a great option.
Use an app for wait times.
Before you get to the park download one of the apps that track wait times around the park. The Disneyland App itself now has wait times on it. I’ve also had success with Mousewait. Use this to decide when to go to certain rides as you plan your day. It also will warn you of ride closures.
Don’t change your plans if it rains, those are the best days to go.
Rainy days at Disneyland are some of the best. You will see a dramatic decrease in attendance, meaning much shorter rides. Also, so few of the attractions close due to the rain so you won’t miss out on much. Plus it’s Southern California and it rarely rains all day, so you’ll still catch chances to hit almost any ride. With that do come prepared if it’s raining, bring a poncho, where the right shoes and some extra layers to stay dry.
Schedule your trip for the low season.
The summer and the holidays are the worse times to visit the park since everyone else had the same idea. Basically, if kids are in school that is the time to go. Visiting Monday-Thursday has the lowest attendance. My favorite time to visit is early October since the park is set for Halloween, but the crowds aren’t as big. Overall, low attendance seasons are January to Mid-Feb (before spring breaks start), Mid-April to Mid-May (after spring breaks), after Labor Day to Mid-October, and after Thanksgiving to Mid-December. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving and Christmas week are the highest attended for the park so if you’re going then be prepared to wait.
Get your money’s worth out of the food.
Food in the park isn’t cheap, but there are many places where you can get a bang for your buck. Don’t visit the standard burger and pizza spots, instead visit the unique offering such as:
- The Lobster Roll or BBQ Chicken Stuffed Baked Potato at Harbour Galley
- Monte Cristo at Cafe Orleans
- Jambalaya at the French Market Restaurant
- Gumbo or Chowder in a Bread Bowl at Royal Street Veranda
- Anything at Cozy Cone Motel (DCA)
- Anything in a bread bowl at Pacific Wharf Cafe (DCA)
- Lasagna at Wine Country Trattoria (DCA)
Friends in town, meet them for dinner in Downtown Disney.
If you’re visiting Southern California and have friends or family you want to see who don’t want to buy at ticket to the parks have them meet you for a meal at Downtown Disney. From ESPN Zone to the Jazz Kitchen to the House of Blues there are fun spots to enjoy with friends. They can park for free for four hours in Downtown Disney parking with validation from any of the restaurants.
Bring in food & water bottles to keep costs low.
It is worth splurging on a meal or two, but if you’re spending a whole day or more in the park that can add up quick. You can bring food into the parks, I tend to stick with tasty snacks to carry me over for much longer between meals, but you can even pack a lunch. Also bring a reusable water bottle, there are water filling stations all over the park.
Free ice water.
If you forgot your water bottle or it’s been hot you can always ask for a cup of water with ice at any restaurant in the park. This is actually California law and can be handy pretty much anywhere.
Want a special meal? Make a reservation for Blue Bayou or others to avoid the wait or missing out.
Whether it is eating dinner in Pirates of the Caribbean at Blue Bayou or it is Carthay Circle in California Adventures, or even a meal with the characters you don’t want to risk missing out by waiting till you’re in the park. If you plan on going to any restaurant with table service make your reservation ahead of time, you can do so sixty days in advance online or over the phone.
Skip the Dole Whip line.
Only the best snack around the park. If you don’t know yet, Dole Whip is a delicious pineapple frozen yogurt that you can only get in Hawaii or at the parks. There is often a very long line outside the booth, the trick is walking into the Tiki Room waiting area. They will service you inside the area and where there is at most a short line. Plus you can take the snack into the Tiki Room and enjoy the show.
Shop after closing inside or out of the park.
The shops stay open a whole hour after the park closes. So don’t bother lugging your souvenirs around just grab them at the end of the day. Many of the shops in Downtown Disney will be open for an hour or so after the park closes as well.
Find some free souvenirs – celebrating buttons, jungle cruise map, certificate from Mark Twain’s boat, animation academy
There’s a variety of free souvenirs you can get around the park. My favorite are the event buttons you can get, if it’s your birthday, anniversary, first time visitor you just want to celebrate, head to City Hall on Main Street or at Guest Services in Disney California Adventures. Take home a drawing of an animated character from the animation academy. As your Jungle Cruise tour guide for a map, or if you ask to drive the Mark Twain Riverboat you can get a certificate. Sadly, it seems they are no longer handing out tickets Death Certificates at the Haunted Mansion.
Use the single rider lines.
This might not work if you’re traveling with small children, but as long as you’re okay with riding separate from your party single ride lines are the fastest way to get on rides. At Disneyland: Matterhorn, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones. At California Adventures: Radiator Racers, California Screamin’, Goofy’s Sky School, and Grizzly River Run. If you don’t see a sign ask a cast member at the front of the line for a single rider pass and they will direct you.
Fastpasses aren’t what they used to be, but still worth getting.
When Fastpasses first came out they were a game changer, nowadays, the wait isn’t just the length of the line, but often much longer. With that they still help. What ride do you want to go on more than anything others? If it has a Fastpass go there first and grab it, the earlier in the day you get one the shorter the wait will be. For less popular rides, the passes can be great as they still “hold your place in line”. Get another ride in while you’re waiting.
You can request front/back of rides.
Whether you want to be on the front of Space Mountain, or the back of Big Thunder Mountain. You can always just ask the cast member. You might have to wait an extra train or two, but it can be worth it if it’s not too busy of the day.
If you aren’t in the mood for a show, fireworks and World of Color are the best time to get in line.
When much of the crowd is getting in place to watch the fireworks or the major shows you’ll find the lines lighten up. You can see the fireworks from most lines, and even hop on rides through the World of Color.
Squeeze in a last minute ride or two, rides don’t stop right at closing.
Rides don’t stop at closing, you just can’t get into another line. Most people are already heading out of the park so run to your favorite ride at fifteen minutes before the park closes. The line will be shorter and you can gain a little more time in the park. Sometimes you might even get in two.
Shows & Parades
Like parades? Get a good seat by eating at a nearby restaurant.
If you don’t want to sit forever waiting for a parade to start on the curb, you can always eat at a restaurant with a good view. Just take a look a the parade route and scope it out.
Get Fastpasses for World of Color
If you want to watch World of Color get a Fastpass first thing in the morning. The earlier you get one the best reserved section you’ll get into. You can normally still see the shows if you don’t, but it won’t be as good of a view.
Watch the fireworks for the unique angle and avoid the crowds.
The fireworks look great all around the park and there are a few spots that even still play the music. Or find a unique view from It’s a Small World or behind Big Thunder Mountain.
Those people taking your photos, if you ask they will take one with your phone too.
You know those annoying people who ask you to take their photos so you can buy them as a souvenir. If you let them take your photo they will also take one with you phone/camera. The best way to get a free professional shot.
Enjoy the Happiest Place On Earth
I know it’s a cliche, but I give a lot of value to it. There is something about the place that gives you a chance to be a little bit of a kid and leave your worries outside those walls behind. Have a great time exploring the park, don’t try to do too much since it’s much easier to enjoy when you aren’t stressed out about the inevitable waiting that occurs in the parks. Use these Disneyland Resort tips to help keep your stress low and enjoyment high.
For more information about Disneyland check out these great books on Amazon including The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2017, Disneyland’s Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Disneyland® Resort’s Best Kept Secrets, Fodor’s Los Angeles: with Disneyland & Orange County.
Traveling to Disneyland Soon?
Did I miss one of your favorite Disneyland Resort tricks? If so let leave a comment below so I can give it a try on my next visit.