I remember my first visit to Disneyland in 1977. Not all of it...but pieces. I remember riding Dumbo (and my mom not liking leaving the ground). I remember eating a frozen chocolate dipped banana. I remember it being magical. I still love Disneyland. Since that first visit I think I've been somewhere around 25 times! These are just my musings about what I like, what I skip, what I splurge on and how I save time and money.
See the Disneyland parade and the castle fireworks. I'm not one for camping out for hours for a parade--and I don't love the "leave Grandma with 3 strollers, 2 blankets and 12 coats" to save a sidewalk spot. Instead, I ask a cast member what direction the parade is going (it either starts or ends by Its a Small World or Main Street) and plan on arriving at the starting side of the parade and take what I can find or I hit the train station platform and watch from above. Same deal with fireworks (the late fireworks are less busy). The Frozen musical show is pretty cute, but it is new and popular, so you’ll need a Fast Pass for it. If you haven’t seen World of Color, then its worth seeing once (but if you have to choose between this and Disneyland fireworks, choose the fireworks). You can get a FastPass, but I don't like to be that close, because you get wet.
I have some real passion for Disneyland food. I usually get any and all of these items.
Corndog (you can order it by itself, even though it sounds like you have to have the meal)
Dole Whip from Tiki Room
Matterhorn Macaroon from Jolly Holiday Bakery on Main
Mickey Beneigts in New Orlean’s Square
Soft Serve Cone from Cozy Cone
Mickey Waffles at the Carnation Cafe
Caramel Apple (and I learned to make my own, here)
Caramel Apple (and I learned to make my own, here)
Rides I love
- Haunted Mansion—Holiday overlay (mixes Nightmare Before Christmas)
- Small World-Christmas (other times of the year I skip it)
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Buzz Light Year Astro Blasters
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
- Splash Mountain (if its warm—otherwise no, because you get wet)
- Matterhorn (the left side line is usually shorter)
- Finding Nemo Submarines-unless there is zero wait. Its just not that interesting--animated Nemo images are on the window in front of you and you can see the water's surface if you look up.
- Toon Town—its for smaller kids--but Mickey and Minnie have houses there so you might want to catch a character greeting.
- Animation Station—they do drawing lessons every 20 minutes—I LOVE this. They list the characters they will teach on a board out front, so choose the one you like.
- Cars Land—The ride is amazing. Get there first thing in the morning for no wait. Get the FastPass. Or do the single rider line. Be sure to go back at night to see the neon lights.
- Tower of Terror—hop on, its changing its themeing to Marvel next year
- Soarin' over the World—love, love, love this one. You’ll need to Fast Pass it. I always do this one twice.
- Toy Story Mania—I love it, but the line is always 40+ minutes and no Fast Pass available
- California Screamin’ if you like fast and upside down roller coasters, you'll like this one
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree—its a toned down tea cup ride, so I manage it
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Ariel’s Undersea Adventure—cute, calm and never a long wait
- Grizzly River Run—you will get wet
- Luigi’s Rockin' Roadsters (unless there is less than 5 min wait). Its really short, isn't fun and has irritating music the whole time.
- Mickey’s Ferris Wheel—it takes FOREVER and is not entertaining
I love looking at all the Disney stuff. You can see most of it in the Downtown Disney World of Disney—but the Emporium on Main also has most of it as does Eli and Co in California Adventure.
My other tips
1. Pick the right time to go
If the park is super crowded, you won't be able to ride as many rides--because you'll be in line or fighting your way through huge crowds. I typically head to Disneyland in mid-September or end of January. I prefer to go in the middle of the week--crowds are lowest on Tues/Wed.
2. Get to the park early
No matter what time of year you go, the first couple hours that the park is open is the least busy. Line waits are often just 5-10 minutes. If you can, get there and do the non- Fast Pass rides (like all those Fantasy Land rides) before the lines are 45 minutes long.
3. Use the Fast Passes
At Disneyland you can only do Fast Passes once you are at the park and you can only hold one at a time (technically). I like to grab the hard to get Fast Pass first thing and then start riding rides as soon as the park opens--I can usually get my first Fast Pass, go ride 2-3 rides then use my first Fast Pass and be eligible for my next Fast Pass by 11:30am. There are some exceptions to the one Fast Pass rule--things like World of Color is separate from regular rides. Also, Fast Passes at Disneyland are not connected to those at California Adventure, so you could possibly hit one park, grab passes, then run across the plaza to the other park and get another Fast Pass there.
4. Find the shorter food line
Two of my favorite food items at Disneyland are the corn dog and the Dole whip. The most popular place to get the corn dog is the Little Red Wagon on Main Street at Disneyland. Sometimes the line is 30 people long. You can find the exact same corn dog at the Golden Horseshoe cafe in Frontierland just a 5 minute walk from the Wagon (if you are DCA, the corn dogs are over by Goofy's Sky School). The Dole Whip is only at the Tikki show--and the line outside is typically longer than the one inside. So go into the waiting area for the show, order your Dole Whip and then choose to go to the show (or not).
5. Use the single rider line
If your goal is to ride as many rides as possible and you don't care if you sit with your group, use the single rider line. Splash Mountain and Indiana Jones at DL have single riders. At DCA more rides offer single rider, like California Screamin', Grizzly River Rapids, Goofy Sky School, Soarin' over the World and Radiator Racers. I've had great experiences at all of the single rider lines except at Soarin'--for some reason more than any other rides, the employees seem to treat the single riders poorly (the wait is sometimes just as long as the regular line).
6. Ice water is free
On a hot day ice water is delicious. Walk up to any counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of ice water--you get an 8 oz cup with a lid and straw. I've done the "bring a backpack" and have water bottles and snacks--which is great, but if you don't want to haul a bag--go get the free water. I never feel bad about only asking for water...after all, I paid close to $100 a day to be there.
7. Bring a stroller
If you've got kids, bring a stroller. Even a kid who doesn't use a stroller at home any more will at some point need a break from all the walking. Sometimes I wish I had a stroller for me--but then I don't want to be that lady who can't drive her Jazzy chair and keep crashing into things (another tip: I've seen many frustrated older folks try to use the scooters...maybe take Grandma to the grocery store before the trip to try out driving a scooter in advance).
8. Bring snacks. You can bring a backpack or bag with snacks--which is good when you don't want to spend $5 on a churro. Pretty much all the standard motel rooms near the park have fridges and microwaves in every room. If you have a car (or use Uber) head to Target one mile from the park and pick up drinks, snacks or maybe even stuff for cereal and sandwiches. Von's Grocery will also deliver. There is also a really nice Walgreens and CVS on the corner of Harbor and Katella.
9. Where to stay? Well, that depends on how you want to do Disney and who is in your group. I like to stay within 1 mile of the park (usually much closer) so that I can walk and not have to do shuttles or pay for parking (because thousands of people all want to use the same shuttle when the park closes). If you have small kids and plan on a mid-day break, stay close enough to walk back and forth without a shuttle. If you think you can power through the day without a break, then you can stay a bit further out and get some pretty nice value-add perks for less cost.
Unless you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel (and if budget isn't an issue, its pretty fun--and the pool is great), you will be entering the park at the East pedestrian entrance. Any of the motels on Harbor Blvd between the Howard Johnson and the Grand Legacy are the closest for walking distance. Anywhere along Harbor to the Convention Center is still "walkable"--but you won't want to after a long day at the park. There is a community shuttle called the ART that serves all the motels, but I think its kind of expensive and it can be frustrating to stop at multiple hotels on the way--making the trip 20+ minutes. I've stayed at Tropicanna, HoJo, Candy Cane, Alpine Inn, Cortona, Marriott, Hilton, Homewood all within the past couple years. The Candy Cane Inn has their own shuttle and breakfast--so you don't have to stop at every motel on the way to the park and back. The Hilton Homewood Suites is awesome (huge hot breakfast and free dinner)--and if you don't want to walk the 15 minutes, you could pop into the Toy Story parking lot and ride the Disney parking lot shuttle. Tropicanna is really close, but they have no value-adds other than being close but they charge for parking. HoJo has a nice pool for kids, but no free breakfast. Alpine Inn is close to the Convention Center and its about a 12 minute walk to the crosswalk in front of Disney and offers cold cereal and whole fruit for breakfast. Check out TripAdvisor.com to look at reviews and photos to see what motels might fit your personality style best. I've used most of them close to the park and my experience is I can live with any of them. Some have nicer perks like breakfast and free parking, but I can live with any of them.
10. To rent a car or not? I've done both. Sometimes I want to head to the beach, or I'm only there 1 night, so a cheap rental might be the best way. My last trip it would have been slightly less expensive to rent a car than use Uber, but the line at the rental desk and the time it takes to return the car made me decide against rental this time. The Disney Resort Express bus is really easy--and around $40 per adult round trip. The bus serves the Orange County and LAX airports and goes to the Disneyland Hotel first and then stops at others (on the way back it picks up at the DLH last and then straight to the airport). The nice thing about the Disney Bus is that you don't need car seats. I have used Uber and Lyft from the Orange County airport and it was slick--and inexpensive. If everyone in your group is beyond the car seat stage, Uber can be a good choice. It cost me about $17 to ride to my motel across from Disneyland. I used Lyft once to pick me up at my motel that was 1 mile from the park and have them drop me at the drop off lot on Harbor ($4 and no waiting for a shuttle with the hoards--and you can have 4 people in the car). I used Uber to pick me up too, but I went across the street to the Panera where it was less crowded.
I love going to Disneyland! I recently returned from Disney World in Florida, and I had a good time--but I still prefer Disneyland! I hope you have a wonderful Disney trip.