The mecca of all theme parks, where all the Disney Magic started – Disneyland (usually doesn’t follow “California” or “Anaheim” because for the most part, when you say “Disneyland” it means this baby). It’s not the first ever or biggest or the most expensive or has the latest greatest rides but it’s the park envisioned, planned and overseen by Master Imagineer himself, Walt Disney.
If any of you watched the movie Saving Mr. Banks, you’ll get a glimpse of what Disneyland was in the beginning. It initially started off to satiate the requests of the people to tour the Disney Studios but as planning to make the small adjoining park to the studios, plans got bigger and bigger. The park was moved from LA County down to Orange County. At the time, the only theme parks you had were very tame, with just regular merry go rounds, boat rides (ala-Love Tunnel) and maybe a ferris wheel or two. This park was going to be different in that the rides were all themed around everything Disney.
That was the Disney experience. The Dumbo ride was made after the storyline of a flying elephant. People related to the ride, to the character and that’s what made the experience . The Mad Tea Party “teacups” ride was also one of the pioneering rides in the park that relates itself to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party scene in Alice in Wonderland. It gave the people a chance to be part of that crazy tea party. From there and a few other rides, the park started and then grew into what is now a p
Fast forward to present day, millions of people go through Disneyland’s turnstiles and that equates to long lines (for the rides, for food, for the character meet-ups), lots of walking, and lots of buying. You do not just go to Disneyland and “walk around and see what’s there to do. You need to have a plan of attack so you can ride the most amount of rides with Fast Passes, get to the food when the line is short and see the wonderful shows throughout the day.
1 Get tickets early.
Lining up for tickets on the day of your visit is such a noob move. Better to either get online tickets or do what we did, we walked up to our local supermarket and bought ourselves a couple of Southern California Resident-Discounted 2-Day One-Park-Per-Day tickets (someone in your party will have to confirm Southern California residency though).
2 When parking in the tall twin parking structures, give yourself another hour.
It will take time to line up for the structures, then strategically, military-style get a space, work your way down, wait for the trams, get on the trams and ride the trams before you finally get to the park (where another set of lines for security and, if you’re not smart, tickets await). Most people would just say, take an extra 30 minutes but I’m early-bird neurotic that way and I’ll say give it an hour.
3 Ask for First Time, Birthday or Anniversary pins
We asked ours as we paid for our parking. Tonie was technically going to Disneyland (Anaheim) for the first time. So she was given a First Time button and the rest of our group was given “I’m Celebrating” pins. You don’t have to pay for it and it’s just a great souvenir and just adds to that Disney Magic Awww Factor (Yes, it’s a technical term).
You can also ask for the button pins in Guest Services inside the park or at the front desk of the Disney hotels. These won’t necessarily get you any perks – no front of the line pass or anything. Just a cute little button.
3 Attack Tomorrowland strategically
First, get the Fast Pass for Space Mountain and while waiting for the Fast Pass to activate, go in line for Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear. By the time you finish both rides, you’ll be able to get into Space Mountain and bypass the ridiculous line.
BTW, Star Tours carries a new storyline, or rather, storylines. The revamp Star Tours are now based on the newer Episodes 1, 2 and 3 with several combinations of beginnings and ends that give you about 50 combinations all in all. You can expect to watch a different ride every time.
4 Get Fast Passes for the biggest rides in the park
If you can, try to get Fast Passes for these rides because they are really worth it: Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. These are the most popular rides in the park and have the longest lines ever. I remember getting through the Big Thunder Mountain Line, which seemed to be longer than an hour, and getting to the front of the line in 5 minutes thanks to our Fast Passes.
5 Prepare yourself for a photo op with Elsa and Anna
If you want to have a chance at seeing Elsa or Anna of Frozen in Fantasyland, be at the park when it opens and sprint (DO NOT SLOW DOWN) for them at the end of the park because when we got there, it was a 3-hour wait. 3 hours – for a photo op – for EITHER Elsa or Anna. I had to break the Happy Meal’s heart when I made her choose between lining up for them or going on the other rides. She chose the rides.
I am readying myself for the next time we go there. We’re sooo gonna hit that Frozen house!
6 Two things: Stroller or a fit guy cousin.
There’s a lot of walking to be done in Disneyland and although we proclaimed ourselves stroller free when she was 3 years old, it may be a smart idea to get one with all the running around and Fast Passes and standbys and land-hopping – especially if you plan to be there from sun up to sun down. Either that or get someone who can suffer a 5-year old on his shoulders for a while. We got the latter.
One thing about strollers though is that for most sections of the park, there are special stroller parking spaces to leave your strollers. You can’t really just leave it wherever you want and you can’t really bring them into the lines.
7 Get a Dole Whip.
It’s pineapple juice topped with pineapple-flavored soft serve. The line is always long. There are no Fast Passes for snacks. It’s worth it. It really is. I can imagine it would go great with a soft pretzel – Mickey-shaped pretzels, of course.
8 Get your parade snacks/ early dinner early.
When it’s about 30 minutes before parade time, the lines get really long for food so either be ready to duke it out at the line or do what I did and headed into the heart of Tomorrowland for some pretzels.
9 Get a good spot on the parade.
30 minutes before the parade, it’s almost impossible to get a seat on Main Street. Try going a little earlier than that and use up that time to alternate going to the bathroom and buying dinner (which I assume you will be eating while waiting for the parade)
10 There’s always more people in Disneyland than California Adventure.
The reason for this is that for most of the tour groups that do their USA-West Coast tour, they opt for Disneyland than California Adventure because it’s more iconic and more “WOW.” So, inside the park, you’ll see a high number of penant-flag-waving tour leaders guiding hordes and hordes of most likely middle aged people throughout the park.
If you want to do character signings, the lines are going to be sooo much shorter in California Adventure but there won’t be any Princesses and fantasy characters there. It’s just going to be a decision you have to make whether you want to line up for 30-45 minutes for ONE Princess for just 10 minutes for Mickey, Donald AND Pluto.
11 Shorter rides during parade time.
If you want to get one or two extra rides, do it during parade time. Everybody will be lining up the streets and resting for that so that would be a great time to catch up on some of the rides you would want to cram into your day.
12 Bring extra set of clothes for the little ones.
Not just an extra shirt or something, like a whole set. There are several areas in the park where you can play with interactive water fixtures and fountains. Then of course, there are the rides like Splash Mountain that really get you soaking wet.
13 Do not get a park hopper ticket
Really, it’s not worth it to go get the park hopper ticket. Disneyland and California Adventure are big enough on their own and just thinking about going back and forth for rides is just plain exhausting. There is always something to do or eat or see in any of the parks at any given time anyway. All you’ll do is tire yourself out to the point where it’s not fun anymore.
Either just go to one park for one day or allocate two days for both parks. It’s just not worth the trouble.
14 Ready yourself for walking and a hefty amount of theme park fatigue.
Disneyland is no willy-nilly park you can casually stroll unto and go with the flow. People who come here, families, kids, teens and adults all have some sort of strategy to maximize their day. If you do go with the casual-stroll approach, you’ll end up in long lines for the rides, for good and end up going to less rides, getting awful parade spots, and not seeing any shows.
15 Classic rides have long lines
If you want to take a trip down memory lane or pass down the experience of riding Dumbo the Elephant or the Mad Hatter Teacups, then be ready to line up for a long wait. These rides are half for the kids who cannot ride any of the big rides and half for those wanting to live out the nostalgia. Hey, I do it a lot, but the wait just wasn’t worth it, unless you go as soon as the park opens.
Dumbo and the Teacups are also some sort of heirloom experience people have been passing down from one generation to the other. I mean, we went through it.
16 Toy Exchange
Normally, I’d tell you to buy your toys at the end of your visit to Disneyland but a great thing about Disneyland is that they’ll let you exchange your toy (that you bought in the park within the same day) for something else should your little one get tired of it immediately. Just make sure you have the receipt and have kept the tags on and have kept the said toy in pristine condition.
17. Balloon Exchange
Another cute thing about Disneyland is that if you bought a balloon in the park and it pops before you make it out of the park, they will replace it free of charge – and you don’t even have to track down the same vendor. Any balloon person will do.
18 Get a photo op with the Matterhorn
The Matterhorn mountain is an Anaheim-exclusive and is practically the California resident’s marker of where Disneyland is. I remember as a child, passing by the Matterhorn and wanting to go to Disneyland right then and there.
19 Check for Closed Rides
If you plan going in one of the low-season or during the weekdays, plan ahead because some of the rides close up on some days. Even when we were there, the Monday before Memorial Day weekend, a couple of good rides were closed: Pirates of the Caribbean (known to have a relatively short line or a line that goes by fast) and It’s a Small World (little kids’ prerogative ride, obviously)
20 Enjoy the Park
Sounds easy enough but with a large park, with a large crowd, with long lines and lots of walking all day can stress people out quickly. Although generally speaking, even the most exhausted people in the park rarely actually frown, you still have to be wary of the situation and remind yourself from being too stressed out. You are in the “Happiest Place on Earth” after all so make the most of it.