I never thought I would become the Disneyland fanatic people came to for Disneyland tips. It just sort of happened. I probably visited Disneyland over a dozen times as a child but once my family move to Orange County, my Disneyland visitation skyrocketed. Now I have visited Disneyland over 100 times! I love the parks and love sharing my Disneyland tips!
I have become a Disneyland expert and I am constantly asked to share my Disneyland tips so I decided to put them down all in one place. Whether this will be your first time at Disneyland or your tenth, I hope this guide will help you get the most out of every Disneyland vacation.
Stay at these Family Friendly Hotels in Disneyland
Heading to another park or want to see our entire library or Disney content? We cover it all! Check out our Ultimate Guide to Disney Vacations.
DISNEYLAND TIPS FOR BEFORE YOU GO
Disneyland Tips on When To Go
1. The best time to visit Disneyland is mid-week during the off-season. If your kids can take a couple days off from school, it is certainly worth the effort. Make every effort to avoid peak travel times. Your family will spend much less time fighting crowds, standing in long lines.
2. On peak days, one-day admission prices will rise 20% over regular day admission. Peak dates include the Christmas season, Spring Break, and peak summer. If you visit the parks on “value” days, the price is reduced by 4%. Visit the Disneyland pricing calendar for updated information. Here are my four favorite times of year to visit the Disneyland:
3. The week after Labor Day in September through the first two weeks in October are good times to visit. Kids are back in school so the parks are not crowded. Both parks are decked out for Halloween the entire month of October. Here is our complete guide to all the Disneyland Halloween fun. We update it every year.
Bonus tip: September is typically one of the warmest months in Orange County so be sure to make time for a beach day or some pool time back at the hotel.
4. January and February are good times, too. While most of the country is freezing, Orange County is typically enjoying daytime temperatures between 55 and 75. If you have to choose a 3 day weekend, crowds are more manageable on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend than President’s Day.
Headed to Disneyland during the Spring Break season? Don’t miss the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival.
5. In the spring, consider the first two weeks in May: Spring Break crowds are gone, the weather is nice, and kids are still in school.
6. If you want to enjoy Christmas at Disneyland, go the first two weeks in December: This is probably my favorite time to visit because all of the holiday decorations are up but most of the holiday visitors are still doing their Christmas shopping. Park attendance is low but the wow factor is high. Be sure to read our full guide to Christmas at Disneyland. We update it annually.
Stay at these Family Friendly Hotels in Disneyland
7. There are times of year you will want to avoid if you can. The park is busy mid-March through mid- April due to Spring Break, Thanksgiving week, the weeks before and after Christmas, most of June and August, and all of July. If you do have to go during the summer months, try to visit either the first week in June (when most Southern California schools are still in session) or the last week in August (when most schools are back in session).
Make Hotel Reservations
Once you decide when to go, you need to figure out where to stay. While staying at a Disney hotel is fun, convenient, and gives you the opportunity to enjoy expanded park hours, it is also very expensive. You have some decisions to make!
8. If you need to trim your expenses to stay within the family vacation budget, staying at a hotel offsite would be a good place to start. Unlike Disney World, the area around Disneyland is quite compact and there are several hotels within a mile of the resort. On a Disney vacation, most families are only at their hotels to sleep (or perhaps play in the pool), and there are many hotels that are within walking distance of the park.Explore Trekaroo’s Guide to Hotels Near Disneyland and the Best Hotel Pools Near Disneyland to narrow down your choices.
9. Staying in Disneyland Resort hotels is fun, convenient, and gives you access to special Extra Magic Hours. Extra Magic Hours allow guests to enter the parks early. The current schedule allows hotel guests to enter Disneyland one hour early on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Disney California Adventure opens one hour early to hotel guests on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
10. If you use Disney MaxPass (here is everything you need to know about Disneyland MaxPass) can start making mobile FASTPASS selections as soon as you enter the park. Important note: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is not currently part of the FASTPASS program. It is also not open during Disneyland’s Extra Magic Hours.
11. If you are looking for the most value-oriented place to stay on Disneyland Resort property, consider Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel . Though it hasn’t been updated in recent years like the Disneyland Hotel or Disney’s Grand Californian, it offers a nice location, character dining, and all the same theme park perks for a lower price.
12. Disneyland Hotel has the best pool complex out of the three Disneyland Resort hotels. Families love the awesome monorail-themed water slide.
13. Disney’s Grand Californian is worth the splurge. It has the best location of the three hotels (Disney California Adventure is literally its backyard) and offers the best food (adults don’t want to miss Napa Rose). During the holidays, there is an enormous gingerbread house in the lobby that you don’t want to miss!
Stay at these Family Friendly Hotels near Disneyland.
Make Dining/Special Experience Reservations
14. You don’t have to stay at a Disney hotel to enjoy character dining. Use that money you saved by booking an offsite hotel to splurge on one of Disney’s signature dining experiences. Character dining is often one of the most magical experiences a family with young children experiences while at the park and reservations are almost always necessary. There are a few different options (and price points) for Disney character dining. Here is my complete Insider Guide to Disneyland Character Dining.
15. Dining reservations at Disneyland Resort can be made up to 60 days in advance. Dining reservations can be made by emailing [email protected] or via phone at (714) 781-DINE (3463). Reservations for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a princess makeover experience for little girls ages 3 – 12, can also be made in advance by calling (714) 781-STYLE (7895).
Related: Here is a list of restaurants accepting reservations at Disneyland Resort.
Buy Your Park Tickets
16. If you want to save time and money, buy your tickets before you get to Disneyland. There are no deals to be had for single day tickets but the convenience of not having to stand in line at the gate is nice. La Jolla Mom has a great article on buying discount Disneyland tickets.
17. You don’t need tickets for children under 3. Yes, there really are some free things at Disneyland!
18. Decide whether or not you need a Park Hopper ticket. Unlike Walt Disney World, the two parks at the Disneyland Resort are right next to each other so going back and forth between the parks is easy. Park Hopper provide flexibility but that flexibility does come with added cost.
19. If you do buy a one-park ticket and decide to upgrade it once you arrive, you can do this at a ticket booth found in between the two parks. No need to stress!
20. Park Hopper tickets do not need to be used on consecutive days. They must be used within 13 days of first use. So feel free to spend a day at the parks and then a day at the beach or some other Southern California attraction before heading back to the Disneyland Resort. Always read the terms and conditions on your tickets.
21. I highly recommend buying MaxPass. Why? Because your time at Disneyland is limited and it the best way to make the most out of your trips to Disneyland. What is MaxPass and how does it work? Here is everything you need to know about Disney Maxpass.
22. If you buy a 3-5 day park hopper (or a fabulous Southern California CityPASS for those of you planning on exploring Southern California beyond Disneyland) ahead of time, your ticket will include one early admission day which will get you into Disneyland Park one hour before the park opens to the general public.
23. Do not buy tickets off of Craigslist or Ebay. There are so many scams out there and I have seen people get pulled aside at the ticket counter on more than one occasion because the “ticket” they bought was not actually valid.
24. The weather in Southern California is generally pleasant, but it does rain during between the months of October and May. It almost never rains June through September. Check your forecast ahead of time and plan to layer. It can be cloudy in the morning, warm through the afternoon, and then cool again in the evenings. We usually bring a sweatshirt for when the sun goes down no matter the time of year. If you are going to visit Disneyland during the rainy season check out our guide on visiting Disneyland on a rainy day.
25. Save money and bring your own stroller. You can rent single and double strollers at Disneyland but they are $15 and $31 per day respectively. If you are at the parks for 3-5 days, that adds up quickly! Bring your stroller from home or purchase a cheap umbrella stroller from a Target in Anaheim.
26. Be mindful of the stroller rules. As of May 1, 2019, stroller wagons are no longer permitted in the parks. Strollers must be no larger than 31 inches wide and 52 inches long.
27. Pack snacks. Eating food inside the parks is part of the fun, but we all know kids like to snack all day long, so save yourself some dough and pack plenty of your own goodies. Snacks that can be eaten while standing in line are definitely the best because they help kill time and fill bellies. Experience has taught me that a couple cheap lollipops can go a long way when the lines are especially long.
28. Be sure to bring refillable water bottles. Ice water can be found for free at the quick-service restaurant soda fountains. If you pack little individual-sized packets of Crystal Light lemonade in your purse, you can throw those into your ice water and viola, instant happy kid!
29. Pack backup cell batteries. Cell phone batteries seem to drain quickly while at Disneyland. If you plan on being on your phone all day (trust me, you will be), bring a couple portable battery chargers. Disney does have phone charging station kiosks but those suckers are $30, so just bring your own.
30. Save money on souvenirs. Souvenirs inside the park are expensive and we all know that our kids are going to want everything they see. In order to keep costs down, I suggest buying a couple Disney-themed gifts at the dollar store, Target, and even on clearance at DisneyStore website ahead of time to give kids inside the parks. Disney notepads and pens are great for character autographs and easy to find at dollar stores.
31. Find Disney princess costumes at a discount on Ebay. Most are barely used and it is so much fun for little girls to wear inside the parks. You can also find less expensive versions of princess costumes at places like Target.
32. Inside the parks, there are various pressed penny machines which make for fun (and cheap) souvenirs. Disney has pressed penny collection book that is perfect for keeping your collection for about $10.
33. Pin trading is sort of a big deal at the Disney parks. There are several sellers on eBay (look for sellers with positive feedback) that sell pin packages. Buy some pins, wear them around your neck on a lanyard and trade away at the park. Most cast members (aka: park employees) wear a lanyard full of pins around their neck and they will trade pins with you as often as you and your little one would like. Fun stuff! And since you asked, yes we do have a complete guide filled with Disney pin trading tips.
34. If one of your souvenirs purchased at the parks breaks while you are on vacation, Disney will replace it for FREE! Just find a cast member inside a store to help you.
Download Helpful Apps and Read Insightful Books
35. Download the Disneyland app. You can buy tickets, check wait times, use MaxPass, and upload paper tickets as a back up for the physical item. You can also view PhotoPass photos, make dining reservations, and even order food and skip the lines! There even ways to use the app to interact with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
36. If you are a major planner and love a good, efficient schedule, check out Ridemax. Use it to map out a game plan for experiencing Disneyland with the shortest lines possible.
37. Lots to do in Line: Disneyland is a great app to help you pass the time while in the lines at the Disneyland Resort. The app provides trivia and scavenger hunts for each of the 64 lines at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. We have used this app multiple times and find it to be well worth the $5.99 price tag.
38. Trekaroo (insert shameless plug here) has a great (and free) mobile app which will allow you to check reviews of rides, attractions, hotels, and restaurants on our Disneyland California Resort Review Guide.
39. Head’s Up is a fun game to play in line. The app is now fee-based but it has keeps my entire family entertained while we stand in long queues.
Brush Up on Your Disneyland Knowledge
41. Disneyland has a fascinating history and The Disneyland Encyclopedia goes to great lengths to document it all. This book is a must for anyone who loves to geek out on Disneyland knowledge and includes information on every land, attraction, restaurant, shop, and big event that has ever happened at Disneyland.”
42. If you are looking for a way to make standing in lines less tedious, be sure to throw The Hidden Mickeys of Disneyland into your backpack. This full-color guide points out Hidden Mickeys all over the parks and finding the famous ears cleverly disguised is super addicting.
43. If you are going to buy PhotoPass+, buy it online ahead of time. PhotoPass+ is a program offered to visitors that allows them have unlimited photos of their family taken by Disney photographers all over the resort for one price. If you purchase Photopass+ at the parks, it will cost you $99.95 but if you purchase PhotoPass+ online at least 14 days before you visit the parks, it is just $78. There are single day passes available for just $39. If you would like to have several pictures of the entire family and don’t want to deal with the hassle of lugging a camera around, it isn’t a bad deal. Just be sure you take full advantage of that “unlimited”clause!
44. There are several rides that snap images of you riding them. These images can be added to PhotoPass by typing the number at the top of the photo into the app when you see it at the ride exit. Rides that take photos include Splash Mountain and Space Mountain at Disneyland and Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Incredicoaster in Disney California Adventure.
45. If you don’t buy PhotoPass, park employees (aka cast members) at PhotoPass picture locations are happy to take pictures for you using your camera. After all, they want to keep you happy at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Set Your Priorities
46. Don’t go to the parks without out knowing what your priorities are, especially if you have a limited amount of time. Figure out which rides are top priorities for your family and see how many of them have FastPasses available. Here is our guide to rides at Disneyland that ultilize FastPass and our guide to rides at Disney California Adventure that utilize FastPass.
47. Know which rides are best for your family. Here is our ranking of the 20 best rides at Disneyland. We also have a guide highlighting the best rides for toddlers at Disneyland. We also encourage you to read ride reviews on Trekaroo.
48. Check the schedule to see what the park hours are going to be during your stay. See which time and day the special events (such as parades and fireworks) your family is interested in will be offered, and plan your days around them.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT THE PARK
49. Arrive at least 15 minutes before the parks open. The early bird really does get the worm at Disneyland. The shortest lines for rides are always in the morning and the parks only get more crowded as the day goes on. Consider the amount of time it will take to park your car (take a picture of where you parked with your phone) and take the shuttle (about 10-15 minutes). You want to be out in front of the entrance saying “open, open, open” with all the other folks who know riding ten rides in the first hour will take three times as long later in the day.
50. When you enter Disneyland know this- for whatever reason, human nature leads people to attack the park by going right, towards Tomorrowland, first. I suggest heading to the left or better yet, straight back towards Toontown where the lines will be extremely short.
51. Fantasyland is the land most popular with young kids. If you have small children, do this section of the park right when it opens because it will get much more crowded and remain crowded until late at night when your kids will be too tired to ride. All the rides in Fantasyland are slow moving but a few, such as Snow White, can be a bit scary to timid little ones. Here is a list of rides at Disneyland that won’t scare skittish kids.
52. Head to City Hall at the beginning of Main Street to pick up a free button. Buttons say all sorts of things such as 1st Visit, Just Married, Just Engaged, Family Reunion, Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday, and I’m Celebrating. Cast members are great about noticing the button and make the person wearing the button feel special all day long.
53. Early in the day your family should definitely try to tackle the rides that will become more crowded as the day goes on, grabbing FastPasses for the rides that have them along the way. Rides that can have long lines but don’t have FastPass include Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Matterhorn, and Finding Nemo.
RELATED: Find the best hotel deals in Disneyland!
54. If you have a child who is too small or too scared to ride some rides, take advantage of Child Swap which is available on most rides with height restrictions. No, you don’t get to trade in your child for a taller and braver kid, but you and your partner will both still be able to ride the rides without having to wait in line twice! When you enter a ride queue, simply tell a Cast Member you would like a Child Swap pass. This pass will allow the first adult to ride while the second adult stays with the child and then swap roles after.
55. Single rider is a great option for older kids and adults who want to save time and skip the regular line by essentially acting as a seat filler. Single riders enter a special line (ask a cast member for direction) and then cast members loading ride vehicles draw will use you to fill empty seats. This line moves much quicker than the regular line. Here is a list of rides at the Disneyland Resort that have the single rider option.
Handy Tips for Popular Disneyland Rides
56. Increase your chances of being picked to be the rebel spy on Star Tours – The Adventure Continues by not putting on your 3D glasses on until the ride actually starts. They need a good shot!
57. Lines that seem to move quickly even when they are long include Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, It’s a Small World, Jungle Cruise, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
58. The point values for targets on Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters are as follows: circles are worth 100 points, squares as 1,000 points, diamonds are 5,000 points, and triangles are 10,000 points.
59. The Pirates Lair (formerly known as Tom Sawyer’s Island) is a great place to let kids run off some pent up “waiting in line” energy. My kids love exploring the caves and guarding pirate treasure.
60. Disneyland Railroad is a great ride for winding down. It moves at a slow and leisurely pace and has lulled my son to sleep on more than one occasion. While your kid naps, you can just stay on and ride the train around the park’s perimeter.
61. There are two lines for It’s a Small World. I have found that the line on the outside (or further right) tends to be faster because the inside line handles all the wheelchairs which can take a while to load.
62. There is much to know about the rides, food, and attractions at the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Here is a full guide we created for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and another article highlighting 15 Things You Need to Know Before You Go to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
63. You can get in line for a ride up until the park closing time. If the park closes at 8PM, as long as you are in line by 7:59PM, you will be able to ride the ride.
64. If you are going to Downtown Disney, take the monorail. You can pick it up by Autopia and it drops you off right next to the Rainforest Café.
Book your hotel for the family in Disneyland!
Where to go with baby
65. There is a Baby Care Center at the end of Main Street, next to first aid, on the right hand side (if you are facing the castle). Inside there is a changing room with four cushioned changing tables with high walls and Velcro belts. They are extremely clean. There are shelves for holding all your stuff and even a toilet for cleaning soiled cloth diapers.
There is also a sink, two tiny toilets for potty trainers, a feeding area with high chairs, and a nursing area that is quiet (no dads or older kids allowed). Cast Members will warm bottles and baby food for you. Diapers, ointment, baby powder, Pull Ups, wipes, pacifiers, formula, baby food, and Children’s Tylenol are all available for purchase inside. Why don’t they have these places everywhere? Disney definitely knows how to keep moms happy!
A Few Notes on Dining
66. Many quick service restaurants offer advanced ordering through the Disneyland App. Use it. Love it. Embrace it. I especially appreciate this feature during special food festivals at Disney California Adventure and for Dole Whips (see below).
67. Dole Whips are the greatest ice cream of all time. Up until recently, they could only be purchased at the hut in front of the Enchanted Tiki Room and the lines were always long. Now they can also be purchased at the Tropical Hideaway quick-service restaurant in Adventureland. You can also use the Disneyland App to skip the cashier lines and purchase your Dole Whip in advance. Score!
68. The Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country is a nice place to enjoy a meal and escape the crowds for a while. It is tucked in a quiet corner and there is plenty of outdoor seating with nice views of the Rivers of America. Things have picked up since the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge but I still enjoy this spot.
69. The Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland serves up a meal (chicken fingers or fish and chips) and an entertaining show for a fun dining experience. The sundaes are quite popular as well.
70. The hand-dipped corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon at the end of Main Street are LEGIT. They are my favorite grab-and-go meal, perfect for eating in line. Churros and popcorn are two other food cart items that you don’t want to miss.
71. Disneyland is great with food allergies! Check out this great post on traveling with a child with severe food allergies or this specific article on visiting Disney parks with food allergies. Disney chefs are trained on every sort of food allergy and will personally come out to discuss your child’s needs with you face to face.
72. You can request the recipe for any menu item at the Disneyland Resort. Yep, you read that right.
Parades, Fireworks & Shows
73. If you have a young Star Wars fan interested in the Jedi Training , head to Tomorrowland early to get your kids on the list for a showtime. This has replaced the frantic jumping up and down to be selected part of the show; pre-signed up kiddos arrive early, don their padawn robes, and get their pictures taken by Disney photographers.
74. Fireworks can be seen all over the park (and in the parking lots and many hotel windows) but in order to see the entire show, you do need to be facing the castle from the front or somewhere on Main Street.
75. My most favorite firework viewing is on the Matterhorn. The line is usually super short during fireworks and it is so fun to zip in and out of the mountain with fireworks exploding in front of your eyes!
76. If you are planning on seeing a parade or watching the fireworks, consider enjoying your meal during your wait time. Pick up your food to go from a nearby quick-service restaurant and eat dinner in your parade/fireworks viewing spot. This will help pass time and secure a good viewing spot.
77. If you are like me and are way too impatient to sit around and wait for parades, simply wait until the very last moment and then find a spot to fill in the holes near pathways that close right when the parade begins or behind picnic benches along the route. Kids can usually sneak up to the front and sit on a curb in front of adult parade goers.
Enjoy the fireworks and stay at these family friendly hotels in Disneyland!
78. Disney is fantastic with special needs accommodations. Are you traveling with someone in your party who has special needs? We have been there! See our post on visiting Disney Parks with special needs children. It is packed full of great advice and information.
Disney California Adventure
Ready to learn all my tips for Disney California Adventure? Head to my Disney California Adventure tips article.
Heading to another park or want to see our entire library or Disney content? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Disney Vacations.
Lead image by: Disney Parks