The Ultimate Disneyland Travel Guide & First Time Tips
While many of these tips will apply for Disney themed parks around the world, for the purpose of this article, our focus is on the Anaheim Disneyland parks – Disneyland and California Adventure Park and how to make the most of your first visit!
We did a lot of research in the lead up to our trip to make sure our visit went smoothly and we got to do and see as much as we could in the time we had!
The costs for a Disneyland trip are usually pretty high so you want to save a few dollars where you can by doing some pre-planning at least a couple of months out!
Let’s start planning your Disneyland first visit!!
Best Time To Go To Disneyland
The best time to go to Disneyland is during the off-season. The off-season is generally from early September to late November, and then again from early January to late February.
The weather is often nicer during these months too, so you’ll be able to enjoy all of the rides and attractions without having to worry about the heat.
If you can’t go during the off-season, try to avoid going during peak times, such as summer break and holidays. These times are often very crowded and the weather is often hotter, so you’ll want to be prepared for both.
No matter when you go, Disneyland is always a magical place to be. So don’t wait too long to plan your trip!
How Many Days Do You Need At Disneyland?
It is easy to spend several days at the Disneyland parks and still not do every single thing available!
The parks are loaded with rides, entertainment, shows and places to eat. They often have special events throughout the year too which could influence how long you want to spend.
The first step would be working out how long you can spend at Disneyland if you have other things you want to do during your trip as well.
Knowing the minimum and the maximum number of days available will help you decide how long you want to spend just at theme parks!
Do you want to visit one or both of the theme parks at Disneyland Resort? If both, you will want at least 2 days, if not more!
However, if you are visiting with older kids and adults, longer may be better so you do have the time to do all the things you want to do, as lineups for rides and attractions can be lengthy at times!
The time of year may influence this, during the peak times of the year like Summer and Spring break.
We highly recommend the phone app MouseWait for Disneyland as it will show you the projected crowds based on dates through the years, based on previous years.
It will also tell you scheduled seasonal maintenance on rides during your planned visit too.
There are a lot of different ways you can purchase your Disneyland tickets. Of course, you can get them at the gate on the day and pay full price. However few people actually do this as you can always get a better deal online!
One thing that will influence your ticket costs is whether you plan to visit one or both Disneyland Resort parks – we actually had no idea there were two until we started planning! Oops!
Both Disneyland and California Adventure Park are separate theme parks in the same location, with their entrances facing each other and you can actually get some great combined ticket options so you can do both parks… which means you probably need at least 2 days!
You can purchase multi-day passes for one or both parks. These are usually pretty good value, saving you compared to purchasing at the gate. You can get 2-5 day tickets for one or both parks, visiting one park per day only.
Alternatively, you can get a 2 park hopper ticket for the same duration, which allows you to go between both parks on the same day.
While this can be a great option, it is significantly more expensive, which is why we went for the single park per day on a 3-day pass during our visit.
In fact, we felt like the hopper tickets were a bit of a Disney tourist trap when one park a day is definitely a better use of time!
Disneyland & California Adventure Park Ticket Options:
So when choosing tickets, it really comes down to what extras you may want added on.
Do a bit of research and find the ticket that works out the best value for you!
Since we only had a couple of days and no time to enjoy the rest of the Southern California attractions, we got Disney 3 day tickets rather than the city pass option, but next time I’d love to see more.
Aim to arrive at Disneyland around 10-15 minutes before the gates open. The lines can get pretty huge pretty quick and while they get through them quickly, it’s no fun waiting in line with small children!
The first point is a bag search before you reach the actual gates.
There are a few things on the banned list… the usual offenders – weapons, alcohol etc and then the one that gets a lot of people, no selfie sticks!
They were banned from Disneyland parks a couple of years back so make sure you leave yours at home or at the hotel!
On day one, we recommend having a rough plan of some of the main shows and attractions you want to experience as a priority, especially if you only have 1 day to do it in.
You can check the times of everything on the website, or use the MouseWait app so you can have a rough schedule!
If rides are your first priority, making a beeline to the most popular ride first… or to the Fastpass, both will be your best option!
If you have a 3 or more day ticket, you get a special bonus included – a Disneyland magic morning.
Magic mornings happen a couple of days a week on set days at both parks and allow eligible ticket holders to enter the park an hour earlier than the standard entry times.
If you are able to plan your trip around a Magic Morning, we highly recommend it!
Our first day was a Magic Morning to Disneyland and we got in the park super quick by arriving around an hour and 10 minutes before entry to grab our passes and get our photos taken at the gate and we got in 3 or 4 rides before the crowds spilled in.
It gave us a huge head start on the day and allowed us to see and do so much more in our 1 day at the park!
When you are inside the park, certain popular rides and attractions have a FASTPASS station. They allow you to insert your tickets and it will give you a fast pass receipt.
This means you get priority access to that ride during the specified time, usually within an hour block.
When you have FASTPASS, you return to the attraction during that time and you get to go through a much shorter line… or sometimes no line at all, instead of lining up for 30-90 minutes as can sometimes be the case once the crowds start spilling in!
FASTPASS is only available for certain rides and shows, so it pays to prioritise which ones you are most keen on experiencing as you can only have one FASTPASS at a time until your current one is due to be used… then you can get a new one.
It’s a fantastic system! We used it a couple of times on our 3rd day once we had worked out a better system of how to maximise our time and managed to ride a few of the most popular family rides more than once!
You can check the rides and attractions with Disneyland FASTPASS availability on the website.
As of mid-2017, the parks now offer a Disney MaxPass option too, which essentially supercharges your FASTPASS options! For a daily cost, you can do your FASTPASS scheduling via the official APP.
This means you can maximise your time even more, without having to hunt down the booths around the parks!
Fastpass is also available at Disney World – Check out some great tips to maximise your Fastpass use when visiting Disney World with the family.
On The Day Of Your First Visit To Disneyland
Having a rough plan of the must-do rides and attractions you don’t want to miss before you arrive will help you prioritise your time and fit a lot more in, however, a great way to structure your day is around the set attractions you want to see.
If there are certain shows or parades you would like to see, make sure you know what times they are.
And be mindful that you will need to arrive around half an hour or so earlier to get a good spot… sometimes even sooner for the night time attractions!
Then you can work out the pockets of time to fit everything else in!
There usually isn’t too much scheduled early in the day so this is the best time to fit in some rides, especially before the lines get long!
The same goes for that late afternoon period when a lot of people start making their way home. Some of the ride lines end up quite short again not long before it starts to get dark.
Disneyland parks are open for long hours so you may not want to stay all day! Especially if with young kids.
Our first day was massive, staying for the Disneyland electrical parade by not the fireworks. It was an exhausting day even with little people taking in turns for a nap in the pram!
What To Eat At Disneyland
There are so many places to eat inside the parks, whether you want a snack, a quick meal or a proper sit-down restaurant dining experience.
Everyone is catered to and most have specific meals just for kids too. However, as you expect with most theme parks and big attractions, the food can be a big expense!
Budget meals and snacks into your trip so you’re not cutting yourself short!
As for where to eat inside the parks, we ate at a lot of different places and enjoyed all of our meals. There are some that are reasonable value and plenty of cuisines catered to so you’re sure to find something that suits you!
Or you could always pack your own snacks and meals if you wanted. Simple foods like sandwiches and fruit would be a good option and easy to transport.
This is one of the really big expenses that some people sometimes fall into the trap of when caught up in the excitement of all things Disney!
We decided all along we would get the kids a set of Minnie ears but the $20US+ price range was a little outrageous!
You can of course get cheap versions at all the surrounding souvenir stores for a fraction of the price, along with T-shirts, key rings and more. But expect them to be of lesser quality.
It really depends on what type of keepsakes you want, if any, from your trip.
However, there is one souvenir that won’t cost you a thing!! If you head to the Guest Services centre at each park and let them know it’s your first visit, you will get a cute badge each to wear.
They also have others for different special occasions such as birthdays, celebrations and anniversaries. Cute!! And FREE!!
Special Events At Disneyland Resort
Disneyland are known for putting on some pretty epic special events through the year to coincide with seasonal celebrations.
These are some of the best times of the year to visit however they are also some of the busiest.
Halloween, Easter, Food and Wine Festivals, and of course, Christmas!!! There is so much going on during these times and it can be downright chaotic.
You won’t want to miss any of it! Check out this guide for Disneyland Christmas survival if you are lucky enough to be visiting during the festive season, so that you can enjoy the extra magic while you are there.
Unless you are an Anaheim local or have friends nearby, you will likely need accommodation for your stay.
There are so many options within walking distance to the Disneyland Resort area.
There are also Disneyland resorts too so you can enter and exit the park straight to your hotel! A fantastic convenience.. but expect the much higher price that goes with it!
There are many resorts and hotels in the area that are noted as ‘Good Neighbourhood Hotels‘ as well. These are not associated with Disneyland, however they are recommended accommodation in the area.
They range between economy and premium pricing to suit everyone’s budget and many have shuttle services or similar available to take you to the park if you are not wishing to walk.
You can find the best hotels near Disneyland.
First Visit To Disneyland Quick Tips
Do your research
Know your top see & do rides and attractions before you go
Buy tickets online before you go
Make use of the FASTPASS & Magic Morning entry
Take your own snacks to save $$
Get cheap souvenirs from surrounding gift shops and supermarkets
Stay at a Good Neighbourhood Hotel for more budget-friendly accommodation
Arrive early for parades and shows to get a good viewing point
HAVE A BLAST!!!
Are you planning your first trip to Disneyland or are you a seasoned Disney fan? Let us know below. We would love to hear any other theme park tips you have to share! And save this post to Pinterest via the image below! Be sure to follow us on Facebook or YouTube for more travel tips like these!