In Part 2 of our Disneyland Tips and Tricks Post we’ll discuss Planning, What to Bring, and Having Fun!
Unfortunately for the spontaneous-minded, Disney vacations aren’t something you can just wing; you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed and possibly wasting your time and money. Devise some sort of plan; use your military-strategy brain to conquer this beast of an amusement park!
When planning the dates for your trip, avoid weekends and holidays if possible.
- Also check the Disneyland website for Annual Passholder blockout dates; if the passes are blocked out, that usually means that Disneyland is expecting it to be a busy day.
Use Disney planning sites like TouringPlans to see what the crowds are expected to be like during your visit dates and plan accordingly.
- Even though the crowds are larger in summer and around the holidays, Disneyland’s hours are longer; you can sometimes get just as much done in a longer, busier day than a shorter, emptier day.
Check for any special events. These events can occasionally interfere with park hours, but mostly they make for a very crowded resort. Some important ones to check are:
- Half-Marathon Weekends: Select weekends throughout the year. This will not affect park hours, but will definitely increase traffic around the Disney resort as well as tourists in the park.
- D23 Expo: Dates and locations vary by year. This event doesn’t happen in Disneyland, but at the Anaheim Convention Center nearby (if it’s scheduled to be in California at all – it’s sometimes held at other Disney parks around the world). The crowds in the parks increase dramatically in the days directly before and after this event.
- Lunar New Year: January-February. This is a DCA event that has recently been extended and will increase crowds throughout both parks.
- Egg-Stravaganza: Early April. Larger spring crowds will attend this event.
- Food & Wine Festival: March-April. This DCA event, paired with many school district’s Spring Break, will bring larger crowds to both parks.
- Disneyland’s Birthday: July 17. You’ll find some of the largest crowds of the year at Disneyland this day. Unless you’re a super Disney fan, I suggest not attending.
- Mickey’s Halloween Party: September-October. This event will interfere with normal park hours. On select nights, Disneyland will close early to those who don’t have a Party ticket.
- Halloween Time, Thanksgiving, Christmas Time, and New Year’s Eve: All holidays will be busy at the Disneyland Resort, but these are the biggest ones to pay attention to. Basically, September-January will be busy.
Check the Disneyland site for height restrictions on attractions so your little ones aren’t disappointed at the parks.
- The Disneyland app also lists these, for easy in-park information.
- Height restriction hack: children are measured with their shoes on, so sneakers V.S. flip flops can make a big difference. I don’t recommend stuffing your kid’s shoes to make them taller, though; it can really hurt their feet and after all, the restrictions are there for their safety.
Book any sit-down restaurants up to 60 days in advance, especially big-ticket restaurants like the Blue Bayou (where you can dine inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction!) and the Carthay Circle Restaurant. You can reservations for any restaurant online at Disneyland.com, or through the Disneyland app.
WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.
- Shoes can make or break your entire Disney vacation. Many people wear athletic shoes, since they’re great for comfort; however, if you’re planning to ride any water attractions, I recommend choosing a few pairs of comfy sandals; they dry out much quicker. They also make for some amazing tan lines if you forget to sunscreen the tops of your feet which I have definitely never done before.
- Some great, comfortable sandal brands with waterproof options are Rainbow, Sanuk, Chacos, and Vionics.
There is no alcohol served in Disneyland, except at the exclusive Club 33 which, unless you have $25,000 to pay the initiation fee, and $10,000/year to be a member, you won’t be drinking anything from there. There are, however, quite a few places in DCA where you can purchase alcohol.
Go to the park early; stay at the park late. If you can’t make it all day, take a short break during the hottest and busiest part of the day, which is usually between 1300 and 1500.
There is Wi-Fi in select areas of both Disneyland Resort parks, as well as the Esplanade. However, this wireless internet will not reach everywhere, so plan ahead to use cellular data for most everything from checking wait times to playing games in line.
Along with the Wi-Fi, issue, you’ll want to use these tricks to maximize your phone battery:
- Activate airplane mode during rides like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean; these attractions are underground and your phone will wear itself out searching for a signal.
- Put your phone on low power mode at the beginning of the day.
- Bring a portable battery with you. If you don’t have a portable battery, there are charging stations throughout the park for a small fee, but using those will take away from your precious vacation time.
- Purchase your tickets ahead of time.
- Lines are long to get into the park; you don’t want to have to wait in an extra line just to buy tickets.
- If you’re unable to purchase your tickets beforehand, you can purchase Military Salute and/or military discounted tickets at the Disneyland ticket booths near the entrance to the park.
All of the Disney Good Neighbor Hotels are authorized to sell Disneyland Resort tickets on-site; however, you won’t be able to purchase Military Salute tickets here. Those are only sold at the Disneyland Resort ticket booths and Military Base ITT offices.
- If your party has more than two guests and one does not want to ride an attraction, take advantage of the Rider Switch option. This enables you to ride the attraction while at least one member of your group stays with the guest who does not want to ride, and then “swap” to enable to non-riding guest to enjoy the attraction without having to wait in line again.
- If you’re interested in this option, simply notify a Cast Member before entering a line and they will walk you through the details.
MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: As soon as you get your actual park tickets, download the Disneyland app and link your tickets to it. This will make it much easier to get replacement tickets if yours get lost or wet on a water attraction. If you don’t have a photo of the back of your tickets, or have them linked to your Disneyland app account, it’s very possible that you might not get replacement tickets at all. That’s a really bad day.
What to Bring to the Park
First and most importantly: resist the urge to take too much with you. Whatever you take, you’ll be lugging around all day unless you want to rent a locker, in which case, here’s some information for you: prices start at $7/day for lockers inside the parks. These lockers are only accessible during regular park hours (during which time, you’re allowed unlimited access) and are located on Main Street in Disneyland and Buena Vista Street in DCA.
If you’re not planning to rent a locker, and only bring stuff you can carry, here are a few suggestions:
- Some sort of bag, to hold everything. This is the one I’ve used for over a year, and it works perfectly!
- A Compact External Charger or Mophie case. (Or see our Post on FuelRod Recharger Stations)
- A Waterproof Case or Bag (or Ziploc bag) for anything you don’t want to get wet on water rides.
- Refillable Britta Filter Water Bottles: every restaurant in Disneyland will give you free cups of ice water. Use these to refill your water bottles and have icy refreshment at your fingertips all day long!
- Disneyland also has quite a few regular water fountains located throughout the park, including some in the lines to certain attractions!
- Hand Sanitizer or wipes: Those ride queue railings have been touched all day every day for 60+ years. Don’t forget to wash your hands. Also, make sure your kids don’t lick them. It happens.
- Sunglasses that you don’t mind getting beat up a bit in your bag or on rides.
- Ponchos , especially for colder months, to avoid getting soaked on water attractions.
- Gum is not sold in the parks, so if you like a just-brushed-clean feeling after eating, bring your own (and please, dispose of it properly; there is a garbage can every 30 steps in the Disney parks).
- Snacks, especially if you have little kids or (like me) are constantly hungry. Don’t be afraid to bring your own food – Disney is totally okay with that!
What Not to Bring to the Park
- Anything that resembles a selfie stick, whether that’s what it’s called or not.
- Weapons of any kind or objects that appear to be weapons.
- Glass bottles, alcoholic beverages, illegal substances.
- Cremated remains: Do not bring these. EVER. If you try to dump cremated remains on any ride, your loved one will simply be vacuumed up
- Pets: If you bring your pet on vacation with you, and it is not a service animal, it’s not allowed into the Disney parks. There is an on-site kennel where your furry friend can spend the day for a separate fee, but keep in mind that space is limited. Service animals are allowed into the Disney parks; qualification paperwork is required upon kennel check-in.
This is not a complete list of prohibited items in the park. Please check the Disneyland website for additional information on prohibited items!
Saving time at Disneyland is like saving money for retirement; it’s a necessity. If you have a lot of items on your Disneyland bucket list (yes, those are a thing), these time savers could save your life! (Okay, not really, but they’ll make your Disney vacation much more fun!)
Use an app to check wait times and FastPass return times.
- The Disneyland app will be the most accurate for wait times and is the place to find FastPass return times. Simply select the ride you’re interested in, and view any information you might need.
- The downside to this app is that the attractions are all listed together in alphabetical order, whether they’re a ride or not, which can make it difficult to quickly look up a wait time.
- My favorite wait time app is Wait Times for Disneyland by VersaEdge Software, LLC. The rides are listed by location in the park (Adventureland, Tomorrowland, etc.), making them quick and easy to find. This app is usually just as accurate as the Disneyland app itself!
Send someone to get FastPasses while others are ordering food, using the bathrooms, heading to the next attraction, or standing in line. (And please, be considerate: choose a different person from time to time, and make sure your runner knows where they’re headed and how to get back.).
- If you’re not interested in paying $10 per day, per guest for the new MaxPass system, you’ll need to physically walk to the FastPass distribution locations to grab any FastPasses you may want. However, there’s no need for everyone in the group to go; send a designated “runner” with everyone’s park ticket, while the rest of the group stands in line for a ride or is doing something else. This will allow your group to do other things while one person is off getting the Fastpasses.
- IMPORTANT: You must have a separate park ticket for each individual FastPass you wish to get; therefore, collect the park tickets from everyone in your group when leaving on a FastPass mission. Park tickets are used to get FastPasses, get in a FastPass return line, and when entering or reentering a park (Disneyland and DCA).
- DO NOT take everyone’s park tickets to a different park and expect them to meet you later on in that park. They won’t be able to get in without their ticket! You can, however take their tickets and then meet them at the park entrance so they can be allowed in.
Use Frontierland to travel between New Orleans Square and Main Street. Most people tend to use Adventureland, which bottlenecks the area between the entrance and Tarzan’s Treehouse.
Dole Whips are the epitome of Disneyland snacks. For a shorter wait time, enter the Enchanted Tiki Room waiting area and use the line from that side. You can enjoy your Dole Whip while waiting for the next Enchanted Tiki Room show to begin, and you’re even allowed to take it with you into the show! Just remember to clean up responsibly.
Ride while you wait.
- Look for rides with short wait times while you wait for a FastPass return time.
One last ride? As long as you’re in a line before closing time, you can ride any attraction (except DCA rides around Paradise Pier, which close early due to World of Color). This is a great way to catch those rides that never have lines shorter than 30 minutes and the FastPasses ran out early in the day.
- A quick note: even at closing time, these rides can still have hour-long lines. If you’re planning to ride this way, make sure you’re prepared for a long wait late at night.
The Main Street shops are open for one hour after Disneyland closes every single day. So, if your group can make it until closing, I recommend saving all souvenir shopping to that last hour, unless you’re planning to jump in a ride queue right before closing.
- If you shop throughout the day and purchase souvenirs, ask a Cast Member about storage; some shops will store your purchases until the end of the day, so you don’t have to carry them around.
- If you’re staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, most Disneyland Resort shops will deliver your souvenirs straight to your room!
- Note: Select souvenirs may only be available in certain locations; I recommend asking a Cast Member if that souvenir is also available in one of the Main Street shops. If it is, you can purchase it there on your way out of the park after closing time.
Another great time for souvenir shopping is 30 minutes before the actual park opening. Main Street often opens half an hour before the posted park hours.
- If you’re planning to eat breakfast in the park, this is a great time to do it! Relax and eat at a breakfast nook on Main Street while you watch the tourists enter. When you’re done eating or shopping, make your way to the end of Main Street for the Rope Drop.
- The Rope Drop is one of those super special things that Disneyland does to add a little extra magic to your vacation. Stand near the entrance to any Disneyland “land” at the slated park opening time, and watch the Cast Members drop the ropes to Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.
Just For Fun!
If you’re in Cars Land around sunset, watch for a special surprise affectionately known as the “Sh-boom Moment.” During this time, to the tune of The Crew Cut’s Life Could Be A Dream, watch the neon lights flicker on one by one – a scene straight from Disney’s Cars!
- Make sure to research when sunset will be for your specific day in the park, and arrive 5-10 minutes early. This can be done via everyone’s good pal, Google. Also, plan to stay a few minutes later; the “Sh-boom Moment” doesn’t have a specific time, it just happens around sunset.
- My personal tip: eat dinner at Flo’s V8 Café about 30-45 minutes before sunset, and then get ice cream at the Cozy Cone. If you time it just right, you can enjoy your delicious sugar-filled treat in the middle of the street and watch the neon come to life.
Get soaked (or cool off) without riding a ride!
- Are the lines too long for Grizzly River Run and Splash Mountain? Walk around the back of Grizzly and there is a path that leads to a viewing area for the final drop of the ride. Stand near the railings, and you will get wet. You may get soaked!
The mailboxes at Disneyland are real, functioning USPS post boxes!
- Years ago, if you wanted to send mail from inside the Disneyland resort, they would be marked with an official Disney postmark. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen anymore; however, the mailboxes are still functional. What better way to get your postcards home?
Research some fun interaction tips for character meet-and-greets. Most people just walk up to them, get an autograph and a photo, and leave. They’re missing out on a lot of fun!
- Here’s few fun examples for you! Ask Belle for a book recommendation, stand behind Captain Hook and make “tick, tock” noises, tell an Alice in Wonderland character that today is your unbirthday, ask Anna and Elsa if they’d like to build a snowman, ask Aurora if she likes to take naps and what her favorite dress color is, or greet Peter Pan with a “cock a doodle doo!”
Avoid boredom in line by engaging in some of the following activities:
- Look for Hidden Mickeys! There are quite a few different books out there that describe where to find these little delights. My family uses this one. There are also a few websites that have the information for free (and you don’t have to carry a book with you through the park).
- HeadsUp! is one of my favorite games to play in line – and makes for a lot of laughs. It’s a $0.99 app that works for both Apple and Android devices.
- BONUS: You can download a free Disney version of HeadsUp! while you’re in the park! Just make sure you have your GPS on!
- Pay attention to the details. Disney is well-known for their intense attention to detail, and there are oh-so-many things to see and enjoy in many of the ride queues, as well as the rides themselves. Don’t let these tiny treats go unnoticed!
Many churro carts close before the rest of the park. The carts that are usually open late are located near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Haunted Mansion, Sleeping Beauty Castle, and on Main Street, USA.
Touch everything in Toontown!
- You know when you tell your kids (or in my case, husband) not to touch anything? Well, that’s definitely not the case here! Many random things in Toontown make noise!
If a child’s balloon pops, a replacement is free! Just bring the popped balloon to a Cast Member, and they’ll help you out! They may also do this for things like dropped ice cream cones or popsicles.
Want to sit at the front of a ride? The back? Just ask! Usually, the Cast Members can make your wishes come true, though you may have to wait a few extra minutes.
Two-for-one-treats! Disney will split any treat they can in two which is great for small children, or even adults who don’t want a large snack, but want to snack nonetheless.
There is a secret path in Disneyland (look under the “Time To Relax” section of this post) where you’ll find a great place to watch riders from Splash Mountain who just made their final drop and are usually soaked and laughing.
- This is a great way to get photos of your group enjoying the ride!
Have you ever wanted to get a sneak peak into an artist’s life? Well, stop by the “Off the Page” gift shop (across the street from Award Wieners in the Disney California Adventure park) and watch your favorite Disney characters come to life at the hands of an actual Disney artist!
The Best Tip
Everyone wants that gorgeous shot of the entire family with the beautiful Sleeping Beauty Castle in full glory behind them. However, unless you buy out the entire Disneyland park, or you’re getting married there, you’ll have to accept the fact that random strangers will be lurking all over the background of your beautiful photo.
Here’s my favorite tip for anyone who wants to avoid tourists, but still get an incredible picture with the crowning feature of Walt Disney’s dream:
- Don’t take your picture from the front of the castle where everyone else milling about. Instead, take your photos from the walkways to the left and/or right of the castle
- By taking these unconventional photos, you’ll avoid the line for pictures directly in front of the castle, the photobombing tourists, and the hustle and bustle of the castle drawbridge. You’ll also have a totally unique picture that not many people have!
There you have it – the master list of Disneyland tips and tricks! Leave a comment with your personal favorite tip, and whether or not these ones worked for you!
To the rest of your vacation planning . . . “hakuna matata!”
This MDT Post By: Steve Bell
Steve is the the Military Disney Tips Founder. He a retired U.S. Military Member who's been touring the Disney Parks since 1971! Steve's mission is to help military families with their Disney vacations in every way. Check out Steve's Bio.
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