There's a reason Disneyland Resort is called "The Happiest Place on Earth!" With its three hoppin' hotels, two thrilling theme parks and one lively shopping, dining and entertainment district, this is a place that both tadpoles and tadpoles at heart need to experience at least once in their lives. Whether you're deciding when to visit the resort, in the midst of planning your first trip or just days away from your magical vacation, we've laid out some trusty tips that we feel all first-timers need to know. While this blog will provide general touring tips, be sure to also check out our not-to-miss guides for both Disneyland Park and Disney's California Adventure to see our favorite rides, shows, food and experiences. Without further ado, let's go over everything a frog needs to know for their first time at Disneyland Resort!
Our Top Tips for Your First Time at Disneyland Resort
1. Decide When to Visit
Whether you want the lowest crowds, the best weather or just to enjoy one of the many festivals that occur at Disneyland Resort year-round (or all three!), choosing the best date for your vacation can be a bit overwhelming. That's why we have a full blog post devoted to helping you decide the best time to visit, as well as a handy dandy Crowd Calendar. Keep in mind that park reservations can only be made up to 120 days in advance. Use this calendar to find out if your desired dates have park reservations available.
2. Buy Your Tickets in Advance
Now that you've decided when you're going, it's time to purchase your park tickets and book those all-important reservations. (You need a ticket to be able to book a reservation.) Save time and money by purchasing your tickets through Undercover Tourist! Because Disneyland Park and Disney's California Adventure are so close to each other, we highly recommend purchasing a Park Hopper ticket which allows you to be more flexible with your park plans. You can also purchase tickets with Genie+ at Disneyland, which guarantees the best rate for the service.
3. Consider Purchasing Genie+
When purchasing your tickets, consider adding Genie+ to your order. For starting at $25 a day per frog (ages 3 and up), Genie+ allows you to have expedited access to various rides throughout the day by booking a Lightning Lane return time. This can end up giving you back hours during your day that you won't waste waiting in lines. The service also comes with unlimited PhotoPass downloads for the day. We have an entire blog post about the ins and outs of Genie+ so hop over to it to learn more!
4. Save Time with Single Rider Lines
Another great way to maximize your time is by making use of the Single Rider lines at Disneyland Resort. This option splits parties up into separate ride vehicles so it may not be ideal for families with tiny tadpoles under 7. However, if you're OK riding with other frogs not in your party, hopping in this line can save you loads of time — especially on Radiator Springs Racers and WEB SLINGERS if you don't want to splurge on the individual Lightning Lane selections or Genie+.
5. Stay On-Site at a Disneyland Resort Hotel
Disneyland Resort is home to three four-star hotels — each one as magical as the next! While the rooms, theming, dining and pools are all top-tier, one of our favorite reasons to stay on-site is all of the incredible benefits. Disneyland hotel guests can enter the parks 30 minutes before they open, which is plenty of time to hit up two or three rides that will see long lines later in the day. Linking a hotel stay to your ticket also opens up more availability for park reservations!
6. Make Dining Reservations
Disneyland Resort has tons of amazing sit-down restaurants on property. Whether you want to chow down on the delicious Monte Cristo and Pommes Frites at Café Orleans or enjoy the crazy cocktails and bayside views at Lamplight Lounge, dining reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. If you can't find what you're looking for, keep checking back as your visit draws near. You just might be able to grab someone else's last-minute cancellation!
7. Double-Check Park Hours Before and During Your Trip
With so many nighttime spectaculars to see across both parks, it can be a little challenging to figure out how you want to navigate your day. Make sure you know what times each park is closing during the days of your visit. If you're park hopping, start your day at California Adventure since it normally closes earlier than Disneyland. Keep checking park hours even once you've arrived on property as they're subject to change without notice.
8. Download the Right Apps
In addition to making dining reservations and checking park hours, the official Disneyland app is where you can check wait times, buy Genie+, hop into virtual queues, mobile order food and drinks and so much more, so be sure to download it before entering the theme parks. We also highly recommend downloading our Theme Park Plans - SoCal app for iPhone where you'll find our customizable park plans. Don't froget to bring a portable charger with you!
9. Pack Accordingly
With a yearly temperature that normally fluctuates from the low 50s to the high 80s (and a beautiful lack of humidity), Southern California has one of the best climates in the world! That being said, you'll still want to dress in light layers and comfortable and broken-in shoes that you won't get blisters in. Be sure to also bring a jacket in the summer because it can get cold at night and a raincoat in the winter just in case it starts sprinkling on the day of your visit.
10. Make a Game Plan Beforehand
Knowing how you want to tackle the parks before you enter is a huge asset and can help your day run a lot smoother. Figure out which section of the park you want to head to first and how you want to tackle the multiple nighttime spectaculars to alleviate the stress the day of your visit. Also, while Disneyland and California Adventure are conveniently compact and fairly easy to navigate, it's important to familiarize yourself with which lands are in which park.
11. Be Aware of Height Requirements
Take it from us parents — we know how disappointing it is for all involved when your tadpole wants to go on a certain ride but isn't allowed just yet. Familiarize your frog squad with the parks' height requirements beforehand so nothing is a surprise when you get to the front of the line. If you happen to have a tadpole who doesn't make the cut, be sure to utilize the Rider Switch system so every frog in your party who wants to ride still can!
12. Arrive Early and Rope Drop
One of the best ways to make the most out of your day at Disneyland is to arrive at least 45 minutes prior to park opening. You'll normally be allowed inside about half an hour early. At that point, head toward whichever ride you want to go to first. You'll be stopped at the entrance to the land, but as soon as the park officially opens, you can book it toward your top priority ride and get right on it with little to no wait! (Pixar Pier is practically empty in the morning!)
13. Mobile Order Food When You Can
Disneyland Resort is home to some incredible food that you do not want to miss out on. You'll inevitably find yourself waiting in a few lines, so use that time to mobile order a filling meal at Pym's Test Kitchen, a satisfying snack at the Cozy Cone Motel, delicious desserts at Mint Julep Bar or something else equally appetizing. You can even choose an order window that's several hours away. Whenever you're ready, just tap "I'm Here, Prepare My Order." And that's it!
14. Be Sure to Stay Hydrated
Drinking tons of water throughout the day is one of our top tips for any theme park. Disneyland Resort is no different. Bring a refillable water bottle and fill up at fill stations and drinking fountains throughout the day. You can even find ice at quick-service restaurant soda fountains! Not only will this keep you cool, but it'll also save you money. If you're looking to be even more frugal, pack snacks to have on hand when you or your tadpoles are feeling famished.
15. Don't Miss Out on the Nighttime Shows
From the wet and wonderful World of Color to the fascinating and fabulous Fantasmic!, there are several different nighttime spectaculars that happen across both theme parks. If you have a Park Hopper ticket, it is entirely possible to see all of them in one day as the parks are so close together and the timing is spaced out enough. If you only have one chance to see them, do not miss out on them! They're a perfect way to end the night.
16. Relish in Things You Can Only Find at Disneyland
Whether you've never been to a Disney park before or you're a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, there are tons of things unique to Disneyland that you won't find over on the East Coast. Specifically, California Adventure is filled with jaw-dropping experiences from the beloved Cars Land to the nostalgic Pixar Pier to the brand-new Avengers Campus. Slow down in any of these areas and take time to soak in everything they have to offer.
17. Be Aware of How Compact the Resort Is
If you're familiar with the vastness of the property over at Walt Disney World, Disneyland might be a bit of a culture shock. Everything is within walking distance of each other. It really takes only about a minute to walk from Disneyland Park to California Adventure. Additionally, Downtown Disney is essentially bookended by the parks and the hotels. The Grand Californian even has a dedicated entrance to California Adventure for resort guests!
18. Save Shopping Until the End of the Day
If you and your tadpoles are patient enough, wait until you're heading out to stock up on souvenirs. Shopping during the middle of your park day not only takes the place of precious ride time but also becomes a hassle when you have to carry your souvenirs around the park. For your convenience, the shops on Main Street, U.S.A. and Buena Vista street stay open up to an hour after the park closes.
19. Hop in a Line Just Before Park Close
If you're well-rested and your froggy feet can handle it, one of our favorite theme park tricks is to get in line for some of the most popular rides minutes before the park closes. This is when you'll see a lot of wait times die down so don't worry if you can't get on a must-do attraction earlier in the day. But be aware that Pixar Pier rides close for World of Color and some other rides, such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, close early, as well.
20. Soak It All In
Disneyland is often affectionally referred to as "Walt's Land." That being the case, there's truly something magical hiding around every corner. From the hidden gems at both Disneyland Park and California Adventure that are a special treat for any Disney fan to the unscheduled character appearances that spark joy for both tadpoles and tadpoles at heart, keep your eyes (and ears!) open during your visit. You never know what you might find!
What are you most excited to see and do at Disneyland Resort? Do you have any tips for fellow first-timers? Share with us in the comments below!
Related: 40 Tips to Maximize Your Time at Disneyland