Disneyland is known for its immersive lands and rides that whisk you into fantasy, but it's so much more than that! You can fill your whole day at Disneyland with entertainment without ever even hopping on a ride. It’s true! This is good to know if you're taking a multi-generational trip to Disneyland with grandparents who may be more into parades and shows than braving Space Mountain. It's also helpful for anyone in your party who has mobility issues that limit the number of rides they can access, or for guests with sensory issues or easily-triggered motion sickness.
Very small children may be more into exploring other ride-free Disneyland experiences at the parks, too. Plus, if you find yourself visiting on a crazy busy day (or even needing to take a break from the heat and walking), these ride-free Disneyland experiences can help you maximize your day in the park. Our ride-free guide to Disneyland will help you fill your day with all of the Disney magic you can handle, making any rides bonus fun. Check out these toadally awesome ideas for a ride-free Disneyland experience.
25 Ideas for a Ride-Free Disneyland Experience
1. Meet Your Favorite Characters
One of the most popular ride-free Disneyland experiences at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is meeting favorite Disney and Marvel characters. Getting that hug, photo, autograph and special time with a character is a favorite ride-free Disneyland experience. If you want to meet characters, it’s best to find them early in the day. Keep your eyes open because some characters (especially some Fantasyland and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge characters) wander freely with no specific meeting spot or line.
2. Watch Parades
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have amazing parades with music, dancers, colorful floats and, of course, favorite Disney characters. In 2020, a new daytime parade, Magic Happens, will make its way down the parade route at Disneyland. Some parades run during the day, while others are after dark. Some parades are around for a long time. Others only run for limited times, during holidays, seasons or even special events, such the Christmas Fantasy Parade at holiday time or the Frightfully Fun Parade that runs only during the Disneyland Halloween Party (Oogie Boogie Bash at Disney California Adventure) at Disneyland Halloween Time. No matter which parade you wish to see, you’ll need some strategies for getting in place. People tend to line up an hour or two before popular parades, especially on benches, curbs or shady spots on hot days.
3. Experience Fantasmic!
Fantasmic! is a nighttime spectacular show in Disneyland park with projections, characters, music, special effects and explosive fireworks. It takes some planning to see this show either by getting a FASTPASS in the morning, reserving a dining package that comes with reserved viewing or getting in place for standby viewing about an hour or two before show time. You may collect a FASTPASS in person or reserve through the Disneyland app with Disney MaxPass. There may be one or two shows at night, and the later show is easiest to get a get a good viewing location.
4. Immerse Yourself in the World of Color
One of our favorite options for a ride-free Disneyland experience is World of Color. Appropriately named, World of Color is a colorful nighttime water show in Disney California Adventure with tall fountains of water set to hoppin' music with animation and sound. It’s a magical show that can vary per season with special holiday versions, plus additional show elements during Lunar New Year. You can pick up a FASTPASS near The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure earlier in the day or reserve through the Disneyland app with MaxPass.
5. Chill Out at Frozen Live at the Hyperion Theatre
Seeing Frozen Live is like getting to experience a Broadway play that is included in your Disney California Adventure theme park ticket. The show is just over an hour, but with waiting and seating time, expect to devote two hours of your day to this amazing show. Just “let it go,” sit back and enjoy.
6. Enjoy Storytelling at Royal Theatre
Hear ye, all lords and ladies, you are all invited to join Mr. Smyth and Mr. Jones in retelling the tales of Beauty and the Beast or Tangled. The humorous shows have a cast of players that will entertain you in an open-air tent. The shows are the perfect length for short attention spans and include floor seating or benches.
7. Experience Disneyland Fireworks
We frogs are fireworks junkies, especially when it comes to Disneyland fireworks. The fireworks show inside the park also includes music, projection and other special effects. You can view Disneyland fireworks from the iconic castle and Main Street, U.S.A. locations, but you can also experience the full show at Rivers of America or “it’s a small world.” It’s our favorite way to end our day with a bang!
8. Watch Mickey and the Magical Map and Other Shows at Disneyland
Inside Disneyland Park, you can enjoy the Mickey and the Magical Map show. It comes with a cast of live Disney characters (like King Louie, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider) as Mickey takes you on a musical journey to new lands through your favorite stories.
The Enchanted Tiki Room and Great Moment with Mr. Lincoln are also great ways to rest out of the sun while being entertained in air conditioning by these classic, ride-free Disneyland experiences on a warm afternoon.
9. Become Part of the Star Wars Story on Planet Batuu
Disneyland's newest land, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, offers many ride-free experiences to immerse guests into a galaxy far, far away on the remote planet Batuu. You can build a droid, attend a special ceremony to build your very own custom lightsaber or belly up to the bar at Oga's Cantina to taste some out-of-this world alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages while enjoying music by DJ Rex. You'll likely need a reservation for these experiences. You can reserve in advance or hop on a same-day reservation once more time slots are released at 7:00 a.m. each day. You may also try blue or green milk, shop for souvenirs, use the Datapad (Disneyland app) to translate, hack or scan while in the land. Be sure to meet roaming characters during your visit to Batuu! And don't froget to have the "imagers," aka Photopass photographers, take your picture at iconic spots (such as in front of the Millennium Falcon).
10. Enjoy Musical Entertainment
Besides the large nighttime shows, there is nonstop musical entertainment around the parks. You can kick back and enjoy the Disneyland Band (sometimes with Mickey and friends), the Pearly Band (sometimes performing with Mary Poppins and Bert in front of the castle), The Dapper Dans barbershop quartet along Main Street, U.S.A (sometimes they hop into stores to sing), the Straw Hatters and many more performers. Consult the entertainment schedule to catch show times. The Royal Street Bachelors and Bootstrappers will entertain you in New Orleans Square, and there are other musical experiences such as swing dancing at the Royal Swing Big Band Ball on Saturday nights.
Hop into The Golden Horseshoe for an all-new show with dueling pianos — Showdown at the Golden Horseshoe! Between shows and when you are in and around The Golden Horseshoe, find the roaming magician who will mesmerize you with his tricks.
Throughout Disney California Adventure, there is also a lot of musical entertainment, as well, from the Five & Dime jazz show to the seasonal entertainment. Be sure to join Starlord and Gamora at the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off! and stick around to dance with Groot. Walls have gone up around Guardians in fall 2019, so the show is not running until construction is done. We hope it returns. You can also find all kinds of musical entertainment at the Paradise Garden bandstand.
11. Go Shopping
Whether you're looking for souvenirs, Mickey ears (perhaps with your name stitched in the back), light-up toys, balloons, special merchandise, collectibles, artwork, a Disney dress or simply a hat to shade your eyes or sweatshirt to warm up, you can spend hours shopping in the many stores in both parks. A special souvenir experience that has been on Main Street, U.S.A. since the park opened is the Silhouette Studio. An artist can create your uncannily perfect silhouette portrait with a pair of scissors in just 60 seconds. It makes a fun keepsake, and you’ll be surprised how still even your wiggliest tadpole can sit while having it done! Never underestimate the fun in window-shopping. Sometimes just looking at decorated tasty treats is fun enough without consuming the calories, and there are many elaborate window displays with moving parts that were inspired by Disney movies on Main Street, U.S.A. Take the time to watch each one with your tadpoles.
12. Play Games
Tad enjoyed sharing his favorite in-park games in his gamer’s guide to Disneyland. From Frontierland shooting, to playing games of skill on the Boardwalk at Pixar Pier, you can play tons of games in the parks. Lily loves winning prizes, which also double as souvenirs!
13. Explore Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
Take a raft across the Rivers of America to land at Pirate's Lair. This area designed by Walt Disney himself, is filled with trails, caves, bridges, pirates — perhaps you’ll run in to Captain Jack Sparrow — and other fun surprises. There are no rides, and it’s a great place to let the tadpoles hop about and enjoy the simple pleasures of a throwback time that recalls Walt’s Missouri childhood roots, or pretending they are Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Another fun area to explore is Tarzan’s Treehouse in nearby Adventureland.
14. Climb About at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
Disney California Adventure park has a fun climbing area at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. You can scamper up lookout towers, run across swinging bridges, slide down slides, crawl through tunnels and explore the tree-lined paths for more fun discoveries. Our tadpoles can spend long periods of time playing in this area of the park for a ride-free Disneyland experience.
15. Enjoy Fine Dining
When you aren’t worried about getting on the next ride, you can take time to dine in the parks. There are some great table-service restaurants in both parks. Reservations are recommended though, so reserve through Disneyland Dining Reservations up to 60 days in advance. Favorite spots include Blue Bayou, which provides a perpetual twilight, romantic atmosphere inside Pirates of the Caribbean any time of day, and Carthay Circle in Disney California Adventure. You can also hop into the Carthay Circle Lounge for bar bites and drinks. The new Pixar Lounge recently opened at Disney California Adventure, too! You can also experience character dining inside Disneyland park at Plaza Inn and at the nearby hotels.
16. Indulge in Disneyland’s Best Snacks and Treats
In addition to fine dining, we have a lot of favorite Disneyland snacks and treats inside the parks. Don’t worry, moms. We also have some guidelines for healthy eating at Disneyland that will help you find tasty treats that won’t lead to meltdowns or crashes later. Don’t forget your free treats — chocolate at Ghirardelli and sourdough bread at Boudin — in Disney California Adventure.
17. Tackle Toon Town
Toon Town is among our favorite ride-free Disneyland experiences. Yes, there are two rides in Toon Town, but there is so much else to do, such as walking through Mickey’s House and Minnie’s House, climbing through Chip n Dale’s Treehouse, exploring Donald’s boat or allowing toddlers and small children to play at Goofy’s House. There are buttons to push, talking mailboxes to hear, boxes to open, doors to pull and so many fun photo opportunities, including the Dog Pound jail. There are toon cars to sit in, many characters to meet and goofy details to enjoy.
18. Take an Art Class
At Disney Animation in Hollywood Land, you can take an art class to learn to draw a Disney character. You get to take home your artwork as a souvenir. It’s one of our favorite free things to do at Disneyland. While in the building, you can visit the Sorcerer’s Workshop, talk to Crush at Turtle Talk with Crush or visit Frozen characters.
19. Pose for Photos
Disneyland makes for some of the best vacation photos. When you aren’t stressed about ride wait times or acquiring a new FASTPASS, you can take the time to capture a family photo. Whether you choose a selfie or to use Disneyland’s professional photographers, you’ll want to get the Mickey flowers near the park entrance, castle shots, Pixar Pal-A-Round, The Hollywood Land backdrop, Cars Land, favorite characters and other special moments. If you want to take advantage of the in-park photographers, look into adding MaxPass to at least one party member’s ticket to save money. MaxPass allows unlimited Disneyland PhotoPass downloads for the day. Be sure to ask the photographer for Magic Shots. Magic Shots will give you some fun surprises to see when you view your photos. Some other great spots for photos include the empty teacup by Mad Tea Party, the car in front of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the empty Dumbo near Dumbo the Flying Elephant. You can pose for photos near the wishing well or while attempting to pull the sword from the stone.
20. Enjoy Special Holidays and Festivals
There are many special Disneyland events that take place throughout the year. They include Lunar New Year, Festival of Holidays, Halloween Time, Dapper Days, Gay Days, the Food & Wine Festival and other special promotions. Holidays or festivals may bring about special decorations, character meet-and-greet experiences, photo opportunities, special shows and entertainment, plus new experiences that add to the in-park fun and increasing the number of things to do at Disneyland besides rides.
21. Get Your Face Painted
Consider splurging for face painting to add some extra special fun in your day at various stands around the parks. During special festivals or events (such as Lunar New Year), certain locations offer free face painting.
22. Get a Princess or Knight Makeover
Hop into the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique so your child (ages 3 -12) can be transformed into a princess or knight. Packages vary but generally include hair-do, shimmering makeup, gems, accessories and maybe even a costume or nails. Be sure to make a reservation! After getting royally ready, your princess can go meet some of the princesses in the park.
23. Get Swept Away at Mickey's PhilharMagic
You'll find this fun 4-D film in Hollywood Land at Disney California Adventure. It's a great way to cool off and rest while being entertained by Donald Duck as he tries on Mickey's Sorcerer hat, which leads to a magical whirlwind that includes music and characters from many Disney movies.
24. Shake It Off at Disney Junior Dance Party
At Disney California Adventure, your toddlers and preschoolers will be jumping about in this fun dance party. Join Mickey, Minnie, Doc McStuffins, Vampirina and Timon as they dance and sing to their favorite Disney Junior songs. There’s plenty of room to move and many fun surprises along the way.
25. Attend the Flag Retreat Ceremony
Every day in the late afternoon, you can salute past and present service members at the Flag Retreat Ceremony. Join the Disneyland Band and Dapper Dans in singing patriotic songs and celebrating the flag and the military when members of each branch of the military are called forward for recognition and the flag is taken down. It’s a beautiful and patriotic ceremony.
Were you shocked to realize that there are at least 25 things to do at Disneyland besides rides? These special experiences are part of what we love most about Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (as well as discovering Hidden Mickeys as we go.) Depending on the ages and needs of your party, your family will be in for many special treats and bonding experiences when incorporating these ride-free Disneyland experiences into your trip. Hop on over to explore more posts on maximizing your time at Disneyland to learn tricks and tips for making your day extra hoppin’ fun!
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