I guess if you name a blog “Is My Crazy Showing,” then you better be prepared to expose some serious crazy. I will openly admit that I am a huge Disney fan, possibly more of a fan than my 2 daughters. I used to blame it on my friends since they were the crazy ones that knew everything there is to know about the park, but I started keeping notes after every trip 5 years ago, so I guess I am the crazy one now.
I grew up going to Disneyland every few years since I am from the San Francisco Bay Area. I would say I was a fan but not a fanatic. I didn’t really love Disney until I started having kids. We first introduced Daughter #1 to Disneyland when she was 18 months old with a spontaneous Disneyland trip where we surprised our friends in December of 2007. Our friends were big Disney fans, so they taught us some tricks about how to work the park. We went back in September of 2008 when Daughter #1 was 2 and Daughter #2 was 4 months old. A friend of mine got married at the Disneyland Hotel in September of 2010. Daughter #1 was 4 and #2 was 2 and FREE so we decided to purchase Annual Passes. We went back about 5 times over the next 12 months. That is when I started taking notes and really learned how to work the park with kids. We have gone back nearly every year since. (I realize that is nothing compared to true fanatics, but it definitely is enough times to have taught me a thing or 2 that I am happy to share!)
The key to a successful, enjoyable trip to Disneyland is PLANNING AHEAD. You cannot show up at the park without a plan, without doing any sort of research, and then complain to the world that Disneyland is the worst place on Earth. Yes, Disneyland is super crowded, especially since Carsland opened. Yes, there will be a lot of people there. Yes, the lines are really, really long. Yes, everything is super expensive and this first time trip will cost you thousands of dollars. But if you know how to work the park, you can have the best time ever and you will have priceless memories forever. The second most important thing is to BE FLEXIBLE. Have a general plan with general goals that you can refer to as a guide but know that sometimes rides close unexpectedly and sometimes kids have melt downs at the worst time possible and sometimes an entire country has a tour group on the day that you thought was supposed to be slow. And, of course, HAVE FUN!
Do your research!
- Go to isitpacked.com and see what the predictions are for the dates you are going. Please note that it will ALWAYS be crowded. “Ghost Town” still means very, very crowded but at least you will have an idea of whether it will be crazy insane crowded or just very crowded.
- Go to disneyland.disney.go.com and check the park hours. Peak season will open at 8:00 AM and close at Midnight. This means everyone in the world is also going when you are going BUT there are some advantages of going during peak season. You have more hours at the park, more lines open for each ride, and hopefully less closed rides. You also want to check if it is a Black Out Date for Season Pass Holders. The locals are the ones really clogging up the park because the Southern California Annual Pass is significantly cheaper than everyone else (no offense to SoCal locals – you would be crazy NOT to have an annual pass if you lived in the area). Non-peak season will open at 10:00 AM and close at 8:00 PM. This means there theoretically should be fewer people at the park, however, it will still be crowded, you have less hours at the park, there are fewer lines open for the rides, and there may be more rides closed for renovations. Explore this Disneyland website for Season Pass Black Out Dates, special events, and ride closures (don’t forget to look up California Adventure park details as well, they may have different hours).
- Find a hotel. We first search all of the discount search engines (Travelocity, Priceline, Hotwire, Kayak, etc) and then check the hotel’s actual webiste in case they have the same deal or a better deal but allow cancellations. If you can afford to stay at a Disney Hotel, then you should absolutely do that. There are many perks to staying on-site, such as Magic Mornings where you can enter the park 1 hour before everyone else. We like to be within walking distance from the park (which can be up to a mile and a half away and will feel like 10 miles at the end of the day without a bus pass). Look out for hidden fees for parking, bus transit, internet, etc. and keep that in mind for your total cost.
- Research best tips for Disneyland/California Adventure on Pinterest. Study what rides are most important to you. Prioritize what is most important for you to experience. Is it the rides? Is it the shows? Is it meeting the characters? If you are traveling with kids, KNOW YOUR HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS!
Recommended Apps: DL Waits (Disneyland Wait Times – maybe 90% accurate but helpful when you are planning what to do next, DL Maps (Disneyland Maps – includes wait times as well), DL Dining (Disneyland Dining – includes menus for both parks and Downtown Disney), and InsideOut (Disneyland Inside Out)
- GO IN WITH A PLAN – prioritize by what is most important to you and what is most popular (whatever you don’t get to on day 1 you can go to first on day 2, even if it is not a super popular ride).
- Get there early (it gets crowded around 10 AM so do as much as you can before then), hit all of the long wait rides first so when everyone else gets there you have already done the most popular rides and are in the less popular ride lines when no one else is – even during the busiest season, we do not wait in lines more than 20-25 minutes.
- Work your fast passes (ALWAYS have one in hand).
- If you are with a group, get in a line while you decide what to do next. Nothing is worse than standing around deciding for 20 minutes when you could have been on a ride already.
*Disclaimer: I have not been back to the park since all of the Frozen features have opened. I understand there is now a Fast Pass available to see Anna and Elsa but I do not have any tips yet.
- Get there before it opens (if it opens at 8:00 get there BY 7:45 if not 7:30). I know, totally crazy but unbelievably worth it as there are nearly NO lines until about 10am. See if your tickets come with an Early Entry – it usually comes with it if you stay in a Disney hotel or buy a 3 day hopper.
- IF you are doing Star Tours, send 1 person in the group to the Fast Pass Queue right when the park opens (that person needs to have all of the tickets/passes for the group and everyone in the group has to have entered the park already). Most fast passes are not available during Magic Hours/Early Entry.
- IF your kids like Fantasyland, go there first, right when it opens and you can do Peter Pan with nearly no line and Dumbo, Casey Jr, Storybook, Alice in Wonderland, Teacups, Carousel, etc with a very short wait.
- Try to get to Nemo before 10am.
- Get Fast Passes for the big rides every 2 hours (you can only have 1 at a time until the time the fast pass begins OR 2 hours, whichever is sooner). They are now enforcing the fast pass return times so you cannot return at any time, you have to return within your 1 hour window. List of what rides offer Fast Passes below.
- Fireworks are at 9:25. If you can’t get a good seat in front of the castle, you can see pretty well at the back of the Matterhorn, on the path between Teacups/Storybook/path to It’s a Small World/path to Tomorrowland. I really like to be right in front of It’s A Small World because they project the movies that the songs are from onto It’s a Small World (but you will miss Tinkerbell and Dumbo flying).
- Food: Corn dogs at the red wagon at the end of Main Street before the Hub or at Stage Door Café (with fries), Pizza Port in Tomorrow Land, Hungry Bear next to the Winnie the Pooh ride, and the new Pinnochio restaurant (Village Haus) wasn’t bad across from Casey Jr. train (yummy sausage sandwich in pretzel roll), baked potato at Harbour Galley. Fresh cookies in best ice cream sandwich ever at the cone shop off of Main Street (first alley on right facing castle, behind fruit stand) – this seems to now be closed. We usually eat breakfast at the hotel, pack lunches for the kids, and then eat dinner at the park. We also bring drinks and snacks. Bring your own water bottle and you can refill it throughout the park (or you can pay $6 for a bottle of water, up to you). Soft coolers are allowed.
Longest Lines: Peter Pan, Dumbo, Storybook, Star Tours, Nemo, Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain (if hot), Indiana Jones
Shortest/Quickest Lines: Pirates of the Caribbean, Carousel, Tea Cups, It’s a Small World, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Tiki Room, Winnie the Pooh
- Get there before it opens (about a half hour). Radiator Springs is always the longest line in the park so definitely start there! If you are going multiple days, aim to do Radiator Springs first thing on a weekday morning, preferably on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Bypass Lightening McQueen and Mater by staying to the right of the crowd at rope drop (go back and see them later if they are on your Must See list).
- Send someone to get World of Color Fast Passes next to the Rapids as soon as possible (go to the right after you enter and follow path all around towards the Pier, queue is on left). Send 1 person to get all the passes for the group (that person needs to have all of the tickets/passes for the group and everyone in the group has to have entered the park already).
- Try to hit Radiator Springs and Toy Story Mania first. They stack the line in the morning so it looks longer than it really is and it will be the shortest of the day.
- There is pretty much no line for the new Little Mermaid ride all day.
- Get Fast Passes for California Screamin, California Soarin, and Tower of Terror (if you are doing those) every 2 hours (full list below).
- Food: New pizza/pasta place is pretty good at the end of the pier (Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta). Boudins and the Mexican place are not bad. Corn Dog Castle reopened. Starbucks and yummy ice cream treats at Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe
Longest Lines: Radiator Springs, Toy Story Mania, California Soarin’, California Screamin’, Tower of Terror, Grizzly River Run (if hot)
Shortest/Quickest Lines: Little Mermaid, Bug’s Life rides, Mater’s Junkyard, Monster’s Inc
What is a FASTPASS? A Fast Pass is a ticket that basically holds your place in line so you can enjoy other rides while you wait your turn. Only select attractions offer Fast Passes. Find the Distribution area (typically near the entrance of the attraction). There is usually a machine that you insert your Park Entrance Tickets in to. You will receive a Fast Pass ticket. Check the return time on your ticket. Go on other rides and return to the “FASTPASS Return” line at your Return Time. Show your Fast Pass to the Cast Member and the wait will be significantly shorter. We send 1 person with all of the Park Entrance Tickets to get the Fast Passes while we are in another line. The ticket holder has to have already entered the park for this to work (you can’t send someone ahead to the park while you are at the hotel).
Disneyland Fast Pass Attractions:
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours
Disney California Adventure Fast Pass Attractions:
- California Screamin’
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Radiator Springs (Fast Pass Distribution queue located near It’s Tough to Be a Bug!)
- Soarin’ Over California
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- World of Color (Fast Pass Distribution queue located at Grizzly River Dun)
Example of our typical trip:
Day 1: Start in Disneyland/Fantasy Land – One person get Star Tours Fast Passes with tickets while everyone else goes straight to line for Peter Pan, then Dumbo, Storybook, and Casey Jr (sensitive/young kids will be scared of Snow White, Pinocchio, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride). Then we go to Tomorrowland and hit Matterhorn, Nemo, Star Tours if it is time (and get a fast pass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Splash Mountain if it is hot), Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Autopia if it is not too crazy. Depending on the number of days at the park and the time, we might run over and squeeze in Big Thunder Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. If it is after 10 and the park is crowded, we hit the lighter lines like It’s a Small World (15 minutes in air conditioning if it is hot), Tea Cups, Carousel, Gadget’s Go Coaster/Toontown, Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion (sometimes this is long), Pirates, Winnie the Pooh. Continue with fast passes – Big Thunder Mountain, Autopia, Indiana Jones. Lunch at Stage Door Café or Rancho del Zocalo. Afternoon in California Adventure for Monster’s Inc, Bug’s Life rides, Mator’s Junkyard and Luigi’s Tires (least favorite ride there), Little Mermaid, Jumping Jellyfish. Pixar Parade is a must. Can make it to Soundsational Parade at DL same day if plan right. Dinner at Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta if in CA or at Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port in Tomorrowland if in DL. Finish up fast pass rides and rest of list based on shortest lines rest of evening. Fantasmic is at 9:00 and fireworks at 9:25 – find a place for Fantasmic by 8:30 at the latest but it might already be packed. Lines are shorter during parades and shows/fireworks.
Day 2: Start in California Adventure/Carsland – use wide right technique to get on Radiator Springs first, then Toy Story Mania, and get fast passes for World of Color. Finish any rides that you did not get to on Day 1 (save it for first ride Day 3 if you have a 3 day hopper and the line is already too long). Go back to all the favorites. See characters if your child is collecting autographs. Baked potato at Harbour Galley for lunch and Hungry Bear for dinner. Back to CA for World of Color.
Day 3: Finish any rides you did not get to on Day 1 or 2 and go back to all the favorites. Characters for autographs.
Cool Down/Need a Break: It’s a Small World, Mickey’s Magical Map, Aladdin, Bug’s Land water area, Soarin’ Over California, Disney Animation, Disney Jr. Show, area by Big Thunder Ranch, area across from Grizzly River Run, or LEAVE THE PARK and nap or go to your hotel pool in the afternoon and come back in the evening.
- You can purchase those light up spinners at a Disney Store in the local mall for about half the price of the ones in the park.
- Frozen Lemonades take a LONG time to eat and are a good distraction for a long line.
- There is an infirmary and a Baby Care Center at the end of Main Street behind the Corn Dogs Little Red Wagon.
What are some tips that you have learned from your Disneyland trips? What are your favorite things to do and places to eat? How do you “work” the park? Do you have any Frozen tips?
Related Topics: Top 5 Most Common Mistakes Made at Disneyland
Find more tips on my Disney Pinterest Board!