If you follow me on Facebook on Instagram then you already know that I was at Disneyland with my family earlier this week! We had an absolute blast and can’t wait to go back! It was our first trip in almost 17 years! So much had changed since the last time I was there and it was so fun to experience the park again. We also learned a ton about how to have the best experience and wanted to share all of our best tips with you!
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Sign-Up for RideMax
This is my BEST tip for a successful Disney trip! I cannot say enough good things about RideMax! It’s $14.95 for a 90-day subscription and it’s worth every penny. I would even say it’s worth a lot more than $15.
RideMax allows you choose the date you’ll be in the park, what time you plan to ride your first and last ride, and which attractions you want to visit. You can even choose to tour the park at a slower pace, schedule in break times, and customize how you would like to use FASTPASSES. Once you’ve chosen all your options, RideMax creates a custom plan for your day at Disney! They factor in estimated wait times and FASTPASS return windows to create the most efficient plan.
This is what our plan looked like for our first day at Disneyland:
We ended up deviating a bit when we saw that the Star Tours wait was actually an hour instead of 21 minutes. We grabbed FASTPASSES for Star Tours when our window opened up and then ate lunch while we waited to ride. I think we ended up being done with all of our rides by about 2pm. Then we had time to re-ride a few things, relax, get snacks, and do some souvenir shopping.
I also love that RideMax gives you tips for finding the FASTPASS machines, where the best places are to stand on certain rides, where to watch the fireworks etc. All the tips are so helpful!
*This post was NOT sponsored by RideMax. I just really loved using the service!
Utilize the Disneyland App
Using RideMax with the Disneyland App is the best way to navigate your day at the park. I was so impressed with how helpful the app was! It includes an interactive map of the whole park, estimated wait times and FASTPASS return windows. It also has lists of every attraction, Character location, restaurant and snack stand, restroom locations, PhotoPass locations, entertainment, events and shops.
I loved that you could search for attractions, restaurants etc. in either list mode or on the map. The map also shows you a live view of where you are in the park so that you can easily navigate to your next destination. You can also view restaurant menus and even make reservations for the sit-down restaurants right on the app. You can even purchase and download ride photos and group photos taken throughout the park on the app.
Learn to Work the FASTPASS
I HATE waiting in line! But I mean, who doesn’t? ;-) Lines were always my least favorite part of going to Disneyland. This time around I think the longest we ever waited in line was about 15 minutes and that’s all thanks to the FASTPASS. RideMax was so helpful in learning how to use FASTPASSES in the best possible way but I’m going to share the best tips we learned along the way!
Photo via Undercover Tourist
So what is a FASTPASS? It’s basically a way to save your place in line while you enjoy the rest of the park! Not all rides have FASTPASSES but you can find a complete list by clicking here. You obtain a FASTPASS by scanning your park ticket at a FASTPASS distribution machine. The machines are generally located right by the entrance to the ride.
When you receive your pass it will have a one hour window printed on the pass. That window is generally about 1-2 hours after you receive your pass, but it may be longer for the more popular rides. You have to return within that time window or you forfeit the use of your pass! When you return to use the pass look for the FASTPASS line signs. You’ll get to walk right past everyone else waiting in the Standby line for the ride! You generally still have to wait about 5-10 minutes to get on the ride but that’s much better than 45 minutes to an hour!
The only catch when using a FASTPASS is that you can only hold one pass at a time. So you can’t just run around to every ride in the park first thing in the morning and get FASTPASSES for everything. However, you can generally get another FASTPASS as soon as your pass window opens up. For example, if you have a pass for Indiana Jones with a return window of 1:15-2:15pm you can get a pass for another ride starting at 1:15pm. I highly recommend sending someone in your group to grab FASTPASSES for another ride before you use your current pass. That way you’re waiting out some of that return window time while riding an attraction.
Your FASTPASS will always tell you when you are able to get another pass. The return window for extremely popular rides like Radiator Springs Racers may be a few hours after you get the pass. In this case Disneyland will usually let you get another pass before that return window opens up. For example, we got our FASTPASSES for Radiator Springs at 9:30am but the return window wasn’t until 1:15pm. I automatically assumed that we wouldn’t be able to get another pass until 1:15pm but on the pass it said we could get another pass at 11:30am.
A couple of other tips for FASTPASSES – in order to use a park ticket to receive a pass that ticket must have already been used to gain entrance to the park on that day. Let me share an example to clarify that a bit. We got 2-Day Park Hopper Passes. When planning out our second day, we had a few people in our group that wanted to sleep in and not have to get to the park at 9am. However, we really wanted to ride Radiator Springs that day and knew that those FASTPASSES frequently run out if you don’t get them first thing in the morning. So we had the bright idea to send a couple of people into the park with everyones tickets to grab those FASTPASSES. Luckily we did some research and found out that you aren’t able to do that. Everyone has to be in the park in order to receive a FASTPASS.
However, you do not have to send you entire group to the FASTPASS machines! We always sent one person with everybody’s tickets to get the actual passes. It is so much faster that way! In fact, as soon as we entered the park we handed all of our tickets to one person. That way we weren’t scrambling to find our tickets whenever we wanted to get a FASTPASS.
Finally, if you’d like get a FASTPASS for certain ride be sure to check the current return window on the Disneyland app! That’s such a helpful feature for planning our your day. That way you don’t grab a pass during a time that you might have a dinner reservation or when you want to watch a show!
Make a Plan
This tip really goes along with everything I mentioned above but I really wanted to emphasize how helpful planning was for us. Before our trip, I was definitely tempted to not worry about making any kind of plan! I thought, why stress? Just enjoy the day. But having a plan made our trip so much less stressful! We spent very little time just standing around in the park wondering what we should do next. And there was not a single fight about the schedule because we had planned it out in advanced.
Get to the Park Early
Our rental house was only a 5-minute drive from Disneyland, but on the first day we left the house at 8am. It takes quite a while to park, ride the tram to the park entrance, and get your tickets. I am so glad we got there early! We were in line to get into the park by 8:45am. That was the key to riding 7 attractions in about 3 hours that morning. We went straight to Frontierland and it was almost completely empty for the first couple of hours! It made for a very relaxed and fun morning.
On the second day we made the mistake of not leaving our house until 8:30am. That 30 minute time difference meant much, much longer lines to get into the parking lot and to get on the tram. We started that day at California Adventure and ended up skipping some of the rides because the lines were already so long by the time we got to them. We still had a great day and were able to ride all the big things, but we skipped anything that didn’t have FASTPASSES.
Give Yourself Some Rest Time
I cannot stress this enough! I definitely had delusions of grandeur the first day and thought, we will totally be in the park from the time it opens until the time it closes! Well, by about 5pm that day we were pooped and totally ready to head out. We had actually done everything we wanted to by that time so we did a little souvenir shopping on Main Street and then went over to Downtown Disney for dinner and then back to our rental house for swimming and down time the rest of the evening.
On the second day we went to California Adventure and rode everything we wanted to hit by about 1:30pm. That even included a break for an early lunch! Then we headed back to our rental house took naps and swam. We went back to the park at 5pm and spent the evening riding more attractions and then saw the World of Color show and watched the fireworks. Without that break time I know everyone would have been totally grumpy and miserable by the time the park closed!
Opt for a Rental House Instead of a Hotel
When I was looking for hotel rooms for all 7 of us I was a bit stunned by how much it was going to cost. I remembered the great beach house we rented in San Diego last summer that we found on VRBO.com and decided to see what they had to offer. Lo and behold, we found a GREAT vacation house less than a mile from the park that slept 12 people and had a pool! And it was about a third of the price of a hotel. Needless to say, I booked it immediately.
It was so nice to have all of us in one house rather than multiple hotel rooms! It made for some fun bonding time playing games and watching TV at night. We were able to save money by eating breakfast and a couple of dinners at the house rather than in the park. Plus, going back to our quiet house was a much needed break from all the Disney crowds.
Make Room in Your Budget (and your stomach!) for Food in the Park
Disneyland will let you bring in your own food and there are lots of tables and benches that you can sit at to eat. But I promise that you will want to at least grab a couple of treats in the park! Plus, we really enjoyed sitting down in the air conditioning or shade at the restaurants in the park.
We had lunch the first day at the Plaza Inn at Disneyland. We were able to find a big, comfy booth inside to fit our whole group. The food was delicious and the air conditioning was a huge blessing on a hot day! We also enjoyed lunch at the Cove Bar at California Adventure on our second day. We had a nice shady table and a gorgeous view of Paradise Bay and Mickey’s Fun Wheel. And the lobster nachos were to die for!
Here were a few of our other favorites snacks and treats:
- Churros from any the multiple stands throughout the parks
- Corn Dogs from the Little Red Wagon (Disneyland) or Corndog Castle (California Adventure)
- Dole Whip Floats from the Tiki Juice Bar
- Matterhorn Macaroon from the Jolly Holiday Bakery
- Mint Juleps and Mickey Beignets from the Mint Julep Bar
- Red’s Apple Freeze and Chocolate Twist from Cone 4 at the Cozy Cone Motel
If you want to eat at any of the full-service sit-down restaurants be sure to get a reservation well before your trip! We tried to get reservations at the Blue Bayou a couple of days in advance and they were totally booked. Without a reservation you’ll be waiting up to an hour at most places.
I found lots of restaurant reviews on the Disney Tourist Blog. Reading those in advance was very helpful in determining where we would want to eat!
Additional Tips from OGT Readers
Before our trip, I posted on Instagram and Facebook to get Disney tips from my wonderful blog readers! I wanted to say a huge thank you to all of your that shared your wisdom. I found out about RideMax from a couple of you who commented. I wanted to share some of the other great advice that I got from all of you:
- Follow @disneyhungry on Instagram for tons of great food recommendations.
- You can get free ice water at any restaurant that serves drinks.
- Order the Monte Cristo and Pommes Frites at Cafe Orleans to share because the portions are huge.
- There is a good fireworks viewing spot with benches just off Main Street circle between Casey’s Corner and Adventureland.
- Try doing the single rider option for rides with super long lines if you don’t have FASTPASSES.
- A great spot to watch the Paint the Night Parade is right in front of the fire station near the entrance to Disneyland. Not as many people stand there!
- Bring a portable phone charger!
- Ride Toy Story Midway Mania in California Adventure first thing in the morning because it doesn’t have FASTPASSES and the line gets long.
- Get FASTPASSES for the World of Color show at California Adventure. They are distributed near the entrance to Grizzly River Run. Those FASTPASSES won’t interfere with getting any other passes throughout the day and guaranteed priority seating for the show.
- Get a loaf of sourdough bread for $4 at Pacific Wharf Cafe to snack on.
- If you have a Target Redcard, purchase Disney gift cards at Target. That saves you 5% off the top and you can use gift cards at every place Disney accepts cash.
- Get a locker to store snacks, extra water bottles, changes of clothes, souviners etc.
- If you buy souvenirs early in the day, ask about the option to have them sent to a kiosk at the front gate where you can pick them up at the end of the day. If you are staying at one of the resort hotels, check with the front desk about having souvenir purchases sent back to your room.
- If you book the World of Color Dining Package at Carthay Circle restaurant, you get to stand where the imagineers stand when testing the water shows.
- The best seated place to watch the Disneyland fireworks is the Carnation Cafe. Just be sure to grab a table facing the castle! No one is allowed to stand in front of you because it’s a walkway.
- If you’ll be at the parks multiple days, buy one of the great popcorn buckets with a handle the first day. Then pop popcorn in your hotel room the other days and fill up the bucket for an easily portable snack.
- The official Disneyland photographers will gladly take photos on your phone so you don’t have to buy the expensive PhotoPass.
- If it’s likely to rain while you’re visitings the parks, buy ponchos at the dollar store. Buying ponchos in the park is very expensive!
- Bring some mini fans for hot days to keep everyone cool while waiting in line.
- Wear bright, matching shirts so it’s easy to find your family in the crowds.
- Ask for the “Ice Cream Nachos” at the Golden Horseshoe – it’s a secret menu item!
- If you have the money to splurge and are going with young kids, try use the Nanny in the Kingdom.
- Get the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland book on Amazon.
What are your best Disney tips?