I’m going to share everything I have learned to make your Disneyland trip a total blast! All the tips and tricks I know!
I grew up going to Disneyland! It was the happiest place on earth and I was so excited to take my kids!
But as our trip got closer, I started panicking about all the things we needed! Going to Disneyland as a kid versus as a mom is a totally different story! I’m a planner and organizer and packer and I wanted to make sure I knew and planned for it all! So here is my rundown of awesome tricks and tips to make your Disneyland (or Disneyworld) trip a total hit!!!
I have been 2 more times and have updated this post! Maxpass is now Genie+ so if I say maxpass, thats what I mean!
Disclaimer: I do not have little kids. My youngest is 9. We didn’t have to deal with strollers and sippy cups and stuff like that! That might make for a different experience!
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED AT DISNEYLAND/CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE
I totally hemmed and hawed about what kind of package I should buy. Would 3 days be too much? Not enough? Do we need the park hopper? Was it worth it? I went back and forth and back and forth and annoyed my husband about it way too much. Exactly how many days do you need to accomplish Disneyland and California Adventure?
This, of course, varies on a few things. Factors included the ages of kids, going in the off-season versus high traffic times, if you want to catch all the light shows, parades, rides and visit with all the characters. The more you want to do, the more time you need. If you are going during a busy time, have little kids that need naps or breaks, or don’t want to feel rushed, opt for more days!
We opted for 3 days with a park hopper. 3 days for 2 parks.
Do you need a park hopper?
Park hopper is when you can cross over into other parks on the same day! You can spend your morning at Disneyland and then walk over to California Adventure after lunch! It’s an added cost-so I don’t recommend it unless you are under a time crunch! I prefer to not feel rushed and enjoy the full day at each individual park!
Disneyland has more to do, so if I did 3 days I would plan on doing 1 day at CA and 2 days at Disney!
We ended up doing a 3-day park hopper pass for our first time. (I know- I just said I didn’t recommend it!) But 3 days- We did 1 full day at Disneyland, 1 full day at California Adventure, and then half days riding our favorite rides at each park! I was nervous we wouldn’t be able to see it all in 2 days and it was our first time at the parks so I wanted to have an option of a 3rd day!
Here is my advice (finally!) the 3-day was perfect for us. In all actuality, we left early on the 3rd day because we were so tired! We didn’t wait in lines to see characters since my kids were older and we killed ourselves the first two days with about 30,000 steps. If we had a 5 day, we would have slowed down and not pushed ourselves so hard!
Now that my kids are older and we have been on a Disneyland trip, I would do a 2 day. One day at each park. That is what we did when my mom and sisters went and it was perfect.
If it’s your first time, I feel like you want to ride every ride and see all the things, but after you have been in the tiki room, you don’t necessarily have to experience that EVERY TIME you go!
When to go to Disneyland
I wanted to conquer all of Disneyland–from Small World to Winnie the Pooh to the tiki room. Disneyland has SO MUCH. and in the peak months with people and wait times, I don’t think you can even get close to seeing it all. Which is why I opt for cold January!
I had specifically planned to go when it’s a “ghost town” (you can check busy dates HERE) and then plan accordingly! I talk more about the weather down below but the colder weather is usually when the crowds are small. There are cheer competitions, spring break, and different things that Disney holds (food and wine festival for one!) So I would try to avoid all these if you want fewer people.
Also, avoid any major holidays because that can be crazy! If you want to see the Christmas or Halloween decorations, go early in the month and not around the actual holiday. The Christmas decorations are up in the first few weeks of Jan too! I personally wanted my family’s first time to be the original Disney decor. Now that we have been a few times, we could come during Christmas and see all the Holiday goodness!
I also didn’t want my family’s first trip to Disneyland to be filled with waiting in lines and trying to maneuver the crowds. That being said, the “ghost town” still means lots of people. But the wait times for lines were not bad! Our longest wait was 35 minutes for Peter Pan!
Disneyland Trip Game Plan
Rope Drop. The park doesn’t “open” until the time listed. But TECHNICALLY it’s open! You have to line up to go through security, line up to scan your passes, and then you can actually walk into the parks 30 minutes early! The rides are roped off until the time they are supposed to open. I 100% recommend getting there early. If you are getting into the parks st 7:30, you have time to snap pictures on Main Street and still be at the rope drop by 8!
Picking what ride you are going to rope drop is very important! Usually, everyone goes for the most popular ride. Currently, it’s Star Wars for Disneyland and Cars for Disneyworld. These rides can get up 150-minute wait! So it’s a good plan!
Last trip we decided to rope-drop thunder mountain. We got on quickly, headed over and walked on Pirates, and then headed over and walked on to the Haunted Mansion! Jungle Cruise was also a 5 min wait. (They are all in the same area) Indiana Jones was closed.
We basically could have accomplished a whole section of Disneyland in an hour and a half! About an hour after the rope drop is when the wait times start creeping up!
You just need to make sure you have a list of the most important things you want to accomplish and try to do those first! Then everything else you can fit in is just a bonus!
I did shop around to get the best deal because hot dang-That happiest place on earth is EXPENSIVE! The Best deal I found was GET AWAY TODAY! It had the best price and we bundled it with our Universal Studio tickets and got them for a deal! They have lots of bundling options and deals if you book your hotel through them (which I will do next time!)
OFF SEASON at Disneyland
I know I talked a little about this above. I totally wanted a less insane with wall to wall people experience. But I wanted to let you know, lots of things were down for “refurbishment!” Definitely, something to keep in mind.
They were redoing the middle of Main Street and so the statue with Walt and Mickey was covered. (they don’t like people to see what they are working on so they put up big walls.) So instead of walking right up to the castle–you had to walk around a big barrier to get to it. A little inconvenient.
And in Jan, you still might run into Christmas decorations!
Splash Mountain was closed for refurbishment and they were working on the Pixar pier in California Adventure so lots of walls there with the roller coaster being closed. I like to look at it like my kids will have “new stuff” to ride when we go next time–but I would have been REALLY disappointed if it was one of my favorite rides that were closed! The Disney app will actually tell you what is closed!
WEATHER at Disneyland:
The weather was a little bit chilly in January! Jackets and sweatshirts were perfect to have (especially at night).
My last Disneyland Trip was during a rainy spell. We had gloves, ponchos, and little hand warmers! You do not want to buy these in the park, Those $1 gloves at Walmart are $7 at Disney!
Check the weather and plan accordingly! If you are going in July or August, you might want to pack a cooling bandana or fan necklace!
Where to stay for your Disney trip
I am PRO having a hotel super close so you can head back to it if you need to. We got soaked on Splash on our recent trip and ubered back to change out of our wet clothes! It’s also great if you have kids that need naps! I didn’t want to mess with trying to maneuver buses or the parking garage or traffic so I stay close!
On our first trip to Disneyland trip, we stayed at the Hyatt House and loved it. It had a kitchen to store drinks and treats and it also have a couple of restaurants right by so we could eat out by the pool (and hot tub!)
A MAJOR PLUS was that it was attached to a Walgreens! I can not tell you how handy it was to have a store right below you! We grabbed treats and food and chapstick and any odds and ends that you totally forget when you are the mom and trying to pack for EVERYONE!
They even had souvenirs there–so much cheaper than at the park! (not as many options, but if you were trying to bring back some fun treats for your neighbors/friends it would be a great place to grab them!)
Our second trip was at the Element by Westin. We loved this one! We stayed in a suite that slept 8. It also had a fridge and kitchenette. We had Walmart deliver some groceries and snacks. A HUGE perk for the Element was the amazing breakfast! We fueled up before hitting the parks!
THINGS TO PACK (Random things I didn’t think about)
- Battery Charger We used our phone for the Genie+ and photos and our batteries were drained! I love this charger because you can plug in more than one device and get over 4 full charges with it!
- Treats (more on why you need lots of treats below)
- Autograph books (if you want to collect autograph books! Making some or buying some beforehand is lots cheaper than in the park)
- Dramamine (I’m old. So this was nice to have on hand)
- bandaids/moleskin: So much walking! We had 25- 30,000 steps! Your feet around going to have some wear and tear. And nothing puts a damper on a trip than a big ole blister!
- Disney trivia cards (and stuff to play in line! WHole post HERE!)
- Backpacks (or fanny packs) more on that below
- GLOW STICKS! (way cheaper than buying in park!)
DO NOT WEAR new shoes. Every night we would come back to the hotel room and say, “The best part of the day” and kick off our shoes!!! None of us got blisters, but lots of walking takes its toll!
What a game changer!!
Download it now and check it out! It tells you the wait times of rides!
Find the restrooms
It tells you where the characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse are.
You can look up dining and see the full menus and even book reservations!
You can even check out what is happening in California adventure!
This app is so good! I start watching wait times a week before. You will notice what rides always have the longest wait and that is how we decide what ride we want to rope drop! To dine at nice sit-down reservations, you need to book reservations in advance!
And one of my favorite parts of the app is that you can literally order food from it. We stood in line and looked at the menu and each kid put in their order and we selected the time to go pick it up! We can literally just walk right up and grab our food! My husband was on a diet when we went to Disneyworld, so weeks before we went, I had pulled up menus and found out all the places that how food options that fit his diet!
If you are new to Disneyland, Just look around the map on the app and get the lay of the land so you can maneuver through Disney like an expert!
DISNEY GENIE +
(this is formally known as Maxpass)
Genie+ is an added charge (on top of an already pricey admission ticket) but since our Disney trips are not as often as I like I wanted to make sure I could pack it all in! You can not start reserving rides until you are in the park!
There is a little bit of a strategy to using Genie+. Only some rides are included and you can only use it once per ride! So we didn’t start scheduling using them until about an hour into the park. You don’t want to use a pass on a ride that only has a 10 min wait. You want to wait until it has a 40-minute wait!
For example. We went to California Adventure and rope-dropped web slingers. (cars were closed for repair) We then went to monsters inc and walked right on. We got a Genie+ pass for Guardians and walked over and used it. Guardians only had a 15 min wait. We should have saved our genie + for later and just stood in the 15 min line. That way we could have ridden it twice! (It’s so fun to ride at night!)
How to use Genie +
The night before we go to Disney, I linked up all our tickets in the app. That way, I can make Genie+ selections for our whole group so we could ride together. (you can do this with friends and family too!)
In the app Genie+ gives you a whole list of rides with wait times and then times that genie + is available. It’s usually a one-hour time slot. So it might have Matterhorn from 11:35-12:35. Once selected, you have to wait for 11:35 before you can go up the lighting lane and scan your pass (the barcode is on the app- the cast members can help you find it the first time!)
You can not select a new ride until you scan your pass so I recommend showing up right on time at 11:35 even though you have a little wiggle room! If you are stuck in line on a ride, don’t worry about it. but if you are just standing there eating a churro, go get on that ride! As soon as you scan it, book another pass!
Now, I know I said you don’t want to use your genie+ too early, BUT you also don’t want to wait too long! The busier it is, the more they push out the wait times. If the park is busy, you might try to get a Genie+ for space mountain at 5 o’clock but the next time available is for hours away!
They used to give you the option that if you have a few hours of wait to use your fast pass, they let you pick a new one after a couple of hours! Keep checking the app to see if it will allow you! As soon as you use a pass, schedule a new one!
Disney is kind of a big circle. Try to snag wait times close to where you are so you aren’t running all over! and just keep checking your phone. Rides that break down usually get fixed quickly!
Sometimes the rides break down when you have a Genie+ selection for it. They usually let you have a pass on any ride since you can’t use it for that ride! and if the ride gets fixed, you can still snag a genie+ for it!
For Example, this was our day:
We looked at it, and saw that the Matterhorn had a pass that was 30 minutes away….so we snagged that one, went on the Finding Nemo submarine, and then went over to Matterhorn! As soon as we scanned it, we got a time for Space mountain which was an hour away. We went on Autopia (it had a 10-minute wait) We ordered food in line at autopia. Rode autopia. Walked over and picked up our food. Had a nice lunch and then went to Space Mountain.
As soon as we scanned our barcode for space mountain, we got a time for Buzz Lightyear Astro blaster. I mentioned you can see where the characters are in the app, so if you have an hour waiting for a genie +, it’s a great time to stand in line to see characters.
ANOTHER Totally awesome benefit of the Genie+ was the PHOTO PASS! (it’s included in the price.)
Photographers are stationed all over the park. You line up (and sometimes there is no line.) They snap some photos and you show them your code and they scan it! Within like 10 minutes those photos are on your phone!
SO AWESOME! They even photoshop balloons, Mickey Mouse, or the words DISNEY into your photos!
A. nice to not have to harass strangers to get a photo of us.
B. These photographers are good! A couple of different shots. vertical horizontal. When we took one at Cars…she waited to get a perfect shot of the cars coming over the hill!
ALSO…when you get off those rides and you get to see those embarrassing photos of you, there is a code at the top. Punch that in your app and that photo gets uploaded too! Now we get to have a great photo of this forever!
So between the time in lines, and the photos…..YOU SHOULD GET GENIE+!! I am not being paid to say that–and like I said–I’m cheap! I would have given up all food at the park and spend my money on it if I had to pick between the two!
Okay let’s move on!
I totally didn’t want to haul backpacks all over Disneyland. I was thinking you would have to put them in a locker before each ride. (Universal Studios has a few rides that you have to put your stuff in lockers before you can ride)
Husband ended up bringing a backpack and he was able to take it on EVERY RIDE! You just take it off and put it on your knee on each ride. It would have been nice to know! (There are locker stations in each park near the entrance. They are $10 and last all day! So that is an option!)
My husband and I have discussed what we would have done differently and we both think that next time EACH KID WOULD HAVE THEIR OWN BACKPACKS. Not huge full-sized ones…but just a nice normal size. In it, they get to keep their sunglasses, water bottles, their food and snacks for the day, autograph books, etc. I know this won’t work for all families–our kids are older and we don’t have a stroller to keep stocked!
Okay guys, serious moment. The fanny pack is the best invention ever. My only complaint is I want a bigger one! So nice not to have straps digging into your shoulders (and can we talk about back sweat).
You can bring food and water into the parks!
We ate all meals at Disneyland. I wanted the full-on Disneyland experience–and that included food.
But I regret it! We walked 30,000 miles on the first day. We were hungry ALL THE TIME. and guess what….food is expensive. I wish we would have had more snacks just to keep us from starving! Uncrustables, bags of chips, granola bars, apples, and trail mix. Disney is full of treats which we ate but we really wanted some healthy options!
As I mentioned: next time we would have the kids each pack and carry their own snacks and water so they can graze as they want. There were some long lines that give the perfect time to chow down on a sandwich! We only sat down for lunch and dinner. All snacks were eaten in line! Grab a dole whip and eat in line while you wait for Indiana Jones!
I already mentioned you can order food in the app. You click I am here and they make it and call out your name! It’s so fast! I also love seeing what each restaurant has to offer. If you have picky eaters you can see at a glance what will be a good place to dine for your family!
-YOU HAVE to check out Play Party Plan’s amazing Disney food roundup! We missed so many of these!!! Don’t they all look yummy! I would do my research. There are snacks you can only get in certain places…so I wish I would have paid better attention and planned out what we wanted to make sure to try!
You can bring in drinks to the park! (no alcohol!) I love Dr. Pepper and I added one from my mini fridge into my backpack! We each had 20-ounce water bottles that we filled with ice from our hotel. Every restaurant has cups of ice water just ready. They will give them to you for free! They are also starting to add water bottle-filling stations around the park! Stay hydrated- for free! You can add a strap to your water bottle and just hang it on your shoulder like a purse!
Simply Modern has DARLING Disney water bottles that are the perfect size!
Part of the magic of Disneyland is that everyone is all dressed up! So many fun shirts and jackets and the EARS! I loved all the ears! Jedis and all the little girls dressed like Princesses! I just loved it all!
Disneyland kind of hypnotizes you into wanting all the mickey mouse things…but once again…in park pricing is EXPENSIVE! So I would recommend buying your shirts and jackets beforehand! Target and Walmart sell some pretty freakin cute Disney stuff!
and of course…you can DIY SOME! I don’t sport Mickey Mouse stuff on a regular day-to-day–so I didn’t want to end up with lots of expensive shirts I won’t wear very much!
and you might think…I don’t need any Disney/Mickey-themed clothes. But once you are in there you will!
Here are some of our past shirts
- Disney bounding park rides outfits
- Patterned vinyl Mickey shirts
- California Adventure
- Disney Pixar sweatshirt
- The happiest place on earth cut file
- Fun Disney shirt ideas
There are shops all over Disneyland and each one offers a little something different. The gift shop right out of Small World has cute small world and toy options. The gift shop that is by Haunted mansion has Jack Skellington stuff. Lots of rides have it designed so that when you exit the ride, you end up in the gift shop! (Guardians, Toys story, Star Wars tours).
Souveierns are a little tricky since you don’t want to be carrying them around all over the park, but if you don’t grab it when you see it, you might forget where you saw it, or not be by that part of the park again! So you have to play this one by ear depending on what the souvenir is. My son wanted a Star Wars light saber so we had to do that at the end of the night because no one wanted to try to maneuver that on rides!
I will tell you that downtown Disney (the shopping center in between CA and Disney) has a giant Disney store! I always buy a cute new mug. So I grab one here on our way out so I don’t have to worry about breaking it! We like to spend half a day at Downtown Disney. Lots of shopping, yummy food (there is even a Disney bakery), and a big lego store! It’s fun to start the trip or end the trip with.
Also, I’ve heard the Anaheim Walmart is stocked with Disney stuff for way cheaper! So that could be a great option! You could grab all the souvenirs before your Disneyland trip starts and just skip the gift shops!
If you have never been to California Adventure–I wanted to give you a warning.
It’s not Disneyland. DUH!
There was still a lot to see and do…but we actually finished California Adventure up way early than we thought. The Cars land was AMAZING. Guardians of the galaxy is one of my favorite rides. Soarin over the world is so COOL! Monsters inc and Little mermaid were just so dang cute…and I loved the Toy Story arcade game!!! But everything else kind of seemed very theme parky (Like we have a theme park close to us that has the swings and a little roller coaster and a carousel.) It was fun to see it all but on our third day with our park hopper, we ran over and did cars, ate lunch by the water, and jumped on guardians before we headed back to Disneyland! It still is amazing but it definitely doesn’t hold quite the magic that Disneyland has!
They do have the light show on the water at night and it is super cool! You do need to reserve a time for that to secure yourself a seat!
Okay! I think I’ve exhausted all the Disney things! Hope this helps anyone who is planning a trip! We just love Disneyland It seriously is the best! People are nice. There is so much detail in EVERY LITTLE THING. It’s seriously the best place! And we can’t wait to go back!
If you have any tips, Tricks, or hints for your Disneyland trip–leave them in the comments!
Disney Tips and Tricks
Here are some tips and tricks people have told me!
- If you have a stroller, buy a balloon and tie it to your stroller. It will be easier to spot! If it’s parked in the way of a parade, cast members will move it! So if you can’t find it, search around the area! You can also rent strollers!
- At California Adventure, nestled in the corner of the animation studio is Beasts library! It’s super cool! don’t miss it!
- If Haunted Mansion says 13 min wait, it means NO wait! Lucky number 13!
- Rides that say 5 min way usually are no wait. They will never put 0 min wait. 5 is as low as it goes!
- Sit in the back for splash mountain. You will get less wet!
- Bring in your own water bottle. Every food place will have cups of ice water for free! Just keep refilling it!
- Lockers are located near the front of each entrance! $10 for all day. You can load it up with food or coats or glow sticks.
- Someone once mentioned they brought all their daughter’s princess dresses in their stroller. She had on shorts and a shirt and would just slip on a different dress throughout the day! That way she could meet Elsa dressed as Elsa and could change into a Cinderella dress to meet Cinderella.
- Cast members (staff) are just the nicest. If you have a question- ask! If the ride has no wait times, they will sometimes let you go twice without getting out!
- When you get to security, head to the left. Most people stay straight and it builds up a line, but there are tons of security booths open! They look through any bags and purses and then you go through a metal detector. It goes pretty fast. Just get your bags open as soon as you get there!