First Disneyland Visit: Everything First Timers Need to Know!

A first Disneyland visit can be confusing which is why we’ve provided an overview of everything a first time guest should know! Disneyland Resort includes two theme parks, a shopping district, and three on-site hotels. Disneyland is much larger in size than many guests expect and it’s helpful to know how to make the most out of your trip.

Keep reading for an overview of the two theme parks, their iconic rides, the best entertainment options, popular dining experiences, and all the Disneyland lingo you need to know for your trip.

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Disneyland Resort Overview

The Disneyland Resort includes two theme parks located next to each other with Downtown Disney District leading off to the hotels on the west side. Disneyland Park is the original theme park with the most well-known rides and California Adventure features the new Marvel themed land. Downtown Disney is where guests can find all the shopping and dining options next to the theme parks and it does not require a ticket to enter. The three Disneyland Resort hotels are all accessible through Downtown Disney. First time guests visiting Disneyland should prepare before their trip to have the most magical experience!

Disneyland ParkSleeping Castle is still beautiful during summer at Disneyland.

Disneyland is designed with a central hub in front of the iconic Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Each spoke from the hub will take you to the different lands which include well-known favorites like Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Frontierland. Disneyland Park is where all the iconic attractions are located like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, and more. This is the park to prioritize during your first Disneyland visit. Here is a simple breakdown of all the available lands in Disneyland and their most well-known rides:

Disneyland has a large selection of attractions aside from the few listed above so first Disneyland visit guests should read through our Disneyland attraction guide. Prioritize which rides your family wants to focus on!

Disney California Adventure Park

California’s themed park was first designed as an ode to California’s state icons but was revamped heavily in 2012 with the addition of the popular Cars Land. This theme park is smaller than Disneyland but still offers plenty of iconic attractions like Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! California Adventure is also known for its seasonal food marketplace booths and themed entertainment throughout the year. 

Cars Land is the show stopper in California Adventure and has some of the best theming out of all the Disney Parks in the world. Avengers Campus is the newest addition to the park with a Spider-Man ride and plenty of Marvel characters roaming around.

You will also find some of the best dining options in California Adventure, especially during a festival, but one of the more upscale fan favorites is the Carthay Circle Restaurant.

Disneyland Discount TicketsFirst Disneyland visit: disneyand ticket in front of castle

Disneyland tickets are offered in a few different options which can be confusing for guests visiting Disneyland for the first time.

  • 1-Park Per Day Ticket- this ticket only allows you access to one park per day. You can only visit Disneyland Park or California Adventure Park- not both. 
  • Park Hopper Ticket- this ticket allows you to visit both parks on the same day. You can “hop” between these two parks as often as you like. 
  • You can purchase either of these options as multi-day tickets for up to five days. 

You can find discount Disneyland tickets to save money on your Disneyland trip by looking for sales and promotions offered by Disneyland or popular travel agencies. Regardless of how many days you pick, you definitely want to pay for the park hopping ticket since the two theme parks are steps away from each other! 

First time visitors to Disneyland also need to know that you are required to book a theme park reservation after you purchase your tickets. You can reserve either Disneyland or California Adventure for the park you start your day at. If you have a park hopper ticket, you can hop to the other park as early as 11AM. 

Guests also have the option of adding Genie+ to your park ticket for $25 per person, per day. Genie+ is a paid service that Disneyland offers for guests to access a shorter, faster line than the standard line for the most popular attractions. You can also purchase Genie+ on when you enter the park but the price can go up during crowded times of the year. A few select attractions will need to be purchased separately in order to access their Lightning Lane but this is limited to just three attractions in the entire resort.

Downtown Disney District

This is the outdoor shopping and eating district located between the Disney parks and the Disney owned hotels. You can find Disney themed shopping like the Disney Dress Shop, World of Disney, the Disney Home Store plus favorites like the Lego Store here.

There is also a wide variety of dining options throughout Downtown Disney all which offer themed experiences and top tier food options. Evenings and weekends can also bring live music to Downtown Disney with many of the restaurants staying open late.

It’s a good plan for a first Disneyland visit to spend one evening in Downtown Disney to soak in the atmosphere and do your shopping. Downtown Disney will offer most of the merchandise you can find in the park so this is a great way to do your shopping on a day you’re not at the parks.

Disneyland Resort Hotels

Disneyland has three hotels on property: Disney Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel (soon to be Pixar Palace,) and the iconic Disneyland Hotel- are easy access to the parks. These hotels are great options for guests to stay at that want the experience of being in a “Disneyland bubble” as you can effectively spend your entire trip without setting foot off Disney property.

However, the price point for these hotels (although they come with many perks like early park entry!) can be out of reach for many guests. The Disneyland Resort is located in the middle of Anaheim, CA with plenty of great local hotel options at a much more affordable price. Many guests, even if the Disney hotels are in their budget, may prefer these off-site options.

Even if you do not planning on staying at one of these Disney property hotels, they’re worth taking the time to enjoy the dining options. You do not need to be staying at the hotel to enjoy the restaurants! A fan favorite is  the Disneyland Hotel’s Trader Sam’s Tiki bar due to its interactive atmosphere and popular drinks. You can access all of these hotels through Downtown Disney.

When to Visit DisneylandBalloons in front of the Disneyland castle

The best way to plan when to visit Disneyland is to consider what atmosphere you want to enjoy. Summer at Disneyland may bring warmer temperatures, the park operating hours will be long, entertainment will be running on a full schedule, and crowds are spread out over the summer months. Spring can be a great time to visit for guests hoping to travel during spring break with milder temperatures and want to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival at California Adventure. Each month at Disneyland offers different pros and cons along with special events to enjoy.

Halloween at Disneyland is just as popular now as the holiday season because Disneyland goes all out! Oogie Boogie Bash  is a separately ticketed event for a Halloween party held at California Adventure with trick or treat lines, Halloween parade, and costumes! Over in Disneyland, the Haunted Mansion receives a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay and transforms into Haunted Mansion Holiday. This theme stays up until after Christmas. Halloween decorations and seasonal food will be available at both parks and Downtown Disney. Guests looking to avoid high Halloween crowds should visit during September as October as become known as one of the most crowded months of the year!

The Holidays at Disneyland Resort start right after Halloween with the first decorations going up the first week in November. The holiday season at Disneyland includes plenty of options to celebrate with breathtaking decorations in Disneyland, California Adventure, the resort hotels, and Downtown Disney. Favorite entertainment options include the “A Christmas Fantasy” parade and “Believe in Holiday Magic” fireworks at Disneyland Park. “it’s a small world” changes into “it’s a small world” Holiday with the front of the attraction covered in thousands of Christmas lights. This is one of the most magical times of the year to visit Disneyland. If you want to avoid the holiday crowds, visiting the beginning of November and first two weeks of December is a great time for a first Disneyland visit.

Managing Crowds at Disneyland

Many guests planning their first Disneyland visit will ask: when is the off season? Truth be told, there isn’t much off an off season at Disneyland anymore. During the slower months of the year, Disney will entice guests with hotel and ticket discounts especially for locals to ramp up park attendance. Despite that, the least crowded time at Disneyland is usually in January and February. This is also the time of the year you will see more rain in California and ride closures due to seasonal refurbishments. Read more about the least crowded times of the year in our guide for specific dates and monthly speculation on the best time to go to avoid crowds.

Planning Your Day at Disneylandits a small world disneyland planning guide

Rope drop is the term used at the Disney Parks to describe the opening of the theme park rides! Cast members rope off the entryways to the specific lands with attractions and guests can line up at their land of choice for when the ‘rope drops’ at official opening time. The parks will start allowing guests in to enter about 15-30 minutes prior to official opening depending on the crowd level. Arriving to the park at least 30 minutes before park opening is the best way to start your day so you can have your ticket scanned and be inside the park when the rope drops!

We have morning strategy/touring plans to help you accomplish all the major attractions before lunch time. If you follow these plans closely, you will cross off all the most popular attractions from your list by lunchtime:

Arriving with a clear idea of where to go first is essential to beating the lines. If you’re not morning people or have teens that can handle staying up late, staying until the park closes is also a great time to avoid lines. Crowds will often clear out for the day after the fireworks and most rides become walk ons.

Before you stat your day, download the Disney Mobile App– this app provides an interactive park map, ride wait times, the ability to do mobile ordering for certain dining locations, entertainment times, and more. It’s essential!

During your day if you need any assistance, the Disneyland Resort Guest Services is a fantastic resource. Guest Services offers everything from first aid, to renting wheelchairs, to obtaining a disability pass, or even just to pick up a free button. Guests visiting Disneyland for the first time can get a free ‘first visit’ button so make sure to stop in! You can find the Disneyland Park guest services at City Hall and California Adventure guest services at the Chamber of commerce.

Disneyland Genie+ Program

There are two lines for the most popular attractions at Disneyland. One is called the regular standby line and the other is called the Lightning Lane. The Lightning Lane will always be much, much shorter than the regular standby line because guests that want access to this line will need to pay for Genie+ for the day. Genie+ starts at $25 per person, per day for access to a large selection of Lightning Lanes around the park. While this cost can add up, this is especially helpful for avoiding long waits (sometimes as long as 90 minutes or more!) and saving time.

There are three attractions at Disneyland that offer individual Lighting Lane purchases and are not included in the general Genie+ ride list. These are the newest and most popular rides at Disneyland. These rides include Rise of the Resistance, Radiator Springs Racers, and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Are these rides worth the cost to pay to access the Lightning Lane? Absolutely, yes. These are some of the best, newest innovative rides at Disneyland. If you follow our morning strategies, you can also try to get experience these rides with a lower wait with some planning.

It is essential that guests planning a first Disneyland visit read our guide to Disneyland Genie+ to learn how to use it and make the most of your time.

the Incrediables posing with couple on Pixar Pier

Single Rider Option

Some attractions at Disneyland offer a single rider option. Single rider is a way for Disneyland to fill in empty spots on ride vehicles to make the line move efficiently. You will be split up from your party if you get in the single rider line but if you don’t mind this, it’s a great way to cut the line in half, sometimes more. Read our full guide to utilizing Single Rider at Disneyland. These are all the attractions at Disneyland that offer Single Rider:

Disneyland Park Single Rider Lines

  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Space Mountain
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

Disney California Adventure Single Rider Lines

  • Grizzly River Run
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Incredicoaster
  • Radiator Springs Racers

The Star Tours sign lit up during the evening

Rider Switch

For guests traveling with children not tall enough to meet the height requirements or do not want to ride, Disneyland offers an option of Rider Switch. One adult stays with the child while the other responsible party (aged 14 and up) and accompanying guests (up to two) enjoy the attraction. Once they are finished, both parties switch roles so everyone can enjoy the same attraction without having to wait again in a queue. These are all the attractions at Disneyland that offer Rider Switch:

Disneyland Park Rider Switch

  • Autopia
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Gadget’s Go Coaster
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
  • Space Mountain
  • Splash Mountain
  • Star Tours- The Adventure Continues

Disney California Adventure Park Rides Switch

  •  Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Incredicoaster
  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Silly Symphony
  • Soarin’ Around the World

Disneyland Resort Entertainmentdisney100 celebration disneyland fireworks show

Disneyland offers many great entertainment options but it’s easy to miss out on these if you don’t plan ahead to incorporate them into your day. The entertainment at Disneyland is one of the features of the resort that set it apart from the rest. 

Character meet-and-greets are extremely popular at Disneyland. Guests can meet classic characters like Mickey Mouse, Disney Princesses plus Star Wars and Marvel characters. The Disneyland mobile app will show guests the most recent available meeting times and locations for characters. Autograph books are readily available at Disneyland shops or you can purchase your own prior to your visit.

The nighttime spectaculars at Disneyland are not to be missed, especially the classic fireworks above Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. The fireworks shows at Disneyland are heartwarming performances and often feature favorite Disney songs and characters.

Fantasmic! and World of Color are the two main nighttime spectaculars taking place at both parks. If guests want to view these exciting events without worrying about saving a spot then a dining package is a great option. 

Don’t forget the parades, bands, the street entertainers, and the singing groups who roam both parks. Fan favorites include Main Street’s Dapper Dans and the Disneyland parades which usually take place twice a day. 

Disneyland DiningBlue Bayou night time setting

Disneyland has great dining options that offer magical experiences for guests like character breakfasts, dining packages with reserved show seating plus a list of restaurants with great atmosphere. 

Some of these fan favorites include the Blue Bayou Restaurant which is located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride or the Minnie and Friends Character Breakfast. Reservations can be made for your dining options 60 days in advance online. Read our full guide to Disneyland dining to see all our personal dining reviews and key experiences you don’t want to miss. Some fan favorite dining experiences include: 

  • Blue Bayou Restaurant (New Orleans Square)
  • Carnation Café (Main Street USA)
  • Carthay Circle Restaurant (Buena Vista Street)
  • Lamplight Lounge (Pixar Pier)
  • Napa Rose (Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa)

disneyland character breakfast

There are also great character dining optionsoffered in Disneyland and at the Disneyland on-site hotels. This is a great way to meet a variety of characters without waiting in line while also enjoying traditional Disney favorites like Mickey waffles.

  • Goofy’s Kitchen (Disneyland Hotel)
  • Mickey’s Tale of Adventure Breakfast Buffet at Storyteller’s Café (Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa)
  • Minnie and Friends Breakfast (Plaza Inn)
  • Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures (Disney’s Grand Californian)

Another mobile option is ordering food.  Several restaurants now have this selection. Choose your menu items, prepay and send in your order, then let the location know when you’ve arrived to pick up your edibles.  It’s just that easy!

Shopping at DisneylandDisneyland main street at night

Buying souvenirs is another great pastime at Disneyland Resort and especially for those enjoying their first Disneyland visit. From the latest gold rose trend, to the newest mouse ears style, to the most current pin release, the Resort has a lot of offer potential shoppers including a few shortcuts.

  • Lockers are available for storing your purchases.
  • Select locations will hold your bags for you. Just remember to pick up your items before you leave the parks.
  • Guests staying at Resort hotels are eligible for purchases to be sent to their rooms.
  • Main Street USA and Buena Vista Street Shops are open one hour after park closing for your convenience.
  • World of Disney in Downtown Disney District also stays open after parks close.

No one ever forgets their first visit to the Disneyland Resort and planning in advance will ensure the best possible trip.

Plan Your First Disneyland Visit!

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About Lindsay Brookshier

Lindsay is a college English instructor and has years of writing experience through various nonprofits, charities, newspapers, and online magazines. As the content director of Mickey Visit, she oversees article content and leads our fantastic team of writers to meet guest vacation needs. You can still find her writing weekly content to help make your Disney Parks trip fantastic here on Mickey Visit and Disney Dose- you can also view her recently featured posts on Disney Parks travel on Visit Anaheim, Nerd Wallet and SFGate. Lindsay comes from a dedicated Disney family and enjoys taking her son to the Disney parks as often as possible.

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