My first Disneyland visit was during the 1970s for my ninth birthday. My parents parked the travel trailer in what was then the original parking lot. My brother and I then hightailed it into Disneyland for a magical day of adventure. Times have sure changed!
Since then, Disneyland Park has transformed into Disneyland Resort complete with the original park, Disney California Adventure, a Downtown Disney District, and three property hotels. Disneyland has definitely grown in size giving guests more to see and do!
There are plenty of tips and tricks to help you navigate your first Disneyland visit. I've compiled the best advice to ease your way into the Happiest Place on Earth.
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Disneyland Resort Overview
The Resort's only two theme parks face across each other with Downtown Disney District leading off to the hotels on the west side. As mentioned, Disneyland Park is the 1955 original and Disney California Adventure opened its gates to the public in 2001.
Disneyland is designed with a central hub in front of the iconic castle. From there, one of several spokes leads you to different lands. Here, you'll find your princesses, classic attractions (in parenthesis), and iconic characters. This is the place to begin for your first Disneyland visit.
- Main Street USA (leads you to the hub)
- Adventure Land (Jungle Cruise, Enchanted Tiki Room)
- New Orleans Square (Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion)
- Critter Country (Splash Mountain)
- Fantasyland (Peter Pan's Flight, “it's a small world”)
- Toontown (Mickey's and Minnie's houses)
- Tomorrowland (Space Mountain, Star Tours: The Adventure Continues)
- Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge (newly built Star Wars themed land)
Disney California Adventure Park
California's themed park was first designed as an ode to California's state icons. But, due to lower attendance, it was revamped heavily in 2012 with the addition of Cars Land. Pixar Pier is their newest re-imagioned area of the park which has been quite popular and is a must for your first Disneyland visit.
- Buena Vista Street (guides you into the park)
- Hollywood Land (Monsters, Inc., Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!)
- Cars Land (Radiator Springs Racers)
- Grizzly Peak (Soarin' Around the World, Grizzly River Run)
- Pixar Pier (Toy Story Mania, Incredicoaster)
Downtown Disney District
This outside shopping and restaurant community also opened with Disney California Adventure and has gone through growing pains as well. Shopping musts are World of Disney and The Lego Store. Food highlights include Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen and Catal. Black Craft Tap Burgers and Beers is slated to open sometime this year.
Disneyland Resort Hotels
The three hotels on property– Disney Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel, and the iconic Disneyland Hotel- are easy access to the parks.
Although only hotel guests can utilize the hotel pools, all guests are welcome to visit the hotels and their surroundings. Definitely make a note to stop in at Disneyland Hotel's Trader Sam's Tiki bar for crazy concoctions and some entertaining cast members.
Planning the First Disneyland Visit
Managing Crowds at Disneyland
There really is never a wrong time for the first Disneyland visit. Even crowded at its max, you can certainly maneuver through the masses. But most visitors would rather avoid the throngs of guests. The ‘off season' will still have crowds but not nearly as many during peak times of the year. This is also a common time for Disney to take care of refurbishments so that is something to consider. There will also be shorter hours, less entertainment, but all with the benefit of savings and less crowds. It all depends on what your family is looking for! Check our MickeyVisit calendar for crowd levels and the best time to schedule your visit.
Disneyland Seasonal Occasions
Disneyland Resort offers a plethora of events throughout the year. The two most popular occasions to experience are Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort and Holidays at Disneyland Resort. The first Halloween overlay goes up early September and the final Holiday decorations come down beginning of January. Expect the parks to BE BUSY during these three months.
Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort is just as favored now as Holidays at Disneyland Resort. MickeyVisit has the latest information on visiting the Resort during Halloween including these highlights.
- Oogie Boogie Bash (Separate tickets are needed for this event. Tickets generally go on sale in the spring and sell out QUICKLY).
- Jack Skellington and his The Nightmare Before Christmas friends move into Haunted Mansion Holiday.
- The Headless Horseman rides down Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure.
- Halloween-themed food and merchandise are available all throughout the Resort.
- Ghouls and ghosts are invited with the undead on the Disney's Happiest Haunts Tour (extra costs).
- “Snow” on Main Street USA.
- “A Christmas Fantasy” parade.
- “Believe in Holiday Magic” fireworks.
- “it's a small world” changes into “it's a small world” Holiday complete with joyous festivities from around the globe.
- Several meet-and-greets with Santa.
- “Holidays at the Disneyland Resort” Guided Tour (extra costs).
- Cars Land holiday decorations.
- Holiday-themed food and merchandise at several locations.
Disneyland Park Passes
Passes can be confusing for the first Disneyland visit. What's the difference between a one-park pass and hopper pass? How many days should you visit? Which is the cheapest? Let's take a look.
- A single day, one-park pass is just that- one pass per park per day.
- A single day, hopper pass. This ticket lets you “hop” between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park multiple times per day.
- Multi-day passes are available depending on how many days you plan to visit the Resort.
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To check out our full list of Disneyland discount finds, click here to see our guide on Disneyland discount tickets. If you're making your first Disneyland on a budget, make sure to see our budget guide.
Disneyland Resort Hotels and More
Hotels are plentiful around the Anaheim area. Depending on the time frame for your first Disneyland visit, and your bank account status, you can select from a variety of hotels, motels, and even local Airbnb venues.
- Disneyland Resort hotels are definitely the most convenient due to the proximity to the parks, but the steep prices may deter you. If you have your heart set on the Disney property hotels, BOOK ASAP because property rooms go quickly. Booking a Disneyland Resort hotel has its perks including access to Early Magic Hour which allows you one hour early entry to either Disneyland or California Adventure.
- Hotels/motels near the Resort offer guest inclusions to entice you and your wallet. You'll want to ensure your location has a shuttle service to/from the Resort if you're not within a short walking distance. Also, to save a few bucks, book a location with complimentary breakfast.
- Checking into a local Airbnb is a viable and cheaper option. If your location is a farther distance from the parks, Uber and Lyft are inexpensive transportation selections to get you there.
For a full hotel guide on official Disney owned hotels and hotels near Disneyland- check out our reviews and tips.
Your Day at Disneyland: Need to Know Basics
Being prepared to enter Disneyland Resort can save you time and headaches. Both Disneyland Resort and seasoned guests have great hacks to get you through your day.
- Bring snacks and water bottles. Bottles can be refilled at any restaurant location and there are two bottle stations in Disneyland Park- Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square, and Tomorrowland Terrace. You can also request a glass of ice water from any eatery.
- Download the Disney Mobile App prior to your visit. You'll have the resources you need at your fingertips. You can check entertainment times, locations, line wait times, character meet-and-greets, and even make dining reservations.
- 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!
- Become familiar with FastPass and utilize it to the max! FastPass is the system devised which virtually holds your place in any attraction queue. You can request one FastPass per park at any given time. Once your reserved time concludes, then you're able to select another FastPass from that park.
- If you're staying multiple days, MaxPass might be a more viable option for you to save time and money. The MaxPass selection offers both FastPass and PhotoPass for a minimal fee per day. MaxPass lets you reserve selected FastPass tickets via your phone. Photopass gives you VIP access to all Resort photographers, character breakfasts photos, attractions photos, and more. Photopass can be purchased separately as well.
- Disneyland Resort Guest Services is also a fantastic resource. Check-in with Disneyland Parks' City Hall, or the Chamber of commerce in Disney California Adventure Park for all your needs. From first aid, to renting wheelchairs, to obtaining a disability pass, or even just to pick up a fun, celebratory button, stop in and inquire. Cast members are always happy to help, especially those enjoying their first Disneyland visit.
Making a Plan for Disneyland Attractions
As mentioned earlier, even if the parks are crowded during your visit, there are tools in place to help you navigate without the stress. Choose which attractions are your biggest priorities and plan accordingly for your first Disneyland visit. Not all attractions offer the FastPass system but here are a few other tips when organizing your itinerary.
Get Up Early for Rope Drop
Set your alarm because you'll want to be at rope drop STAT! Rope drop is the term for when the parks allow guests to enter the parks 15-30 minutes prior to official opening. 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.
We have three 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:
- Disneyland Morning Strategy
- California Adventure Morning Strategy
- Early Magic Hour/Magic Morning Strategy and Guide
If you don't plan on following a touring plan, choose which park you want to conquer first and make sure you know which attractions to focus on first. These attractions tend to run out of FastPass first and even though few may not offer FastPass they still generate long lines early in the day.
- Indiana Jones Adventure (FastPass)
- Peter Pan's Flight (NO FastPass)
- Space Mountain (FastPass)
- Splash Mountain (FastPass)
- Star Tours- The Adventure Continues (FastPass)
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! (FastPass)
- Radiator Springs Racers (FastPass)
- Soarin' Around the World (FastPass)
- Toy Story Mania (FastPass)
Single Rider Option
A few of the attractions offer Single Rider status as well. If you are solo or have a small group, take advantage of this service. You may be separated from your friends, but you'll get through the line quicker.
Disneyland Park Single Rider Lines
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Disney California Adventure Single Rider Lines
- Grizzly River Run
- Goofy's Sky School
- Radiator Springs Racers
Parents of younger guests also have the 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.
Disneyland Park Rider Switch
- 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
- Jumpin' Jellyfish
- Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters
- Mater's Junkyard Jamboree
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Silly Symphony
- Soarin' Around the World
Disneyland Resort Entertainment
Disneyland offers so 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. Enjoying the entertainment options at Disneyland in the afternoon after lunch is the best way to take a break from the heat and the crowds before the evening.
Disneyland Character Meet-And-Greets
Disneyland Resort is an entertainment theme park so the activities, events, and interactions are plentiful for everyone. Character meet-and-greets are extremely popular- especially with the smaller guests. Both the Disneyland Mobile App and the daily park guide list the meeting times for the character encounters. Autograph books are readily available at Resort shops, or you can purchase your own prior to your visit.
Depending on the time of year, you'll have several entertainment options throughout your visit. Here are a few show-stoppers you'll certainly want to view. Just remember to check the daily entertainment guide for times.
- Fireworks at Disneyland Park (shows change during seasons and events)
- Paint the Night Parade (if available)
- Frozen- Live at the Hyperion
- World of Color
Don't forget the bands, the street entertainers, and the singing ensembles who roam both parks. Fan favorites include Main Street's Dapper Dans, and the pirate ensemble- The Bootstrappers- found in New Orleans Square of course.
Everything About Disneyland Dining
The food at Disneyland Resort almost has its own zip code. Disney foodies dedicate trips just to savor the scrumptious delicacies available at the Resort. Know before you go! Check the menu listings available on the Disneyland website and highlight your favorites. Disneyland Dining will accept reservations for sit-down locations up to 60 days in advance. Above all, I'd recommend booking ASAP if you plan to eat at these locations.
We also have a full guide to all the dining options at the Disneyland Resort with reviews that you can find here.
- 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)
- Steakhouse 55 (Disneyland Hotel)
And, CERTAINLY make reservations if you plan to join in the character dining options.
- Donald Duck's Seaside Breakfast (Paradise Pier Hotel)
- 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)
Shopping at Disneyland
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.
A Successful First Disneyland Visit
Finally, remember pre-planning is a key for a magical Disney vacation. But, just relax and enjoy your experiences as well. They're sure to be memorable. Likewise, you'll discover your own shortcuts for your future first Disneyland visit as you maneuver through your first time at Disneyland. For more great tips, visit our MickeyVisit website for a free planning guide.
- Disney Packing List
- Guide to Disneyland FastPass
- Guide to Disneyland MaxPass
- Best Disneyland Souvenirs
- Disneyland Character Dining