The ultimate guide for first time visitors to Disneyland. Plan the most magical trip, find everything you need to know in this post. Whether this is your first visit or your 100th visit there’s always something new to learn about Disneyland. I’m a planner! I love to plan trips especially to Disneyland, but it can be overwhelming. There’s so much to see and do. Where do I start? How do I fit it all in? No worry, I’m here to help you! I’ve included FREE printables of all the attractions to help you plan, suggested order to go on rides and more! And if you normally visit Walt Disney World you’ll find in this post some of the differences to help you plan. This post contains affiliate links which means I make a little something when you purchase through the link with no extra cost to you.
First step book your trip!
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The Disneyland Resort includes ….
The Disneyland Resort has 2 parks, Downtown Disney and 3 Disney hotels. There are 2 parks to enjoy, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Unlike in Florida, the parks are across from each other, a one minute walk! Also within minutes you can enjoy Downtown Disney home to World of Disney, more shopping and eating. There are also 3 Disney properties you can walk to, the Disney Grand Californian hotel, Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier hotel. The Grand has an entrance into Disney California Adventure. Near the Disneyland hotel is the monorail stop. More about this other form of transportation here.
For first time visitors familiar with Walt Disney World, unlike in Orlando there are only 3 Disney hotels, but there are many Good Neighbor hotels within walking distance of the resort. So it’s not necessary to stay on property since there are so many other close hotels. Look on a map when planning your visit and look at off property hotels for much less. If you want to stay on property and be right in the magic I have more information about the perks of staying at a Disneyland resort hotel here. For my hotel recommendations and places where I’ve stayed check this post.
Things to consider when planning a trip to Disneyland
Pick a date – look at my crowd calendar here. And you’ll want to know about special events and holidays in both parks here. Decide on a time you want to go. If you can avoid holidays, summer and school breaks do it. Not everyone can. But if you have the option to pick a less crowded time I would encourage you to do so. My crowd calendar will show you the best times to plan your trip.
Get familiar with the FastPass system. UPDATE!!! New Disney Genie option coming this fall. Read more here. Lines at Disneyland can get very long. You don’t want to waste your time in the stand by line. The FastPass system enables you to minimize your wait times drastically. It’s the system that the parks use to help you maximize your day. You can even purchase and upgrade to MaxPass. Familiarize yourself by reading this post about the FastPass vs. MaxPass at Disneyland. Decide if you want to purchase MaxPass for your visit.
Disney PhotoPass service is an option to have professional shots taken by our photographers at iconic park locations and dining spots. Plus, enjoy selection attraction photos and Magic Shots The price for one week is $78.00 and you can download all your photos.
The other option to consider is for $15 per day you can get unlimited Disney PhotoPass photo downloads when you purchase MaxPass on one ticket.
Guests with disabilities. The parks are very accommodating for guests with disabilities. If you need to rent a scooter I have used A Scooter 4 U several times. Call Jerry at 562-697-7725 and tell him I sent you for 5% off your rental fee. I rented a scooter 3 months post bilateral knee replacement with no problems. Rent the scooter!
Things to do 60 days before your visit
Make dining reservations starting 60 days before your visit. At Disneyland you can make reservations on the website or call 714-781-DINE. For more dining tips search here.
Also if meeting characters is on your priority list then keep this tip in mind. You can locate them in the Disneyland app. More about that here.
Bring an autograph book to save money. Currently there are not character signings. Many of the characters wander around it’s fun to spot them in the parks. Consider character dining experiences where the characters come to your table, it’s pretty magical. Make those character dining reservations 60 days before you arrive for the best times. Check out my review of the best character dining on property The Plaza Inn.
Check park hours before you arrive. You can see hours up to 60 days before your visit. Find out what time the park you’re visiting opens.
If Disneyland is hosting Magic Morning then go to DCA (Disney California Adventure) that day. Always go to the park that isn’t hosting early entry if you can. And vice versa if DCA is hosting Extra Magic Morning then go to Disneyland that day. To understand more about Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning read this post. Currently not offered.
Check for refurbishments to see if any rides will be closed on your trip. Look at the Disneyland calendar. I also put the refurbishment schedule in my newsletter. So make sure you’re signed up so you don’t miss out on important information for planning your trip! Sign up for the newsletter on the home page. I only send emails when I need to share news or updates about Disneyland.
Things to do before you arrive
Download the free Disneyland app to help you at the parks! You can use the app to locate attractions, look up wait times, find characters, find places to eat, look at the menus for each restaurant, mobile order your food and skip the line, figure out show times, park hours, refurbishments, locate restrooms and so much more. Download it before you arrive so you can familiarize yourself with how it works. When you are in the parks if you have a question about it you can ask a cast member. You will need the app in order to get virtual boarding groups for 2 attractions at the Disneyland Resort. Learn more about what a boarding group is on this reopening Disneyland post.
Print the FREE Attractions list. I have created a list of all the attractions in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. You will want to print this list and use it as a guide in the parks, but more importantly to help plan your vacation. Use this checklist to mark what you want/must do on your visit. The list includes height requirements, single rider options and other tips. Click here to print your lists.
Come up with a touring plan – It’s important that you go to the parks with a plan so you’re not spending precious vacation time deciding where to go. Print the checklists above, then look at the park maps online or in the app to get an idea of what your party would like to do and see before you arrive. Come up with a plan. Here’s a possible touring plan for Disneyland with strategies to get on all the rides. Here’s a possible touring plan for Disney California Adventure with strategies to get on all the rides. If you need help planning your trip I can create a customized plan for your group based on your requests. Take the stress out of planning your trip and let me do it for you.
Food at Disneyland is part of the experience. You’ve seen all the photos on social media of the iconic must eat Disneyland food. But where can you find these items when you get there? There are so many must try food items and I’ve complied a list and tips to help you. I created a whole separate blog post with a checklist of where to find food items that are available YEAR round in each park. Plus I’ve included tips and my favorites. All you need can be found over here.
Purchase your park tickets BEFORE you arrive here. Don’t buy them on the morning you arrive cause the kiosks outside the gates always have lines.
Buy Disney gift cards – I get them at Target because you can get an additional 5% off the gift cards if you use your Target red card. I purchased a $50 Disney gift card for $47.50, every little savings helps. Remember you can use Disney gift cards throughout the parks. And now you can put them in the app to pay for mobile ordering. You can use gift cards to make purchases in gift shops, at restaurants and even kiosks for merchandise, food etc. Purchase gift cards here ahead of time.
Things to know about packing for your trip
You CAN take food and water in the parks. I recommend bringing essential items but don’t get your backpack too heavy if you plan to carry it around all day! You CAN take your backpack on rides. There are also locker rentals if you need to store things during the day. Bring snacks and frozen water bottles to refill at drinking fountains around the park. Snacks will help tide you over between meals and entertain littles in line! A portable fan is a must in the summer. And don’t forget a portable phone charger cause using the app drains your battery. For theses items and more that I pack when I go to the parks you can check out my Amazon park days list.
Things to know for the day you arrive
Make sure you plan enough time to park, go through security and get lined up for rope drop. My number one tip is arrive early, you will get so much done in the first 2 hours of the morning. Make sure you read about arrival tips!
Things to know once you get to the parks
- Disneyland was closed for over 400 days. The parks have reopened, but there are some changes that have taken place. You must READ my reopening post so you are prepared as some of the things in this post are not currently offered like FastPasses, MaxPass, monorail, Magic Morning, World of Color and some more. But I have detailed everything for you on this post!
- Mobile ordering food – Not only are the ride lines long, but the dining lines are long as well. Mobile order is such a time saver. It helps especially if you have hungry kids. It’s like a FastPass line for food! Find out more on mobile ordering here.
- Height requirements – You should find out what rides your little ones can and can’t ride on. Check this post for height requirements in both parks.
- Pregnant mamas – learn about rides for pregnant mamas here.
- Baby/toddler – Here’s a list of what rides babies and toddlers CAN go on. You’ll be surprised at how much you can do with them.
- Entertainment – There are plenty of shows and more at each park. There’s something for everyone in your group. There are daily things that happen all over the parks and some shows that are only on certain days of the week. You will want to take a look at them and decide which shows you want to see. Use the Disneyland app to show you entertainment options and schedules. Watching the parade is a must! Read more about parades here. Fireworks are always a must see. Check this post for tips and when they have fireworks at Disneyland. The night time show World of Color at Disney California Adventure happens every night. More about World of Color here. Currently it’s not available.
First timers from Walt Disney World – things you should know
If you normally visit Walt Disney World and you’re coming to Disneyland I’m here to help! I have another blog post you should read about the differences between the two.
The biggest differences in the parks are with FastPasses. At Disneyland you don’t book your FastPasses ahead of time. Read all about FastPass vs. MaxPass.No longer available. Disney Genie coming soon.
- Disneyland doesn’t offer a dining plan.
- Yes there is a monorail but it’s not the main form of transportation. Read more about how the monorail works here.
- Make sure you don’t miss any rides that are unique to the Disneyland resort. Read all about those tips on this post.
- There are only 2 parks and they are right across from each other. You can walk in a minute to the other park.
- It’s not necessary to stay on property to get around. You can find lots of nearby hotels within walking distance. Check here on the blog for hotel reviews.
Disneyland has Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hours. These are different from WDW. Read more about what each of them are on this post.This is currently not available Characters wander around at Disneyland. They also do meet and greets in several parts of the park. You don’t need a FastPass to meet the characters. You just need to locate them in the app, more on that here.This has not returned either. Read the Reopening Disneyland post for more on this topic.
- At Christmas time there is no separate ticket for a Christmas party. Your park ticket includes all the holiday offerings like the parade, fireworks etc.
Still need help or have questions?
And after reading all that you deserve an award! But seriously if you have any planning questions please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy planning! If you want more information about customized Disney touring plans for your group check out this post!
I also share when new or special events are coming up in my newsletter. So make sure you’re signed up so you don’t miss out on important information for planning your trip! Sign up for the newsletter on the home page. I only send emails when I need to share news or updates about Disneyland.
Make sure you’re following along on Instagram too. I share more tips and information there daily that will help make your visit more magical.
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