how to maximize your time at disneyland

“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, dreams are forever” – Walt Disney.

Here, I sit, on a snowy, minus 10-degree Celsius day in Toronto writing this post (and shedding one single tear). When less than 2 weeks ago, I was living my best life at Disneyland in California. At the ripe old age of 36, it was my first time visiting Disneyland – can you believe it?! In all fairness, I had been to Disney World before, but I have very little recollection of it. So, that’s why I was so thrilled (and honoured) to have been invited by the Disney Canada team to experience the Disneyland Resort (and with my hubby, to boot)!

how to maximize your time at disneyland

Being the adventure-loving, thrill-seeking pair that we are, it goes without saying that my husband and I had a BLAST! They don’t call it the “Happiest Place on Earth” for no reason. There’s absolutely no way you could visit Disneyland and not smile from ear to ear the whole time! The magic and happiness are contagious, and all the wonderful memories we had of watching and singing along to our favourite Disney movies as kids came flooding right back! We got to be big kids for 4 days straight – taking in the sights, riding the rides, eating mickey-shaped treats, all without a care in the world!

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Know Before You Go

First things first, before sharing my 12 ways to maximize your time at Disneyland, it’s important (especially as a first-time visitor) to cover a few bases about the Disneyland Resort.

  • Disneyland is in Anaheim, California. The Disneyland Resort (not to be confused with Walt Disney World in Orlando) is located in Anaheim, which is about a 40-min drive SE of LAX. If you plan to rent a car, it’s best to grab one from the airport. There is a Disneyland Resort Express which goes from LAX and John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County and costs $48 USD roundtrip and $30 USD one-way to/from LAX. Otherwise, there are airport shuttles, busses, and taxis to get you there from the airport.
  • It’s actually 2 parks …and MORE! The Disneyland Resort is not just one theme park; it’s 2: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. In addition to the 2 theme parks, there are 3 hotels on-site (more info on these below), and Downtown Disney, which is a shopping, dining, and entertainment area.
  • You need at least 2 days to properly do Disneyland. Conquering Disneyland in 1 day is an incredibly ambitious task. You’re going to need a minimum of 2 days to do both theme parks comfortably, but I actually recommend 3.
  • You can’t drink alcohol inside Disneyland. If you’re looking to have a glass of wine or a casual beer, it won’t be possible at the Disneyland Park (except for inside Club33 at New Orleans Square, which is members-only). On the other hand, you can purchase and walk around with alcohol at the Disney California Adventure Park. The Disney hotels and restaurants in Downtown Disney also serve alcohol.

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  • Dare I say, it’s better as an adult?! Some may think the magic that is Disney is just for children, but it’s better to experience as an adult! Why? You’ll remember the entire experience, be able to go on everything, and you won’t have to worry about any height restrictions!
  • Understand the difference between the parks. Disneyland is the very first theme park opened by Walt Disney in 1955 (even before Walt Disney World opened in 1971). It’s the main park with all the attractions you’ve probably heard of, like the ‘Mad Tea Party’ tea cups and ‘It’s a Small World’. Disney California Adventure Park, on the other hand, opened in 2001 and celebrates the fun and adventure of California through various properties and rides modeled after Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies.
it's a small world disneyland

It’s a Small World at Disneyland Park

mickey ferris wheel

Pixar Pal-A-Round ferris wheel at Disney California Adventure Park

While Disneyland is the original and most iconic, truth be told, I preferred to spend my time at Disney California Adventure Park because the rides there are more suitable for adults (our personal faves are ‘Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!’ and the ‘Incredicoaster’). Between Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park, the 3 hotels, and Downtown Disney, there are:

  • 16 themed lands (8 in each theme park)
  • more than 150 acres
  • 90 rides and attractions (53 at Disneyland and 37 at Disney California Adventure Park)
  • over 100 places to dine (including both theme parks, all 3 hotels, and Downtown Disney)

With all that ground to cover, it’s obviously important to MAXIMIZE your time – especially if you’re traveling from afar and this is your big family vacay for the year! So, I’ve compiled a list of 12 super helpful tips to on how to maximize your time at Disneyland.

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How to Maximize Your Time at Disneyland

1. Buy tickets online or through the app/get Hopper Tickets.

If you buy tickets online, you’ll avoid lines at the entrance or will call and shipping fees for paper tickets. This will be a huge time-saver! It’s best to get Hopper Tickets, which allow you to hop between both theme parks for a small additional fee, rather than being restricted to 1 park per day. Currently, there is a big discount for Canadian residents until April 11, 2019 (for use until May 23, 2019). Also keep an eye on the Special Offers page on the Disneyland website for deals that happen throughout the year.

2. Plan to go during off-peak times.

There’s no two ways about it, Disneyland is BUSY! It’s the 2nd most visited park in the world (with about 18 million visitors per year, as of 2017). Apart from out of towners, there is a large contingent of Californian locals who go regularly. Huge crowds are no fun, so avoid going in the summertime, around Spring/March break or holidays. Weekdays are better than weekends as well. We visited in February and it was very comfortable – not too crowded and the weather was pleasant. Aside from escaping the winter, Canadians can enjoy discounted ticket prices during this time too (see #1 above).

3. Stay at one of the Disneyland hotels.

There are 3 hotels at the Disneyland Resort: Disneyland Hotel (the first hotel, which opened in 1955 at the same time as the park), Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa (the newest and grandest). We stayed at Disney’s Grand Californian and had a very enjoyable stay. It has Craftsman-style architecture and its own entrance to Disney California Adventure Park (super convenient for us to zip over to Guardians of the Galaxy!). You can cut down on your transportation time, have easier access and separate entrances to the parks by staying at a Disneyland hotel. You can also go in and out of the parks as many times as you like and even head back to your hotel if you want to drop things off/pick things up, take a break, grab a bite to eat or a drink.

Disney California Adventure Park

Entrance to Disney California Adventure Park before it opens to the public

4. Get there before the park opens.

It goes without saying that you should arrive early, even if you’ve purchased tickets in advance and have MaxPass (see #8 below). Wait times continue to climb throughout the day, so the best way to tackle the most popular rides or the ones without the FASTPASS option is to get to them first!

Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland Park during Extra Magic Hour

5. Take advantage of Extra Magic Hour and/or Magic Morning.

Guests of any of the Disneyland Resort hotels can enjoy an extra hour in the parks before they open to the general public for each day of their stay with Extra Magic Hour, and guests with 3-day or more tickets can enjoy an extra hour at Disneyland Park only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with Magic Morning. Disneyland is regularly open between 9 AM and 9 PM (with Extra Magic Hour/Magic Morning starting at 8 AM on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays) and Disney California Adventure Park is open between 9 AM and 8 PM (with Extra Magic Hour starting at 8 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays). Downtown Disney is open between 7 AM and 2 AM.

6. When in doubt, app it out!

The Disneyland mobile app will be the single most convenient thing you have when visiting Disneyland and I guarantee, it will be your BFF! The app helps you plan your time with park hours, showtimes, maps which have up-to-date wait times for all of the rides, locations of the characters, and more! You can buy tickets, reserve dining and mobile order food (see #10 and #11 below). Pro-tip: bring a portable charger because you will use your phone a lot. Free wi-fi is available throughout the parks, but can be spotty in some areas.

how to maximize your time at disneyland

7. Get your merch before going to the parks.

Donning a pair of ears is like a rite of passage at Disneyland – it should almost be a mandatory part of the dress code! There are all different colours and styles of ears, from classic to the new (this year, it’s all about the sequins, rose gold, millennial pink and potion purple!). There’s a tonne of stores to purchase everything from clothing to collectibles. You can save time by buying in advance online! But if you do want to purchase at the parks (because it is so fun to browse), save it for the end of the day.

8. Get MaxPass.

FASTPASS is a free service at Disneyland that lets you avoid wait times by getting a designated 1-hour window to go on rides with this option. But with FASTPASS, you have to physically go to the FASTPASS distribution line at each ride to get your time slot. For only $15, grab a MaxPass, which allows you to book your FASTPASS selections directly through the Disney mobile app (see #6 above), maximizing your time even more! You can also download unlimited Disney PhotoPass photos (which are the embarrassing photos snapped of you while you’re on the rides!) with MaxPass. Note: once you book a FASTPASS through the app, you have to wait for 2 hours before being eligible to book your next (however, you can still go to another ride and get a FASTPASS in person during this time).

mickey mouse candy apples mickey 90 foods

9. Know where to find your favourite treats.

A huge part of the Disneyland experience is indulging in Mickey-inspired treats. This year, Mickey and Minnie turned 90 and Disney has concocted an array of special foods to celebrate (over 60 items to be precise), including Mickey-shaped waffles, Mickey-inspired cheeseburgers, Mickey-shaped pepperoni pizza etc. Knowing what items you want to try and where to find them will save you lots of time. Check out the official Disneyland Foodie Guide for all the info!

Dole Whip at Disneyland

The famous dole whip at Disneyland Park

10. Mobile order your food.

Another perk of having the Disneyland app (see #6 above) is being able to pre-order food without waiting in line. This is especially helpful for the most popular food items…because trust me, you don’t want to have to wait in the  Dole Whip line!

11. Make meal reservations in advance.

The Disneyland Resort has excellent restaurant options, with everything from cafes and casual fare to fine dining. Don’t scramble for a lunch or dinner reservation, when you can book in advance through the Disneyland app up to 30 days in advance! Note: you do have to add your credit card information to the Disneyland app in order to book a reservation and you must cancel at least 24 hours in advance to avoid incurring a charge. If you need to cancel after this window, you can go in person to the restaurant and your reservation will be canceled at no charge.

12. Have a plan for your stay.

Don’t just show up and wing it. Use these tips to chart out an itinerary for your time at the Disneyland Resort. Research the rides in advance, so you know which ones have the longest wait times, which ones you want to go on the most, and which ones you can rule out. Plan to head to the rides with the longest wait times and no FASTPASS options first. Figure out show and parade times. Will you want to watch the shows and parades, or perhaps take advantage of shorter lines during those times? With the size and amount of attractions at both parks, you’ll want to get the most out of your time at Disneyland!

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So, there you have it – how to maximize your time at Disneyland. I know it’s a lot of information to take in, but with enough preparation, you can definitely master how to do Disney. Always remember: you are never too old to experience the magic! I highly recommend a trip here at least once in your lifetime. But I guarantee after you visit, you’ll want to return!

how to maximize your time at disneyland

A huge thank you to Disney Canada, who graciously hosted us for this trip, and gave us the opportunity to be big kids again!


*This post was done in partnership with Disney Canada, but as always, all opinions are 100% my own.