Insiders Guide to Disneyland!

This post was written in 2012 and all of the information in this post plus much more current (2014) can be found in this post:

Disneyland-tips-575x575Disneyland Planning Guide – Tips and Tricks for Making your Day Magical!

I haven’t deleted this post because so many people have pinned and linked to it, but if you want the most current info be sure to go this post. I promise ALL of the information in this post is in the new post, plus it is more updated and current!


Okay so maybe I’m not exactly a Disneyland insider, because I’ve never worked there.  But, when it comes to being a guest – I definitely am an insider! My qualifications are:

  • I grew up 15 minutes from the 57 freeway from Disneyland. My Mom use to take us at the end of summer each year on the day before school started.
  • In High School I had an annual pass, a drivers license, and no job – nuff said 🙂
  • Since having kids our family had annual passes for 2 of those 8 years and have taken at least 10 trips each of those years.
  • On the years we don’t have passes we go at least once at Christmastime.
  • While caring for my Mom I took Davis and Beckham every single weekday for about a month. Each day we had “Mommy only” time at Disneyland from 3-6.

It’s safe to say that I have been to Disneyland well over a 100 times. I feel so sad when I see people spending so much money on trip and wasting half of their day just because they lacked information! I always check out the Disneyland “tips” I see on Pinterest and I always feel let down. Really? They never seem to have anything real or practical that you can actually apply to your day, just platitudes.

One day while mopping my floor I thought I should write down our families best tips since I see a lot of people planning trips coming up for Spring Break. I just started typing them out as I thought of them all throughout the day and came up with my top 12. As I was writing them I found there was so much more I wanted to include about individual rides. So, over the next 5 Wednesdays, I will be going through Disneyland, land by land, and telling you what you need to know – ride by ride. Does the line move fast? Is there a fast pass? The best time to ride?

I also thought, why not let you readers ask questions and I’ll answer them each week. Do you have a question for planning your trip? Write to me at I’ve asked Lori from Mouse Encounters to help me answer your questions, so between the two of us we should be able to answer all of your questions!

Ready for my top 12 tips? Here they are!

12 Tips for Making the Most of your day at Disneyland!

1. Get there early! If the park opens at 9:00, be pulling in no later than 8:15! It takes time to park, ride the tram, and get through the front gates. They open Main Street before the park opens and they block the crowd off at the end of Main Street. It’s a great time to explore Main Street while not using ride time. You can take pictures, browse the shops, and I have even seen some characters out signing autographs before the park officially opens. One of us usually saves our place near the front of the crowd while the other takes the kids potty 10 minutes before it opens. There is nothing worse than having to take a potty break 20 minutes into your first line! When they open the park you are already in the middle of Disneyland ready to roll!

2. Pick a priority ride with no fast past to go on first! For our family it’s always Peter Pan and Casey Junior if we are going to Disneyland (vs. California Adventures). Peter Pan always has a huge line and it doesn’t move fast! It is always our first ride to hit, unless it is a Magic Morning (guests staying at Disney hotels get to enter the park early) and then the line is already long and we go straight to Casey Jr. If you have the chance to do the Magic Mornings, do Peter Pan first! If we are going to California Adventures we hit Toy Story Mania first.

3. Fast pass! You can have 1 fast pass at a time. (With the exception of World of Color in California Adventures. If you want to see World of Color you have to get a pass. You get them at the Grizzly River Run fast pass machines. After the World of Color fast passes are distributed the fast pass machines are converted back to Grizzly River Run.) Fast passes allow you to use a shortcut in the line for that specific ride. Not all rides have fast passes, but most major rides do. To get a fast pass you scan your ticket outside of the ride and it gives you a pass with a time listed on it. That time is when your fast pass is valid for that ride. They only give so many out for each hour, so as the day goes on the time to return gets later depending on how many people are fast passing that ride. Not everyone has to be there to get a fast pass. One of us will go get a fast pass with all our tickets while the other waits in line with our kids. What a lot of people don’t know is that as soon as your fast pass is valid you can get a new one. For example if your fast pass is good from 12:20-1:20 you can get a new fast pass at 12:21. Plan ahead and figure out which rides are most important for you and fast pass those. Space Mountain is a must with a fast pass! Other good rides to fast pass are Star Tours, Indian Jones, and Splash Mountain.  Those passes really put you ahead of the line. Thunder Mountain and Autopia’s lines move pretty fast, so fast passes are good, but not as necessary.

4. Wait for attractions right after the first showing! If you want to see Fantasmic, show up when the first show is ending. As people move out you can move in and get a perfect seat! On really busy days this can be a good idea for the Jedi Training Academy too.

5. Incorporate food into waiting – Eat lunch or dinner while waiting for the Parade or Fantasmic. You can bring a tray from any restaurant with you and set it on any trash can in the park and they will return it to the correct restaurant for you! One of us usually waits in a good spot while the other gets the food and then we have a picnic! The best place in my opinion to sit for the parade is the little strip that runs between the Matterhorn and the Castle. What I love about this area is that you have front row seats and no one can stand behind you, so when the parade comes by they look right at you and you get the full show without worrying too much about other people. Be ready to defend your spot though! People will keep trying to squeeze in! This spot is also great because some lines in Fantasyland are closed during the parade and when the parade gets past you, you can jump right into line and not have to wait!

6. Don’t wear yourself out! Try to plan ahead, so you don’t jump all over the park, rather work your way thought the park. Finish one section of the park and then use the train to get to the other side of the park and start on that side!  The train and monorail are different! The train is an actual steam engine train that has 4 stations – Main Street, New Orleans Square (near the Haunted Mansion), Toontown Depot (next to Small World), and Tomorrowland Station (behind Autopia). It’s nice to sit and its interesting to see parts of the park that you can only see on the train. You can get on and off at any of the 4 stations. Most days the line is minimal and trains come every 5 minutes. We have gone between California Adventures and Disneyland on the same day but it wastes a huge amount of time. If you are going for multiple days, plan a day in Disneyland and then another day in California Adventures. You will be able to see more and you won’t be so worn out! Even with doing these tricks I guarantee you will walk more than you have a long time! This is not the day to go for the cute shoes! Wear your running shoes. They may not look the best but you wont be miserable by 3:00 that afternoon either!

7. Child swap! If you have kids that are too short for certain rides you can take turns without all the waiting. How it works – the whole family has to go to the line entrance. Find a Disney worker and ask them for a child swap pass. One parent and any kids that are tall enough to ride then wait in line normally, while the other parent stays out of line with the children that are too short to ride. The second parent then can use the child swap pass anytime that day to go through the exit or the fast pass line (depends on the ride) and not have to wait in the whole line. It is good for two people, so you can take another child back with you. For example, our 8 year old can ride the ride with me (we stand in the line normally) and then when my husband goes to ride, the pass will get him and our 8 year old back on. We find this really handy when we can’t get a fast pass. If you have fast passes, it’s pretty much the same thing since both parents can use the fast pass line. But if you can’t get a fast pass and are going to wait in the whole line – take advantage of this for sure!

8. Use the single rider line. Many rides have a single rider line – Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, Grizzly River Run, Soaring’ Over California, California Screamin’, & Goofy’s Sky School. Usually there is a sign directing you, or you enter through the exit. When a single space opens up they put you into that spot. This means you can take turns if the line is so long that you don’t want to wait. You just won’t get to sit together, but it’s worth it on a busy day!

9. Pack light! They have lockers, but we just pack light, so we don’t waste time going to and from lockers. Here is our list of essentials that we pack:

• Easy snacks – fruit snacks, granola bars, and our kids favorite Dum-Dum-Pops ! Perfect for keeping kids in line happy without too much mess! We pack our favorite Disney trail mix too ( Food is expensive, so we usually eat a HUGE breakfast and get full before we get there. We snack until the afternoon when we have a big lunch at one of the Disney restaurants, and then we snack for the rest of the day. A churro makes a great dinner 🙂  Our favorite restaurants – The Hungry Bear Restaurant is our all-time favorite. It’s tucked away over in Critter Country by Splash Mountain. There is tons of shade and it is right on the Rivers of America. It’s very relaxing and picturesque, plus we like the food. Our second choice is the Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante in Frontierland. Great food and great environment! This is usually the place we hit if we are picnicking it while waiting for the parade.

• We freeze two or three water bottles and let them melt. As the day goes on we just keep filling the melted space up at water fountains. This way we have cold water all day without too much weight to carry and without spending tons of money on water. Stay hydrated! You will feel better and have more energy.

• A deck of cards for times when you are waiting for parades or shows. Its light and will keep you busy and make the waiting time go faster! Don’t forget eye spy can be a great ride waiting game! We also use the maps to play eye spy on.

• A cheap tube of glow sticks. Trust me you will thank me for this one! When it gets dark Disneyland has such fun light up toys for so much $$$. We pack our own tube and our kids are happy! We usually find them at the craft store in the dollar section, but you can buy lots of them online.

• Sunglasses, sunscreen, and chapstick!

• Headache medicine. Heat, dehydration, walking all day, the motion of the rides – it’s a headache waiting to happen! Not only do I pack it, I usually take 2 Excedrin on the way to prevent a headache. My hubby takes a non-drowsy motion sickness pills too, so he can enjoy the rides more.

• If you are taking a stroller pack it light! Our favorite is an umbrella stroller with a basket. Don’t underestimate the power of piggybacks while in the park for little ones.

• Camera!

• Autograph book and Pen. There are some great tutorials out there on how to make your own!

10. Save souvenirs for the end of the day! There is nothing worse than having to haul around toys that kids are sick of carrying. To keep our spending in check we allow our kids 1 souvenir. They look all day long and then at the end of the day we purchase it as we are leaving at the Emporium. The Emporium is a giant Disney store located at the end of Main Street.  It has most of the items that are available all over the park, but you buy them on your way out and you only have to carry it to the car! If you want a specialty item ask the store clerk if the Emporium carries it, so you know ahead of time.

11. Don’t let anything spoil your day! You have planned this trip and spent so much thought on picking the perfect date only to show up and see 50 middle school busses full of kids 🙁 Bummer. This has happened to me and I let it ruin my day. Don’t – you will regret it! You may not get on every ride, but you can still have fun! Fun things to do on really packed days – Ride the Double Decker bus around Main Street, Mark Twain Ferry Boat, Play tag on Pirates Island or play Hide and Go seek in Toon Town (play on teams so kids are not unsupervised), Ride the train around the whole park, Ride the monorail and wait to sit in the very front, get great seats for parades or shows, look for hidden Mickey’s, play in the water in Bugs Life Land, Tarzans Tree House, King Arthur’s Carousel, and the Tiki Room. Whatever you do – have fun! Let the stress go and just roll with the day!

12.  Have fun! I cannot tell you how many parents I have seen yelling at their kids and being grumpy! What a waste of money! Don’t forget you are taking this vacation for your family and to have fun! Most of us go to Disneyland for our kids. Don’t forget about them! Make their day special and go with their flow and do what’s important to them. We have a rule in our house – you have to try every ride one time. If they don’t like it, then they don’t have to do it again. Make sure you make the day fun! I love being the coolest Mom at Disneyland! We tell jokes and my kids for one day have my undivided attention. I play like I’m a kid again and it does so much for my relationship with my kids. Don’t forget why you wanted to take the trip!

Come back next week as we break down Fantasyland – ride by ride!

You can see the rest of our Disneyland series here:

Disneyland Planning  Guide

Questions and Answers

Fantasyland Guide: Ride by Ride!

Frontierland & Critter Country – Ride by Ride!

Adventureland and New Orleans Square – Ride by Ride!

Tomorrowland: Ride by Ride

California Adventures and Cars Land

Disneyland trail mix recipe

Disney lunch box jokes and 2 week countdown



Previous author of Over the Big Moon. I shared my passion for home and family life! I love graphic design, DIY projects, cooking, and working in my garden! My favorite role is taking care of my husband and our 3 amazing and busy boys!

Comments (107)

  • I frequently see Disneyland tips on Pinterest too, and am many times disappointed. I love your list! I’ll definitely be using some of your suggestions. We go a lot. I wrote one of my own as well. One thing I would add would be the baby center. I don’t know if you ever use it, but it’s a life saver with small ones, especially if you nurse or pump. If you want, you can check out my tips here:
    A friend of mine also posted about Disneyland with disabilities, as she has a disabled son (I linked to it in my post).

  • My husband and I are going in May, it will be my first Disney trip ever! If you have any tips geared towards 2 adults, no kids and for doing Disneyland in 1 day, I would be so appreciative! 🙂

  • You’re right – most of the tips I find on pinterest and the like are kinda lame, and I’ve only been once. We’re bringing our kids in May and these tips are super helpful! Let me add one to the list that I did find helpful somewhere else – Bring your own souvenirs & tell your kids they will have presents at the hotel if they don’t ask for toys. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, but we’re going to give it a shot. My mom has been stocking up Disney gear for us (night gowns, cups, stuffed toys) for a month.

  • Also, you can use your fast pass any time after it is activated, not only during the window of time. If you have a fast pass that says 12:15-1:15 and you show up at 2:30 with that fast pass, no one will turn you away.

    • I have heard that but since it is not their normal policy I would use this with caution. I would always try to use the fast pass in the window given – just in case.

      Pupated 4/19/12 – I just read an article about the new system that Disney is planning on going to for future line contol. In the article they talked about the steps Disney is taking to work towards converting over to it and one of the things it says they have started doing is enforcing fast pass times. So I would definitely try to use a fast pass in the given window since it seems they are now enforcing them.

  • We are planning on going mid july. How many days would you go with a 6 & 4 year old? This is our first time and I am trying to plan for a “fun” trip! Thanks for all the great tips!!!

  • thanks so much and keep them coming as we are going with our kids and grandkids in may… all the pointers will help..kk

  • Are there days of the week that are better than others? We will be in southern California June 29 – July 6 (Friday thru Friday).
    Thanks for the tips!

  • Thanks! We’re going in April. (Saw your tips on Pinterest.) We will already be there on the Wednesday you post your last tip. I hope it’s not a big one that I need to know! Thanks so much. We’re so excited!

    • Also, Any World of Color Tips? We’ve never been there when it has been open. It sounds like herding cattle to be able to even see it and even then not guaranteed to see. Thanks!

      • Hi Michelle, the World of Color is on my family’s ‘definitely to do” list this year! From what I’ve found out, you need to hurry over to one of the Cali Disney rides to get a fast pass (but they are limited) to get okay viewing without paying anything. however, Im not a fan of getting up at the crack of dawn to run through the park, elbow a bunch of people, for just a chance to see the show (im not sure if thats what is like, but its how i imagine it to be, ha!) SO we are opting to eat at Ariels Grotto for dinner (one of two restaurant that will give you premier world of color tix). Just to be clear, LUNCH at Ariels Grotto is character dining with NO world of color tix. DINNER gets you WOC Tix but no character dining. its pretty pricey, but we ate there last year for lunch with the princesses and the food was actually really good. So we didnt hesitate to make reservations to eat there again this year. You can look up the other restaurant on the Disney page. Good Luck!

  • I am so glad you are writing this….My Hubby and I just booked our first vacation EVER, we are going to disneyland the end of April, and we are leaving our kiddos behind…I can’t wait to hear all of your tips so we get the most out of our first vacation!!!!!!!

  • These are very good tips. I had never heard the parade tip before, thank you! We are going in June (our second trip, and LONG awaited!). I am printing out your tips, and I will check back for more.

  • We are taking our 2 youngest boys (9&5) to Disney World in May. Do you happen to know anything about Star Wars weekend? We would love for them to get selected for the patawan training.
    Thank you for all the great tips!

    • We got both our boys picked for jedi training in disneyland when we went by following a tip from a star wars cast member….get your seats for the next show when one show is fiishing and most importantly if you want to have more than one child picked, sit apart. We split up and sat my husband with 2 kids and myself with two kids on opposite sides of the walkway, right on the line, and we got both our boys picked using this tip. Hope this helps for padawan training as well, I have never been to Disney World.

  • Yay! Thanks for the Disneyland tips. We are take our daughter every year for her birthday (this year she is four in march) and I am researching great tips like this. I totally agree with not getting frustrated! Every year I give myself a pep talk not to get frustrated with the crowds (unfortunately my daughters bday always falls on the first spring breaks) and we always have such a great time, even if we dont get on many rides. THis year we managed to plan it for a weekday, hopefully not so crowded! Look forward to hearing more insight!!!

  • I went to Disneyland on my honeymoon! We just took our daughters ages 4 & 2 last summer. I can’t wait to go back! The look on their faces when they see their favorite characters is priceless! Thanks for the tips.

  • Our kids really don’t have any interest in going right now, but at some point I would love to go at Christmastime since that is the only season we haven’t been there! Thanks Lisa for taking the time to share your insider info.!

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