Welcome to Part 2 (for Part 1 click here) of the Travel Tips for Disneyland Resort! More tips and tricks to help you have a magical Disney experience! This post is about making the most out of your in-park experience, from Disney Bounding to special 60th Anniversary park additions.
Since my last podcast and blog post, I attended a family reunion in California which included a trip to Disneyland! My goal was to get on as many rides as possible while going through the park in a group of six people (four adults and two teenagers), on a very hot and humid day in July (thank you tropical storm whatever your name was), during peak crowd season…no problem. Originally, I wanted to do a park-hopper and go to both parks in one day (California Adventure and Disneyland) but with the crowd level so high, it didn’t make economical sense to do both. If it was the off season, absolutely.
We had a lot to see and do in one day, so I created a (very detailed) plan of our day using the touringplans.com “personalized plan” feature. I entered everything I wanted to do, then moved it around according to location and wait times. In the park, I could access the plan on my phone and check items off as we did them! Here’s a look at our intended plan for the day (the plan is missing a few items around #19-20, but you’ll get the general idea) – DisneylandPlan.pdf.
For a play by play of our day at Disneyland, see the end of this post “Our Day at Disneyland Trying to Stay on Schedule”. The end of this podcast also includes updates of our day recorded in Disneyland Park.
A Few Updates from Part 1:
Mouse Ears: The homemade mouse ears were a huge hit! My husband wore his Groot and Rocket mouse ears all day and got lots of comments and even some people taking pictures of them! I ended up not wearing the Haunted Mansion ears that I made and bought a new pair in the park. I downsized my bag, so I wasn’t going to have room to carry them after buying new ears. Maybe next time!
Scavenger Hunt: I severely underestimated the competitiveness of my family. Mother was hiding things from son, daughter was blocking the photo from father, all were sneaking off to get extra items without the other team seeing what they were getting, my nephew even ditched his father on Main Street to get a shot of 50 60th anniversary balloons! Overall, it was a huge hit and really added to the fun of our day. The best part for me was giving small hints as we passed something on the list that they might have missed. By the end of the day I would give a hint and my niece and nephew would say, “yeah, we got that a while ago!” Well played family, well played.
Lanyards: I gave everyone a lanyard with a badge holder to hold their park ticket and FASTPASSes and they loved it. It kept everything easy access and secure, even waterproof, for the day.
Cold snap towel: Meh. It was better than having nothing at all and it did keep the sun off the back of our neck. Overall I would say it perhaps kept us from getting warmer as opposed to cooling us off, but that’s still better than nothing!
Now for Part 2: How to get the most out of your in-park experience!
1. Disney Bounding
While it is not allowed to dress in costume at Disney (except for children and Halloween), Disney Bounding has taken off as a “plain clothes” way of dressing like your favorite characters. Basically you dress in your regular clothes, but in the color scheme of the character…just be careful to keep it from being a costume. Some outfit examples:
- Snow White: yellow knee length skirt (or pants), red belt, blue top and a red bow in your hair.
- Minnie Mouse: Black pants, yellow sneakers, a red shirt with white polka dots, and Minnie Ears.
- Alice in Wonderland: Blue summer dress with a white belt (or white cardigan if cold), black shoes and black headband.
- Ursula or Maleficent: If the Disney villains are more your type, then a black dress with purple accessories (tights, scarf, etc) work well for both of these characters. I would add a shell necklace for Ursula and a Raven pin or necklace for Maleficent.
2. Have a Plan and get there Early
- Make a Plan. Figure out all your must sees and dos before you get to the park. Look at the Disneyland map online and map out a general route and FASTPASS plan for the most popular rides.
- Buy your Tickets Online or at the hotel. You are going to be waiting in enough lines today! Skip the ticket line by getting your tickets ahead of time and go straight to the entrance.
- Arrive Early. I love arriving before the opening of the park and being there for the rope drop. There are cast members on Main Street, USA welcoming you to the park, everyone is excited and happy and you can feel the Disney energy. Plus, by getting there early, you can go directly to the FASTPASS or ride of your choice with a shorter line than later in the day.
- City Hall on Main Street, USA. Are you celebrating a birthday, anniversary or family reunion? Stop by City Hall when you first enter the park and they will give you a button to wear specific to your celebration. I don’t care how old you are, when you’re wearing a birthday button and cast members and characters are wishing you happy birthday all day, you feel like a Princess.
3. The Rides!
- Popular Rides. Rides like Radiator Springs can have a 2 hour long line and the fast passes are usually gone before noon, plan accordingly! At Disneyland, our usual plan is to be there at opening and to hit the big rides early while the lines are still low. For example, you can rush to Space Mountain and grab a FASTPASS, then go straight to Star Tours and ride it. By the time you’re out of Star Tours you should be able to use your FASTPASS for Space Mountain. From there you can head to Astro blasters or the Matterhorn before the lines hit peak. Peter Pan and the other Fantasyland rides become much more popular as the day goes on, you may want to hit those early if the E-Ticket rides aren’t your speed.
- Take a Break During Busy Times. The worst time of day to get into line is around 2pm. It’s peak attendance in the park, the lines are long and it’s hot. I like to find a cool part of the park around this time to have a late lunch and a quick rest. Sitting on the deck of the Hungry Bear Restaurant overlooking the Rivers of America is one of my favorite “chill out” spots.
- FASTPASS. Utilize the FASTPASS system for the rides with the longest lines. You can have one active FASTPASS at a time, just use your park ticket to get a FASTPASS (at specific distribution kiosks) and return to the ride during the time on your FASTPASS. The FASTPASS line will be MUCH shorter than the regular line and once you use a FASTPASS you can pick up a new one for another ride! Some FASTPASSes don’t count toward your FASTPASS limit. You can pick up a FASTPASS for Fantasmic or World of Color that won’t count against your total, so you can still grab passes to the rides you want throughout the day. NOTE: FASTPASSes for the big rides WILL RUN OUT by the end of the day, so don’t wait too long to pick them up for rides with the longest lines.
- FASTPASS Runner. I highly suggest you designate a FASTPASS “runner” (but don’t literally run, it’s not allowed in the park) to go get FASTPASSes for the entire group instead of the group going together. One person is going to get there and back in much less time than the whole group and you can give the people who stay behind a break from walking or they can get in line for the next ride.
- Rider Switch Pass. This allows two adults with a small child to go on a ride without waiting in line twice. Tell the first cast member you see at the ride that you want to switch and they will arrange for one of you to ride while the other stays with the child, then switch so you can ride while the other adult says with the child. Use the rider switch with a FASTPASS and save a ton of time!
- Single Rider Lines. Single rider lines are often half the wait or less than the regular line. You won’t be able to ride next to a member of your group, but you can wait in line together then experience the ride in much less time.
Some of the best times to go on the rides:
- First thing in the morning (take advantage of Extra Magic Hours if you’re staying in a Disney hotel)
- During the parade. Many people will be lined up to watch the parade and not in line for rides, so this can be a great time to hit some of the big rides.
- During the fireworks or Fantasmic. If you can ride Splash Mountain during Fantasmic or the Fireworks, you will have a few great viewing opportunities while on the outside portion of the ride.
- Closing. If you are in line when the park closes, you still get to ride. So make sure you’re in line for your last ride at closing time and you can sneak in one last ride before going home.
4. 60th Anniversary Celebration
Disneyland Resort is currently celebrating their 60th Anniversary and there are special additions throughout the parks including new additions to some of the rides!
- New “Paint the Night” Parade
- New “Disneyland Forever” Fireworks
- New “World of Color – Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney”
- Diamond Mad T Party
- Diamond Days Drawings: Daily, Weekly, and Sweepstakes drawings for special prizes and experiences.
- Dine-monds: Special food and drinks
- Hat Box Ghost has returned to the Haunted Mansion!
5. Holidays and Special Events at Disneyland Resort
All the Disney parks are known for their amazing decorations and themes, especially during certain times of the year. If you have a chance to visit during one of their holiday celebrations or attend a theme weekend, do it!
Here’s a few examples:
- Halloween Time
- Halloween theme throughout the park
- Mickey’s Halloween Party
- Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion
- Holiday Time
- Holiday decorations throughout the park
- Mickey’s Christmas Party
- Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion
- Half-Marathon Weekend
- Early September
- Lunar New Year Celebration
- Spring Celebrations
Our Day at Disneyland Trying to Stay on Schedule:
The park opened at 8am, so we arrived at 7am. By the time we took the tram from the parking lot, got our Starbucks in Downtown Disney, went through the bag check, texted our word of the day, bought our tickets and entered the park it was 8:05am.
TIP: Next time I would skip the long Starbucks line in Downtown Disney and go strait to Market House on Main Street USA for our coffee. I also suggest purchasing your tickets ahead of time so you don’t have to wait in line, those extra few minutes are precious!
We rushed straight to Tomorrowland and grabbed a Space Mountain FASTPASS, then rode Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear with no wait. When we returned to Space Mountain, the standby line was only a 15 min wait, so we rode Space Mountain in the standby line then rode it AGAIN using our FASTPASS! All this by 9:30am!
New Orleans Square/Critter Country/Adventureland/Frontierland:
We hopped on the Disneyland Railroad from Tomorrowland (no wait) and rode to New Orleans Square station. We grabbed FASTPASSes for Indiana Jones then got in the standby line for Splash Mountain (only 20min). After Splash Mountain (I was in the 2nd seat and soaked!) we rode Winnie the Pooh then grabbed a cold snack and water at the fruit stand on the way back to Haunted Mansion. We rode Haunted Mansion with a fairly short wait then headed over to Indiana Jones to use our FASTPASS. Whew!
After picking up a new FASTPASS for Thunder Mountain Railroad and grabbing a churro, we realized one of us got a faulty FASTPASS, so he had to go back and get a new one.
TIP: Check your FASTPASS when it comes out of the machine to see the time to return and to make sure it’s a valid FASTPASS.
We looked at the long line outside of Pirates and decided to break for lunch at the Hungry Bear in Critter Country. We got there before noon, beat the lunch rush, and found some tables overlooking the river in the shade…aaahhhh.
After lunch we got in line for Pirates, it had been a 40 minute wait for most of the day and much of the line was in the sun, but that ride doesn’t have FASTPASSes and will continue to have a long line all day, so we just joined the masses.
We rode Thunder Mountain Railroad using our FASTPASSes, then sent a runner back to Splash Mountain to get new FASTPASSes. When the runner returned, we headed up to Fantasyland. We picked up FASTPASSes for Fantasmic along the way (this will not count against your FASTPASS total, so pick one up if you want to watch the show from a reserved viewing area that evening).
Fantasyland was packed with families with young kids, so we went directly to the Matterhorn Bobsleds. This has been redone since I rode it last and the Yeti’s are amazing! A classic and a favorite.
The line for Small World was long and in direct sun, so we moved on to Toontown and got in the 40 minute line for Roger Rabbit (indoor line with air). From there the group checked off all the items on their scavenger hunt list for Toontown. By then it was time to head back to use our FASTPASSes on Splash Mountain, but the line at the Toontown Railroad station was long so we just walked.
Critter Country/ New Orleans Square:
Here’s where the plan got a little messy….
We arrived at Splash Mountain, got in the FASTPASS line, and got to the very front of the line…then the ride broke down. They warned us that it would be at least a 45 minute wait until it was back up, so we decided to move on. We rushed over to Indiana Jones, hoping to pick up another FASTPASS, but it had broken down as well! Perhaps Thunder Mountain? Nope! Also down. What was there left to do but ride Haunted Mansion…twice (once in the standby line and a second time immediately after with a FASTPASS we picked up before the first ride). It is my favorite, so I was happy to have the excuse.
Time for dinner. They sun was finally starting to go down and give us a break from the heat, so we decided to refuel and find our second wind. My sister suggested Thunder Mountain Ranch BBQ, but we did not have reservations (see reservation recommendations in part 1!) and we could not get in. So we went back to the Thunder Mountain area and found Rancho del Zocalo and it was perfect! You pick up the food cafeteria style from different stations, then find a seat in a covered courtyard with views of Thunder Mountain Railroad. I had a delicious Tostada Salad and my husband had Pollo en Mole, not your typical amusement park fare.
Main Street USA:
The group temporarily split up at this point for two reasons:
1. My husband and I wanted to see the gallery exhibit and displays near Moments with Mr. Lincoln and I needed to charge my phone.
TIP: SOME of the lockers on Main Street USA near the Market House have phone chargers. The cords are included, but only a small section have chargers, so make sure you are renting the right one before you swipe your card.
2. My sister and nephew were taking the Scavenger Hunt VERY seriously and each had a plan how to get the most points in a short amount of time. In in the booklet, I offer one point per item photographed with a “60” or diamond for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary. My sister went into the Emporium and photographed the entire store…glasses, hats, key chains, clothing, EVERYTHING! My nephew hit the streets and took pictures of balloons, items from street vendors, window displays, etc.
By now Main Street was packed with people saving their seat for the parade and fireworks (which we decided to skip). We met up at the Market House, fueled up with more coffee, then headed up to Fantasyland before the parade started. When we arrived in Fantasyland, we found out that it was closed until after the fireworks, so we headed over to Tomorrowland.
Because everyone was watching the parade and waiting for the fireworks, Star Tours was empty. We had a minimal wait and when we got out, we got to see the fireworks show from behind the Matterhorn, pretty cool! The Matterhorn even has it’s own special effects during the Finding Nemo section! I’m usually not a huge fan of fireworks, but this show is the most amazing I have ever seen. If you can watch it from Main Street (I saw a video online) then you get the whole experience of the effects, projections on the Castle and Main Street buildings, and great sound. But our view was pretty amazing for not spending any time saving a spot.
Once the fireworks were over, we rushed onto Buzz Lightyear before the crowds (no wait for us, but 30 min by the time we got out).
It was time to use our FASTPASS for Fantasmic, but it was on the other side of the park and the crowds were crazy, so we skipped it and went to Fantasyland instead.
We rode Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, the Teacups, and Small World. We saw part of the next parade (there are few, check schedules!) as we were leaving Small World on our way back to Fantasyland and it was amazing! I still wanted to ride Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, but the lines were WAY too long and it would end up being our last ride of the night, so we rode Snow White’s Scary Adventure . The Snow White ride is hysterical because most of the ride is about the Evil Queen being, ya know, evil, and it looks like everyone is going to meet their doom in a very dramatic scene then a door opens and there’s happy music with a sign saying “they lived happily ever after”. Cracks us up every time.
What do you do when the park closes at midnight, you’re in Fantasyland, and it’s 11:30? Rush to Frontierland and see how many times you can ride Thunder Mountain until it closes…the answer was two.
What did we miss?
We did most of what I wanted to do when I created the plan (many things more than once) but the rides we missed were the Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. If we had more time (or a second day) I would make time to reserve prime seating for the “Paint the Night” parade, the “Disneyland Forever” fireworks, and “Fantasmic”.
My husband and I wanted to take our time leaving the park (and to do some shopping) so we sent the rest of the group on their way and we lollygagged for the next half hour or so. We picked up some prizes for the scavenger hunt winners, then we sat on a bench at the end of Main Street to watch the crowd and listen to the music and sounds of the park. We arrived at our car around 1am, still wearing our mouse ears, and I was already coming up with a plan for our next Disney trip.
For my updates (and sounds of some of the rides and places in the park) recorded throughout the day in Disneyland Park, please listen to the last 10-15 minutes of the podcast.