KidTripster Teen: 11 tips to make the most of your Disneyland adventure
Growing up in Southern California, I have become a veritable Disneyland and California Adventure veteran. In fact, I know the “happiest place on earth” like the back of my hand! I also happen to know that - as magical as Disneyland may be - waiting in lines and fighting crowds is no fun. So here are my expert tips and tricks for making your trip to Disneyland go as smoothly as a log flume ride down Splash Mountain!
1/Avoid peak days in peak months
Even in the middle of summer, Disneyland parks have days of the week that are less crowded than others. Aim for the middle of the week (Tuesday to Thursday). Also, avoid holidays if you can, as these are the days when the parks tend to reach maximum capacity. However, if you must visit on or close to a holiday, read on. These next tips will help navigate those time periods.
In addition, the following time periods historically have fewer crowds:
Mid-September to mid-November Mid-January to mid-March Mid-April to mid-May
KidTripster Tip: If you want to check a specific date, check out this crowd calendar that makes predictions based on historical data.
KidTripster Tip: If you happen to be visiting Disneyland on your birthday, make sure to stop by Town Hall on Main Street and get a birthday button. Not only is it a cool souvenir, but cast members will wish you “happy birthday” all day long. They also give out buttons for honeymoons, anniversaries, family reunions, and first-time visitors.
2/Buy tickets in advance
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s super important. There’s nothing worse than waiting in a line before you even enter the park. Buy your tickets directly from the Disney website to avoid any scams or rip-offs.
3/Go early, stay late
I know getting up at dawn isn’t everyone’s idea of a vacation, but take it from this veteran - it’s worth it! The ropes drop at 8 a.m. for general admission guests, so I’d recommend arriving before 7:30 a.m. That way, you’ll have enough time to park, take the tram, and go through security. If you’re staying at a Disneyland hotel, that’s even better! The parks’ hotels offer something called an “extra magic hour.” One hour before the parks open to the general public, hotel guests can ride all the rides that they can fit in before the crowds show up. It’s also to your advantage to stay late. The crowds tend to thin as the evening progresses, so plan to stick it out until the park closes for more ride time.
KidTripster Tip: If you need some extra energy for the early morning challenge, both Disneyland and California Adventure have a Starbucks close to the entrance. The line usually isn’t too long before the park opens, so it’s the perfect opportunity for an early morning pick-me-up.
KidTripster Tip: Selfie sticks, GoPro sticks, and weapons of any kind, including the toy ones, are prohibited in the park. Don’t waste your time marching back to your car with them. Just leave them behind.
For those of you who have never been to a Disney park, let me tell you about the amazing FastPass. It’s a reserved ticket that allows you to show up at a designated time and bypass the regular line for some rides. Unlike other parks, Disneyland doesn’t make you pay extra for a FastPass, which is awesome, but there's a strategy to using these passes. The most popular rides, like Radiator Springs Racers and Indiana Jones, run out of FastPasses early, so grab a FastPass for those rides first. You can only hold a FastPass for one ride at a time, which means you have to use one pass before obtaining another one. You get the coveted passes at the entrances to eligible rides.
KidTripster Tip: You can also obtain FastPasses to shows like Frozen - Live at the Hyperion (tickets to the left of theater entrance) and World of Color (tickets near Grizzly River Run).
5/Single rider lines
The single rider line is one of the best-kept secrets in Disney parks. These lines go much more quickly than the regular lines and can turn a 90-minute wait into a mere 25 minutes. However, there are some drawbacks. First of all, your group will be separated. You can’t go through the single rider line and then ask to sit together; it’s not cool. Secondly, you can’t request seats from the single rider line (for example, the front car of a roller coaster); you go where you’re needed. Finally, there’s a height requirement; you must be at least 48-inches tall to be in the single rider line.
Everyone needs to eat, and there’s nothing wrong with that. One thing to consider while you’re at Disneyland, though is when you eat. If you schedule your meals earlier or later than peak times, you’re less likely to stand in line and can spend more time riding rides.
KidTripster Tip: Bring your own snacks. Pack protein bars or some trail mix in a small backpack to save time. It’s also the best way to maintain energy levels and prevent your posse from getting “hangry” (hungry + angry).
7/Preferred show seating
You can score amazing prime spot seating for California Adventure’s World of Color show by reserving a lunch or dinner dining package online in advance at Ariel’s Grotto, Wine Country Trattoria or Carthay Circle Restaurant. There’s also preferred seating to the wildly popular Frozen - Live at the Hyperion through Carthay Circle Restaurant.
Download the Disneyland app before your trip. The app will tell you wait times on all the rides and times for character meet-and-greets. It also has maps of both parks. Use it strategically.
9/More ride tactics
As you may know, a lot of shows and performances go on throughout the day at Disneyland. Crowds line up for these shows and parades. Since so many visitors are waiting and watching, lines to popular rides start to empty. Once while the Fantasmic! show was going on, I cruised over to Splash Mountain and rode it three times in a row, because there was no one in line!
If you’re only visiting for one day and springing for the park hopper ticket to both Disneyland and California Adventure, then it’s best to consider logistics. It takes about ten minutes to walk from park to park and get in. I know that it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually a huge time waster, if you go back and forth between the parks multiple times during the day. I suggest starting out at California Adventure and then midday, make the switch to Disneyland. California Adventure closes at 9 p.m.; Disneyland turns the magic off at 11 p.m.
There are lots great shops at Disneyland, and you could easily spend hours perusing the stores, but I suggest putting your wallet away until later and go ride some rides. The stores on Main Street are open an hour after the parks close, so you can search for the perfect souvenir then.
Laine Messier is a homeschooled high school student, who currently splits her time between Los Angeles and New York City. She’s lucky enough to be able to explore the globe with her parents and is always on the lookout for unique experiences. When she’s not writing for KidTripster, you might find her surfing, jamming on her guitar or searching for new adventures with her trusty canine sidekick, Tess.