Buy tickets early. Instead of waiting in line to buy tickets at the park, buy them in advance online via Disney’s official tickets website. If you order early enough, you can have your tickets shipped to your house before your trip. Or, you can download e-tickets and print them directly from your email.
- Keep an eye out for deals. Disney will occasionally run promotions that add an extra day to a multi-day ticket at no cost.
- Know what you’re buying. If you only want to go to Disneyland Park, not California Adventure, there’s no need to buy a ParkHopper ticket. Simply purchase a one-park ticket.
- If you plan on parking at Disneyland, you can buy your parking pass online as well.
Get to the park early. Early morning is the perfect time of day at the park: it’s mostly empty, temperatures are cool, and the kids are still happy. You can get fastpasses and knock out a few of the popular rides before the crowds get crazy. People start to queue up at the park gates about an hour before opening.
- If you want to do the Fantasyland rides, do them in the morning before all the families show up — the lines will never be shorter.
Use FastPasses! The system can seem a little intimidating at first, but it’s easier than it looks — and worth skipping the standby lines. Here’s a quick rundown on how the system works:
- You can get new FastPasses every 90 minutes. Dispatch someone to get your first round as soon as you walk into the park. (He or she will need to take everyone’s park tickets along.) If you’re not sure when 90 minutes is up, the next time you can get fastpasses will be printed at the bottom of your most recent ones.
- Each ride that allows FastPass use will have a little FastPass station with four to eight FastPass machines. You stick one ticket at a time into the machine, and it will spit out a paper fastpass below that has a one-hour window of time printed on it. They have to be used on the day you got them.
- Once you have your FastPasses and the first time printed has passed, you walk up to the FastPass line instead of the standby line, which should be clearly marked for each ride. The person at the front will check your passes to make sure they are valid, then you hang onto them and give them to a second person at the end of the line.
- FastPass times are now being enforced! If your ticket says 1:45 to 2:45, you must show up between those times.
- Some popular rides will run out of FastPasses. If you really want to fastpass Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, the Haunted Mansion (during Halloween/Christmas) or AstroBlasters, do it early in the day. Some of the other rides that utilize the FastPass service (like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Splash Mountain) will have short lines at the end of the day anyway, and you won’t need fastpasses.
Eat wisely and well. Food inside the park can be expensive, especially if you’re feeding a family, though there are some unique dining experiences you can try. Here’s a rundown of what might work for you:
- Eat meals earlier than usual, or after the mad lunch rush of 11am-2pm and the equally mad dinner rush between 6:30-8:00pm. This way, you can go on rides while everyone is eating and avoid lines when you’re ready to eat.
- Be warned that New Orleans Square eateries have the worst lines. Head over to Frontierland or Critter Country for shorter lines.
- If you’re eating cheaply: Pack lunch and dinner, and stash your meals inside a locker (near the park entrance). There are plenty of tables around the park for you to sit and eat, and picnicking on Tom Sawyer Island can be a good way to cool off in the afternoon. If you do need to buy food in the park, fruit is generally cheap and portions at the fast-casual eateries are large enough to split between two people.
- Make advance reservations for any full-service dining. There are only a few sit-down restaurants inside Disneyland, such as the Blue Bayou and Cafe Orleans, but they fill up quickly. If it’s really important to you to eat at these places, make an advance reservation with Disney Dining at (714) 781-3463.
- Plan ahead with character dining. Character dining is offered at the Plaza Inn — where costumed characters will roam the restaurant to take pictures and interact with guests as they eat. This is an easy way to get some character time if you have kids, but it tends to be expensive and fill up quickly. Your best bet is to make reservations in advance at (714) 781-3463.
Bring food and games for long waits and to save money. Not all rides have FastPasses and waiting is inevitable, and it will save you a bunch of money! Bags of cereal, popcorn, granola bars, grapes, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches are great to pack, along with a DS or iPod.
Decide when to buy souvenirs. As with eating, there are a few different ways to manage souvenir shopping depending on your needs. Here are a few possible game plans:
- If you want to wear the famous mouse ears (or any other headgear), consider buying them at the beginning of the day so they’ll be in all your photos.
- If you’re not sure what you want, pass through a few souvenir shops during the heat of the day or when you need a break. If something catches your eye, return to buy it as you walk out of the park, so that you don’t need to carry it around all day.
- If you have little ones and you’re concerned about souvenir whining, try this trick. Buy Disney souvenirs less expensively online and pack them with you. The night before you go to Disneyland, arrange your kids’ souvenirs as if Mickey came and left them overnight, like Santa. They already have new fun things to play with, and you don’t have to worry about shopping at the park. Problem solved!
Know where to find characters. If you have kids, seeing costumed characters is probably high on your list of things to do. Though characters used to roam freely around the park, they’re now found at designated areas:
- If you want to get character autographs, make sure you have a pen big enough for the characters to grasp — they won’t be able to maneuver a small ballpoint pen as easily as a large marker.
- Visit Toontown. For an audience with Mickey or Minnie, visit their houses inside Toontown. Be prepared to wait in lines, though. Other costumed characters should be wandering around Toontown as well.
- Visit the Princess Fantasy Faire: If you want a picture with a princess, this is pretty much the only place to get one. Try to go early, since the wait can be up to 2 hours on peak days. To get to the faire, walk toward it’s a small world, turn left, and keep walking past the Toontown gate. Or, you can simply take the Disneyland Railroad to the Toontown stop.
- Visit Pixie Hollow: Pixie Hollow is another area with specialized characters, located between the Astro Orbiter and the Matterhorn. As with the princess faire, the lines can be long.
- Wait at the secret character gate. To snag characters as they enter the park from backstage, wait at the gate in the northeast corner of Main Street, between the Main Street Cinema and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Characters will periodically appear here to pose for photos and sign autographs.
Find good seating for shows and parades. Disneyland hosts a few parades throughout the day, depending on the season, as well as night-time showings of Fantasmic and fireworks. (Check the park schedule to see what will be happening when you’re there.) Most shows are crowded, but you can manage to get good seats with some clever planning.
- For parades: Head toward Tomorrowland, and right before you enter turn left and follow the path to the King Triton Statue. This is a great spot to see the parade without all the people.
- For Fantasmic: Fantasmic seating is tricky, but doable. If you really want prime seating right by the waterfront (directly in front of Cafe Orleans, by where people board boats to Tom Sawyer Island), your safest bet is to set out a blanket a few hours before the show and rotate who gets to sit and hold the spot. If there are two shows that night, your best bet is to be hovering in the area just as the first show wraps up. As soon as people start to get up and exit the area, swoop in and grab a seat.
- Fireworks: Most people crowd to watch fireworks in Main Street, so they can see them going off behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. If this is what you want to do, try staking out a a bench in the central square, by the statue of Mickey and Walt, or snag an outdoor table at the north end of the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor.
- Alternate fireworks: If you don’t mind missing the castle panorama, the fireworks are also visible from the path that connects Frontierland and Fantasyland, behind Big Thunder Mountain. Or, if you like roller coasters, riding on Big Thunder offers a spectacular view of the show — and the line for the ride is usually short enough that you can go multiple times throughout the fireworks.
- If you don’t want to see any of the shows, then it’s a great time to hit the rides while everyone else is preoccupied. Attractions like Splash Mountain and Space Mountain are usually easier to get on during Fantasmic and fireworks.
Don’t force people to go on rides. No one wants to feel pressured on going something they don’t want to. Maybe they’ll want to go after they see how much fun you had on the ride. In the meantime, jump in the single rider line and get on the ride much faster.
Know when areas close. The park generally stays open later during the summer and on the weekends, closing earlier during the colder months and on weekdays. However, certain areas will close down sooner if shows are happening. Here’s a quick rundown:
- If Fantasmic is showing, Tom Sawyer Island will shut down around sunset.
- If there will be fireworks, Toontown will close early.
- Fantasyland is one of the first areas of the park to shut down at the end of the night, so don’t assume you’ll just go on the rides there once the crowds clear out.
- Specific closing times are posted on most rides.
Exit wisely. There will be a mass exodus out of the park right after fireworks (or about an hour before closing if there are no fireworks). The walk will be slow, and the lines for the tram back to the parking structure will be long. If you want to avoid the rush, you can leave halfway through fireworks or stick around until the park closes.