Confession: prior to going, I wasn’t sure if I was going to love Disneyland. It felt like an obligatory trip one must do while their kids are young. Turns out my piss poor attitude was proven wrong, because I had SO MUCH fun there! Although I was given an awesome suggested itinerary by a friend (thanks Julie), it still took some figuring out. So here are my top Disneyland hacks and highlights, coming from the over-researcher, the girl whose goal was to maximize Disney efficiency and fun.
I went to Disneyland in March 2019 with 13.5 of my favourite people – hubby Nick, son Cohen (six), daughter Vayla (four), both mine and Nick’s parents, both our sisters, their husbands, my sister’s two kids, and a wee bun in the sister-in-law oven – our soon be niece or nephew. Experiencing Disney with three generations of family was something I’ll never forget.
We all bought three-day Disneyland/Disney California Adventure park hopper passes with the added Maxpass (see #1). Scanning through multiple Disney articles on Google and Pinterest left me with so many questions. They helped, but here’s everything I wish I would’ve read in one succinct article before going – my top Disneyland hacks and highlights.
1. A Maxpass is 100% the way to go (and the park hopper pass is a bonus)
Disneyland’s Maxpass was created in 2017 and lives in your Disney app. It maximizes the amount of rides you can conquer and provides other added perks. You’ve likely heard of fast passes. The Maxpass replaces fast passes, although you still set up fast passes for rides in the app, which you can do from anywhere in the park. It also includes a Photopass, which allows you to search for Disney photographers in the park via your app, have them take photos of you, and send them straight into your app.
For only an extra $15 per person per day, the Maxpass is worth it and my top Disneyland hack. The convenience of reserving fast passes from your mobile device is the best part about it. With a fast pass, you have an hour window to ride the ride, and you’ll only wait in line for zero to 10 minutes, compared to an hour or more for the best rides.
Make a list of the top rides you want to experience before you arrive (see #3 and #4 below) and ride them first thing in the morning. As the day goes on, so many people are booking fast passes that you’ll have to wait until late in the day to get on the best rides, or certain rides may stop offering fast passes altogether. You can’t stockpile multiple fast passes in your app – you need to wait until the start time of your next fast pass ride to book the following one. In some cases the app will let you book another fast pass earlier if you can’t get on your chosen ride for a few hours.
The park hopper pass allows you to go back and forth between Disneyland and California Adventure in the same day. This was awesome on the third day as there were certain things we missed on our first two days, so we spent day three going back and forth checking them off the list. The park hopper also helps you re-ride all your favourites at each park.
Book your Disney tickets with Maxpass and park hopper here.
2. The Disneyland App is the bomb, the shiz, the EVERYTHING at Disney
My second Disneyland hack relates to number one but needs further explanation and recognition. I can’t remember the last time I was so thoroughly impressed by an app.
TIP: learn the app and all it offers before you arrive. The best feature is the ability to book fast passes and check wait times for every ride. But you can also find out exactly where all the characters are situated, where the nearest restroom is, and where the Photopass photographers are hanging out.
Need to eat? Of course you do. Make dining reservations for anywhere in the two parks or Downtown Disney and mobile food orders for fast food on your app. The mobile food ordering is super handy when you’re hangry and line ups are long, as we waited about a quarter of the time to get food. This app really is the shiz!
Try to arrive at Disney around opening time. As soon as you are scanned through the gate, book your first fast pass for one of your most desired rides by clicking “Get fast pass for Disney Maxpass” inside your app. Generally the top rides in my “best rides” below have the longest wait times. Once you’ve reserved your first fast pass, go straight to one of your other top rides, as the line ups will still be short. When you’re done it’ll already be time to use your fast pass. Pretty slick.
Right after reserving a fast pass, the app will tell you when you can order your next fast pass. This became a fun game – checking back in at the exact time to see which rides had the best fast pass times available. Large groups will need to select fast passes at the same time, or you’ll never be synced for the day.
3. The best rides at Disneyland, ranked
DISCLAIMER for #3-#6: We didn’t do every ride at Disneyland, but most of our party did every ride at California Adventure (although Silly Symphony Swings and Grizzly River Run were closed). The only rides we skipped at Disneyland were some of the little ones that we didn’t want to make time for because our kids preferred to go on their favourite “big rides” twice. These are our group’s opinion based on our experience.
An important Disneyland hack is to get on the best rides at the start of your trip. Before we arrived, I didn’t know if I even liked rides anymore. But I love fun things and rides are fun, so of course I liked the rides! Turns out there are only two rides at all of Disneyland that I legit think are scary – the Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Here are our Disneyland faves, ranked:
- Space Mountain – fast, dark, twisty, and not as scary as I thought it would be. There are no big drops or upside-downs and my four-year-old went twice.
- Indiana Jones Adventure – bumpy and action-packed, with amazing effects.
- Splash Mountain – a nice long ride with a big drop at the end, great to cool off, and the ever-so-happy critters singing, “zippity-doo-dah!”
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – an easy yet super fun coaster, good to try for your first big ride.
- Matterhorn Bobsleds – fast and fun, but kids sit alone in the bobsled and the scary abominable snowman made my little Vayla cry (Julie warned me but we took the risk).
- Star Tours – a motion simulator Star Wars ride where a droid pilot accidentally takes space tourists down the wrong tunnel. A must for Star Wars fans.
- Pirates of the Caribbean – a little underwhelming compared to the six above, but a classic ride.
- Haunted Mansion – I thought it would be scarier, but it was spooky enough with cool effects.
- It’s a Small World – quintessential Disney and a hit with grandmas, yet still impressive and over-the-top happy. Good luck getting the song out of your head.
4. The best rides at California Adventure, ranked
While Disneyland is magical and whimsical, California Adventure is cool and, well, adventurous. It’s got a fun vibe, and most importantly, you can get booze there and you can’t at Disneyland. There’s something about sipping a beer or cider while in line for a ride, or popping into a beer garden while you’re waiting for your next fast pass.
There are some awesome rides at California Adventure, especially the first three (Silly Symphony Swings and the Grizzly River Run were closed so aren’t in the ranking):
- Incredicoaster (formerly California Screamin’)– very fast, big drops and an upside down loop to get your adrenalin pumping!
- Soarin’ Around the World – I won’t give it away but this is one of the coolest rides ever.
- Radiator Springs Racers – the “Cars” ride is super fun and fast, and if you’re lucky you’ll win the race.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (formerly the Tower of Terror) – the only one I didn’t go on, because I don’t like big drops, and multiple big drops it has (the others loved it).
- Toy Story Mania– high-energy fun where you’re whisked around to shoot things on screens for points.
- Pixar Pal-a-Round – a huge ferris wheel with sweeping views of the park – make sure you choose the swinging carts.
- Goofy’s Sky School – I found this one jerky, but the kids loved it. It’s better than it looks, with quick turns and a small drop.
- Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – very cute with impressive effects and that magical Little Mermaid music.
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree – a rollicking good ride around the junkyard.
5. You can easily do all the good rides in three days and your favourites twice
This surprised me the most. Yes, it helps if you make a point of being efficient with fast passes and are happy to go early and stay late. But even if you aren’t, the Maxpass makes it possible to go on multiple top rides two or even three times. There is a good, but not overwhelming, amount of rides at Disneyland for three full days.
You’ll maximize this Disneyland hack if you arrive early and use as many fast passes as you can in the morning. On all three days, the fast passes for most of the best rides were either altogether gone for the day by early afternoon, or weren’t available until nine or 10 p.m. This may be different if you go in off-peak times of the year.
6. Skip these rides
As mentioned, we didn’t go on every ride. A few were closed and we opted to skip some of the small rides that looked ho-hum. Here are a few rides I wouldn’t go on again if I go back and why:
- Autopia. In Tomorrowland at Disneyland, I thought this ride was pretty lame. Autopia is like going on traditional “go-karts” but with no control over speed, your steering wheel, or where on the track you drive. If you have a taller kid who is excited to go in his or her own car, you may find it worth the time.
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. Also in Tomorrowland at Disneyland, this is similar to Toy Story Mania at California Adventure, but not near as good. Do Toy Story twice instead.
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. The same could be said for a handful of the rides in Fantasyland at Disneyland, as they are mainly for really small children. I say Pinocchio as most kids aren’t huge Pinocchio fans. It’s quite lackluster and a couple similar rides you could skip are the Snow White and Alice in Wonderland rides. Young children may delight in these if they are too small or timid for bigger rides.
- Tarzan’s Treehouse in Adventureland at Disneyland was nothing to write home about.
7. Stay close to the Disneyland entrance
Staying within a short walk to Disneyland and California Adventure is key to making your Disney trip easy. Our hotel, the Courtyard by Marriot Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, was a five-minute walk from the Disney gates. Staying close allows you to get there and home quick, but also to go back for breaks mid-day (naps, happy hours, shutting yourself alone in a quiet room…).
Built in 2016, this hotel is modern and clean, and has various room categories, including suites with bunk beds in a separate room. The highlight is the Surfside Waterpark with a spray park, two water slides, a pool, and a hot tub. This was a hit with the kids, and when the weather was chillier, we frequented the hot tub.
There are tons of restaurants in the area, and yes, you can even find cheap eats in Disneyland. We also used Uber Eats three times for takeout – Anaheim has a plethora of options if you don’t feeling like dragging tired kids to a restaurant. If you stay close to Disneyland, you don’t need a rental car. Take Uber if you need to get groceries or want to enjoy any non-Disney activities.
8. And eight last random Disneyland Hacks
My last Disneyland hack is actually eight small hacks to make your trip easier and more enjoyable:
- Some of the best rides have singles lines, which are awesome if you’re not concerned about sitting with your people. We waited 10 minutes in the singles line at Radiator Springs Racers, while the regular line was over an hour.
- Rider switch. If one kid isn’t tall enough or doesn’t want to go on a ride, ask the attendant for a rider switch pass, which allows the parent who stays back with the little one to go on the ride right after the other parent without waiting in line. If you have a big kid with you, he or she can also ride again without waiting.
- Don’t miss out on the impressive shows and parades. Mickey’s Soundsational Parade is twice daily at Disneyland and features all the characters and music from Disney movies. We also watched the nightly fireworks at Disneyland, and Frozen – Live at the Hyperion at California Adventure, which was excellent. We missed World of Colour, but heard it’s fab.
- Adult beverages at California Adventure. If you’re like us, this will be a highlight of California Adventure over Disneyland. Try Bayside Brews by Goofy’s Sky School for good beer and cider. The Hollywood Lounge on Hollywood Lane has excellent pineapple margaritas and rum island iced teas. Have and extra one for me.
- You’ll need to rent a stroller for kids five and under, which you can get at the gates. If your big kid is too cool to sit in a stroller but needs a break from walking, let him or her stand in the stroller and hold on for a ride (my health app said we walked 12-17 kilometres per day – check out this article on the best shoes for Disney).
- If you are dead set on going on certain rides, check the Disney app or website for planned ride closures to avoid disappointment. Often rides close for refurbishment for a few weeks, especially in January and February.
- Buy ponchos from the dollar store and keep them in your day pack in case of rain. We used ours and they’re much cheaper than the ones you can buy there.
- Watch out for celebrities, and if you see one, get a photo. We were within inches of BRADLEY COOPER and didn’t ask for a photo before he ducked into a hotel, which I’m still kicking myself for.
I hope my top Disneyland hacks and highlights – the exact things I wish I would’ve known before going – will help you on your trip. Now grab your kids, find your inner kid, and get ready for the happiest place on earth.
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