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A First Timer’s Guide to Disneyland

Updated: May 19



If you haven’t visited in a while, this post will be helpful to you, too. If your last trip was before Covid, buckle up. It’s a whole new world.  MagicBand+, Disney Genie, Early Entry, Park Reservations, and so much more are new or different now.




Disneyland Resort is comprised of 2 theme parks, 3 Disney hotels and Downtown Disney. Disneyland is a fraction of the size of Disney World. Check out the layout of the resort including details on parking, lockers and more.

Disneyland is the original park and it opened in 1955. In addition to Main Street, it includes 7 lands:

  • Adventureland

  • Critter Country

  • Fantasyland

  • Frontierland

  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

  • Toontown

  • New Orleans Square

  • Tomorrowland



Disney California Adventure or DCA opened in 2001 and enjoyed a grand “re-opening” in 2012 with a major transformation, which has brought the once troubled park to life.  In addition to Buena Vista Street, it includes 6 lands:


  • Cars Land

  • Grizzly Peak

  • Hollywood Land

  • San Fransokyo Square

  • Pixar Pier

  • Avengers Campus


The Difference Between Walt Disney World and Disneyland

There’s a lot to know if you’re familiar with WDW, but not Disneyland. Let’s go over a few differences:

We don’t have a dining plan. We often walk up to counter service restaurants, order food and eat it. Don’t be scared of us. It works. Dining at the Disneyland Resort is fun. Use the Disneyland app for info on the different types of dining options and use MOBILE ORDER to your advantage.



How to take advantage of Mobile Order at the Disneyland Resort

  • Find seating FIRST!!!

  • Click on ORDER FOOD on the Disneyland App and choose a time.

  • Order food and pay on the app

  • Wait for a text for your food to be ready.

  • Bring your confirmation text to the the Window appointment to you by the text.

  • ENJOY YOUR FOOD.

Everything is in walking distance. No one hour trek from park to hotel and park again. You can leave one park and be at the next in 2 minutes because the two park entrances face each other. Most hotels are in walking distance. Downtown Disney is just outside the esplanade between the two parks. You can easily leave the park, run back to your hotel and be back in the park in a short amount of time. IT’S GLORIOUS.

The weather here is lovely. We rarely see rain. Seriously. And, regardless of when you visit – even if it’s in the summer – you’ll likely need a sweater for early morning or late night. Know how to dress ahead of time. It’s quite different compared to WDW.

Our characters often roam the park and some do so without handlers. The character experience is so authentic and fun at Disneyland.



Disney Genie

All new at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World!

Be sure you know how Genie works, as it’s different from FASTPASS, MaxPass, and FastPass+.


Attractions

Each park has a different feel to it. I’d simplify it into this:


  • Disneyland is old school and sweet with lots of history and fairytale-esque rides. Main Street feels like a walk back in time and the entire park has a nostalgic element to it.

  • Disney California Adventure feels newer and more character focused. Buena Vista is lovely and provides the nod to Americana that Main Street at Disneyland does. You’ll find “bigger” rides that teens will enjoy more at DCA, however, there is still plenty to do for little ones.



Dining - Please use your Disneyland App for as much info on the yummy food options.

The food at Disneyland is one of my favorite parts of my visit. There’s so much to enjoy! Disneyland Dining has several yummy options including Jolly Holiday Bakery, Hungry Bear Restaurant, The Plaza Inn, Blue Bayou and more. The park includes several table service options and many counter service ones, too. Character dining can be found at breakfast at The Plaza Inn.

California Adventure Dining feels a little more adventurous to me food-wise with options like Asian fare, high end Carthay Circle and delicious smoothies. California Adventure also serves a wide range of alcohol compared to Disneyland.

Character dining can be found at Disneyland and each of the Disneyland Resort Hotels. In addition to the expected Disney service at each of these experiences, you can also:

  • Interact with characters up close for more time than at the parks.

  • Take fun photos with the characters.

  • Gather autographs.

I encourage you to enjoy one (or more) character dining experiences during your visit.


Additional Info

  • Many people talk about Disneyland at “capacity”. The truth is that this rarely happens. A few days a year – usually around the holidays – Disneyland Park will close due to “capacity restraints”. This means there’s too many people in the park to allow more in. When it happens, it’s usually around 1:00pm and will last until around 5:00pm. When it does, you’re welcome to visit DCA if you have a park hopper. If you do not, you can wander Downtown Disney.

  • Know all about World of Color and what your options are for seeing this unique show, only available at DCA.

  • Know all about parades and fireworks, too. And, Fantasmic!

  • Be prepared for crowds. You have many options when the parks become overwhelming.

  • Know what to expect with your visit to Downtown Disney.


Starting Your Day at the Disneyland Resort

The success of your morning can determine how your entire day goes at Disneyland. I have some tips for you on how to make the most of your time and how to get everyone started in the right direction.  The benefits of an early arrival are plentiful. Save your slumber for another vacation.




Before you even arrive on site, I suggest you have the following done:

  • Have tickets purchased. Buy from the Disneyland app

  • Eat breakfast. Wake early and enjoy breakfast on your way in. If you are wanting to dine with characters, reserve the latest time available. A 10:30am reservation is a good idea. That allows you to enjoy the earlier hours and then take a break when everyone else shows up.

  • Apply sunscreen and make sure kids are prepared for their day. 

  • If you’re lining up outside prior to open, look for restrooms at each end of the waiting area between the parks.


When to Arrive

I repeat this time and time again because it’s actually that important.  To get the most out of your mornings, arrive an hour prior to official park opening. This rule applies to guests staying on Disney property and those not.


The Basic Structure for Your Day

Focus on accomplishing the following in order to see and do all you want to:

  • Arrive early

  • Focus on attractions for the first several hours (with a snack break at some point)

  • Break for a late lunch and then nap/rest at your hotel

  • Return to the parks for entertainment, character meets, princesses, etc

  • Resume attractions

  • Enjoy nighttime entertainment

  • Attractions again!


Genie+

Disney Genie replaced FASTPASSES late 2021.

Read this post start to finish for what it’s all about.


Don’t Want to Pay for Genie+?

No problem!! Just look at the stand-by lines wait times on the Disneyland App and ignore the lightning lane information.  Both parks can definitely be done without the Genie+ System.


Avoid Disappointment by Knowing What’s Closed

PIXARFEST is happening right now at the Disney Resorts. Read about it on the app and ends on 8/4/2024


DISNEYLAND

  • Hyperspace Mountain (Space Mountain overlay) – ends 6.2.2024

  • Space Mountain – reopen TBD (should be right after Hyperspace)

  • Splash Mountain – Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will replace it late 2024

  • Fantasmic! – returns 5.24.2024

  • Season of the Force – ends 6.2.2024

  • Haunted Mansion – reopen TBD

  • Magic Happens Parade – returned 2.2.2024

  • Together Forever Fireworks – returns ends 8.4.2024

  • Critter Country – closed 5.1.2024 for land redesign; retail could reopen as soon as 6.9.2024 (Louis’ Critter Club and Ray’s Berets)

  • Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – reopen TBD


CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE

  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail – reopen 6.21.2024

  • Pixar Fest – 4.26.2024 – 8.4.2024

  • “Better Together: A Pixar Pals Celebration” daytime parade – ends 8.4.2024


DOWNTOWN DISNEY

  • Wonderground Gallery – closed until winter 2024; replaced with Disney Dress Shop as of April 2024

  • Tortilla Jo’s – closed forever March 31, 2024

  • Parkside Market – coming in 2024 (info here and here)

  • Earl of Sandwich – moving spring 2024 to west end of Downtown to allow for the remodel of its current location (the old La Brea spot) for Porto’s Bakery coming in 2024

  • Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar – closed April 14, 2023; have been replaced with high end Mexican food locations Paseo, Tiendita and Centrico, respectively (info here)

  • Porto’s Bakery – coming in 2024

  • Din Tai Fung – opening summer of 2024How to Plan Your Days


Here’s how to structure your visit:

If you have one day, Skip California Adventure (DCA) and visit Disneyland only.


If you have two days, spend one at Disneyland and one at DCA.


Pre-game:

*Line up outside Disneyland Park an hour prior to official park opening, as you’ll likely be let in 30 minutes prior to official park opening.

*Take a deep breath and follow the steps, below.


Game-time:

*Start at Disneyland and do all you can until around lunch time.


Before you start your day, consider what nighttime entertainment you want to finish your visit with. At Disneyland, you have a parade and fireworks some days. At DCA, World of Color is showing. The following posts have details for each show that you’ll want to review prior to arriving:

  • Disneyland – Parades

  • Disneyland – Fireworks

  • DCA – World of Color


Finish your big visit with a show in either park and then use the last hour(s) to enjoy more attractions. Keep in mind that rides behind the castle (and in Fantasyland, in general) have low wait times late at night. Snow White, Mr. Toad and Pinocchio should all be at 5 minutes or less after nighttime entertainment.


Most attractions let guests get in line at a minute prior to official park closing time, allowing them to wait as long as it takes to ride that attraction. This works for pretty much every ride except for Rise of the Resistance. Its line shuts down a couple hours prior to closing, so don’t leave this one for the last minute.


Logistics of Disneyland – Location, Lockers, and More

Today, let’s talk about some lesser “magical” parts of the park that can be quite helpful with your Disneyland experience, which in turn, gives you more opportunity for the magic.


Location & Walking Options

Nearly everything at Disneyland is walkable. Our two parks face each other, with Downtown Disney to the west and the off-site hotels to the east, for the most part. Disneyland Resort Hotels are west just past Downtown Disney.

Once you get to the Disneyland Resort Area, most people walk to and from most locations, however, you have other options, too:



*Monorail: Take the monorail to Tomorrowland from Downtown Disney to avoid the main gate entry. On crowded days, this is a great option to get into the park quickly and avoid that enormous crowd waiting to go into the park.


Package Check In

Disneyland provides a free package check in for all guests – not just those staying at the Disneyland Hotels. You can buy merchandise from within the park and then have the park store it for you until you leave.

It’s awesome and should be used for a variety of reasons on your trip:

1. You don’t have to carry merchandise bought in the park around all day.

2. No risk of anything being stolen.

3. It’s super convenient and easy to use.


There are three at Disneyland that offer this service:

Star Trader in Tomorrowland

Pioneer Mercantile in Frontierland

Port Royal


One in California Adventure:

Elias and Company on Buena Vista Street


FYI: You may only check in non-food items bought at Disneyland Resort. Items must have tags on and your receipt for those items must accompany them. “One of a kind” items may not be checked (like an artist’s portrait). Many shops in Downtown Disney sell items that may be checked, but only those bought at “Disney” run stores qualify.


For example: If you buy a pair of shorts at Curl Surf, you can’t check those. The stores must be owned by Disney.


Present your receipt for the items in the bag and fill out this “package check” form. They’ll take some basic information that includes your phone number


You’ll walk away with a carbon copy of the form you filled out and your receipt.

Return at the end of the day (or when you are ready to leave) to retrieve your merchandise.


*You must retrieve your merchandise from the location you dropped it off.

*This service is available to all park guests and can be used by DLR Hotel guests, too. DLR Hotel package delivery is excellent, also, but the merchandise sometimes does not get delivered until the next day after you request the delivery. Use the option above for guaranteed same-day pick up.



Lockers

Disneyland lockers are available in several locations and in several sizes. I recommend using these if you have princess dresses or heavy coats or valuables you don’t want left in your stroller while you enjoy attractions.

Fuel Rod Chargers are available near both parks’ locker locations.

Here are the locations for lockers:

  • Disneyland Park on Main Street, U.S.A.

  • Disney California Adventure Park on Buena Vista Street.

  • In the Esplanade between the parks, accessible from the Downtown Disney District, lockers are located outside the Main Entrances to both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.

Here’s how they work:

*Don’t leave stuff overnight.

*You have three size options and as you’ll see on the order screen, the park estimates what will fit in each

To order, follow the prompts on the screen. It’s quite easy and will guide you through everything and then assign you a locker. You will create a code that unlocks and locks it throughout the day. The code works all day and there is no limit to opening and closing your locker. You can pay with credit card


Other Stuff

  • First Aid – First Aid locations can be found in both parks and they’ll administer simple treatments like bandaids and such. A parent must accompany a child for treatment. Once, I sent my 13 year old with my 6 year old to grab a bandaid and they called for permission first.

  • ATMs – There are several ATMs located within the parks and surrounding areas. Review your options should you need to locate one on site. They’re Chase machines, so if you’re annoyed by banking fees (like me), withdraw cash prior to arrival.

  • ECV & Wheelchair rentals – Both options can be rented on-site. Check pricing and rules (no reservations allowed) prior to visiting.

  • On-site Kennel – The on-site kennel opens 30 minutes prior to park opening and closes 30 minutes after. Find more details before you arrive.

  • Lost & Found – There is one location for Lost and Found, just outside the entrance to Disneyland.


Relax and have fun. Disneyland is such a magical place! Let me know how I can help you plan.


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