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18 hacks to get the most of your Disneyland visit

Main Street USA looking toward Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland Main Street USA looking toward Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland | Photo courtesy of Disney Parks

An insider’s guide to avoiding crowds, shortening wait times, and saving money

A visit to the Disneyland Resort can be a rich, unforgettable experience, but it can also be expensive and shockingly crowded. As a Disneyland annual passholder who first visited the park 55 years ago, I’ve earned my mouse ears. Here are my best Disneyland tips to get the most from your trip:

1. Buy tickets online before you arrive

This way, you don’t have to wait in line at a ticket booth. Note that, nowadays, Disney takes your photo and attaches it to a digital image of your ticket when you first arrive, so you can’t swap tickets with anyone.

2. Go on a weekday

Disneyland now has three tiers of pricing, based on crowd projections. Weekends and holidays are usually the most expensive. The least-expensive time to visit is the off-season, i.e., when it’s not summer, spring break, or Christmastime. 

3. Consider a Park Hopper ticket

This allows you to travel between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. When one park gets crowded, dip over to the other park. AAA sometimes sells discounted multiday tickets that include Park Hoppers.

Disneyland Hotel

Photo courtesy Disney Parks

4. Stay at one of the three hotels at Disneyland

The Disneyland Hotel (pictured above), Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, or Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. You’ll pay a premium, but it might be worth it. You’ll not only be within easy walking distance of the parks, but you’ll also probably get an Extra Magic Hour, which enables you to enter the parks an hour before the rest of the visitors. (You might also get a guaranteed reservation for Galaxy’s Edge; ask when you reserve.)

My favorite non-Disney lodging is the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground, about a seven- to 10-minute walk from the Disneyland entrance. It has a small water park (good mostly for small children), a view of the fireworks, and a cool midcentury vibe.

Keep in mind that a hotel that advertises itself as “across from Disneyland” might be on the back side—and a long walk from the gate. A professional travel agent like those at the Auto Club can help you find the best deals and packages.

5. Arrive at the parking garage 60 to 90 minutes before the park opens

Be at Disneyland for the “rope drop.” Seriously, it’s worth it. You can get a beverage at the Market House coffee shop, and wait at the ropes at the end of Main Street USA. At the exact moment the park opens, a welcome announcement goes out over the loudspeaker. Immediately head to your favorite ride. You’ll have at least an hour to enjoy the morning before the hordes descend.

Carthay Circle Restaurant, Disneyland

Photo courtesy Disney Parks

6. Reserve a table at a sit-down restaurant

Sit-down restaurants, such as the Carthay Circle Restaurant (pictured above) in California Adventure, are great for a relaxing break. You must reserve with a credit card, and you can reserve up to 60 days in advance. Cancellation is free until the day before arrival. Reserve at or 714-781-DINE. You can also look at menus online. 

7. Buy souvenirs in advance

You can save half or more on souvenirs—for kids and adults—at a Disney Outlet store. (These places might also sell merchandise made for the outlets that might not be a deal, so be careful.) Or head for the Target store on Harbor Boulevard, near the Toy Story parking lot for Disneyland. The licensed Disney merchandise here will cost a fraction of what you’d pay for a similar item inside the park. Buy matching Disney T-shirts for the whole family. It’s fun, and it makes it easy to find each other in a crowd.

8. Be aware of the smoking rules

 As of May 1, you cannot smoke inside Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, or the Downtown Disney District. You can smoke in designated areas outside the entrances to those places and at designated areas at Disney hotels if you’re a guest or you have a dining reservation.

9. Download the Disneyland app in advance

It’s chock-full of information ranging from real-time wait times for rides to food choices and locations.

10. Bring your lunch

Rent a locker for $5–$7 at Disneyland or the Downtown Disney District and leave a small cooler there. Downtown Disney has a small picnic area near where people disembark from the parking tram; it’s a nice place to enjoy a meal while people watching.

11. Take non-alcoholic beverages from home

Disneyland allows you to bring your own drinks into the park as long as they’re not in glass bottles. Take frozen water bottles to keep sandwiches cold, and when they thaw out, drink from them.

Note: As of May 1, you cannot bring ice or dry ice into the park, although reusable ice packs are okay. You can ask for cups of ice at quick-service dining locations.

12. Bring a battery backup charger

You’ll probably use up your phone batteries with all the picture taking and app using. Do not count on being able to find an outlet. If you have a Fuel Rod brand charger, look for kiosks where you can swap yours out for a new one—or buy one there. 

13. Buy rain gear in advance

If there’s even a hint that it might rain, stock up on cheap, single-use ponchos. You can find them at nearly any dollar store. (Inside the resort, ponchos are expensive.) Also, dollar-store umbrellas can be useful for sun protection.

14. Take a photo of your car’s location in the parking garage

For example, you might be near “Goofy 3D.” Trust me: Later, you’ll want to know that.

15. Order and pay for quick-service meals in advance

On the Disneyland app, select a counter-service restaurant that appeals to you, then enter a time frame for picking up your meal. You can browse the menu and pay for your meal in advance; then, when you get near the restaurant, the app will ask you if you’re ready to eat. When you say “yes,” your meal will be ready to pick up within minutes at a special window. If you change your mind, you can cancel your order. You can mobile order food only in the parks, not before you enter them.

16. Feel free to ask for water

You don’t have to pay $4 for a bottle of water; any restaurant will gladly give you tap water in a cup.

17. Keep an eye on your stroller

You’d be surprised how many disappear. Either leave the expensive strollers at home or stick a tracking device inside them. You’re not allowed to secure the stroller to anything in the park, in case employees have to move it, but you can disable the front wheels so it’s not easily wheeled away. Police suggest you put your name and information on the bottom of the stroller, in case it’s found. Also, snap a photo of your child inside the stroller when you enter the park. And, of course, never leave valuables inside.

Note: As of May 1, you cannot bring into the park any stroller wagons or strollers larger than 31 inches-by-52 inches.

18. Beat the heavy crowds leaving the park at the end of the day

Jump on the Disneyland Railroad at any station and ride it to Main Street, then exit the park easily from there. Alternatively, take the Monorail from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney, where you can disembark only a few hundred feet from the tram that takes you to the parking lot. When you’re driving home from the park–tired and, hopefully, happy–you’ll reflect on your family’s Disney day.

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