Disneyland tips for first timers

Posted By Allison on Aug 14, 2015


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UPDATED JANUARY 2016

Hey there!

We’re going to Disneyland again in October! Don’t tell my kids because we’re keeping it a secret. We’re putting the trip together with our partner, Get Away Today Vacations and we just pinned down the dates yesterday. I’m so excited to experience the Diamond Celebration and see Disneyland decorated for Halloween, and can only imagine how my kids will react when they find out.

As we plan our trip, it’s helpful to already know how Disneyland and Anaheim are laid out, and to be aware of some of the options and tools that can help us make the most of our trip and save money. So, today I’m sharing some of my Disneyland tips for first timers.

If you’re planning your first trip to Disneyland, here are some tips to help you do it right the first time.

5 MUST HAVE Disneyland tips for your first visit. Find out where to stay, how to get around and whether you should pay for the Park Hopper pass | tipsforfamilytrips.com | Southern California | Anaheim | summer vacation | spring break

Stay at least three days

Three or four days is is about what you’ll need to really see both parks. I have done just Disneyland in a single summer day, and it was fun. However, I didn’t have children then, and it was still a long day. If you’re determined to do one or both parks in less than three days, prioritize and plan ahead. I wouldn’t buy a park hopper pass. You will still have a GREAT time if you’re OK with just hitting the highlights of one park per day.

On our last trip to Disneyland, we benefited from a 5-day Disneyland deal through Get Away Today Vacations. We basically spent two days from rope drop until dinner time in each park. We didn’t do everything, but we rode most of our favorites twice. By the fifth day, even our 6-year-old was finished with the parks and we headed for the beach.

Disneyland tips for families | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Should you pay extra for a park hopper?

Disneyland and California Adventure share the same parking lots and shuttle stops, so unlike Walt Disney World, you can easily walk from one to the other and back again in the same day. That said, there is plenty to keep you busy in just one of the parks for a full day, and they are large enough that you won’t want to go back and forth any more than necessary. If keeping costs down is your #1 priority, skip the park hopper option.

The park hopper pass comes in handy when say, Disneyland opens an hour earlier than California Adventure and you want to make the most of less-crowded morning hours before heading over to the other park. Or, you may want to spend most of the day in one park, but see the nighttime show in the other.

Disneyland tips for first-timers | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Photo courtesy of Disney Parks

Guides and apps

If this is the first post you’ve read about visiting Disneyland, it should not be your last. There is plenty of free information on the internet to help you make the most of your first visit, and we’ve collected a lot of posts on our Disney Tips for Families Pinterest board.

I also like traditional guide books, and recommend The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. We bought the book, but have seen it and other guides at our local library. I wrote an entire post with our favorite tips from The Unofficial Guide. Read it here.

You’ll want to download one or more Disneyland apps to your smart phone before you go. Disneyland has a FREE official app with wait times, character appearances, maps, dining, restrooms and more. There are other apps available, but the official app has served us well. Disneyland does not have good free WiFi inside the park (yet?), so plan accordingly.

Disneyland tips for first-timers | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Photo courtesy of Disney Parks

Stay off-site to save money

The conventional Disney wisdom is “stay at a Disney property.” It’s hard to beat the convenience, early entry and Disney magic at the Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian and other Disney properties. However, staying at a Disney property is not as big an advantage at Disneyland as Walt Disney World. You can save a lot of money by staying off-property. Several nearby hotels offer economical family-size rooms and suites.

You can find an off-property hotel across the street from Disneyland’s main gates, or choose from many others nearby that provide a shuttle or are on the Anaheim Resort Transit line. Furthermore, there is no FASTPASS advantage to staying on-site. Disneyland has not yet switched to FASTPASS+, which gives extra line privileges to on-site guests.

Disneyland tips for first-timers | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Photo courtesy of Disney Parks

Use a shuttle service

Most local hotels offer a shuttle service to Disneyland, or are on the ART route. ART stands for Anaheim Resort Transit, and it runs from many local hotels to Disneyland about every 20 minutes. If you do not use a shuttle, you will need to pay to park in one of the Disneyland parking lots and then you will take a shuttle anyway. If you are staying near the park, it is often more convenient and economical to use the hotel’s shuttle service.

If you use ART, you can buy single ride, single-day or multi-day passes. Children under age 3 ride free. ART will take you to and from the Convention Center, Angel Stadium, and many other popular local attractions. It also has beach service on weekends. Learn more about ART at www.rideart.org.

Disneyland tips for first-timers | tipsforfamilytrips.com

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Need a place to stay? We have recently stayed on-property at the Grand Californian and off-property at the Anaheim Hilton Garden Inn, which is just down the street from Disneyland. Both are good options! Click the links to read my reviews.

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Allison
Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.

11 Comments

  1. The app is a great idea! I heard that if you keep your receipt from the first coffee shop near the main entry you can get refills all day. I also think it’s good to come early in the am. Cool off in the hotel pool in the afternoon and head back for fireworks at night.

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  2. Always great to have a Disney strategy in mind …. Disney guides and apps have come a long way!

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  3. I’ve been to Disney World about a dozen times but never to Disneyland. I’ve been reading so much about it lately (probably because of the Diamond Celebration) and I’m thinking a trip out to Anaheim will have to happen sooner rather than later! This is a great resource for all visitors, first-timers or veterans.

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  4. What I loved about Disneyland is that it’s small enough to go for just a day and not miss anything. But of course you could stay for much longer! We always make sure to take advantage of extra magic hours when staying on property.

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  5. Great tips! I had no idea about the apps, and they sound really useful. I haven’t been to Disneyland since I was a little kid, one day I hope to take my children!

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  6. Love these tips. We have only been to WDW in Florida and have always stayed off-site. Will certainly use these tips if we get out to California again soon.

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  7. My favorite app is the Magic Guide. It gives ride wait times, maps, park hours, and dining options. I especially like the ability to see which food carts are where!

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  8. Great tips! I appreciate the app suggestions. It’s always hard to know the best.

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  9. Great tips! When we visited Disneyland back in 2006 it was in the pre-App days! I’d definitely use those Apps that you’ve recommended, should I return in future.

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  10. We visit Disney regularly since it’s just up the street but these tips are great for repeat visitors as well 🙂

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