The unofficial guide to The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland

Posted By Allison on Sep 24, 2012


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unofficial guide to Disneyland

When we visited Disneyland with our children and my mom in 2010, it was not my first time to Disneyland, nor my husband’s. However, it was the first time we visited Disneyland as a family. Furthermore, it was June so we expected the park to be crowded. We wanted to have a great experience, so we do what we usually do before a vacation. We turned to the experts.

We found The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Bob Sehlinger with Len Testa. This useful guidebook includes sections on planning, hotels, maps, visiting Disneyland with kids, dining, shopping, Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure. It has specific information on every ride. It is available at our local library, online and at bookstores. This is Sehlinger and Testa’s Disneyland philosophy in a nutshell:

“It’s easy to spot the free spirits at Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure, particularly at opening time. While everybody else is stampeding to Splash Mountain or Indiana Jones, they’re the ones standing in a cloud of dust puzzling over the park map… Face it: Disneyland Resort is not a very existential place. In many ways it’s the ultimate in mass-produced entertainment, the most planned and programmed environment imaginable. Self-discovery and spontaneity work about as well at Disneyland as they do on your tax return.”

The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland offers advice and plans for getting your family on the most rides without spending crazy amounts of time in line. When we stuck with the guide’s advice, we rode favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain in record time. When we digressed from the plan, we waited in line for 45 minutes in the hot sun for the Peter Pan ride with whiny children.

Here is the advice from The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland that served us especially well.

Disney tips for families | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Plan for more than one day in the parks

The Unofficial Guide recommends three to five days in the parks, with a minimum of one day per park. We purchased a 5-for-the-price-of-3-day deal. After the fourth day even our kids were Disneyed out and we went to the beach on our last day. We didn’t see and ride everything, but we were able to ride nearly all of our favorites at least twice.

You can see Disneyland in one day if you prioritize and hit the park hard from open ’til close. I did it that way when I was single, but it would be hard with young children. Purchasing a park-hopper admission for only one day is a waste of money because you just can’t get your money’s worth in both Disneyland and California Adventure in a single day.

Unofficial guide to Disneyland

Arrive 30 minutes before opening

Disneyland does not open at the same time every day. The week we visited, the park opened at three different times in four days. California Adventure typically opens later. Get the schedule for the days you’ll be visiting and plan to get in line 30 minutes before the park opens. I know you want to sleep in on your vacation, but this is so worth it. You’ll avoid big lines for your top-priority rides before the sleep-in crowd arrives.

unofficial guide to Disneyland

Fast-loader vs. slow-loader

Once you understand this concept, it’ll change your amusement park strategy forever. Everyone knows (or should) that you need to get in line for the popular rides early to beat the crowds. Take that one step further by paying attention to the difference between fast-loading and slow-loading rides.

Fast-loading rides, like Indiana Jones or It’s a Small World load continuously. The line never stops moving, so you won’t spend as much time in it, particularly if the ride is not very popular.

On the other hand, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Mad Tea Party are slow-loaders. The ride loads a limited number of people, runs its course, and then unloads those people before the line moves again. You could spend an unreasonably long time waiting for beloved rides like Dumbo.

The bottom line:

  • Visit your top-priority popular slow-loaders first.
  • Visit popular fast-loaders next.
  • Save less-popular fast loaders for the crowded time of day.

The plans in The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland use this logic, the park layout and FastPass to save people like us from standing in line and criss-crossing the park unnecessarily. We followed the 2010 guide’s Two-Day Plan A and the California Adventure One Day Plan and rode all of our priority rides before lunch every day. That left our afternoons open to ride the less popular rides, see parades and shows and buy mouse ears.

Four straight days in Disneyland is fun, but it is also exhausting. We left the park every day at dinner time so we could have the energy to arrive at 7:30 the next morning. We skipped fireworks and the new World of Color show, which are also great Disney experiences. Some families will make different choices, but beating the crowds in the morning was a priority for us and that decision paid off.

We had a great Disneyland vacation with our children and I wouldn’t do anything differently. Having a plan saved us so much time in line that we were able to enjoy visiting Disneyland during peak season. We cherish those Disney memories with our kids and look forward to another Disney vacation before too long.

Planning a Disney trip?

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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.

23 Comments

  1. Great tips! I had never thought about the fast loader vs. slow loader concept. You are right! That will change the way we visit Disneyworld later this year.

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  2. We love, love, love The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland (and the Disneyworld version, too). My husband actually drags us to the entrance 45 minutes before opening just to beat all the other folks who read The Unofficial Guide. Once, we were the very first people through the castle. When we visited Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, we applied the same principles.

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    • That’s so funny that you try to beat the other Unofficial Guiders! I also love that the guide actually told us which line is shortest – #13 because it’s blocked by a tree. It really does work though, and once you figure out the principles behind it, they work at every amusement park. I’m so glad to know you are a fan too!

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  3. We love Disney, but 5 days at Disneyland/DCA I could see being rough. Now at Disney World, bring it on.

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    • We were tired and overstimulated after four days in Disneyland. We haven’t visited Disneyworld yet, and its many parks, but I’ve heard it’s great. Orlando is one of our short-list destinations.

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  4. So what are your recommendations for hotels?
    And where to buy tickets. Drive or fly… from say…. north Dakota and are there package deals? If so where do you get them? For those of us who have never traveled as a family, let alone to Disneyland, about how much does it cost. .. roughly?

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    • The Unofficial Guide (which may be available in your local library) has detailed answers to lots of these questions. Here are my short answers. There are LOTS of hotels near Disneyland, including lots of family-friendly budget chains. Some have extra space so larger families can all stay in one room. Anaheim has a good shuttle system, which may save you parking or car rental fees if you stay at one of the hotels it serves. Driving from North Dakota might be less expensive than flying, but you may also spend more time on the road than the park and still pay hotel, food and fuel expenses for the extra travel days. You may want to look at your options for both Disneyland and Disney World, since ND is in the middle. Check http://www.getawaytoday.com for package deals and to get an idea of how much the trip might cost for your family. http://www.mousesavers.com also specializes in Disney deals. To get the best prices and avoid crowds, visit during the off-season, such as fall or late winter. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions.

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      • Super! Thanks! I found a kindle version of the book on Amazon since our library resources are pretty scarce. That will help!

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  5. My family practically lives at Disney, but I never thought about fast-loading vs. slow-loading rides. Great advice! I’ll definitely consider this concept on our next visit!

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  6. We have one day to get Adventure land done…my child is 10, what are the must rides?

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    • If Adventureland is your sole priority, you should easily be able to do everything there by lunchtime and still have time for other top Disney attractions. The Indiana Jones ride is one of the best and most thrilling in the park – just right for most 10-year-olds. The Jungle Cruise is a Disney classic. The Tiki Room show, the Aladdin show and Tarzan’s Treehouse are also fun, but seldom have much of a wait, so you could loop back for those later in the day. Adventureland has some unique shopping and dining experiences, though I haven’t tried them and the Unofficial Guide recommends finding better fare in New Orleans Square.

      Just beyond Adventureland is Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain, which are all great rides. Head over there right after Indiana Jones and the Jungle Cruise. Get FASTPASSES where possible if the line is longer than 20 minutes. Have fun!

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  7. Thanks for the advice. My family and I are planning a trip to either Legoland or Disneyland in August. So far Legoland admission is cheaper than Disneyland. Do you know of any other discounts for Disneyland such as the buy one adult ticket and get a child admission free?

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    • Disneyland rarely offers discounts as good as those you’ll see for other theme parks, because they don’t have to. If you still need to book a hotel, look for bundle deals at http://www.GetAwayToday.com. We are a Get Away Today affiliate and have a $10 coupon code for Get Away Today and a link at the end of this post. You can also check for Disney deals at http://www.mousesavers.com. Disneyland regularly offers special promotions through its own website as well. If other readers have tips for finding discount Disney tickets, please share!

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  8. Hi just stumbled upon your site doing research for our first family trip by plane (all 5 of us plus Grandparents) and we are looking at either visiting Disneyland and/or Legoland… Disney World just seemed too far out of our budget right now. We live in Oregon and are planning to fly down the week before Christmas. What are your recommendations for a family of 3 boys, (4-10) would Legoland itself be enough and maybe add another San Diego feature like Zoo, Sea World, beach? Or should we try to make a day (or two?) at Disneyland a priority during this trip? Some say just plan to visit Disneyland on a different trip, because it’d be too much to squeeze in on our (modest) 5 day vacation, not to mention we’d be staying in San Diego and have the drive time to consider as well. Thanks for all your helpful advice!

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    • My family and I ended up going to San Diego during Labor Day weekend. Surprisingly it was not crowded! Disneyland is a vacation all on its own. The park is huge, and it tends to always be crowded. Your better off staying in San Diego. The hotel where we stayed was 20 minutes from the San Diego Zoo, 30 minutes from Legoland, and 10 minutes from Sea World. Our vacation was also 5 days long. First day we settled in to our room because we traveled 4 hours by car, so we went out to eat in down town San Diego. Lots of cultural food to choose from. Second day, Sea World, my personal favorite. The shows are great! Plan your day around the shows, you will not be disappointed. Get to the shows a lil early if you want to sit in the “soak zone”, seats fill up fast. If you go on a weekday you can get an adult ticket with a child ticket for free. That’s what we did. We also took in hot dogs, chips, sandwiches, and snacks without a problem. These two combined saved us a lot of money. Don’t forget a water bottle. You can have free tap water and ice refills through out the park. Third day was Legoland. Same deal with the snacks, water, and tickets so that was cool. My kids are 7 and 8 so entering Legoland and going “right” was more suitable for us. If you have a child who is younger and under 4 feet, your best bet is to go “left”. If you get hot in the middle of the day go to Pirates Cove and cool off. Tons of picture opportunities. My kids LOVE legos so this was a special day. Fourth day was San Diego Zoo. Tickets were not too steep. They have package deals if you purchase beforehand. Lots of things going on at the zoo. I personally didnt like that sometimes the animals are either asleep or you cant see them. Watch out for the steep hills. Going down is fine but take the trolly to go up. Still had a great time though. Fifth day we visited San Diego down town some more and had lunch at a restaurant that appeared on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives a show that airs on Food Network, then went home. We decided not to go to the beach because we line in Calif. There’s beaches everywhere. Take good walking shoes! My tennis shoes were a lil snug and I was limping by the sencond day having to wear sandals. However you plan your vacation, I personally recommend Legoland and Sea World. I hope this helped and have a great time, we did!

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      • Thanks, immensely helpful ladies!!

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    • Thanks for your great tips, Sandra! I agree that Disneyland and LEGOLAND/San Diego are easily two separate vacations. You can have fun at Disneyland in just one day, but I would not purchase Park Hopper passes. If Disneyland is your dream, I would plan at least two days there, and preferably stay closer to the park. I am a big believer in arriving before the park opens to beat the crowds.

      You can easily fill a week in San Diego, and we have a number of recommendations on our California page at http://tipsforfamilytrips.com/road-trips/california/. One day at LEGOLAND was enough for us. You can spend other days at SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Balboa Park, at the beach, visiting family-friendly museums, or exploring the city. If you like museums, Balboa Park has a children’s museum, a model train museum and a natural history museum that are all fun for families, plus playgrounds, a train and a carousel. It will probably not be warm enough to swim at the beach, but it should be warm enough to play in the sand. You have lots of great options and I don’t think you can go wrong. Happy planning!

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      • Balboa Park sounds fun and the Safari Park sounds interesting to look into. Thanks for the tips I really enjoy going through your web site. Very helpful! Going back to San Diego next summer sounds good. We are originally from Texas and were returning to visit family during our winter break. You have any recommendations?

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      • Sorry I wasnt specific. Were going to San Antonio Texas.

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        • Hi Sandra. Katie has some recommendations for San Antonio, Texas and will reply to your comment shortly!

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        • Hi Sandra. If you are orignally from Texas, you may know what to do in San Antonio as well as I do, but we lived in Austin years ago and when we took friends down to San Antonio, we loved having dinner on the Riverwalk and visiting the Alamo. I recommend seeing the IMAX movie about the Alamo (shown the in the Rivercenter Mall) before you walk over to tour the Alamo. I always appreciate a historical site more if I understand the significance of the history behind it. I also love visiting El Mercado (Market Square), a 3-block Mexican market filled with shopping, restaurants and produce stands. For other suggestions, you might look at San Antonio things to do on TripAdvisor. Have a great time!

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  9. Thanks for the tips Katie. I’m familiar with most of the attractions for adults. When I lived in San Antonio I didn’t have children so I was hoping for ideas for them. It will be way too cold to take them to Fiesta Texas which I wanted to go to but Ill make sure I check out TripAdvisor. Thanks

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