Are you planning a trip to Disneyland for the first time and don’t know where to start? Check out my top things to know before your first trip to Disneyland!
This list of things to know before your first trip to Disneyland was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
Lately, I’ve had a LOT of friends ask me for advice on planning their first Disneyland visit.
I realized that even though our family has planned tons of Disneyland vacations, I didn’t have a blog post about things first-timers should know.
So, I’m sharing ALL the things that I wish we would have known before planning our first trip to Disneyland Resort. Keep scrolling for all my tips and tricks.
Don’t have time to read a bunch of Disneyland blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Disneyland with kids.
Where to Stay at Disneyland
- Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa (it’s expensive but has a private entrance to Disney California Adventure)
- Howard Johnson Hotel & Water Playground (the water park is pretty fabulous)
- Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim Theme Park Entrance (amazing water park and has bunk beds)
- Fairfield by Marriott Anaheim Resort (it’s so close to the park, and the rooms are awesome)
- Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn (this is my favorite Disneyland budget hotel)
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How Many Days Do You Need at Disneyland?
The answer to this question really depends on your budget and your passion for all things Disney. I have a whole blog post about how many days you need at Disneyland, but I’ll quickly break it down below.
One Day at Disneyland
You definitely can do one day at Disneyland if you just want to hit the highlights. You can do some rides, meet a few characters, and taste some yummy Disney snacks.
If you go this route, I highly suggest you add Genie Plus to your tickets. This is the new FastPass system where you can reserve rides in advance and skip the long wait times.
You’ll probably want to rope drop in the morning and stay for fireworks at night, so it could easily be a 15-16 hour day if you want to maximize.
Two Days at Disneyland
You can do a full day at Disneyland and then a full day at Disney California Adventure. It’s the perfect way to see both parks and hit the highlights.
If you decide on two days, I still recommend adding Genie Plus. That way, you’ll have enough time to fit in all your top rides.
Three Days at Disneyland
Personally, I think this is the sweet spot. You can do a full day at each theme park and then have an extra day to either do a park hopper ticket or choose which park you’d like to spend the day.
It gives you the flexibility to skip things on your first two days because you can always go back and do them on the third day.
Plus, you won’t feel as pressured to be at the parks all day long. And it gives you more time to do character meet and greets or watch shows/parades.
Book a Family Photo Shoot
Whenever we travel, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND they guarantee that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.
Four Days at Disneyland
This is what our family typically does. We usually do park hopper tickets so we can switch parks mid-day depending on ride wait times.
We have the most freedom with four days and we don’t feel bad if we need to go back to the hotel for a break or if we’re tired and want to call it an early night.
This length of trip also keeps us from rushing around. Instead, we have time to do a few spontaneous things without sacrificing other things.
On our last trip, our kids spent a long time bounty hunting at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and hanging out in Toontown.
Five Days at Disneyland
If this is probably your one and only trip to Disneyland, you might want to splurge for five days.
However, you might consider just doing 4 park days and doing a hotel day in between so your family has a chance to rest. Theme park days can be pretty exhausting.
Want an epic Disneyland digital guide? This is my favorite Disneyland tool and guide!
How to Prepare For Your First Disneyland Trip: Budget
Once you’ve figured out how many days you want to go, you can start working on your Disneyland budget.
Disney trips can be really expensive. I’ve been planning them for years and I still get sticker shock every single time.
It helps to go into the planning knowing that this will probably be a bit more expensive than you initially thought.
I suggest writing down a Disneyland budget that includes accommodations, park tickets, meals, and transportation. Some hotels include free breakfast or free parking.
Then, make a separate list of any additional items/experiences you’d like to include such as Disneyland character dining, Genie Plus, Bippity Boppity Boutique, Disney family matching shirts, Disneyland souvenirs, etc.
What Are The Top Things to Know Before Your First Trip to Disneyland?
Best Place to Buy Disneyland Tickets
From my experience, Get Away Today is the best place to buy Disneyland tickets because they usually have the cheapest price. They also run sales throughout the year. Check the latest Disneyland ticket deals.
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It’s also the best place to find good deals on Disneyland packages that include hotel rooms.
They have amazing customer service, too. We’ve had to reschedule Disneyland trips in the past and they always handle it quickly and efficiently.
Genie+ is a new paid service at Disneyland that allows guests to skip the lines for some of the most popular rides. Disneyland no longer has FastPasses, so this is the system that replaced that.
The cost varies each day, but it’s usually $20-$30 per person per day and can be purchased through the Disneyland app.
With Genie+, guests can select the next available time to arrive at a Lightning Lane entrance for one attraction at a time, all day long.
Lightning Lane entrances are typically shorter than the regular lines for popular rides. But not all rides are part of Genie+.
There are some popular rides that are NOT on Disney Genie+ but you can pay an additional fee to ride them using the Lightening Lane. Lightening Lane can sometimes cost $10-$20 per person per ride.
When you do Disney Genie+, it also includes a Disneyland PhotoPass. That means you get all the photos from that day from Disneyland photographers (like character photos or photos in front of the castle).
You Don’t Need to Stay at Disneyland Hotels
While it makes a ton of sense to stay at a Disney resort when you visit Walt Disney World, it really isn’t the case for Disneyland.
That’s because there are tons of non-Disney hotels that are just as close (some are closer) to the park entrances as Disneyland hotels. And they are typically a lot cheaper.
But, staying at a Disneyland hotel does have perks like entering the parks 30 minutes earlier than everyone else and having your park purchases sent directly to your hotel.
Disneyland vs Disney California Adventure
So a lot of people say they are planning a trip to Disneyland without realizing there are actually two theme parks there.
Disneyland is the original theme park that has tons of classic rides. Disney California Adventure is right across a big plaza. Both are really fun and within easy walking distance of each other!
Main Disneyland Attractions
- Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (Rise of the Resistance and Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run)
- New Orleans Square (Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mark Twain Riverboat, etc)
- Fantasyland (Peter Pan’s Flight, Alice in Wonderland, “it’s a small world”, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, etc)
- Adventureland (Enchanted Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, etc)
- Frontierland (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad)
- Tomorrowland (Star Tours, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Autopia, etc)
- Toontown (Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway)
Main Disney California Adventure Attractions
- Cars Land (Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree)
- Avengers Campus (Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! and Webslingers)
- Hollywood Land (Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!, Animation Academy, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, etc)
- Pixar Pier (Incredicoaster, Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, Pixar Pal-a-Round, etc)
- Grizzly Peak (Soarin’ Around the World, Grizzly River Run, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, etc)
What’s Downtown Disney District?
You’ll probably notice a section on the Disneyland website that talks about Downtown Disney. You don’t need a Disneyland ticket to go there.
It’s primarily a shopping, dining, and entertainment area located right next to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
We tend to pick up breakfast in Downtown Disney on our way into the parks. It’s usually a little cheaper and the lines are a little shorter. Sometimes you can mobile order.
I also have a post that lists a bunch of things to do in Downtown Disney. We usually go there on our arrival day and then spend some time there on our departure day before we fly home.
Research Before You Go
Things at Disneyland are ALWAYS changing, so it’s really important that you’re reading the most up-to-date information.
Disneyland no longer has FastPasses, Magic Mornings, MaxPasses, etc. Do NOT try to use ChatGPT to plan your Disneyland vacation because its information is 3 years old and completely out of date for Disneyland.
And right now, you’ll need to make reservations for which park you’ll be visiting on each day of your trip.
Download the Disneyland App
The Disneyland app is a great resource for planning your trip and staying up-to-date on wait times, showtimes, and more.
This is also where you can make Disneyland dining reservations, mobile order, and upgrade to Disney Genie+.
Check the Disneyland Attraction Refurbishments
Something that a lot of Disneyland first-timers don’t realize is that there are usually a few rides that are shut down at any given point so they can undergo routine maintenance.
It’s really helpful to go on the Disneyland website and enter your dates so you can see which rides might be under refurbishment.
That way, you don’t promise your kids that you’ll ride something that ends up being shut down during your entire trip. It’s a great way to set realistic expectations.
Watch Disneyland Ride Videos
One of my top suggestions is to make a list of rides you think your family might want to ride and then watch YouTube videos to see what the ride is actually like.
I started doing this when my kids were toddlers just to make sure we didn’t go on anything too scary for them.
It was also a great way to narrow down our list and see which rides we were most excited about.
Check Height Restrictions
After you have your list of rides, check the height requirements to make sure your kids are tall enough. This is especially important for kids under 48 inches tall.
Stroller or No Stroller?
Even if your kids haven’t been in a stroller for years, you might want to think about it. Disneyland trips include a LOT of walking and your kids might tire out quickly.
If you have an aggressive itinerary or you’re hoping to race around the parks, using a stroller can help minimize your frustration if your kids dawdle or are too tired to keep up.
Strollers are also awesome for lugging around all your stuff.
On our last trip, both my 6yo and 9yo ended up in a double stroller that we rented from Disneyland. We were able to stay in the parks all day long and our kids weren’t as cranky as when they had to walk the whole time.
However, it’s also really freeing to explore the parks without having to park your stroller (and then remember WHERE you parked it).
How to Meet Disney Characters
One of the coolest ways that separate Disneyland from other theme parks is that they have Disney characters! And there are several ways to meet them.
Scheduled Meet and Greets
Mickey and Minnie each have houses in Toontown where people can go almost any time of day to meet them. You’ll see the wait times posted outside of their houses.
Anna and Elsa have a Royal Welcome in Hollywood Land where they list the wait times.
You can also meet 2-3 Disney princesses at the Fantasy Faire. Each one has a separate place but you only need to wait in one line to visit them all.
Here, you’ll usually find at least 2 classic Disney characters anytime there isn’t a parade. They are typically wearing a specialty outfit (like Disney 100 clothing) or their classic look. You’ll stand in line for each character.
Buena Vista Street
This is where you’ll typically find at least 2 classic Disney characters any time of day (except for parade times). They are usually dressed in 1920s clothing and you’ll stand in line for each character you’d like to meet.
There are also other Disney characters who are hanging out in the parks. Sometimes they are listed in the Disneyland app and you can go find them and wait in line. Other times, they are unlisted and it’s sort of spontaneous.
There are also characters in Toontown who literally keep walking and you can run up and take selfies with them.
Disney Character Dining
Finally, you can make a reservation at a restaurant that offers character dining. I’ll explain more later on in this post.
How to Make Disneyland Dining Reservations
You can make Disneyland dining reservations on their website or on the Disneyland app. This is for sit-down restaurants like Carthay Circle, Blue Bayou, Lamplight Lounge, etc.
We like booking at least one reservation each day because it guarantees that we’ll have a chance to sit down, rest, and refuel. It’s really easy to be on the go all day long and get tired out.
If you’re having a hard time getting the dining reservation you want, I suggest signing up for Mouse Dining. It’s a website where you can enter your desired reservations and they will send you an alert when one becomes available.
Disneyland Mobile Ordering
Another way to dine at Disneyland is to do mobile ordering at the quick-service restaurants. You’ll place your order in the Disneyland app and then mark when you have arrived at the restaurant.
We usually place a mobile order wherever we are in the park before we start walking over there. It’s a great way to skip the line.
Disneyland Character Dining
If you’re a fan of Disney characters, doing Disneyland character dining is a great way to see a bunch of characters without having to wait in line.
Typically, you’ll get a posed photo with one character before you are seated. Then, the characters will roam around the restaurant while you eat and you can take candid photos with them.
Disneyland has a few character dining experiences:
Breakfast with Minnie at Plaza Inn
This is the only character meal that’s located INSIDE the park. That means that you’ll need a Disneyland park ticket that day.
This is one of my favorite character meals because there’s a great variety of Disney characters who show up.
Personally, I recommend reserving a late breakfast here. That way, you can rope drop and take advantage of short lines and then rest and enjoy breakfast.
This restaurant is located at the Disneyland Hotel (outside of the parks). They offer a character breakfast AND a character dinner and you’ll get to see a lot of classic characters like Goofy, Chip and Dale, and Pluto.
We really like doing this on our arrival day because it’s a fun way to kick off a Disneyland trip. It’s the ONLY character dinner at Disneyland. You can read my full Goofy’s Kitchen review.
Mickey’s Tales of Adventure at Storytellers Cafe
This Disney character breakfast is located at Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. It’s a pretty standard breakfast buffet and classic Disney characters come around to your table.
This is a fun breakfast to do on your departure day when you want just a little more Disney magic before you leave.
Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures
This is my all-time favorite Disney character meal but it’s also the most expensive. The food is more upscale (but still kid-friendly) and you’ll get to meet 5-7 Disney princesses away from the table at your own pace.
It’s usually a 2-3 hour experience, so it’s great to do it on a day when you won’t be in the Parks. You can read my full Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures review.
How to Make Disneyland Character Dining Reservations
You can make Disneyland character dining reservations in the Disneyland app or on their website.
Helpful Disneyland Terms and What They Mean
So, Disneyland newbies sometimes get a little confused with terms that pop up on the Disneyland website or in Disneyland blog posts. Here are some of the most common Disneyland terms.
This is when you get in line to enter Disneyland before it opens. They let people into the park about 20 minutes before it opens and you can walk over to the area you want to visit first.
There’s a literal rope there and cast members will remove it as soon as the park officially opens. Usually, that means you can walk on (or have a short wait time) for your first ride of the day.
Park Hopper Ticket
This is an upgraded ticket that allows you to switch parks after 11 a.m. After that, you can roam freely between both parks.
Disney Genie Plus
This is a paid service where you can skip the line for popular attractions. You’ll need to download it from the Disneyland app and then make your selections in the app.
This is what Disneyland calls ALL employees (like servers, tour guides, cleaning people, etc).
This is a program meant for parents who either have a child who is too young for the ride or who doesn’t want to do it. One parent will wait in line and ask for a Rider Switch pass.
Then they can go on the ride (with or without a kid) and then hand the pass over to the other parent who can skip the line and ride (with or without the first kid).
DAS (Disneyland Disability Pass)
This is a program for people who are unable to stand in line for physical reasons. You’ll need to do an online interview or stop by City Hall in order to get the pass.
Then, you can use the app to make ride selections. You’ll still “wait” in a virtual queue for your time to pop up but you don’t have to wait in the physical line.
Talk to Your Kids About Disneyland Souvenirs BEFORE You Enter the Parks
One of the things that Disneyland does a great job of is making you want to spend all your money! I’m always surprised to see just how many things we end up buying and lugging home.
It’s really great to set expectations before you get into the park and get distracted by all the fun stuff.
I know some families give each kid a set dollar amount for souvenirs or tell kids they can choose 1-2 souvenirs at the end of their trip.
For our family, we all love to shop and I factor that into our Disneyland budget.
Oogie Boogie Bash: Disneyland Halloween Party
If you’re visiting Disneyland in September or October, you might have the chance to attend the Oogie Boogie Bash (the Disneyland Halloween Party). There are tons of Disney villains, Halloween music, trick-or-treating, and other special events.
This is a ticketed event (separate from a normal park ticket). Oogie Boogie Bash tickets usually go on sale 3 months before the parties and they do sell out.
Basically, only people with a party ticket are allowed in Disney California Adventure during the party, which takes place in the late afternoon and goes until the park closes late at night.
Personally, we like to get tickets to the party on a day when we aren’t doing a full park day. It works well to do it on an arrival day or a rest day.
How to Visit Disneyland FAQs
Are there any other theme parks nearby?
Knott’s Berry Farm is located about 15 minutes from Disneyland and features a variety of rides, shows, and attractions based on the history of California and the Knott family.
Universal Studios Hollywood is located about 45 minutes from Disneyland and features a variety of rides, shows, and attractions based on popular movies and TV shows.
Six Flags Magic Mountainis located about an hour from Disneyland and features a variety of thrill rides and roller coasters.
LEGOLAND California is located about an hour and a half from Disneyland and features a variety of rides, shows, and attractions based on Legos.
Should I visit Walt Disney World or Disneyland for my first trip?
Disneyland is MUCH smaller and less overwhelming than Walt Disney World, which is why I always recommend it for a first trip.
Is Disneyland park hopping worth it?
If you’re just visiting Disneyland for a day or two, park hopping can really help you maximize your time. It’s primarily for people who want to do all the rides in a short amount of time or who want the freedom to visit both parks in one day.
What are the Disneyland park hours?
Disneyland Park hours vary depending on the time of year. During the peak season, which is typically from June to August, the park is open from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. During the off-season, the park is typically open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. You can always check the official Disneyland website for the most up-to-date park hours.
Is Splash Mountain closed?
Yes, Splash Mountain is currently closed so they can re-imagine the ride using Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog) as the new theme.
Is Disney’s Paradise Pier hotel under construction?
Yes, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel is currently under construction. It is being re-imagined as a Pixar-themed hotel called Pixar Pier Hotel. The hotel is expected to reopen in 2024.
Do I need to arrive early at Disneyland?
If you want to go on a lot of rides with short wait times, it can really pay off to get to Disneyland early.
First Disneyland Visit Wrap-Up
Visiting Disneyland can be a magical vacation experience, but it’s important to plan ahead and know what to expect.
From researching the park and planning your itinerary to packing the essentials and managing your expectations, these Disneyland tips will help you make the most of your trip to one of Southern California’s iconic theme parks.
Remember to stay flexible and have fun, and you’ll create Disney vacation memories that will last a lifetime.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned pro, Disneyland always has something new and exciting to discover.
So get ready to make your dreams come true and visit Disneyland for an unforgettable adventure!