There’s never a bad time to visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in Southern California, but a perfect Disneyland trip requires planning.

I grew up in Orange County, so I have been visiting Disneyland Resort since I was a toddler. So, I’ve put together all of the Disneyland tips and tricks to help make your time at Disneyland the ultimate Disney vacation.

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1. Disney100 Celebrates 100 Years of Disney Animation

2023 is a special year for Disney as it marks 100 years of Disney animation, and they have a ton up their sleeve, so we start our Disneyland tips with this. It’s now expected to last at least into January 2024.

GO! Their Disney100 celebration continues all year long with the new ride Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, “World of Color – ONE” show at Disney California Adventure, a new nighttime “Wondrous Journeys” show at Disneyland, the reopening of Mickey’s Toon Town and the return of the “Magic Happens” parade.

Additionally, there are limited-time Disney100 treats and merchandise (ears, of course!) if you’re looking for more ways to celebrate. The same celebration is also happening at Walt Disney World if you find yourself in Orlando.

2. Buy Disneyland & Disney California Adventure Tickets and Make Reservations in Advance

A Disneyland paper ticket held up in front of Main Street USA.
You will still receive a paper ticket.

Guests ages 3 and above need valid park tickets and a reservation for the day they intend to visit Disneyland Resort.

You can also buy discount Disneyland tickets to save money on admission for two days or longer. I sell Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure park tickets through this site.

Buy your tickets and then separately make a reservation for the dates you’d like to go to the Disney parks. You can check available dates before you purchase tickets.

I recommend a Park Hopper ticket because the two theme parks are so close to each other that it’s super easy to go from Disneyland to Disney California Adventure. Either way, be sure that you have a reservation and that you are arriving on the date of that reservation. (I’ve seen people at the gates try to enter on the wrong dates.)

3. You Must Bring a Mobile Device with the Disneyland App Installed

You can’t enjoy Disneyland Resort to its fullest unless you download the Disneyland mobile app on a mobile device.

From storing your ticket to checking wait times on rides to ordering food to using Genie+ and/or Lightning Lane (more later!), you will need to access the mobile app regularly during your Disney trip. 

If you have older kids in your party who will split off from you during your visit, this applies to them, too. My daughter signed up for her own Disneyland account so that she and her friends could access mobile ordering.

I was recently in line behind a lady who did not have a mobile phone, and she was having a difficult time ordering food.

The park has free WiFi, so you don’t need to tap into cellular service to use the app on your Disney trip.

4. Arrive at Least an Hour Early

Distanced lines in front of Disney California Adventure Park entrance

Right now, park hours begin at 8 a.m. Plan to arrive around 7  a.m. to navigate the parking lots (if driving) and the security and entrance queues.

Once past security, you’ll get in line for the park you are entering first. These lines move slowly because guests fumble with their apps, reservations, and tickets.

We walked over from JW Marriott Anaheim and entered through the Harbor Blvd entrance. If walking, I still would aim to arrive between 7:15-7:30 a.m.

5. Get There Even Earlier to Be Inside the Parks at “Rope Drop”

Guests are allowed through the turnstiles and up to the end of Main Street U.S.A. or Buena Vista Street.

The end is roped off so that guests can not pass through. Every morning, they will “drop” the ropes there right at opening time so guests near the rope can rush to their favorite rides.

These guests have an advantage because they are already in the park. The strategy is to head to the most popular Disney rides first, as the wait times are shorter earlier in the day.

Which Rides to Try First

If you’re into thrill rides, make it Space Mountain, Matterhorn,  or the Indiana Jones Adventure ride. Hordes of people will be headed for Stars Wars: Ride of the Resistance, so plan your strategy around that tidbit.

Families with small kids should head to Fantasyland rides that normally have long lines, like Dumbo or Alice in Wonderland. Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean are also good choices.

If you’re at Disney California Adventure, head straight to Cars Land for Radiator Springs Racers or Guardians of the Galaxy.

If you are this deep into the parks before most other people, you can clock in a few rides early that you would otherwise wait in long lines for.

Arrival Time & Other Rope Drop Benefits

To arrive in time for rope drop, plan to be at the park gates to go through security 30-45 minutes before the park opens.

As they say, the early bird gets the worm (or rides the rides), which makes this one of our most important Disneyland tips and tricks.  You can also start selecting Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane attractions at 7 a.m. 

6. Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane = The New FastPass

Families ride Dumbo at Disneyland.
A classic Disney ride.

Lightning Lane has officially replaced FastPass and can be used through two different options. The first option is to purchase Genie+, which allows you to select the next arrival window via the Disneyland app for the Lightning Lane entrance at select attractions all day long. At the time of this writing, Genie+ starts at $30 per ticket per day.

The second option is to purchase individual Lightning Lane entrance access for some of the most highly demanded attractions. This way, guests can choose the next available arrival window through the mobile Disneyland app for the Lightning Lane entrance of up to two attractions. The cost of this option varies by date, so be sure to check the app for the latest prices for the dates of your visit.

Both options can be purchased and used at the same time because a different set of attractions is offered with each option.

7. Enjoy Reduced Wait Times Without Disney Genie+

Don’t want to cough up the money for Genie+ and Lightning Lane but still want to enjoy reduced wait times? Consider the Single Rider queue. As long as your party doesn’t mind splitting up to fill in available seats with other parties, you can still enjoy shorter lines at select attractions through the single rider line.

Another tip is to jump into line when the popular parades and fireworks are going on for reduced wait times. Sometimes we also jump into a line right before the end of park hours (looking at you, Space Mountain and Radiator Springs Racers).

As long as you’re in line before the park closes, you will be allowed on the ride. What is more fun than a late-night visit to the Haunted Mansion??

Whether you’re at rope drop or not, lines are shorter earlier in the day. So, plan to hit the popular Disneyland rides with short lines first.

8. MagicBand+ Debuts at Disneyland

A girl uses her MagicBand to enter a Lightning Lane.
You can use Magic Bands to access Lightning Lanes hands-free (Winston Suk/Disneyland Resort)

Those of you who have been to Walt Disney World may be familiar with MagicBands, and they are now available at Disneyland! For those who haven’t used them before, here are a few key features:

  • acts as your room key for on-property Disney hotel rooms
  • acts as your park ticket
  • acts as a credit card to charge at the parks, Downtown Disney, Disneyland Resort Hotels and restaurants
  • use for Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane reservations
  • link PhotoPass pictures of your Disneyland trip to your Disney app
  • unlock dazzling interactions with Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters game and special Disney100 celebration medallions
  • lights up during special moments of the nighttime spectaculars

Prices usually begin at $34.99 per band, but they sometimes go on sale, and of course, you can spend more than that.

While we have used (and loved!) MagicBands, if you are traveling with a large group or on a budget feel free to skip these. There are so many “extra” things about Disney, and this is one of them. You can and will still have a magical Disneyland visit without MagicBands.

The MagicBands you get at Walt Disney World won’t work at Disneyland.

9. Using the Virtual Queue Strategy to Pick Disneyland or Disney California Adventure as Your First Park

Guests walk through Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland.

When you purchase Park Hopper tickets, you’ll make a reservation for the park you’d like to visit first. You can visit the other park after 11 a.m.

Occasionally, a virtual queue will open up for select attractions or experiences. You’ll want to see whether the attraction and experience with the queue is in the park you first enter.

At the time of this writing, only World of Color is using a virtual queue (which you can join starting at 12 p.m.), but as we’ve learned, things can change quickly (and from day to day!), so be sure to check the Disneyland app. 

You no longer need to enter a virtual queue for WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

10. Your Two Options to Ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Stormtroopers lined up during Rise of the Resistance.
This is the best Disney ride ever.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or don’t follow Disney news, THE RIDE of the decade belongs to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. We won’t give away any spoilers, but this fan-favorite ride is one you won’t want to miss, and there are two options for you to get on.

  • Option one: The old-fashioned standby line where you wait with everyone else.
  • Option two: Purchase a Lightning Lane entrance pass for this attraction.

Disney claims prices for this a la carte Lightning Lane add-on is dynamic, but in 2023, the price was consistently $25 per person.

At the time of this writing, Lightning Lane passes sometimes sell out for the day, so we recommend buying your Lightning Lane pass via the mobile app as soon as you scan your ticket and enter either of the parks. Check Thrill Data for the latest information on Rise of the Resistance ride wait times and Lightning lane information.

If you have a Park Hopper ticket and plan to enter Disneyland first, you can select the next available Lightning Lane arrival slot. If you’re at California Adventure first, you can select an arrival window for 11 a.m. and later.

11. You’ll Wait in Other Ride, Restaurant, and Store Queues Outside

Speaking of waiting, you’ll spend a lot of time waiting around at Disneyland parks, and most often, it will be outdoors.

Be prepared with sun protection. Bring a hat and wear sunscreen even on overcast days. We like to bring these portable spray fans for the kids on warm days and a clip-on fan for the stroller to keep the baby cool as well.

We were lucky to visit on an overcast day. But sunshine is a real pleasure and concern in Southern California.

12. Plan Your Meals and Snacks Ahead of Time with Mobile Ordering

Disneyland mobile ordering sign in front of Bengal Barbecue.

The parks place a huge emphasis on mobile ordering. In fact, some outlets only take mobile ordering. Here’s an example.

I ordered a Dole Whip at 1:15 p.m., thinking I could walk up and grab a long-awaited Dole Whip, but the next available time slot was 4:30-5 p.m., over 3 hours later. We recently experienced other similar but not quite as long waits for other food pick-ups around the park.

I thought I could order lunch at Angry Dogs in Disney California Adventure when it opened at 11 a.m., but instead, I had to wait for a noon pick-up time. The first available Jolly Holiday Bakery cafe pick-up time was about 90 minutes from when I placed a mobile order around 2 p.m.

The point of this Disneyland tip is that you can not wait until you’re starving to order food because the pick-up times may be later. Plan ahead.

One nice thing about mobile ordering is that you’ll be given a 30-minute window to pick up your food. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your food has been sitting under a heat lamp for that time. As you walk up to the restaurant, click the “I’m here” button. You may still wait in line for a little bit while they prepare or gather your food.

This brings me to another point. Don’t assume that mobile ordering means walking right up to a window to pick up your food. You may need to join a queue behind people waiting for their mobile orders.

13. Research What to Eat in Advance

Matterhorn macaroon from the
Matterhorn macaroon from the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe.

Disneyland food is actually pretty good. I personally think that infrequent visitors to the park will get the most out of a visit by looking into must-eat desserts, snacks, and meals before they arrive.

That way, you’ll know that this Matterhorn macaroon is one of the best things to eat and where to find it when the hankering strikes. I like it better than Dole Whip even (getting both is better).

14. Bring Your Own Water and Snacks

If paying $4 or more for bottled water doesn’t appeal, you can bring your own water. You can also bring your own snacks and food. They do not allow glass containers.

Some other limitations include that food must not have pungent odors, and you can not bring in alcoholic beverages.

If you have specific dietary restrictions, I would encourage you to bring your own food unless you have a table service restaurant reservation where you can speak to the waitstaff about your preferences. Mobile ordering gives some ability to customize, but it’s minimal at most places.

15. Make Table Service Reservations in Advance

Select Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and Downtown Disney restaurants take reservations up to 60 days in advance.

Plan to make your dining reservations as soon as that window opens. Time slots will fill quickly. You can make dining reservations through the app without purchasing a ticket. But, of course, you will need a valid park ticket and a theme park reservation on the day you plan to dine.

Here is the list of Disneyland restaurants that take reservations. One important note is that your entire party must be present before Cast Members will seat you.

16. You Can Find Adult Beverages at Disney California Adventure Park AND Disneyland Park

Yes, you can find alcohol now at both parks. At Disneyland, Olga’s Cantina in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge serves galactic cocktails, and Blue Bayou now serves wine, beer, and New Orleans-inspired cocktails like hurricanes.

It’s quite pleasant to sip a glass of wine while resting tired feet at Carthay Circle in Disney California Adventure. You can do the same at Lamplight Lounge, Mendocino Terrace, Hollywood Lounge, and a couple of other dining locations in this park.

Tip: One of the year’s most popular events is the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival.

17. Disney Character Greetings Are Back

Elsa waits to greet fans.

Gone are the days of socially distanced Disney character greetings, and we are glad for it!

Check the Disneyland mobile app for character greeting locations and make sure everyone gets up close and personal for their photo op with their favorite Disney characters.

18. Wear Your Best Walking Shoes

A day at Disneyland Resort, let alone multiple days, is a lot of walking. Wear your best walking shoes. Bring some Band-Aids or Compeed blister bandages, just in case. Even the best shoes may not spare your feet from wear and tear.

You may also want to pack an extra pair of socks just in case the ones you wear get soaked on the water rides.

19. Store Stuff in Day Use Lockers

One of my favorite Disneyland tips is to get a locker for the day. You can find them on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure or Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland as well as The Esplanade in Downtown Disney.

This way, you can carry only what you need around the park. And perhaps stash some extra snacks or bottled water in them in addition to perhaps an impulse merchandise purchase.

20. Bring an External Battery

The Disneyland app will drain your mobile phone battery. Bring your own portable charger (I use this one) or buy a Fuel Rod kit at one of the several park locations.

Fuel Rods are a bit of a last resort because one Fuel Rod really equals one phone charge. You need to buy the kit, which is $30 for one Fuel Rod plus cords. Then, you can exchange the Fuel Rod for a new one at an additional cost.

Having your own external battery that can power your phone multiple times over is a more economical solution in the long run.

(That being said, I carry Fuel Rods to theme parks because I’m grandfathered into a plan that doesn’t require me to pay for swaps. They are more lightweight than my external battery.)

21 . Look for the Hidden Mickeys Across Disneyland Resort

A super fun game we like to play on our Disneyland vacation is to look for the hidden Mickeys. There are supposedly 419 hidden Mickeys all over Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.

Need a hint? Check out our guide of where to find a few, then see how many you can find!

22. Stay in a Nearby Hotel

I am a huge fan of staying in one of the three Disneyland Resort Hotels for early admission to the parks alone.

This is when you get 30 minutes early admission to the Disney parks — which park alternates by the day so that you could visit one on the day of check-in and the other on the day of check-out.

Plus, it doesn’t get easier than slipping right into Disney California Adventure from Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

However, there are also plenty of hotels near Disneyland that are within a very short walk. You’ll probably save money and perhaps even score free breakfast or parking. And though we live just over an hour’s drive away, I prefer to stay overnight because we are always exhausted after a day at the parks.

If you are looking for luxury within walking distance, I highly recommend the JW Marriott Anaheim. A full review of this new hotel is coming.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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