If you’ve never been to Disneyland, or you only have one day, you may not know where to start. Can you do Disneyland in a day? We go through our strategies for a perfect day in Disneyland.
You’re ready for your day in Disneyland. Let us help you make a game plan to get the most into your day. We always start with Disneyland on our first day, whether or not we have a park hopper. Be prepared to go through a security checkpoint, including bag check and metal detectors, before entering the resort area. It helps expedite the process to unzip backpacks and start unloading any bags. Make sure that you don’t have any glass (or weapons – lol). Firearms are prohibited, even if you have a license, in the Disneyland Resort area, including Downtown Disney.
This is what a typical first day looks like for us:
Open the Park
We recommend always going for opening whether you only have one day or five days to spend in the park. While this may seem difficult, we promise you, it is absolutely worth it. Side note – we prepare as much the night before as possible so we can just roll out in the morning. This means laying out clothes, packing the stroller or backpacks with all non perishables, organizing which snacks to take from the fridge, charging any cameras and having them ready to grab. All of these things on their own don’t take long but can really stall you in the morning.
Aim to even be there about a half hour before the park opens. This means that in reality you’ll arrive fifteen minutes early. The line up to get in to the park can take awhile, since Cast Members now take your picture if you have a multi-day pass on your first day (which prevents people from selling their multi-day passes after using one or two days).
For your first day, BRING YOUR PASSPORT if you are Canadian and are using the Canadian discounted tickets. We have heard of several stories (seriously so many) of people being turned back to their hotels to get their passports. (*Danielle, hehe) Don’t waste your time like I did! JUST DON’T DO IT! Even children need their passports for the first day if they have a park ticket.
Where to start in the Park
So, now you’re in the park, but you’re still ten minutes early. Don’t forget to grab a map and the showtimes guide (or you can find all of that plus live wait times on the official Disneyland app). When you walk through the gates you will see the Mickey Mouse face garden. You then have the choice to go to the left or the right. Both feed onto Main Street so choose the path of least resistance.
There are characters around the beginning of main street that you can line up and take your photos with. If it’s not important, wave and keep going! Before the park officially opens is a great time to get a photo of your group in front of the Mickey Garden or the castle. Don’t wait, get the photo done right away. You know, before your hair gets wet and the heat makes your face melt.
The shops are also open, so don’t think that if you’re early that you’ll just be standing around. Mosey your way down Main Street. Check out the windows in the store fronts, they are spectacular. If you’re early enough, you will eventually be stopped by a rope. Once the park opens, there will be an announcement, and BAM! The magic begins.
For whatever reason, starting LEFT makes all the difference. Typically you will see people head straight to Peter Pan’s Flight, which we don’t recommend. Our families tradition is always to do The Pirates of Caribbean, which you can walk right on.
It’s nice to start the day with a ride that literally everybody can go on. It’s a large capacity ride, so if you’re with a large group you can ride together (party of 19 please). Then go to Adventureland for Indiana Jones, Tarzan’s Treehouse and Jungle Cruise. After that, you can head to Critter Country.
The Winnie the Pooh ride is all the way at the exit of Splash Mountain, which is a fantastic gentle ride for your littles. If you don’t want to get wet at 9 am, Fast Pass Splash Mountain for later. During the hottest time of the day, we see the line jump from a ten minute wait to 90-120 min. Try and get a fast pass for 12 pm – 4 pm (when it’s hottest). You’ll only have to wait a short time when you’re sweltering, and it gives you time to dry off. We have often been able to do all of Critter Country, Frontierland, New Orleans square AND Adventureland before lunch. This pace doesn’t last all day since the park tends to fill up as the day goes on but you feel like you accomplished so much.
On days that we know are going to be high volume days, we have sometimes hit all of the “big” rides in the morning (For groups with older kids or adults). This means a little bit more walking as the big rides (aka the “mountains”) are a bit more spread out, but since the morning’s are so much quieter, you can usually get through all of them. Then we make our way methodically through the sections to avoid going back and forth. If you’ve done the big rides, you tend to be a little more relaxed because it gets that drive out of the way. If you are going to try and hit up the big rides, don’t forget to Fast Pass your favorites so you can ride again later.
Galaxy’s Edge edition has changed how we do the order of things. Keep in mind most people are going to head there right away… and note that currently only Smugglers Run is open… all bets are off when Rise of the Resistance opens in January 2020.
There will likely be boarding groups again, and long lines. For now, check out everything you need to know about Galaxy’s Edge in our separate post here.
When we went in the summer, we headed there after our usual LEFT SIDE rides and it wasn’t long, and we had a wonderful lunch.
It’s important to decide what your group’s priorities are for the day. If it’s to get as many rides done as possible, stick with starting on the left side of the park (Adventureland, Frontierland, Critter Country, New Orleans square) to right (Fantasyland, Toon Town, Tomorrowland) and once you’ve completed the park, hit your favorites back up . Rides that are worth Fast Passing are Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, and Star Tours. That doesn’t mean don’t Fast Pass the other rides, but I’ve just found that those are the rides with the longest wait times.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is often a speedy lineup, as is the Matterhorn (Go left, not right… the track is faster due to more drops). This is a fam favorite and I like to be able to do both… be sure to do this after dark for a totally different experience if it’s a fave! And after dark, sometimes the lineup is none existent. My friend and I went on twice in a row, because the lineup was only 5 minutes (almost unheard of for the Matterhorn!)
By the afternoon, all lines are fairly long. This is why we encourage you to get to the park at opening, so that you get more done earlier in the day.
If you would like to do rides and shows, now is the time to watch a parade or Mickeys Magical Map (Bonus: it’s in the shade). We love to find ways to multitask, so if you’re bringing in a packed lunch or snacks, you can eat all you want and get a wonderful show to boot!
Typically we do not head back to the hotel for naps/pool time.
When our kids were 3 and 6 we found they were having meltdowns no matter what we did, so going back for a quick swim reset them. Keep in mind that also means showering and shampooing before going back. We didn’t want to waste too much time away from the park so we tried to keep it to 2 hours total (usually 3-5pm).
We didn’t do this on our first or last disney day. That trip we had a 5 day pass for an 8 day trip. The days in the middle were when we found the kids melted down. I find it takes so much effort getting out for the day, that by the time you head back, crash in the hotel, and pack back up for the park, you’ve lost a good chunk of the day. So if you have nappers, once they’ve fallen asleep, sit down and grab a coffee, or meander through the stores.
Another great way to beat the crowds and the heat of the afternoon is to try the long, air conditioned rides. Re-visit Pirates or try out It’s A Small World. Both of these rides are large-group friendly and 15 mins of sitting and resting your feet in a cool environment. If you are going with older kids or teens they may grumble and complain about It’s a Small World but tell them they can take a nap! It’s a great re-charge and we always encourage people to try everything at least once.
Speaking of naps, another favourite napping spot is the Tiki room. You know, the place where they sell the dole whip. There are actually 2 sides to the doll whip counter. One on the outside (which is always a loooooong line) and one inside the Tiki room waiting area. The show is about 15-20 mins long, so while you are waiting for the next show, snack on this MUST try Disney classic treat.
Maximizing Fast Passes
If you only have the 1 day in the park you want to make sure to maximize use of your Fast Pass. What this looks like is making sure to Fast Pass the MUST rides. You want to make sure and do that earlier in the day rather than later, as there is a finite amount. To keep you from running around the park in a flap, try and Fast Pass rides close together.
In the morning, Fast Pass Splash Mountain and Indiana Jones first. In fact I would cut through Adventureland to get to Pirates of the Caribbean and FP Indiana on the way. Big Thunder is in the same area. The nice thing about that is that you can get on the rides quickly right away and then ride them again later with the Fast Pass.
At dinner, you’ve most likely hit up everything in the park. This is the time to take a Tylenol/Ibuprofen. Seriously, Disney 16 hour days are 3 coffee days. Start with a travel french press (you can bring it into the park) and then hit up the Starbucks in the afternoon and right after dinner. You can GET stars at Starbucks but not use them. My husband and I have been known to save money by getting a quad Venti drink and asking for double cups… saves about $4 a visit and is max caffeine with min liquid to reduce bathroom stops!
Also bringing an Iced Via into the park with you can be a huge lifesaver (not to mention money saver!) All you need is cold water, which you can get from any restaurant even if you don’t buy anything! Plus some places have creamers or sugars you can use, though you can get flavoured Iced Vias which are naturally sweet as well.
Now when when it comes to bathroom breaks, we have a family rule. If one person has to go, everyone goes. This may seem juvenile, but let me tell you. The last place you want to spend your time in Disneyland is waiting around at the washrooms. This rule does seem to reduce the amount of bathroom stops. Disregard if you have potty training toddlers in your group.
Check in with your group about what everyone still wants to do. With large groups we’ve often split up, in the afternoon or early evening because everyone has a separate list of things they want to do. This is a great time to do fantasyland. Typically the line ups seem to dip down a bit after dinner. Hit up your favorite rides one last time before you leave.
As far as nightime in Disneyland goes, it’s pure magic. Fantasmic is incredible (a nighttime show on the Rivers of America in Frontierland) which you can Fast Pass (apart from regular Fast Passes).This means that you can fast pass it and immediately fast pass a ride too. For more info on Fast Passes, follow this link.
You’ll want to show up early for the shows, or fireworks to get a good spot. Grab a snack and have a seat. Some people wait hours ahead for a spot. We have always been able to find a good spot closer to when the show is actually starting. About 10 mins before it starts, the staff will ask everyone to stand and move in. This creates a bunch more room.
Sometimes with smaller children, because everyone is standing, it’s hard for them to see. We will usually lift them up to get a better view (not on shoulders- remember someone else is probably behind you and would also like to see). It’s not uncommon for adults to let your medium height kids to come closer so they can see better but this is of course not a guarantee.
On nights when you aren’t staying to watch Fantasmic or the fireworks, this is a great time to get in some rides. Fantasyland and Toon town are closed at this time. Remember, during the shows the areas closest to them will be quite congested, so if you can avoid them, try to. If not, there are Cast members keeping everyone moving, but once the show is out it’s a gong show! Especially when trying to leave the park during or immediately after the fireworks.
If you’ve made it to close, you can get in line at most attractions a couple minutes before close, because they close the entrance to the lines at closing time, and do not turn people away from the attractions. I’ve found the lines go quite quickly, and have noticed that management often is helping get people on and off rides as quickly as possible.
After your last ride, take in the beauty of the twinkling lights in the dark night sky. Main street shopping is open an additional hour after park closing.This is a great time to buy any souvenirs or that candy apple you’ve been eyeing all day. Take a last deep breath of the magical air. And try and hold on to the magic until next time, whether it be the next day or the coming years.
Just like that, you’ve done Disneyland in a Day! Stay tuned for how to do DCA in a day.