If you’ve never been to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, then keep reading. I recently visited the happiest place on earth from June 16-20 for the very first time. As an avid Walt Disney World visitor, there were many similarities to the Orlando, Florida-based park, but there were also some differences.
I made sure to do a lot of research prior to my trip so I wasn’t completely lost upon entering Downtown Disney District, Disneyland Park, and Disney California Adventure (DCA). I certainly don’t know all of the ins and outs of the parks (there’s so much more I need to learn and experience), but I definitely walked away with more Disneyland knowledge than I did at the beginning of my vacation.
I’m all about trying to give the most beneficial tips to my followers, so I created a first-timers guide to Disneyland. Listed below are the most important elements I believe someone visiting the parks for the first time should know before stepping inside both Disneyland and DCA. Hopefully, this list helps out Disneyland first-timers!
Now, here’s what you need to know…
1. Download The Official Disneyland App
This is pretty simple and definitely a huge help. Be sure you download the official Disneyland app, which comes in handy if you want to look at park maps, check out dining, link your tickets, search park hours and show times, get attraction wait times, and utilize MaxPass, to name a few.
TIP: Be sure you have a Disney account, which you can create on the official Disneyland website. Always make sure you’re signed into your Disney account when using the app inside the parks!
2. Choose A Hotel
Of course, if you’re staying overnight, you’ll need to choose a hotel. There are three official Disneyland Resort hotels: Disney’s Paradise Pier, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. These hotels are definitely pricier, but come with perks, including being super close to the parks and Downtown Disney and giving guests access to Extra Magic Hours for the length of their stay.
If you’d prefer something more affordable, check out the Good Neighbor Hotels, aka “Disney-approved hotels close to the Disneyland Resort.” There are many options with quite a few hotels within walking distance to the resort area. During my visit, I stayed at The Anaheim Hotel, which was very nice, super affordable, and only a six-minute walk to the Disneyland entrance. For more information about my stay at The Anaheim Hotel, click here. Also, be sure to check out my Instagram highlight titled “The Anaheim Hotel” for more photos and details.
3. Familiarize Yourself With The Lay Of The Land
I recommend studying maps or at least familiarizing yourself with Downtown Disney, Disneyland, and DCA prior to your arrival. There is nothing more overwhelming than stepping inside a theme park and having no idea where anything is. I looked at maps multiple times before my trip, which made things so much easier compared to seeing a map for the first time upon entering the parks. Click the links below for each map:
4. Say Goodbye To Buses, & Hello To Walking (A Huge Perk!)
One of the not-so-great parts about Walt Disney World is the buses. Yes, I’m so thankful that the most magical place on earth provides transportation for its guests to travel between the hotels and the parks. However, sometimes buses can be a huge pain, especially when you end up having to wait a long time for a bus to arrive. Furthermore, you always have to factor in waiting and travel times into your schedule, especially if you have a dining reservation or a FastPass. But, that’s not how it works at Disneyland.
All you have to simply do is walk to the happiest place on earth. That’s how small and close most everything is! To be clear, there is the Disneyland Monorail and shuttles available at certain Good Neighbor Hotels. Furthermore, there is public transportation (Anaheim Resort Transportation or “ART”) you can utilize for a fee, if you don’t want to walk or are a little farther away than walking distance. Of course, there is also the option of a taxi and rideshare services. Disneyland even has pickup/drop-off locations.
For those who need wheelchair assistance, many Good Neighbor Hotels and official Disneyland hotels provide wheelchair rentals. For example, my mom, who recently underwent a knee replacement, needed use of a wheelchair and couldn’t walk to and from our hotel. However, after asking if The Anaheim Hotel provided wheelchair rentals, a call was made and a wheelchair arrived within 15 minutes or so. It only cost $20/day for the length of our stay (five nights).
The wheelchair stayed with us, meaning, we took the wheelchair between our hotel and the parks. We didn’t need to rent or pickup/drop-off a wheelchair every time we entered or exited a park. Then, during our last night when my mom no longer needed the wheelchair, a hotel employee came to our room and picked it up.
TIP: If you prefer to secure a rental of a mobility wheelchair, an electric scooter, or a stroller prior to your arrival, you might want to check out One Stop Mobility or Cloud of Goods. I also know some Good Neighbor Hotels have partnered with One Stop Mobility and the company will deliver rentals right to hotels.
5. Dining Reservations
If you’re used to booking Disney Dining Plans at Walt Disney World, here’s a little heads up: Disneyland doesn’t have dining plans. As for making reservations, you can only book dining up to 60 days ahead of you arrival date at select locations compared to Walt Disney World’s 180 days.
6. Magic Morning & Extra Magic Hours
These are two ways to enter the parks early at Disneyland.
*Extra Magic Hours (EMH): These are just like the Extra Magic Hours at Walt Disney World. You can only take advantage of the extra hour prior to the official park opening if you’re staying at one of the three official Disneyland hotels. The EMH alternate every other day between Disneyland and DCA. Disneyland usually has EMH on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and DCA’s are on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
It’s also important to note that only select attractions, stores, entertainment, dining locations, etc. are open during EMH. Right now, EMH don’t apply to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
*Magic Morning (MM): These are similar to EMH, but have certain restrictions. First, and most importantly, you can only take advantage of MM if you have a valid 3+ day ticket. Secondly, MM can only be used at Disneyland not DCA. MM allows you only one early admission during the length of your stay to select attractions, etc. for one hour prior to official park opening.
During our visit, we took advantage of MM on our last park day and only had access to certain attractions in Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Like with EMH, MM isn’t available for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
7. The FastPass System — MaxPass Is Awesome!
Disneyland’s FastPass service is different than Walt Disney World’s FastPass+ system. First of all, there are two different ways to use FastPass at Disneyland: In-park distribution and via MaxPass. Secondly, you can’t make FastPass selections in advance/prior to your park visit. Rather, you must have your ticket scanned and be inside either Disneyland or DCA to grab FastPasses or utilize MaxPass.
*In-park distribution: Disney FastPass offers paper FastPasses that are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. This means, you have to actually go to a machine to grab a FastPass, compared to using your phone. There are different distribution points near the entrances of certain attractions that list the current return time for that particular attraction. All you have to do is insert your park ticket or Annual Passport (if you’re a Disneyland AP) to receive your FastPass.
After grabbing a FastPass, both your return time and the time when you can grab your next FastPass will be listed. When it’s time to redeem your FastPass, you’ll enter the FastPass entrance and then scan the ticket or Annual Passport that was used to make the FastPass selection.
*MaxPass: The second way is via your mobile device, aka by purchasing Disney MaxPass. This offer costs $15 per day per ticket. You can purchase MaxPass on either the Disneyland app or website. We bought ours online when we booked our Disneyland vacation package.
Since MaxPass is literally at your fingertips, you can grab FastPasses right on your phone rather than going to a distribution point. All you have to do is open up the Disneyland app, tap the “+” sign at the bottom, click “Get FASTPASS with Disney MaxPass,” and then follow the prompts. You simply scroll through the attractions available and select which one you want. A time will also be listed for when you can make another FastPass selection.
After purchasing MaxPass, it’s important that you link your park tickets or Annual Passport to your Disney account BEFORE you enter the parks to help you save time and so you can start making FastPass selections immediately. Here’s how to do just that:
- Open up the Disneyland app
- Tap the three lines on the bottom right-hand corner
- Click “Tickets and Passes”
- Select “Link Tickets & Passes”
- Scan the barcode provided on each ticket or pass
Be sure to link each individual ticket in your group to create a FastPass party. You can only make FastPass selections for the tickets that have been linked in your Disney account and for those individuals who have MaxPass. Once you enter either Disneyland or DCA, you can begin making selections. If you have Park Hopper Tickets, once you’re inside either Disneyland or DCA, you can use MaxPass to make FastPass selections for attractions and entertainment at both parks.
Better yet, with MaxPass, you have unlimited Disney PhotoPass downloads. Those who don’t have Annual Passports can only download the photos for 45 days after the photo was taken. I immediately downloaded my photos so I wouldn’t forget.
When it comes to scanning your FastPass, just open up MaxPass, put the FastPass barcode for that particular attraction underneath the scanner, and continue to swipe until every pass has been scanned. To see which attractions offer FastPasses, click here. Right now, both FastPass and MaxPass are not available for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
TIP: Whether you have MaxPass or not and you want to see Fantasmic (Disneyland’s nighttime show) or World of Color (DCA’s nighttime show), grab FastPasses as soon as possible because they go really fast.
Also, guests that have MaxPass and access to either EMH or MM can even begin making FastPass selections as soon as they enter the park before gates open to the general public. The same can be said if you don’t have EMH or MM but enter a park early (more about early entrance times below). Basically, after tickets are scanned, you can start making FastPass selections, but arrival times will only be issued for when the park officially opens.
VERDICT: I can’t recommend MaxPass enough. We purchased a four-day MaxPass and it was absolutely worth it. Seeing as it was our first visit and we wanted to experience as much as we could in a matter of four days, MaxPass helped us accomplish so much. Now, it may not be right for some people, especially if you don’t want to spend extra money. But, keep in mind: You don’t need to get MaxPass for every single day you’ll be in the park. You can get it for one day, two days, three days, etc. and save money in the process.
8. How To Scan For PhotoPass Photographers
To link your Disney PhotoPass photos into your Disney account, an easy way to do exactly that is by bringing up the “PhotoPass Code” for photographers to scan. All you have to do is open the Disneyland app, tap the three lines in the bottom right-hand corner, click “Photos,” tap “Link Photos,” and then hit “Show PhotoPass Code” for the photographer to scan. The photos will eventually show up in your account. I didn’t know about this and it makes it easier for photographers.
9. When To Arrive To Enter The Park
It’s best to line up an hour before gates open, even if you have access to MM and EMH. Typically, the parks that don’t have EMH or MM will let you enter anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes early.
10. Use Mobile Ordering
Try to use Mobile Ordering as much as possible. The feature is available on the Disneyland app and you’ll most likely never have to stand in line to order food and beverages. Here’s what you do:
- Open the Disneyland app
- Tap the “+” at the bottom of the screen
- Click “Order Food”
- Select dining location and arrival window
- Order your food, confirm, and pay
- Once you arrive at the dining location, you’ll let them know you’ve arrived via the app. You’ll receive an alert once your order is ready for pick-up at the “Mobile Order PickUp” window.
Click here to see where Mobile Ordering is available at Disneyland and DCA.
11. Mickey’s Toontown Hours
Mickey’s Toontown is definitely one area of Disneyland you need to visit. Toontown opens one hour after official park opening. Be sure to arrive prior to the opening of Toontown’s gates, because some characters might even be waiting to greet you. During our visit, Mickey and Pluto showed up and escorted guests inside the town!
12. Important Detail About Disneyland Popcorn
Unlike Walt Disney World, popcorn refills aren’t available at Disneyland. That’s right, there aren’t refillable popcorn buckets. Disneyland has souvenir buckets, but you can’t get refills for $2. The fact that Disneyland doesn’t offer refills was a huge disappointment, especially as someone who loves Disney popcorn.
13. The Perfect Parade Viewing Area
If you want the best spot to watch the parade at Disneyland, then head towards “it’s a small world.” There is a stage-like area across from the iconic attraction that sits above the street, so no one is blocking your eye-level.
I’ve circled the area below on the map. Typically, if there is only one parade running on a day, it starts at “it’s a small world” and ends in Town Square at the front of Disneyland. If there are two parades, the first will start at “it’s a small world” and the second will start in Town Square.
14. ‘The Happiest March Along Earth’
The Happiest March Along Earth isn’t listed on the official Disneyland entertainment schedule, but rather disguised as the “Disneyland Band at Main Street, U.S.A.” According to a Cast Member I spoke with, the show happens daily at 12:30 p.m. It starts in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle and ends in front of the Disneyland Railroad.
The show features the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald) and the Disneyland Band. The characters stroll through the castle and dance as the band plays. You can even march with the characters and the band down Main Street until they situate themselves in front of the train station to perform yet another routine.
15. Where To Watch ‘Disneyland Forever’
Disneyland Forever is Disneyland’s nighttime fireworks spectacular. The show projects images onto Sleeping Beauty Castle and the Main Street buildings. For my fellow Walt Disney World fans, it’s similar to Happily Ever After.
It was a good show, but I actually prefer to watch it on the Rivers of America rather than on Main Street. That’s right, after the first show of Fantasmic!, Disneyland Forever is projected onto the river, which basically turns into a mini-Bellagio Fountains (where are my Las Vegas peeps?). You also get a great view of the fireworks. I enjoyed it so much more here and probably because it’s not as packed as Main Street.
16. Animation Academy Is A Must
In Hollywood Land at DCA, you have to visit the Animation Academy. There are all kinds of activities inside, including Turtle Talk With Crush and learning to draw Disney animation.
The best part is when you first walk into the Animation Courtyard. The main lobby has big screens with images and video clips from beloved Disney films celebrating the illustration process. Music also plays with the footage and boy, oh boy, you’ll get emotional. Be sure to also visit the Sorcerer’s Workshop, which leads into — The Beast’s Library! That’s right, you can actually step inside Belle’s favorite place. It’s beyond magical.
17. When To Watch Cars Land’s Neon Lights
Every night, Cars Land lights up at sunset. All you have to do is Google “Anaheim sunset” and make sure you’re inside the land a few minutes prior. At sunset, the song, “Sh-Boom,” plays as Cast Members dance around and the neon lights turn on. Yes, it’s just like in the movie.
18. Walk The Grizzly Peak Trail
The Grizzly Peak trail is one of the most peaceful places at DCA. The trail, which is labeled “Grizzly Peak Recreation Area,” runs through the land alongside Grizzly River Run. It’s a great spot if you want your kids to run around or if you need some quiet.
19. Meeting Characters
Guess what? Unlike the characters at Walt Disney World, Disneyland characters roam! Yes, you read that right. Most of the time, you’ll just see characters wandering around the parks. There are still lines for those who want photos and autographs, but a lot of the time characters can be seen strolling, which makes for the best interactions.
Hopefully, I didn’t forget anything important, but I’ll be sure to keep this guide updated for Disneyland first-timers! As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
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