15 Disneyland Tips for First Timers

Are you planning your first trip to Disneyland? These Disneyland tips for first timers will help you plan a great trip to the Anaheim theme parks.

Disneyland and California Adventure are two parks that are located at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. They are so close together, making it easy to hop from park to park. The walk from the Disneyland gate to the California Adventure gate is a few minutes and you can easily visit both.

We have visited the Walt Disney World resort and have planned many visits. This was completely different. The process and planning took a lot of research. Luckily I am putting all our Disneyland planning tips together to help you plan an amazing one day at Disneyland and California Adventure.

planning a trip to disneyland with kids

Best Disneyland Tips for First Timers

We had one day to visit both of the California Disney parks and used these tips to maximize our time. After you read the Disney tips check out our full Disneyland Itinerary post to finalize your day.

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: A Quick Overview

Both of the parks have something unique and awesome for families. We love Disney and I knew I wanted to visit Disneyland because it is the park that Walt Disney actually walked through. There is history inside Disneyland and we knew it had to be part of our visit.

Disneyland has the classic rides and is similar to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disneyland has the popular Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area, which is at Hollywood Studios at Disney World.

A few of our favorites Disneyland attractions are: Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, It’s a Small World, Big Thunder Mountain, and all of the Fantasyland classic dark rides.

California Adventure is the newer park out of the two and is similar to Hollywood Studios in its layout. Cars Land and Guardians of the Galaxy are at California Adventure and we have been wanting to experience them since they opened. California Adventure also has Pixar Pier, Soarin, and the Marvel characters as well as Avengers Campus.

How Many Days Do You Need at Disneyland

On our very first visit to Disneyland we had one day to do both parks. Although we did have a pretty successful day, you can read about it in this post: Disneyland Itinerary + California Adventure Itinerary: 2 Parks One Amazing Day, I do not recommend it.

For our most recent visit we planned 2 days at both parks for a total of 4 days. I would say the sweet spot would be 3 days with a park hopper. This allows you to do a day at each park and include a best of day. You can also walk between parks to catch nightly shows or visit the park with later hours.

Where Should You Stay When Visiting Disneyland

I normally recommend staying on-site when visiting Disney World but Disneyland is very different. Most off-site hotels are closer to the parks than the on-site hotels. They are also much more affordable.

On our recent stay we stayed at the Courtyard Marriot Anaheim Theme Park Entrance hotel and it was a 7 minute walk from the lobby to the gate. This allowed us to take a mid-day break and saved us money.

When researching Disneyland hotels check google maps to see the distance for your hotel choice.

Purchase Tickets Before You Arrive

It is very important to purchase tickets before you arrive. I start at the Disneyland website to see current pricing and special offers.

Guests also must reserve the day they would like to visit the park in addition to purchasing tickets. Be sure you do both of these things before you arrive at the gates.

Guests can also purchase Genie+, Disneyland’s skip the line add-on. You can purchase this when you purchase your ticket or when you enter the park.

Download the Disneyland App

The Disneyland App is going to be very helpful during your visit to the parks. You will use it for Mobile Ordering your meals, checking wait times, as well as keep your tickets on. The Disneyland App is also where you will reserve your Genie+ reservations.

Should You Get Genie+ for Your First Visit to Disneyland

Genie+ can be an expensive add-on and is not is everyone’s budget. The cost is $20.00 per ticket/per day. For a family of five that is an extra $100.00 a day.

Guests without Genie+ can have a great day. If you arrive early and take advantage of single rider lines you may not even need Genie+ for your visit.

If it is in your budget and you don’t mind learning how to use it. Check out this helpful post. I suggest you get it for your first Disneyland visit. We purchased it on our visit and I am happy we did.

It allowed us to ride our favorite attractions at rope drop and then again with our Genie+ reservation. There are rides at both parks that are very popular and not included in Genie+. For those attractions you have to purchase and individual lightning lane pass. (Lightning Lane is the name of the line you enter with Genie+ or the individual lane.)

Genie+ also includes PhotoPass at Disneyland. There are less photographers out at the parks than at Walt Disney World, but we took advantage of getting a few family photos while at the park.

Arrive Early

My biggest tip for visiting Disneyland is arrive early. You should plan to arrive at the gates at least 40 minutes before official park opening.

When the park opened at 8:00am we left our hotel at 6:45 and were in the parks by 7:40. This allows you to get ahead of the crowds and be the first to ride attractions.

Don’t let arriving early ruin your vacation if you like sleeping in. Do what is best for you and your vacation but know that if you arrive at Disneyland after 10:00am you will be waiting in longer lines.

Know Which Attractions Are the Most Popular

Knowing what rides are the most popular will help you plan your day at the Disneyland parks.

At Disneyland:

  • Star Wars Rise of the Resistance (Individual Lightning Lane)
  • Indiana Jones
  • Splash Mountain (On Hot Days)
  • Haunted Mansion (During Holidays, Halloween through Christmas)
  • Space Mountain

At California Adventure:

  • Web Slinger (Individual Lightning Lane)
  • Incredicoaster
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout

If you have a Genie+ pay attention to the app in the first few hours of park opening. It will show you the times available for Genie+. If it starts getting later in the day in the early morning hours expect that Genie+ will run out and it will be a busier crowd day.

Use Single Rider Lines

Single rider lines is usually a much shorter line that is used to fill unused seats on attractions. You should expect that your party will be split up for this and should prepare your kids if you are visiting with family.

We have recently started using single rider lines because it saves us a lot of time at the parks. Most recently we used in on Web Slingers because we didn’t want to purchase an individual lightning lane and we didn’t want to wait in a 2 hour line.

I ended up riding with another group but my kids were seated together. You really never know. It is luck if you get together. We never ask a cast member to get together unless it is obvious they can put us together, most try if they can, but it should never be expected.

Where to Eat for Your First Visit to Disneyland

Disneyland is famous for it’s churros and they have many churro carts throughout both parks to try. They even offer seasonal churros at different times of the year.

Overall the food at Disneyland was pretty good. My favorite place to eat was Pym’s Test Kitchen at California Adventure.

Do Your Research About the Parks Before You Leave Home

I always start our theme park plans by looking at a map or a list of attractions before I visit a park. You can read books or do a google search to learn more about the parks. I like to check out books from our local library to learn more about what to expect. You should have some understanding of what is at each park.

disneyland entrance
Entering the Disneyland Resort

Decide What Rides and Attractions Your Family Likes

Every family is different. It depends on the age of your kids and what they like. During each of our visits to the Disney parks our kids interests have changed. They have grown up visiting Disney and it has been awesome to see different aspects of the park at different stages of their lives.

I always go through the ride descriptions and height requirements to see what will work for our family on this visit. During our visit to California Adventure my youngest was an inch short to ride the Incredicoaster.

We decided to save it for our next visit so we could ride it for the first time as a family. There is also an option to do rider switch/child swap where the older kids can ride and an adult can switch out.

A few of the dark ride attractions at Fantasyland in Disneyland, Snow White, Pinocchio, Mr. Toad, can have scary scenes and might be intense for little ones. Do your research on the rides and you will save yourself time and stress inside the parks.

Plan Your Route but Have a Plan B

This goes along with my planning tips for Disney from above. Once you decide on the rides and attractions, I recommend you look at the park map and decide how you will approach the park. Not everyone agrees with me on this one but I write out every ride we are going to do.

Often it may change but I do the work before we arrive so we can have a much easier visit. Planning your route makes for less walking and backtracking, less stress, and more fun as a family.

Always have a Plan B. We noticed on our most recent visit that our first attraction didn’t open with the park, neither did our 2nd or 3rd. We had to go on to the next plan pretty quick to stay ahead of the crowds.

Read: Disneyland Itinerary + California Itinerary for One Day in the Parks

california adventure pixar pier
Pixar Pier at Disney’s California Adventure park.

Be Prepared to Skip Some Attractions

Depending on how many days you have, you may not be able to see and do everything. Even with 4 days there will be things you miss. Prioritize what is important to you and get those things done first.

If meeting the characters are high on your family priority list, take time to plan it into your day and skip something else.

Plan to do rides during the nightly shows or fireworks, often the lines are short. If you want to see the shows that is okay too!

Make a plan that works for your family. Also check ride refurbishments ahead of time to know what will be open during your visit.

Don’t Miss the Night Shows

World of Color at California Adventure was a great show and I was so happy we stayed to see it. Currently you can join the virtual queue at noon for priority seating. This is free and we had great seats in the “wet” zone. Maybe on a windy day you get wet but we got lightly misted and had front row seats. Bring a sweatshirt if you get chilly and take advantage of this spot.

At Disneyland there are nightly fireworks, a parade, and Fantasmic. These are all an excellent way to end your first day at Disneyland. Be aware that paths and Fantasyland are closed during these nightly shows.

Don’t Expect it to Be Like Disney World

If you are a Disney World family you may be expecting Disneyland to be the same. While they do have their similarities this is a different park.

They do have a few of the same attractions but even those have their own unique twists. Pirates is different at both parks, so is Splash Mountain and Space Mountain.

I never get caught up in which is the better park and prefer to appreciate the parks for what they do offer. Disneyland is smaller but it has classic attractions and nostalgia. California Adventure is overall a really fun park.

I hope these first timers Disneyland tips help you get started in the planning process. Check out our Disneyland One Day Itinerary, California Adventure Itinerary, and 1 day/2 parks Disneyland Itinerary for more tips.

Looking to visit Disneyland & Universal? Check out our trip where we did both: 9 Day Southern California Itinerary for Your Theme Park Vacation

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2 thoughts on “15 Disneyland Tips for First Timers”

  1. we did DL in one day and I did so much research to prep our route! We wanted to hit everything. We also had the paper fast passes, and since I dont go on all the rides, I would run around grabbing new fast passes as the rest of my family went on the roller coasters! We didnt make it to the fireworks show, but we got to ride everything we had hoped to – in fact I think we did a few rides over and over. This was on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and It wasn’t that crowded.


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