Tips for the Parks and Resort Layout
It’s good to understand the layout of the Disneyland Resort before your trip. Especially if you’re a Walt Disney World native, the parks will throw you off a bit. The Disneyland Resort is the title that encompases the three onsite hotels, the Downtown Disney District, and the two theme parks, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. All of these are within easy walking distance.
I highly recommend you look over the online Disneyland maps before your trip and start to acquaint yourself with how the lands are laid out and where the signature rides are located. Navigating the parks can be a tight and crowded affair, so you want to avoid pulling out your park map in the middle of main street. One of my best Disneyland tips is to understand the resort layout and where your prime rides are before your vacation.
The Disneyland park is what some people term and compare to the Magic Kingdom park in WDW. However it is known as Disneyland. This is where you’ll find all your favorite classic lands, Adventureland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Mickey’s Toontown, and Main Street USA.
Some of the signature Disneyland attractions are Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Star Tours, as well as the classic Fantasyland attractions like Peter Pan and the Teacups.
Disney’s California Adventure Park
Disney’s California Adventure Park was the expansion park that opened in 2001. It is located directly across the esplanade from Disneyland, making hopping between both parks easy. In Disney’s California Adventure park you’ll find Cars Land, Hollywood Land, A Bugs Land, Paradise Pier, and Grizzly Peak.
Some of the signature attractions at Disney’s California Adventure Park include Frozen Ever After, Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’ over the World, Grizzly River Rapids, California Screamin’, and Toy Story Midway Mania.
Both parks offer a lot of great attractions and entertainment options, so I highly recommend visiting both.
Tips for Entering the Parks
As I mentioned above, there are security bag checks for the property. These are found at the Grand Californian, at the end of Downtown Disney by the Disneyland Hotel, and near the pedestrian entrances to the resort. Be ready to have your bags unzipped, and to walk through a metal detector. No matter what line you pick, it will always be the slowest moving one. :)
Once you’ve cleared the security check you’re now ready to hit the parks or Downtown Disney. If you’re entering one of the parks I highly recommend getting all your tickets ready. If you have multi-day tickets, you’ll need to get your picture taken at the turnstile on the first day you use your ticket. You’ll also want to write your name (first is fine) on your ticket so you can keep everyone’s tickets matched to the correct person. The photos are used to prevent people from reselling unused days on multi-day tickets.
If you have a one-day ticket, you won’t have your photo taken, BUT you need to get a handstamp when exiting the park if you want to re-enter. This handstamp will then be checked with blacklight when you re-enter with a one-day ticket. If you have a multi-day ticket, you do NOT need to get a handstamp when you leave the parks, so just pick the quickest turnstile to exit.
Once you’ve cleared the turnstiles, be sure to grab a park map and entertainment schedule. These are stuffed in slots at the turnstiles. I also recommend that you immediately put away your tickets in a safe but accessible spot. These tickets will be used to get fastpasses in the parks.
Tips for Fastpasses
If you’ve never been to a Disney park, you might have no idea what fastpasses are. Fastpasses are reservation tickets that are available for most of the popular rides, as well as some of the entertainment options. They’re free to obtain with your park admission and allow you to come back at a later time to ride the ride with a shorter wait.
How you get fastpasses is by going to the participating ride and inserting your park admission ticket into the specified fastpass distribution machines. For each ticket you insert you’ll recieve a fastpass ticket. These tickets will give you a specified one-hour timeframe for when you can return to the ride and enter the fastpass queue. While standby lines can be an hour or even two hour wait, fastpass lines often have little to no waits.
It’s important to realize that you have to wait two hours between fastpasses. There’s a rare exception if the return time for your fastpass is before the two hour timeframe. Say you get a fastpass for Soarin’ at 10:30 am and it has a return timeframe of 11:30-12:30, you can get a new fastpass at 11:30 instead of waiting the two hours from 10:30 (i.e. 12:30). Another exception is that the entertainment fastpasses aren’t linked to the attraction fastpasses. So getting fastpasses for World of Color, Fantasmic, and Frozen Ever After don’t keep you from getting other fastpasses.
Realize that fastpasses are limited. It’s quite common for popular rides to run out of fastpasses on busy park days. Some of the most popular attractions that can run out are Radiator Springs Racers, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, and possibly Star Tours.
My Disneyland Fastpass Tricks
There are some fastpass strategies that are part of my best Disneyland tips. The first tip is to designate a fastpass “runner” if you’re traveling as a group. This is a person who is good at navigating crowds and can handle heavy walking. Runners will then take everyone’s tickets to the fastpass distribution ride and get the fastpasses for the whole group while the others ride a ride or eat. This can save families and large groups a lot of time.
Another of my favorite Disneyland tips is to know that the two parks have separate fastpass systems. This means that if you’re really fit and focused you could hold fastpasses for both parks at similar times. I recently did this by entering DCA to get Radiator Springs fastpasses then headed into Disneyland to get Space Mountain fastpasses.
Some important considerations about this tip, this is a lot of work, and you have to really be mindful of how much time it takes to park hop through the turnstiles. If you end up with similar ride times for both attractions, you’ll be a bit frantic trying to get the group from one park to another. You also have to know that everyone has to be scanned through into each park. So the whole group needs to enter both parks before you can park hop with the tickets to get fastpasses.
Another little fastpass tip: Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblasters offers fastpasses but they’re not hooked into the other system (at least currently). This ride can surprisingly have a 30+ minute wait, so grab a set of fastpasses for Buzz while you’re grabbing one for Space Mountain or Star Tours (Star Tours is the easiest since they’re distributed in the same spot).
Disney recently announced that they’ll soon be offering a MaxPass program for fastpasses. This will be an app feature that will allow you to reserve your fastpasses from your phone once you’re in the parks. It also will include some kind of Disney PhotoPass feature. The cost will be $10/person/day. So for a family of four it would be an additional $40 a day.
Be sure to download the Disneyland app on your smartphone before your trip. The app is the best way to keep an eye on attraction wait times, plus helps you navigate around the park. Do take note that Disneyland does not offer wifi in the parks like at Walt Disney World. So if you have a limited data plan, keep an eye on how much you’re using the app.
The app also helps you see the fastpasses for the attractions. If you click on the wait time on the map a balloon info bubble will pop up. Clicking the bubble will show you a further detailed screen about the ride and the current fastpass distribution times will be noted. This can help you plan which fastpass to get next.
Other Great Disneyland Posts:
My Favorite Disneyland Planning Resources
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CityPASS (Southern California discount tickets)