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Disneyland Tips for First Timers (and People Who Haven’t Been in a While)

Get ready to rock your trip to Disneyland with these Disneyland Tips and Tricks. If you’re visiting Disneyland for the first time or just haven’t been a while, here’s what you need to know!

This year I became a Magic Key passholder, which means I’ve been lucky to go to Disneyland a lot! But prior to this year, my family took a week long trip at least once a year and made the most of our time because we had a plan and knew how to do Disneyland.

If you haven’t been in a while, you might not know that you can’t just show up anymore without a plan and expect to ride most of the rides and have the same kind of a magical day. If you want to really maximize a trip to Disneyland, these are the expert tips you need to know to make the most of your vacation!

Disney Tips Before You Head to the Parks

Making your vacation magical starts before you set foot on property. Here’s what we recommend doing before you head to the gates.

1. Double Check You’ve Bought Tickets and Booked Reservations

Gone are the days you can just roll up to the park and walk in. You need to purchase tickets in advance. I’d recommend using our favorite hack to get Discount Disneyland tickets and save big on Getaway Today deals. They have a low price guarantee, and if you’re going two or more days, they’ll save you big! So get your tickets in advance.

And more than that, you need BOTH a ticket and a park reservation.
As soon as you know your dates, make a reservation for the park you’re going to attend. You do need a reservation for everyone in your party for every day you’ll be there. If you buy a parkhopper ticket you may go to the other park by 11:00 a.m. But you will need to choose one to start with and book your reservation through the Disneyland website.

Disneyland discount Vacation deals tips.

2. Buy Genie+ with Your Tickets

I know tickets already cost a lot, but trust me, you’re already into this vacation and this is the one thing that is the difference of not waiting in long lines and spending your day standing in massive lines.
It’s typically $30 a day per person to get Genie Plus, and it’s worth it! You’ll get to reserve what’s called a lightning lane to skip the long lines and wait in a short line that typically only takes a few minutes or less at a reserved time. Not all rides are included, but most of the big rides with long waits are! This is the secret to getting on most or all rides in a day!

I’d buy this in advance with your discount Disneyland tickets because it will be the set price. Somedays when crowds are heavy, they sell out of Genie+ and often raise the price. Just give yourself peace of mind and buy it early at the set price.

3. Download the Disneyland App

You are going to use this app for EVERYTHING during your trip! It’s how you’ll get into the park and show your ticket and reservation. It’s how you’ll order food.
You’ll need it to check wait times. You use it for mobile ordering food. It’s a map. There’s tons of information about everything in it. You NEED it!

Don’t waste time fiddling with downloads while you walk into the gates. Download it early, get familiar with it. And I’d even say start checking wait times and look at how crowds move a few days or even weeks before you go.

4. Connect Your Credit Card to the App

Wanna grab food easily? You’re going to want to mobile order food, and connecting your credit card to quickly pay will save you so much time and hassle! Input it privately at home or at your hotel before you go to the parks.

5. Review Park Layout and Different Lands

Check out the Disneyland App and pay attention to the different lands. You can locate the rides you’re most excited about, food stands, and get a feel for walkways before you go.

Best Disneyland Photo Ideas and the 20 most Instagramable DIsneyland photo ideas in the park!

The most popular rides tend to have the longest lines, the biggest crowds by later morning until later in the evening, and are typically the favorites for the reason!

The most popular ride with the longest line:

  • Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland
  • Radiator Springs Racers (the Cars Ride) at California Adventure (DCA)

Note that neither of these rides are included in normal Genie+. You can pay extra to ride them with a lightning lane. It’s typically $18-$20 per person.
Many people opt to rope drop these rides. We don’t recommend it! Use early morning hours to ride other rides, and just plan an hour to stand in the long line later in the day. Watch the app for times, anything 1 hour or less is a good time to go.

Other popular rides we do recommend rope dropping:

Disneyland Rope Drop Rides

  • Space Mountain
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Indiana Jones
  • Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railroad
  • Tiana’s (once it opens)

Disney’s California Adventure (DCA) Rope Drop Rides

  • Soarin’
  • The Incredicoaster
  • Web Slingers
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Toy Story Mania
Disneyland dining reservations in front of Goofy's Kitchen.

7. Book Dining Reservations

Let me reassure you, you can grab delicious fast casual food without any reservations needed, so don’t sweat this! HOWEVER, there are some very cool, scenic, and magical places to eat. We love character dining at Goofy’s Kitchen and The Plaza Inn for breakfast. My husband and I love The Blue Bayou that overlooks Pirates of the Carribean. Cafe Orleans is where I request we visit for my birthday meal. And everyone really loves the food and views at Lamplight Lounge in DCA.
These places require a reservation, and they fill up fast!

They open up 60 days in advance, and you can reserve a time then.
Are you reading this closer to your trip? Look into Mouse Dining for alerts when others cancel.

And even if you don’t reserve dining, I’d look at menus for other restaurants or food you’ve saved from Disney creator accounts and plan where it is and when you’ll eat there.

A family standing next to Walt statue enjoying Disneyland in the rain.

8. Check the Weather the Week Before and Night Before

Let me tell you, Disneyland in the Rain is a whole different experience! And a 100 degree day is no joke either!
California weather is mostly temperate and a t-shirt and either jeans or shorts will do. But evenings are often chilly, and rain will change your whole day. You can survive any weather an have a great day! But I’d double check it and prepare in advance and the night before.

9. Bring an External Phone Charger (Buy One if You Need to!)

I know I could lump this into a packing list, but it deserves it’s own space with special attention! You’re going to be using the Disneyland app pretty much all day. You will likely take more pictures and video than you normally do. Phone batteries are known to drain and sometimes even die by lunch!
Get yourself an external charger. We love our Anker brick that will fully charge two and a half phones throughout the day.
Fuel Rods are available for purchase in the park. You can also buy one in advance and exchange it for a full one for free at the parks. It can be a great option if you don’t want to have to charge in the evening.

Disney Fanny Pack.

10. Pack for Success

Plan your outfits for each day. Grab a jacket for chilly evenings. Bring your most comfortable shoes. Even better, bring two pairs of comfortable shoes. Grab extra socks and underwear, particularly if it’s warm or rainy. And make sure you put a little preparation in before you go.
Also, I have to say I am all about raising independent kids! But this is one time I can’t recommend helping kids pack, or at least review their packed items. Even if they’re teens. Remind them they’re walking lots. Make sure they know they may get drenched on a water ride. Help them plan for success too!

Use our Disneyland Outfits and What to Wear to Disneyland guide for success planning what to pack!

One more note: Have a simple small bag to use the day of the park. You’ll want an easy-fill water bottle and a place to store a phone charger. Make sure there’s a park bag/fanny pack along with clothes and shoes that are comfortable for walking and getting on and off rides.

11. Review What You Can and Can’t Bring

Double-check the Disneyland website to make sure you know what is and isn’t allowed. Sure there are common sense items you’d never bring, but let me give you a quick TLDR rundown the things we see confiscated at security the most often:

  • Selfie Sticks
  • Tripods
  • Play Weapons (Lightsabers are okay!)
  • Costumes for teenagers and adults (children are fine)
  • Wagons (check stroller size guidelines and leave wagons at home)

Items people are most surprised they can bring:

  • Your own food and snacks
  • A refillable water bottle

Basically, just know before you go and make sure you have what you need and don’t get caught off guard having something taken at security. It’s always a bummer and slows you down getting into the park.

Disney Tips: The Morning Before the Parks

Here’s how to set yourself up for a great day before it starts!

11. Start Your Day Earlier Than You’d Think

This is one time you actually don’t want to be late. It takes way more time than you’d think to get through security, get your tickets scanned, and even get to the gates. You’re going to want to be there an hour early before opening, and you’ll need to get up and get going earlier than you’d expect.
Set those alarms, lay clothes out the night before, and plan an early wake up time!

12. Pack a Park Bag

If you have a small backpack, a shoulder bag, or something like my favorite Disneyland fanny pack, you’re going to have a much smoother day! Sometimes we bring a bigger one and take turns carrying it. If you have a stroller you can stash a diaper bag or tote bag. But for most people, a small park bag per person is a great idea!

I have this Disney crossbody bag.
My husband uses this shoulder bag.
Our kids have these crossbody bags. They typically only carry water bottles and their own snack.

Here are the typical things to bring in a park bag for Disneyland:

  • Refillable Water Bottle
  • Snacks
  • Headache/Muscle Ache Medicine (like Ibuprofen)
  • Bonine for Motion Sickness
  • Bandbands in case of blisters
  • Credit Card/Driver’s License
  • Extra Phone Charger/cable
  • Lightweight jacket/sweater at nighttime
  • Sunglasses

One more note, we like to pack these the night before so we can get can to the parks for rope drop with much less stress!

13. Plan for an extra 20-30 minutes at security

People tend to underestimate how long security lines can be and how long it can take to go through.

Put your stuff in gallon freezer bags so it’s easy to remove them and let security take a look if you’re using a stroller, backpack, or diaper bag.

And be patient and kind and plan for 20-30 minutes there. It’s usually 5-10 if you get there right when it opens at 7:00. It’s typically 20+ minutes any time after 7:15-10:00 am. And evenings get busy too!

14. Rope Drop

If we could only give one tip, it would be use Genie+. But if we could give two, it would be rope drop.

If you aren’t familiar with rope drop, here’s how it works. Disneyland actually opens it’s gates about 30 minutes early where you can scan tickets and go into the park. The lands/areas are actually roped off and you aren’t allowed to enter them to get on rides until opening time at 8:00.
The people who are there the earliest and closest to the front of lines right next to the rope get the first chance to hop on rides for the day. This can be the difference of getting on 2-3 of the biggest rides in your first hour!
It’s a magical time to go when crowds are the lowest. And rope drop is one way to experience the best of Disneyland without having to use Genie+ for your first few hours.

15. Book Your First Lightning Lane Through Genie+

We hope that you rope dropped and only waited 5-10 minutes in a line. But while you’re in that line, pull up your Genie+ “Tip Board” in the app the select the first ride you want to go on without a line starting any time after 10:00 in the morning.
I’d recommend grabbing Space Mountain at Disneyland and Guardians at DCA earlier in the day since those fill up quicker than other rides.
This sets you up to follow a Genie+ strategy the rest of the day.

16. Follow a Genie+ Strategy

You can book your next Genie+ 2 hours after you book one, or after you redeem your first ride: whichever comes first. By grabbing a ride earlier you set yourself to start stacking Lightning Lanes every two hours and go on a popular ride just as crowds pick up.

We usually grab Space Mountain earlier in the day, and Guardians or Web Slingers at DCA. Those tend to fill up first!

It’s completely possible to book one for nighttime while you’re looking in the morning on busy day, hence the need for a strategy!

We try to grab one we can use about an hour after rope drop, and the moment we scan it in, we grab another one to the closest available time.

BIG TIP: Set an alarm for two hours after you booked one so you remember to keep grabbing them!

Some days we’ve only been able to redeem it for 2-3 rides in the morning. But our strategy to keep grabbing another one every 2 hours allows us to stack many about 20-30 minutes apart for later in the evening.

Just keep an eye out in the app, remember to grab another one the second you can, and keep going with a strategy to space them out so you can go on as many rides as possible with your lightning lanes!

17. Set Expectations Early

People have big expectations for the perfect day, and I’d make sure expectations are set first thing that there will be crowds, lines, and some rides may be missed. Particularly if you have kids, this can be the difference of a great experience or a serious letdown.

We usually let our kids know when we’re there on an extra crowded day we may have longer lines. Even when we go on a couples trip, we adjust to crowd levels and plan to enjoy the day no matter what.

Trust me, this goes such a long way! No day is perfect, plans will change, rides will shut down temporarily, and having a good attitude and expectations are key!

Disneyland Photo Ideas with a family photo in Star War's Land.

18. Let Everyone Choose One Thing They Want to Do

When we wait at rope drop, I ask my kids what is the one thing they want to make sure we do that day. Because there are only four of us in our family, we can usually choose two things. But if you’re with a big group, one may be key.

Everyone has their one special ride they want to experience. Prioritize those first and earlier in the day. I’m typically a save the best for last kinda person, but Disneyland isn’t the place to think that way. If you want to make it happen, do it earlier than later.
That way everyone is happy and the rest feels like a bonus!

19. Stop to Get at Least One Picture

Photo passes are free with Genie+, so you might as well let a professional capture you! I know so many people who rush to every ride and end the trip without a single picture. Let me tell you, these pictures are something we treasure! When it’s all over, it’s going to be your favorite souvenir.
I actually try to get it in the first hour before we’re too tired/sweaty/roller coaster hair blown. Find a time you can spare 20 minutes and head to the castle or your favorite spot and get in line for one!

Oh and ask for “Magic shots” in your pictures. The photographer will have you do a set pose, and they’ll add characters or magical elements to make your photos even more fun!

Disneyland tip- get a magic shot picture from a disneyland photographer. Here's a family with droid added in their photo.

20. Set an Alarm to Get a World of Color Spot

If you’re at California Adventure, or have a park hopper ticket, you don’t want to miss World of Color! You can join a virtual queue right at noon, and it lets your group reserve a primo viewing spot.
Set an alarm right at 12:00 with a label to get World of Color and make it happen!

20. Mobile Order Snacks While You Wait in Line

What is Disneyland without a snack or treat? Okay, it’s still plenty of fun. But I promise it’s a little more fun with even one churro or Dole Whip. Avoid lines and choose a snack o’clock time and mobile order earlier.

My personal favorite mobile order is the Mint Julep and we get beingets and a Mint Julep drink to try. The line is always long, and mobile order pickup takes about a minute!

21. Mobile Order Meals 1-2 Hours In Advance

I’m not kidding when I say once you’ve finished a meal, order the next. I’ve seen families stand in line for over an hour hangry, hot, and so ready to eat! It’s so much easier to wait for food on a ride and push “I’m here” on your app and have it made in a few minutes for quick pickup.

You can always delay your pickup time if needs be, or cancel an order if you change your mind. But mobile pickup will save you so much time and make dining a pleasure instead of a pain.

22. Regularly Check Wait Times in the App

We love to check wait times after every ride. Sometimes rides break down, and the moment they reopen they have the lowest wait time! Occassionally everyone seems to be in one area of the park, and another area is much more open with lower times.

Roll with the app and don’t be afraid to walk around a bit to avoid long lines through the day.

23. Commit to Be Flexible and Have a Good Attitude

I mentioned this with setting expectations, but I truly believe choosing to have a good attitude is everything. I know there’s going to be a kid who blows their bubble wand in my face. Rides do indeed have long waits at times. But just know there’s still magic to see all around you.

And if your spouse is the grump, feel free to send them this post! Yes sir/ma’am, you can actually ruin the day and the vacation for everyone! Time to take a deep breath and go with a flexible attitude that things are okay if they aren’t perfect. And remember not to rain on anyone’s parade and commit to enjoy watching them have fun.

24. Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Nap/Break

We swear by going to the parks at least three days so we can have the luxury of doing everything and still take a break. Some families go back to the hotel to swim. We actually take a 1.5-2 hour nap every day. It lets us leave during the hottest time of the day and recharge so we can stay up late.

I swear leaving at this time keeps us all happy and entire trip more magical than trying to cram in one more ride. Plus, even my little kids can hang hours past their bedtime when we do this.

25. Drink Water

Sometimes we even set calendar reminders to go refill water bottles and drink more water. It’s easy to forget and get dehydrated. That can lead to a headache and fatigue. Even on cooler days you’re going to need to make sure you take care of yourself and stay hydrated!

26. Plan Bathroom Breaks

There’s nothing like going on a fast ride and realizing you need to use the bathroom. If you’re new to Disneyland, find a bathroom or two in the parks you can identify, and anytime you’re near them, stop and use them.
We’ve implemented this with little kids, but it’s true for adults too!

Disneyland Sweethearts Nite Fireworks.

27. Plan a Parade/Firework Show and Stake Out a Spot Early

I know not everyone lives for a parade or a firework show. However, these are where the Disney magic really happens! They have amazing shows with the best music intended to bring on all the feels. Don’t skip these! I can’t recommend Fantasmic, the fireworks on the weekends, any parade, or World of Color enough! They are my favorite parts of our Disney trip, and I’m a HUGE coaster-head!

28. Stay Late for Lower Ride Times and Cooler Evenings

Nighttime is magical with all the lights and sounds! Many people with small children leave after dark. Ride times usually go down every night but Friday night. It’s a great time, and if you can close out the park you’ll have a lovely time with lower crowds.

29. Save Shopping Until the End

We let our kids know our last hour of our last day we will get the souvenirs or items they’ve saved money to buy. Shops stay open later than the rest of the park, and you can find almost everything at the major shops on your way out. Plus, you don’t have to tote around items all day when you wait until the end.

30. Change Your Shoes for the Next Day

If you’re lucky enough to stay for more than one day (which we HIGHLY recommend!), your feet may start to feel a little worn down walking all those miles. It makes a HUGE difference to have your two most comfortable shoes and alternate. I love sneakers with slightly different shapes so my feet have some balance difference each day. It truly makes a huge difference!

We truly hope you have the best trip, and it’s an experience you’ll always remember!

Like these Disneyland tips? Be sure to check out these posts too:

How to Do Disneyland Pregnant

Hotels withing Walking Distance to Disneyland

Oogie Boogie Bash: Disneyland’s Halloween Party

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