How to do Disneyland (and California Adventure)

There are a lot of blogs out there that seek to equip you with all the information you need to successfully tackle a day at Disneyland. And honestly, it's needed. The Happiest Place on Earth costs a pretty penny to get into and with big crowds forming long lines, a game plan is needed to maximize your time in the park or parks if you also plan to squeeze in California Adventure.

Here’s what you need to know:


If you haven't been to Disneyland in awhile, you might not know about FASTPASS. This is Disneyland and California Adventure’s way to get you on some rides faster, so that you aren't spending your whole day in 60-100 minute lines. Basically, it keeps you somewhat sane during your action packed day.


A FASTPASS allows you access to a specific and shorter line to the most popular rides. Fast passes can be retrieved at designated kiosks next to the ride you want to get on. Hold onto your park entry tickets because this is what you will use to get your passes. The tickets will tell you when you can get onto to the ride. You'll have a one-hour window of opportunity to get into the line.

The best part of the FASTPASS tickets is that you don't need your whole group to be present to get them. Simply send a designated person with all your group’s tickets and they can get a pass per ticket.

The worst part? You have to wait two hours between getting a pass. And they sometimes run out based on how popular the ride is. I recommend getting passes for your top pick ride for your first FASTPASS and then two hours later getting it for your second top choice ride.

Single rider lines

Wait in the single rider lines with your friends. 

Wait in the single rider lines with your friends. 

I can vaguely recall from my childhood that single rider lines were for parents who were stuck watching the baby in the stroller while their significant other rose the ride with the older kids. It was a way to get that last person onto the ride quickly without having to wait in the normal, long lines.

This isn't quite the case anymore.

Single rider lines allow you to play seat filler on some of Disneyland's rides. For some rides you go up the exit and for other rides there is a designated line for you to jump in to get single rider access. Sure, you might still have significant wait times as a single rider, but overall, the amount of time spent in line is reduced significantly. Saving time here and there can help you make the most of your day.

The Matterhorn, Splash Mountain and Radiator Springs Racers are all examples of big ticket rides where you can go single rider. I did the single rider lines for the Matterhorn and Splash Mountain, which both have riders sitting one in front of the other. Since sitting next to one of my friends wasn't an option anyway because of this seat configuration, there was no draw back to going on as a single rider. However, this might be different for Radiator Springs however, which has three people per row, so it might be less comfortable sitting next to strangers on this ride. 

Food and Drink

Water and snacks. Did you know that you are allowed to bring food and drinks into the park? Well, technically you aren't allowed to, but it isn't strictly enforced... or enforced at all as far as I could tell. If you only pack a bottled water and some almonds, you’ll be happier for it. Pack more if you like to reduce costs and stay hydrated as you log several miles on your FitBit.

That being said, you can surprisingly find affordable food options in the park. Grab a salad, sandwich or soup at the Jolly Holiday for $10 bucks, if you opt for a cup of water instead of a soda. That's equivalent to what you'd pay for a bowl at Chipotle and way less than you'd pay at a restaurant in Downtown Disney.

Affordable eats can be found at the Jolly Holiday at the end of Main Street.

Affordable eats can be found at the Jolly Holiday at the end of Main Street.

The Dole Whip.

The Dole Whip.

Another hot pick? The cafeteria style food offerings next to HyperSpace Mountain. Trays of slices of pizza, salads and pasta make grabbing a bite to eat easy and affordable.

If you are only going to be at the park one day, it might not make sense to make reservations at the fancier sit down restaurants. Reservations book up, and it pigeon holds you to a commitment at a certain time.

Want to splurge on a treat? Who doesn’t? Delicious smells and of popcorn and chirps lure you in. For this past trip I let myself have one treat which a friend introduced me to: The Dole Whip. A Dole pineapple frozen yogurt delight. The lines are long because the treat is delicious. Check it out on your next trip (located around the corner from the Jolly Holiday and right next to the Tiki Juice Bar).

Disneyland App
There is an app for everything including Disneyland. While I like the hard copy maps, the app is a key component to making the most of Disneyland. Wait times, ride descriptions and of course the all important bathroom locations are all in one interactive place.

You will want at least one person in your group to have this app handy to check throughout the day.

Heads up, lines can get boring, so make sure you have something to keep you having fun while you wait. Charades apps like HeadsUp are perfect for killing time. They are fun, interactive and definitely make standing in line a lot more bearable. Again, make sure someone has this app downloaded and ready before going into the park.

Make a game plan

This is critical. Talk to your friends and family before you go and make a plan for your day. What ride do you want to go in first? What FASTPASS should you start with? Do you want to catch the parade in Disneyland or World of Color in California Adventure? Then you will want to plan parts of your day around the show.

Make sure to reassess your plan as you go. If one line is really long, decide if it's worth waiting it. Decide for yourself what rides or shows you need to go on or see to make the day worth it for you. You need to constantly balance your needs and wants for Disneyland with those of the rest of your party.

Best of luck and I hope you have a couple new tricks up your sleeve for the next time you visit the Happiest Place on Earth.