First Timer's Guide to Disneyland

by - 7:01 AM


These are our tips and advice for anyone embarking on a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. If you are heading to Disney World in Orlando, FL, we recommend reading our First Timer's Guide to Disney World

What are the differences between Disneyland and Disney World?

Disneyland is located in Anaheim, CA and Disney World is located in Orlando, FL. Each Disney property is home to multiple theme parks, and those theme parks are home to multiple sections or "worlds" inside. I know this may be confusing.

Disneyland is home of two theme parks, Disneyland and California Adventure Park. Disneyland park hosts Main Street with Sleeping Beauty's castle right in the middle of the view down Main Street. California Adventure Park hosts the famous view of the Ferris wheel with Mickey's face and the World of Color show featuring lights, music and water effects as shown below.



Disney World is home to four theme parks: Magic Kingdom (where Cinderella's castle is), Animal Kingdom (think the Tree of Life and Pandora), Hollywood Studios (Toy Story Land, Star Wars Galaxy's Edge), and Epcot (featuring a showcase of many countries from all over the world along with food and wine festivals).

Both Disneyland and Disney World also feature a Disney Springs location, which is an area owned by Disney filled with retail stores, restaurants, and other experiences.

Things to Do Before Your Trip to Disneyland

  • Plan your day(s) and your park strategy in advance

    A lot of your time in the theme park is unknowingly spent deciding where to eat, which ride to go on next, which direction to walk, show to see, etc. Especially if you have a large group or others to confer with. Planning your day ahead of time will help provide guidance and keep you on track so that you can maximize your time in the parks. Spend some time looking over a park map and familiarizing yourself with the park. This way, you will have a general idea of where everything is. If you have little ones, take note of the restrooms and child services. Confer with your friends and family on what they would like to see and do before the trip. It will make it much easier for you to enjoy once you're there.

    Using resources like a Crowd Calendar from Magic Guides will help you plan like a pro. These Crowd Calendars use data from the parks on certain dates to predict the wait times and crowd levels on the dates you are looking to visit. We used this tool immensely when planning out each day in advance based on the predictions. 

  • Make your dining reservations in advance via the Disney app or website.
    Dining in the theme parks is a wonderful and world class experience. Disney's standard for food in taste, presentation, and variety is of the highest caliber. That being said, it may be difficult to get into one of their many popular sit-down restaurants without a reservation. I highly recommend making a reservation in advance. The reservation can always be changed or canceled, if needed. It's better to reserve your spot now than to be out of luck on the week or day of your visit. 
  • Select your FastPass ride times in advance via the Disney app or website. 

    The Disney FastPass program is designed to let you skip the lines at certain rides, shows and events. When you get into the park, you can visit any FastPass Kiosk and select times for those rides and events. Once your time approaches, you can get into the FastPass line versus the regular line for that ride. 30 days prior to your trip, you can make up to 3 of these selections online or through the Disney mobile app.
  • Disney Magic Bands. What are they and how do they work?

    A MagicBand is a rubber, waterproof wristband with sensors embedded inside called a "Touch Point." The touch points allow you to scan your MagicBand to unlock the door of your Disney Resort hotel room, enter the theme parks with it versus a ticket, sync your FastPasses onto your MagicBand so that when you enter the FastPass entrance at a ride or show, you just touch your MagicBand to the sensor at the gate. You can also charge food and merchandise purchases to your Disney hotel room. And last but not least, if you purchase the PhotoPass, you can use your MagicBand to gather your ride photos and park photos digitally. The MagicBands can be managed on your Disney account online (where you can also view your park photos), they come in all kinds of colors and designs, and it makes life so much easier in the parks.

    If you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel or if you are an Annual Passholder, you will automatically receive one. If you are neither, you can purchase MagicBands online or from the shopDisney app. They are also sold on the Disney property.  
  • Check out the prohibited items list before you go.
    We didn't know selfie sticks weren't allowed in the parks until we were in the parks. Read the prohibited items list and park rules before your trip so you can plan accordingly. 
  • Decide whether you want to visit the parks during the holidays. 
    Disney changes their themes, decorations, food offerings, and events based on the holidays. During Halloween, the park is completely changed (check out this giant Mickey Jack O Lantern below). The same for Christmas, there are holiday food options, holiday themed events, and the park is transformed into a winter wonderland. There is even fake "snow"!

Money Saving Tips

  • Purchasing your Disney themed outfits and ears in advance may be cheaper than buying them on the property. Homemade ears and outfits are even more cost effective. 
  • We did not stay on the Disney Resort Properties. While there are SO many benefits that come with staying in a Disney Resort and we would have preferred to for those reasons, we just couldn't afford it at the time and opted for a cheaper stay near the resort area. We used Priceline or Orbitz to find cheap hotel stays nearby. 

What to Expect During Your Visit to Disneyland

Parking is very efficient at Disneyland. There are usually many lanes open, you will have to pay a parking fee to gain entry. Parking staff are very visible and will guide you in the right direction to your parking spot. Parking spaces are larger than average so if you have a van, bus, shuttle, or larger vehicle, do not worry.

Once you are parked, note your parking area. TIP: We like to take a picture of it on our phones so we know exactly which section we are in. There are trams waiting for you at the end of the parking lot. Getting on the tram is easy. Instructions from staff and over the speaker system were clear and helpful. This is where we learned that selfie sticks are not allowed in the park. We didn't want to walk all the way back to our vehicle so we let security confiscate it at the gate. TIP: Check on their prohibited items before you go.

Once you are at the park gates, you will notice that Disneyland park is on the left and Disney California Adventure Park is on the right. If you have a park hopper ticket, you will be able to access both parks in the same day. If you do not have a park hopper ticket, you are only allowed access to one park. If you have a multi-day ticket, you can choose one park to spend your day at and the other park on another day. If you have a multi-day ticket with park hopper, you can visit both parks, on the same day, over the course of multiple days.

We headed to Disneyland for the first half of our day and then visited California Adventure in the second half of our day, with our 1-Day Park Hopper Tickets. It worked out for us because we were able to see the World of Colors show later in the evening at California Adventure Park.


Best Advice and Tips During Your Visit to Disneyland

Be Kind
The park gets very, very crowded. Getting around is difficult to maneuver, it would be even more difficult with a stroller or large group. BUT we found that if you were kind to others, they were kind back. That is the MAJOR key here, people. We let others go in front of us, held the doors open for others, we apologized if we bumped into others, and it made the experience a much more positive one and we noticed the kindness spread like a domino effect. You will be bumped by more children than adults, but do not mind it.

Don't Follow the Crowd
Eat breakfast early, eat lunch later, and eat dinner later to avoid the crowds during popular times for meals. Also utilize the Disney Mobile App for quick service food orders. You can order from most quick service restaurants right from your phone and pick up your food right away without having to wait as long in line.

If you can't hold off, snacks are abundant in Disneyland (and drool-worthy) so you can snack happily until the crowd levels taper off. Trust me, it's way better to wait. You'll have an easier time ordering, finding a seat, enjoying your food outside of peak lunch and dinner hours.

Dole Whips, dairy-free pineapple soft serve. Great hot weather snacks. 

Make Friends
The average wait time per ride is usually about an hour or more. The mobile app also has ride wait times, we found that it wasn't 100% accurate all of the time. We made friends with other park goers in the lines and found that this benefited us greatly because we would run into our newly made friends all over the park and they would be able to let us know things like, "Hey, the Finding Nemo ride is down. Don't head that way!" And it really helped us have eyes and ears all over the park, saving time and distance. 

Obtain Fast Passes for the Colors of Light show in advance.
If you have a Park Hopper option on your ticket, when you first arrive at park, you will want to beeline it to the FastPass Kiosk for the World of Color show (inside California Adventure). These will go quickly so it has to be done first thing in the morning. This is a tip we received from a Disney Cast Member. The best option, of course, is to get this FastPass in advance online. They fill up quickly online as well so definitely try to plan in advance for this one! You will still be able to see the show from general viewing areas, but the FastPass tickets for this show gives you the advantage to view the World of Colors show from better viewing areas, some with seating.


Overall, each visit to Disney World is what you make of it. It really is a magical place as long as people like ourselves keep the magic alive. Be prepared, be kind to others, utilize all of the tools that Disney has to offer, and your experience will be amazing. 


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