Disneyland is so special to me — I grew up going there, then I worked there, and now we take our kiddos. We get asked for our special tricks or secret tips all the time, so I rounded up my very top recommendations and best secret Disneyland tips and hacks! You can use these in Disneyland and California Adventure, so if you’re headed to the Disneyland Resort read through all our tips to plan your trip. It’s one of my favorite places ever (and the happiest place on Earth!), so I hope you have a ball.
What to Bring to Disneyland
Things we always take:
- snacks and water (no glass bottles)
- wipes and hand sanitizer
- layers for cool mornings/evenings
- a thin scarf/blanket for covering a stroller or spreading out to sit down
Working the Extra Magic Hours
On most days, Disneyland or California Adventure will open an hour early to resort guests or special ticket holders. If you have the Extra Magic Hour, use it! You can get so much done in the park when it’s gloriously empty. If you don’t have it, start your day at the park without the Extra Magic Hour that day. Attendance will be lower in the morning because the other park will be full of the Extra Magic Hour guests.
Sneaky Spots to Relax in Disneyland
I always recommend these spots to parents with small kids, but the truth is I was using these spots for a break even before I was married. There are some awesome, quiet areas that are cool and calm and great for sitting down when you’re tired.
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (Disneyland)
- The Tiki Room (Disneyland)
- It’s a Small World (Disneyland) — the ride is about 15 minutes long and air conditioned!
- Mark Twain Riverboat (Disneyland)
- Disneyland Railroad (Disneyland) — get on, sit down, and ride it around as many times as you like.
- Animation Studio (California Adventure)
- Challenge Trail (California Adventure)
- Grizzly Peak Pass (California Adventure)
Companion bathrooms are a total lifesaver if you are traveling with multiple little kids, especially if you’re solo. We traveled recently with another family and at one point I was alone with all four kids (under four years old), and one of them needed to use the bathroom. So we loaded them onto a double stroller, had the bigger kids walk alongside, and found a companion bathroom. They’re large enough to roll a whole stroller in and you can keep everybody corralled while you all use the bathroom. There are also changing tables and sinks inside, so it’s super easy. Check a map or the app for locations.
Souvenirs on the Cheap
Believe it or not Disney parks actually have a few freebies! If you’re there celebrating something, you can go into most shops and tell a cast member and they’ll give you a celebration pin for free (everything from first visits, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and more). There are also a good number of other freebies around both Disneyland resort parks; one of my favorites is a letter from a character that you can get if you run into a bike delivery messenger in California Adventure. (Just ask them if they have any mail for you.) This post has a great run-down of other park freebies.
If you want a souvenir that’s more substantial but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, try playing the midway games on Pixar Pier in California Adventure. It’s $5 a play, and the winner always gets a character plush. So if you wait until your family can play alone, you’re guaranteed to win something. If you’re playing against more than 4 people, you win a larger character plush. It’s a great deal for a stuffed animal souvenir.
The Disneyland App
Whatever you do, be sure to download and use the app! It’s an insanely good resource and capable of so many things. You can check ride wait times for both parks, make sure your favorite rides aren’t closed, find out where to meet characters, check entertainment show times, and so much more. You can actually purchase park tickets right on the app and scan into the park from your phone as well. I love this app so much that I had to break it out into sections. Read more below.
Use the App to Order Food
This is one of our favorite tricks for saving time and getting food on the table fast when we sit down at a park restaurant. Within the app, you can open the menus from most park restaurants, order and pay for your food, and have it ready by the time you arrive. Or you can sit down and snag a table and order while you’re seated. Then you just head up to the counter to collect your food when the notification comes that it’s ready.
This is a total lifesaver if you’re with kids, if you’re in a time crunch, or if you’re just starving and don’t want to wait in lines.
Within the app, you can purchase a Max Pass to go along with your tickets. Max Pass allows you to book Fast Passes for available rides within the app, without having to physically go to the Fast Pass distribution area for that ride. It saves lots of time and lots of steps. But that’s not my favorite thing about it.
What I really love is that it comes with Photo Pass! So instead of having to get a card from every Photo Pass photo that you take with a character or in a fun park location, the photographer will scan your app and then you have every photo you take during your day in one place, on the app, included in the price of the Max Pass. I love this so much because I don’t have to worry about trying to snap my own photos of the kids when they meet characters. We can just get a snap at every photo location, scan it, and it’s like a little digital album of our day.
Rider Switch, Buddy Pass, and Single Rider
These tricks are insanely handy, especially if you’re traveling with little kids. If there’s a ride that the grownups want to go on but the kiddos are too small, Rider Switch allows one parent to go, then switch out for the other parent so you don’t have to wait in line twice.
Buddy Pass is available sometimes for a few rides; we use it mainly at Midway Mania in California Adventure, because the wait time tends to be extra long. Get a Buddy Pass from a cast member near the ride and you can take a party of 1,2 or a small party of 3 (like two adults and a baby, or one adult and two small children) to a special line. They fill in with Buddy Pass holders when there’s an open row, so you’ll skip lots of waiting.
Plenty of rides have Single Rider lines! Ask the cast member at the end of the queue and they’ll let you know. If you’re willing to ride solo, you can jump into a line and skip the general wait. They’ll use you to fill any empty single seats.
Opening & Closing
If you’re like us and want to make the most of your day, definitely get to the park before the opening time that’s listed. Security usually takes 10-20 minutes in the mornings, as does the actual line to get into the park. Often, you can get into both Disneyland and California Adventure ahead of the opening time, and hang out in either Main Street or the Buena Vista Street area. Then at the actual park opening time, they’ll do a “rope drop” and you can access the full park. But it gives you a major head start to be inside at opening, and the parks are the most calm in the early morning and late evening hours.
At the end of the day, if you’re still on your feet, you can make sure to hop in a ride line and cast members will allow you to stay in the park until you complete that ride, then usher you out.
Getting the Most out of Your Disneyland Trip
No matter what you do, head into your day at Disneyland with a few main goals and plan your day around those. Then everything else will just be icing on the cake. There’s so much to see and do, and sometimes just meandering around leads you to some truly magical moments.
If you have any specific questions, I’m all ears! (Get it? All ears?) 😉 xoxo