Standing in Main Street, Disneyland, we had to pinch ourselves—we were finally in the Happiest Place on Earth! Our first Disneyland visit was in late May, and the crowds were fairly large, so we decided not to overplan our days and just took it as it came. And we’re so glad we did, as it meant less stress for everyone!
We spent two days at Disneyland, with one day at Disney California Adventure Park in between, but we easily could have doubled that and still not seen everything (if we’d had the energy, that is!). These are the things we did that made our days as full as possible, and ensured we saw everything we wanted to on our first Disneyland visit.
Planning your days at Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure
Disneyland Resort in Anaheim consists of two parks—Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Both parks’ main entrance gates face each other in a central piazza that also leads to an entrance to Downtown Disney (a shopping and dining district that does not require a ticket for entry), parking garages, taxi ranks and bus stops.
Depending on your ticket type, you will likely have access to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks throughout your visit. A ‘Hopper’ ticket will allow your family to visit both parks in the one day, moving between them as you wish, whereas a standard ‘one park per day’ ticket means you will need to pick one park only for each day of your visit.
1. Make a Must Do list and a Want To Do list
Whether you choose to hit up Disneyland on your first day, or Disney California Adventure, we found that making a list of MUST DO rides and attractions helped us to focus on those things each member of the family felt they could not miss. We then compiled a WANT TO DO list, which included things we’d still really like to see and do, but would not be devastated by not doing. Consider the following when making your lists – rides and attractions, photo opportunities, shows and parades, and must-try foods (there are so many unique to Disneyland foods—the Lightsaber Churros have to be seen to be believed!).
There are many Disneyland planning sites that will help you work out the things your family will enjoy the most on your first visit (one of our favourites is Disneyland Daily – Casey has so much knowledge, and is always willing to answer questions). We found that our list technique meant less stress for everyone (especially Mum and Dad!), as we were able to enjoy the time spent walking around the park rather than racing from one thing to the next. There’s a lot to be said for simply soaking it all in on your first Disneyland visit—it truly is a magical experience!
2. What to take
A backpack is an absolute godsend in Disneyland, but you really need to make sure you a) don’t make it too heavy, and b) don’t take in anything that may be confiscated at the security gates prior to entry. This is an example of the contents of our backpack for each day in Disneyland:
- Camera and/or phone – essential to capture those once-in-a-lifetime moments at the Happiest Place on Earth!
- Spare camera and phone batteries
- Refillable water bottles – there are many water fountains throughout the park (we loved the economical Bobble filtered bottles, which meant we could fill with tap water and drink filtered water on the go)
- Hats and sunscreen – a given in the Californian sunshine
- Autograph books – make your own, or buy one in the park
- Jackets – even in the warmer months it can get chilly at night, so if you’re planning on being in the parks into the evenings, then a jacket will come in handy.
We also found that lanyards to hold our tickets came in very handy. Again, you can buy these in advance, or choose from one of the dozens of designs available in the park. To access the FastPass system within the park (see more below) you will need to scan each ticket, so it’s great to have them handy in a pocket on your lanyard. Lanyards are also great for displaying your park button souvenirs (be sure to ask at any store within the park for your ‘First Visit’ badge, or a birthday badge if someone in the family is lucky enough to be spending their special day in Disneyland – they will be wished happy birthday countless times throughout the day).
3. Strollers and Prams
Strollers are available to hire in the parks, which come in super handy for younger children (even those who may not regularly ride in a stroller any more, as it’s a BIG place!) and for ferrying around your belongings and purchases. Just visit the stroller hire office adjacent to the Disneyland main gate before entry and you’ll be set. Of course, you can bring your own stroller or pram, though it will be subjected to a thorough inspection at park security before you enter the parks. Another great stroller option is to ask your Anaheim hotel if they can organise hiring one from a hire company and have it ready for you upon arrival (they even have double strollers if you need them!). Stroller parking is available outside many of the attractions and rides in the park, though a word from the wise—don’t leave anything valuable in your stroller unattended.
4. Download the Disneyland App
We found the Disneyland app to be invaluable. It saved us pulling out paper maps of the park to find our way around, and it showed us wait times for the rides. On the app you can even locate your favourite characters in the park! The app also features performance times for the various shows and parades throughout both parks. Installing the app on your phone before you hit the parks for the first time will help you immensely.
5. The Disneyland FastPass system
Disneyland’s Fast Passes are an awesome way to ensure you get through your Must Do and Want To Do lists! Basically, FastPasses allow you to lock in a one hour window to return to a ride or attraction (or access a specific reserved area for one of the shows). With your FastPass, you can return to the attraction within the stated timeframe and join the much shorter FastPass queue to access priority entry to the ride.
Available on selected rides and attractions, a FastPass can be obtained manually by scanning your ticket at the FastPass machine near the entrance to the ride, or digitally on your mobile device by pre-purchasing a Disney MaxPass (see below). The earlier you grab your FastPass, the earlier your return time will be; though be aware that allocation of FastPasses for the popular attractions is exhausted quickly! Everyone can access the free FastPass system, so it pays to plan ahead and prioritise grabbing a fast pass for the super popular attractions very early in the day. You can only hold one FastPass for a ride at any one time, though you can hold one FastPass for a show (eg. World of Colour) at the same time as holding a FastPass for a ride. Visit https://disneyland.disney.go.com/au/plan/guest-services/fastpass/ to find out more about the FastPass system.
6. Disney PhotoPass
The Disney PhotoPass allows you to pre-purchase all of the photos taken of your family by professional photographers roaming the park, and access them digitally at a later date. Spending 3 days in the parks, and with 8 people in our group, we found the PhotoPass to be a great investment. Our photo collection includes professional photos in front of the Walt and Mickey statue with the castle in the background, character interaction shots, ride photos, and ‘Magic Shots’. Magic Shots are photos where a professional Disney photographer will set you up for a photo and then add a touch of magic in the editing. Magic Shot ideas include having Tinkerbell sit in the palm of your hand and one member of your party floating away with a bunch of balloons, and should definitely be on your must do list—just ask a Disney photographer in the park and they will do the rest. These photos make a wonderful memento of your first Disneyland visit! Visit https://disneyland.disney.go.com/photopass/ to find out more about the PhotoPass system.
7. Disney MaxPass
MaxPass is the recently released system which covers both digital FastPass and Disney PhotoPass from the convenience of your mobile phone. The MaxPass can be added to your Disneyland ticket for an additional fee, and you will need to have the Disneyland app installed to access your MaxPass. Disneyland’s website has a lot of information about the MaxPass system here that makes it easy to understand.
Highlights to discover on your first Disneyland visit
Your first Disneyland visit can be an overwhelming experience, particularly when you first enter the gates and walk down Main Street—it’s what childhood dreams are made of! Every family will be looking at different attractions to make their visit truly memorable for each party member, though these were the stand-out highlights from both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure that our family will remember forever –
- Lightsaber Churros in Tomorrowland (there was a queue, but it was totally worth it!)
- Breakfast with Minnie Mouse and friends at The Plaza Inn to celebrate a special 11th birthday in the family (book this one up to 60 days in advance to secure your place) – this was also a fantastic opportunity to meet many Disney characters and get their autographs!
- Mickey’s Soundsational Parade – a parade down Main Street featuring all of the classic Disney characters, including Disney Princesses, and lots of Disney music
- Meeting Tinkerbell in Pixie Hollow
- Cars Land at Disney California Adventure (it’s just like walking through the movie!)
- The World of Colour show – it simply must be seen to be believed! (FastPass available)
- Soarin’ Around the World (an incredible virtual hang-glider flight over some of the world’s biggest landmarks)
You’ll never forget your first Disneyland visit, and we were so thrilled to be able to share this experience with our Brisbane Kids. As something that Mum and Dad only ever dreamt of doing when we were young, there’s no better feeling in the world than giving this to our children. We’ve created a lifetime of memories that we will talk about always.
Everyone’s Disneyland experience is different, but this video gives you an idea of our adventure at both parks in Disneyland California –
Disneyland California Resort is located at 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. Opening times vary throughout the year. To find out more, and to plan your visit, check out https://disneyland.disney.go.com/.
*The writer was a guest of Disneyland California Resort. Some costs were covered. Visit: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/*
When staying in Anaheim, be sure to check out everything it has to offer outside of the theme parks as well! We share our top 5 things to do in Anaheim here. You’ll also want to take a look at the Best Hotel Near Disneyland for Families for your stay.