I’m nearing the end of my initial Disneyland posts and so today I want to offer some advice for fellow first-time visitors. I say initial because although it took me 42 years to finally visit Disneyland, the bug has bitten and I know that it certainly won’t be my last time in the park. In fact, I’ve already booked a return visit to Anaheim later this year to experience Disney around the holidays. In this post though I want to offer some candid advice and ways I think you can improve your own first trip to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. As a caveat, Disney was kind enough to provide me with tickets but as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
Park Hopper is a must
Although I don’t have any experience with Walt Disney World in Florida, I’m told that the process of buying tickets and visiting is a lot different than at Disneyland. In California, you only really have a couple of different ticket options. You can choose how many days you want to visit and whether or not you want to add the Park Hopper option. Park Hopper enables guests to go between the two parks as many times as they want in a day and from my experience, is an absolute necessity. Visiting the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks is easy since they are literally across from each other. While you could devote a single day (or more) to each individual park and not leave, it’s a lot more fun and convenient to have the Park Hopper option. If lines were too long at one park, I’d just go to the other and enjoy some of the other attractions. I could start my day in Disneyland but then finish with a craft brew in California Adventure. Ultimately, the Park Hopper option enabled me to see and enjoy more over the brief two days I was there and made the experience much more robust than it otherwise would have been.
Timing is everything
There are people who have laboriously studied the best times to visit Disney and in fact, books have been written on the subject. That’s not what I’m providing today. No, instead I want to only add some common sense on how to best visit Disney. I would imagine that many people line up when the parks open, thinking that it’s their best opportunity to enjoy some of the more popular rides. While there may be some truth in that, they’re not alone in that opinion and so I avoided opening times to allow the initial rush get through the gates and on their way. Traveling as a solo adult, I had some advantages that those with families don’t enjoy. Namely, I could go all day and fight through my exhaustion, which parents can’t typically do. I also made sure I was in the park between 10am-2pm, when many of those in the initial crush either began to tire or returned to their hotels to avoid the heat of the day. If you find yourself in the parks when it’s particularly busy, try some of the not-as-popular rides first and then head to the top attractions once the crowds have dispersed a bit. Overall, figure out what the majority of people are doing and then do the opposite.
The Disneyland experience can’t be done in a single day. Even spending two days in the parks I missed a lot, and I was practically running most of the time. Give yourself enough time and enjoy the experience for what it is. Disneyland is about so much more than just rides. Walking down Main Street, I forgot for a brief moment that I was in a theme park and that’s when it dawned on me. There really is magic in the Disney experience and that is what had made me so happy while I was visiting the parks. Everything about both parks is done expertly and it forces guests to believe in the illusion. Be sure to take the time to enjoy that remarkable magic.
Single rider lines and FASTPASS
With no kids in tow and on my own, I was able to do what I wanted, when I wanted and at the speed that best suited me. In just two half days of visiting I was able to enjoy every attraction on my list, a feat nearly impossible for larger families to be honest. The FASTPASS system helped, no doubt there, but the biggest advantage I had were the Single Rider Lines. Many of the attractions in both of the California parks feature these special lines, meant to allow those traveling or riding alone to skip the long “normal” lines and wait for their opportunity to go as a single rider. When the attractions have a seat or two that need to be filled but the groups in line are too large, they go to the single rider line to fill the gaps. Overall, using this system saved me hours of waiting collectively, although the experience did vary from ride to ride. As an example, the single rider line at Space Mountain is easy to miss, but since the normal line was 80 minutes I was keen to find it. When I found the entrance for single riders, I was shocked to find that I was the only one in line and I walked right into the attraction and into the next car. Instead of an 80-minute wait, I only had to stand in line for about 30 seconds or so. That’s amazing and was the only way I was able to try Space Mountain. The lines though depend on the popularity of the attraction and time of day. At the Matterhorn I waited for 20 minutes or so, which was the norm on average. But at the end of the two days, the single rider lines were usually more useful to me than FASTPASS access. You can enter these lines as couples or small groups, just be aware though that you won’t be seated with your companion. As long as you’re ok waiting for a few minutes for them to finish the experience, then this is a fantastic option for any adult visiting the parks.
Enjoy the food
Sure, if you eat every meal in Disney then the costs can easily skyrocket, but be sure to enjoy at least a few of the park’s many iconic menu items. Mickey shaped everything from pretzels to beignets are fun snacks, as are the park’s now famous churros and ice cream treats. One of the most popular snacks though in Disneyland has also attracted a cult following, the Dole Whip. It’s a simple enough concoction, a soft serve pineapple treat served in a cup. You can also get a Pineapple Float, but the purists go for the original. In Disneyland, the Dole Whip is found at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland, but be sure to plan your visit. The wait just to buy one can sometimes rival that of nearby attractions.
Visiting Disney can easily turn into an obsession for many, believe me I understand. My first visit though wasn’t expected. I was in town for a conference and since I had tickets, I made the time to visit. The experience quickly overwhelmed me and turned into the important trip that it is now. The key here is that I didn’t overplan, heck, I didn’t plan at all. I knew nothing about the parks, had only a dim knowledge of the rides and, in large part, depended on my Twitter audience to tell me what to do in the moment. The result was that I had an incredibly fun experience. This advice holds true for any trip we take; it’s vital to never overplan. It’s human nature to want to make the most out of our trips. They’re big investments of time and money and we don’t want to waste either. But in order to really enjoy any travel experience, you have to allow for the unexpected and spontaneous to occur and in Disney, you have to allow for the magic of the moment to take over. Wandering around the parks I had the most fun I’ve had in years, and I think it’s largely because I didn’t know what I was doing.