I haven’t been to Disneyland in about 15 years – so I had to make my way there on a recent trip to LA. I had THE best time. It really is the happiest place on earth and I can’t wait to go back. Here’s my guide to doing Disneyland and California Adventure in one day.
You might’ve heard of these wonderful tickets called Fast Pass. If you have a Fast Pass ticket, you can bypass the regular line-up for the Fast Pass line at the designated time (i.e. 11am-12pm). You can only hold one Fast Pass at a time, the Fast Pass will also tell you when you can redeem your next Fast Pass (i.e. 2pm). The Fast Pass redeem times vary, it might be 2 hours later or it may be 4-5 hours later. Fast Past stations are located throughout the parks – find the ride you want to get a Fast Pass for, stick your ticket into the slot and a pass will pop out. The machine will reject you if you try to get more than one Fast Pass at a time. Try not the lose these valuable tickets cause it’ll be the difference between a 5 minute wait vs a 45 minute wait. And Fast Passes do run out for the day.
Single Ride Line:
Many of the rides have a single rider line-up, if you have a small group or its just the two of you and you don’t mind riding separately, this is the way to go. You’ll save lots of time. My boyfriend and I split up on the Radiator Springs Cars ride at California Adventure and it took us 2 minutes to get on, and we rode in separate cars, but it was one after another, so it wasn’t a huge deal. On Indiana Jones at Disneyland, we once again chose the Single Ride Line, as the line-up said 40 minutes – we waited about 8-10 minutes and we actually ended up sitting together. Score!
My Favourite Rides
1. Hyper Space Mountain (Disneyland): This was the most popular ride at Disneyland the day I went, line-ups were at 75 minutes. This has replaced the old Space Mountain. I grabbed a Fast Pass for this ride, but still had to wait a good 4-5 hours for it be valid. It was worth it! You feel like you’re going through the galaxy with the lights and stars, and it goes freakin’ fast! I was a little hesitant to throw up my arms though – since it’s pitch dark and going way too fast.
2. Tower of Terror (California Adventure): This Twilight Zone haunted elevator ride will elicit some screams. You never know how many floors the elevator will drop. The best part is when you’re at the very top and they open the doors so you can see the beautiful view of the park and then in your mind you’re thinking “holy f*ck, I’m at the very top, is it going to drop all the way down the bottom”.
3. California Screamin’ (California Adventure): The name says it all about this roller coaster. It’s the modern version of the wooden roller coaster. There are quite a few big drops (hold on tight) and there’s a section that goes upside down. You’ll want to make sure you’ve digested your meal before this ride! I did feel the slightest bit nauseated post ride and opted out on lining up for it again.
Other Rides I Loved:
Splash Mountain (Disneyland)
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Disneyland)
Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland)
Haunted Mansion (Disneyland)
Indiana Jones (Disneyland)
Radiator Springs Racers (California Adventure)
Mickey’s Fun Wheel (California Adventure)
Soarin’ Over California (California Adventure)
Grizzly River Run (California Adventure)
I didn’t partake in a few of the childhood classics like It’s a Small World, teacups or dumbo. I’d definitely do so if I had another day! But this time, it was all about the adventure rides. And this gives me the perfect excuse to go back next year!
World of Color – California Adventure 9pm (22 minutes)
Because I tried to squeeze in a last Star Wars 3D ride, I missed this show! A little bummed as I have no doubt it’d be spectacular. The challenge though is scooting back to Disneyland and getting a decent spot for the 9:30pm fireworks. You’ve got about a 8 minute gap – I think it’s do-able if you move fast and are OK with a fireworks spot from a further distance.
Disneyland Fireworks 9:30pm (14 minutes)
Now this is the moment I think I almost shed a tear. The fireworks show is just so spectacular. Fireworks will be lit off behind the left side of the castle, so you’ll want to face the castle – as projections are made on the castle throughout the fireworks. From Lion King to Finding Nemo to Tinkerbell to Frozen. Each vignette is themed to a Disney classic. While I was in the crowd, during Frozen, faux snow also burst in the air, like it wasn’t already overwhelming enough – I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I were a 5-year old. It’s only downhill from here.
Paint The Night Light Parade at Disneyland 8:50pm & 10:45pm
The parade runs twice in the night. I noticed people securing their spot on the parade route about an hour or so before the parade (earlier for the early show, I sat down maybe 30-40 minutes before the 10:45pm show). With kids, you may want to catch the earlier show – if you’re adults only, then the later show will give you more time to partake in the rides. Those who made an appearance include Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story, Cars, Cinderella, Mickey & Minnie Mouse and of course, Frozen. The parade runs 40 minutes.
Other Handy Tips
To Park Hop or Not to Park Hop
A one day pass to Disneyland or California Adventure is $95 USD or a Park Hopper Ticket (access to both parks) is $160 USD. I was at first hesitant – how can I possibly tackle TWO parks in one day. It’s do-able. Make sure you get a good night’s rest and put on some comfortable sneakers.
Download the Disney App
This is very handy. You can switch from park to park and see the exact wait times at each ride. This is when you need to be strategic about ride choices. Grab Fast Passes for the rides that have a massive wait (i.e. Hyper Space Mountain) and then note the wait times on the rides and quickly scoot over to rides with decent times and knock it off the list.
Bring Snacks & Water
Your bags will always be thoroughly checked when you’re going through security, however, they don’t care if you bring in your own snacks and food. Our pack consisted of two bottles of water and a ziploc bag of nuts and trail mix. Nothing fancy – but perfect when you’re wandering the park and need a tiny pick me up instead of the $8.75 corn dog.
Pack a Hoodie or Light Jacket
It’ll likely be super hot during the day (another note, pack sunscreen), but the nights do get breezy. If you’re weary about a carrying too much throughout the day – there are lockers for rent.
Eat Outside the Park
About a 5-7 minute walk outside the parks is a stretch of casual restaurants – Panera, McDonald’s, The Pizza Press. It’s a friendly option if you want save a bit of money on your lunch or dinner. My boyfriend and I shared a thin pizza, small pasta salad and lemonade which set us back a little over $20. And we got to take a break from the park madness.
Stay In Anaheim
Disneyland was not my only stop on this vacation, I had plans to spend 4 days in LA. Instead of staying in LA the first two nights though, we chose to find a hotel in Anaheim by Disneyland. Our hotel was a 7 minute walk to the parks, which allowed us to go back to the hotel (around 7pm) and chill out for an hour before heading back for the fireworks and parade. After a super long day in the sun, that little bit of R&R time is needed. And after the parade, you can head back and crash from the 12+ hours of magical fun. Who wants to get in a car and drive!
Estimated Line-Up Times
I was pleasantly surprised to find out the estimated line-up times were actually shorter than indicated for many of the rides. Maybe this is on purpose to keep you from getting too agitated while waiting. I went the first week of June and it isn’t quite high season yet, a lot of the rides were a very reasonable 15 – 20 minute wait.
Dole Whip At The Tiki Juice Bar
The Tiki Juice Bar is the only spot that serves this pineapple soft-serve treat – it sounds so refreshing already doesn’t it? Now have patience, cause I guarantee there will be a line-up – but hey, you’re use to them already right? Save this for the mid-day slump.