I have a soft spot for Disneyland. It’s one of the few places where I feel everyone is just a little happier, a little kinder, and a little more relaxed. It’s like Christmas. You just have to pay for it.
Mr. Wonderful and I get our fix about once every 2-3 years, and with the Diamond Anniversary celebration that just started a few weeks ago (translation: brand new World of Color water show, brand new fireworks show and brand new electrical parade) we just had to go.
Many Disneyland fans will argue that trying to do Disneyland Park and California Adventure in one day is a bad idea – you feel rushed, you don’t enjoy the magic, and it’s hard to soak up the atmosphere of each “land” if you’re constantly walking from one thing to another. I get that. But I’m the type of person where if I’m visiting Paris for the first time, and I only get one day, I’m going to cram the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Louis Vuitton store and my Laduree macaroons in one day. I’m not going to sit at a café all afternoon even though, yes, that would be the local Parisian experience. In my opinion, one should check out the highlights on the first visit, and then soak up the atmosphere another time. But if that’s not you, then both Disney Tourist Blog and DIS Unplugged have a good 1-day plan for just Disneyland Park.
Otherwise, this would be my suggested 1 Day itinerary (including my favorite rides and eats!) for both parks (note this plan would not be ideal for pregnant women and young children as it does involve a lot of roller coasters):
The Week Before
– Buy your 1-Day Park Hopper ticket (currently $155) online so you can avoid an extra line the day of.
– If you are planning on a sit-down dinner during your visit, reservations need to be made in advance or you could be waiting for at least an hour (but read through my itinerary before deciding). I would suggest making a reservation sometime between 6-7pm. You want to be done eating by 8:30pm at the latest to get a spot for the parade. Popular places are Plaza Inn (fried chicken), Cafe Orleans (Monte Cristo sandwich), and Big Thunder Ranch Barbeque (all-you-can-eat barbeque!).
The Day Before
– If this is your first time visiting the parks, spend a few minutes to get familiar with the maps of Disneyland Park and California Adventure. Specifically, take note of where the Radiator Springs Racers and Toy Story Midway Mania rides are located in California Adventure as those will be your first stops of the morning.
– Pack a granola bar, a water bottle, and sunscreen in your purse. You’ll need them. And don’t forget a light jacket. It’s generally hot during the day but cools down significantly at night, even in the summer.
– Plan to wear good sneakers, even if they clash with your outfit. Your feet will be hurting by the end of the day.
– Get a lot of sleep. Or at least, try to. You will need all the energy you have for the big day! It’s almost as exhausting as getting married.
The Day Of
Check the Disney calendar to see when the park will open on the day of your visit. My itinerary assumes the park opens at 8am and closes at midnight.
7:30am – Estimated time of arrival. Allow 15 minutes to park your car and haul yourself to the entrance. There are trams available from the parking lot to the Disneyland entrance, but if the line looks long and the trams are not yet fully operational, just walk. It’s only 10 minutes.
7:45am – If you forgot to buy your ticket online, get it now. Otherwise, walk over to the mass of people waiting for California Adventure to officially open.
8:00am – PARK OPENS! Walk as fast as you can to Radiator Springs Racers. Everyone else will be trying to do the same thing, so don’t step on any little kids. Get in the “Single Rider Line” which will cut your wait in half. You won’t get to ride with your significant other, but you’ll also save nearly an hour (or more) of your life.
Alternative: If you really must ride with your loved one, or you’re in a large group, then pick up a FASTPASS instead. The FASTPASS for RSR is currently located near It’s Tough To Be a Bug! in Bug’s Land. Don’t know what a FASTPASS is? Click here.
8:30am – After you ride (or after you get your FASTPASS), walk quickly to Toy Story Midway Mania. Do not stop. With luck, the wait will be under half an hour.
Tip: Send someone from your group to get a California Screamin’ FASTPASS for everyone while the rest of you wait in line at Toy Story. Remember you get one FASTPASS for each park ticket, so hand the runner your ticket before they leave. If you already did the FASTPASS for RSR, then you may not be able to do this.
9:15am – Now you can relax a little. While you wait for your time slot at California Screamin’, try the swinging gondola on Mickey’s Fun Wheel or Goofy’s Sky School.
11am – Corn Dog Castle opens. This place will change your mind about those nasty versions you had as a kid. They also have a hot link version!
11:10am – Walk through Grizzly Peak and pick up FASTPASS tickets for the 10:15pm World of Color Show. If the tickets they are dispensing are not yet for the last show, ask a cast member if they can help you get tickets for that showing.
11:20am – At this point, you can decide if you want to go on the gentle Soarin’ ride at Condor Flats or the stomach dropping Tower of Terror in Hollywood Land. Neither of them are my favorites, but Tower of Terror would be my pick of the two.
12pm – If you have time, get a quick bite at Cozy Cone Motel back in Cars Land. My favorites are Red’s Apple Freeze and dill pickle flavored popcorn. The Chili Cone Queso is a close third.
12:20pm – Line up for the Aladdin show in Hollywood Land. The first show normally starts at 12:40pm (check the schedule to be sure) and they won’t let you in once it starts.
1:30pm – If you didn’t go to Cozy Cone already, get Red’s Apple Freeze. Seriously. Then stop by the entrance of Carthay Circle Restaurant on Buena Vista Street to check out one of the smallest Hidden Mickeys in the park (if you can’t find it, ask a cast member for help).
1:45pm – Head to Disneyland Park for the remainder of the afternoon.
2pm – Go down Main Street, and make a right at Tomorrowland. Wait in line for Star Tours while someone in your group gets a FASTPASS for everybody at Space Mountain. Don’t forget to spot this Hidden Mickey while you’re in line!
3pm – If the line is less than 30 minutes, jump on Astro Blasters. Otherwise, head to Matterhorn Bobsleds. If the wait for Matterhorn is more than 30 minutes, do Single Rider.
3:30pm – Cross the park to Adventureland. If you’re able to get a FASTPASS for Indiana Jones, do it now while everyone else waits in line for the delectable Dole Whip float at the Tiki Juice Bar.
4pm – If you like water rides, now’s a good time for Splash Mountain in Critter Country before the sun sets and it gets cold. If you weren’t able to get a FASTPASS for Indiana Jones earlier, get it after this ride (make sure your time slot is before 8:30pm or you will miss the parade!).
5pm – Meander over to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland.
6pm – Now is the time to relax (sort of). Make sure you hit your FASTPASS rides for Space Mountain and Indiana Jones. Take a stroll through Fantasyland and Mickey’s Toontown. Eat a churro. Or a turkey leg. If you are keen on a sit-down dinner and didn’t make reservations, you’ll want to get in line now.
Personally, I would suggest going on Haunted Mansion and then Pirates of Caribbean in New Orleans Square. Both are highly popular.
8:30PM – Find a spot for the 8:50pm parade. If you’re running late, there is usually a nook facing the castle, near Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland, that is a decent spot to view the parade.
9:15PM – The parade ends and the crowd will be congested trying to find a viewing place for the 9:30pm fireworks. You can either stay where you are for an okay view, or you can follow the mob to stand in the middle of Main Street, facing the castle. About 80% of the fireworks show will be on or right above the castle, with 20% being along Main Street, so make sure you can see the castle clearly.
9:45PM – Immediately after the fireworks, head back to California Adventure for the 10:15PM World of Color show. While your space is reserved, seating is first-come, first-serve, so you do want to get there early. If you don’t want to get wet, stand farther in the back.
10:45PM – If you’re still up for it, you have another hour back in Disneyland Park (California Adventure is already closed by this time)! Hit the rides you missed, or go on a second whirl at Space Mountain.
Midnight – Most stores on Main Street stay open until half hour after closing, so you can save your souvenir shopping for the very end or have one last ice cream at Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor. You’ll also save yourself the headache of being stuck in departing traffic. Take one more look at the magical castle and wave goodbye to the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey.
Note: This is the ideal schedule that I more or less follow whenever I go to Disneyland. However, rides do break down, and on rare occasions, the park may reach capacity and not allow re-entry. If that happens, just do the next thing on my list, or have another corn dog. After all, you’re in the happiest place on earth.
Have you been to Disneyland? What would you add or take out from my itinerary?