We visited Disneyland in August 2014, this post has since been updated in June 2019 to reflect accurate information.
It’s known as the happiest place on Earth, and there’s a great reason for that! Disneyland might just be one of the happiest places we have ever spent the day, with smiling faces, happy characters, bright colours and laughing kids everywhere you look.
We spend the whole day at the Disneyland complex, hopping back and forth between Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure Park. And when we say the whole day, we literally mean from 9am until about 11 at night! It was a massive full on day and it’s very easy to understand now why people buy a two or three day pass to explore everything Disney has to offer!
If you’re heading to Disneyland any time soon, here is our very unofficial guide to making the most of your time at the happiest place on Earth!
In all honesty, every single person that spends the day at Disneyland probably has a completely different experience. There are so many different attractions, worlds, rides and dining options to explore, it’s impossible to fit everything into just one or two days at the park.
Before you go make sure you check out the Disneyland website to check out everything you can do and put together your ultimate list of things you don’t want to miss!
There are actually two parks that make up Disneyland
You might not be aware, but there are actually two different parks that make up Disneyland. They are located across the street from each other and if you have a park hopper ticket you can easily hop between them throughout the day.
There is the official, world famous Disneyland, which is home to the iconic Mickey Mouse characters, the Disney princesses, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Main Street USA. It’s more of a family-friendly theme park, with smaller rides and where you can find all of the characters walking around for photos.
Across the street California Adventure is kind of meant for a bit of an older audience. It is where you can find more of the thrill rides, the iconic Mickey’s Fun Wheel ferris wheel, Cars World and Pixar Pier. There are more of the Pixar characters in California Adventure, as well as the beautiful light show at the end of the night.
To make the most of your time at Disney you can purchase a park hopper upgrade on your ticket where you can hop back and forth between the two all day. This is definitely the way to go, especially if you only have one day to spend out there.
Park Hopper tickets cost $199 USD per adult during the peak season. There are discounts available if you’re visiting during an off-peak period or if you book your tickets in advance. Find out more about ticket prices on the Disney website.
Choose your rides carefully so you don’t spend the whole day waiting in line
Both parks have a huge number of rides, spread out throughout the worlds of the park. They both offer a mixture of family-friendly and bigger thrill rides, although if you’re coming for an adrenaline rush definitely head straight to California Adventure for the bigger thrill rides.
Coming from Australia, the home of epic thrill rides that literally can make you feel sick, alive and crazy all at once, we found the rides at Disneyland pretty tame. None of them were really ‘”thrill rides” to us, with some being just downright boring (It’s A Small World, we’re looking at you!).
Head to California Adventure’s infamous Hollywood Land to take a ride on the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride, which was formally the Tower of Terror, but be prepared for the crazy up down up down motion of the ride, which is sure to leave the faint of heart a little worse for wear.
In California adventure Mickey’s Fun Wheel is a must for a crazy take on a normal ferris wheel. You can choose either a fixed of sliding gondola for your ride, depending on how you feel on the day. Sliding gondolas slide inwards and outwards as the wheel rotates. This is definitely one to go on early in the morning, before you fill up on popcorn, fairy floss and sugar.
It’s a good idea to really research which rides you want to go on before you arrive at the parks to avoid lining up for anything disappointing or just plain boring. We could have happily skipped a couple of the rides we went on, which would have given us more time to explore something else!
Take a photo with some of your favourite characters
There are Disney characters walking around both parks all day long, just waiting to take photos with you! They all walk around with a handler, who’s happy to step in as your photographer for the minute and snap you the perfect shot.
If you’re after Mickey and Minnie mouse, make a beeline straight for Mickey’s Toon Town, where they can both be found in their houses to take photos with. Mickey and Minnie are understandably the most popular characters around the park, so there are often long lines waiting to greet them.
Many of the iconic characters that you’re probably heading to Disneyland for can often be found around the park on Main Street USA or around the Time Square in Disneyland. Throughout the day you’re likely to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto and Chip and Dale here when they’re not hanging around in Toon Town.
For the Disney princesses including Ariel, Cinderella, Belle and Snow White head to Fantasy Faire’s Royal Hall in Fantasyland on the Disneyland side.
Each world around the park has their own characters coming in and out throughout the day, but if there’s anyone you’re desperate to see you can find out online roughly what time they might be where. There are SO MANY blogs on Disneyland, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for!
As you’re walking around, keep an eye out for any random lines forming in the street, you’re sure to find someone fun at the end of it.
Where to eat at Disneyland
Dining options in Disneyland are pretty similar to any other theme park. At the end of the day, there just aren’t that many healthy options. Although each cafe has it’s own beautifully detailed theme and decor, they all basically offer the same types of fast food options.
It’s a good idea to bring some snacks and your own lunch if you’re more of a healthy eater or if you have dietary restrictions. Healthy options are extremely limited around the park and you don’t want to be left hungry if you can’t find a good alternative.
For an incredible experience, book in for a character dining meal around the park, where you are served lunch or dinner by your favourite characters. These restaurants book out fast, so it’s a good idea to make a reservation as early as possible – ideally a few days before you’re even visiting Disneyland.
And of course, make sure you eat at least one desert in the shape of Mickey Mouse!
Shop up a storm with Disney branded everything
Head to Main Street USA in Disneyland to shop until you drop with everything you can imagine branded with Disney! This is definitely the best place to head to for any gift or souvenir shopping you might want to do.
Although some of the shops might be slightly themed, almost all of the stores offer the same products, so it’s unlikely you will miss out on anything you had your eye on if you don’t pick it up straight away. The shops are open right up until the park closes, so leave your shopping until the end of the day so you don’t have to lug around heavy bags all day.
Celebrate a special occasion at Disney
There is no even too big or too small to be celebrated at Disney. And to help you kick off your celebrations, you can even get a free badge from one of the gift stores to help you cerebrate your occasion out loud!
As we walked around the park we saw people wearing all kinds of badges, from birthdays and anniversaries to weddings and honeymoons! They even have a first visit badge if it’s your first ever time at Disney, that I just loved wearing all around the park!
Hit up any of the stores for your free badge to help celebrate your special day, or even just your first visit to the park like me!
Make sure you catch the main parades
Parades are a huge deal at Disney. Let’s be honest, they’re pretty iconic!
At Disneyland Park Mickey’s Soundsational Parade starts in Main Street USA at 4:30pm everyday and features all of your favourite characters from the Little Mermaid, the Three Caballeros, the Lion King, Princess and The Frog, Aladdin, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, as well as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Chip ‘n’n Dale, Donald and Daisy Duck and Pluto.
Across the way at California Adventure you can catch the Pixar Play Parade each day at 5:15pm which winds around Hollywood Land, Pacific Wharf and Paradise Pier each afternoon and includes characters from Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story.
You’ll have to decide which of the two parades you want to see more, because it’s impossible to catch both. They last for about half an hour or so, but to cut through the crowds and get across to the other side is just crazy at that time of the day.
End your magical day with fireworks or a light show
There are two different ways to end your magical Disney adventure, with each park offering a unique end to the day. Just like with the parade, it’s almost impossible to catch both shows so you’ll have to decide in advance which park you want to finish off the day it.
At Disneyland Park the fireworks show is second to none, and is honestly one of the most beautiful display of fireworks we have ever seen. It begins at 9:30pm each night and lasts for about half an hour, with Tinkerbell flying around on top of the castle as the sky sparkles. It’s a really beautiful way to end the day and we would highly recommend it.
Over at California Adventure, The World of Colour Celebration is just as spectacular an eneding to your day at Disney! There are two World of Colour shows each night, one at 9pm and one at 10:15pm. The show features projected film clips on an immense water screen in Paradise Bay as well as a fantastic fire, fog, fountain and laser effects show.
Deciding where to end your day is definitely a hard choice, especially if you only have one day to explore the parks. If you ran really fast between them you might be able to catch parts of both, but for a more present experience just choose one and take it all in!
Even as an adult, Disneyland is a truly magical place and such a fun way to spend the day. It’s like a whole bunch of theme parks all rolled into one and there is just so much to explore.
Whether you’re visiting for just one day or spending a whole week here, you’ll never be lost for things to do!