10 Game Changer Tips for a Successful Disneyland Trip

We just got home from an incredible Disneyland trip! We surprised our kids and it was priceless! They knew we were going to visit our good friends in California, and had begged to go to Disneyland, but we told them it was super expensive and we needed to save up for it. They fell asleep just before we drove past Disneyland. The hotel lobby had Disneyland written all over it, but because they fell asleep, we snuck them in the side door. It was perfect! We couldn’t believe we had pulled it off!

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I watched them sleep so soundly, knowing they had NO IDEA what was coming!

Disney Surprise

That next morning we cut out the letters D-i-s-n-e-y-l-a-n-d and scrambled them up. We did a little game of Simon Says to stretch it out and “get ready” for that days activity, then my husband told them they had two minutes to unscramble the letters and if they figured it out in two minutes, we could do what it said!

Their reaction was Priceless…

Before we left, we talked to a lot of people who had been there and asked for tips and advice. We combined what we felt fit our family best, and we were off!

First, I have to disclose, Disneyland has never been at the top of my list for vacations. It just seemed ridiculously expensive and standing in lines and in crowds didn’t seem fun, but after hearing how magical it was from so many, we decided we had to give it a shot! We figured our girls were all at just the right ages so we decided now was the time! I would do it again in heartbeat! We all had a blast, but there are some game changers that I feel made all the difference.

Disneyland Surprise

1. Go During Off Peak Season if Possible – the weather is cooler and the crowds and wait times are way less.

We had 3 day tickets – two of the days were non-peak days and the other one was a holiday (Veterans Day)…the difference was crazy! On the peak day, the parks were crawling with people, the lines were forever long, and the Fast Passes (I’ll talk more about these later) were gone early. I tried to imagine those same crowds in the heat of summer, and I just can’t imagine that being enjoyable. People do it all the time, and seem to survive, but it doesn’t seem fun to me. Off peak is optimal if you can swing it!

2. Get 3 Day Passes and Hopper Passes – this will allow you to go back and forth between Disneyland and California Adventure, and one day is not enough for one park, let alone both. Both parks are unique and have so much to offer that it would be a shame to miss out on one or the other. Our first day was a lot of fun, but it was combining the experiences of the three days that made our experience magical!

Three words I’d use to describe Disneyland: Creative, Magical, Memorable

Dreams Come True
Three words I’d use to describe California Adventure: Adventure, Thrill, Unbelievable


3. Take a Break After Day Two – I didn’t realize you have 2 weeks to use your three day tickets. That’s a big-time game changer! We had already made plans and so it didn’t work out for us to change the plans, but all of us (even the kids) agree that a break after day two would make day three even better. By day three, the girls were dragging big time! Still having fun, but totally in dragging mode…


If you’re not able to take a “recovery day” after day two, spend that day doing the high adrenaline rides. Our kids were dragging when we were in Fantasy Land and Toon Town, but once we started the fun adventurous rides, their adrenaline kicked in and they were off and running again.

4. Take Advantage of FAST PASSES – these are a must! We ran by hundreds of people waiting in lines all day long thanks to our fast passes. We were able to ride and experience so much more than we would have otherwise!


How Fast Passes work:

  • There are specified rides that offer a Fast Pass (not all the rides offer Fast Passes).
  • There are kiosks located near the ride it is offered for –that is where you’ll get your pass.
  • Each ticket you have will get you one Fast Pass. (One person can take all the tickets to get fast passes. The person doesn’t have to be there.)
  • The Fast Passes have an hour window that they are good for. For example, you may get your pass at 11:00am, and the time on the ticket is 11:50-12:50, at that point you hold onto your Fast Pass and enjoy other rides that don’t offer Fast Passes until your indicated time.
  • On your Fast Pass ticket it will tell you the time you can get your next Fast Pass – get it as soon as possible!

Tips for Fast Passes:

  • Carry everyone’s tickets in a protective cover on a lanyard around your neck, that way, you will always have them together and it’s easy to pass from one person to another.
  • Send one person from your party to get Fast Passes, while you wait in another line (for a ride that doesn’t offer Fast Passes) with your group.
  • Get a Fast Pass to Radiator Racers (the Cars ride) first thing in the morning on the day you plan to go. The Fast Passes to that ride always run out, and the line is about an hour and a half wait.
  • If they tell you it’s not busy enough to worry about Fast Passes, get them anyway! We were told it was a slow day and that there wasn’t really a point to get the FP, but we still got them, and we passed hundreds of people all day long!
  • Get the “Disney” and/or “Disneyland Ride Lines” App – these apps are awesome! You can see what the estimated wait times are for each ride. It’s such an incredible tool to planning what ride to do next and what fast pass to get etc.

6. Eat Your Meals at Off Times – We ate a good breakfast, had snacks and then would eat a late lunch around 2pm or 3pm. The lines died down and it saved us on having to stop and eat twice. This is a huge time saver!

7. Ride Tips – knowing the tips and tricks to the rides will save you time, frustration, and sanity!

  • First thing in the morning and later at night (especially during the shows) are the best times to do popular rides that don’t have Fast Passes.
  • Fantasyland does not have Fast Passes so go here first thing in the morning and I’d suggest on day one or two of your visit like I mentioned earlier. The rides there are fun and so creative, but they’re not thrillers. Our kids need help getting their blood pumping on day three.
  • The Peter Pan Ride – There is always a long wait for this ride and it doesn’t have a Fast Pass. Get to the park early and hit this ride first thing on your Fantasyland day!
  • The Cars Ride Fast Pass runs out, so get it first thing in the morning on your California Adventure day.
  • Tower of Terror and California Screamin’ are also two very popular rides in California Adventure. They both have Fast Passes, but if you get a Cars Fast Pass it may tie up your ability to get another pass for a while. These would be good ones to hit early in the morning because I can almost guarantee they will be someone’s favorite and you can get a Fast Pass for them later in the day.

8. The Shows Are Worth Seeing

  • The night shows are incredible! The fireworks were one my favorites. You leave feeling like dreams really do come true. There was a magical moment during the fireworks that was completely priceless. I wish I had it on video, but I’m glad it’s in my memory bank!
  • The play Aladdin in California Adventure is a must see. It’s totally worth your time!


9. Go to the Late Parades and Get a Good Seat – the late parades are less crowded (especially the really late ones when they are open until midnight). We went to two parades. For the first parade, we were far away where we could see it, but we weren’t close enough to make eye contact with the characters. The second parade was the really late one, and we were front and center. It made all the difference. The characters were looking at, waiving to, and blowing kisses right at my girls (especially our youngest). It was priceless to see the look in my three year olds eyes and the smile on her face. She was in heaven! It was worth waking her up for!:-)

10. Wear Good Walking/Running Shoes – The first two days I wore my Chaco sandals, which are normally great (I even hike in them), but my feet were killing me by the end of day one, and almost unbearable by the end of day two. The third day I wore running shoes and they were a much better fit for the occasion. So my advice is put fashion aside and wear good shoes made for walking and running.

Family Favorites: (Space Mountain and Soaring Over California were closed)

  • Tower of Terror
  • Radiator Racers
  • California Screamin’
  • Splash Mountain

This picture makes me laugh every time I see it…

Disneyland Splash Mountain

Unforgettable Moments:

  • Our girls’ initial reactions after we surprised them and they found out we were going to DISNEYLAND!!!
  • When Merida from Brave heard my 2 year old crying and stopped her line just to come over and help her be happy again. She had pinched her leg buckling herself in her stroller and had quite the “battle scar”. The interaction was priceless. (FYI – princess/character lines can take a LONG time if they are personable. You have to decide if it’s worth it to you or not. For us it wasn’t, so we only went if we caught the princess right when she came out and the line was just forming.)

Priceless Moments

  • The fireworks show, and seeing my kids’ reactions when it started “snowing” at the end.
  • Watching my youngest dance her little heart out with the car and his assistance in Cars Land, unfiltered and with all the confidence in the world!
  • Watching my girls at the parade point, wave, and smile at all the characters as they rode by, and then seeing them make eye contact and waive back and blow kisses. It was so hard to get her to wake up for it, but once she saw Tinkerbell, we were golden! Her eyes and smile just kept getting bigger and bigger!

These memories will be treasures forever!

A special thanks to John and Whitney for going above and beyond as hosts and as friends, and to Beau and Emily and all our Disney advisor friends for the great tips – you all made our trip extra memorable!!

If you have any questions, please let me know (lindsey@realimprints.org) and I’ll do my best to answer them and help you make your trip a complete success too!!!

Real Imprints Disney Tip: Buy your Disney shirts before you go to Disneyland. It will save you a lot of money! I found some on clearance for $2.98 at Target before we left! You can also find great deals and a fun variety at Amazon!


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