I splurged and for the year of 2015 became a Disneyland AP (Annual Passholder). I just decided instead of going once a year, I would go a lot of times in one year and then take some years off. So, the following are my random recommendations, for whether it’s your first trip, or you’ve gone several times. I can finally say, as an average Disney fan (as opposed to an ultra fan), that after 12 visits in 12 months, I am finally “Disney’d out.”
Cars (California Adventure) and/or Space Mountain (Disneyland)- When to ride: It’s true what people say: If you want to go on either of these without waiting for hours, head on over there first thing in the morning and either get in line, or get a fast pass (or get a fast pass, and then hop into line if you wish to ride it twice). The fast passes will eventually run out earlier than most rides. On Cars there’s also a single rider line, which you can also wait for over an hour on a busy day, but once you get toward the front, it does go a bit faster than the other line.
Matterhorn (Disneyland)- If you haven’t been on it in over a year, or ever, it’s worth it, as it was recently updated. Left side recommended: I rode it twice in a row a few times to test this out, and in my opinion the route to the left (facing the mountain from the line) is smoother, while the cars to the right, seem a little more bumpy and abrupt. Line: Prepare for this to be a long line during the day. And sometimes the line moves faster than you expect it to, or people ahead of you may just get tired of waiting and leave. Don’t be surprised though if all of a sudden a group cuts in front of you to join one friend/family membe holding a space in line. This happens, and you’re free to do it, too.
Jungle Cruise (Disneyland)- Avoid on a rainy day. One time, a lot of rain built up on the boat canopy, and upon arriving back at dock, the boat shifted due to the weight of people getting off, so the dirty water dumped off onto me and my friends. But it is a fun little ride to go on, and during the holidays they call it “Jingle Cruise” and change up the jokes and decor.
Small World (Disneyland)- Also not a good ride to go on in the rain. I thought, “Oh, it’s mostly indoors,” but there is actually quite a bit of time when you are just sitting in the boat outside, out in the open…. Like Jungle Cruise, it is a nice little easy-going ride, and they change it for the holidays.
Peter Pan (Disneyland)- They just did a lot of renovations to this, and it is well worth riding again if you haven’t been on it in over a year. When to ride: Also, try to get in line for this in the morning or early afternoon if you can. In the early evening Fantasyland gets crowded, and in the later evening it gets closed off for the fireworks show. I’d also recommend that if you are in the lucky/unlucky position of getting a fast pass because of some other mishap, ask if you can have it for Peter Pan. They might say no if it’s a really busy day, but at least you tried (or, get the right castmember, and you might be able to sweet-talk your way into it).
Alice in Wonderland (Disneyland)- It’s a really cute ride, but personally, I would check back later if the line is 40 minutes or longer.
Teacups (Disneyland)– Seriously, no one I know would go on this with me, and it is not the kind of ride that’s fun all alone! Just had to vent about that….
Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland)- If someone in your party is on a scooter or in a wheelchair, you can go through the exit to the front of the line. Wetter than ever: Beware, they just put in newer boats this year, and you get more wet on this ride than previously (I got almost as wet as Splash Mountain!). On the same note, check that seat before you get on (especially if you’re in the back row) to make sure there are no large puddles on the seat. (If you don’t want to walk around for a while with wet pants, that is.)
Star Tours (Disneyland)- I’ve never even seen Star Wars, and this is my favorite ride! There are two main different experiences that I know of, and several variations within each one. If it’s a busy day, get a fast pass if you can.
Haunted Mansion (Disneyland)- If someone in your party is in a scooter or a wheelchair, get a fast pass, and then they’ll direct you straight up to the front, even bypassing most of the fast pass line. During the holidays, it becomes The Nightmare Before Christmas themed.
Grand Rapids (California Adventure)- On hot days, this ride malfunctions more often, so beware. However, if it happens when you’re on it, or in line for it, you should get fast passes, probably to any ride of your choosing.
Tower of Terror (California Adventure)- When to ride: Ride it at night for a beautiful view. Also, that way if the line is long you aren’t standing in the sun for a while. Line: I recommend going/waiting for the doors to the right, because you don’t go upstairs, so there is more of a drop, and it just feels like a shorter line since you don’t have all of those stairs to climb.
Monsters Inc. (California Adventure)- There is usually a short line for this, as it is hidden away a little. I recommend trying back later if it happens to be a long wait, as the line is mostly in the sun. Same goes for Toy Story.
Indiana Jones (Disneyland)- I will only get fast passes for this ride now, because whether the line is super long or not, it always feels extra long since there is a ways to walk and a short video to watch.
Soarin’ Over California (California Adventure)- They just fixed the screen and did some other subtle updates. I only needed to go on this a couple times this year, but it is definitely a cute, fun ride. I recommend getting a fast pass for this ride, as the line can get (and feel) really long.
Shows– Mickey’s Magical Lamp (Disneyland) is great and very underrated, Aladdin (California Adventure) is funny, but it’s leaving the park soon, and the Frozen Singalong (CA Adventure) is very cute.
Parades- If you try to avoid these like I do, you will get on a lot more rides. The parades in California Adventure feel shorter. The parade not to miss is usually the one at night right before the first fireworks show in Disneyland. (They sometimes change the name of this depending on the time of year.)
Fireworks location (Disneyland)- I like to watch them from Main St., because they do a special light show on all of the buildings, but if you watch from the castle or in front of Small World, it’s good also. If you watch from the castle, be sure to have a good view of the castle as well as the Matterhorn…they display some of the show right on the side of the mountain. Note: this was for the 60th anniversary (2015) and holiday fireworks, and I’m not sure how the show will be in the future or when it will change.
My favorite decent-priced snacks- In Disneyland, head over to Adventureland and go to Bengal Barbecue for a veggie or meat skewer. In California Adventure, there’s the Cozy Cone Motel, where I recommend the chili cone queso.
My favorite decent-priced meals- Harbour Galley (in Disneyland, across from Haunted Mansion and straddling the border of Critter Country and New Orleans) is where you can get a good-sized lobster roll for $15. Also at the Pizza Port (in Tomorrowland by Space Mountain), you can get a good quality/quantity of food for your money.
Token Disney foods you must try- Dole Whip (in front of the Tiki Room in Frontierland, Disneyland), Mint Julep and beignets (French Market in New Orleans, Disneyland), and the Matterhorn macaroon (a few of the places on Main St.)
My favorite splurges- In Calfornia Adventure- Carthay Circle, Cove Bar, Napa Rose. In Disneyland- Blue Bayou.
Drinks- Alcoholic: Carthay makes a tasty bloody mary, as well as several good coffee drinks-both hot and cold (alcoholic)-and Cove Bar has several great drinks and a few off-menu drinks, one which I tried (and enjoyed): Mickey’s Fun Wheel. If you want to eat/drink at either of these places, it will be a little bit of a wait. Carthay only takes reservations for the restaurant, but you can wait a while just for the bar. Cove Bar is usually an even longer wait, and the earlier the better. (They close early due to the World of Color show.)
Non-alcoholic: Mint Juleps (French Market, New Orleans, Disneyland), Ghiardelli (California Adventure) shakes (non-alcoholic) and treats, and there’s plenty of places that serve root beer or coke floats.
Dole whip line- The line for this place can often stretch so long that people usually ask if it’s for a ride. If you go around to the other side, like you are entering the Tiki Room, it’s often shorter. However, so many people know this now that on really busy days, it probably won’t matter. But at least on the inside there are places to sit, people aren’t always walking by you, and there’s a cute little show put on by the totem poles.
Park Hopping- This one isn’t really a hack, but it’s my favorite trick. Whenever I’m at Disneyland and it’s crowded, I try to go there in the morning and go on as many rides and see as much as I can before I can’t take it anymore. Then, I head on over to California Adventure, where there’s ample space to walk around and I can breathe again. It’s so nice to have that little escape sometimes. Plus, if you’re of age, at California Adventure you can get a drink, which might even help with your nerves/relaxing process. Even if you’re staying a couple days, I still recommend having a park hopper ticket to be able to go in both parks each day.
Hot, hot days- Especially if you go in the summer, it’s probably going to be very hot, and Disneyland isn’t really known for its shade. So how do you cool off? Well, if you don’t want to get wet, you are still in luck. Head on over to the Animation Studio in California Adventure and sit (if you are lucky enough to get a couch or just feel like sitting on the floor by the wall), listen, and watch clips from your favorite Disney movies. Also in there you can watch Turtle Talk or visit the Animation Academy. In Disneyland, there’s Main Street Cinema (Main St.), where you can see clips from old Mickey cartoons, or the Golden Horseshoe Show (Frontierland), among other shows of course.
Line hacks- Don’t forget to ask about single-rider lines (shorter lines/waits if you ride solo) or rider swaps (only wait in line once if one person has to stay off the ride with someone, and you swap spaces once the first person gets off), or get your fast passes, for which you can have one for each park at a time. For fast passes, you have to wait until the starting time, but you can go after the ending time (though I’ve heard they sometimes get strict about that on really busy days). Also, if your ride breaks down when you’re on it, or sometimes when you’re in line for it, you can usually get an additional fast pass…sometimes to any ride you want. Once, we even spent a little while at the ticket booth because of a computer/printer malfunction, so we asked and they gave us a fast pass (We chose Toy Story, a ride that doesn’t have a fast pass, so we got to enter at the exit for that ride).
Be nice to the staff and talk to them, calling them by name even, and they will be nice to you. I’ve gotten more fast passes this way, and have been let go through the exit straight to the front of the line before.
If you go to Carthay, Cove Bar, or Ariel’s Grotto, all in California Adventure, use the restroom there before you leave; they’re some of the nicest there.
You can get water all day for free; you just have to go to places that serve food and ask for a cup of ice water. Sometimes they only have small, but you can get multiples.
The tours (for example: Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps) are pretty expensive, but are not just necessarily for first-timers, and you can find more info on the Disneyland website. You’ll be able to see things average visitors don’t get to see, lunch is included, and you go on a couple rides with no wait. Plus it’s only three or so hours, so you’ll have the rest of the day to do everything else you want to do.
Whenever I felt like I just couldn’t stand in another long line, but wasn’t ready to stop going on rides, I’d head over to The Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure, where I could almost always walk right on.
That’s all I can think of for now…. I hope you have a wonderful time at the “happiest place on Earth”!