Have you been dying to visit Walt’s original park in California? Maybe you already have a holiday planned to the US West Coast and you are trying to fit in a trip to the Disney Parks? Well here’s my one stop guide to visiting both Disneyland and California Adventure in one day. In all honesty, if you have never visited Disneyland before, you probably need more than a day, but a day’s magic is better than no magic at all, right?
I visited Disneyland Resort back in 2016 and fell in love with it. I still love Disneyland Paris but it was my trip to Disneyland that prompted me to get an annual pass for (my home park) Disneyland Paris. When we went to Anaheim originally, we spent 3 days there on a park hopper ticket and it was plenty of time – we met SO MANY characters and got a lot done, but even then there were things and rides we missed. I guess, as with any park, there will always be things you won’t have time to do so the point is to maximise the time you do have in the parks themselves.
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How much does it cost to visit Disneyland?
- Value (basically a quieter day, usually during the week): $147.00
- Regular (days vary but some weekends and weeks that may be school holidays etc.): $167.00
- Peak: $185.00
(These prices are for a Parkhopper ticket and are correct as of February 2018 when prices changed)
If you are only going for a day, I would suggest a park hopper ticket – it’s more expensive but it does mean you can go between the parks at any point during the day. Don’t skip Disney California Adventure Park! Try and go on a value day to keep costs down. If you are looking for more information Disneyland ticket prices are on their website and you can click different days to see exactly how much it will set you back.
If you can help it, don’t go on a weekend or a public holiday. Back in 2016, I went to Universal Studios Hollywood on a Monday thinking it would be quiet but it was a public holiday and absolutely rammed. Don’t be me. I always check calendars of busy times in the Disney parks, if you know it is going to be super busy in advance at least you can be prepared. Do a quick google of ‘Disneyland busy calendar’ or ‘Disneyland crowd calendar’ and you will be able to work out how busy the parks will be on your chosen day. You don’t want to waste your entire day queuing. Also make sure to check the day you choose doesn’t clash with an event that may result in you having to leave the Parks early to make way for event ticket holders.
Is Disneyland MaxPass worth it?
YES. UNEQUIVOCALLY YES. If you buy your ticket online, it will give you to the option to add MaxPass. If you are only going for a day, I highly recommend adding MaxPass. It is an addition $10 per ticket (at time of writing) and that is per day so I totally understand if you are going for longer it might be too expensive and possibly not worth it if you are a large group too, but if you only have a day then get it! It will save you SO much time, I promise.
FastPasses are free in all Disney parks but by adding MaxPass to your ticket, it allows you to book FastPasses through the Disneyland app, not just for yourself but for everyone on your booking (as long as they have MaxPass too). This means you can be anywhere and book a FastPass, you don’t need to be near the attraction and FastPass machines! Serious time saver.
The other great thing with MaxPass is that you get PhotoPass downloads included, so you just go to that section on your app, let the photographer scan the QR code and then usually within about 30 minutes your photos appear to download! For free. And since most of us don’t bother printing photos nowadays, digital is completely fine. You can also download your ride photos by making a note of the code and adding it on the app to the PhotoPass section.
If you still aren’t convinced, watch this video by Tiffany from Thingamavlogs to decide if it’s of benefit to you.
How to start planning your day at Disneyland:
If you’ve read my two part Weekend Guide to Visiting Disneyland Paris, you’ll know that I love a good plan. Making lists and planning what I’m going to do and see in a Disney park is my way of making sure I don’t miss anything. One time I decided to see how it went and not plan and it was a disaster and stressed me out, so lesson learned. The thing is, even if you’re a fly by the seat of your pants kinda person, you still need some sort of plan if you are going to attempt to tackle Disneyland Resort in one day.
You need to work out what your priorities are – do you want to see how many characters you can meet? Go on all the rides? Or do you want to see all the shows and just wander round taking it all in? All of these are good, but you need to work out which you want to spend the majority of your time doing because the day will go by so fast and you don’t want to get to the end and realise you missed the one thing you were desperate to do or see (even if it’s trying a certain kind of food or Mickey shaped snack!)
Make a list of everything you want to do and which Disney park they are in (Disneyland or Disney California Adventure). That way you can see which park you need to spend the most time in. If you normally frequent another Disney park regularly, you could start by making a list of all the rides and attractions they have at Disneyland Resort that aren’t in your home park.
Next work out which Park you want to start your day in. Even though you have a Park Hopper ticket, you don’t want to constantly be going between both parks – it’s time consuming and a pain in the butt so you want to finish everything in one park then move onto the next to finish your day if possible. Also make sure you take note if you want to see any evening shows or fireworks as you will have to make sure you end up in the right park for that too. Currently World of Colour and Fantasmic are showing in DCA and Disneyland Park respectively. When I last visited Disneyland Resort, I saw World of Colour (and it was amazing!) so this time I made sure I ended my day in Disneyland Park to see Fantasmic on Rivers of America and it was absolutely perfect.
If you are struggling to work out which Park to start your day in, I recommend DCA, only because so many people start in Disneyland Park so if you are there at rope drop/park open, then DCA is a bit less crowded – and if you are smart about it, you can walk straight on to some rides. We waited in DCA for the park to officially open and since we had already scanned our tickets on entry (the ONE requirement to start getting fastpasses), I booked us Radiator Springs Racers FastPasses on my phone through MaxPass whilst we were waiting. When the Park opened we went straight past everyone who ran to the FastPass machines for Radiator Springs Racers and walked right onto The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.
It goes without saying but, get there early. Like before the parks open. You want to be there at rope drop. I was aiming to be at the security gates an hour before – I got waylaid this time because jet lag hates me and I woke up at 2:45am, couldn’t go back to sleep and therefore had to make a Starbucks trip that took way longer than it should have. We rocked up just over half an hour before park open and there was already a big line at security (that actually moved surprisingly quick) and a huge queue at Disneyland Park entrance, which I looked at smugly before heading to the DCA (Disney California Adventure) entrance.
What rides are there in Disney California Adventure?
- A Bugs Land
Flik’s Flyers, Francis’s Ladybug Boogie, Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, It’s Tough to be a Bug, Princess Dot Puddle Park, Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggles
- Cars Land
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Radiator Springs Racers
- Grizzly Peak
Grizzly River Run, Soarin’ Around the World, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail*
- Hollywood Land
Animation Academy, Guardian’s of the Galaxy: MIssion: BREAKOUT!, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!, Sorcerer’s Workshop, Turtle Talk with Crush
- Paradise Pier (currently being refurbished to Pixar Pier)
Golden Zephyr, Goofy’s Sky School, Jumpin’ Jellyfish, King Triton’s Carousel, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Silly Symphony Swings, Toy Story Midway Mania!, California Screamin’*, Mickey’s Fun Wheel*, Games of the Boardwalk*
What rides are there in Disneyland Park?
- Adventure Land
Indiana Jones Adventure, Jungle Cruise, Tarzan’s Treehouse, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
- Critter Country
Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Splash Mountain*
Alice in Wonderland, It’s A Small World, King Arthur Carousel, Mad Tea Party, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Mr Toad’s Wild Ride
Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk through, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Casey Jr. Circus Train*, Dumbo the Flying Elephant*, Storybook Land Canal Boats*
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition, Mark Twain Riverboat, Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
- Main Street, U.S.A.
The Disney Gallery, The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr Lincoln, Main Street Cinema, Main Street Vehicles*
- Mickey’s Toontown
Chip n Dale Treehouse, Donald’s Boat, Gadget’s Go Coaster, Goofy’s Playhouse, Mickey’s House and Meet Mickey, Minnie’s House, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- New Orlean’s Square
Haunted Mansion, Pirate’s of the Caribbean
Astro Orbitor, Autopia, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Disneyland Monorail, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Space Mountain, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, Star Wars Launch Bay, Star Wars: Path of the Jedi
- Disneyland Railroad (multiple locations)
*currently closed for refurbishment
That’s a lot of attractions – help! This is too much for me.
If the thought of planning your day to make sure you get on all the rides you want is a bit daunting, there is help in the form of RideMax. RideMax is separate and not affiliated with Disneyland, however, for a fee you can use their planning tool to come up with an itinerary for the day. Unfortunately their data only covers Disneyland Park not DCA but it is still super useful. You basically plot in all your information – when you want breaks, what rides you want to go on (and if you want to ride any more than once), how fast you want to walk, start and end times and whether you want to go on water rides at a specific time of day and boom, it gives you a personalised plan for your day. If you haven’t added enough rides or any break time, it will add in time gaps for the itinerary to work – we ended up with a 3 hour gap, which suited me just fine for food and shopping.
This Disneyland itinerary app is brilliant because it takes into account all waiting time data it has so that you don’t have to spend your day queuing – for example, I went to go on Jungle Cruise around 15/20 minutes before the time stated in my RideMax schedule, it was a 60 minute wait! So I went to get dole whip and went back at the correct time and the wait was only 15 minutes, thought I’m sure it was less than that because we practically walked onto a boat.
You can put your start time for whenever you want so I made an itinerary for both 12pm and 1pm start as I didn’t know how long we would be in Disney California Adventure park before park hopping. I definitely recommend RideMax as it helped cut down queue time and tells you when to get fast passes, however, it isn’t a necessity and you can always plan in advance and use the Disneyland app on your phone to check current wait times (and get fast passes with MaxPass).
Make time to eat
Confession time – I am really bad at eating anything more than snacks when I’m in Disney Parks. This is partly because in Disneyland Paris (my home park) there is hardly anything for vegans in sit down restaurants and partly because I never feel I have enough time to see or do everything and eating is just wasted time. Don’t be me. I end up with headaches in the Parks frequently because of this.
There are loads of places to get snacks on the run and lots of sit down restaurants if your feet just need a rest. You can also take snacks and drinks into the park and there are water fountains dotted around for refills too.
Try and plan when you will be eating lunch or dinner in advance – although you may have to change this if your favourite character suddenly does a meet or something but essentially you want to already have when and where you’ll eat meals planned out
1. because you may have to book in advance and,
2. because you want to end up vaguely near it at the time you want to eat. There’s no point being on the far side of DCA when you then need to go all the way to Disneyland Park to the restaurant where you’ve chosen to eat.
If you can, try and eat at odd times, it will help beat the crowds and give you more time on rides or character meets. You could even grab some food and go and eat it whilst watching a parade.
If you don’t care about parades, use this time to visit the more popular or busier attractions.
If you don’t want to watch any parades or night time shows, use this time to do some of the attractions with longer queue times. Most people will be watching the parade or show so you should have an infinitely shorter queue. You could also chose this time to grab something to eat or go shopping.
Shops, shops, shops!
If you know you want to buy lots of gorgeous merchandise, then try and add in time to shop into your day itinerary. If you’re smart, you’ll add it near the end so you don’t have to carry it around all day but sometimes the pull of a certain shop is too much. I always go in shops I want to as there is no guarantee you’ll find that piece of merch elsewhere. I also ended up buying a Stitch plush a few hours before we left so he came on Jungle Cruise and Matterhorn Bobsleds with us! If you are struggling, you can always ask the cast members for options on picking up your purchases later.
- Don’t dress up in a costume. If you are over 14 years old, you cannot wear costumes to the park. No pretty Disney princess dresses, no wigs, no nothing. You can Disney bound (give it a google if you’re not sure what that is) but no actual costumes, sorry.
- Don’t take selfie sticks. They aren’t allowed in the park. Don’t be that person.
- Take a water bottle so you can refill it throughout the day.
- Pack a portable charger for your phone – the Disneyland app is brilliant but it drains your phone battery.
Although I definitely think you need to have a solid plan if you want to do or see everything you want to in the space of a day, don’t stress if something goes wrong – rides can breakdown, parades can be cancelled due to weather – there are a plethora of things that can throw a spanner in the works but be flexible and switch it up. Remember to relax and enjoy – you’re in Disneyland!
Where to stay?
When we went to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure back in 2016, I didn’t look into accommodation too much and just found a cheap hotel that was 5 minutes away from Disneyland. Turns out it was 5 minutes drive and we didn’t have a car so we had to get an Uber there and back each day as it would have taken an hour to walk! I always forget how big America is. This time we actually stayed in Newport Beach as we were in California for a week and wanted to explore Orange County – it was around a 20 minute drive away.
If you want to stay as close as possible to the parks to maximise your time in them, obviously a Disneyland hotel is the way to go, but that can be costly. There are three Disneyland hotels – Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. For a more budget-friendly option, check out the hotels down S Harbour Boulevard as some of them are within walking distance to the parks.
How to get there?
1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA
Driving is your best bet if you haven’t chosen a hotel within walking distance. If you are getting an Uber, make sure you select the Guest Pick Up/Drop Off point as it is right by the entrance and if you just select Disneyland, sometimes Uber drivers get lost – apparently not all drivers in the Anaheim area know where the entrance to Disneyland is. You can also chose to get public transport for a more budget friendly option, just make sure you give yourself enough time to allow for delays and/or finding bus stops.
So there you have it – everything you need to know to explore Disneyland and California Adventure in one day. I hope you find it helpful when planning your day. Disneyland is my absolute favourite park so have fun in the happiest place on earth.
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