What to Know Before You Go to Disneyland in California

58+ Ways to Have the Perfect Disney Trip

Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland
••• Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland. Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

Walt Disney once said, "Disneyland is going to be a place where you can't get lost or tired unless you want to." While Walt may have been a little optimistic, these practical tips can help you come as close to his ideal as you can. They're based on nearly two decades spent having fun at Disneyland and writing about my triumphs and my failures. I'm here to be sure you have more of those wins and less of the fails.

These Disneyland tips apply to both Southern California parks. Before you dive into the individual tips, check all these other tips and secrets I've compiled just for you.

11 Tips to Use Before You Leave Home

  1. Avoid dining disappointment. If you want to have a character meal or eat at one of the table service restaurants in the parks (like Blue Bayou or Carthay Circle), make your reservation 60 days ahead of time.
  2. Avoid ride disappointment. If there's a ride you simply must enjoy, check the Disneyland website for ride closures. Haunted Mansion closes every September and January for the switch over to Haunted Mansion Holiday. It's a small world is closed in November and January. If attractions close for longer periods of time, I try to mention them in the What's New at Disneyland Guide.
  3. You can celebrate at Disneyland, but you don't have to keep it to yourself. Get a birthday button, an anniversary button and more at Guest Services. Cast members and other guests will greet you all day. You can find other ways to celebrate in this guide.
  1. Money matters. All of the shops, restaurants even food carts take credit and debit cards. You'll also find Chase Bank ATMs in each park. 
  2. Water bottles? It's a common tip to take water bottles with you and fill them at the water fountains. But you have to carry that bottle around all day. And you might think water fountains are as icky as I do. You for a large cup of water at most Disneyland Resort counter service restaurants and it's free - but a time-waster unless you're buying something to eat, too.
  3. Avoid parking surprises. If you plan to check out of your hotel in the morning and want to leave your car there all day, ask them in advance if that's allowed. Some hotels charge for it, and others offer it only on a space available basis.
  4. Save money on trading pins. You can trade pins with cast members. Buy them before you go to save money, but make sure you're getting something that meets their trading guidelines.
  1. Know the rules for clothing. Don't show up at the gate wearing something that's not allowed. Check the rules for attire before you pack.
  2. Get a lanyard and use it. I know, it looks kinda dorky, but it's the safest way to be sure you don't lose those non-refundable, non-replaceable tickets - and those precious FASTPASSES.
  3. Early closure tips: When Mickey Mouse hosts his Halloween party at Disneyland, regular ticket holders have to leave the park early. Many of them go to California Adventure instead, making it overcrowded. If you want to visit both parks and go to the party on the same day, get a one day one park ticket for California Adventure, use it in the morning, then switch to Disneyland as soon as party guests are allowed to enter.
  4. Get a Good Bag: Find out what Disney's restrictions are and get my best recommendations.
  5. Pack the Right Stuff: The last thing you need is to get to Disneyland and discover that you left something behind. Use this guide to packing for Disneyland and you can avoid that.
  6. If you need a cup of coffee - or any kind of Starbucks fix - on your way into the parks, get the Starbucks app and top up your account balance. Park in the Mickey and Friends lot and you get on the tram, place your order using the app. You can zip right in and pick it up instead of standing in line. You can only pre-order from the Starbucks in Downtown Disney and there are two: Starbucks Downtown Disney Store is next to Disney store and closest to the Mickey & Friends tram dropoff. Downtown Disney West is closer to the Disneyland Hotel.

9 Tips to Start Your Day the Right Way

  1. Get there early. On days when there's no early entry at the park you're visiting, be there at least half an hour before the official opening time and you might get in early. That means planning ahead for driving or walking time and allowing time to get through security.
  2. Start in the right place. If the park has an early entry day and you're not participating, it will be busy by the time you get in. You know what to do, don't you? Just go to the other park first.
  3. The weather might fool you. Sunny summer days feel hotter than what the thermometer says. May and June mornings can be cool and cloudy, but get hot and sunny by midday. To be better prepared, check the guide to Disneyland weather and what to expect.
  4. In case it rains in Southern California. Umbrellas are hard to manage. Bring hooded rain gear and enjoy the park anyway. Lines will be shorter. However, a few rides may be closed.
  5. If you're driving a big vehicle, use the main entrance at Mickey and Friends, just off southbound Disneyland Drive at Ball Road. The height limit is 13 feet 10 inches.
  6. Park in the Mickey and Friends Garage. Why? Because it's the only place you can catch the super-cute space-age-style trams - and who want to arrive at Disneyland in a boring old bus?
  7. Parking spaces can all look the same after a long day. Prevent end of day panic by writing down or photographing your parking location.
  8. Don't get delayed. Disneyland's security rules about layered clothing cause the most delays. If you are wearing a jacket or a blouse over a t-shirt, they will probably pull you to the side and use a metal detector wand before letting you pass. To speed up entry, put your jacket in your bag (or button that shirt all the way up).
  9. No butts. California smoking laws are strict, and smoking is even more restricted in the Disney park, even outdoors. Get the details about smoking areas on the Disneyland website.

3 Things You Need to Know About Food

  1. Dining plans: If you’re used to dining plans at Disney’s other locations, they’re different here. They don’t save money and are seldom used.
  2. For a quick breakfast, try La Brea Bakery. Just outside the security gate on the Downtown Disney side. On a day when there was a 45-minute wait at Carnation Cafe and the River Belle wasn't open yet, I got immediate seating there. They also have tasty to-go breakfast items.
  3. Disneyland food policies allow water and snack foods, but not a full meal (except for guests with religious restrictions or special dietary needs). Coolers are restricted to six-pack size. No glass containers are allowed except small baby food jars.

6 Ways to Beat the Crowds

  1. Learn these 7 Ways to Stay Out of Line. This guide summarizes every good trick and strategy we know of.
  2. Outermost lines tend to be shorter in most places: Especially in the parking lot and in food service lines.
  3. At the entrance turnstiles the middle lines are often shorter, especially in the morning when people are pouring in from security checkpoints on both side.
  4. Cut through the crowds. Stick to the edges of a crowd that is moving. Look straight ahead and people will get out of your way. Find a line of people who are moving faster than the rest and follow them.
  5. Use a crowd prediction tool. I like isitpacked.com, but touringlans.com also has a crowd rating tool that's based on wait times over several years, but you need a paid subscription to access it. Trips With Tykes offers some general tips that may help.
  6. Go where everyone else isn’t? Maybe not. Another common tip is to try a popular ride or go for a meal during the parade. After checking wait times before, during and after the parade, I concluded that this one doesn't work.

4 Ways to Stay Comfortable

  1. Dress for less stress. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring warmer clothing for the evening. Even in summer, it can get chilly after dark.
  2. You're not a pack mule. Don't carry too much. You have to drag every ounce around all day. Go through your bag several times and remove all non-essentials. Put everything in your pockets if you can.
  3. Stow it. You'll find rental lockers both outside and inside the park gates. Stow dry clothing, jackets, snacks, and so forth here so you don't have to carry them around all day. The smallest-sized locker will hold quite a bit of stuff and it costs about the same as two fancy coffee drinks from Starbucks.
  4. Don't suffer. Got a headache? Blister? Upset tummy? The First Aid Center can help.

9 Ways to Avoid Mishaps, Mistakes and Melt Downs

  1. Take a break. I can't count the number of times people have told me they missed the evening parade and fireworks because they were too tired to stay that late. Don't let that happen to you. Instead, get out for a few hours in the middle of the day. Go back to your hotel for a nap or a swim. Catch an Uber and get a nice lunch somewhere nearby. Or just sit down on a bench and watch the people, then take in an indoor show or two.
  2. Avoid a photo fail. Don't be shy. Disneyland photographers will take a photo for you with your phone or camera. So will character hosts, which lets everyone in your group get in the shot. You can also take photos of the display screens for ride photos, which is not allowed at some other theme parks.
  3. Did It break? If we're talking about the souvenir you just bought - or if that cute balloon went pop - we hear that you can get a free replacement the same day.
  4. Power management: Your mobile devices' batteries will last longer if you turn off your data and put them in airplane mode when you're in dead zones like Indiana Jones and Soarin'. If you eat in a table service restaurant, you can ask your server to plug in for you and there's a list of places to charge up in the individual park guides. If all else fails, stop taking photos and get a Photo Pass from a Disneyland photographer instead.
  5. Going back to your car for things wastes time. You might think it also saves money because you don't have to rent a locker, but I checked it. By the time you wait for the tram both ways and go through security, you'll lose about an hour.
  6. Check your food receipts. They sometimes have discount coupons at the bottom that can save you money on purchases.
  7. You might see a celebrity at Disneyland. If you see cast members wearing plaid vests, they’re either leading a guided tour or taking care of a celebrity.
  8. Be extra nice to cast members. They have a hard job and don't get much appreciation for it. I have heard of really nice people getting little extras from them as a thank you.
  9. Be nice to other guests. If some of the people in your group aren't going with on that FASTPASS ride, get them passes anyway. Then give them away to someone who thinks they're going to have to stand in a long line.

8 Tips For Taking the Kids

  1. Big enough? Measure your child's height before you visit, and check the Disneyland and California Adventure ride descriptions so you'll know which rides they can go on. It could save a temper tantrum. Cast Members know all the tricks, so don't even try to fool them and please don't ask for exceptions. The height limits are there to keep your kids safe.
  2. Old enough? Kids of any age can go to the Disney parks. Anyone 14 or younger must be accompanied by someone older than 14 to get in. To board an attraction, kids under age 7 must be accompanied by someone 14 or older.
  3. Little navigator: Disneyland is a great place for kids to learn how to navigate with a map. Let them find the way to the next attraction for you.
  4. Lost and found: If you and your child get separated, ask any Cast Member for help. They're very efficient at reuniting lost kids with their parents. Prepare your kids by telling them how to identify a Cast Member by their badge, stop one and talk to them and then make sure the kids know what do to if they're lost. Be sure the kids have your cell phone number with them - or I have seen some parents write their number on their child's arm. 
  5. Take a break: During the busiest, hottest time of day, go back to your hotel for a swim or a nap, being sure to get your hand stamped on the way out and keeping your paper ticket. Return later when it's cooler and you're rested.
  6. Use the Baby Care Center. You don't have to struggle with taking care of baby in a public place. The baby care centers have facilities for nursing, formula preparation and diaper changing. They also have microwaves for warming up food.

  7. Draw the fun to the kids. During parades, cute children sitting on the curb are more likely to get attention from the parade participants. Get there early enough that they can be up front. Dress them up in bright colored clothing or give them something cute to hold.

  8. Big strollers larger than 36” x 52” (92cm x 132cm) are not allowed.

8 Things to Know If You Have Special Needs

  1. For Fluffy and Fido: There is a boarding kennel near the main entrance. The kennel is for day boarding only, and they charge a daily fee.
  2. If you have mobility issues: Wheelchairs, ECVs and strollers can be rented at the park, or bring your own. For all the details about visiting Disneyland with mobility issues, check this guide.
  3. Habla Espanol? Parlez-vous Francais? If you need help in a language other than English, look for cast members wearing a small flag pin with your country's flag on it. They will speak your language.
  4. If you need to keep your medication in a refrigerator, take it to First Aid.
  5. If you have any food issues including special diets and food allergies, don't worry and guess what's safe. If you ask someone, you can usually speak to a chef who can help you get what you need.
  6. Audio assistance includes assistive listening devices and closed captioning, which you can access through Guest Services. If you need a sign language interpreter, contact guest services before your visit to find out the current schedule.
  7. If you need visual assistance, you can get audio description devices, Braille guides and audio tours at Guest Relations.
  8. For cognitive disabilities, lots of services are available, including attraction guides that describe special effects, flashing lights and loud noises.

How Guest Relations Can Help

The Disney Guest Relations desk is near the entrance to each park. It's called City Hall in Disneyland and Chamber of Commerce in California Adventure. Consult your map or just ask a Cast Member if you can't find it. Things they can help you with include

  1. Birthday pins - or first-timer, just married or honorary citizen pin.
  2. Making restaurant reservations
  3. Getting park information
  4. Getting foreign language brochures
  5. Picking up a special access pass if you have mobility issues or any other kind of challenges. Or renting a closed caption or assistive listening device.
  6. Handling any other difficulties, including requesting a refund if you are dissatisfied

Tips That Are Out of Date or Wrong

  • Have you seen the tip that says you can get a free pickle by asking the cast member how their day has been? I’ve seen it making the rounds on Pinterest, and it’s apparently been a hoax from the beginning.
  • Free coffee refills ended when Starbucks took over the coffee shops in both parks.
  • Some tips say that you can take outside food into the parks. That's only partly true. You can't take a full meal, just snacks.