California, USA

A first-timers essential guide to Disneyland in LA

On my second trip to Los Angeles, I decided to head to Disneyland in Anaheim, LA. This was my first time at a theme park, first time doing anything Disney related and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Needless to say, I was absolutely blown away. I started the day off quite sure I wouldn’t be interested in going on any rides (I had a bad experience on a waterslide when I was younger that made me nervous of any rides from there on…) and ended the day having done nearly every single ride in the park!

It’s impossible to get a photo of the castle without another tourist in the shot!

When I was trying to plan my day, I found a few guides online about what to do and see. However, a lot of these were written with kids and families in mind. I was a solo, first-time visitor to Disneyland and thought I could write something that would be helpful to others like me. P.s. don’t forget to check out my Shop part of my website for a free $25 from Booking.com!

Here are my recommendations for the ideal day at Disneyland:

For those who don’t know, Anaheim is quite far from Hollywood and downtown LA. Therefore, allow travel time (whether it be rental car, taxi or another method) into your day. With the ease of a rental car, it only took me 45 mins to get there from Hollywood. Parking was a breeze (albeit $20 from memory) and then you got on a little cart to take you to the main gate.

I would recommend purchasing tickets online as it saves lining up twice (once to buy tickets and another to scan the tickets and get in). I’d also suggest aiming to get to the park an hour before it opens. This allows parking time, time to go through bag check, on the cart to the gate and ticket checks.

Once inside, don’t bother with Main Street at this time! It stays open until super late so come back when the rides are crazy busy.

I highly suggest going to the popular rides first thing, when lines are less than 15 minutes. However, make note of the rides that utilize solo rider lanes. These can be done anytime during your visit as you never have to wait too long. (The idea of solo riders lanes is that if there is an odd number in a group and they need just one extra person to fill the ride, you get to jump in. You can go into the solo riders lane as a group but you WILL get split up. But it is an efficient way to jump the queues!)

At present, the following rides have solo riders lanes: Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Space Mountain.

With this in mind, I suggest heading to New Orleans Square and do the Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion rides first (see the bottom of this page to read about what each ride has to offer).

Then make your towards Frontierland and hit the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride (in all honesty, I did not do this ride at Disneyland as I was nervous about it but I did it later on in Disneyworld and it’s super fun! A tad scary at points but not too much).

Next up, head to Tomorrowland and do the Finding Nemo submarine voyage, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

The lines for most of the rides will be getting pretty long by now so I’d recommend going back and doing the solo rider rides; Indiana Jones (Adventureland), Splash Mountain (Critter Country), Matterhorn Bobsleds (Fantasyland) and Space Mountain (Tomorrowland). This is also a good time to go on a river cruise (Adventureland) as most of the crowds seem to be at the other rides.

Just a little terrified on Splash Mountain!

After all the fun and crazy rides are done, and you’re still not feeling like you’re done with the park, head to Fantasyland and do Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Snow White’s scary adventures, Peter Pans Flight, and it’s a small world. Be warned: these rides are targeted towards kids rather than adults so they will be calm. But if you’re like me and love the classic Disney movies then go for it!

Another option is to catch the train that leaves from a few different areas of the park and go around the entire park looking down on it. Great for people watching!

On your way out, this is a good time to check out the stores on Main Street for souvenirs.

Tip: avoid Mickeys Toontown unless you have kids or want to meet Mickey and Minnie. It’s very childish and quite boring.

Note: as you can see I didn’t mention any food places or stops for breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks; I was highly disappointed in the food options at Disneyland. I saw there were a few decent restaurants on site but who wants to waste time sitting down and eating a full meal when you’ve got so many exciting rides to go on and fun shows to see! I was looking for reasonable snacks that I could eat on the go…. And found absolutely nothing. My dinner of a corn dog and fries was sub-par and I can’t even remember what else I ate that day so it can’t have been much better. Save yourself time and money by taking your own food. You can eat it while standing in line as well as having actual decent food to run on all day (I packed a sandwich, crackers, muffin, banana for my day at Disneyworld in Florida and was soooo happy with it). In saying that, definitely get a churro when you see the stall – the churro vendors are few and far between!

Oh and of course, see the 2pm Main Street parade! Seats for this are usually starting to get full along the street at 1.30 so I’d definitely recommend getting there early. Maybe get some lunch with you and eat it while you wait?

Show times in the park vary by day and time of year so check online for those and be sure not to miss them! They’re all incredible to watch.

Oh, and download the Disney app and use it to keep track of wait times, show times and to have a digital map. I didn’t find out about the app until I got to the Florida one months later and it was SO handy.

Obviously, I didn’t do EVERYTHING Disneyland has to offer, but I felt like I did a good 90% of things there. I skipped the stuff that looked lame (*cough* Dumbo the flying elephant ride *cough*) and focused on the rides that looked super fun! I also managed to do everything I wanted in Disneyland in 11 hours (8.30am-7.30pm) without a fastpass service, mostly by utilizing the solo rider’s lanes, and knowing where to go first thing I got there. Towards the end of the day I did wait 40mins for one ride but that was the longest I waited (compare that to my Disneyworld experience and it’s nothing!).

Ride descriptions (note: I compared them to Disneyworld incase readers had been to that location and didn’t want to do the same type of rides again):

Indiana Jones ride: quite scary, dark and really rough

Pirates of the Caribbean: realistic models but pretty chill ride (very similar to Disneyworld)

Haunted mansion: fun (very similar to Disneyworld)

Splash Mountain: HUGE drop, kinda scary and definitely WET (very similar to Disneyworld)

Peter Pan: slow and calm but cool cause you feel like you’re flying (very similar to Disneyworld)

Nemo submarine: cool and chill ride but with really cool Nemo animations

Space Mountain: terrifying and dark roller coaster, can be done at night

River cruise: chill ride with funny commentary (very similar to Disneyworld)

Matterhorn: fun but not scary rollercoaster

Buzz: interactive shooting ride (very similar to Disneyworld)

Let me know what you think about my essential guide! Did I nail it? Did I miss something? Comment below 🙂

Courtney xo



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88 thoughts on “A first-timers essential guide to Disneyland in LA

  1. just saying, matterhorn and space mountain is the best haha every time i go to disneyland i always have to go to them xD even if their name is different lol

    1. I was soooo scared in Space Mountain. I think that was my first ever rollercoaster and oh my lord I was terrified!

  2. What a great guide to Disneyland. I really love to visit Disney with my twins, having a quality time with them is so fulfilling. and I think I need to plan our first family trip this 2018.

    1. Splash Mountain was sooo scary for me, I didn’t expect that massive drop! I loved my time though and actually can’t wait to go again 🙂

  3. Sounds like it offers a unique experience nevertheless. great tips to surviving the crowds and lines that i always hear so much about in other blogs. great tip on bringing your own food/snacks.

  4. Hi Courtney,

    Happy New Year! 🙂 I love the detailed review you gave about Disneyland rides and how they compare to Disneyworld rides. The Disney app is a great tip! 🙂 What time of the year did you go? Was it the off season? I love your pics., too!

    Best,
    Christina

    1. Thanks so much for the lovely comment Christina! I went to Disneyland in early October and Disneyworld over Thanksgiving week. I’m not sure if this is the off season or not but I’m not sure if the theme parks do have off seasons to be honest! There seems to ALWAYS be people visiting them!

  5. I have to say first of all, thank you for explaining the “antipodean” in your blog title, since I had no idea what it meant! and wow, on quitting your job to travel AND write your blog!

    This looks like a comprehensive guide for Disneyland that should be helpful to anyone planning to go there. My parents took my siblings and me to Disney WORLD in Florida, way back in the 1970s, since my Dad was from Florida, originally, and moved to New Hampshire (Mom’s home state) after he and Mom met and got married. The two rides I remember the most are Space Mountain and Small World. Everything else is kind of a blur, being so long ago!

    1. Glad I could teach you something new! Wow, I would love to know what Disneyworld looked like in the 70s. Walt Disney was such a brilliant man, I loved learning more about him. I can’t believe they had those rides way back then too! You’ll have to go again and see how it’s changed 🙂

  6. I am a huge Disney fan and have been visiting the parks since I was a kid. I’ve been to Orlando and Paris but have yet to visit the spot in LA. This makes me want to hop on a plane and head over. 🙂

    1. Ooh I’d love to go to the Paris one after doing these two! I hope you get to the LA one soon 🙂

  7. I went to Disney World last May and I’m supposed to go to Disneyland this November. I am super excited about it. Thanks for the insight on the solo rider lanes. I’ll keep this advice in mind, though I won’t be going alone, I’ll be with my baby niece, Mama, and brother.

  8. Sounds like a lot of fun! I went to Disneyland with my family when I was around 12 or 13 and I loved it. We took in a picnic lunch and felt so weird as it’s just not the done thing and there was nowhere to sit and eat it! xD

    1. Yeah they definitely lack on seating areas! I hope you get a chance to go back again as an adult 🙂

    1. So stressful! I don’t think I would go with anyone under 10. Otherwise they won’t even remember it that well and they’ll get super tired very quickly!

  9. This is a great guide! Thanks for the information! I hope to one day get to visit one of the Disney parks. This will be very handy if that happens cause I would have had no idea where to even start.

  10. When Ive been to disney once I have thoughts the same as you at first but then as I’ve gone through each of its wonders Ive been like “Oh this is fun!”. That kind of memories are for keep, there’ll always be a child inside of us.

    1. Oh my god you need to go! I was 26 when I went for the first time and can’t wait to go back! It’s definitely a fun day out for adults too 🙂

  11. I’ve never been to Disneyland, but I’ve been to Disney World. I’d love to visit Disneyland one day. I’m not a big fan of roller coasters, so I go for the more chill rides, and I love the shows. At Disney World, they have the Festival of Fantasy on Main Street, and I absolutely LOVE it! Everyone of all ages, from everywhere around the globe, come together and enjoy this beautiful festival. And in Epcot, I love the Illuminations light show at night. It’s truly breathtaking! I also second using the Disney app – it’s super helpful throughout the day. And I think it’s so important that you included that you can bring your own food into the park – I think a lot of people don’t realize that. I know I didn’t know that the first time I visited Disney World.

    1. I don’t like roller coasters either Larissa! A couple of the rollercoaster ones were SO much fun, and some of them were pretty average. Yessss bring your own food is probably the most important thing I tell people going! Save lots of money as well as time by not having to hunt down good food!

  12. Hi!
    Thank you for posting this! You are going to make my trip a breeze! Looks like some great advice and nice activities planned. I didn’t know it was so far from Anneheim to Hollywood! Good planning and thank you!
    Dee

  13. I use to work at an amusement park in Ohio and I can say from experience that you have some good tips here. But I have to defend the Dumbo ride. It’s actually not a bad ride, even if it is designed for kids.

  14. Fantastic advice here as I havent been to Disneyland and more likely to in the very near future when my daughter grows up. Bookmarked this page for future reference.

    1. I was silly and thought the fast passes cost extra so I didn’t get one but once I got the app in Orlando I found out you get 3 free fast passes and was amazed! I’m not sure if Disneyland does the same though. I thiiiink I did google it once and maybe found out they didn’t? Fast passes are great though!

  15. I live in Florida only an hour and half away from Disney world, so I go pretty frequently and love it! I have been to Disney Land only once, so I really enjoyed reading all the differences and similarities between the two parks. Thanks for the information!

    1. I’m going to write a post on Disneyworld soon so I hope you’ll read it and let me know how I go?!

  16. These are great tips! I take my daughter to Orange CA every winter for something unrelated, and have taken her to Disneyland before. BUT, we were just talking about going again this year. I completely agree with saving Main Street for later, and I hadn’t even thought of using solo lanes and letting us get split up to get through faster. Excellent tips!

    1. Yup, I would hope most people know that hahah. Did you know he got the idea for the monorail from visiting Germany too?! He’d never seen one before and saw one on a visit.. He ran to talk to the drivers but couldn’t understand their language. But he found out what it was and brought it to his theme parks!

  17. Wow, such a lovely experience. Looks like you had so much fun even though you were travelling solo. What I really liked is how well you simplified everything for people. One reading it will exactly know how to plan his trip.

  18. I haven’t been to DL ever but have heard that if you don’t have a proper guide then you might not be able to get the best of it in your first visit. While searching for a useful travel guide to disneyland, I found this blog of yours quite helpful. Thanx.

  19. As a child I was always fascinated with the Disney characters. Once I got to meet Mickey and Donald in an Indian theme park. But I guess the level of fun is on a different high in the real Disneyland.

    1. Must’ve still been cool seeing them! I’m not much of a character person just because I know the person inside is just putting on an act. But I do understand the happiness some may get by meeting them!

  20. These are great tips for Disneyland. I went to Disney World years ago and waiting in line was the worst part. Also what you said about food was the same then. The Disney App would be very useful when on site.

    1. Definitely waiting in line in the worst – especially when you’re by yourself! There’s only so much social media checking one can do in a day!

  21. The information in your guide about the rides is awesome. However, it is a little misleading (and offensive to this former Anaheim resident) to say it is in LA. It isn’t even in Los Angeles County. Anaheim is in Orange County, about 30 miles from Los Angeles. Even though I lived next door to Disneyland, I didn’t go very often. Not because I don’t love it, just other things to do.

    1. Totally justifiable comment! However I put LA in the title because people associate Disneyland with LA, especially for non-American visitors. A large portion of visitors to Disneyland in California would fly directly into LA. Plus I wrote another post on Disneyworld in Florida so wanted to easily distinguish the two!

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