Planning your first trip Disneyland for the first time can definitely be overwhelming! Three are so many things to think about, that you may not even know about. There is even a lingo that is specific to Disney that can leave the first time visitor’s head spinning! With this Disneyland Guide for First Timers, I will walk you through the process of choosing the best time visit, finding the perfect hotel options, and translating that special “Disney Language” that will give you the confidence to have the most amazing time at the Happiest Place on Earth!
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Kids ages 3-9 pay as little as $50 per day at the Disneyland Resort from January 8 – March 10, 2024. Check prices below and see more Disneyland Deals from Get Away Today! Combine this deal with a hotel stay and use code: Clubhouse10 to save even more!
About Disneyland in California
When stepping into the Disneyland Resort you’re about to embark on an adventure where fairy tales blend with thrilling escapades, and legendary characters greet you with warm smiles. As a first-time visitor, that flutter of excitement you feel is the beginning of a journey through a world of whimsy that awaits at the original park conceived by Walt Disney himself.
Established in 1955, Disneyland has become a beacon of joy, not just for kids, but for anyone who delights in the magic of storytelling. Over the years, it’s evolved into a sprawling haven comprising two distinct theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park (DCA). You can also enjoy vibrant areas like Downtown Disney District and visit the beautiful Disneyland Resort Hotels.
Whether it’s the vintage charms of Main Street, U.S.A. or the superhero thrills in Avengers Campus, the resort offers a variety of immersive lands for you to explore.
Exploring the Lands of Disneyland Park
Let’s start with the original, Disneyland Park. As you step through the main gates, you will first be met with a view of the Disneyland Railroad train station and a giant Mickey Mouse-shaped garden. This is the perfect spot to grab a family picture!
Main Street, U.S.A
Main Street, U.S.A was designed to look like a small-town Main Street that you would find almost anywhere in the U.S. There is a City Hall, where you will find guest services, as well as the largest gift shop, The Emporium.
You will also find the attraction, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which is a great place to take a break from the heat and business of the park!
As you walk down Main Street, you will see more shops and restaurants including Candy Palace and a Magic Shop. At the end of Main Street is the hub of the park where you will go to Adventureland and Frontierland to the left, Fantasyland straight through Sleeping Beauty Castle, and Tomorrowland to the right.
The Hub is also where you will find the best fried chicken at Plaza Inn and Jolly Holiday Bakery & Cafe to get the famous Raspberry Rose Macaron!
The best part of Main Street is seeing the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle. You can walk through the castle and see dioramas of Sleeping Beauty’s story, or take a picture with your little prince and princess in front!
Adventureland is located to the left of the hub and is where my family usually starts our Disneyland day. As you pass through the Adventureland sing, you will see The Enchanted Tiki Room where animatronic birds sing and right next door, Tropical Hideaway where you can pick up a refreshing Dole Whip.
You will also find the famous attraction, Indiana Jones Adventure, as well as Jungle Cruise and Tarzan’s Treehouse.
Be sure to stop by Bengal Barbecue for some yummy skewers or grab a Dole Whip at the Tiki Juice bar!
Next up is Frontierland, located to the left of Main Street, U.S.A. Here you will find one of my favorite rides, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad! You can also hop on board Mark Twain Riverboat or Sailing Ship Columbia for a scenic ride around Tom Sawyer Island.
Be sure to check out Frontierland’s many food options including Rancho Del Zocalo and Golden Horseshoe for some tasty meals like the Jumbo Turkey Leg or Chili Con Queso!
New Orleans Square
Just beyond Frontierland is New Orleans Square, where you will find the popular attraction Pirates of the Caribbean. You can also grab a delicious meal at Blue Bayou Restaurant, or some beignets at Mint Julep Bar.
New Orleans Square is also home to the Haunted Mansion and the future Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, formerly Splash Mountain.
Critter Country is home to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes. You can also grab a tasty burger at Hungry Bear Restaurant or pick up something sweet from Pooh’s Corner, I recommend the Churro Toffee!
Straight through Sleeping Beauty Castle, you will find yourself in Fantasyland – a magical land filled with classic Disney stories and attractions. Here you can ride on your favorite princess’s horse on King Arthur Carrousel or take a spin on the Mad Tea Party teacups.
Be sure to check out the newly reimagined Snow White’s Enchanted Wish and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, as well as the classic ride Peter Pan’s Flight.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
One of the newest lands at Disneyland Park is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Here, you can live out your own Star Wars adventure by piloting the Millennium Falcon on Smugglers Run or joining the Resistance on Rise of the Resistance.
You can also build your own lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop or create and customize your own droid at Droid Depot. And don’t forget to refuel at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo or grab a refreshing Blue Milk from the Milk Stand!
Mickey’s Toontown is a colorful and playful area of the park, perfect for young children and the young at heart. You can explore Mickey and Minnie’s houses, as well as take a ride on Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Be sure to stop by Daisy’s Diner for some tasty snacks or Good Boy! Grocers for a picnic lunch!
Last but not least is Tomorrowland, located to the right of Main Street, U.S.A. This futuristic land is home to the iconic Space Mountain, as well as Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Your kids can test out their driving skills on Autopia, a family favorite of ours!
Be sure to stop by Alien Pizza Planet for some out-of-this-world pizza or grab a delicious churro at the Churros Cart! And don’t forget to ride the Disneyland Monorail for a unique view of the park.
Areas of Disney California Adventure Park
Now let’s step across the esplanade and visit Disney California Adventure Park, also called DCA or just California Adventure. Here you’ll discover six more thematic splendors.
Buena Vista Street
As you enter the park, Buena Vista Street greets you as a nostalgic boulevard, whisking you back to 1920s California. Here you will find many shops and restaurants and hop on the Red Car Trolley. Be sure to stop by the Carthay Circle Restaurant for a fancy dinner or Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream for a sweet treat!
Next up is Hollywood Land, where you can get a taste of showbiz with attractions like Mickey’s Philharmagic and Animation Academy. You can also take a stroll down Sunset Boulevard or snap a photo with your favorite characters at the Hollywood Backlot Stage.
Be sure to stop by Award Wieners for some tasty hot dogs or grab a refreshing drink at Schmoozies!
One of the newest additions to California Adventure is Avengers Campus, a land dedicated to all things Marvel. Here you can meet your favorite superheroes, ride on Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, and try out some unique and delicious food at Pym Test Kitchen.
You can also pick up some souvenirs at WEB Suppliers or try your hand at web-slinging on the interactive ride, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure.
One of the most popular areas in DCA is Cars Land, where you will feel like you’ve stepped into the world of Disney-Pixar’s Cars. You can race through Radiator Springs on Radiator Springs Racers or take a spin on Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters.
Be sure to grab a meal at Flo’s V8 Cafe or indulge in some delicious churro bites from Cozy Cone Motel! And don’t forget to meet and greet Lightning McQueen and Mater at their Cozy Cone Motel home.
Grizzly Peak is a beautiful area of the park, inspired by California’s national parks. Here you can take a thrilling ride on Grizzly River Run or soar above the Golden State on Soarin’ Around the World.
Be sure to stop by Smokejumpers Grill for some tasty burgers or grab a churro next to the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.
Paradise Gardens Park
Next up is Paradise Gardens Park, a charming area that celebrates the beauty and diversity of California. Here you can ride on the Golden Zephyr or enjoy live music at the Paradise Garden Bandstand.
Be sure to check out some delicious eats at Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta or try a cheese-filled pretzel from Bayside Brews.
Pixar Pier is a must-visit for fans of Disney-Pixar films. Here you will find attractions like the Incredicoaster, Jessie’s Critter Carousel, and Toy Story Midway Mania. You can also find tasty treats at Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats and Angry Dogs.
Be sure to catch the nightly World of Color water and light show at Paradise Bay, which features beloved Pixar characters and stories.
Newly added to Disney California Adventure Park is the vibrant world of San Fransokyo from Disney’s Big Hero 6. Be sure to stop by Lucky Fortune Cookery for some tasty Asian-inspired cuisine or grab a refreshing ice cream treat at Ghirardelli Square.
Choosing Your Perfect Disneyland Hotel
Choosing where to stay can make a world of difference, and the Disneyland Resort hotels offer a sprinkle of pixie dust that makes the entire visit even more enchanting. A great thing about Disneyland is that there are many high-quality Good Neighbor Hotel just as close to the magic as the on property hotels.
Disneyland Resort Hotels
The Grand Californian is the crown jewel with its majestic craftsman-style elegance. Imagine stepping out and finding yourself mere minutes from both parks; this is the unparalleled convenience you get here, along with direct access to Disney California Adventure Park. Read my review of the Grand Californian.
The Disneyland Hotel carries the classic Disney magic in its bones. It may be a slightly longer walk to the parks, but guests here enjoy the perk of reliving the nostalgia of Disneyland’s early days. Also, if you wish to start your day with a splash, their pools with monorail-themed water slides beckon fun for all ages. Read my review of the Disneyland Hotel.
Last but certainly not least, the newly renovated Pixar Pier Hotel offers a Pixar character-themed hotel complete with all of your favorite characters from Toy Story, Incredibles, Inside Out. Although it’s a bit farther from the hustle and bustle, it’s a charming option with spectacular views of the park’s fireworks.
All three Disney-owned hotels come with the added luxury of early entry to the parks. You get more time with shorter lines at some of your favorite rides.
Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels
If you’re looking for more budget-friendly options, Disneyland’s Good Neighbor Hotels offer a variety of choices, including chain hotels like Best Western and Marriott. These hotels may be a bit farther from the gates, but most are still within walking distance or have complimentary shuttle services.
Check out my reviews of the following Good Neighbor hotels: Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, Howard Johnson Anaheim, The Viv Anaheim, Embassy Suites Anaheim South, Great Wolf Lodge Anaheim, Cambria Hotel & Suites, and Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel.
Choose Your Ticket Type
The Disneyland Resort offers a variety of ticket options to suit your needs and budget. You can choose from 1-day, multi-day, park hopper, and single-park tickets. The more days you visit, the lower the daily cost will be.
Park hopper tickets allow you to visit both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure on the same day, while single-park tickets only allow you to visit one park per day. Keep in mind that multi-day tickets do not have to be used on consecutive days, so you can explore other attractions in the area if you want a break from the Disney parks. Read more about the difference between Park Hopper tickets and 1-Park per Day tickets here.
You can also upgrade your ticket to include Genie+, which allows you to make ride reservations directly from your phone and includes unlimited PhotoPass downloads.
Planning Your Trip: Reservations
Planning a Disneyland vacation requires a bit more prep nowadays, especially after things have transitioned in the last few years.
Make Park Reservations
Before heading to your magical destination, you’ll need to snag park reservations up to 120 days in advance. The earlier the better. Without these reservations, your plans could stall before you even spot the enchanting Sleeping Beauty Castle. Secure a spot on the Disneyland website or app. It’s a straightforward process that pays off immensely.
Disneyland Dining Reservations
Now, let’s talk mealtime. Dining experiences at Disneyland are as diverse as the attractions. You’ve bot options, from quick bites to indulgent meals with Disney characters joining you at the table.
To seize the perfect dining moments, I’d suggest making reservations up to 60 days prior. This way, you sidestep the disappointment of missing out on culinary gems or that coveted seat with a view of Pirates of the Caribbean at the Blue Bayou.
Using the Disneyland App
The Disneyland app is your key to a seamless and magical visit. From ride wait times to mobile food orders, this app has got you covered. You can even use it to manage your park reservations, see show schedules, and make dining reservations.
Not only that, but the app also offers helpful features like interactive maps, character meet and greet locations, and even restroom locations. It’s a must-have for any Disneyland vacation.
Have you ever wished for a personal planner at Disneyland to effortlessly whisk you from one adventure to the next? Enter Disney Genie, your virtual wish-granter.
This innovative service, accessible within the official Disneyland app, will map out an optimal day for you, tailored to your preferences. Just tell it which attractions tug at your heartstrings, and it will craft a schedule that dances smoothly around wait times and distances, ensuring you’re always at the right place at the right time.
Although Disney Genie is a complimentary service available through the Disneyland app for all guests, you can “level up” this service by purchasing Genie+. With Genie+ you are able to reserve time windows to go on certain attractions and avoid waiting in long stand-by lines, like the former Fastpass system and Disney MaxPass.
Although Genie+ is an extra expense, if you can swing it, I have always found it to be worth the cost. As of right now, the price of Genie+ is $30 per person per day. This is on top of your admission ticket price.
MagicBand+ is an optional accessory that you can purchase for your Disneyland trip. This wearable piece of tech can be used as your ticket, to scan for Genie+, and PhotoPass. These save so much time (and you’re phone’s battery) when scanning into the park and into your Genie+ Lightning Lanes. However, they are not necessary. You can still do all of these things easily from the Disneyland app on your phone.
For rookies stepping into Disneyland’s spellbinding realm, these tools don’t just simplify; they magnify the thrills, allowing you to bask in every magical moment. If it fits into your Disneyland budget, I recommend you embrace Disney Genie+ and MagicBand+ to optimize your visit.
Transportation to Disneyland
Embarking on an adventure to Disneyland starts with figuring out the logistics of your journey, and I’m here to guide you through your array of choices. Southern California is well connected, so you’ve got several airports within a 90 minutes drive. John Wayne Airport, Long Beach Airport, and Ontario International are all coser options, but the larger Los Angeles Interational (LAX) might offer more flight choices.
Once you land you can, you can opt for a rental car if you like the freedom to explore other areas, or perhaps you’d prefer to skip the hassle of driving and parking.
If that’s the case, consider Lansky Enterprises for a convenient transfer from the airport directly to your hotel. The offer personalized served that can make the start of your journey as magical as the destination itself.
Ride share services like Uber and Lyft are also great options to get from the airport to Disneyland or your hotel. Just be prepared for potential surge pricing during peak visiting times.
Seasonal Spectacles and Events
Disneyland transforms with the seasons, each bringing its own unique brand of magic. Halloween Time casts a spell over the park from September to October, with whimsical decorations, themed treats, and your favorite characters donning their spookiest costumes. Feel the thrill of special events like the Oogie Boogie Bash at Disney California Adventure, a must for fans of all things autumnal and eerie.
Come November and December, the Holidays at Disneyland immerse you in a winter wonderland. The parks twinkle with festive lights, and the scent of gingerbread wafts through the air. Delight in the Christmas Fantasy Parade, the seasonal makeovers of certain rides, and, of course, the nightly snowfall on Main Street, U.S.A. Read my guides for Disneyland in October and in December.
Keep your eyes peeled for announcements about these seasonal spectacles, as they are subject to change, and other limited-time events. Disneyland never fails to surprise with fresh, imaginative celebrations that enhance your experience. Bookmark the official Disneyland events page and follow social media channels to esuer you don’t miss a drop of seasonal enchantment.
Booking Your Disneyland Vacation
You’ve combed through the enchanting details of every land and imagined the excitement of a first-time stroll down Main Street. Your Disneyland journey is just within reach, waiting to unfold its treasures before your eyes. Now, let’s make those dreams a reality. Booking your visit need not be a maze of confusion. This is where my travel partner, Get Away Today steps in to sprinkle some pixie dust on your vacation planning.
I can’t stress enough, the relief that comes from having experts by your side. They have all the know-how to tailor your Disneyland experience, ensuring you capture all the joy without the hassle. They’re well-versed in the nitty-gritty. From helping you secure those coveted park reservations to selecting just the right spot for a memorable meal. Their guidance is like having a personal map to the heart of the magic.
Get Away Today‘s booking services are complimentary to you and will most likely even save you money. They have partnerships with many Good Neighbor hotels near Disneyland and can offer those that book with them discounted rates and even 3rd or 4th nights free! Many of Get Away Today‘s Disneyland vacation packages even include complimentary parking and free breakfast!
Check prices at www.GetAwayToday.com to see what kind of deals can be found for your desired dates and use the coupon code: Clubhouse10 to save even more on a 2-night or longer Southern California vacation package. You can also give them a call at 855-GET-AWAY if you prefer to find out details with a live person! Just remember to mention Mommy Mouse Clubhouse sent you.
Disney Words & Lingo You Should Know
Disney parks seem to have their own language, which can be very confusing and intimidating for first timers. But don’t worry, learning a few key words and phrases can help you navigate your way through the park like a pro! Here are some essential Disney terms to know before your visit:
- Disneyland Resort: Refers to the two theme parks (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure), three hotels, and Downtown Disney entertainment district.
- Early Entry: Special early admission to the parks for guests of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, the Disneyland Hotel, and Pixar Pier Hotel.
- Park Hopper: An add-on option that allows you to visit both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on the same day.
- Genie+: A paid service that allows you to skip the regular lines for certain attractions.
- Lightning Lane (LL): The designated entrance for Genie+ users.
- Individual Lightning Lane (ILL): These are designated entrance for those who paid for individual ride reservations on select attractions including Radiator Springs Racers and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
- Single Rider Line: A separate line at select attractions that allows solo guests to fill in empty seats on rides.
- MagicBand+: A wristband that acts as your park ticket, room key, and can also be used to make purchases and redeem Genie+ Lightning Lane and Individual Lightning Lane reservations.
- Magic Key: Disneyland’s annual pass program, with different levels of membership offering various perks and discounts.
- Good Neighbor Hotel: Non-Disney hotels that are officially approved by Disneyland and often offer special deals for guests.
- DCA: An abbreviation for Disney California Adventure.
- AP: Short for Annual Pass.
- Rope Drop: The term used for the official opening of the park, where guests line up at the entrance before it opens. It’s often recommended to arrive early for rope drop to beat the crowds and get a head start on your day.
- Quick Service Dining: Refers to dining options where guests order at a counter and can take their food to go or find a nearby table to eat.
- Table Service Dining: Refers to sit-down restaurants where guests are served by a waiter/waitress at their table. These locations will generally need a reservation.
- Wait Times: The estimated wait time for a specific attraction, often displayed on the Disneyland app.
- PhotoPass: Disney’s professional photo service where guests can have their pictures taken at designated spots throughout the parks by Cast Members. PhotoPass also includes pictures taken on rides.
- DVC: Disney Vacation Club, a timeshare program that allows members to book stays at Disney resorts.
- Imagineer: An employee of Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative force behind the design and development of Disney parks and attractions.
- Character Meals: Dining experiences where Disney characters interact with guests while they eat. Character meals are served inside Disneyland at Plaza Inn for breakfast as well as in the Disneyland Resort Hotels. At the Grand Californian, enjoy brunch at Storyteller’s Cafe with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Chip, and Dale. You can also dine with the Princesses at Napa Rose. At the Disneyland Hotel, enjoy breakfast or dinner with Goofy and friends at Goofy’s Kitchen.
- Pin Trading: A popular activity among Disney fans, where guests can trade pins with Cast Members or other guests throughout the park.
With these key terms in your back pocket, you’ll be able to navigate Disneyland like a pro and fully immerse yourself in the magic of the Happiest Place on Earth.
Additional Tips for First Time Visitors
Even with all the planning in the world, there may still be some surprises when visiting Disneyland for the first time. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind before and during your trip:
- Download the Disneyland app: The official Disneyland app is a valuable tool for planning, navigating, and experiencing the park. You can check wait times, make dining reservations, purchase Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane reservations, and even mobile order food.
- Bring comfortable shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes to avoid blisters and sore feet.
- Stay hydrated: With all the excitement and physical activity, it’s important to stay hydrated. Bring a refillable water bottle or purchase one in the park and take advantage of the many water fountains throughout the parks.
- Take breaks: It’s easy to get caught up in the magic and try to do everything, but don’t forget to take breaks throughout the day. Find a quiet spot to sit and rest or even take a quick nap at your hotel before returning for more fun.
- Don’t miss out on nighttime entertainment: Disneyland comes alive at night with spectacular shows, parades, and fireworks. Make sure to plan your day so you can experience these magical moments.
- Have fun and make memories: Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and make unforgettable memories with your loved ones! Disneyland truly is the happiest place on earth, and it’s all about enjoying the magic of Walt Disney’s imagination. So sit back, relax, and let the magic take you away! And if you ever need help or have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask a cast member. They are there to make your experience as magical as possible.
Visiting Disneyland is a one-of-a-kind experience that can be overwhelming and exciting at the same time. But with these essential terms and tips, you’ll have all the tools you need to make the most out of your trip and create memories that will last a lifetime. So pack your bags, put on those Mickey ears, and get ready for a magical adventure at the Happiest Place on Earth! See you real soon!
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