In this post, I’m going to tell you the truth about my first trip to Disneyland as an adult. I was stressed out and had all sorts of plans for each day. Spoiler alert: I threw my plans out and just enjoyed Disneyland. We bought a 3-Day Park Hopper (best choice), stayed at Tropicana Inn which was a quick walk across the street to the parks, and bought MaxPasses and used our phones all day to find the best waiting times, as well as for the map so we knew where we were going.This post may contain affiliate links. Please view our disclosure statement.
Okay, the title is a lie. I went to Disneyland when I was 9 or so. I’ve been to Disneyland before. But I mean, that was also over 20 years ago and I was 9 so I don’t remember anything other than the It’s A Small World ride and Splash Mountain.
To prepare for this trip to Disneyland with my two young children and husband, I studied Disneyland blogs like they were scripture. I mean, unfortunately, I literally studied these blogs more than I studied scripture. I did this for about one month straight and by the time it was time to pack up and leave on our Disneyland vacation, I was more confused than when I had started.
I wasn’t sure what a “rope drop” was going to look like, I still was confused on the layout of the parks despite the maps and videos I had studied, I wasn’t sure if 20 minutes was a long wait time at Disneyland or not, I was confused about FastPasses versus MaxPasses versus some other app called RideMax. Were they helpful? I mean, I knew I needed Fast Passes but what else did I need? Would we be starving? Would taking one backpack be enough to hold all of our things? Would one backpack be too large? What happens with my backpack on all of the rides? And where the heck were these “lockers” I kept reading about and hearing about.
So basically we arrived at Disneyland overly prepared but absolutely confused about everything. That first morning at Disneyland, two out of four of us had slept in (obviously not me) and I couldn’t decide whether I should wake everyone up so we could be at the park 30-60 minutes early like everyone recommended but they’d be tired all day or if I should let them sleep in and not arrive at the park until after it opened and ruin my entire plan for the day. I ended up letting them sleep in and we arrived late which according to all of the blogs I had read, was basically the worst way to start your morning at Disneyland.
I had used RideMax, a website that allows you to select all of the rides you want to ride and then puts it into an order with specific times that you’ll need to be in line, receive your FastPass, and how long you’ll expect to wait in line. Well, with us being so late, that whole itinerary got thrown out and we just started enjoying rides. That first day we arrived late, went between Disneyland and California Adventure three times, still rode 18 rides, enjoyed some shows on the streets, ate at Blue Bayou, and left the park around 7:30 pm. So I’m here to say, if it’s your first time and you’re stressed out like I was about wandering around the parks with no help, you can do it! And it will be fantastic.
Disneyland and California Adventure will be busy.
Let’s just be honest for a moment. I come from a small city that’s next to a lot of larger cities but I’m used to little traffic in my 10-minute driving radius, a Walmart that rarely has long lines (heck, I rarely wait in a line to check out at all), a city that doesn’t even have a stop light, and the main road of my city is a 25 MPH zone. I’m just not used to people. After everyone told me how miserable certain days were going to be at Disneyland and everyone and their dog will be there, I was prepared for the worst. We did look at the parks crowd calendar to make sure that we were going when it was a little less busy so it was not as busy as it could have been but still, everyone warned me that it didn’t matter, it would be busy.
When we arrived, it was way busier than I had expected. The lines just to enter the park were crazy (remember, I arrived late instead of arrive 30-60 minutes early). However, once we were inside Disneyland, we headed straight for Tomorrowland and we jumped right onto Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours with absolutely no wait. We did wait 10 minutes for Autopia (a car ride) but it ended up shutting down and we got an Experience Pass which allowed us to get onto any FastPass ride without waiting to use it at a specific time.
Get the MaxPass.
We began at Disneyland and watched wait times closely on the Disneyland app. Also, once I arrived at the parks, I bought the MaxPass on the app which was incredibly easy to do because I had already linked my credit card to my app so purchasing and reserving seating at restaurant was quick and simple. About 90 minutes later, we headed over to California Adventure to hit some of their most popular rides. Before I left Disneyland, I had grabbed a FastPass for a ride at California Adventure (another HUGE plus to MaxPass).
Between MaxPass for FastPasses and the Disneyland app telling me how long wait times were for each ride, the entire day was a breeze. Our longest wait time ended up being 10 minutes. We had four rides break down on us, three of them while we were holding FastPasses for the rides and the other one being Autopia in which we received the Experience Passes for all four which made our day even better.
You can’t choose to get an Experience Pass but if you do, use it for the rides that runs out of FastPasses!
These Experience Passes work much like FastPasses except you only receive them if a ride breaks down or another reason the cast members decide. You can hold multiple of these without it affecting the maximum of two FastPasses that you can hold at one time. You don’t have to schedule these Experience Passes. Instead, you walk right up to the FastPass lane, scan the pass, and continue on to the line to the ride. We decided to save these passes for the rides where the FastPasses will run out.
Anyway, around 1:30 pm, we went back to Disneyland for our Blue Bayou reservation. We spent some more time at Disneyland riding some of the rides, making sure we always held two FastPasses if possible (because once you select a FastPass, you must wait a certain amount of time until you select another FastPass).
Around 6 pm, we went back to California Adventure. Having experienced all of the big FastPass rides and many of the smaller ones, we decided to make sure we used our last Experience Pass on Radiator Springs Racers, one of the most popular rides at California Adventure. By the evening, it had a 60-minute standby wait time with no FastPasses left for the day. Because we had our Experience Pass, we were able to use it with no problem and go to ride Radiator Springs Racers for the second time that day.
All you really need is the Disneyland app and MaxPasses.
We had extended family members join us for our second and third days. They had a RideMax plan to follow and had planned to not use MaxPasses. We saw the difference between having a MaxPass and not on our second day and I won’t ever experience Disneyland again without a MaxPass. While it is $10/person/day, it is worth it. We saved so much time being able to select a FastPass while standing in line for other rides or walking the opposite direction or while eating lunch that it was completely worth it. We converted our family members and I think they also realized that it was really hard to stick to the RideMax plan with the MaxPass because we were getting through so many more rides than the RideMax had planned.
Take snacks but plan to buy food.
Each day I had packed a small athletic Nike bag/backpack. It was lighter weight but also held all the things we needed. I packed:
- snacks like crackers, apple slices, dry cereal, peanut butter sandwiches cut into fourths for easy eating, and granola bars
- 2 water bottles, easily refilled at drinking fountains around the park
- hand sanitizer
- tickets on lanyards. While I had my tickets scanned to my phone, I took the tickets just in case I needed the physical tickets which were needed once for a scanner that was not scanning phones well. The lanyards had the plastic covers for the tickets which were ideal to keep physical FastPasses like the World Of Color passes and the Jedi Training tickets.
- extra contacts. The second day, my husband’s contact somehow broke in half during one of the rides so we made sure to have an extra set.
While we had plenty of snacks, it was a lot easier to buy food at the parks. Our first day at Disneyland without family, we splurged on some expensive foods and it was all delicious. The second and third days, since we had more picky eaters, we made sure to eat in locations where there were many food options and we ate together on the patios. There were a lot of great options everywhere. Each time we bought food for the four of us, we spent about $35 so it does add up quickly.
Use the Disneyland app.
I know I already mentioned it but this was seriously helpful. I turned on my location on my phone and used the map. It showed me where I was at all times so I could navigate the park easily. It even has an arrow to point out which way you are headed. I mean, if that doesn’t make things easy, I don’t know what will.
What are your top tips for Disneyland?