As a Southern California resident with a Disneyland Resort Annual Passport, I have been there countless times. I have visited as a young child, a thrill-seeking teenager, a single gal in my twenties, on dates with my husband, and with my kids from infancy to grade school. There is literally no corner of either Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park that I have not seen. As such, when my friends and relatives come to SoCal, they inevitably ask to visit with me. That is, if I don’t ask them first. Basically I love having any excuse to go. It can be intimidating to visit “The Happiest Place On Earth” for the first time, so I think it’s best to go with a pro (or at least get advice from one) who can help maximize your visit. Yet sometimes as a frequent guest we forget what it’s like to experience the Disneyland Resort for the first time. Over the years that I’ve eagerly played tour guide, I’ve figured out the following tips on how, exactly, to visit the Disneyland Resort with a first timer so they have the most magical day possible:
Ask Them What They Want To Do!
This may seem obvious, but sometimes we Disneyland Resort pros can forget that not everyone enjoys thrill rides, or character buffets, or firework spectaculars. I learned this the hard way once when I meticulously planned out a jam-packed fun day with my dear sweet cousin. I only realized that she was petrified of high-speed rollercoasters when the ride photo from California Screamin’ revealed her to be simultaneously crying and dry heaving into her own lap. I wish I were exaggerating! She hasn’t been back since. You want them to have such a great time that they’ll come back to visit you – and Disney – again. So, always find out what their must do’s and don’ts are in advance! You may even want to consider starting off small by spending a couple hours here first.
Map Out Your Day In Advance
Nowadays when I visit the Disneyland Resort, I come in feeling flexible and have one or two things I know I want to do. Sometimes it’s rides. Sometimes it’s a show. Sometimes I just want to have a bucket of popcorn and see the holiday decorations. The nice thing about being an AP is that you can go for a few hours and not feel pressure to hit everything. But when visiting the Disneyland Resort with a first timer, there are certain attractions that you know they need to experience if this is their one and only visit!
So it’s supremely helpful have an idea of what your day will look like. That helps ensure you don’t run out of time at the end to do that one thing they reeeeeaaaaaalllllly wanted to. If their must-do is to ride a super popular attraction like Radiator Springs Racers, then that needs to be a cornerstone priority in your day.
Get There Early
This probably goes without saying, but getting there for rope drop gives you the best chance of seeing all the big ticket items that are likely on your first timer’s wish list. Moreover, being there before the crowds begin to swell (usually starting a couple hours after opening) can keep your first timer from feeling immediately overwhelmed by the crowds. No one likes to wait on line. So when long queues are your initial and primary experience of the Disneyland Resort, even an encounter with Mickey Mouse won’t be able to keep your first timer from feeling drained by the waits. It always saddens me to hear people say they spent their whole visit waiting in long lines when I know that could have been avoided.
The Disney FASTPASS Service certainly helps cut down on those lengthy standby times, so I always take full advantage of it. Unfortunately, FASTPASSES aren’t available for all the popular attractions (e.g. It’s A Small World) so you’ll want to do those early if they’re top priorities. You may also want to consider purchasing a Disney MaxPass for the day. That allows you to maximize your day and help your Disneyland first timer get a really full experience in just one visit. In any case, expect a very active day, stay hydrated, and wear comfortable shoes as always!
Do All The First Time Things
Be sure to get your newbie a free “1st Visit” button from City Hall. Several other locations throughout the resorts and many table service restaurants keeps them in stock too. Grab them a paper map for a souvenir. Make sure they meet one of their favorite characters. Take a special Magic Shot with a Disney PhotoPass Photographer (this is where they insert a character or a special feature like balloons into your photo) which makes a fun memento of their visit. As an Annual Passholder I tend to do these things sporadically because I’ve done them so many times. But for a first timer, they are essential memories and mementos of their visit. Plus, you may discover a fun Magic Shot you weren’t aware of before, like Flo outside her V8 Cafe in Carsland!
Eat Good Food
I have sampled something at virtually every food counter, restaurant, and kiosk in both parks. Some are better than others. Some get extra points for having air conditioning. That is a fine quality to have especially on a hot day. But why settle for somewhat standard theme park food (I say “somewhat standard” because even my least favorite foods here are better than what you’d get at a non-Disney theme park). The Disneyland Resort is filled with unique treats and delicious dishes! Make sure your newbie gets a good sampling of yummy eats in the kingdom. If you can splurge, have a meal in a table service restaurant. This makes for a nice break from the rest of your hectic day (and again, air conditioning). I like Carthay Circle in Disney California Adventure Park or the River Belle Terrace in Disneyland Park.
Even if your budget is tight, you can still eat well. Split a plate of fried chicken at the Plaza Inn or delicious meat on a stick at Corn Dog Castle. Then take them to the bakery on Main Street for a special cupcake. Or customize the toppings on a popsicle at Clarabelle’s Hand Scooped Ice Cream. If they’re a Star Wars fan, The Force commands you to get them a lightsaber churro. Sometimes our best memories are made with food. And try not to think about the calories. You’ll probably walk it all off over the course of your day!
There will be times when your perfect plan goes awry. There will also be times when your first timer will become interested in something that you’ve never considered a priority. Like the time we went with my mother and she decided to spend a half hour watching the candy makers on Main Street. I enjoy observing these talented confectioners make caramel apples in the shapes of Disney characters. But a few minutes is enough before I’m ready to move on.
However, my mom – an avid and talented home chef who is famous in our circles for her baked goods – wanted to learn from their expertise. To her, this was the most magical attraction in the entire Disneyland Resort. And so the rest of us browsed through the shops while she mentally took notes of their techniques. Now, I’m happy to say, she can make a beautiful FROZEN-themed cake pop and we owe it all to Disney!
Did we miss anything? Leave a comment with your suggestions on what to do at the Disneyland Resort with a first timer!