Being a Disney addict, I have a few Disneyland tips I'd like to share. (Okay, a lot. Lots of reading coming up for you.)
I update this post every once in a while, so be sure to check back!
(*UPDATE: I now have another tip post, geared at bringing little ones to the park. Read it here.*)
If you need help finding a hotel, go to www.disneyland.com. --->places to stay --->hotels overview. (or click here.) Economy is the cheapest. Suite is the most expensive. You can narrow your search to which ones are across the street, which ones have complimentary breakfast, which ones have a pool, etc. (Good Neighbor Hotels are the cheapest, and they are just as close.)
Don't know when you want to go? (When is it the slowest? When are the parks open the longest? Will I be able to watch the fireworks or "Fantasmic!"? What rides will be closed?) Check out Disneyland's Site for a calendar of what rides will be closed for refurbishment, what parades/fireworks there will be, what time the park opens and closes, etc. You can also check out Is It Packed for a general idea of what crowds might be like, but these are just estimates based on previous years of data.
Get to Disneyland earlier than the park opens. Main Street USA is actually open before the rest of the park opens, so it gives you time to look at all the fun shops that you might not necessarily check out later on in the day when you want to ride the rides. Save Downtown Disney shopping for after Disneyland, because you don't need a ticket to go there, and it closes later.
Also, even though the rides at Disneyland close, (at midnight, or whenever the schedule says,) Main Street usually stays open for one extra hour. If you're not ready to leave the Happiest Place on Earth, get some delicious hot chocolate and take a stroll! This is also a great time to do souvenir shopping. (But if the prices of Disneyland souvenirs have your pocketbook shaking in fear, keep reading...)
It's no secret that some of the souvenirs at Disneyland are pretty expensive. So you might want to think about buying Disney-themed "souvenirs" from other stores before your trip (think: Dollar Store, Walmart, etc). Check the clearance section at your local Disney store ahead of time.
Speaking of purchasing souvenirs at the park, don't buy big bulky ones until the very end of your day, or you'll have to carry it around for the rest of the day. One caveat: if you are staying at a Disneyland hotel, you can have them send your purchases to your hotel room- NICE!
Another handy tip about Disneyland souvenirs is that if you do purchase an item and something terrible happens (heaven forbid), like a popped balloon or broken feather off your Peter Pan hat, they'll replace it as long as you have the item & receipt.
When you are in line to get into Disneyland, after they scan your ticket, grab a map and that will have all the showtimes of the day (for parades, fireworks, Fantasmic!, character appearances, etc.) on it.
If you're going for your birthday, anniversary, honeymoon, first visit to Disney, or another special occasion, get a button at the fire station! After you enter Disneyland and go under the tunnels, the fire station is directly to your left. The buttons are so much fun because Cast Members give you the "star treatment" if they see your button. For example, if you go on your birthday and get your button, they'll all wish you a happy birthday!
Bring a backpack with water bottles, chap stick, bandaids, sunscreen, crackers, granola bars, fruit snacks, etc. I even pack sandwiches for lunch in a tupperware container so they don't get squished. Also bring any medications you think you might need. (Ibuprofen, anyone?) They check your backpack before you enter the parks, but they allow food, drinks, and medications.
If you have a stroller that has air in the tires, there is an air pump outside of Disneyland at the main entrance area just in case! Your stroller should ideally let baby lie down, have a sunshade, and it is also nice to have a basket underneath to hold things. Being able to quickly collapse your stroller is nice if you're using the tram system to get to/from the Mickey & Friends parking structure.
It's also a good idea to personalize your stroller. At least write your name on it somewhere, but I like to put a big, noticeable bow on the handle. When you park it off a ride, sometimes it gets moved around by cast members so it's nice to be able to spot it quickly.
When are you going?
February and September are rumored to be the least crowded months, and I can say they're great times to go. Stay away during obvious breaks like Spring Break, 4th of July, and Christmas Eve/Day if you want to avoid crazy crowds.
If you are going any time between Halloween until Christmas, the Haunted Mansion is decorated like "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and it is really fun! The whole park is decorated really beautifully for Halloween and Christmas time. It's a Small World is really pretty, too. They make it all festive on the inside even.
Take lots of photos. If you have a camera, that's great, but if you forget to bring it, be sure to talk to a Disneyland photographer about getting a photo pass. If you bring your phone for photos and take a million like I do, your phone may die before your day ends. If you are desperate, there are charging stations in the locker rooms on main street.
Fun fact: You can walk inside the Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Fantasmic! is incredible. Get a fastpass for it early in the day. I haven't seen the new version but I'm sure it's as wonderful as the old version!
If you are going to California Adventure, make sure you watch World of Color! It is also fantastic. You need a fastpass for this show, as well. Lots of pyrotechnics, music, water, and groovy special effects.
Another fun must-see at California Adventure is the Animation building on Hollywood Blvd. You can learn how to draw Disney characters or visit places like Belle's library and Ursula's grotto. This is also where you can meet Anna and Elsa. It's a nice place to cool off, too. Turtle Talk With Crush is my favorite, though. You get to talk with Crush from Finding Nemo! Yes, the REAL Crush! (Not even joking.)
From our experience, The Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure usually has a short line, if you ever just need to relax and cool off. Plus, who doesn't love a good jam-session under the sea?
The daytime parade at Disneyland is called "Mickey's Soundsational Parade" and is really cute. I really like it, it's one of my favorites out of the past few parades they've done. Lots of songs to sing along with, familiar characters, fun dancing and costumes, etc. Eating while you watch the parade is a good idea, too. (I recommend getting a churro or two. Or ten.)
Tiki Room is a great place to cool off if you need a break. It's also a great spot for a Dole Whip-- YUM! Go to the line inside the Tiki Room waiting area; the line is usually shorter.
iTunes app Store for the iPhone:
Disneyland Wait Times (should be a free app) tells you all the wait times for the rides while you're at the park! There is a board at the end of Main Street that tells you the approximate wait times of popular rides. (But who wants to run back to check it during the day?)
Look around during each ride for a "hidden mickey" (the three circle silhouette)
A couple of easy ones:
In the Haunted Mansion, there is a scene where you are looking down at a party of ghosts dancing to music. There is a big long table. On the table, there should be a plate with two cups as mickey's ears.
On Pirates of the Caribbean, in the very last room before you go "up" the waterfall, there are drunken pirates shooting at each other. (Don't mind them.) On the wall, if you look to your left, there are two breastplates. The breastplate on the left has a REALLY TINY Mickey mouse on the coat of arms in the middle.
On Space Mountain the actual ride vehicle has the Mickey, the speakers in the middle form Mickey Mouse.
Can you spot it?
If you go to the main train station right when you enter Disneyland, talk to a cast member about getting (free) tickets to the "Lilly Belle." It is a private train ride that gives you fun facts and history about Walt and Disneyland. It might not be on your top list of things to do, but if you're a Disnerd like I am, it could be a fun stop.
Make sure you get Fast Passes for lines with long standby wait times. I'm not too sure how the new MaxPass system works, but it's worth looking into! Skipping 80-minute long standby lines is always a good thing.
Indiana Jones has a single rider line. So do Splash Mountain and Matterhorn. Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin', and Soarin' over California in DCA has one, as well. Great options for people who don't have fastpasses, and don't mind being separated but getting through the line more quickly.
Another "Fast Pass" is a Baby Swap/Parent Swap/Child Swap pass. (I've heard people call it all those names.) If you have child too small to meet the height requirement of any ride, ask the cast member by the entrance of the line of the ride for a Baby Swap pass. This allows one parent to stay off with baby while everyone else rides, then once they get off, the parent who had the baby gets to ride without waiting in a long line (plus one other so you're not alone)! Great idea. Disney thinks of everything.
The fireworks show at the end of the day at Disneyland is magic, plain and simple. There aren't many "bad" spots to watch it, because it goes all the way down Main Street now.
There are a lot of musical shows along Main Street and around the park. Check your park map for times of all performances. They're really cute and fun for a break.
The Matterhorn is a must. They recently refurbished the ride and even put in a new "Harold", the snow monster. Much more menacing! This ride is unique because there are actually two lines that wrap around opposite sides of the mountain- one is the "Fantasyland" line, the other is the "Tomorrowland" line. Look for the shortest one!
Want to meet lots of princesses? Go to the Royal Fantasy Faire to the left of the castle.
Want to meet Mickey and Minnie? Well, if you go to Toon Town, go to Mickey and Minnie's houses. You will be able to meet them! Goofy is often hanging outside around Toon Town as well. These characters (plus Donald, Daisy, Cruella, Pluto, etc.) are usually on Main Street as well.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun, be in the moment, and don't stress.
The more you prepare, the more fun it will be. :)