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 have any idea 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?) This blog has done all the hard work for me- infographics on a monthly basis of what it's like. This website has a list of rides that will be closed for refurbishment. Super great information to keep in mind! And Disneyland has their own official News and Updates section and When to Visit section of their website that lets you know when rides reopen, what rides will be closed, celebrations, etc.
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. The magic shop used to be a "must" when my brother and I were just little kidlets. And 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 (think: Dollar Store) before your trip and surprise your children with them at the end of the day. Check the clearance section at your local Disney store ahead of time. The kids don't need to know it's not from Disneyland, they'll just love having something to remember the magical day they had. Much easier on the wallet, too.
Speaking of purchasing souvenirs at the park, don't buy these until the very end of your day, or you'll regret it. Especially if you have children, they'll beg you for it, love it once they have it, but inevitably you'll be the one who has 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 receipt. No questions asked. (My cousin bought a Peter Pan hat for her son, the feather broke off a couple days later, and the next time she went they replaced it. They're pretty awesome about this kind of stuff. Gotta keep the magic alive!)
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. This link also tells you those things, as well as blackout dates, magic morning hours, etc. but it's nice to have it printed and in-hand while you're at the park.
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! (and who doesn't love that?) My husband and I went on our honeymoon and got "Just Married" buttons- it paid off! We would get special attention; like our own boat "cruise" on Small World, or get to sit in the back by ourselves on Indy, and even got a fun "Happy 'Hunny'moon" card from Pooh Bear, and a "glass slipper" from the Storybook Land ride. The characters make a big deal out of your buttons too. It is so much fun! (Once I got a "Feliz Cumpleaños button for my 16th birthday, they ran out of English buttons so I got a Spanish one instead. The one pictured is my husband sporting his "Just Married" button from our honeymoon.)
Bring a backpack with granola bars, water bottles (maybe even freeze one so it keeps everything cold), crackers, 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 and drinks and medications.
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, $2/hr.
Fun fact: You can walk inside the Sleeping Beauty Castle. It is fun!
Fantasmic! It makes me cry. If you've seen it, you probably love it. But if you haven't, I would suggest you go. It is on the Rivers of America (right by Pirates of the Caribbean) at like 9:00pm and then again around like 10:30pm. (Once again, your map will let you know what times it will be playing, if it is playing, that evening.) REALLY fun show. But you need to pick up fastpasses early in the day (on the Big Thunder trail) if you know you want to watch it.
SPOILER ALERT: Here's a video of Fantasmic.
If you are going to California Adventure, make sure you watch World of Color! It is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. And they change it up and add new scenes a lot. Right now it is the Disneyland/Walt themed Celebration. 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. 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.) When my hubby and I went for our honeymoon (wearing our "just married" pins and Mickey ears,) Crush gave us special attention and asked us why we had "four ears". When we told him we were on our honeymoon, everyone cheered and Crush did some backflips. He told us he had like 70 children and asked us how many we would have. (Along with many other cute questions.) Such magic!
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. They usually show the parade twice in the late afternoon. The nighttime parade is brand new and so fun! "Paint the Night" is a spectacular nighttime vision! "In millions of dazzling lights..." you will be entertained right 'til the end. It gives homage to the Main Street Electrical Parade for all you old Disney lovers.
If some don't want to watch the parade and some do, ride lines are a little shorter during parades. Have one group go on a ride while the other watches the parade. Eating while you watch the parade is a good idea, too. (I recommend getting a churro or two. Or ten.)
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. If you ever forget to use a Fast Pass, don't worry-- I have found that cast members will usually honor Fast Passes after your time slot, but never before. Disneyland's website has a new A-B-Cs of Fast Passes article. Some of the big-ticket rides also have "single rider passes" -talk to a cast member and go through the exit of ride.
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 incredible! You can pretty much see them wherever you are, although if you want premium seats, save spots early! In front of the castle is obviously the best viewing area. However, with the new fireworks show, Main Street has gotten in on the fun! Projections all over the buildings that sync with the music. In front of "it's a small world" is a fun, unique area to watch fireworks as well. (Make sure to look at the Matterhorn during the Finding Nemo scene!)
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 Mickey and Minnie? Well, if you go to Toon Town (it closes earlier than the rest of the park, so go before it closes.) Anyway, if you go to Toon Town, go to Mickey and Minnie's houses. You will be able to meet them! (Minnie's schedule is a little less certain, check map and signs outside her house for times. Sometimes she is in front of her house, sometimes she's out in the back.) Mickey is always in his house, and it usually takes about 30 minutes to meet him. It is fun though, because you get to walk around his house and watch cartoons. You get your own private meeting with him to take a few photos. It is really worth it.
Maybe you could print this out and bring it to Disneyland folded up in your backpack, just so you don't have to try to remember everything.
The more you prepare, the more fun it will be. :)