Visiting Disneyland for the first time? That was me last year! As a recent first-timer to Disneyland, I learned a LOT of useful tips during my visit. Things I wish I’d known before I visited Disneyland. Although there are some similarities between Disneyland and Disney World, there are also a lot of differences.
I visit Disney World a lot. As in multiple times each year. As in I have annual passes to Disney World. So, I feel like I have a great handle on how to visit Disney World and how to have the best trip possible.
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But Disneyland? An entirely different trip for me. Of course, I did quite a bit of research and was able to pick up some tips here and there, but not everything I wished I knew beforehand in one place, AND definitely not everything – I learned some tricks on the fly, and sadly after my visit.
So, ready for 23 Disneyland tips for first-timers for 2023?
Disneyland tips for first-timers – How to Save Money
Just like Disney World, Disneyland is expensive. Very expensive. But, we did find a few ways to save a little bit – without a lot of extra work. When you are visiting Disneyland for the first time there are quite a few things you can do to save some money.
1. Buy your tickets ahead of time
My first suggestion is to buy your tickets ahead of time. To enter the park, you must have a park reservation (which you can make on the Disneyland website).
You’ll also save time and money by not having to wait in line at the ticket gates to buy tickets and try to make a park reservation on the spot. Tickets are always the most expensive at the gate.
2. Use a ticket broker
It’s challenging to save money when buying Disneyland tickets. There just aren’t a lot of discounts offered. However, using a reputable ticket broker is the BEST way to save a little bit on your park tickets. We’ve used Undercover Tourist multiple times for buying Disney tickets. The process is easy and I’ve been able to get the best deal out there.
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Insider tip: Take a picture of your tickets once you get them at the Disneyland entrance – this way if you lose them, you’ll have proof.
3. Save Money at Disneyland on Lodging
Aside from tickets, there are a few other ways to save money on your Disneyland vacation. Lodging is a big one. Unlike Disney World, there are only a few “official” Disneyland hotels. They are super convenient but pricey.
Luckily, there are a number of hotels from all the major chains that are within walking distance of Disneyland. Being able to walk to the park in the morning and walk back to your hotel at night is wonderful.
We stayed at the Hotel Indigo which was about a 15-minute walk. It wasn’t the fanciest hotel, but it was safe and convenient.
When choosing your hotel, consider the proximity, cost, amenities (breakfast, free parking, etc.) as well as the chain. If you have status in a particular chain, go for that one.
I have plenty of IHG points, so that’s why we chose the Hotel Indigo. We used points for our stay, and thanks to my status, parking was free.
It didn’t have a free breakfast, but the Wyndham right next door had a nice “Starbucks” with reasonable drinks and breakfast food items. We just walked over there for coffee on our way to the park and spent quite a bit less than if we’d had breakfast in the parks.
4. Buy snacks and drinks for your hotel room
Also near our hotel was a CVS and a Walgreens, so the day we arrived we picked up a case of water and a few snacks for the room. Another big money-saver.
5. Use hotel points to stay for free near Disneyland
If you don’t currently have status with a hotel chain, or enough points, pick up a hotel credit card a few months before your trip, meet the minimum spend, and you should end up with enough points for at least a two or three-night stay once you receive the signing bonus.
A great option is the Homes2Suites by Hilton which is a newer property right outside of Disneyland WITH free breakfast.
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Disneyland tips for first-timers – how much time do I need?
This was my first question as we typically spend at least four days when we visit Disney World – enough time to visit each park one day.
Considering Disneyland and California Adventure are two separate parks, would we need one day per park? Or could we do both in one day?
6. Spend at least two days at the parks
I had actually heard from several sources that you could do both parks in one day – not ride every ride, but get enough out of the experience that you felt satisfied. However, I would not recommend this. Based on our experience, two days were perfect.
7. Hop between the parks
We chose to do park hopper tickets (versus one park per day) and I would highly suggest that. With the parks being right next to each other, it was easy to bounce back and forth between parks as needed. This was helpful with dining, plus if one area felt busy, we could move on to another ride or park area that wasn’t as crowded.
Could I have spent more than two days at the parks? Well, sure, but 2 days was truly sufficient for us to do just about everything at both Disneyland and California Adventure without feeling rushed.
Disneyland tips for first-timers – plan your day
Maybe a few years ago you could just head to Disneyland without planning anything, but thanks to COVID, those days are gone. We had a few people tell us ahead of time that there was no need to use Genie+, make dining reservations, or worry about planning ahead.
However, we found that a little bit of pre-planning made for a much easier visit.
8. Make a park reservation for every day of your trip
Park hopping is possible after 1:00, but you DO need to make a park reservation ahead of time these days when visiting Disneyland – I know this is a fairly new requirement, so make sure you download the Disneyland app and make your park reservations.
9. Download the Disneyland app and play with it before you visit
The app is super helpful with using Genie+, making dining reservations, checking wait times, and discovering when various shows/characters would be out and about (especially on the Avengers campus).
However, it does have a bit of a learning curve, so download it before your trip and get familiar with it before your visit. As a first-timer to Disneyland, having some familiarity with Genie+ before your trip will alleviate a lot of stress!
10. Add your credit card to your Disneyland app
Add your credit card to your Disneyland app – it makes it super simple to purchase Genie+, make dining reservations, etc. Plus, you can get to your final selections faster if you don’t have to add a credit card.
11. Figure out what everyone in your group wants to do
We spent a few minutes while we were waiting to get into the park looking over the maps and letting everyone decide what they most wanted to do. My daughter was super excited about Avengers Campus as it isn’t part of Disney World, so we knew that was high on our list.
I wanted to ride some of the classic rides and see how they compared to Disney World. My son wanted to ride all the roller coasters. By talking through our Disneyland wishes, we were able to prioritize the things that everyone wanted to do the most.
12. Pick one person to be in charge of Genie+
Visiting over Spring Break, both Disneyland and California Adventure were probably about as busy as they get, so Genie+ was super helpful.
We let my daughter take control of the app and plan our rides (once we all gave her our input) which made it very easy. By the end of the first morning, she was a pro and able to get us on everything we wanted both days with minimal waiting between rides.
13. Use Genie+ to avoid waiting in lines
I’ve heard that Genie+ isn’t needed at Disneyland but based on my experience, I’d disagree. It made for an easy day with very little time spent waiting in lines. Plus, at Disneyland, it comes with a photo pass so we could get all our fun ride photos sent straight to our phones.
Disneyland tips for first-timers – when should you be at the park?
At Disney World, I feel being at the park at the rope drop is necessary if you want to ride the maximum number of rides and enjoy an uncrowded park. At Disneyland, it’s helpful, but depending on what you want to do, maybe not a must. Disneyland is open quite late (midnight when we were there), so you can have that less-crowded park feel late at night instead.
14. Rope drop if there is a particular ride you want to get on
On the first day, we did get there for rope drop because we wanted to ride Web Slingers and didn’t want to pay extra for it on top of Genie+. Due to factoring in the walk to the park, and getting coffee next door before the walk, we had to get up pretty darn early. Was it worth it? Heck, yes.
15. Consider staying late as an alternative to arriving early
On the second day, we did not rope drop, and although we were still able to ride everything we wanted to, I did really miss the uncrowded park atmosphere in the morning. However, we did elect to stay late that night and the park was pretty empty after 8:00.
Disneyland tips for first-timers – plan dining
During my research on planning your first trip to Disneyland, I was told over and over that there is no need to book dining reservations unless you wanted to eat at Lamplight Lounge or Blue Bayou. Based on our experience I would disagree.
16. Book the restaurants you want to eat at ahead of time
I did make a reservation ahead of time at Lamplight Lounge but we booked the rest of our dining on the fly. Did it work for us? Kind of.
We were able to find good restaurants, but our choices were limited. Many restaurants did not have dining reservations available the day of. So, if dining is important to you, then I would do a little research and book dining ahead of time, just like you would at Disney World.
17. Use the Disneyland App to check out menus
One thing to note is that by using the Disneyland App you can check out the restaurant menus – this will help you make your dining decisions. If quick service is your speed, you’ll be fine.
There were plenty of quick service choices in both parks with yummy menus and tons of carts. Especially Churro carts. My son was a big fan of trying all the specialty churros – that was fun and very different from Disney World.
18. Watch YouTube or TikTok videos to help decide where to eat
Another great way to decide where to eat is to do a little research on YouTube. There are videos out there for all of the sit-down dining choices. Just type in the name of the restaurant and “Disneyland” and you’ll find plenty of videos to help you decide if you’d like to eat there!
Don’t have time to do that? Send your kids onto TikTok to see what videos of restaurants they can find!
19. Eat breakfast before you enter the park
Either pack your own food or pick up something quick on the way to the park. You’ll save money and time – the early morning hours in the park are the least crowded, so don’t waste that time eating.
Disneyland tips for first timers – what to wear
Unlike Florida which is hot and humid most of the year, Southern California tends to be cooler at night and with little to no humidity. Also very little rain. This does mean what you wear is going to be a little different than how you’d pack for Disney World.
First of all, you are going to walk. Especially if you stay at a Good Neighbor hotel. And, if you are like us and zipped back and forth between both parks all afternoon and evening, you’ll get in a ton of steps even though the parks are smaller than their counterparts at Disney World.
20. Shoes are important!
Shoes are critical. For years, I’ve been wearing my beloved Sketchers Reggae sandals when I go to Disney World. My kids typically wear tennis shoes, so that’s another terrific option. Whatever you decide, make sure they are comfortable and won’t give you blisters.
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21. Consider a lightweight jacket or sweater
The other thing I discovered (after the first day) is that if you plan on staying at the park after dark a sweater or light jacket is pretty important. It cools down a lot at night.
The first night, we were so cold – we even considered buying sweatshirts. The next day I brought along a light sweater and just tied it around my waist during the day. I was super grateful to have it that evening.
22. Check the forecast for rain
With no rain in the forecast, I didn’t bother with ponchos and we truly didn’t need them. However, I’d strongly suggest checking the weather before your visit and if it’s going to rain, bring along a poncho. Pick up an inexpensive one at the dollar store and plan on chucking it after you use it.
23. Pack light but include your normal park essentials.
The only other thing I brought to the park was my standard wristlet packed with all the same things I use when I visit Disney World. Bring as little as you can into the park – you truly don’t need much and it’s nice not to have a heavy bag to lug around.
So there you have it. All the tips and tricks I learned from my first visit. Hopefully having them all in one place will help you with planning your first trip to Disneyland!