The Ultimate Disneyland Travel Guide: Navigating the Parks

We’ve covered so much ground this past week, from talking about the different types of park tickets and what hotels you should stay at, to all there is to know about food and shopping at the parks! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I have writing it, and to wrap it up I’m going to talk about one of the most important aspects of your next Disneyland vacation: how to navigate and strategize the parks and all they have to offer. It is such an exciting feeling when you first enter the gates of Disneyland to know that all of this planning has gotten you to this moment. As you take your first steps onto Main Street, you’re immersed into a world of magic and enchantment and you can’t wait to see where the day takes you! But that’s just it: where do you even begin?! Which area of the park should you go to first? Should you do a character meet-and-greet or rush to get in line for your favorite ride? I’ll be answering all of these questions and more so hang on tight ‘cause this here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness!


The day before we go to Disneyland we like to map out our day and determine our “must-do” attractions and experiences. If you plan it right, you’ll be able to do pretty much everything that you want, which is the goal right? This year, for example, is the first time that we are spending 2 days at Disneyland instead of 1, for one purpose and one purpose only: to spend an entire day at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Okay, we may not spend the entire day over there, but since that is one of our biggest priorities this trip, we have planned accordingly so that we can get the most out of the experience. Obviously on “Star Wars” day we will be making our way straight to that area of the park. But on our other Disneyland day, we will probably head over to either Indiana Jones or Space Mountain since those are two of our favorites that we like to do first thing. Which brings me to my first tip….

Tip #1: Determine what ride(s) you absolutely must go on and do them first

For example, if you really love Space Mountain (like me…when you hear Freddy scream you’ll know that the ride isn’t his favorite) and haven’t been on it in years, head over to the ride first thing and you’ll have the luxury of practically being able to walk on the ride. You can even book a FASTPASS as soon as you get off so that you can experience it again later with a minimal wait time. The only instance in which I wouldn’t recommend going on your favorite ride first is if it’s Splash Mountain! This happens to be my absolute favorite ride, but I just can’t bring myself to go on it first thing in the morning, even if it means no wait time. I always book a FASTPASS for later in the day so that the warm, afternoon sun can help dry me off and I don’t have to walk around with wet shoes for majority of the day. Once you’ve gone on your favorite ride, I advise staying in one “land” and doing those rides before you go to another area or on the other side of the park. The more you can group rides together that are close in proximity to one another, the less walking you’ll have to do. But let’s face it, walking is unavoidable when you’re at the Happiest Place on Earth :)

Tip #2: Book FASTPASSES as often as you can

Whether you purchased the MaxPass or you’re doing the traditional paper ticket FASTPASSES, I highly recommend booking one when you first arrive in the park for whatever ride you choose, and don’t stop booking them throughout the day! On the printed pass and on the Disneyland mobile app, it will tell you at what time you’re eligible to book a new FASTPASS (you can only have so many at a time), so be sure to stay on top of that and maximize the amount of passes you can book. This will significantly minimize the amount of time you spend waiting in line, especially for the really popular rides like Indiana Jones, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain (mainly during summer), the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. Just a heads up: the rides over in Fantasyland don’t distribute FASTPASSES, but most other rides in the park do. Be sure to check the Disneyland app or the printed map you can get when you first walk in for more information.

Tip #3: Utilize a Magic Morning if you can

A Magic Morning is available to those who have a 3-day or more pass, or if you’re staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels. This allows you to get into either Disneyland or California Adventure one hour before the park opens to the public, which is a major win! This allows you to go on some of the popular rides before the wait times get crazy long, and it means you’ve gained an additional hour to start booking FASTPASSES! It’s also a great time to take pictures without massive crowds in the background. Keep in mind that not all areas of the park are open early, such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but it’s still a great opportunity to check out other areas of the park.

Tip #4: Use the Monorail entrance in Downtown Disney if the lines at the main gate is long

There have been numerous times when the line to just scan your ticket to get into Disneyland has been between 20-30 minutes long. If you want to bypass the line and take a detour, you can head over to Downtown Disney and enter via the Monorail entrance! You’ll still need to scan your park ticket, but the Monorail will drop you off right in Tomorrowland, and it offers a scenic view of the park. The Monorail doesn’t take you to California Adventure park, so this is an exclusive perk for guests attending Disneyland. Trains run about every 10 minutes and it’s definitely a more relaxed start to your day!

Tip #5: Attraction wait times dip during meal times

While everyone else is having lunch (12p-1p) or dinner (6p-7p), try eating a little bit earlier or later to get on some of the popular rides I mentioned to take advantage of the slightly shorter wait times. Freddy and I try to eat a slightly later dinner so that we can get a few more rides in like Big Thunder Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. Plus, with all the afternoon snacking we’ve been doing, we’re usually not hungry until later anyways.

Tip #6: Bring a reusable water bottle

While this tip isn’t necessarily geared towards navigation, it is 1000% aimed to help you save money. You’ll fork over about $5 every single time you want to buy one, yes one, water bottle at Disneyland. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather save those Lincoln’s for a churro or a corn dog. Freddy and I always bring a re-fillable water bottle in our backpack and fill it up at various water fountains you can find throughout the parks—they’re usually right outside the bathrooms. That reminds me, this might seem obvious but bring a backpack! You’ll want one to store all of your treasures and snacks in. We typically bring a small Osprey backpack that has enough room for our essentials like phone charges, wallets and water bottle, plus a little extra for whatever I purchase throughout the day. There are some size restrictions on backpacks and other restrictions on items like coolers, so make sure to check the list of permitted items here.

Tip #7: Nighttime Entertainment

At Disneyland park, there are usually a couple of different nighttime experiences you can enjoy! One of them is Fantasmic!, a show that takes place on the Rivers of America right outside Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a battle between classic Disney heroes and villains starring Mickey Mouse—a really fun one for the kiddos. There’s also the Main Street Electrical Parade (limited time engagement 8/2/19-9/30/19) which is a classic parade that was created in 1972! I remember seeing it as a little girl and I can’t wait to watch it again as an adult. And don’t forget the fireworks in front of the castle! It’s important to keep in mind that depending on the day, some nighttime experiences can happen simultaneously, so you’ll need to decide which one you really want to see. Or, if you’d rather not see any of them, you can absolutely take advantage of the rides while everyone else is watching the shows! During the fireworks the Fantasyland rides are temporarily closed, but everything else is fair game. Three cheers for short wait times!

California Adventure

The day that we go to California Adventure is usually more of a chill day—there’s fewer rides so we don’t feel rushed to try and fit them all in. Plus, the overall vibe is laid-back, California style, so just enjoy it and don’t feel like you have to rush. The only place we legit speed walk to first thing in the morning is Cars Land so that we can go on Radiator Springs Racers! I will advise you to do the same…

Tip #1: Zoom over to Cars Land first thing in the morning

I’m not the type of person that likes to tell people what to do, but I’m going out on a limb here because I feel very strongly about this! The main attraction over in Cars Land is Radiator Springs Racers and it’s very popular for good reason. It’s a super fun ride that kids of all ages love, which means that the line gets long very quickly. Wait times are upwards of 70 minutes on an average day. FASTPASSES also usually run out within the first couple of hours or less, so I definitely advise hopping in line to do the ride and booking a FASTPASS as well, because you’ll definitely want to ride it again!

Tip #2: Determine which shows you want to see

Just like Disneyland, this park also has some great shows and entertainment that you won’t want to miss! If you never seen the Frozen show at the Hyperion Theatre over in Hollywood Land, I highly recommend it, especially if you have kiddos that LOVE Frozen! It’s a beautiful, musical production that’s 1 hour long, so if you have kids with you they won’t have to sit still for a super long period of time. It’s a nice way to take a break and relax away from the crowds in the rest of the park, and to be honest, Freddy and I have fallen asleep in the theatre a few different times! So if you want a quick cat nap in a comfy chair, then I recommend seeing Frozen. You can also purchase a dining package which allows you to have lunch or dinner at Carthay Circle Restaurant before the show and priority seating at the theatre!

World of Color is the premiere nighttime spectacular at California Adventure featuring colorful jets of water that shoot high into the sky as they sway to songs and scenes from your favorite movies! Ever since this show debuted in 2010 it’s been my favorite and I usually cry—it’s just so beautiful and touching! The show takes place on the water in front of Paradise Gardens Park and you’ll need a FASTPASS in order to view the show in the designated viewing area. Even if you don’t want to be in the viewing area and just stand back to catch a glimpse, cast members will make you keep walking as to not clog up the walkways. There are 2 ways to watch World of Color: get a FASTPASS or get a dining package. FASTPASS selections can be made when the park opens via Disney MaxPass or at FASTPASS machines near The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel's Undersea Adventure. FASTPASS selections for the later World of Color show will be available once all selections for the earlier show have been distributed. A World of Color Dining Package is available at both Carthay Circle Restaurant and Wine Country Trattoria.

Tip #3: Take a stroll in Grizzly Peak for a relaxing break from the crowds

This area of the park is more secluded since it’s nestled right up against the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and it’s so peaceful hearing the sounds of birds chirping in the trees and the roar of the river rapids on Grizzly River Rapids. You truly feel like you’re in the great outdoors in Northern California. If you have kids I definitely recommend checking out the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail which is a cool obstacle course for the whole family to enjoy. You can traverse climb, glide down a natural rock slide and climb on the ropes course!

Tip #4: Use the Disneyland app to see where your favorite characters are

On the Disneyland mobile app you can use the various filters on the map to see when and where your favorite characters are and head over to meet them! You’ll usually find Mickey and friends hanging out on Buena Vista street near the main entrance of the park, and all the Marvel superheroes will be in Hollywood Land. If you love Pixar movies, then definitely swing by Pixar Pier to see characters from Toy Story, The Incredibles and Inside Out! In my shopping post I talked about some of the perks to being a Disney Visa cardholder for the discounts. One of the other perks is having special access to exclusive character meet-and-greets that regular park guests don’t get! Just ask any cast member and they’ll be able to tell you who the special character is that day and where to go.

It’s been a blast sharing my Disneyland tips and tricks with you this past week, and I can’t wait to share our new adventures with you when we’re there next week! You can tag along and experience more Disney fun by following me on Instagram—it’s gonna be so much fun! Have a zip-a-dee-doo-dah day and I’ll see you at the parks!