Disneyland has a billion rules, but the most important ones are the unofficial ones–those that every passholder knows and the tourists have no idea about. Don’t be a tourist. Know what you’re doing before you head to the parks, and you’ll get the most out of your day.
There is no discount ticket. Honestly, Disney has zero incentive to provide people with discounted tickets. You can’t complain the park’s too expensive and too crowded–it’s Economics 101. Disney charges so much because they can, and because the more they charge, the less crowded it is, and the happier the guests who do pay to come in are. The closest thing you’ll get to a discounted ticket is going on a less busy day or just getting an annual pass (and I highly recommend them).
If it’s a holiday, it will be busy. If you’re going on a day when a large amount of the population will not have work, you’re going to have crowds. More crowds on weekends than on weekdays, more on long weekends than on normal ones. During the summer is way worse than January, and if you think people aren’t going to be there on Christmas, you’re in for a huge disappointment. We’re in college–go on a weekday. Preferably in January. E.G. The park was so empty one Wednesday in January, that the Cast Members set up a game of hopscotch on Main Street. It was epic.
There’s always more room on the tram. Tourists will look at the tram and decide it’s full and they’ll wait for the next one. Locals are not waiting another minute. Split up your party, and everyone will find at least one seat.
Photopass photographers will take a picture for you on your own camera. You just got to the park, and you want a picture with the floral Mickey? Disney’s photographers will take a picture on your camera for free, no judgment. And it’ll probably look better than the one that random stranger would’ve taken.
Disneyland is more than the attractions. Quit running from ride to ride, and take a minute to watch a show, eat a churro, or smile at a Dapper Dan. Disneyland’s magic is in the overall experience, and if you’re too focused on getting all the rides in, you’ll miss out on the little things, like that time the Jungle Cruise was down so they hosted Skipper School instead, and had guests take turns reading the script.
It’s not about how popular it is, it’s about the capacity of the attraction. Tourists tend to think that Pirates will have a huge line and Peter Pan will be quick, but in reality, it’s the opposite. Not because more guests want to ride Peter Pan than Pirates, but because 1/10th of the number of guests who can ride Pirates in an hour can ride Peter Pan. Think about that when you’re planning where to start. Fastpasses are your friend. They’re free. They’re convenient. Use them.
Single Rider lines are worth it every time. If you’re going to be chatting with your party on the attraction, I’m not sure why you’re here. Not all attractions offer single rider lines, but those that do will cut your wait time anywhere from half the normal time to pretty much nothing. You’ll probably be riding alone, but you get to go through the line with your friends, and meet up with them again after, and save SO MUCH TIME.
Don’t go on the water ride without a poncho (and bring your own poncho). No, Disney isn’t above getting you completely soaked.
There is good food, you just need to know where to find it. Boudin Bakery has the best bread bowls, which are also sold in New Orleans Square. Hungry Bear is only good for their specialty funnel cakes, and Coke Corner is perfect for a Chili Cheese Dog. Don’t get a burger unless you’re at a table service restaurant (but if you are, please do). French Market has the best French Dip, and if you can convince yourself of the nutritional merit of french fries, the Pommes Frites at Cafe Orleans are totally worth it (and if you eat in the caf at Pepperdine, you can’t be complaining about the prices at Disneyland).
You can loop through Ghiradelli’s and the Boudin Bakery tour as many times as you want. Yes, they’re silently judging you for binging on free samples, but can you resist the chocolate and fresh bread?
Further back on Main Street is better for the fireworks. Everyone crowds around the hub to get as close to the fireworks as possible, but if your aim is proximity to the burning hot flames, you’re better off watching from the parking structure. Stand further back, and you’ll get a better view of the overall show, and enough room to move. If you’re aiming to leave right after, you’ll be the first one on the tram. If you’re trying to get back in the park for some more rides, cut through the stores. They all connect.
The second show is always emptier. Second Paint the Night, World of Color, or Fantasmic! will have fewer people, and lets you enjoy attractions with less of a wait during the first show. If you’re in line at closing, you can ride. Disneyland has a soft close, which means if the park closes at 12:00, and you get in the two-hour line for Space Mountain at 11:59, you can ride, even though it’s going to take until 2 AM.
You can fill out compliment cards. Had a great day, because of a few Cast Members in particular? Note their names, what time it happened, and where you were and go tell guest services how awesome they were. They’ll get a certificate and a note on their file that can help them get promoted, and you’ll have paid forward the magic that you’ve been experiencing all day.
So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, you’re ready for the Happiest Place on Earth.