7 Hacks to Make The Most of Your Trip to Disneyland
Disneyland is bucket-list territory for kids and adults alike. The self-dubbed “happiest place on Earth” has something for every visitor, with adrenaline-pumping rides, immersive augmented reality experiences and magical meet-ups with costumed Cast Members dressed as your favourite superheroes and Disney princesses. With so much to jam into a short trip, planning is essential (and so is having a few sneaky tips) up your sleeve — whether it’s selecting a stay that’s within walking distance (through Qantas Holidays for extra perks) or getting to grips with all the time-saving features on the Disney app. Here are seven easy hacks to help you take your Disneyland adventure to the next level.
Get serious about your schedule
It goes without saying that if you can strategically avoid crowds, you’ll be able to maximise time spent having fun (and minimise time spent waiting in line). It’s all about insider knowledge: weekends tend to be busier than weekdays, for example, while the quieter periods span from mid-September to mid-November and mid-January to mid-March. But this often comes with a trade-off: the park occasionally takes advantage of these slower seasons to perform attraction maintenance and may reduce opening hours. Check the Disneyland calendar ahead of time to ensure you’re balancing the park’s schedule with your own.
Other timings to be aware of include the park’s closing times, which vary throughout the year. While Disneyland Park opens at 8am, strategic planning can extend your adventure by up to four precious hours, sometimes to as late as midnight (invaluable, particularly when those later hours see reduced wait times for attractions as families with younger kids depart).
If you’re not one for the Disney-themed rooms, there are other options. “Good Neighbor” hotels – stays that have affiliations with the park but aren’t “official” partners – include a wider range of offerings to suit every budget and non-Disney travel plans, while also being easier to score a reservation at during peak season.
Some of these stays are even closer to the parks than Disneyland’s own accommodation – Howard Johnson by Wyndham Anaheim Hotel (which has a pirate-themed water playground on the premises) is an 11-minute stroll to the main gates, while Desert Palms Hotel and Suites is a 13-minute walk.
Disneyland’s famously magical firework displays aren’t exclusive to the park’s grounds, either, with many of the local hotels offering incredible vantage points to catch the show in comfort and style: JW Marriott, Anaheim Resort is home to the city’s highest rooftop bar, delivering birds-eye views of the glittering display. Or request a room with a balcony at the Sheraton Park Hotel and you’ll have the show all to yourself. For longer getaways, these stays will also put you within easy reach of the rest of California’s holiday hotspots, including Universal Studios Hollywood and Knott’s Berry Farm.
Don’t skip the app
The official Disneyland Mobile App is the sidekick you need to streamline your day. It’s here that you can track wait times for all the main rides and attractions, as well as timings and locations for character meet-ups.
The absolute cherry on top? The app’s Genie service. The complimentary planning tool will help you build a tailored itinerary based on your interests and preferences (you can even tell it if you’re an early diner). These itineraries are generated daily at 7am and automatically update throughout the day as it measures park capacity, tracks attraction demand and loops in the all-important walking distance consideration from your current location. Helpfully, they’re also sharable among all members of your crew if you’re feeling in the mood to divide and conquer.
We recommend doing some pre-visit planning to map out your key goals while using the Genie itinerary planner to plug in the gaps. The app’s map function highlights all the useful information such as bathrooms, baby centre and water-refilling spots and you can use the app to make dining reservations (up to 60 days in advance – essential if you want to book a dining session with a character). Another tip: order meals ahead of your arrival at a restaurant to reduce waiting times.
Consider upgrading to Genie+
The former FastPass process has now been phased out for the new Lightning Lane system and upgrading to the $25USD a day (per ticket) Genie+ service will help you make the most of it. Lightning Lane allows you to purchase an arrival window for a ride at a certain time of the day which will help cut down on time in queues. The catch? If you don’t have Genie+, you can only book two Individual Lightning Lane entries per day and you can only have one Lightning Lane reservation active at a time – so if you’ve booked the Pirates of the Caribbean for 9:30am, you won’t be able to activate your second entry until after your ride (not ideal for families).
Upgrading to Genie+ will give you unlimited access to an additional Lightning Lane that can be used at the same time as the two standard entries. This means you can book one ride using your Individual Lightning Lane entry and then immediately use your Genie+ Lightning Lane entry on another ride without the waiting period.
Don’t leave it until the last minute either – buying on the day doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’ll be up and running by the time you arrive.
Get an extra early start
Sleeping footsteps away from all the action at an official Disneyland hotel comes with a number of perks but the main one is gaining early access to the parks – starting from 7:30am – a full half-hour before those staying elsewhere. For the early birds, this is a huge advantage as the park tends to be quieter in the early morning and gives you the best chance of getting to your favourite rides before everyone else. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel and Disneyland Hotel each have their own special entry spot and you can make use of your early entry at the main gate, too. Head down before 7:30am to clear security as soon as it opens and you’ll be at the front of the line when doors open. The three official Disneyland stays are within a 15-minute walk of the park – perfect for squeezing in an afternoon siesta before diving back into all the action. Bonus: the official Disneyland stays often host their own special character experiences such as Goofy’s pop-up kitchen at Disneyland Hotel and breakfast with Disney Princesses at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, so you can avoid competing with the rest of the park for those special moments.
Leave the photo opps to the experts
Family vacations are all about making memories but running your phone’s battery down while you’re attempting to manage the family’s schedule throughout the day (let alone trying to flag down a stranger to snap you all in sync) is an exercise in frustration. However, Disneyland has several designated PhotoPass photographers equipped with professional equipment scattered throughout the park (easily locatable on the Disneyland Resort map) in addition to the standard cameras at rides, so you can capture your holiday moments hands-free. At the end of your trip you can purchase and download your photos from the Disneyland PhotoPass service and if you’ve upgraded to Genie+, you’ll have free and unlimited PhotoPass downloads bundled in.
Plan your rest stops
A visit to Disneyland is an endurance test, not a sprint. In-between getting your thrills on rides, taking photos with Cast Members and watching dazzling parades, it’s easy to forget the park’s more low-key – but still spectacular – experiences. Whether it's catching the Tale of the Lion King, a 24-minute theatrical show that retells Simba’s story through rearranged songs and dance, or rediscovering the magic of old-school Disney animation with a screening at the Main Street Cinema, these performances allow for strategic downtime where you can give the family’s feet some well-deserved rest – especially if you’ve got younger kids with you. Our pick? If you’re visiting for more than one day, use a Park Hopper pass and pop into Disney California Adventure Park’s Hollywood Land where the Animation Academy holds a Learn the Secrets of Drawing class every half an hour, led by an experienced animator.