We kept seeing and hearing it couldn’t be done. Knocking out both parks in one day. But looking at the prices we decided it could be done and it would be done! In order to do this we purchased a 1 day Disneyland Park Hopper Ticket. The tickets include park entry into both Disneyland and California Adventure on one day.
We got a lot of great advice and tips from our friends at Trips With Tykes and No Back Home so we felt like we had a pretty good handle on it and should be able to do everything we wanted to at the Disneyland resort parks.
Here are our Disneyland tips on how to visit both parks in one day when you have never been there before:
Table of Contents
Getting Your Parks Tickets
Let’s be honest, to make the most out of one day you are going to want to go in the off season. Don’t try during a busy day, it won’t be worth it. Guessing the Disney crowds can be a total shot in the dark but I would recommend checking the Disney Calendar sites and seeing when is supposed to be a low day and plan your trip then.
The night before you are going to go, head to Downtown Disneyland to take a look around, grab a treat, and head over to get your tickets. In order to keep costs down we ate dinner before we left and then got cupcakes at Sprinkles when we were there.
This does 2 things – makes the kids happy (and lets be honest Mom and Dad too) and means that you can park for free for 3 hours in the Downtown Disneyland parking lot. Win, Win.
Also make sure to check the dates for when you are going to go. Some days are more expensive then others so choose a less expensive day to go – which usually means less people too. Another win, win!
Also note that kids tickets are cheaper then adult tickets but our son at 10 years old is considered an adult?? Yup that’s right. Not sure how they get away with that?
Now remember your theme park tickets include admission to both Disneyland and California Adventure and your ticket is valid for 1 day so you will want to do some planning.
Have A Plan
Ok, I say that one loosely. We didn’t really have a plan besides knowing what park we were going to start in and what rides we wanted to be sure that we got on.
For picking your starting park, look to see which park has the earliest regular park opening and then also check to see if the park has magic hours (Where people staying at the property hotels get in early). If there are magic hours this means you will not be the first people in the park. The people from the hotels will have been there for an hour already.
What Time To Get There
It was recommended we arrive 1 hour and 15 minutes to 60 minutes prior to regular opening time to get in line to enter the park. Then get in line to wait until the rope is dropped so we could go further into the park to the rides. They let you enter into the Main Street area where there are shops earlier. But not any rides.
If you have to buy tickets the day of then plan on getting there about 90 – 120 minutes before the park opens. If you are parking a car and taking the tram make sure to leave at least 20 minutes for this too!
In hindsight, since we went to a park that was having Magic Hour (early admission prior to regular park hours for people who stay at a Disneyland resort hotel) we could have gotten there 20 minutes early and would have been fine. If there wasn’t Magic Hour, I could see getting there early to be at the front of the line and the first ones in the park.
Also note that when there is Magic Hour there are 2 separate lines into the park. . . Yeah we went to the wrong one and stood in the Magic Hour line and got denied when we went to enter the park. That was a waste of 20 minutes!
Hence the reason I said it would be fine to get in the normal line 20 to 15 minutes prior to the regular park hours when the rope drops. Since that is what happened to us and we still ended up at the front of the rope line.
Bring all food with you in a backpack and eat while you are in line. Yup, we were that family and it totally worked to our advantage. The kids get bored waiting in line and they are much less bored when they are eating so again win, win!
We packed organic pizza lunchables – yes they have them and it made me feel less guilty about them eating lunchables! Then lots of PB&J’s and LOTS of snacks. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring much fruit since it would get squished in the backpack, but instead opted for easy snacks that could fit in a sandwich bag with each kids name on it.
We had crackers, pretzels, fruit snacks, granola bars – all the simple and easy yet yummy snacks that the kids like. It helped to keep the fed throughout the day!
For water we brought a 64 ounce Hydro Flask water bottle and 2, 20 ounce water bottles. Yes, the bag was heavy but we got everything in one backpack. We were able to fill the water bottles outside one of the restaurants in the middle of the day.
I think this is really what made our experience work. Fast Pass tickets are free at Disneyland but without a Max Pass you have to go to a physical stand to get your fastpass ticket. With the Max Passes you can do it all on the Disneyland App. That’s what I am talking about!
Once you select a Max Pass you have to wait until you use it or else 90 minutes to add another one. You bet I knew exactly when that 90 minutes was up so I could add another one! At one point we had 3 fast passes waiting for us.
You can’t select the fast passes until the park opens but once it does, jump on there and start grabbing them. The great recommendation I got was not to wait too long for the most busy rides like Radiator Springs and Hyper Space Mountain. Reason being theses fast passes run out.
We got a Radiator Springs one for 5pm when I booked it at 11am . . . then got a Hyper Space Mountain at 6pm when I booked it 90 minutes after. This kind of helped to give us guidance on how our day was going to go.
To learn more about using the Max Pass check out this: Top 21 Disneyland MaxPass Questions Answered
We walked A LOT. If your kids aren’t use to this, make sure you figure out the best way for it to work for them. Good running shoes for the kids with the right socks. A backpack carrier for younger kids – we used our Ergo as a backpack until Knox was 5!
Then of course find spots throughout the day or when in line where they can sit down to rest their feet. Or offer up piggy back rides! Makes for a good workout for Mom and Dad too!
Get a pack of good suckers – like the Jolly Rancher ones that last a long time and have them on hand for when the kids are losing it. It is amazing how much further they can walk if they are eating a sucker :)!
With the Max Pass you get all pictures from your day on the app! We have never paid for any pictures in an amusement park so I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. But it was awesome! We got amazing professional pictures of our whole family. AND we got to keep the pictures from the rides – these are always the best :).
My tip for this is take the time to wait in line to get your picture taken in front of the castle if you bought the Max Pass. Yes, it wastes time. Just do it.
When you come off a ride, find your picture and take a picture of the number at the top so you can add it into your Disneyland App later. Then you can download a higher quality picture. Just be sure you put in the right number or else you get a picture of another family . . . not that I did that . . .
Above everything else, don’t let all the planning and possibility of planning mess with your day. Instead, above all, focus on having fun and enjoying the time with your family. I mean these tickets aren’t cheap!
Skip The Parade
We have never seen a Disney parade. We usually only do the one day pass so it seems like a waste of time to wait for a spot and do the parade since this is normally a time when ride wait times are a lot shorter!
Catch The Fireworks Wherever You Are
We never wait for the fireworks but instead just catch them where we are. This saves time on trying to hold the perfect place to see them. We could always watch it on You Tube :).
Plus, we found a super less busy area to watch them and they had the whole Pixar animation show where they project it onto the It’s A Small World area! There were separate fireworks here and also the animation show. It was really well done.
Skip The Playground Areas
This is hard for me to say as I know our kids would really enjoy hanging out and playing at all of these. And Disneyland offers some great ones. But unfortunately I know our kids would want to spend hours here. If we did that, we would miss out on a lot of the rides so we just ignored them.
If we were here for 2 days we would definitely spend a good amount of time letting the kids run around here!
Rides – Disneyland Itinerary
Here are the rides we hit being there for 1 day.
Arrived at Disneyland and got in the RIGHT line at 8:40am. Park had magic hours so we got into the park and waited by the rope until 9am to go in.
Ride 1 -Dumbo (gotta do this iconic one right???!!!)
Ride 2 – Thunder Mountain (MaxPass)
Ride 3 – Indiana Jones
Ride 4 – Buzz Lightyear (MaxPass)
Ride 5 – Goofy’s Sky School (ate lunch in line)
Ride 6 – Silly Symphony Swings
Ride 7 – Astro Orbitor
Ride 8 – Jumpin Jellyfish
Ride 9 – Fliks Flyers
Ride 10 – Grizzly Run
Ride 11 – Soarin Around The World
Ride 12 – Mater’s Junkyard
Ice Cream Break at Ghiradalli’s
Ride 13 – Guardians of the Glaxay (MaxPass)
Ride 14 – Radiator Springs (MaxPass)
Back To Disneyland
Ride 15 – Matterhorn Bobsled (MaxPass)
Ride 16 – HyperSpace Mountain (MaxPass)
Ride 17 – Star Tours
Ride 18 – It’s A Small World (MaxPass)
Ride 19 – Splash Mountain (MaxPass)
Ride 20 – Thunder Mountin (MaxPass)
Ride 21 – Tea Cups
California Adventure closed at 9pm and Disneyland closed at 10pm.
We felt we got a lot done and really enjoyed our day! With 2 days we could have done more the playground type of “rides”. And also watched some shows and the parade and enjoyed the food in Disneyland. But honestly we didn’t leave feeling like we missed out on a whole lot. We were glad we didn’t have to come back the next day to deal with the crowds and sore feet!
And if you are flying into Disneyland check out this post: Everything You Need To Know About Flying To Disneyland and get all your Disneyland hotel tips here!
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