During the week, it is normal to find my toddler and I having mommy-daughter lunch dates at Disneyland. Miss L loves Disney Princesses, and it brings me joy to see her meet them in person. We are fortunate to live close to Disneyland and visit often, similar to how other moms may spend a few hours at a local playground. With frequent trips, I have grown savvy in seeing a lot of the resort in short bursts of time. For example, I know how to spend less time waiting in line for food and how to go through security check-points quicker. I have collected some really great Disneyland time-saving secrets especially for moms, and I am happy to share them with you below.
Disneyland Time-Saving Secrets from a Local Mom
Here are my favorite Disneyland time-saving secrets developed from countless fun hours spent at the resort:
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In driving to the Disneyland Resort, use the Carpool Lanes as much as possible.
For example, from the LAX airport, once you get on the 91-East freeway, you can stay in the carpool lane all the way to the Disneyland Resort. The carpool lane has a special left exit for the transition to the I-5 South freeway as well as a special left exit for Disneyland Dr. at the resort itself.
Use the Left Lanes at the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure
The left lanes (and left ticket booths) tend to move faster because there is a hidden lane right by the wall that helps take more incoming cars. If you can’t make it all the way to the left, then try to get in the far right lane instead. Most people tend to line up in the middle lanes so they are the most crowded.
Take a Picture of where you Parked your Car
When you park, it is helpful to take a picture of the closest sign to your car showing your floor color, character, row number, and section letter. Individual spots are not marked. I have seen many tired people at the end of the day searching for their lost cars.
Don’t Ride the Tram, Walk to Downtown Disney
After parking at the giant Mickey & Friends Parking Structure, most people are used to riding the escalators down to the ground level and heading straight to the trams for a quick ride to the entrance of Disneyland (DL) or Disney California Adventure (DCA). But with the recent change of moving the security check-points closer to the parking structure, you now have to go through a bag check and metal detectors before accessing the trams. This can cause huge lines, especially if arriving mid-morning.
My tip is to not go through security at this point but to walk to Downtown Disney instead. There is a guided path to the right of bag check. If you have any questions, you can always ask a cast member and they will direct you.
It is approximately a 10-15 minute walk from the parking structure to Downtown Disney. You will have to cross one busy street, but a cross-walk and light is provided. You will arrive at Downtown Disney next to the Rainforest Cafe and ESPN Zone. The security check-point lines at this location are much shorter.
Entering Downtown Disney at this location also places you very close to the monorail if you prefer to ride the rest of the way into Disneyland. This is a quick way to get to Autotopia and the Finding Nemo Submarine attractions.
One other advantage to walking over to Downtown Disney is you don’t have to collapse any strollers. You can get your kids settled in their seats without having to worry about taking them out again for the trams.
Leave the Diaper Bag at Home, Use a Ziplock Bag Instead
For quick trips to Disneyland, I don’t bring the diaper bag anymore. It is just too much of a hassle at bag checks and when trying to hold an excited toddler’s hand. Instead, I pack everything I need in a large gallon size ziplock bag. This usually includes sunscreen, lunch food items for Miss L, a diaper, a sippy cup, and a disposable placemat. I just place the bag under our stroller. I’ve not been asked to pull it out at the security check-point yet. Huge time-saver!
Use Starbucks App to order drinks online, pick up in Downtown Disney
Downtown Disney has two Starbucks locations, and both accept online orders through the Starbucks App. You can order breakfast and coffee when you exit the parking structure, and it will be ready for you by the time you arrive at Downtown Disney (regardless if you took the tram or walked). Since you pay for your order on the app too, all you have to do is walk-in and pick up your food at the counter and head straight to the park. This is so convenient!
You could even apply this Disneyland time-saving tip, if you are staying in one of the three resort hotels. Just place an order on your phone while in your room, and then by the time you walk to the Downtown area, your coffee will be ready of you.
I believe you can also order online for Jamba Juice too, but I haven’t tried it yet.
Please note: It is okay to bring food and drinks into the theme parks as long as there are no glass containers. Also, please be aware that the Starbucks locations inside the theme parks don’t allow the online orders. You can’t use the Starbucks App at all inside the theme parks (though they do take annual pass discounts). It is just the locations found in Downtown Disney.
Visit Disneyland when the Majority of Annual Passport Tickets are Blocked
Before visiting Disneyland, it is worth your while to check the annual pass blackout dates calendar and see what passes are blocked from admission. For example, during the summer months, I have found that Saturdays are actually a better day to visit because the cheaper annual passes are blocked which keeps a lot of the locals away (you still get a lot of out-of-town visitors though).
It is also important to check and see if any events are happening at the Resort during your stay, like a marathon, as this greatly increases the number of people visiting. I try to avoid days around race weekends, large conferences, grad nights, etc.
Use FastPass (Now Available for Matterhorn Bobsleds and Toy Story Mania)
FastPass is old news these days, but it is still one of the best ways to save time and see more at the Disneyland Resort. Since we have a little one in tow who is too short to ride most of the larger, faster rides, we don’t use FastPass as much as we used to, but I still highly recommend it.
FastPass saves your place in line at a ride while you experience a different attraction or get something to eat. You then return to the ride at a designated time and enter via a special FastPass entrance. You obtain a FastPass ticket at a marked kiosk near the ride by using your park ticket or annual pass. It is free for everyone to use. You can have only one FastPass at a time.
FastPass machines have recently been installed for Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland and for Toy Story Mania in Disneyland California Adventure so I highly recommend using them to save time on your next trip. You will also want to get a FastPass early in the day for the new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! ride. The lines will be long.
Carry Tickets/FastPasses on a Lanyard or in a Wallet
If you will be park hopping or using FastPass extensively, it is worth your time to pick-up a lanyard beforehand. This will keep all your passes and tickets safe and easily accessible around the neck. This is a good way for kids to keep track of their tickets too.
I usually leave my purse at home and just bring my ID, credit card, annual pass, and some cash in a small wallet that fits in the back-pocket of my shorts or jeans. That way, I don’t lose time searching for tickets that have fallen to the bottom of my purse.
Visit Fast-Loading Rides Only
On busy days at Disneyland with my daughter, we don’t even attempt to board most rides. Instead, we focus on visiting fast-loading rides. The lines for these attractions move a lot quicker than others because the ride vehicle never stops to let people on-and-off. The Little Mermaid ride in Disney California Adventure park is an example of this type of ride, thus we visit this attraction a lot! The Haunted Mansion is also this type of ride. It’s a Small World also loads quickly.
If lines are too long, my daughter and I enjoy shows like the new Disney Junior Dance Party! We also look for characters to meet or play on the slides at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at DCA. We always have a great time, even if we don’t visit a single ride.
Use the Disneyland App to check Ride Times in Advance
If your loved one has their heart set on a certain ride or show, then use the official Disneyland – Wait Times, Maps, Park Hours & More Mobile App to study wait times and make a bee-line for that attraction as soon as you see a wait time you are willing to accept. Rides that re-open after being closed due to break-down or clean-up can have short lines for a bit and the app will show this.
This App can also save you a lot of walking time as you can check and see what rides are closed before heading there.
Avoid Lunch and Dinner Crowds by eating at Paradise Garden Grill, Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta, or Storytellers Cafe
If you know the exact dates that you will be visiting the Disneyland Resort, I highly recommend getting dining reservations in advance. This will keep you from bouncing from restaurant to restaurant trying to find a place that can squeeze you in (if at all).
However, reservations are not critical as there are lots of great quick service restaurants to choose from. Since my daughter and I usually visit Disneyland on a whim, we rarely have restaurant reservations. We usually eat at the Lucky Fortune Cookery at DCA because we love the food and the location.
However, on extremely busy days, we head to the very back of Disney California Adventure and eat at Paradise Garden Grill or Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta. Since these restaurants are so remote, they are rarely crowded. They have ample open-air and covered seating. Plus, sometimes there is live music and a chance to meet Elena of Avalor. It is worth the walk on busy days.
If you want to dine at a regular restaurant but don’t have a reservation, I recommend trying Storytellers Cafe inside Disney’s Grand Californian hotel. This restaurant doesn’t fill up as quickly as others and usually accepts walk-ups. The interior of the restaurant is gorgeous and the food is good.
The only drawback to Storytellers Cafe is, if you are not a hotel guest, you will probably have to walk back through Downtown Disney (and through the metal detectors/bag check) to re-enter Disney California Adventures. Since this can take a good chunk of time, we usually visit this restaurant as our last stop before heading home.
Avoid Main Street, Fantasyland, and the area in front of the Castle during Parades/Fireworks
If you’ve been to Disneyland lately, you know how crazy it gets right before a parade or fireworks show. It is like being stuck in 5 o’clock traffic in downtown LA. You can barely walk down Main Street or move in front of the castle. There is just this mass of people pressing against you on all sides. And this can really wreak havoc on your touring plans.
To save time, I highly recommend heading to less crowded areas during parades and fireworks. Use this time to explore Critter Country in Disneyland or Cars Land in Disney California Adventure. Or, take a break from the theme parks all together and head to Downtown Disney for dinner, shopping, coffee, or a movie. You will accomplish so much more. (Tip: You can still see most of the fireworks show from parts of Downtown Disney.)
Book a Dining Package for Reserved Seating
If you still want to see the parade and fireworks, then my best Disneyland time-saving tip is to purchase a parade dining package and land yourself a spot in a reserved viewing area. You can book these packages through Blue Bayou Restaurant (expensive!) or Aladdin’s Oasis. After you enjoy your meal, you are given a FastPass type ticket with your reserved seating area and show time.
We found the Aladdin’s Oasis on-the-go package to be very enjoyable. The food was decent for lunch and we were able to eat in a quiet location which was a nice break from the crowds. The reserved seating area for the parade for Aladdin’s Oasis is next to It’s a Small World. This is the starting point for the first parade. After the parade, if you stay-put you can watch the fireworks with projections on the front of It’s a Small World.
Watch the Fireworks from the Parking Structure
If you really want to beat the traffic home, I encourage you to watch the fireworks from the parking structure and then make a bee-line to your car. This will keep you ahead of the crowds exiting the park.
What Disneyland Time-Saving Secrets do you have?
Above, I shared all my best Disneyland time-saving tips. We use all or some combination of these tips every visit to have an enjoyable experience even in a time crunch. My daughter and I always pack a full-day of fun in before nap time.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check-out my detailed guide to touring the Disneyland Resort with an active toddler. It includes all my best tips for creating the perfect Disney day with your little ones.
Now it is your turn, what is one of your favorite time-saving tips when visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World? I would love to hear them in the comments below.
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