How to Do Disneyland in a Day

Disney is a monster. But a good monster like Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. Cute, cuddly, magical, and all kinds of fun. The American Disney parks bring in more revenue and visitors every year than any other theme park in the world, Walt Disney World being the mega monster in chief. But...not everyone has the means and/or ability to shell out hundreds upon hundreds for a full week at the Disney parks plus room and board. So what’s a Disney lover to do?

There are verified ways to make Disney work on basically any budget (see Disney on a Budget blog here) but the one surefire way to cut down on cost is to see the entire park in a day. With Walt Disney World, which has four full-size theme parks spread over a massive campus, it’s almost impossible to see everything worth seeing. However, with Disneyland, which only has two full-size parks, a day trip is more manageable and is done all the time.

If you’re ever in Los Angeles and looking for a little Disney magic, remember that us here at Adventure Student Travel have faith in you and we want to help you realize your dream. Here are the top tips on how to see Disneyland (or Walt Disney World if you’re more ambitious) in a single day.

  1. Get there before the park opens. This is Disney 101. The best way to see all you want to see is to get there as soon as the gates open and the flood of people are let loose into the park. That way you can rush to the first ride on your list, preferably one that gets a lot of attention, to beat the waiting times early.
  2. Make an itinerary. Know which rides you absolutely want to go on and then find out when they are the busiest. Each ride will have something different but Disney has nifty little apps nowadays that lets you see what the wait times are at any given point during the day for every single ride in their parks.
  3. Know which rides you want to get FastPasses on and reserve those in advance. There are certain rides that don’t need FastPasses because they are never that busy, to begin with. Your best bet is to get passes for the busiest rides and just wait out the lines on the rest of them.
  4. Have an idea about how long you want to spend waiting. Some people have a basic rule of thumb not to wait any longer than thirty minutes. If riding a particular ride means more to you than breathing, then judge accordingly but if it’s, says, the teacups, don’t wait more than twenty minutes in line before heading off. Disney rides have neat little time markers at the start of each line to indicate the approximate wait time so you don’t have to waste your time guessing.
  5. Know the layout of the park before you arrive. There are apps, maps, and all sorts of tricks to learn geography and with a “smaller” park (smaller than Disney World), it’s definitely doable - and highly recommended. It’s going to be basically impossible for you to experience the full park on a time crunch if you don’t know where to go. Know where you’re going right out of the gate and then you won’t be rushing to meet your deadlines.
  6. Evaluate the rides. Know exactly which rides are worth visiting and when. I can’t stress this enough. Some rides, especially if it’s your first time and you’re on a deadline, aren’t worth wasting your time on. When you don’t have all the time in the world, only focus on the best of the best. If it helps you, make a full list of all of the ones you want to definitely see and find out what their general wait time is. There are some that you can basically ignore unless you see that the wait time is only 10-15 minutes like The Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World (which, by the way, almost never has more than a 10-minute wait). Character meets are always long waits, no matter the character. If you don’t have a kid, too, it’s pretty much not worth it. You’re going to see those characters around the park anyway, you might just not get to talk with them personally for your allotted fifteen seconds. Just ask yourself: Would I rather wait in line for this ride for thirty minutes or ride two others right now? Compromise is probably the main kernel of advice in this tip.
  7. Make eating plans if you’re staying in the park all day. Generally speaking, if you’re doing the entire park in a day it’s probably a good idea not to leave and come back just to cut down on wasted time. The park is, however, quite expensive and seats in restaurants are sometimes hard to come by without reservations. The food is magnificent though and unlike any other theme park food anywhere. Even if you decide to sample the “street” food from booths along your route, you’re going to be eating some delectable foods. The walk-side booths are generally cheaper than the sit-down restaurants so you can budget better and get along quicker - plus, you won’t be charged if you miss your reservations.
  8. Decide on whether you want to do California Adventure on the same day. Some people decide against it, and that’s completely cool. You’re going to want to choose before you buy tickets, however, as you can sometimes get better deals on buying dual tickets to both parks. Not to mention, the itineraries will be drastically different if you fit two parks into a single day than just focusing on the one.
  9. Don’t wait around for the parades and fireworks. Many people put huge importance on the fireworks and parades and allot a giant swath of park time to waiting in line for a good spot. What many don’t realize is that good spots are everywhere. The parades are pretty much the easiest things to see and they do that on purpose. They want everyone to be able to see Sorcerer Mickey and Cinderella on the floats passing through Main Street, USA. Just grab a table outside the confectioner’s and have yourself an ice cream literally a minute before the parade begins and you’ll be able to see it just fine. 
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It's Disney!

Some of the top rides, for reference, include - in both Disneyland Resort and California Adventure: The Mountain Range which includes the four mountains in the parks (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and the Matterhorn); Indiana Jones Adventure; Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage; Peter Pan’s Flight; Haunted Mansion; Dumbo the Flying Elephant; Tower of Terror; Jungle Cruise; and Pirates of the Caribbean.

If you have any other top rides that you think should be on this list, shoot us a comment or email. We’d love to hear from you.