First Disneyland trip

March 3, 2020, 11:35 AM

Hey group,

I'm visiting Disneyland for the first time in about three weeks, planning to do Disneyland on a Thursday and California Adventure on Friday. Lifelong Floridians, been to our parks too many times. My question is, what are the can't miss attractions at Disneyland that we don't have in Florida. It's not a deal breaker if we don't get on RotR, can do that later here. We did buy tickets with Maxpass also. Any strategy also for best plan of attack, we plan on being there for rope drop. Thanks in advance, looking forward to seeing where it all started.

Replies (11)

Edited: March 3, 2020, 12:31 PM

The major attractions unique to the California Parks are:

California Adventure

Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout - clone of ToT though without the 5th Dimension room found in Florida but an amazing Marvel overlay
Radiator Springs Racers - TestTrack with a Cars overlay and better layout though without the high speed section
Monsters Inc - Mike and Sully to the Rescue - dark ride not to be confused with Laugh Floor at MK
Grizzly River Run - raft ride similar to Kali only WAY better
Golden Zephyr - a old-school flat ride that's way better than it looks
Frozen - Live at the Hyperion - Broadway-caliber show
World of Color - Nighttime spectacular that's a cross between the Bellagio Fountains and Fantasmic!


Roger Rabbit's Toontown Spin - Dark ride where guests can spin the cars like teacups
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage - uses the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea subs with a Finding Nemo theme
Matterhorn - World's first tubular steel rollercoaster - similar to Florida's Space Mountain though not completely enclosed
Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye - Uses the same ride system as Dinosaur at DAK, though is 100-times better with the Indy theme.

Those are the unique major attractions, but there are also some rides that are similar on both coasts but have some subtle differences...

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - the California version is essentially the same as in Florida, but the "C" lift (third lift) has added special effects that are reportedly coming to Florida when the coaster undergoes its next rehab later this spring
Space Mountain - The California version is completely different from Florida though the themes are the same (assuming it's running in standard mode and not in Hyperspace Mountain). The trains are not bobsled style like in Florida, and have on-board speakers and music/sound effects.
Buzz Lightyear - The one in California is called "Astro Blasters", but the big difference is that you can pull the gun out, so you're not stuck trying to turn the vehicle to aim.
Pirates of the Caribbean - Not quite as long as the one in Florida, but the scenes are very similar. You get to float past the Blue Bayou (the park's signature restaurant) and ride up the lift at the end instead of unloading and walking up a ramp like you do in Florida.
Haunted Mansion - Like Pirates, the Florida version is a bit longer, but the scenes are pretty much the same. The biggest difference is that the stretch room in California is actually an elevator.
Fantasmic! - Pretty similar to the version at DHS, but its staged in the Rivers of America instead of a stadium, so the show is way more intimate and includes some scenes that are not presented in Florida.

The other differences are with Fantasyland, where Disneyland has a number of attractions that are not duplicated in Florida. Peter Pan in California is the closest to its MK analog, but like Pirates and Haunted Mansion is shorter. Disneyland also has Snow White's Scary Adventures, Pinoccio's Daring Journey, Storybook Canals, Casey Jr., Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and Alice in Wonderland that are not found in WDW. The Pooh ride in California (in Critter Country instead of Florida's Fantasyland) is a bit different too but not dramatically. Also, the Teacups in California are open air as is It's a Small World's loading platform, unlike WDW's analogs which are under cover, so it changes the aesthetic and feel of the rides a bit.

As far as a strategy, the biggest thing to understand is that you don't need to book FP times months in advance. Maxpass/Fastpass can only be used the day-of, and you can only book one attraction at a time (though you can hold multiple FPs at a time). When you pick up a FP, you should set an alarm on your phone to let you know when you're able to book another FP (the app will tell you that info). Also, understand that not all rides have FP on them like in WDW (though they've added some new FP attractions since we were there last summer).

If you have park hoppers, don't be married to the 1-park per day mindset like at WDW, especially if the park you start in feels especially crowded. You can walk between Disneyland and DCA in less than 5 minutes.

Edited: March 3, 2020, 1:48 PM

Wow Russell, thanks for all the info, hopefully you have all that saved somewhere so you can copy and paste for future posts like mine.
With the Maxpass, can you explain about the part where you said you can only have one attraction, but hold multiple FPs. I know we can get for Fantasmic and that doesnt count against our rides.
Also, any suggested sequence for where to head first once the park opens. We know where to bolt to here, but booking fast passes ahead of time changes our strategy, whereas now we will only be booking once the park opens.

Just noticed also that the days we plan to visit each park has extra magic hours, should we switch our park plan to avoid this. I'm hesitant to be going to Disneyland on Friday, was hoping Thursday would be quieter. Any thoughts also on how the extra magic hours are affecting getting boarding groups for RotR?

March 3, 2020, 2:14 PM

If you get a FP for an attraction with a return time later in the day, you can pick up an additional FP after 90 minutes (with MaxPass) to 120 minutes (with normal FP). For instance, if you enter the park at 9 AM, and pick up a FP through Maxpass for Radiator Springs with a return time of 12:00-1:00, you can pick up another FP through at app at 10:30, meaning that you would be holding 2 FPs at the same time. Also, having a FP does not impact your ability to sign up for a Boarding Group for RotR (if you want to ride that, you should be doing that right at official park opening time, not trying to get a FP anyway).

As far as touring strategies, it really depends on what type of visitor you are, and if there is a Magic Morning/Early Morning Magic for the park you're starting at - that means on-site hotel guests and those with special tickets will already be in the park and populating standby lines. If there are no early guests in the parks, here's what I would do...

DCA - Get a FP for RSR as soon as you walk through the gate for as early as possible (hopefully before noon). If you can't get one before noon, see if you can get a Guardians FP for before noon. While you're working the app, walk over to Soarin' and ride that through the standby line, unless you don't care for the attraction (check to see if it's running the original California film, which is far more appealing IMHO to Soarin' Around the World). If you don't want to do Soarin', you can walk to either Guardians or Toy Story Midway Mania. Those 2 attractions don't have single rider lines like RSR and Incredicoaster, so if you can't get FP+ for them, you can mitigate the wait through the single rider lines. If you did ride Soarin' and don't mind getting wet early in the morning, you might want to ride Grizzly River Run since it's right next door, but shortly after that you should try to hit either Guardians or TSMM because those lines will build quickly (RSR will probably already be over an hour by the time you get off Soarin', so hopefully you have a FP for it). The rest of DCA, you should ride things as you come to them, and keep an eye on MaxPass to see if you can pick up more FPs for the big attractions. We were regularly getting 5-7 FPs per day in DCA for GOTG, RSR, TSMM, and Incredicoaster.

For Disneyland, it's a bit trickier because of Galaxy's Edge. You mentioned that it wasn't a deal breaker to not ride RotR, but you didn't say anything about your interest in Galaxy's Edge as a whole (and MFSR). MFSR is going to be the highest demand FP attraction in Disneyland, but it also has a single rider line (though you'll be likely relegated to the engineer's seats). The tough thing with Disneyland is that so many of the attractions don't have FP on them, mostly in Fantasyland. I would recommend getting your first FP for either Space Mountain or Indy (assuming you can get times before noon). Indy and Space Mountain both offer single rider lines, but they are notoriously slow (especially the Indy line). Whichever ride you don't get a FP for first, I would rope drop the other (or head to Galaxy's Edge). From there, I would work my way systematically around the park remembering to pick up additional FPs as you're able. We noticed that the Fantasyland ride times tend to shrink below 30 minutes after 4 PM, so if you can wait until late afternoon to do those, it might save you some waiting in standby lines since there's no FP in Fantasyland except for It's a Small World.

Also, remember that as part of purchasing MaxPass, that you also have PhotoPass, so make sure to take advantage of that while your in the parks. There aren't nearly as many PhotoPass photographers in California as there are in Florida, so if you see a shot you want with a relatively short line, take advantage. Also, make sure to take advantage of your ride photos by typing in the photo number into your app to link it to your account - this doesn't automatically happen like in WDW since there are no MagicBands.

Edited: March 3, 2020, 10:38 PM

Wow, some great information Russell! I'd like to add that if you're going on a crowded day, you can refresh the Maxpass page for other people's discarded fastpasses. IMO, Space, Big Thunder, and Fantasmic are much better at DL than WDW. Also, try not to miss out on Indy, Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians (more fun version of TOT), Matterhorn (expect it to hurt a little), and Buzz. If you're gonna do Matterhorn, you can choose between two sides, like Space at Magic Kingdom. The left side (tomorrowland side) is more thrilling but can be more jerky, while the right side (fantasyland side) is more tame. For anyone in your party with longer legs, don't sit in row 1 or 4 b/c there's less leg room. Russell pretty much covered everything you'll need to know for a beginner, but just remember to refresh the Maxpass page. Been able to get almost every big ride done with a fastpass, and like Russell said, make good use of that photopass too because it's included with the purchase of Maxpass.

Edited: March 4, 2020, 1:08 AM

Russell pretty much outlined attraction priorities so I won't get into that, but I do think some revision to the strategies is needed. Unfortunately, Rise of the Resistance has dramatically altered crowd patterns at the resort, rendering a fair amount of previous touring advice outdated. This is especially true at Disneyland, where the park now sees 20,000-25,000 guests present at opening each day, flooding the park almost immediately and making it a challenge to get on rides with shorter queues (interestingly, lines are usually shortest at Disneyland in the afternoon now).

First off, I'd recommend switching DCA to Thursday and Disneyland to Friday. The main reason for this is because of DCA's Food and Wine Festival, which draws a large number of locals to the resort. This is especially true on Fridays, where many will come after work just to sample the food and have a couple drinks. The other reason is, as you mentioned, Extra Magic Hours. While not nearly as influential as in Florida, they still mean that Fantasyland and Tomorrowland will be busy from opening at Disneyland on Thursday, so Friday may offer you a better shot at getting on some of the park's lower capacity attractions with less of a wait.

Secondly, crowds. You will be visiting during the first part of Spring Break season, which means the parks will be busy. While not as bad as the heart of Spring Break (first two weeks of April in So Cal), expect crowds to be on the upper end of manageable. Based on my experience, I'm guessing wait times for the major attractions will be comparable to the following (* indicates Fastpass attraction)...


<30 Minutes: Disneyland Monorail, Disneyland Railroad, Jungle Cruise, Mad Tea Party, Main Street Cinema, Storybook Land Canal Boats, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
30-60 Minutes: Alice in Wonderland, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad*, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters*, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, It's a Small World*, Mickey's House, Peter Pan's Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars Launch Bay
60+ Minutes: Indiana Jones Adventure*, Matterhorn Bobsleds*, Millennium Falcon, Space Mountain*, Splash Mountain*, Star Tours*

Disney California Adventure:

<30 Minutes: Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, The Little Mermaid
30-60 Minutes: Goofy's Sky School*, Grizzly River Run*, Incredicoaster*, Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, Monsters, Inc.*, Pixar Pal-a-Round
60+ Minutes: Guardians of the Galaxy*, Radiator Springs Racers*, Soarin'*, Toy Story Midway Mania*

Third, Rise of the Resistance. I will say is an absolutely amazing attraction that everyone should experience. HOWEVER, if you think it is likely you will ride it in Florida at some point this year, I recommend against spending time on it in California. At minimum, the attraction will consume an hour of your day, and when you've got one day on your first visit to Disneyland, there is so much else to do that it really isn't worth it. If you think it will be years before you'll do the ride in Florida, by all means I recommend trying to get a boarding pass, but if it's a difference between ride it now vs. ride it in a few months, just wait and do it in Florida.

If you choose to try for Rise of the Resistance, you must be at the parking lot a minimum of an hour before opening. It can take 45 minutes to get from the parking booths to the gate, so if you're not sufficiently early you'll miss your chance to ride. Make sure you are familiar with the process to obtain a boarding pass prior to your visit, be ready with the app open a few minutes before it's time, then once the moment arrives click through as quickly as you can. Unlike Florida, there are not enough boarding groups to go around at Disneyland, so roughly 1/3 of those in the park at opening are still missing out.

Assuming you are not planning to try for Rise of the Resistance, you're okay with skipping anything that is not better or significantly different than its Florida counterpart, and you switch your days to avoid hitting parks on early entry days, here is what I recommend for a plan of attack:

Disney California Adventure:

Because many guests are starting their day in Disneyland to try for boarding passes, DCA has generally been deserted for the first couple hours each day. That said, plan to arrive at the park about 20 minutes before opening so you can get inside and find a good position near the rope. As soon as the park opens, get a Fastpass for Soarin' on your app (the ride is currently running the California version), then head directly for Pixar Pier. Here, you've got a few choices. If you wish to ride Toy Story Midway Mania (identical to Florida's), do it first as you can often ride with only a 10 minute wait at this time. Otherwise, I recommend hopping on the Incredicoaster, Disneyland's most extreme thrill ride (about on par with Everest and tamer than Rock 'n Roller Coaster IMO). I also suggest riding Pixar Pal-a-Round if you can get on with a short wait, as it is quite a unique ride. If you finish both these and it is still not time to ride Soarin', you can kill time with Goofy's Sky School (a stock model carnival coaster) or Little Mermaid (same as the Florida ride). Also don't forget to grab a Showpass for World of Color while you're back here...distribution is next to Little Mermaid.

Once you are eligible to book your next Fastpass, grab one for Guardians of the Galaxy, then head for Soarin'. If you're up for getting a bit wet, tackle Grizzly River Run at this time too...the wait should still be minimal. Once finished with these two attractions, head to Hollywood Land. If it is time to ride Guardians of the Galaxy, head directly there, but if not detour to Monsters, Inc. If you need to kill more time, check out the Animation Building until your Fastpass is ready. After Guardians, there is no need to book another Fastpass, but feel free to get one for the attraction of your choice if they are still available.

I recommend waiting until around lunchtime to head to Cars Land so you can have lunch at Flo's, probably the best quick service restaurant in the park. This is also a good time to do the three attractions here. Radiator Springs Racers will likely boast a wait of around 90 minutes, but most days you can get on through Single Rider in around 10 (and you often wind up racing others in your party). The other two attractions are optional, and usually have queues of around 20 minutes.

The key attractions done (you should be able to accomplish all of the above by 2 P.M.), it's time to turn your attention toward shows. DCA's signature show is Frozen - Live at the Hyperion, which falls short of the former Aladdin but still is a spectacular performance well worth seeing. Generally, the later the performance the easier it is to get a good seat, but try to arrive at the theater 30-45 minutes before showtime. For World of Color, you will have a designated viewing area on your Showpass, but the earlier in the window you arrive the better your view will be. The park's other shows are largely transplants from Florida (Animation Academy, PhilharMagic, Turtle Talk), so feel free to watch if desired, re-ride your favorites, or go explore Downtown Disney and the hotels. With 14 hours of operation for what is generally considered a half-day park, there is going to be several hours of free time on your DCA day, so definitely take advantage of it.


Good news, bad news time. The bad news is that Disneyland has about 50 attractions, and there is absolutely no way you can do all of them in one day (well, no way without hyper planning everything and having luck on your side). The good news is that the park is open for 16 hours, so if you're strategic you stand a solid chance of hitting about 30 attractions in a typical operating day. However, unlike DCA, it is critical that you arrive at Disneyland early. Even if you're not trying for a boarding group, I recommend being at the park 40 minutes before opening to ensure you're inside when the rope drops. If you decide to get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, break off from the following when needed, and otherwise stick to the plan as much as possible.

Once the park opens, grab a Fastpass on your app for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, then head directly to Fantasyland. Most of the attractions in this section of the park are lower capacity and do not have Fastpass, so it will be advantageous to knock them out of the way first. Your priorities are (in no particular order):

-Matterhorn Bobsleds, the world's first tubular steel roller coaster. This one gets the longest line in the land and should be your first stop. Note that it's a bit on the rough side, so be sure to hold on tight.
-Storybook Land Canal Boats, a charming boat ride past miniature houses belonging to well known Disney characters.
-The five Fantasyland dark rides (though Snow White's Scary Adventures is currently down for maintenance), which form the heart and soul of Disneyland's Fantasyland. My personal favorite of these is Alice in Wonderland, but ride at least two. Note that Peter Pan's Flight usually gets the longest wait of the bunch, and though a bit different from Magic Kingdom's the duplicity makes it easy to skip.
-It's a Small World, a much superior version compared to the Florida installation and with one of the best attraction facades in existence. This one actually has Fastpass and good capacity, so prioritize other Fantasyland attractions early in the morning.

Keep an eye on the time, and make sure to head to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in time to ride (don't forget to grab a Fantasmic Showpass en route). When you are able to get another Fastpass, make your second one for Splash Mountain, then journey out that way after Thunder. If you need to fill time, take a cruise on the Mark Twain or Columbia (the latter is more interesting), go explore Tom Sawyer's Island, or ride Winnie the Pooh (completely optional, and inferior to Florida's).

Your next Fastpass after Splash Mountain should be Indiana Jones Adventure, which is in my opinion the best attraction Disney has ever built. Most likely, now will be a good time to grab lunch if you're feeling hungry. The French Market in New Orleans Square and Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland are a couple of Disneyland's best options for quick service, as is Cafe Orleans for full service (unpopular opinion: Cafe Orleans is better than Blue Bayou). If you're not hungry and don't mind a bit of a walk, this is also a good time to go explore Mickey's Toontown, a mostly optional section of the park that contains one above average dark ride (Roger Rabbit's Car-Toon Spin) and several play areas. If you'd prefer, the world famous Jungle Cruise is directly adjacent to Indy, and grabbing a dole whip to enjoy during a show of the Enchanted Tiki Room (longer show and more intimate room than Florida) is a great way to get off your feet.

Your next Fastpass selection (once you can book again) should be for Space Mountain, the last of the Disney mountains to conquer. However, instead of rushing off to Tomorrowland, you have a decision to make. If you wish to spend any time in Galaxy's Edge (100% identical at both parks), now would be the time to do so. Millennium Falcon does not offer Fastpass in California, and the ride averages a 45 minute standby queue, so it may not be worth it if you've done it at home. However, it is a unique enough attraction that should you have the time, I'd recommend checking it out.

Now for Tomorrowland. Obviously the big ride here is Space Mountain, but if you're able to get a second Fastpass before arriving, grab one for Star Tours (same as Florida's, but we're pretty much out of unique Fastpass attractions by this point). Beyond those two, the other ride I'd recommend over here is Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, which is an improved version of the Florida iteration.

If everything has gone smoothly, it should be around 7 P.M. by this point and you'll want to get dinner before too long. If you want to stay in the park, Plaza Inn or Jolly Holiday are good options nearby, or you can head back to one of the places I listed for lunch. Alternatively, feel free to hop on the Disneyland Monorail and go grab something in Downtown Disney. Once back in the park, check your plans for the nighttime spectaculars:

-If you have tickets for the first Fantasmic (usually 9 P.M.), it's probably about time to head over that way. If you instead have tickets for the second Fantasmic (usually 10:30 P.M.), you don't need to head to Frontierland until about 20 minutes before showtime.
-If you want to see Mickey's Mix Magic (not's a lousy show IMO), stake out a spot on Main Street about 20 minutes before the start. If you aren't seeing it, a good time to catch any Fantasyland attractions you missed is during the performance.

In addition to the above, there is one last headliner left to hit: Pirates of the Caribbean. I've saved this for last for a few reasons: the line is usually only around 20 minutes in the evenings, the nighttime atmosphere better sets the stage for what lies inside, and by this point in the day you'll best appreciate a 15 minute dark ride (yes, California's is nearly twice the length of Florida's). This was Walt Disney's final creation, and it would be a sin to visit Disneyland and not ride it. Sadly, the nearby Haunted Mansion will be down for your visit, but if there's an E-ticket to miss as a Florida local it's that one...your version has all that's within California's and more.

More likely than not, you'll be worn out and ready to leave after Fantasmic ends, but if you've still got stamina go back to anything you missed or re-ride a couple of your favorites. The last hour is the quietest of the day at Disneyland, and if you don't foresee yourself returning again in the near future you'll probably want that last ride.

I think that's about all that I can give you, but it should be plenty to get you on your way. If you have any additional questions, however, feel free to ask.

March 4, 2020, 10:20 AM

That is a lot of info and really, really helpful. I really think switching days and not going to the extra hours parks is what we'll do. We know how important having a game plan is and I appreciate all the tips. We're staying at the HoJo right across the street, so should be able to get there for rope drop.

We'll actually planning to walk around downtown disney Wednesday afternoon/evening, how about over there, any restaurant suggestions or things to do.

I have a feeling my feet are going to be hurting, but it will be totally worth it.

March 5, 2020, 5:41 AM

Russell, is Pirates longer in Florida? I thought it was a bit longer in California. To me, it is a vastly better ride in California regardless of the length and absolutely a must do. While I agree with most people’s assessment, I will throw out a potentially unpopular one: I think the Haunted Mansion is better in CA despite not being as technically advanced and in need of some repair. I like the fact that there is more of a walk through and you actually go up into the attic which makes sense. Plus- Hatbox. While the parks we mainly visit is WDW, I really like DL and think it has much benefits over WDW. And no hideously, mind-boggling ridiculous, they-need-to-remove-it-as-soon-as-possible, fast pass plus.

March 5, 2020, 2:45 PM

You’re right, Pirates at DL is about 15-16 mins while pirates at WDW is about 8 mins. And yeah I agree, there’s a lot of things that are done better at DL like the fastpass system.

March 6, 2020, 8:20 AM

You're right JC and Postcott. I was going a bit too fast there, and really flubbed that sentence pretty badly (no sense in going back to correct it now). The general point that the DL version is superior to WDW's still stands though.

I also agree that HM in DL is better, and that doesn't even account for the Nightmare overlay, which I've actually seen more times than the standard HM because of the timings of our trips to CA.

FP is miles ahead in CA compared to FL, though it's a bit annoying that you have to pay an extra $15/person for MaxPass to be able to pick up and manage FPs through the app. However, I do appreciate that Disney allows you to purchase MaxPass at any time, and charges the same whether you buy it with your admission or add it after you walk through the gate,

March 7, 2020, 6:37 PM

What's the news like locally out there regarding any possible closures of the parks. I work as an OR nurse and yesterday the conference that was to be held at the end of March in Anaheim was cancelled. We don't plan on cancelling our trip, hoping actually the parks might be quieter than we were expecting.

Edited: March 7, 2020, 9:56 PM

Seems they intend to remain open-

"Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort, are welcoming guests as usual and we continue to implement preventive measures..."

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