We had an amazing day at Disney and managed to knock off both Disneyland and California Adventure.
NOTE: We did not have any children with us which allowed us to focus on the rides we wanted, mostly thrill rides. This itinerary is based on our success but also what we think we could have done better. You cannot do this without the fast pass app on your phone, so you’ll need MaxPass tickets. FYI we walked over 40,000 steps on the day, woke up at 6am for an 8am start at the park and we didn’t leave until after midnight.
If you are staying at the resort – great! You get to enter the park early and this means an additional HOUR before the crowds arrive. We stayed in Hollywood so we got up early, had some oats and fruit for brekkie, packed our lunches and drove to Disney. To make this plan work, you have to get to the park before 8am. It will be worth it, we promise!
First timers – note that once you go through security you are NOT in the park yet (this should be obvious but Flo got confused). We got there at 7:40 AM and walked right up to the gates. You can use the spare time to grab coffee, get your Minnie ears, download the Disney app, etc.
Once you are in the park, get your fast pass game on.
Fast Pass Fun
Even though queues are short to begin with you want to be ahead of the curve. You can get Fast Passes for both Disneyland and California Adventure, it does not matter where you currently are.
Fast Passes work like this:
Instead of queuing for hours, you get a timeslot allotted. This could be 10 minutes or 10 hours from now.
For example, if you want to ride Splash Mountain but the queue is 30 minutes deep at 8 AM, you can get a Fast Pass via the APP from anywhere –the fast pass might be valid from 9:20 AM to 10:20 AM. You then go about your day and return within that window allotted to you. You will walk straight past the queue through the FP entrance!
What we did not know and did not see on any other review: You do NOT have to wait until your fast pass start to get ANOTHER one. So, sticking to the example, you might be eligible to get another one at 8.40 AM. Book that next FP! We did not figure out what the conditions are but had multiple fast passes going at a time. We found they work best when you focus on one that is starting within the next few minutes and get a highly popular ride one as well, just to make sure you do not miss out.
Good Morning Magical Kingdom – your AM plan
Start in Disneyland – it is so nice to walk to the castle when the doors first open!
Head to Fantasy Land and ride Matterhorn Bobsleds to wake up. Use the single rider queue if there is a line already (you have to walk around to find it) and get your fast pass for Space Mountain while you wait.
Do Space Mountain next and get your Fast Pass for Guardians of the Galaxy in California Adventure – time to check out things on the other side! [Side note: If the timeslot provided for Guardians is more than 40minutes away you may be able to squeeze in another mountain ride before you head over, i.e. Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain. Check out the waiting times on the app and use single rider where possible.]
While you are in California Adventure try to lock in Guardians of the Galaxy and Radiator Springs Racers with Fast Pass ASAP. We found California Screaming ALWAYS had fast passes available, mostly starting 15 minutes from the current time (we managed to do this 3 times throughout the day!). If that’ too much of a thrill for you, Soarin’ Around the World is also a must see and seems to only get busy later in the day. Grizzly Peak is also a great water ride, guaranteed to get you wet.
Pretty much everything besides California Screaming, Radiator Springs Racers and Guardians of the Galaxy is available via Fast Pass until 10 PM – the latter 2 rides run out of Fast Passes in the afternoon due to popularity and CS closes for the light show. We only started park hopping half way through the day and could (should) have jumped on a Fast Pass for Guardians and Racers, but thought we’d wait for “better ones”. In the end we missed out on both these rides as we weren’t prepared to wait in line for 60+ minutes… 😦 Don’t make our mistake, use FastPass to lock in these rides and avoid the queues!
Check out the Mickey’s Fun Wheel to get a nice overview of the park.
To recap; Disney:
- Matterhorn (just use the single rider lane if not too long)
- Space Mountain
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Radiator Spring Cars
- California Screaming
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Grizzly Peak
After your stint in California, head back to Disney it’s probably time for lunch!
We brought our own food, but you can use the app to reserve a table if you feel like that instead. Restaurants looked really nice and we would have happily eaten somewhere. If you have your own food we’d recommend eating in Disneyland because there are more shaded areas there.
Extra Tip: If you want to have an ice cream but can wait for it – get it in California Adventure before they close. The machines get cleaned each night and instead of throwing away the extra ice cream it seems they start giving out extra large portions to finish off. We shared one “small” soft serve and could barely finish it! 🙂
Refreshed – Let’s go!
After lunch we needed to stay out of the sun but also wanted to do more rides – check out Indiana Jones to wake you up from the food coma (FP this indoor roller coaster!) and do Splash Mountain while you are in the area. Also try to pick up FastPass tickets for the evening’s Fantasmic show near the Mark Twain River Boat terminal (you’ll need to collect these in person). You can use the Disneyland Railroad to take you from one part of Disney to the next, something we discovered much too late. Otherwise it is also nice just to do a full loop and relax with your feet up.
After riding Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road head to Mr Toad’s Wild Ride. Enjoy It’s a Small World to relax a bit again (the lady behind us fell asleep but we think it’s a cute ride). The Star Wars ride in Tomorrowland is also fun and a good way to keep away from the harsh sun.
To recap – this is your plan for the afternoon in Disneyland:
- Indiana Jones (FP)
- Splash Mountain
- Collect FastPass tickets for Fantasmic Show
- Disneyland Railroad
- Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road
- Mr Toad’s Wild Ride
- Its a Small World
- Star Wars: Path of the Jedi
After this head back to California Adventure to relax in Ariel’s Undersea Adventure or grab a drink (including alcohol if you want) at Flo’s Café or the like (we had to go to Flo’s for obvious reasons). If you get too hot walking around go into Bug World and use the kiddy water games to cool down – there is water mist there. There is also a dance off happening in front of the Guardians of the Galaxy – fun but cheesy. There is also a very popular Frozen show which takes place in the afternoon (we skipped this much to Flo’s dismay). Use the app to find other show times and locate cool characters, like Thor and Black Widow, for some cool photo opportunities. Alternatively tick off any of the rides you missed in the morning or ride your favourites again!
At 9 PM there is a fantastic show, World of Color. You can watch it from the pier. Get tickets a few hours before – they work like Fast Passes and mean you get to watch from a better location without having to get there an hour before. Treat yourself to a soft serve ice cream like we mentioned before. Remember California Adventure closes at 10pm.
Before you head back to Disneyland for the last 2 hours, here is your recap:
- Arielle’s Undersea Adventure
- Drink at Flo’s Cafe
- Cool down in Bug Land
- Check out a show
- Redo favorite rides
Hurry back to Disneyland to see Remember… Dreams Come True at 21:30, the classic Disney fireworks show. We did not bother to wait with the crowd but instead we chose to walk and watch while we made use of the time to get in a few extra rides. Make sure you have your Fantasmic tickets for the 22:30 show, we really enjoyed it. After the show tick off any rides you have not done yet – we loved Matterhorn and Big Thunder Mountain even more in the dark! Splash and Space Mountain are also great to re-do.
Get the App before you go – this gives you an idea where things are located and what you want to check out. There are so many more attractions than what we covered, but like we said at the beginning we focussed more on the thrill rides.
Use Fast Passes and be organised about it. We ran between parks a lot because we had not prepared for the possibility to do both in one day. Hopefully our arrows on the snapshots help you!
Having the MaxPass meant we got to keep any pictures taken of us during the day – both on rides or by photographers in the park – for free! We only realised this much later, but would recommend you get as many pics taken of you as possible. They actually came out really nicely and are such a cool keepsake.
Pack your own food – you can take your backpack on all rides or stash it safely with the staff. This will save you a ton of money, as the Disney restaurants are generally not cheap.
Wear comfy shoes and clothes, bring sun protection and be smart about your choices. Nothing would have sucked more than having to leave before the fireworks!
HAVE FUN!! This should be super obvious, but Disney is so magical it can get overwhelming for some. Don’t stress too much about what you have to see – you will be amazed by how much you can accomplish if you follow our itinerary!