Disney Family Travel Tips

Disneyland & California Adventure In One Day With Non-Disney People

Note: Disneyland provided two media passes during our visit, but we purchased all others and photos + words are mine.

Don’t get me wrong. This family is big on Disney. We are animation fanatics and so many things about Disney are near and dear to our hearts. But when you look around the web for information about visiting Disney, whether it be California or Florida, there are entire sites about every aspect of the visit. I really had no idea how many huge fans there are out there and how many things you need to know about visiting. There are whole businesses and books to help you make the most of your experience.

I seriously think that this is all awesome, but we had one day to hit both Disneyland and California Adventureland Park – and were a big overwhelmed with it all. So this post is full of tips from people who are Disney-lovers but *not* superfans.

Buena Vista Street - Disneyland California Adventure

1. Don’t try to do too much.

This was all my fault. I knew we would not be back any time soon and also knew we only had one day there. Everyone told me I was planning too much and in a lot of ways, it put a damper on the day.

Mary Poppins in Disneyland parade

2. Don’t do Disneyland and California Adventure in the same day.

It really, really, really is too much to do. We were there for more than 12 hours and were barely speaking to each other by the end of it. Plus had to drive over an hour back to LA. No bueno. So of course, all this would have been made easier by staying over at Disneyland for the night too – which had been highly recommended to me as well. In the future, we would make it two days, or just pick one park.

Radiator Springs in Carsland at Disney California Adventure

3. Figure out if Disneyland or California Adventure Park is more important.

The movie “Cars” came out when Dex was four. It was the first film he really liked, that he really bonded with. It was his Frozen. We have seen it at least 100 times. I knew Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers (every bit as amazing as you have heard) at California Adventure would be important and fun for us, but we could have spent the day there alone and done nothing else. Dex just didn’t have the nostalgic attachment for Micky and Goofy like we did, and while you should never do a vacation SOLELY for the kids… Cars was nostalgic for us too because it was so memorable for him.

Disney California Adventure entrancement sign

4. Make a (loose) plan.

It’s a big world of Disney and you don’t want to be walking around in circles. So those web sites and books (most especially my friend Cam Bowman’s “101 Disneyland Tips”) are very helpful in getting your bearings before you go, rather than standing at the entrance staring at a map. I would also suggest you force all the adults in your party to study the map and your plan as well – because, honestly, I ended up being the ringleader and we all (myself included) resented me for it. P.S. They are not kidding with the Fast Pass business. Figure out your most important ride with a Fast Pass, get that one first, and plan your day accordingly after that.

Disneyland Enchanted Tiki Room

5. Pick an off-peak day.

We did this – and while I know there is no “down-time” at Disney – it really did make a difference. Since we were on vacation, we didn’t care when we went! There are also web sites and apps to help you figure out what day is best to visit based on traffic predictions (sometimes it may be the weekend!), and look for up-to-the-minute apps that helps you see what wait times for rides are withing the parks when there.

Carsland in Disney California Adventure Cinderella's Castle at Disneyland

6. Prep your kid(s).

I feel like we didn’t do this enough, partially because we didn’t know what to expect either. But I did say things like: “The one photo I want to get is us in front of Cinderella’s castle.” Or “You can get one toy that costs $20 or less.” These conversations have to happen OVER AND OVER. When they are there, everything is overwhelming and they need to know the drill.

Light up cars at Carsland

7. Stay well-fed.

I am diabetic and have a bad habit of letting myself get to hungry, hot, tired, thirsty, which makes me a general pain in the behind. Plan to eat “park food,” whenever you are hungry, whenever it is easy. Don’t worry about the cost, just eat. Well-fed family equals way better memories.

California Adventure alcoholic drink Luigi's Tires ride in California Adventure Carsland

8. Know where the alcohol is.

Disneyland does not serve any kind of alcohol, which was a rude awakening. California Adventure *does* have alcohol, in several locations. Our favorite was a little nook of tables where we sat and had small plate dinner and light-up drinks on a patio that overlooks Cars Land, called the Alfresco Tasting Terrace.

Hollywood at California Adventure

9. Expect the unexpected.

We went with a California native and also a friend who grew up in Ireland, so our group ran the whole gamut of Disney expertise. There were so many things our expert remembered from childhood that were cool little things we had to see, so we made many unexpected but fun pit stops. Also, we would happen upon rides with small lines, especially later in the evening – so we jumped on and had a blast in areas we had not planned on even stopping.

Disneyland Swiss Family Tree House

10. Decide when to call it quits.

I really, really, really wanted to see the World of Color show, but again – that’s a thing you kind of need to plan for. We probably should have headed out earlier, and I am glad we at least caught some of it, but we really had to battle the crowd and our crankiness to do it.

Disneyland Word of Color

Disneyland Swiss Family Tree House Mickey Mouse in Disneyland parade

Disneyland family in Mickey Mouse ears hats

So there you have it. Our Disney tips for the non-fanatic fan.

What words of wisdom can you add? You know. For Florida too?

This article has 18 comments

  1. Christina

    Great tips! I’m a Disney fanatic, so I feel like I know the parks inside and out from memorizing maps and reading up on how to master the FastPass system.

    For Florida: If you don’t live in or near Orlando, either plan to visit only one park, or book a hotel for a multiple day stay! Walt Disney World has four parks, so it takes time to see everything. We usually stay for 6 days. Staying in one of the park resorts is great, too. They provide free bus transportation to all of the parks, plus they have Magic Hours, where resort guests can enter a park an hour early or stay an hour late. (Which parks vary by day.) If you don’t like crowds, this is a great way to get on a couple of your favorite rides with a short line.

    Also, if you want to eat in a table-service restaurant, it’s much better to plan ahead and make reservations as soon as you know what day you’re visiting the park. Reservations fill up quickly, and the wait for a table otherwise can be very long.

    (I’ll stop now – I could go on forever.)

    • Aimee

      Great tips Christina – thanks! I went to college in north Florida, so a trip there really IS something we need to do!

  2. Ben D

    Great tips. Bookmarking this for next summer.

  3. Heather

    We are huge Disney fans and I think these tips apply to everyone!

  4. Laura

    The pic with you three in mouse ears is adorable! Glad you had fun in spite of crankies!

    • Aimee

      Ha ha thanks Laura. That photo (and those ears) were another thing on my MUST HAVE list. 😉

  5. Traci

    We are big Disneyland people and don;t really go over to California Adventure, although I agree – the Radiator Springs ride is amazing!

    • Aimee

      I know – that ride was so great! I could have just done that all day!

  6. Daisy

    These are great tips! I just came from Disneyland and wish I would’ve seen this sooner!

    • Aimee

      Awww thanks Daisy! Well, at least we are both more prepared for next time! 😉

  7. John @ run. geek. run(disney)

    Great tips for the non-Disney fanatic. Great tips for anyone really. It always is more fun when you don’t try to do *everything* in one day (or too much).

    Thanks for taking part in the Mickey Monday linkup!

  8. Bola

    We have not made the Disney world trip yet. Waiting for my littlest one to turn 6. your 10 tips will come in handy. Meanwhile, saving up!

  9. Brenda

    Great advice. Just booked for next summer ! Saving this’

  10. April

    I just love visiting Mickey and his friends. Especially now my kids are growing and loving Mickey so much. Can’t wait to be back here soon.

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