Guide to One Day at Disneyland

one day at disneyland

A cultural treasure, children’s playground, fairytale world of possibilities, crowded fantasyland, terror for any travel planner and a day of dread are all terms that accurately explained my outlook on our one day at Disneyland. I suspect Disney fanatics could spend a week at Disneyland and never grow tired. But for others who are only mildly interested in the world Walt Disney created or just don’t have the time, one day at Disneyland can be accomplished.

Spending just one day at Disneyland is a challenge but if you’re rested and ready for a long day of exploring and standing in lines it can be accomplished. It isn’t an exact science but there are several steps to take to make it more possible to enjoy one day at Disneyland.

Have a Plan

One of the beauties of Disneyland compared to Disney World is it generally is less crowded and a park that can be visited spur of the moment. I’ve been told Disney World requires months of planning, thanks in part to reservations for every little experience being snapped up quickly. Disneyland doesn’t require all of that long-term planning, but it is important to have an idea of what rides might interest you the most. The extent of my planning was reading a few blog posts the previous night to get an idea for what rides we might want to target. I knew which ones to go to first, which ones we’d need to grab FastPasses for and which ones might run out.

Just Have Fun

one day at disneyland

People who know me well know that visiting Disneyland isn’t my cup of tea. But that didn’t keep me from jumping with Tigger, riding the tea cups or being amazed by the awesomeness in Star Tours. I happily bought my son Mouse Ears, even though I knew he likely would never wear the hat again. Embrace the Disney experience, and one day at Disneyland will be an unforgettable time.

Arrive Early

one day at disneyland

Our ability to just have fun during our one day at Disneyland was helped by our early arrival. We stayed in a hotel a short walk from the park entrance. We walked into the park shortly after it opened at 8 a.m. Sure, there were plenty of people already in the park. But it was very manageable, especially when compared to much later in the day. Lines did get bad as the day went along, but they weren’t so bad early on, even at the slow-moving Finding Nemo ride, above.

Stay Late

Trust me, we were exhausted by the time we finally left at 10:30 that night. But our little family of three has great stamina and we were able to push through a long day and night to experience everything at Disneyland. I absolutely despised the crowds that night as everyone crowded around to watch the parade and then fireworks show. We were making our way back from California Adventure, hoping to get another couple of rides in while most people were watching the parade. But we couldn’t even make it through the crowd.

Be Flexible

one day at disneyland

Maybe if we would’ve been more flexible the parade and fireworks crowd wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But a long day at Disneyland had us all tired and grumpy, not to mention hungry. Even visiting Disneyland on a Wednesday in late May the park was crowded. We didn’t have a full agenda for the day and I believe anyone who does visit with a schedule will be disappointed. The park has too much going on, rides that can randomly close and lines that get just too long to be able to stick to a schedule. Our favorite ride was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, above. It ended up being closed most of the afternoon and we unfortunately were unable to ride again. But at least we were able to ride it that morning.

Use FastPass

I kept returning to Big Thunder Mountain to attempt to get a FastPass, but it was never available. The FastPass enabled us to avoid long lines at Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and others. Not all rides offer the pass, but it’s well worth it for the ones that do. Just walk up to a ride and get a ticket with a return time. It might be 30 minutes later or it could be hours. But return during the allotted hour, go through the FastPass line and board the ride usually within minutes.

But Not Every Ride

Not all rides offer FastPass, including some of the more popular ones. We went straight to the left when we walked into Disneyland, some advice I discovered in my little bit of research the night before. My plan was to rush over to the Indiana Jones ride and grab a FastPass. But when we arrived there was no wait. So we decided to head straight in and knock out one of the more popular rides while it had no wait. It turns out we were able to hit several popular rides where a FastPass just wasn’t necessary.

one day at disneyland

I do wish we would’ve obtained a FastPass early in the day at California Adventure for the Cars Racers ride. It ended up running out of FastPasses and when we did decide to go stand in line when it was posted as an hour-long wait we ended up not riding. Thirty minutes into our wait the ride suddenly shut down. But just experiencing Cars Land was a blast in itself.

Think Hard About a Park Hopper

We had Park Hopper passes that enabled us to go back and forth from Disneyland to California Adventure. We spent roughly from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Disneyland before going over to California Adventure. In theory, spending the day at Disneyland and night at California Adventure is enough time for each. But many rides at California Adventure close at 8 for the light show. I think it would’ve made more sense to leave Disneyland about 2 in the afternoon, spend the afternoon and early evening at California Adventure and return to Disneyland around 7. I do think it’s possible to experience both parks in one full day, but be prepared for a really long day if you make the investment in upgrading your ticket to a park hopper.

one day at disneyland

14 thoughts on “Guide to One Day at Disneyland

  1. Happy to see you talking (somewhat) positively about Disney :-)

    I’ve been to DisneyWorld like a dozen times but never out to Disneyland. You mention it here and I’ve heard from others that Disneyland is way more laid-back. I’m thinking it’s where I’d like my kids’ first Disney experience to happen. The thought alone of having to make reservations for every little thing at DisneyWorld stresses me out.
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted…Summer travel & weekend family getaways from ChicagoMy Profile

  2. Never been to either Disney, but I am sure I would enjoy it. I agree, you just have to make a commitment to have fun there because I am sure crowds, long lines, and a long day can wear you down and make your attitude go south. Is there any place to have a beer there? I know I could always survive if there was a bar around.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…La Colina Lodge in MonteverdeMy Profile

  3. Francesca, I’ll happily return to Disneyland. It was a lot of fun and the idea of not having to make reservations for everything was great. And lots of affordable lodging options within walking distance that are not associated with Disney.

  4. Lance, we did the one day adventure with our two small babies and it was tough but we did exactly how you mentioned. I wrote an article but not published yet. it was fun and you have to have a plan when you do that in one day. its extremely busy and fast passes, arriving early and stay up late will surely help you get all done. Besides, you can’t really get all done if its a busy day. we got almost 90% done in one day and some of those left for the next time. Great post and enjoyed reading it.
    marc recently posted…Folk Art of the Desert: Part IV- Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert MuseumMy Profile

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