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Disneyland (DL) is very, VERY different from Walt Disney World (WDW). It’s not bad that it’s different, it just is. If you’ve never been to DL and you’re interested in making the most of your time, check out these awesome first visit Disneyland tips!

Disneyland Partner Statue

Heading to Disneyland? Read This First!

One of the major differences you will notice right away is the size of the resort. DL and Disney California Adventure (DCA) are about the size of the Magic Kingdom combined! Depending on what all you what to accomplish while you are in the parks, you could spend 1 day at each and not feel like you missed anything. The resorts are also located in a city. A downtown area of a city. When you’re at WDW, you are completely immersed in Disney until you leave the resort property. The property “line” at DL is a lot shorter. Once you leave, you are smack in the middle of a busy city. Still, it is Disney, so there’s certain magic to be had while you are there. From my personal perspective, I didn’t even notice the “city” around the park until I left.

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Disneyland Differences

One of the major differences you will notice is that they aren’t on the Magic Band system. DL is still on the paper FastPass system (remember that one?). That system requires a park ticket to be inserted into a machine in order to get a FastPass for an attraction.

Disneyland entrance featuring railroad station and clock tower.

However, in the last few years, they have added a brand new, online system called “MaxPass.” It is still NOT like FastPass+ at WDW. MaxPass is a great option for visitors, but many locals and AP holders I have spoken too don’t take advantage of it as often. Why? The cost. MaxPass is $15 per person, per day. That can add up to a lot if you’re taking your entire family! Guests do receive all of their PhotoPass download with MaxPass, so, in my opinion, the cost works out.

Planning Your Disneyland Day

Much like WDW, visiting DL/CA is completely dependent on who is in your group (children? adults? both?) and how much time you have to visit. Since we were on a tight schedule on our first visit, we opted to ride rides that were somewhat different from their counterparts at WDW or that only existed in DL. We skipped rides like “It’s A Small World” and “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” and instead rode rides like “Space Mountain,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye,” “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” and the “Matterhorn Bobsleds.”

City Hall building in Disneyland Park.

Disneyland Fast Passes

Thanks to some research, we knew not all of the rides at DL use the FastPass system. We spent a good portion of our time in the Fantasyland area of the park because none of their rides allow for FastPass use. Waiting in line the old fashioned way actually ended up being quite fun. It made us slow down and take our time exploring and enjoying all that Fantasyland had to offer. 

Daytime photo of Mad Tea Party at Disneyland

Disneyland Reservations

Our first trip did not allow us the luxury of time for dining reservations. If you have time, I highly recommend booking in advance. For lunch, we just ate a typical quick meal of chicken nuggets and fries at “The Stage Door Cafe.” We slowed down during dinnertime and ended up at “Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante” for fresh, Mexican-style food. On our way out, we stopped at the “Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe” for some sweet treats and the Market House for some Starbucks coffee to go!

Outside view of the building that houses Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland

Disneyland Best Tips

While DL is different from WDW, many of the same principles apply when planning for a vacation.

  • Avoid major holidays and 3 day weekend holidays if you can (I noticed a lot of Annual Passholders (APs) at DL, which means lots of locals)
  • Take 2-3 days to explore the parks (not being as vast as WDW will allow you to explore other great places like Sea World and Legoland)
  • Make any desired dining reservations ahead of time
  • FastPass MAJOR attractions (Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain, etc); wait in line for smaller rides
  • Staying on property is convenient, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. In WDW, staying on property is also not necessary, but HIGHLY recommended.
Carousel at Disneyland

Finally, I would recommend, most of all, that you do what is important to YOU and/or your GROUP. Any Disney vacation can be a great one if you just take the time to plan ahead.

First visit tips for Disneyland are crucial! It is so different than Disney World. Find out how to best use your time on your first visit. #disneyland #disneytravel #disneylandtips #disneyfirstvisit

Have you ever been to Disneyland? Share your best tips!