When I mentioned I had never been to the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Alston was so aghast that Disney Adventures was born. From just that statement, that hole in my childhood (or really, life in general), a grand adventure began.
Disneyland actually comprises of two individual parks: Disneyland and California Adventure. While the first, opened in 1955, is the original happiest place on earth and a legend in its own right, the latter was completely new to me. Likewise, it’s rather new to the world, having only been opened in 2001.
It’s sort of like a Six Flags in that it’s much more of the roller coaster and boardwalk sort of park rather than the theme park aesthetic of Disney. It’s still Disneyfied, sure, but it was miles away from Fantastyland or Adventureland. It’s all old Americana with carnival rides, cotton candy, and a giant Ferris wheel that terrified me (and I refused to go on because why would anyone want to be stick in a tiny metal box that SWINGS as well as goes around in a giant circle at a snail’s pace??)
California Adventure is actually entirely dedicated to California, but after the initial idea failed to really kick off, Disney added a lot more ‘Disney’ rides and built the ginormous (and awesome) Cars Land. While still not nearly as popular as Disneyland, it’s now more visited than when it initially opened. It was a nice break from the crowds anyhow.
But enough of that! You want to learn how to conquer Disneyland and California Adventure in only 24 hours! Well, you can’t, the park isn’t open 24 hours (it’s just catchy for a title), but we did spend 16.5 hours between the two parks and THIS is how we did it and got on all the big rides!
We met in the hallway at 6:30AM and jumped in a taxi towards the parks; we wanted to be there by 7AM. By the time we got there, the line to get in was already enormous and snaking back far and away from the main gates. Well hot damn.
Those who stay at the Disney hotel get an extra hour in the park, so most of the traffic was from them getting their early access. Regardless, get there well before gates open to maximize your time and get a head start!
The entrance to both Disneyland and California Adventure is part of Downtown Disney, a complex of shops and restaurants. While most won’t be serving breakfast until the park hour open, a few places (like Starbucks) will be open so you can get yourself some caffeine and also some nibbles to start of your day. The first part of getting into the Disney complex is security and it’s only after you’ve passed that barrier that you can get your tickets and into the park of your choosing.
Tip: When the gates open, everyone just surges towards the middle, run off to the left side after the big fountain as more gates open and the lines will be significantly shorter.
MAKE A GAME PLAN
The night before we mapped out which rides to hit, which were fast passes (when you reserve a time to go to a popular ride instead of having to wait in line, only so many are available and you’ve got to strategically plan when and where to get them), and what was the best order to go in based on what we perceived would be popularity. It was a full on planning session, we had both maps laid out on the floor, markers in hand and lists being made. We judged the distance between rides and what was feasible by walking time (there was no science to this, believe me, just going off Alston’s previous visits) and what would most likely be crowded at what parts of the day. You can try and swing it, but making a plan will make your life a LOT less stressful.
Below is our list of all the rides we managed to do in the 16.5 hours we spent at the two parks. Because we were also heading to Disney World in Orlando a week later, we omitted some that we did there instead (namely Splash Mountain, The Tower of Terror, and The Haunted Mansion).
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Mad Tea Party, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, Toon Town
Fast Passes: Indiana Jones Adventure & Hyperspace Mountain
California Screamin’, Silly Symphony Swings, Radiator Springs Racers
Fast Pass: Soarin’ Over California
The longest line we waited in was for Radiator Springs Racers, which was a good two hours at the end of the day. But generally we never had to wait longer than 40 minutes for anything else. We also stopped to eat twice, like properly sat down. You could hit even more rides if you were on the go.
It should be mentioned that we did not go in high season, we went in April during the week, so our wait times are definitely not indicative of the summer season.
If you are going in a large group, make sure you split up; not only is this good for people to wait in lines for less popular rides while others do the FastPass run, but it gives everyone a chance to see and do what they want. Not everyone may be a thrill ride and roller coaster fan and vis versa some people (like yours truly) vastly prefer rides that are a bit on the crazier side and I get easily bored on the calmer ones.
I’m one of those people who still can’t eat alone, despite pushing thirty. I refuse to go to the movies by myself and really only relatively recently have done solo travel. I love shared experiences, even if you don’t necessarily speak during said experience (ie the movies). I just like having someone else there who is seeing or doing the same thing as me and we can mutually enjoy it (or not, haha). However, this trip taught me that it’s OK to split up a friend group if people want to do different things.
Since this was my first time there, those that lived in LA and had met us, told us to go ahead and do the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones, and they’d meet us later, as they’d either been on those rides before or weren’t a big fan. At first I was like ‘nooooo, we should be together this is sad,’ but then it clicked that this was actually a good thing and probably something I should have been comfortable with a long time ago. Hey, a new revelation every day.
You’re gonna get hungry. (Also it’s Alston’s fault for making silly faces in all the churro photos, YOU BROUGHT THIS UPON YOURSELF!)
Especially after walking around the park like a fiend trying to get everything done. While Disneyland has a TON of vegan options, in general, theme parks aren’t going to cater to your every need and desire. It’s much smart to pack a few things, especially for energy. You’re going to get tired and need a pick me up, and protein is the best for that. We mostly relied on sugar, haha, which worked in short spurts but more than once we found ourselves dragging.
Brings things like trail mix, nuts, granola bars, protein bars, and maybe a five hour energy or two. They do check your bags heading into the parks, however small things aren’t going to be confiscated.
Also, you’re really gonna want snacks when waiting in long lines. You need SOMETHING to do.
If you think it’s too much hassle and don’t want to bring an actual bag or backpack, I get it. Just know that you’re definitely going to shell out for the churros, and maybe you’ll get an extra one for free because it broke and you’re dressed as Mickey and Minnie.
Oh man. While we only had the one really long wait, I learned an important lessons: Alston does not like waiting in line. It was kind of hilarious actually. He’d just start making noises and taking weird selfies. And naturally my own patience only goes so far, so I joined in. We were a menace.
So my tip, bring something to entertain you in line. A lot of other people were playing interactive games on their phones. We tried I Spy for about thirty seconds.
Mostly we just made faces.
You’d think this would go without saying, but the fact is, you’re at Disney to be like a kid again. Even with a game plan, a photographer and video lady (WE LOVE YOU NORIKO!), and multiple sugar crashes between us, we loved acting like kids again.
We were giddy and excited and really, most people are. But there will be people who take line waiting not well, who get grumpy when you pass along with a fast pass and they’ve been waiting for awhile… hey, it’ll be okay. You’re at freaking Disneyland.
Disney is a magical place okay? It’s where it’s perfectly acceptable to dress up like Minnie and Mickey Mouse and pose for photos and eat churros and scream like a hyperactive poodle.
Having only been to Disney World when I was seven, I didn’t know what to make of Disneyland. It was the original, what started it all, and it definitely had that cute and quaint quality of being a bit older, but very well loved. While I undoubtedly preferred Disneyland to California Adventure, I found the newer park charming in its own way and naturally wouldn’t mind returning.
Disneyland is more than doable in a day, as are the two parks combined really. It all depends on what you want to get out of your visit and what sort of rides you’re into.
So how’d we do? Think we conquered the parks? Did we miss something major? Or is this a good template?
Let me know!