After over a year of shutting its gates, Disneyland reopened to much fanfare on April 30, 2021. There were a lot of changes put into place, including limited capacity, required ticket and theme park reservations, and FastPasses and MaxPasses being suspended. Visiting Disneyland looks a lot different now and it’s about quality over quantity and being strategic about your visit. Think of this guide as a highlight reel of the most popular attractions, though you will probably not be able to do them all in one day. Instead, feel free to mix and match this Disneyland itinerary in a way that fits your personal style and that of your group.
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Disneyland One Day Itinerary
In order to try and get in the virtue queue for Rise of the Resistance, you need to wake up early. Like 6:55 am early. The virtue queue on the Disneyland app opens up at 7 am and by 7:01 all the boarding groups are filled. If you sleep in or are not able to get a reservation, you can try again at noon. Here’s a detailed guide on how to successfully snag a reservation.
If you have small kids and want to go the character breakfast route, Storytellers Cafe in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is always a hit with the little ones. It’s pricey, but it’s buffet-style, and there are great food choices including a make-your-own omelet station and the classic Mickey Waffles and Buttermilk Pancakes. The weekend brunch buffet is $51 for adults ($49 for the weekday breakfast buffet) and $29 for children 3-9 years old for both the weekday and weekend breakfast buffets.
If you want a quicker grab-and-go breakfast option, Market House on Main Street offers Starbucks drinks and breakfast sandwiches and wraps, as well as yogurt, applesauce, and juice for kids that you can get once you’re inside the park.
Whatever your breakfast plans, make sure to get to the entrance gates of Disneyland at least 45 minutes before opening since there will be a line that will grow longer as it gets closer to 8 am.
For your first ride, head to Adventureland and get in line for Indiana Jones, which can get quite long later in the day. Once you’re finished conquering the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, get in line for Pirates of the Caribbean.
If you don’t mind getting wet, Splash Mountain next door in Critter Country should not be missed. Pro tip: the closer you sit to the front, the wetter you’ll get. Make sure to also pose for the camera at the top of the drop. Afterward, if you are looking for a classic thrill ride, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland brings you on a memorable trip through the Wild West.
An alternative morning itinerary for those who have small kids or want to go the slower, more low-key ride route, is to start out in Fantasyland with dark rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Alice In Wonderland. This land tends to get more crowded as the day progresses so it’s much more enjoyable earlier.
If you have the stomach for it take a whirl on the Mad Tea Party, but if spinning around in circles is not your thing, It’s A Small World should be right up your alley.
By now you’re probably getting hungry, so make your way back to New Orleans Square to eat lunch at Cafe Orleans. Sit on their spacious patio with views of the Rivers of America, while enjoying signature dishes like the Monte Cristo Sandwich or Shrimp and Grits.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, Bengal Barbeque in Adventureland is a great alternative with quick service options like Bengal Beef Skewers and Outback Vegetable Skewers. Take advantage of mobile ordering and avoid the line at this popular spot. There is limited seating, and if you cannot find a table, take your kebabs to the benches near the Walt Disney statue in front of Cinderella’s Castle.
For dessert, stop by the Tiki Juice Bar to get a dole whip, or if you are feeling fancy a dole whip float (dole whip in pineapple juice). Mobile ordering is available and recommended.
For a leisurely post-lunch ride, jump in line for the newly remodeled Jungle Cruise in Adventureland or head back to New Orleans Square to board the Disneyland Railroad, which takes guests around the perimeter of the park and also has stops in Main Street, Toontown, and Tomorrowland.
Disneyland naturally tends to be more crowded in the afternoon, so this is a good time to take it slow. Take a breather on Main Street, where you can shop for souvenirs at the Emporium, or take a ride on the Horse-Drawn Street Cars.
If you have smaller children, a fun afternoon alternative is Toontown, where you can meet Minnie and Mickey in their respective houses. It’s also a fun town to walk around in and admire all the quirky details and is an ideal area where kids can be entertained without having to wait in long lines.
For dinner, the Plaza Hotel is famous for its fried chicken platter, grilled salmon, and ornate Victorian interior. It’s casual cafeteria-style dining, where you pick up your food at different stations and then seat yourself at either the indoor or outdoor tables. Disney PSA: the serving for the fried chicken can easily feed two people, or you can always get a half order. You can also get a side order of the salmon as well.
For a fancier option, the Blue Bayou Restaurant has similar items on the menu as Cafe Orleans, including the Monte Cristo as well as dishes like Jambalaya, but is set next to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The dining room feels like you’ve been transported to an evening on a bayou, and is a memorable experience for the ambiance and a great break from the crowds. Reservations are highly recommended as spaces fill up quickly.
After dinner, make your way to Galaxy’s Edge, where it feels like you are on a different planet. Drop by Oga’s Cantina, where you can taste themed cocktails like the Jedi Mind Trick. The evening is an ideal time to visit this land, where crowds thin out as the night progresses and the line for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is more bearable. Seeing this land illuminated makes it feel like you truly have been dropped into Batuu’s Black Spire Outpost.
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As it gets later, the main attractions like Space Mountain and Matterhorn have shorter lines, especially during the fireworks. You can usually knock out a few rides in an hour’s time versus waiting in line for an hour for a single ride now that FastPasses are no longer available.
If there’s any ride you cannot miss, it’s the Haunted Mansion. It has been my favorite since I was a kid, and during the holidays it transforms into a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.
One of my favorite low-key nighttime rides is the Storybook Land Canal Boats, which gives guests a tour of different miniature scenes from popular Disney movies all lit up. Note that this ride tends to close to accommodate the firework shows.
There are rotating seasonal Disneyland fireworks on select nights, depending on the season. It’s important to note that shows can get canceled due to weather conditions like wind or rain. Currently, there is Mickey’s Mix Magic with Fireworks that takes place above Sleeping Beauty Castle and you can watch them from Main Street.
Make sure to grab one of Disneyland’s beloved churros at carts scattered around the park right before a show. There’s nothing like having a warm churro in your hand while watching the fireworks. There are churro carts near/in Sleeping Beauty Castle, Haunted Mansion, Critter Country, Big Thunder Railroad, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Casey Jr. Circus Train, and the Small World Promenade.
On your way out on Main Street, stop by the Candy Palace to take care of all your sweet tooth cravings, including seasonal Mickey-shaped rice crispy treats, caramel apples, and cake pops.
Disneyland Itinerary Travel Tips
- Entrance Requirements -Disneyland now requires all guests to purchase both a ticket AND a theme park reservation for guests ages three years and older. Prices start from $104 for a one-day Disneyland pass (ages 10+) and go up depending on the day and month you’re visiting.
- Rope Drop -try to arrive at the park right when it opens at 8 am to make the most of your day. The extra magic hour and Magic Morning are currently suspended for all guests staying on property at a Disneyland hotel. Disneyland park hours can change depending on the season, so be sure to check them before you go.
- Disneyland App – download the official app before you arrive since it will allow you to gain access to virtue queues, ride wait times, make dining reservations, join a mobile dine walkup list, and mobile order food ahead of time. It also allows you to purchase your park ticket and reservation on the app so you can have it easily accessible at the entrance gates.
- Character Meet-and-Greets -currently on pause, but you can still view the characters from a safe distance. For a complete list of reopening info including face-covering requirements, check out this link here.
Best Time To Go To Disneyland
This Disneyland itinerary is created for a less crowded day in the park and is not applicable for those almost-to-capacity days during summer, spring break, and holidays, so take this into consideration. Especially during the holiday weekends during Halloween Time and Christmas, you will have to cut your schedule in half and endure crowds that are not for the faint of heart.
Speaking of lesser crowds, the off-season after the holidays (January-March) or in early autumn once school begins again is the best time to go for lesser crowds. It does rain occasionally in the winter in Orange County and can get chilly once the sun goes down, but nothing a warm coat and an umbrella can’t remedy. Early autumn in Southern California is the region’s warmest time, so be prepared for hot and dry weather, when the Santa Ana winds blow in.
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Where To Stay Near Disneyland
There is a trio of Disney hotels: the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel, and Grand Californian Hotel, but if you are looking for a more moderate price range these are great alternatives that are close by. If you don’t have a rental car, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are great options for zipping to and from the park.
A 15-minute walk to Disneyland (you can see Disney California Adventure across the street), this hotel is a clean, spacious home base. The area is well lit, so you can feel safe coming home from the park late at night. The pool area is a nice retreat with two large pools, two hot tubs, and shaded cabana areas. A hot breakfast is included.
A bit further from the park, this 3-star hotel is modern, clean, and offers spacious suites complete with modern kitchenettes. A reasonably-priced option for families or travelers looking to have the convenience of a fridge, microwave, and stovetop in their rooms. Walking to the park is a bit far (25 minutes or more), but a blink of an Uber ride takes you straight to the front gates.
A mid-range hotel that is a solid choice with amenities that include an outdoor pool, snack bar, and a complimentary hot breakfast buffet. Suite rooms include a separate living room area with a sofa pull-out bed, that is perfect for larger groups. Ask for a back-facing room to avoid highway noise. Disney is a quick 11-minute walk door to door.
What is on your one-day Disneyland itinerary?
Photo source: Haunted Mansion