Ryan Um | 

35 Essential Disneyland California Tips You Need to Know

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Disneyland California is the OG Disney park, but their prices are a far cry from the $1 entry fees of 1955.

Still, millions of people flock to Anaheim to get their fill of Mickey and Co., and if you’re thinking about making the pilgrimage, you’re probably bracing for a financial smackdown.

Listen, while a Disneyland is never going to be cheap, it doesn’t have to dip into your kids’ college funds. We’ll show you how to get the best ticket prices, how to get into the parks before they open, and how you can avoid crowds and be on rides instead of lines.

We also have a list of tips that you should do on any Disney vacation.


Before you get into the park. . .

1. The parks have limited capacity; check your preferred dates to make sure they aren’t sold out.

screenshot of place to enter ticket number

No matter where you get your tickets, you can’t just buy tickets and show up whenever you want, because parks have limited capacity (thanks, Covid!). You’ll need to reserve a Disney Park Pass through the Disneyland website.

But before you even buy tickets, you should check availability for the date you want to travel. If things look good, then as soon as you buy your tickets, connect them to a Park Pass using your My Disney Experience account.


2. You’ll also want to check Disney crowd calendars to find out when the park is the least populated.

Person holds phone with WDW Prep School calendar loaded

If you want to know when the least amount of people will be at the park, check out Disney crowd calendars for all the up-to-date information. Plus, these will be the cheapest prices as well, so you’ll always get the most out of your money.

Here are a few of our favorite Disney crowd calendars to help you plan your Disneyland vacation:

  • Is It Packed: Let’s you know the day-by-day estimate of the number of people in the park. It also gives you recommendations for the best times to go into the park.
  • Undercover Tourist: Not only gives you the best days to go into the park, but it also lets you know the events that are going on in each park.

According to our research, the best times to go to Disneyland are typically in January (excluding Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend) and September (excluding Labor Day weekend).

And that’s just one of the many ways you can avoid crowds at Disney.


3. Save at least 6% on multi-day tickets at Disneyland when you buy from a third-party seller.

Disneyland Mad Hatter Tea Party

If you’re planning to be in the parks for more than one day, you have to check out third-party sellers, where you’re able to save 6% compared to buying directly from Disney.

Here are the highest and lowest savings comparisons for base tickets and Park Hopper tickets between Disneyland and the cheapest third-party seller (aRes Travel):

Biggest Disneyland Ticket Savings (3+ days)

  • 4-day base ticket $360.00 (Disney) vs. $337.00 (aRes Travel) — 6.4% savings
  • 3-day Park Hopper ticket: $390.00 (Disney) vs. $365.00 (aRes Travel) — 6.4% savings

Smallest Disneyland Ticket Savings (3+ days)

  • 3-day base ticket: $330.00 (Disney) vs. $309.00 (aRes Travel) — 6.3% savings
  • 5-day Park Hopper ticket: $440.00 (Disney) vs. $413.00 (aRes Travel) —6.1% savings

You’ll want to bookmark these Disney ticket sellers — but keep in mind that some sites may actually be MORE expensive than Disney! (Make sure to check as many sites as possible since prices fluctuate based on the season.)

Never buy tickets on Craigslist or eBay. They can’t be verified for their authenticity, and you do not want to travel all the way to Disneyland only to find out your tickets aren’t legit.


4. But if you’re going to go for just one day, go midweek to save about $50.

Disneyland castle

In general, regular 1-Day ticket prices for Disneyland (not including California Adventure) start at $154 if you go on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. So, go on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to get the Value Ticket price, which starts at just $104.

Value Tickets aren’t available in the peak season, though. So plan ahead and go when they’re available.


5. Get discounted Disney gift cards from Target or Raise.com to get cheaper tickets and souvenirs.

disney gift cards

Use your Target RedCard to buy Disney gift cards, and then use the gift cards to buy your Disneyland tickets. You’ll end up with 5% savings off the top.

It’s pretty competitive on Raise.com for discounted Disney gift cards, so if you see one that’s discounted around 5% off or more, buy it!

You can also use the gift cards inside the parks to buy food, souvenirs, and other items.

You can buy up to $50 in gift cards at a time from a Target store, and up to $500 with an electronic gift card online. If you buy multiple gift cards, you can consolidate multiples into one card by registering your Disney gift cards. The bad news is you can’t load Disney gift cards to your Disney MagicBand.


6. Get up to 62% off your Disney trip with a free Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.

Disneyland Pinocchio meet and greet

Some travel agencies have Authorized Disney Vacation Planners who do all the deal searching for you. And they do it for free; Disney pays these agents a commission directly.

The travel agent we contacted gave us a deal on a 4-night Disneyland Resort hotel stay and 2-day Park Hopper tickets for 62% less than what we would have paid through the official Disneyland website.

Find one by Google searching the name of your area plus “Disney vacation planner.”


7. Use airline miles to book your Disneyland vacation.

A little girl with Minnie Mouse ears looks out the window at the airport at Alaskan airlines.

Although airlines offer their own vacation packages, they do something Costco doesn’t — they accept airline miles as payment.

These airlines allow you to book a portion or all of your vacation package with miles (park tickets not included):

  • American Airlines: Cover the cost of your flight to California with AAdvantage Miles, plus you can put as few as 1,000 points toward the non-flight portion of your vacation, which you can redeem for gift cards, car rentals, and even hotel stays.
  • Delta Airlines: Use your SkyMiles to cover the cost of flight and hotel, plus you’ll get $350 off your booking if you’re a SkyMiles Member.
  • JetBlue: Use TrueBlue points to book the airline portion of your Disney vacation through JetBlue. You’ll see prices like 12,8000 points + $473. The points will cover flights and tickets to the parks, and the dollar amount covers per night at the hotel.
  • Southwest Airlines: Become a Rapid Rewards member and you can save up to 25% on your flight and stay at a Disney Resort when you book with Southwest Airlines Vacations. You can’t book with points, but Southwest has a Lowest Price Promise, which means if the same trip you’ve booked is now at a lower price on their website, you’ll get travel credit for the price difference and you get to keep your points.

We even found a way to fly your entire family to Disney for free (twice) using your miles.


8. Book a Costco Disneyland vacation package to get discounts and freebies.

A costco travel pamphlet in front of a Disney sign showing Mickey, and Minnie in Costco.

Costco Travel offers specials and all-inclusive Disney Resort vacations that you can book online.

Costo deals for Disneyland include a variety of discounted multi-day vacation packages. You’ll receive up to a $245 Disney gift card, Magical Extras savings at Downtown Disney District, and a collectible Disney pin and lanyard with purchase.

Plus, Costco Executive members get 2% back on all travel purchases up to $1,000.


9. Get up to 40% off park tickets with a military discount.

American flag printed Mickey Mouse ears on a woman in a Disney park.

Disneyland’s military discount offers 3-Day Park Hopper passes for $225 (savings of $163) and 4-Day Park Hopper passes for $260 (savings of $160). These prices are valid through Dec. 12, 2022.

You need to purchase tickets on Base or at participating military sales outlets. There are plenty of other military discounts that will get you through the year and save you money.


10. If you live in California, you can get discounted Disneyland tickets.

two people in front of star wars ride

If you’re a California resident, Disneyland offers discounted tickets depending on the season. When you check out online, make sure you input your address with zip codes between 90000-93599, and 21000-22999, to be eligible for this discount. Check out Disneyland’s discount page to figure out when they are offering California residential discounts.

We found that the last time they had these discounts (July 2021 – Sept. 2021), residents could get a 3-day, 1 Park Per Day Ticket for $249 ($83 per day) which was a 25% discount.

Disneyland offers some discounts for local university students and area teachers. If you live in Southern California, check with your student union or teacher’s union to see if you can get the discount.


11. Kids under 3 don’t need a Disneyland ticket.

kid wearing mickey mouse ears

But once they turn 3, you’ll need to get them a standard ticket which costs $134.

And if your little one can’t go on some of the rides you wanna ride, take advantage of the Rider Switch program. It allows parents to go on rides one at a time while the other takes care of the child.


12. Only book hotels with free shuttle service to the park (unless you can just walk).

Disneyland walk from hotel to the park

At Disneyland, properties across the street from the park are a 5-10 minute walk, and they run about $219/night (Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn). For anything else, make sure your hotel offers a bus shuttle to and from the park all day. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay $25 per day to park or around that for an Uber (each way!).

Note: If you are driving or renting a car, make sure your hotel also has free parking to save some extra cash.


13. Make dining reservations as soon as you possibly can — up to 60 days ahead.

woman and kid at disneyland restaurant

Eating at Disney’s fine dining restaurants is expensive, but if that’s not on your list, know that you must book ASAP — especially for high-demand restaurants like Oga’s Cantina at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

You can make reservations up to 60 days in advance at Disneyland. Plan your meals ahead, see menu prices, and make reservations now at Disneyland.

Do not try to walk into a restaurant that you know is booked and try to get a seat. It simply won’t happen.

Just one of the many Disney dining tips that you should know before going to the parks.

If you’re making reservations for a 7:20 a.m. breakfast, you might be able to get into the parks even earlier than the 8 a.m. opening. Just make sure that you’re doing it on a day that doesn’t have Extra Magic Hours.


14. Don’t rent a stroller! Bring your own cheap stroller even if you have to ship it to your hotel.

Disney stroller

Stroller rentals inside Disneyland will run you about $115 per day and considering you can buy a cheap umbrella stroller on Amazon and use it for the length of your trip, this seems like a no-brainer.

If you don’t want to pack it on a flight, look into shipping it to your hotel. Most hotels will hold on to packages if you mail them to yourself; you can pick them up when you check in.

Note: Disney parks have a limit on the size of your stroller, so make sure it’s no bigger than 31×52. Wagons are not allowed at the parks.

If you’re not sure what to bring to Disneyland, check out our ultimate Disney packing list that’ll save you big on your Disney vacation.



When you’re getting hungry. . .

15. Bring your own food into the parks.

A kid with Mickey Mouse ears pulls snacks from a bag at Disney World

This is the biggest tip most people forget about. The best way to save money on food at Disney parks is to just bring your own snacks — whether you pack them in your luggage or buy them outside the park. It’s totally allowed!

Just remember, whatever you pack, you gotta carry around. But chances are, you’re gonna spend a LOT less on food. A Mickey pretzel costs $7.25 to feed one person, while a 16 oz bag of pretzels from Walmart costs $1.98 (and multiple people can snack on it).


16. Skip meals at the parks altogether by placing an online grocery order.

The best way to spend less on Disney dining is to not spend anything at all! You could shop at a nearby grocery store, but I love the option of getting groceries delivered to my hotel via Amazon Fresh (free delivery for orders over $35), Instacart ($3.99 delivery for orders of $35+), or Walmart Grocery Delivery ($9.95 delivery fee).

Whether you’re ordering ready-made sandwiches, cans of soda, fun packs of chips, or fresh fruit, hotels near the theme parks are equipped to handle your online grocery orders. At Disney resort hotels, the bell desk receives your groceries and lets you know when they’ve arrived.

To make sure you have your groceries before heading to the park, schedule your food delivery between 6 – 8 a.m. You’ll need to place the order as soon as possible. (Walmart lets you schedule up to 6 days in advance.)


17. Never buy water at Disneyland — you can get it for free.

Disney California Adventure - girl holding free cup of water

Did you know that you can get a free cup of water at any counter-service restaurant? This way you can save $4 – 6 on a bottle of water.

All you have to do is ask for a cup of water, and the Cast Member will hand you a small cup of water. (if you want a larger cup, just ask.) Or bring an empty bottle into the park and refill at stations scattered around the park (typically in dining areas).

You can also bring a bottle and fill it at the water filling stations in Disneyland, but be warned: there are no water-filling stations in California Adventure (but you can still get free water).


18. Order your food ahead of time with your Disneyland app.

Disneyland restaurant sign with mobile ordering instructions

One of the best features of the Disneyland app is the ability to skip the food lines. With the app, you can browse menus, order food, select a pickup time, and keep moving.

This way, you can get your Dole Whip or turkey leg without having to wait in a long line.


19. Order your Disneyland Starbucks using the Starbucks app.

Downtown Disney Starbucks

We get it. Some days, you just have to have your Starbucks fix, and a regular coffee just isn’t going to cover it. Luckily for you, there are a few Starbucks in and around Disneyland that you can go to for your Starbucks needs.

Avoid the long lines by placing your coffee order with the Starbucks app. This won’t work for Starbucks locations inside the park, but it works like a charm for Downtown Disney.

Check out our Starbucks hacks no barista will tell you to save even more on your Disney vacation.


20. The best food deal at Disney parks is the popcorn bucket.

Not only will you get a cool souvenir for $10 – $12 that you can take home from the parks, but you’ll be able to refill the bucket for only $2.

Plus, you can bring that bucket the next time you go to the parks, and you’ll still get the $2 popcorn refill.


21. Ordering a kids meal at a Disney park can save you 50%.

A typical meal at Disney will cost you $11 – $16 for adults, so you can save by ordering a kids’ meal for only $7 – $8. They typically come with some fruit and a small drink as well, so it’s a better deal than ordering an adult item a la carte (which only saves you around $2).

If you’re looking for more ways to save on food, check out our Disney restaurant hacks that Disney restaurants don’t want you to know.



When you get into the parks…

22. Pick up a free button if you’re celebrating a birthday, first Disney visit, or another special occasion.

Disney birthday pin

You can get a button for your first visit, birthday, anniversary, or really anything else special, and Cast Members will acknowledge your celebration. They also offer blank buttons that say “I’m Celebrating _____” and you can fill in your own reason.

Most of the merchandise shops have these at the counter, so just ask!


23. Go to the ‘Rope Drop’ to get into Disney parks earlier.

Disneyland castle

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure technically open at 8 a.m., but if you get to the parks an hour early, you can watch the “Rope Drop” and get into the parks early.

The exact time they let people into the parks varies, but typically it’s about 40 minutes before the official opening time.


24. Budget at least $20/day per person for the Lightning Lane.

Kid in the Lightning Lane at Space Mountain while crowds fill the standby lane

Look, we get it. You already spent a pretty penny just getting to Disney and into the park. Why spend more for Genie+ Lightning Lane access?

The photo above says it all; on the left is the standby line for Space Mountain. On the right — Lightning Lane. You made it this far, what’s another $20 per person, per day so you don’t spend your Disney vacation waiting in lines?

You can add Genie+ when you buy your tickets, or once you arrive at the park. Then, when parks open (or 7 a.m. if you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel), use the Disneyland app to reserve your Lightning Lane time slot.

Some things to know:

  • You can only book a Lightning Lane reservation once per ride, per day
  • High-demand rides book up fastest; make your reservation as soon as possible
  • Not all rides offer Lightning Lane; the app will tell you which ones have it
  • Some rides offer Individual Lightning Lane tickets, which cost $7-$20 per person, per ride, depending on the season. For example, the Webslingers Individual Lightning Lane costs an additional $7 per person, on top of the Genie+ service. Same with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.


25. As soon as you check into your Lightning Lane reservation, book a new one.

Holding phone with the Disneyland app showing Lightning Lane booking

Lightning Lane is just like FastPass was, in that you can only schedule one Lightning Lane at a time. But as soon as you check in using your phone, open the app and reserve your next Lightning Lane ride.

The sooner you do it, the better because Lightning Lane windows get booked quickly — and supply is limited. You’ve also got to use some strategy: Do you want to book the most popular ride later in the day? Or bounce from Lightning Lane to Lightning Lane, knowing you might miss out on your favorite ride’s Lightning Lane.


26. Keep an eye on ride wait times using the park’s app.

Disneyland app with wait times on map

One of the best parts of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World apps is the map feature, which lets you keep tabs on current wait times. If you’re waiting for your next Lightning Lane — or not doing one at all — this will help you figure out where to go for the shortest wait.

Tip: If you put your must-see attractions into Disney Genie — the free planning tool within the Disneyland app — they’ll tell you the best times to get in the standby line.


27. There are a lot of freebies for you at Disneyland if you ask.

Boudoin Sourdough Bakery gives out free bread samples

Everyone loves freebies, and we found a ton that you can get at Disneyland. Mileage may vary on all of these tips since supplies are limited, but if you find more on your trip, let us know so we can share the freebies around.

  • Captaining the Mark Twain boat: Generally, the captain of the Mark Twain boat will ask a family with a small child to help pilot the Mark Twain boat.
  • Free Animation Academy class: Both Disneyland and California Adventure have ongoing drawing classes where you learn to draw a different Disney character. You get to keep your handiwork.
  • Free animation filmstrip: If you find your way to Beast’s Library at California Adventure, you’ll be able to create a pinhole animation filmstrip, which you can keep.
  • Holiday freebies: Depending on when you go to Disney, Cast Members give away items related to the holiday. For example, during Mardi Gras season, they give away beads.
  • Free sourdough bread: If you go to the Pacific Wharf, you’ll find Boudoin’s sourdough shop, where they hand out free pieces of sourdough.
  • Free stickers: We had a hard time finding Cast Members who had stickers on hand, but this freebie DOES exist. You just have to find the lucky Cast Member who has stickers. We’ve heard if you ask the Janitors (in white outfits) your odds of being successful go up.
  • Senior Wilderness Explorer Badge: If you complete the Senior Wilderness Explorer challenge at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, talk to a Cast Member, and they will hand out this special sticker.
  • Free Disneyland Coupons: Restaurants will give out coupons to different souvenir shops. They are given a time limit though (ex. Coupon expires 20 minutes after food purchase).


28. Trade pins with any Disney Cast Member who’s wearing a lanyard.

A little girl trades pins at Disneyland.

There are a few rules to this memorable (and totally free) activity — like, it must be a Disney pin, and. the pins must be in good condition.

Cast Members don’t own their pins; they’re given to them specifically for trading with guests, so don’t be shy about asking!



29. Single-rider lines can help you spend less time in some ride lines.

Crowds of people waiting in a long ride line at Disneyland.

If you’re at least 7 years old, you can stand in the single-rider line, which typically gets you through lines faster. Here’s a list of rides where you can use single-rider lines:

At Disneyland

  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Splash Mountain
  • Space Mountain
  • Star Tours: The Adventure Continues
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

At California Adventure

  • Grizzly River Run
  • Incredicoaster
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Radiator Springs Racers

When you’re waiting in line, the Play Disney Parks app is an app that Disney developed to help you stay entertained when you’re in a long line. It has location-based games that include trivia, puzzles, an achievement system, and AR effects and animations around the park.


30. Ride when people typically eat or are watching fireworks — the lines are much shorter.

This really works! We’d always have really strange eating times — like a 10 a.m. breakfast, a 3 p.m. lunch, and a late dinner (if necessary). When regular mealtimes would hit (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and like 5-7 p.m.), people would be stuck in long lines for dinner, while we’d be blazing through the standby line on rides.

This tip is even stronger during the nightly fireworks shows. Here’s a list of the rides known for having notoriously long lines during park hours, but virtually empty during fireworks and close to closing:

  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Soarin’
  • Space Mountain
  • Toy Story Mania!
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Radiator Springs Racers

Note: Make sure you’re in line before closing time; otherwise, you won’t be let on the ride.


31. Put your phone in airplane mode when you’re on underground rides to save your battery.

someone turning on airplane mode on phone

This is more of a tip to help you save your battery, but since you’re going to need your phone to track your itinerary and order food, it’s best to conserve your battery as much as you can.

Underground rides will include Indiana Jones, the Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean.


32. Don’t go to the parks on Magic Hour days — they’re super busy.

The entrance to Disneyland.

Although Magic Hours seem really great if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, they make the parks more crowded. So any time you save by getting in early gets gobbled up by bigger crowds.

So, stay away if you can. For example, if Disneyland’s Magic Hours is on Monday, you should go to California Adventure instead for shorter wait times.

To find out when Magic Hours are happening, check the Disney park calendar, and it’ll let you know which parks are offering them on which days.

Note: Magic Mornings and Extra Magic Hours have been suspended due to Covid-19.


33. Take a selfie with characters at the parks for free.

Disneyland meet and greet with Alice

Meet and greets at the parks are a little different now. Characters stand or walk around specific roped areas in the parks to enforce social distancing. But they will have conversations with you and even take selfies — which are, of course, the new autograph book.

Disneyland also has character cavalcades to replace their usual parades during park hours. So you’ll get to see your favorite characters walk or ride by as they make their way through the parks.


34. Get a free autographed postcard from your favorite Disney character in the mail.

Disney postcards with Mickey and MInnie on them

The magic doesn’t start at the parks. You can write to your favorite Disney character, and Disney will send you an autographed postcard within 4-8 weeks.

Here’s a list of the characters that you’re most likely to get a reply from:

  • Mickey Mouse
  • Minnie Mouse
  • Donald Duck
  • Goofy
  • Pluto
  • Ariel
  • Sleeping Beauty (Aurora)
  • Belle
  • Cinderella
  • Jasmine
  • Rapunzel
  • Snow White
  • Tiana

You can send your letter to this address:

Walt Disney Company
Attn: Fan Mail Department
500 South Buena Vist Street
Burbank, CA 91521


35. Disney Visa cardholders save 10% on select dining and merchandise in the park.

Disney Visa cardholders with Chase bank save 10% on select merchandise purchases of $50 or more at Disney parks, resorts, and stores.

If you have a Disney Visa, you also get access to exclusive character experiences within the park, dining discounts, special vacation financing, and more.

Also: Disney Premier Visa cardholders get a $300 statement credit if they spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of having the card. If you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel, you’ll easily hit that amount.

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