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Disneyland Article
Tips For Visiting In 2024 17 Ways To Save Money And Have More Fun
Leslie Harvey
Disneyland in Southern California is known as the Happiest Place on Earth, but the experience is a whole lot happier for visitors who come prepared. Visiting a Disney theme park can be complicated, confusing and expensive. With the right strategy, however, you can dodge a lot of lines and spend less than the average guest.

After spending thousands of hours in the two theme parks in Anaheim over the years, I've picked up quite a few Disneyland tips and tricks. Here are the essential tips you need to know to get the most for your money, spend less time in line and have a more magical vacation experience.

Don't forget to make theme park reservations

Earlier this year, Walt Disney World in Florida eliminated its theme park reservation requirement for most guests. Disneyland did not. If you want to visit the parks in California, you'll still need a reservation for the park you plan to enter first each day.

When buying a theme park ticket directly from Disney's website, you'll be prompted to make park reservations automatically. If you buy from a third-party reseller like Get Away Today or Undercover Tourist (which can be smart to do, as you may save money by purchasing multiday tickets this way), you'll need to complete the reservations step on your own. It only takes a minute or two to link a ticket and make the selections, but you'll want to make sure you don't forget about this task until it's too late.

How far ahead do you need to plan? Thankfully, many dates at Disneyland are no longer completely booked up for regular ticket holders. That said, if you plan on visiting during a busy time, like the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, you'll want to make sure you reserve at least a few weeks in advance to be safe.

Price out single-day tickets, even if you are visiting for multiple days

Disneyland sells both single and multiday park tickets that are good for up to five days. If you are going to visit for two or even three days, it may surprise you to find that purchasing a multiday ticket isn't always the best deal.

It's counterintuitive, but it's a function of Disneyland's set price for multiday tickets and variable pricing for single-day tickets. There are seven different price tiers (Tier 0 to 6) for single-day tickets. Two or even three of some of the cheaper single-day tickets (Tier 0, Tier 1, etc.) can cost less than their multiday ticket equivalent.

There is no need to do the math if you are going during peak periods, such as a school holiday when single-day tickets are expensive. However, if you are purposely visiting during a less popular time when shorter lines are common, you may be pleasantly surprised to find you can save money, too.

Just be aware that one-day tickets are a little less flexible than multiday tickets, as the cheaper ticket tiers can only be used on certain days. If you decide to reschedule a trip or visit on a different day of the week, the single-day tickets may not offer all the flexibility you need.

Stay within walking distance but not necessarily on property

Compared to Disney World, Disneyland is exceptionally compact. The two theme parks, three Disney-owned hotels and Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment district are all within walking distance of each other. The proximity means you can get a lot more done even on a short trip because you won't be wasting time in transit.

Take full advantage of Disneyland's smaller size by staying at a hotel within walking distance. While all three Disney-owned hotels (Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel and Pixar Place Hotel) are within walking distance of both parks, several off-property hotels are just as close and cost a lot less. You won't get all the perks and Disney decor of an on-property stay, but you won't have to wait for shuttles or worry about parking.

You can even use points and miles for several of these properties to lower the cost of your vacation. At least one hotel in every major hotel loyalty program including Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, IHG One Rewards and several others is within a 15-minute walk of the theme parks.

Book character meals at strategic times

Meeting characters is a popular Disneyland activity, especially for kids, but waiting in long lines to see them in the hot sun may not be your idea of vacation fun. A better way to get photos with Mickey and his pals is to schedule a character meal. Disneyland has four restaurants offering character dining experiences: three in two Disney hotels and one within Disneyland Park.

Disneyland's character dining is expensive, so you shouldn't pay for it while spending big bucks on theme park tickets. I find it's much more economical to schedule a character meal outside the parks on the evening of my arrival or the morning of my departure. That way, my family gets some of the Disney magic without paying for an extra day of theme park tickets or cutting into our time on Disneyland's best rides.

If you must schedule a meal on a theme park day, don't schedule it for first thing in the morning. Morning is when you should be in the parks, taking advantage of shorter ride lines. A better option is to book a late morning brunch or lunch and use the meal as a break after several hours of riding attractions. After all that walking, you'll have earned your Mickey waffles.

Consider Park Hopper tickets, even if you skip them at Disney World

Guests can visit both theme parks in a single day for an additional charge. Disneyland's Park Hopper ticket option costs $65 to $75 more for the length of the ticket, so many guests will naturally forgo this option to save money. While it can be smart to skip the Park Hopper ticket option in some circumstances, that's not universally true.

The parks at Disneyland are steps away from one another, so it's very easy to hop between them (even multiple times daily) if your travel party is mobile and motivated. You can often devise a much more efficient touring plan and re-ride your favorite attractions if you park hop. I find I can often get as much done in two days at Disneyland with a Park Hopper ticket (especially when using Disney's cut-the-line service Genie+) as I can in three days limited to one park per day.

Even if you are someone who skips park hopping at Walt Disney World because of the distance between the parks, rethink that strategy at Disneyland.

Mobile order to skip food lines

The vast majority of casual quick-service restaurants at Disneyland now offer mobile ordering. Instead of standing in another long line, you can place your order on the Disneyland app and pick it up during a 30-minute window at your chosen time.

Mobile order time slots book up, especially at peak meal times for the most popular restaurants. To select a pickup window that works with your schedule, place your order an hour or two before the lunch or dinner rush. It's easy to do this while standing in line for a ride. If you run late or early, you can modify your pickup window in the Disneyland app to another available time with just a few clicks.

Use MouseDining to snag hard-to-get dining reservations

Securing reservations for table service restaurants at Disneyland has become increasingly competitive. Popular dining spots like Blue Bayou and Lamplight Lounge often book up instantaneously when they are released (usually 60 days in advance). Even if you are on Disney's site exactly at the right time, you may not get the restaurant or time you want.

Other guests cancel reservations all the time, and sometimes Disney opens up more availability, so it is possible to get a table even if you miss the original booking window. Better yet, a third-party service called MouseDining will run searches to find that new availability for you. MouseDining has a free version that sends email alerts and a paid version that sends text alerts. I've used MouseDining to snag at least a dozen hard-to-get reservations in the last couple of years.

Sip and savor at California Adventure's food festivals

Disney hosts several food festivals yearly in Disney California Adventure Park, including Lunar New Year in January and February, the Disneyland Food & Wine Festival in the spring and the Disney Festival of Holidays every winter holiday season. Many guests enjoy making a meal or two from the unique food festival offerings.

At many of these festivals, Disney offers a Sip & Savor pass. For a set price, guests purchase a pass that they can exchange for six to eight menu items at the festival booths. These passes can be a smart way for a family or group of friends to save money on food while still sampling various options.

Just make sure to do a little math so you are redeeming the pass for items that are a good value relative to the pass price. Generally speaking, you'll often come out several dollars ahead on most entrees, but drinks and desserts are not always worth it.

Prepurchase Genie+ with your park ticket

If you want shorter lines for many of Disneyland's most popular rides, you'll likely want to use Disney Genie+. With Genie+, guests make reservations to return to high-demand attractions through express queues called Lightning Lanes. Genie+ is certainly not essential, especially if you plan to visit during quieter times or mainly to ride attractions that don't have Lightning Lanes.

For guests who do plan to use Genie+ every day of a trip, however, it is better to prepurchase park tickets that include it. Otherwise, the only way to buy it is to wait until you enter a theme park each day of your trip. Disneyland charges $30 per person, per day if you buy Genie+ at the time of ticketing. If you wait, the price is variable and has been as high as $35 in 2024.

Prepurchasing Genie+ saves money and avoids the hassle of fumbling with your phone each morning once you enter the park. That's when you should be taking advantage of short ride lines instead.

Modify (don't cancel) Genie+ Lightning Lane bookings

If you plan to purchase Genie+, definitely take the time to learn how to use it to get maximum value.

Guests can make a Genie+ reservation at least every two hours, sometimes sooner. One of the mistakes that many guests make with Genie+ is canceling a reservation when their plans change. When you cancel, the two-hour clock is reset, and you lose time. That means you'll book and ride fewer attractions over the course of the day.

Instead of canceling, you should modify your Genie+ reservations. Modifying doesn't reset the eligibility clock. You can modify for a different time on the same ride or for another ride entirely, as long as the ride is within the same park.

Make Genie+ reservations for popular attractions early but not too early

All rides are not created equal when it comes to Genie+ at Disneyland. Some attractions are far more popular than others. The return windows for those attractions will quickly get pushed out much later in the day, and those rides will run out of Genie+ reservations first. Guests using Genie+ strategically should book these in-demand attractions before that happens.

What should you book first? Disneyland Park's most popular Genie+ attractions are Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion Holiday (when offered in the fall and winter). In Disney California Adventure Park, Toy Story Midway Mania, Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout! and Web Slingers tend to go more quickly. You'll want to make sure these attractions are your first or second picks before the early return times are gone.

Although you want to book these attractions on the early side, you also shouldn't redeem them too early. The parks have short standby lines first thing in the morning, so it's a waste of a Genie+ reservation to redeem it five minutes after the park opens. Use short standby lines while you can (for attractions that don't offer Genie+ and for attractions that you may want to ride more than once in a single day). Then, use Genie+ Lightning Lanes an hour or two into the day as queues get longer.

Make park reservations with the early entry schedule in mind

At Disneyland, guests of the three on-property Disney hotels are entitled to early entry 30 minutes before other guests each day. Unlike Walt Disney World, early entry is only offered in one park daily. Disneyland Park opens early on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; Disney California Adventure Park offers early entry on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

The staggered schedule has some important strategy considerations. If you are an on-property hotel guest, you will definitely want to use early entry daily, if possible, to take advantage of shorter ride lines in the morning. That means you should plan to make park reservations for the park that has early entry each day.

If you don't have early entry privileges, you should often do the opposite. Make your reservations for the park that isn't offering early entry. All guests in that park will be on an equal playing field at rope drop when the park opens; no one will have had a head start or be filling the queues. If you can wake up early enough to be in front of those crowds, you can take advantage of short ride lines without paying the big bucks for an on-property hotel.

Don't rope drop Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Even more than four years after its opening, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance remains the most popular ride in Disneyland Park. Many guests who haven't experienced it yet (and many who have) want to get aboard the attraction without a long line and without paying the extra $20 (or more) to ride it with an individual, paid Lightning Lane. The ride isn't open during early entry, so a popular strategy is to make a beeline for it at rope drop.

While finding a shorter wait first thing in the morning is possible, rope dropping Rise of the Resistance isn't necessarily the smartest overall touring strategy. The attraction is all the way in the very back corner of Disneyland Park, so walking there takes time. Slower-moving guests don't stand a chance.

Even the speedy pay a price. The ride itself has multiple preshows and is quite long. Even if you enter the queue quickly, you won't be done until at least 30 to 60 minutes after the park has opened. By that time, multiple other attractions will have long standby queues.

What are better Disneyland rope drop strategies? For families with younger kids or anyone into Disney nostalgia, head to Fantasyland. It's entirely possible to ride five or more classic dark rides there in the first hour of the park opening with minimal lines. Another smart strategy is to start with Space Mountain and run through a few Tomorrowland attractions before the lines get long.

Take home an inexpensive Disneyland souvenir

Souvenirs in the many Disney stores that line Main Street, U.S.A. or Downtown Disney can set you back hundreds of dollars. Still, there are a few valuable souvenirs, some of which are fun throwbacks to Disneyland's quirky and unique history.

One of my favorites is an old-fashioned silhouette. A few very talented Disney artists cut a side-view portrait of you or your child in minutes in their small studio on Main Street, U.S.A. The portrait costs just $11.99, and basic frames are not much more expensive. My family has enjoyed collecting these silhouettes of our kids at various ages and stages at Disneyland over the years. We've even gotten a few of them made in other Disney parks around the world.

Another affordable souvenir is Disneyland's pressed pennies. For $1, you can get a coin with a favorite character or scene pressed onto it. A lot of kids have fun collecting them in an inexpensive portfolio you can find in one of the gift shops. Many other tourist attractions and travel destinations also have machines, so pressed pennies can be an inexpensive souvenir beyond the theme parks.

If you want a quirkier souvenir with an experience attached to it, go to one of Disneyland's fortune-telling machines. For just a quarter or two, an audio-animatronic character will give you a fortune card. Look out for Esmeralda (in the Penny Arcade on Main Street, U.S.A.), Fortune Red (near the exit of Pirates of the Caribbean) or Shrunken Ned (in the Bengal Barbecue seating area across from the Jungle Cruise).

Keep an eye out for roaming characters

One of the things Disneyland does best (and more often than Walt Disney World) is spontaneous character interactions. Of course, Disneyland has the usual designated meet-and-greet spots where guests queue for photos and autographs, but it's also not unusual to find characters roaming around the parks in unexpected and unscripted places. Occasionally, these interactions can lead to some really magical moments and interactions.

In Disneyland Park, you'll find the most spontaneous character activity in Fantasyland, as well as Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Plus, Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure Park is particularly full of chances to have a more improv-style interaction with a character.

Pack for variable weather

Thankfully, the weather in Southern California is usually pretty pleasant, especially compared to the oppressive heat common at Disney World in Orlando. Because of the nice climate, many more of Disneyland's attractions are partially or fully outdoors. That means you must be prepared for the elements when the forecast doesn't fully cooperate.

Rain is pretty uncommon, at least for hours at a time, but packing a poncho is never a bad idea. If you want to minimize your chance of a rainy day at Disneyland, avoid January and February. Similarly, heat waves are not that common, but they do happen a few times a year. The hottest months to visit are usually August and September.

You need to be prepared for various climates and conditions whenever you go. Disneyland often has really long park hours, and if you plan to go from early entry at the crack of dawn to park close at midnight or later, you might experience 20- to 30-degree temperature swings over the course of the day. Layering is essential. Even on very hot days when I'm in a T-shirt and shorts, I'm often starting the morning and ending the evening wearing a hoodie.

Make use of single-rider lines and the Buddy Pass

If you aren't rope dropping or paying for Genie+, there are still a few other tricks of the trade to find shorter lines at Disneyland. One of my favorites is the single-rider line, where Disneyland cast members use a special queue (usually shorter than the regular standby queue) to fill empty single seats. You can use the line as long as your party is comfortable with separating and your kids are old enough to ride alone (age 7 and up).

Single-rider lines tend to be most useful midmorning. In afternoons and evenings (especially on weekends), locals with annual passes visit the parks in greater numbers, and many of them are wise to this trick. The rides that offer single-rider lines can change, but the service is regularly available at many in-demand thrill rides like Radiator Springs Racers, Space Mountain and Incredicoaster.

One close cousin of the single-rider system is the Buddy Pass, where small groups are used to fill an empty row on a larger ride vehicle. This has traditionally been available at Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue. A version of it, known as the Roo Pass, is sometimes used for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Buddy Pass is less reliable than single-rider lines but can sometimes help you shortcut another ride on your Disneyland day.

Bottom line

The right preparation can definitely help you save both time and money on a Disneyland theme park vacation. With these touring and booking tips, you're well on your way to being a Disneyland expert.

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