Get advice on what to see, where to explore, and how to beat the crowds
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Disneyland calls itself The Happiest Place on Earth. And we’re not going to disagree. But even the happiest place can be a little bit happier if you know the tricks to enjoying it at its best. Sunset Editor-at-Large Peter Fish is a Disneyland fanatic. Here are his 9 tips for making the most out of your summer visit to Disneyland and California Adventure.
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Booking a hotel within walking distance of Disneyland means you don’t have to deal with traffic or with the Disney parking lot. That gives you more time on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which is more fun. The three Disneyland Resort Hotels (the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier, the Grand Californian) are all a quick walk to the entrance gates. And you’ll find a number of outside-the-park-but-still-an-easy-walk-to-the-entrance hotels.
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Get there early
A Disneyland rule: the early bird catches Indiana Jones. If you want to avoid lines, be at the entrance gates the minute the park opens—9 A.M. in summer (10 A.M. for California Adventure). Disneyland is least crowded from opening until about 11:30 A.M. or so. Use that time to hit the popular rides like Jones and Star Tours.
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Get there even earlier
The Magic Morning package offered to guests of the three Disneyland Resort hotels lets you into portions of Disneyland (usually two of the “lands”) an hour before the official 9 A.M. opening. That’s right—you can avoid lines and zoom around Space Mountain at 8 A.M. (A select number of Main Street U.S.A. restaurants are also open, in case you need coffee before stepping aboard Space Mountain at 8:05 A.M., which you probably will.) Magic Mornings are available Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.
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Have fun at California Adventure
The Park Hopper ticket lets you visit both Disneyland and California Adventure. And here’s why we love California Adventure: it tends to be less crowded than Disneyland, and it has some of our favorite rides, including the spectacular World of Color show, The Little Mermaid—Ariel's Undersea Adventure, and Cars Land.
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Master the Fastpass
The Fastpass saves you a place in line for the most popular Disneyland and California Adventure attractions. You go to a Fastpass ticket machine—for, say, Splash Mountain—then return at the time marked on the pass. You can also purchase the MaxPass in the Disneyland app to get Fastpasses from anywhere on your phone. Then you hop on the ride—generally, with very little waiting. One catch is that you can only nab one Fastpass at a time. A second catch is that for some super popular rides (Indiana Jones, we mean you), the entire day’s Fastpass times book up early. Another reason to take advantage of that morning visit.
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Take a breather
Like we said, a crush of Disneyland visitors arrives late morning and remains through the afternoon. What do you do? We say take a mid-day breather. Have a relaxed lunch, head back to the hotel (because it’s nearby, see tip #1, remember?), enjoy a nap or a swim, then head back to the park in the late afternoon.
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In summer, Disneyland is open until midnight, California Adventure until 10. Savor this time: the parks after dark are truly magical, with fewer crowds, cooler breezes and knockout nighttime entertainment: World of Color at California Adventure, Fantasmic and evening fireworks at Disneyland.
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Have a drink
Sometimes, even on the best-planned Disneyland trip, even the most patient parents need a break. Our premier choice for an adult getaway is the Hearthstone Lounge at the Grand Californian Hotel. The Craftsman-style room is gorgeous, the martinis and Manhattans are expertly mixed. Restored, you’ll be ready for the next early morning.