One of the most common question I see posted in Disney World forums, Disney Facebook groups, and on Disney blogs goes something like this:
“I’m going to be in Southern California for a wedding/business trip/reunion/etc. I’ve never been to Disneyland, but I’ll have one day to visit the parks. Help me!”
Even if you can only spare one day, you can accomplish quite a bit. You have one very large advantage: the Disneyland Resort area is compact, more like Universal Orlando’s two theme parks and City Walk than the Walt Disney World Resort. Disneyland also has a number of rides and shows that are unique.
Another bonus of this maybe-spontaneous side trip: Disneyland requires much, much less planning. Dining reservations can be made mere weeks in advance, and Disneyland still uses paper FastPasses given on the spot.
A few basic thoughts before we sample an itinerary:
Have a flexible plan. Download the Disneyland app for up-to-the-minute wait times and FastPass availability. Be sure you know park hours and entertainment times for your must-dos. Make any dining reservations.
Be there early. If you only get one day, make the most of it. Try to arrive at one of Disneyland’s parking areas an hour before the park opens in order to take a tram/bus and clear security. The front areas of both parks will be open before rope drop for you to look around and take in the details.
Priorities. Skip the rides that are identical or close to their Disney World counterparts. That means you may walk by fan favorites like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Toy Story Mania in favor of attractions you can’t get on the East Coast.
Fold in the entertainment. Depending on showtimes and your preferences, you can fit in Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, the Soundsational parade, Mickey and the Magical Map, or smaller atmosphere shows. Grab a Times Guide on your way in.
It’s all about the details. If your “best day ever” would be racing from roller coaster to roller coaster, you can do that anywhere. But if you’re bothering to take time away from a trip to sneak off to Disneyland, you’re probably interested in what makes Disneyland special and different. So even in a single-day rush, take time to slow down and appreciate the charm and history while you’re walking around.
Here’s a very basic touring plan with one-day highlights of Disneyland for WDW veterans. You should have plenty of time to add in other attractions, snacks, and shows as opportunities present
- Enter Disneyland and grab a FastPass to Indiana Jones Adventure
- Tour New Orleans Square and ride Pirates of the Caribbean
- Ride the railroad one whole loop around the park to get a feel for it and to see the Primeval World display between the Tomorrowland and Main Street stations (after the railroad reopens this summer)
- Use your Indiana Jones FastPass
- Ride Matterhorn Bobsleds using the Single Rider Line
- Experience the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
- Ride the unique Fantasyland rides — Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and the Storybook Land Canal Boats or Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Stroll through Toontown and ride Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Eat lunch — maybe with a reservation at Carnation Cafe?
- See Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln on your way out of Disneyland to California Adventure
- Grab a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers (or another high-priority ride like Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout when it opens). Use this FastPass whenever its time comes due.
- Get a FastPass to see World of Color (these show FastPasses are disconnected from other ride FastPasses
- Ride Grizzly River Run if it’s hot using the Single Rider Line
- Ride Screamin’ using the Single Rider Line
- Stroll down Buena Vista Street
- Ride Monsters’ Inc Mike & Sulley to the Rescue
- See Frozen: Live at the Hyperion if you have time and it interests you
- Appreciate the details in “a bug’s land”
- Have dinner at Flo’s V8 Cafe
- Ride the Cars Land rides (use the Single Rider Line for Radiator Springs Racers if you didn’t get a FastPass)
- See World of Color
A perfect end to a magical day
Obviously this basic idea could easily be switched if you wanted to start your day at Disney California Adventure and end at Disneyland for entertainment there. Or you could skip Disney California Adventure and spend the whole day in the original Disneyland park exploring it in more detail. For a look at a different “one-day highlights of Disneyland for Walt Disney World veterans,” see how Mouse For Less writer Brad did Disneyland.
What else would you include in a plan for a one-day highlights of Disneyland for Walt Disney World veterans tour?