Disneyland land by land touring dilemma

Hey Folks,

My family is heading to Disneyland for the first time on March 25th for 4 days. We’re a family of 5. My wife and I, our kids are 24, 13, and 8 (gives me time to pay for college lol). We’re huge Disney nerds. This is a trip of a lifetime. So we’re staying at the Grand Californian. In fact we’re meeting good friends of ours, and their family of 3 is also staying there. We’re hoping for connected rooms. (fingers crossed)

I’ve spent weeks researching, reading, planning. I’m a DisneyWorld Veteran. What I’ve learned is Disneyland is a different planning animal. Because they don’t have the magic band, and we don’t pick our fastpasses until we enter the park (we’re getting maxpass) It’s almost as if we don’t need to plan much at all. But I can’t help myself. I’ve used touringplanns to plan out all 4 days so that we hit every ride and attraction. With our fav’s (or expected fav’s) multiple times.

We’ve made Dining reservations at Carnation Cafe, Tortilla Joes, Napa Rose, and Catal. We’re going to the Food & Wine festival for most other meals. Food is a big part of our trip. We’ve got snacks in mind as well.

Here’s my dilemma. You only get a first time once. I’ll never forget our first family trip to WDW. It’s one of the best trips we’ve ever had as a family. We didn’t plan at all for that trip. We wandered and explored. Taking in everything with awe and wonder. It was truly magical. I realize that you can’t do that kind of trip at WDW anymore. Without booking fast passes at 60 days forget about riding your fav’s unless you’re willing to drop drop everyday - and if you’re lucky get a few fast pass drops - you’ll end up in a lot of long lines.

What I’d really like to do is simply wander from land to land in Disneyland, booking our fastpasses as we go, wherever the wind blows us. Exploring Disneyland and California Adventure taking in the sights, smells, experiences as they come to us. Do you think this is possible in 4 days, with still being able to see everything? Traveling with 8 people also adds a level of complication, as we can’t be sure that our two teenage daughters will go along with said plan. lol.

So here’s my question. If you were traveling through Disneyland and then California adventure for the very first time. What order would you walk through the lands?

Thanks all in advance! :slight_smile:


Yes, four days you should be able to do it. There will be some crowds because of spring break for the locals. We do not plan for our trips. We really go with what ever moves us that day. I don’t even make food reservations until the same day. (Planning in advance means making a reservation the day before!)

I would prioritize whatever your family thinks is important to them. Since you are staying at the resort you will have early morning options every day. For DCA that should be Cars Land and Pixar Pier. For DL it is usually Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. If you are planning to do that, then schedule those lands first and then plan FPs as you go. The MaxPass makes it very easy.

That is what we do. When we stay on resort our days frequently look like this:

  • Early morning
  • Either last breakfast (if we are in DL) or move to another land as soon as park opens if we are in DCA.
  • If we didn’t do a big breakfast then we go to lunch.
  • Go to the pool for the afternoon / Nap
  • Dinner
  • Parks at night; If we close out the parks, dessert on Main St. (Which is where the afternoon nap is really important.)

We have never been a family that plans everything out, unless it is reservations for meals. We really like the Carnation Cafe for the diner style eating. Other places to consider for reservations are Orleans Cafe and River Bell Terrace.

I think the non-planning goes fine with 4 or more days.

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I think it can be done. We went a few years ago for the first time as well for four days in DLR. we We are big time disney nerds, and all adults, and we wanted to see everything, as this was a trip we’ve never done, and weren’t sure if we would be able to do again. We didn’t stay on site, and this was before Maxpass. We didn’t plan anything, and we were able to see and do everything we wanted in both parks. Knowing we had four days, there wasn’t the rush of making sure we see everything so fast, and it was relaxing. What we did was, the first day, going on whatever we could, the next day we continued, third day DCA (then back to DL), and the last day was super chill. I loved going to DL.

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Use your early entry to do all fantasy land rides,than bobsleds, small world, check out toon town. Definitely get max pass and hoppers. Four days will be plenty, this is not factoring in swge

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What fun! Best advice I can give is to let go of much of your WDW expectations. DLR is a totally different vibe and you need to enjoy the differences.
When we plan a DLR trip we always plan on 4 days in the parks. Usually we alternate DL and DCA but we also always have park hoppers so we can wander back and forth if we feel like it. Our TP is usually just a question of clockwise vs counterclockwise. My preference is clockwise so that means doing JC, POC, and HM first. Then we decide on Splash or Big Thunder. I don’t ride either so it really depends on wait times for my DH. Next would probably be Toontown for Roger Rabbit. You can also just let Maxpass help you decide what to do next. I don’t do the mountains but love all of the dark rides in FL. :grin:
I can’t advise on your ADR as I’be never eaten at any of your choices. We consider Blue Bayou at must-do and have enjoyed Carthay Circle in DCA. You can’t beat the atmosphere at the Blue Bayou and I do love the Monte Cristo.


Disneyland has such great little nooks & crannies to explore. Here are some of my favorite:

Main Street: from the Disney Gallery, to the Main St train station, to the fire station (with Walt’s apartment above it), to all the little shops. This might not be the best use of time right at rope drop though. But get there early enough to get into the park before rope drop & you can see some of it while you position for rope drop to do your first slew of attractions before crowds build at 10-11).

New Orleans Square: the alleys behind Cafe Orleans with all the little shops is just a pleasure in the early part of the day before crowds choke up the narrow walkways. Club 33 is on the 2nd level above Cafe Orleans & there is both the old entrance and the new that are great picture ops/things to spy.

Critter Country: We just love looking at all of the Winne the Pooh character’s houses sprinkled around the ride & the little Creek (complete with a bridge at the exit of the ride). We also love the confectionary inside the Pooh Corner store. They sell most the same treats as the main confectionaries in the parks, but are a little more quiet being in the back corner. The Hungry Bear restaurant in Critter Country is also a great place to sit on the patio & enjoy the views of the Rivers of America, especially once the boats get going around the island & crowds are usually waving at you as they ride by. Some parts of the patio can also see the train pass by & that also gets a lot of waves. There’s also a “secret path” in Critter Country that gives you one of the BEST most picturesque views of Splash mountain. You can read how to access it at this article from Disneyland Daily- she also has a bunch of other suggestions on that article for things to look at/for around the parks that are beyond the attractions.

Fantasyland: In the fantasy faire area where the Royal Hall meet is there is a little music box that your kids can turn to make music play. Also, the Rapunzel tower in the middle lights up/plays Rapunzel’s song intermittently at night. I have no idea when/why or what signals it, but if you happen to catch it, it’s awesome. Similarly, at the water feature next to Pixie Hollow there’s a short mini-light/water show (think World of Color Pixie style) that runs at night, again not sure how often or what triggers it to start, but pretty & a little extra something. Also at the Snow White Ride where the queue enters the building, touch the top of the apple on the book for a fun effect/surprise & when not in the queue, look up at the 2nd story of the Snow White ride building at one of the windows to see a little extra someone intermittently spying out over Fantasyland.

ToonTown: The area near the Five & Dime store has a play area but it’s not just for kids! All along the wall between the store & the Roger Rabbit ride there are plenty of interactive doorknobs, handles etc that are fun to see. Not all the doorknobs are maintained so some of the smaller effects might not work, but be sure not to miss the Power Company’s door. That effect is something my kids love (and hate bc it scares them too) to do in ToonTown.

Pixar Pier: Bing Bong’s confectionery is super cute with the decor & touches so we enjoy stopping in there even if we don’t plan on buying treats. Also the pier signs of different Pixar movies are so fun.

Carsland: There’s so much detail in Carsland so really take some time to explore there. At the Cozy Cone in the center building you can peer into it & if you look carefully can spot Buzz Lightyear trying to sneak away under a cone, a la Toy Story 2 where they cross the road. Also every night a few minutes after sunset, they play re-enact the neon lighting scene in the movie by playing the Sha-Boom song & phasing on the neons. It’s SO fun!

Hollywoodland: The Animation Building is a great place to soak in atmosphere & enjoy yourself as it has a loop of songs from animated Disney movie clips that play on a reel with clips of the movie & artwork all displayed in 360 surround screens immersing you in the animation song by song. Plus the Socerer’s Workshop has some fun interactive features that showcase animation AND the 2nd half of it is the Beast’s Library with a quiz that everyone can take on what Disney character they are most like. Lastly in the Hollywood backlot area they have a lot of walls back there that are decorated for photo opps. Ask & look around for whatever’s up right now (or look on instagram as I’m sure they are all easly found on there). The last time we were there my kids spotted a fun one with balloons and a kite to promote Mary Poppins Returns and they could “hold onto” the “strings” for the photo.

Grizzly Peak: The Redwood theming is very on point & is best enjoyed at Redwood Creek Challenge trail but you can also enjoy it anywhere along the path passing Grizzly River Run. The attraction is set to come out of refurb on March 29th so you will prob miss it before the end of your trip, but that means they’ll most likely have the water filled in again to help the ambiance be complete while you walk by.


How exciting! I’ll also never forget my first trip with our 5 kids–so magical. Seeing the park for the first time through their eyes is something I’ll never forget. Second only to that trip is the trip I took last year with my son’s choir group. We ended up together just the 2 of us for most of the day, and MaxPass made it possible for us to just wander and do what he wanted. It’s the most relaxed I’ve been in the park, and I’ll never go back to doing it without MP.

The great thing about DLR is that it has a relatively small footprint. Even in the days of paper Fastpasses, it was easy for us get in everything we wanted to do in 3 days and have time to relax. We usually spend 1 day in each park and the 3rd hopping, hitting the things we missed and riding all our favorites again. Now that MP is in the mix, you’ll have no problem wandering as your heart takes you.

My can’t miss non-ride experiences:

**Rope drop at California Adventure. The script and music make me cry every time.

**Cars Land at dusk. I can’t get enough of the light change with the music. Like @lolabear_la said, Cars Land overall is a great place to look for great details–super immersive.

**My favorite show is the Laughing Stock Co. at the Golden Horseshoe (even if they did do away with Ice Cream Nachos :frowning: ). Semi-improvised wild-west fun show (I even got to go onstage last time!).

**If you know some Disneyland History, you’ll get a kick out of the names in the windows on the “2nd floor” on Main Street. You can also see Walt’s apartment with the light on, and if you go down the side street on the right you can hear some great background dental shop noises :slight_smile:

**Free chocolate in the Ghiradelli shop!

Yeah, I could go on all day, but most of the rest has been covered. The only other advice I’d have for you that hasn’t been mentioned is that if you want to ride Splash or GRR (MY FAVORITE IN BOTH PARKS!), do it early in the day so you don’t freeze. :smiley: Hope your trip is incredible!


Thanks so much @lolabear_la This is fantastic detail! I’m going to print this and read it to my family tonight over dinner!

[quote=“lolabear_la, post:6, topic:56110”]
think World of Color Pixie style
[/quote] That sounds amazing! I can hardly wait to see that. These small details are what makes Disney so special. I enjoy stuff like this as much as the rides! Clearly from your notes you do too :smile:

We’re so sad that we’ll miss GRR by 1 day… oh well. A reason to come back again. You’ve got a trip coming up as well? I hope you enjoy!!

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I need to make this a priority @swallgren. It sounds magical. If I can convince my teenager to get up for ropedrop, we’ll do it for sure. :rofl:

[quote=“swallgren, post:7, topic:56110”]
*If you know some Disneyland History,
[/quote] I’m a big fan of Disney History. I’ve always enjoyed the details at Magic Kingdom at WDW. I’m sure I’ll have a moment where I think of Walt in 1955 as I stand on Main Street. :blush:

@cfunkak I think this will be our starting point as well. It’s going to be so much fun no matter which way we go!! :sunny:

Yes! In our last minute fashion of booking trips we’ve just booked a trip for the weekend before you get there. I think we may crossover on Monday 25th but I’m not sure yet what time we’re planning on heading out to drive home & leaving day for us is always such a cluster to get everyone’s last few favorites (rides, treats & shopping) done in less than a half day so I don’t know how much time I’ll have to meet up!

We actually arrive on Sunday late afternoon after the LA Marathon. We’re going to go to the VOID for the Star Wars VR experience, and maybe some bowling at Splitsville? My wife is running the marathon, so I don’t think she’ll be able to handle walking any of the parks Sunday night. lol.
There’s a Mousetalgia fan event on Friday and Saturday. Not sure if you listen to that podcast? I’d love to go to that… but can’t afford the extra time. :tired_face:

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Ooh, I did know about the Mousetalgia podcast event (I don’t currently follow any podcasts, just bloggers). But good to know so I can plan around them if needed.