Help me get started, please

I am planning our family’s first trip to Disneyland. We have been to WDW multiple times but this will be our first (and maybe only) California Disney experience. My kids will be 9 and 11, are adventure seekers and can make it all day at the park! We will be going the first week of April and will have 4 day park hoppers for Mon-Thursday of that week. (Wed and Thur my DS and DH will be leaving around 4 but my DD and I will probably enjoy the full days at the two parks. )
I plan to get maxpass and with the park hopper the touring plan customized plan option is limited. Any advice on how to plan my general strategies for our days. Quite honestly, my kids will want to do as much as possible - meaning all the rides and most of the shows. I really can’t figure out where to start and how to best plan to maximize our time (And i do love a good plan!) Thanks in advance for any help…

DL is nothing like DW, much smaller and IMHO easier to maneuver. Four days with parkhoppers and maxpass will allow you to do everything and several things multiple times. Don’t stress, do some research and just go with the flow.


Glad to help! Need some more details. What dates? Where are you staying? Etc. As said already, DLR is more of a “wing it” park, but there are some things you should plan. For example, if you’re planning on certain shows, they may be only shown on the weekend and not during the week.

This post might help.


Agree with the above - Think of your TP as more of a list of things you want to do in the park each day, with the times for parades and shows built in. MaxPass is great but can cause you to run back and forth across the parks. I did love that I could schedule a FP while still at our hotel for a pool break in the middle of the day. We could head back to the park and straight to a ride.
Also, double check the expected schedule for fireworks that week. Usually there are no fireworks shows on school nights (so usually only happen on Friday and Saturday nights).

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Thank you all. This helps me. And Carthy15 your 1st trip post made me even more excited about getting there (if that was possible.) I will try not to worry about not having a detailed itinerary for our days and check out show times when it gets closer. I am willing to give up fireworks on the weekend for hopefully slightly less crowded weekdays and can’t really change that aspect of our trip anyway. My kids are all about the rides but they always really enjoy the shows after I make them stop and watch - and I will make them do that ! We are staying at the castle inn (got a crazy good deal) so I am figuring a 15 minute walk?? Is there a certain area we should try and hit first in the morning? Thanks again.

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Just a clarification. That is not my post, but one from a WDW vet, @poohrn1962 . I really enjoyed reading it and seeing it from her perspective and thought it might provide you some good info.

Do you get an early morning? If so, my go to strategy is to pull a SM FP as soon as we are in the park, then hit all of FL (sometimes minus PP because if you don’t get there right away, the wait is too long) Matterhorn, Buzz and Star Tours. If we have time, we will join the rope drop crowd to adventure land and do IJ, then back for our SM FP. If we don’t have time, then IJ is my next fp. From there, I let the wait times and MP guide me.

In DCA, if they are having ee you can do the reg rope drop and get on Soar’n 30 minutes before the park opens. Otherwise, “the Gabe 2.0” is touted on chat as the way to go.

“the Gabe”- TSM x 2 to IC x2 to Gotg x 2 and RSR MP. while waiting for RSR do Soarin and GRR.

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Yes, this was my post. Happy to answer any questions…although, it all seems like a happy dream, now that I’m back in reality and not yet planning my next vacation.

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Have fun! I am lucky enough to have been to both parks many times… here are some thoughts.

-First, four days will be more than enough to see everything. And you really can park hop in a matter of minutes if you have to.
-Next, I recommend going at park opening, then use Maxpass to get a FP as soon as you get in the park. Then as soon as you use that FP, get another one, and so on. It’s almost addictive and lets you be way more spontaneous than WDW.
-Stop and get a picture every time you see a Photopass person. All the downloads are included with the Maxpass (including ride photos) so you will be able to put an amazing collage together when you get home!
-Because you do much less walking than WDW and the weather is usually more moderate (and less humid!!), it’s possible to stay all day without a mid-day break. With four days, though, you might want to take a park break and go visit the resorts. There are great dining spots and experiences at both the DL Hotel and the Grand Californian.
-Consider the “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps” tour if time and budget allow. It gives you a great look at the backstory of DLR and will make you appreciate WDW even more when you return.
-For what it’s worth, the monorail is more of a ride and less transportation. That said, it’s the fastest way from Downtown Disney to the back of Disneyland – it lets you off by the submarine ride. It only stops in those two places – DTD and Tomorrowland – but can be a short cut to one or the other. It’s also an interesting birds-eye view of the place.
-I’m not sure of the crowd levels on your exact days, but when we’ve gone during super busy times we have used a touring plan in the mornings still been able to wing it in the afternoons. When the park is less busy, Maxpass has enabled us to go without a plan and still ride everything.
-Try to relax :). I recently took a friend who grew up on DLR to WDW for the first time and she was overwhelmed by the amount of planning needed to maximize our time (including setting the alarm for FPs months out!). Her comment was that at WDW you need to take advantage of every opportunity because the place is so huge that you might not see anything more than once. At DLR that’s not the case… you really can do everything in four days. Enjoy!


You’ve got some great advice already here & I agree with all of it! But of course being the planner that I am with the love of Disneyland that I have, I just have to throw in my thoughts to the pile! :smile:

Even though DL is much less of a “storm the castle” planning operation vs. WDW, I love to plan minute by minute for half the trip. For several reasons, first off we really only follow the plans in the mornings (and even then, I’ve had to allow my family some breathing room to enjoy/take it in rather than rush through the plan so that can set us behind unless I plan in buffer time and/or leave time unplanned). Secondly, in the afternoons/evenings we tend to only go between shows, FPs, taking in atmosphere, taking time to eat so it’s all a much slower pace than our (usually) ride-filled mornings.

How I start planning is by figuring out what entertainment with hard-set times (particularly, nighttime shows and parades) is part of our must-do’s & use those to build the frame of the plan, with back-up times if the trip is long enough if the first time we plan to see it doesn’t work out. If something we are doing requires a dining package, I will make sure that is included here. Fireworks (except for the 5 min Fantasy in the Sky Show), Paint the Night Parade & Soundsational are our favorites, so if running those will be included 1-2 times (or more if a longer trip) per trip. World of Color is also up there, but takes a back seat to fireworks/Paint the Night so might only get 1 time planned if the others are also planned. F! while great, is a once every 10 or so trips for us bc of the pain it is to see it even with a FP. This is one where we’ve come to only enjoy with a dining package, which is so seldom for us.

After I have the nights for shows and afternoons for parades figured out, I then take the first half of our days & the make a detailed minute by minute plans for them (so 1 -2 days, 3 days at most if we have a longer than 4 day trip planned) and I scrutinize these to a T, making sure they flow nicely. Since there isn’t single plan that hops in itself, this means that for every day I plan, I’ll have a DCA and DL plan each with breaks built-in where we will hop and/or be taking a midday break.

I also make sure that these days include anything that is a must-do/seasonal/limited time so that if there is a closure or something that prevents us from making it, there’s plenty of time in the 2nd half of the trip (that’s very loosely planned) to come back & pick it up. And keeping in that theme, I put the stuff in the morning that’s most important & whatever I plan for the evening is bonus if we do it that evening (remember above when my family just likes to smell the roses instead of power through). And anything that doesn’t get done, is first to be picked up on our un-planned days. I do also make sure the plans have downtime either built in with scheduled breaks (that we may or may not take depending on what we want to accomplish) or have attractions included that I know will be more restful (ie Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Animation Building, Tiki Room, any shows with a seat, etc.).

After I plan the first half of the trip to the minute, I then leave the 2nd half open to pick up what we weren’t able to accomplish and have room to add in the spontaneous and/or unknown events that DLR is just full of (random rare character meet, shopping we just had to stop for, some churro or souvenir that we just had to have, craft tables the kids like to do at certain events around the park, etc). I also love having this blank space of time that allows me to say, “absolutely family, we can fit in this extra thing you’ve just now given me that you must do before we leave DL” and either add “we can either slot it in right now & bump X that we planned to do, but can try to pick up later” OR if it’s just something that can’t be easily be re-arranged (ie a FP that you can’t get until the following day, or a must see show that is only going on one more time today & won’t be easy to fit into tomorrow), “we have planned to do Y right now that we really can’t move or we’ll likely miss it for the trip, but we can come back to X on such & such time/day when we don’t have something planned.”

And then at the end of the day, especially the end of the 2nd to last day, I get feedback from the family on what it is that they’d like to accomplish before the end of the trip & I come up with a gameplan to get the last favorites in before we have to leave (for the last day I do limit them depending on how much time we have to 1-3 things each).

As for starting each day, I like to start 2 days in DL (but I would only plan 1 to a T) & one in DCA, if we have 4 mornings, then I would do 2 & 2. The advice is generally to start with the park that doesn’t have early entry if you don’t have it, but I would also say that it’s not as important in DL vs. WDW with the following caveats:
-When starting in DL behind an early entry you don’t have, start on the West side (Adventureland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country) as those will not have been open & there is no disadvantage. Starting in Fantasyland and Tommorrowland you will be behind all the early entry crowds which can be quite large as many guests do get qualify for Disneyland’s EE. Then I would hop to DCA after about 11-11:30 when the park starts to fill and not come back to DL until after DCA has closed, unless you are coming back for a block that includes planned shows, meal, FPs (we hop plenty just for shows,food,FPs because the parks are in such close proximity).
-When starting in DCA behind an early entry that you don’t have, be lined up early enough to be let in 30 min before (being through security & at the gates at the start of Early Entry for on-site guests will usually get you one of the first spots in line for regular entry). Once in, start getting your first MP right away & be ready to hit RD with some attractions still with just 15-20 min waits that will swell after the first 30-45 min of park opening.

With staying offsite you won’t get early entry every day, but if you purchase your 4 day tickets in advance, then you will get one Magic Morning which is early entry to Disneyland only on a day when it has early entry (usually is Tue,Thur, Sat, but check the schedule for your days in case any one-off events/scheduling changes this up). If Magic Morning has a 7am start it is one of my favorite times to be in Fantasyland (or Tomorrowland if that’s more your style over Fantasyland). The times we have had Magic Morning in DL (prior to being passholders) were terrific & at times we really felt like we were one of few people in DL, but it is key to be there 30 min before a 7am opening which can be hard if you’re tired/not early risers so I would plan to use your Magic Morning on a morning you’ll be most rested/ready to conquer the day. That’s usually near the start but not quite the first day of our trip for us (as we drive overnight usually).

Anywho, happy planning & if you have any further questions, ask away!!!


I thought we lost you completely to the Chat side! Glad to see you back on this side too!


I have been on my phone more & laptop less so that makes Forum-ing in my usual length so much harder- #firstworldDisneyproblems


Thank you all! This sounds like great advice. I am a planner (and love it) and that is usually my WDW strategy. Plan my mornings and be more spontaneous for afternoons and evenings. SO this is great. And also good to know that DL will be “all” doable in the 4 days so I don’t have to worry about that and I like the maxpass features too. I am super excited. About 4 months away…

Not sure if I mentioned this, but the quality of live entertainment is awesome at DLR. Since you have so much time, try to fit in whatever shows you can. The Frozen stage show (DCA) and Mickey & the Magical Map (DLR) are both totally worth seeing.