WDW regular here… Just got back from a DL/DCA trip last week… My wife was out there for a work trip Mon-Thur, so my son (8) and I cam out Wed and did DL Park on Thursday during the day without her. She met us at Downtown Disney where we had a bite to eat, then hit the after hours premier of the Main Street Electrical Parade (even though we’ve seen it many times at WDW, we did it for short ride lines, etc). And we did Friday and Saturday as a family.
Planning… I was stressed that I couldn’t pre-plan DL and was afraid we’d miss something because of it. Nope. In the 3 days we hit the parks, we did everything on our list. Some rides more than once (California Screamin’ 3 times, Hyperspace Mountain 3 times, Star Tours 2 times, Matterhorn 5 times, Pirates 2 times). On day 3, we were trying to kill time waiting for our World of Color desert party reservation. That being said, we did have some rain and threatening weather which might have kept the crowds lower.
We made dinner reservations at BlueBayou, Story Tellers, and the World of Color desert party about a month before we traveled.
We purchased eTickets before arriving. We took the printed eTicket to the turnstiles, they issued us the “cardboard” DL park ticket, we wrote our first name on it, and they took our picture. That was the park ticket for the rest of the trip.
Without magic bands, you need to take your park ticket card in/out of your pocket for park entry and fastpasses.
Fastpass at DL/DCA is like the pre-MagicBand fast passes at WDW (once in the park, visit ride kiosk with your park ticket, insert it, get the park ticket and paper FP with return time back). And its one at a time. To be honest I think we only did one or two fastpasses. (Soarin’ because the wait was 60 minutes, and Radiator Springs Racers so we could ride something else and not wait in RSR’s 30 min line).
Memory Maker is purchased in the Disneyland app (the Disneyland version of WDW’s My Disney Experience app) You can use your same Disney account (same user id and password for WDW’s My Disney Experience). They sell single day ($39) and one week plans ($79). I found fewer Photopass photographers, and fewer ride photos (no ride videos) at DL/DCA compared to WDW . I had to LOOK for them at DL/DCA, but I seem to trip over them every time I turn around at WDW. For rides we only saw them on Hyperspace Mountain, Splash Mountain, California Screamin’ and Radiator Springs Racers. I still found the One Week Memory Maker at DL/DCA worth it. To use Memory Maker with ride photos, when you get off the ride, you see your picture on screen and it has a code number, you need to type that into the Disneyland app to link your photo (i.e. no tapping band/card against terminal to link it to your account). Photo pass photographers can scan a bar code from the DL App on your phone’s screen, or a physical PhotoPass card that they’ll give you (again, think pre-magic band at WDW).
Because of my wife’s work trip, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn a few minutes away, so we didn’t look at Dining plan, but I don’t think they have them anyway.
Even though it was our first time, over all we found 3 days pretty comfortable to get all the parks done. THe only thing we missed were the DL fireworks. [They didn’t have them Thursday night (due to the MSEP after hours event), Saturday we did WoC @ DCA. Friday we had hopped to DCA to get some of those rides checked off the list and never made it back to DL in time.] To play it safe, if crowds are higher, maybe plan on 4 days, unless you’ll go back again soon.