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How to Conquer Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day with Kids

By Edited Feb 4, 2016 2 2

Pre-Planning is Key

I think it is safe to say that we have all heard or experienced some of the horror stories of ruined vacations to Disneyland or other theme parks for various reasons.  In my obsessive ways I set out to make sure we (my wife and two young boys) were not going to have one of those stories to tell.  We were going to spend one full day at Disneyland and one full day at California Adventure. I began to research and plan every detail for those two days.  I found several very helpful websites and blogs with the details that I needed to help make our days fun and exciting.  Many things had changed at Disneyland since I was last there back in 1999.  There was no such thing as the Fast Pass system and back then all I had to think about was myself, so no worries.  For this trip I had to plan around our boys so I had to figure in strategic ways to keep them from running out of gas.  It is safe to say that if I had not pre-planned so many things then this trip could very well have been a disaster. If you are going to go to theme parks with kids, you have to pre-plan.  Some key elements I used were: Plan out a good midday time to head back to the hotel for a couple hour break. Pack your own snacks and water in a backpack for inside the park breaks.  Download a Ride Wait Time App for your phone.  Get a lanyard and collectable pins for the kids.  Schedule a day in between the park visits (we made the short drive to the beach for a day).  Work the Fast Pass system as best you can. Buy your tickets online ahead of time.  Use the Anaheim Resort Transportation bus system to and from your hotel.

Thunder Mountain
Credit: NC622

A Day at Disneyland

The day finally arrived.  We made our way down to the Anaheim Resort Transportation bus stop outside our hotel for our 7:40 pickup time (busses run every 20 minutes).  We were at the front gate of Disneyland as soon as it opened.  Buying our tickets online made it really convenient.  We made our way in and took our photos in front of the "Mickey flowers" and made our way into the park.  My research informed me that we needed to go straight to get our Fast Passes for Indiana Jones so that was our first mission. No problem.  That was smooth.  We had an hour to kill before our ride time so we went over to Thunder Mountain Railroad and waited only a short 15 minutes.  Next stop was Splash Mountain.  It was early and the weather was mild so we went twice with no wait!  After that it was almost time to hit Indiana Jones, but since our Fast Pass window opened up I grabbed some for Splash Mountain passes for later.  

After Indiana Jones we waited about 30 minutes for Pirates of the Caribbean. Good thing I brought snacks and water, especially for the boys. I checked my phone ride time app to see where to go next.  The Star Wars Jedi Academy was what the boys wanted to do.  We went to the Star Wars shop outside of Star Tours and the boys got to build their own lightsabers!   The next Academy was about to start (another piece of research I did...if your kids are dressed in some sort of Star Wars gear they might be chosen to go up on stage and fight Darth Vader and Darth Maul!).  In between rides the boys were determined to find Disney Employees to trade pins with.  I am so glad I did this.  It gave them something to do while we walked.  They wanted to go into every store and look to trade pins...great idea! 

Break Time!

We chose our break time around 1:00 or so.  We caught the bus back to the hotel to take a much needed break.  It saved some money too because we made our own lunch rather than eating park food.  We all rested for a couple hours and then around 4:30 we went back to the park.  When we returned we were just in time for one of the Main Street Parades.  After a couple more rides the sun went down and the lights came on in the park.  Everything was going well so far!

Under the Lights & Fireworks

The Matterhorn, Toy Story Astro Blasters, Autopia, The Jungle Cruise, Mickey's Toon Town.  We did it all and the longest wait we had was about 40 minutes for the Matterhorn.  Everything I read before our trip said that if we waited less than 45 minutes for rides then we were timing them right.  The ride times app really came in handy!  Since so many people crowd Main Street for the fireworks, we decided to make our way toward the front gate before they started.  This was another great piece of advice I found so we made it out of the park at the front of the crowd after the fireworks.  The only downside to our day was that Space Mountain (my favorite) was shut down for refurbishment.  There are some very helpful websites out there that will give updated ride information.

 

California Adventure
Credit: NC622

A Day at California Adventure

We took a day off from the parks and drove down to Newport Beach for the day.  It was a relaxing time for us and the boys loved playing in the sand and the waves. It was a great move to take a break from the parks for a day. So, back to the park. All helpful advice that I found online pointed to Cars Land.  The longest wait in the park for the most popular ride was Cars.  The research advice lead me to get a Fast Pass right away.  So, we were at the front gate when the park opened and set our sights on Cars.  I went directly to the Fast Pass kiosk while my wife took the boys to get a spot in line for Radiator Springs Racers.  We waited for 20 minutes and it was worth it.  After the ride we had about an hour to kill before returning with our Fast Pass.  We made our way over to the Pier and waited only 10 minutes for the California Screamin' coaster.  It was so fun that we got Fast Passes for that one once our Cars time opened up.  Good moves with the passes for sure.  When we returned to Cars Land the wait was already at 90 minutes.  We got to the front of the line in 10 minutes.  Same thing with the coaster later in the day.  Once again we brought snacks and water and the boys searched for pin trading throughout the day.  We again took a couple hour break back at the hotel and then returned to the park for the evening.  We had a couple longer waits for attractions than we did at Disneyland.  The Toy Story ride was almost an hour, Grizzly River Rapids was a long wait as the ride shut down for about 25 minutes while we were standing in line, and then we waited again for almost an hour for a good spot to see the "World of Color" show.  This is California Adventure's late night show at the Pier.  The wait was definitely worth it as the show was amazing and I highly recommend seeing it.

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Comments

Jan 3, 2015 1:30am
rainykua
I'm glad you and your boys had fun! I don't have kids yet, but I always travel with my senior citizen parents. It's always helps to pre-plan everything.
Mar 12, 2015 7:00am
Yindee
You really did your homework! We were lucky to have 3 days and saw and did a great. We need to go back for more next time we visit the USA.
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