If we had one day in Disneyland and were looking for the perfect way to spend that day, these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants where we’d dine, and the metaphorical roses we would stop to smell. The idea behind this post is to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We are starting with Disneyland for the first post in this series of “Daily Trip Blueprints.”
This particular guide for Disneyland has been revised from its original form for the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration and the Season of the Force Star Wars special events, both of which are currently underway.
Note that this Daily Trip Blueprint isn’t a touring plan or strategy guide for visiting Disneyland, nor is it a thorough listing of every attraction at Disneyland. For our ride ratings and reviews of each attractions (which will give you a better idea of what to prioritize), read our comprehensive Best Disneyland Attractions & Ride Guide post. If you need comprehensive help for planning every aspect of your visit to Disneyland, from where to purchase discount tickets to transportation from the airport and more, read our Disneyland Resort Trip Planning Guide.
Instead, what we are providing is a rough blueprint of our favorite things to do in an “ideal day” at Disneyland with low to moderate crowds (on busier days, it will be more difficult to accomplish all of this), and when you should do them for the ‘best experience,’ but not necessarily the most efficient experience. In other words, this strives to be subjective rather than objective.
If budget is no issue, we recommend staying at Disneyland Hotel (our favorite) or Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel (closer to the parks) for your visit. If you only have 1 day for Disneyland (hopefully you also have a day for Disney California Adventure), your time is fairly limited and you won’t be able to see it all, but at least staying at one of these hotels puts you in a good position to utilize Morning Extra Magic Hours to see more (make sure to consult the official Disneyland Calendar to see when these are offered). Plus, these hotels have great location and are just flat out fun. If these hotels are outside of your budget, check out our Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings for more on the pros and cons of each hotel near Disneyland.
Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do…
Breakfast: Tangaroa Terrace – Right off the bat we’re going to start out the DTB by going outside of the park, to Disneyland Hotel. This is for good reason–1 day in Disneyland is not enough to see everything, and the morning hours are crucial for experiencing attractions efficiently. So, you’ll start out your ideal day at Disneyland at least one hour before you can enter the park by having breakfast at Tangaroa Terrace (our full review). The goal is to get to the park 15 minutes before the turnstiles open, and it’s a 15 minute walk from Disneyland Hotel to the turnstiles, so plan accordingly. As for what to eat, we highly recommend the French Toast topped with Warm Banana-Caramel Sauce.
Early Morning Attractions: Fantasyland – We always feel a sense of accomplishment by starting the morning in Fantasyland, because there are so many short attractions here within close proximity to one another that can be done quickly. It’s also a good way to avoid this area in the middle of the day, when it’s chaotic. We highly recommend starting with Peter Pan’s Flight. Especially after its recent refurbishment that upgraded several effects, Peter Pan’s Flight gets the longest line the quickest.
Follow that with Alice in Wonderland (another recently refurbished attraction that will have long lines all day). Our other absolute must-dos here for the morning are Casey Junior, Mad Tea Party, and Storybook Land Canal Boats, because the nice morning sunshine just gives these attractions a pleasant feeling. You should be able to hit 75%+ of the attractions in Fantasyland in the first hour the park is open if you are efficient.
Hyperspace Mountain FastPass: While most of your party heads to the next step on the itinerary, head a runner to Tomorrowland to grab a FastPass for Hyperspace Mountain. This is the new Star Wars-themed version of Space Mountain, and it is very popular, so you want to get a FastPass for it first thing. If you are Wookie enthusiasts who want to meet Star Wars characters, your whole party should head to Star Wars Launch Bay at this point to meet Chewbacca and/or Darth Vader.
Morning Snack: Matterhorn Macaroon – With Fantasyland (mostly?) crossed off your list, it’s time to slow down and have a snack break (a big part of our days in the parks is eating!). Head down to Jolly Holiday Bakery at the edge of Main Street and get these delicious Disneyland originals.
Late Morning Attractions: The Disneyland Classics – This is a good time for things like ‘it’s a small world’ and Roger Rabbit’s Toon Town Spin that you probably didn’t hit in your initial run of Fantasyland. Then, round out your morning with two of Disneyland’s flagship attractions located in New Orleans Square: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. With the Hatbox Ghost recently added to Haunted Mansion, it can get slightly longer lines, but they still typically aren’t bad. After that, it’s time for the third big attraction in New Orleans Square: food!
Lunch: Cafe Orleans OR French Market – Two of our absolute favorite Disneyland restaurants are in New Orleans Square. Cafe Orleans (read our full review) is a table service option, whereas French Market (read our full review) is counter service. Both offer good value for money, and nice open-air outdoor seating. You can’t go wrong either way, but if you’re short on time, pick French Market. Wild card option 3: Blue Bayou, one of Disneyland’s most popular restaurants for its location along the water in Pirates of the Caribbean, but we feel it’s overpriced and overrated. After you’re done eating (our while waiting on your table), take a few minutes to explore the nooks, crannies, and shops of New Orleans Square, one of Disney’s best theme park lands anywhere.
Afternoon Attractions: Relaxing Disney Originals – The middle of the afternoon is when Disneyland sees its longest lines, making this a great time to enjoy some of the gems of Disneyland that go unnoticed by most guests while waiting for Soundsational, the afternoon parade. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the adjacent Disney Gallery, the Disneyland Railroad, the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through, Mark Twain Riverboat, and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room are all recommended. You might consider stopping by Big Thunder Ranch to say hello to the goats there, too. Other options include Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Tom Sawyer Island, and Sailing Ship Columbia. This is also a good time to utilize FastPasses (and to continue acquiring them!) for Space Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. You won’t have time to do all of these originals, so plan on picking an assortment that are most appealing to you.
Evening Attractions: Better at Night – Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Matterhorn are the four attractions that we most strongly recommend doing at night for a superior experience, but unless you’re going on a lightly-crowded day or are skipping Fantasmic and/or Remember… Dreams Come True, this might be overzealous, since these attractions are also very popular. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain offer FastPass, and both Splash Mountain and Matterhorn have Single Rider lines, so it’s not impossible, but tough. We have a full list of the 10 Best Disneyland Attractions at Night, in case you have time for more than these four.
Dinner: Plaza Inn – The Plaza Inn (read our full review) fried chicken is the stuff dreams are made of, and the closest you can get to buying drugs in Disneyland. (Really, the chicken is so addictive it should be a controlled substance!) Eat here and order the chicken. If you’re still hungry after dinner (well done, you truly are a champ!), stop next door at the Little Red Wagon (read our full review) to take a victory lap by getting a post-dinner corn dog. Or, save the corn dog for later if you’re too full.
Nighttime Spectaculars: Fantasmic, Fireworks, and Paint the Night – On busier days of the year, there are two showings of Fantasmic along the Rivers of America, the Disneyland Forever fireworks show, and two runnings of the Paint the Night parade. If this is the case, it is possible to see all 3 in a single day. This requires seeing the first Paint the Night parade, then the fireworks, then the second Fantasmic. This is not the advice we present in our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration, but you only have a day, so make the most.
All 3 are absolutely worth seeing, so you won’t want to skip any of them. The problem is that seeing the first Paint the Night means waiting a long time for it (if you want a good spot). It’s much easier if you have 2-days for Disneyland and can spread this nighttime entertainment out over two nights, which we highly recommend. If not, get a spot for the first Paint the Night as early as you can on Main Street. After Paint the Night, we recommend seeing the fireworks (check out our viewing location tips for Disneyland’s fireworks), and then the second, less-crowded showing of Fantasmic (check out our viewing location tips for Fantasmic). Make sure to get a Fantasmic FastPass earlier in the day.
NOTE: Fantasmic goes dark for an unspecified amount of time (likely 12-18 months) at the start of 2016, so if your Disneyland vacation is in 2016 or early 2017, you likely will miss it.
Park Closing Tranquility – You should have about an hour after Fantasmic until Disneyland closes, so use that to hit whichever attractions you missed, or perhaps enjoy that corn dog and enjoy the beauty and solitude of Disneyland late at night. Things like the Pixie Hollow water show, grabbing a seat under the popcorn lights on a Main Street porch, and wandering around in the neon of Tomorrowland can all be fun experiences. Also, keep in mind that the shops on Main Street are typically open an hour after park closing, making that the time to get your souvenir shopping done.
Nightcap: Trader Sam’s – End it all at the beginning, by the adults in your party heading to Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland Hotel after Disneyland closes for drinks and uniquely Disney fun. Trader Sam’s is more fun than a barrel of drunken monkeys, and even if you’re not a drinker, the interactive and detailed Trader Sam’s is a great time. Plus, it’s a great place to do so more eating…you know, if you weren’t already waddling from all the eating this DTB calls for! The convenient location of both Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam’s are why we consider Disneyland Hotel an ideal location for a day at Disneyland.
If you’re able to do even 75% of the things on the Daily Trip Blueprint, you are pretty much assured of having an amazing day at Disneyland. That’s our DTB by DTB.com Guarantee! (Please note that this guarantee has no cash value and is not offered to residents of any state except Wyoming. Also note that any day you are at Disneyland should be amazing, so if you don’t have a great time, it’s probably your own fault! ;))
In an ideal world, we recommend two FULL days at Disneyland (plus one full day at Disney California Adventure) to fully see and explore the park without feeling rushed. If you’re heading to Disneyland for the Diamond Celebration, we have tons of posts to help you plan, including our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets, a look at Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings, our Unique Packing List for Disney Trips, an index of our Disneyland Resort Restaurant Reviews, and a number of other things in our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide!
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What would you include in your ideal day at Disneyland? If you haven’t visited Disneyland yet, what do you plan on doing? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments!