Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth. As soon as you step through those park gates, you’re transported to a whimsical world filled with rose-gold Minnie ears, cult-favourite rides, and Mickey-shaped beignets. But it can get overwhelming when you want to check out every single attraction and show on a time crunch. The best way to see the most visited theme park in the world is to do some pre-planning (download the Disneyland app in advance) and get a good night’s rest the day before.
Here’s how to make the most out of 48 hours at California’s Disneyland Resort.
Assuming you checked in the day before at a nearby hotel (the family-friendly Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance is a 5-minute walk to the Disneyland Resort), this wake-up call should give you plenty of time to put on your ears and grab breakfast. The Courtyard Anaheim’s lobby Bistro serves up a hearty breakfast burrito and hot chocolate.
Pro-tip: If you purchased a 2-day Park Hopper Ticket beforehand, it’s best to link the ticket to your app. Add the MaxPass to your ticket for an additional $10 per day to easily book your FastPass choices (saves you lots of time from long lines) and get unlimited Disney PhotoPass downloads for the day. This means whenever you see a Disney photographer, get them to take your photo at prime locations rather than hopelessly stretching your arms for a shabby selfie.
Head to Disneyland for a stroll down Main Street, before stopping in Adventureland for journey on the Jungle Cruise. The Indiana Jones Adventure is always a thrill, then get a legendary Dole Whip frozen treat at the nearby Tiki Juice Bar.
It’s not a Disneyland trip without a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean, which is connected to the lantern-filled Blue Bayou Restaurant. Stop by the latter for an early lunch, which features Cajun-Creole fare such as gumbo (chicken, Andouille sausage, Tasso ham, rice) and jambalaya (shrimp, chicken sausage, Creole rice). Finish off with an 8-layer chocolate hazelnut cake—it really hits the spot.
Burn off the calories by fast-walking to Critter Country’s popular Splash Mountain, then take the Disneyland Railroad to Frontierland to go on the family-favourite coaster, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. If you pass by a snack vendor, treat yourself to one of the park’s famous churros or chocolate Mickey ice-cream bar.
Head back to your hotel for a nap to refuel. The beds at Courtyard Anaheim are like fluffy marshmallows, and it takes only a minute or two before you start snoozing. If you have unlimited energy, check out the hotel’s on-site waterpark, which includes waterslides, an outdoor heated pool, and a massive drench bucket that will get you…drenched. It’s definitely the best way to cool off in California weather.
Make your way to Disney California Adventure Park, which includes Hollywood Land’s new Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout! ride, previously known as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It’s essentially the same attraction, just donning a new look and backstory. Stop by Animation Academy to learn how to draw your favourite Disney film characters, and roam into a gift shop to check out some of the Disney Pins if you’re an avid pin collector.
Park hop back to Disneyland and pick up a turkey leg for a satisfying dinner, which is enough to feed two people. Check out Fantasyland for some classic rides like Peter Pan’s Flight and it’s a small world—it really makes you nostalgic of your childhood.
Find a spot with a clear view of the Sleeping Beauty Castle to catch nightly fireworks that begin at 9:30 p.m. The impressive pyrotechnics are paired with well-loved Disney tunes and an airborne Tinkerbell, which never gets old.
Avoid the post-firework crowds by going into Tomorrowland to sneak in a couple more attractions, including Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Disneyland doesn’t close its gates until midnight on most nights, so you could try and jump on your favourite rides since the lines would likely be minimal.
The first day may have left you a little tired, so sleeping in an extra hour on the second day is totally understandable. Grab breakfast at the hotel, or stroll over to Downtown Disney District to check out one of its many eateries.
Since you spent most of the day at Disneyland on day 1, we’ll focus on Disney California Adventure for day 2. Try to book your FastPass for the most popular attractions in the park as soon as you can: Radiator Springs Racers and Guardians of the Galaxy (if you want to go on it a second or third time). The wait times are usually shorter right after the park opens, so we highly recommend going on them earlier in the day if you can’t snag a FastPass.
Pixar Pier made its debut in earlier in the year, and it’s a charming transformation filled with all your favourite Disney Pixar films: The Incredibles, Toy Story, Up, Inside Out, and more. Go on the Incredicoaster, previously known as California Screamin’. You’ll be looking for baby Jack-Jack in a high-speed chase, going down steep drops and a 360-degree loop. When you get off the ride, you’ll see a kiosk that sells Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums...GET ONE.
They’re essentially large chocolate chip cookies that are warm and gooey, which you won’t want to share. For lunch, check out one of the many themed stalls on the pier such as Poultry Palace (fried chicken) and Angry Dogs (hot dogs) for a bite. When you think you’ve digested, head over to the Pixar Pal-A-Round. The extra-large Mickey Ferris wheel has swinging and non-swinging gondolas. Definitely choose to go on the swinging ones because you’ll and rocking and sliding above water—the most exciting Ferris wheel you’ll ever try.
Catch the Frozen-Live at the Hyperion Broadway-style musical back in Hollywood Land. When the movie came out, it instantly become a global phenomenon. We had doubts whether or not the film could be translated on a stage with a live cast, but the show blows your mind away. Elsa and Anna (and Olaf) wow the audience with the movie’s signature songs, and you’re immersed in the hyper-real set as soon as you take your seat.
Stop by Cars Land to ride Radiator Springs Racers if you haven’t already done so. Pro-tip: jump into the single riders line if you and your group don’t mind being seated separately—you’ll save a TON of time. Hungry? Cozy Cone Motel is home to a bunch of food stalls that serve up quick eats like chili cones, flavoured popcorn, pretzel bites, churros, and “route” beer floats.
Go on a flight at Soarin’ Around the World in Grizzly Peak, and if you’re not afraid of getting wet at night, check out the nearby Grizzly River Run. If you still have an appetite, walk back to Pixar Pier and get a table at the new Lamplight Lounge. The restaurant alludes to all your favourite Disney Pixar films, and the outdoor seating gives you a direct view of the colourful Mickey wheel. Order the lobster nachos (housemade tortilla chips, pico de gallo, chipotle crema, and aged cheddar) and pair it with one of its delicious cocktails or mocktails. Other menu items like ratatouille, cheddar burger, and crab-and-tuna roll are also available. Finish off with fluffy donuts that come with chocolate and berry dipping sauces.
Find a spot along Paradise Garden Park for a great view of the Paint the Night parade. Over 1 million lights sparkle and shine with Disney princesses and characters, and it makes for a great photos and videos as well. The best post-show treat? Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats has a couple of mouthwatering frozen desserts, including Its Snow-Capped Lemon: lemon soft-serve ice cream topped with white chocolate…yum.
Walk over to Disneyland to catch one more nighttime show: Fantasmic! at Frontierland at 10:30 p.m. Mickey will be bringing out all his friends and frenemies in this water extravaganza, which include pyrotechnics, special effects, and lots of music. When the show is over, stop by the shops along Main Street for some last-minute souvenir shopping and then doing the toughest thing on your trip: bidding farewell to the Happiest Place on Earth.
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Photo credits: Paul Hiffmeyer, Matt Stroshane, Scott Brinegar, Joshua Sudock and Disney.