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Opinion >  Column

Going to see the Zags in Orange County? Here’s your Disneyland to-do list.

UPDATED: Tue., March 26, 2019

 (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Orange County Register)
(Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Orange County Register)

There are families who save for years to go to Disneyland. Once they finally make it to Anaheim, most stay several days. Maybe even a week or more.

A trip to the Happiest Place on Earth is one of the iconic American destination vacations. It’s to be savored. Not rushed. Which is good, because if you think the lines at Silverwood are long, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

There is lots of time to savor while waiting in the longest lines you’ve ever seen in your life while at Disneyland.

Gonzaga’s sweet road trip to Anaheim for the NCAA Tournament means a whole bunch of folks from Spokane just got unexpected travel plans to the land of the Real Housewives, and – both more importantly and less goofy – Disneyland.

But our weary travelers have priorities, and in this rare equation, Zag magic has precedent over pixie dust. Still, you’re going to be so close to Disney’s original theme park, that it’d be a real shame not to sneak over to take a little galactic spin on Space Mountain, right?

Of course that’s right. And your friendly newspaper editor is going to tell you how to visit Mickey and friends in one day. This right here is probably worth the subscription price alone. Tell your friends.

Now, some will shake their heads and say it simply can’t be done, you can’t visit Disneyland in just one day. Well, quit sounding like Donald because it can be done … especially if you know a few secrets. And I do.

So strap on your mouse ears, break out your Bloomsday running shoes and make sure to stretch, because as Walt Disney once famously said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible, but we don’t want to pull any muscles while doing it.”

Alright he didn’t say that last part. But he would have if knew what we’re about to do.

First things first: We aren’t going to be able to see and do everything in the resort.

This is simply a math problem, and we’re going to need to manage some expectations. When you divide the number of attractions at the Disneyland Resort by the number of hours in a day, multiplied by the number of people visiting the park and then subtract the average household income of an American family, well it’s not going to happen. We have neither the time nor the money.

Like I said, quit sounding like Donald. We’re still going to have a more fun than Chip and Dale hiding nuts.


There are lots of variables here, but the two biggest are that there are actually two parks at the Disneyland Resort – the classic Disneyland that you’re likely envisioning in your head right now and its younger sibling, Disney California Adventure, which is cool in very different ways.

And both require their own ticket. Kind of.

For the days that Gonzaga is in Anaheim, tickets are pricey, as in $149. For one day. For one park.

But don’t pay that. Tickets go down in cost if you add multiple days and if you add the “Park Hopper” option, which allows you to visit both parks on the same day.

Then there’s the option I’m going to recommend. It’s still going to cost more than you’re expecting. You can get a three-day ticket, which still only lets you visit one park a day, for just over $200. Do that.

I know I said we’re going to do Disneyland in one day, but once you see my plan, it will make sense why paying another $60 is going to be the ultimate back-up plan.

Get there early

This can’t be emphasized enough. Be there when the place opens. It’s even worth it to be there a little before the parks open.

The ticket booths will be open. Even when the parks are closed, Disneyland does an amazing job of making sure you can spend money there.

During the Zags’ time in Anaheim, both Disneyland and California Adventure will open at 8 a.m. each day, with Disneyland open until midnight and California Adventure open until 10 p.m.

Here’s one of the most important things in this guide: You can ride more things between 8 a.m. and noon than you can between noon and midnight.

You can even get in earlier if you bought the three-day ticket I told you about. Then you can pick one day during your visit to get in an hour early on select days.

When you show up early, ride. Don’t shop. Don’t eat. Don’t lollygag. Ride.

Some of the cool things I’m going to suggest here will work just as well when the parks are packed later in the day. In some ways, they’re even better when the parks are busy.

But not the rides.

Ride in the morning. Right when you get there. Go directly to your first ride, which should be either Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain.

Use FastPass

FastPass lets you reserve times to ride that let you avoid the main line. It gives you a one-hour window to get to the ride. Even better, the service is free. Yep, you read that right.

But there are some rules. For the most part, you can only have one FastPass at a time. And everyone in your group has to have their own FastPass and it has to be for the same ride timeframe.

Technically, there’s a way to have FastPasses for multiple rides, but if you’ve hit that option, it means the parks are busy or you’ve picked a very popular ride. Here’s how: If the time on your FastPass is several hours from the current time, you become eligible to get another FastPass after the first two hours have passed.

Once it’s time to use your FastPass, do not head to that ride. Instead, head to the next attraction you would like to ride. Get the FastPass for that one. Then go to the ride you’re supposed to be on now.

There are only a certain amount of FastPasses available for each hour slot and FastPasses absolutely run out for the day. When attractions are extremely popular, it’s not unusual for all of the FastPasses allocated for that day to run out before noon.

At Disneyland, Space Mountain and Indiana Jones often run out of FastPasses. Get them early. Both are fantastic rides.

At California Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’, Guardians of the Galaxy and Incredicoaster will almost certainly run out of FastPasses each day.

If the FastPass system is free, then why am I suggesting you buy something that seems kinda similar?

Buy MaxPass

MaxPass let’s you get FastPasses without actually having to go to ride’s physical ticket kiosk. It tracks what FastPasses you have, when you’re eligible for another and even what times are available at the other attractions.

If you have a ParkHopper ticket, it even allows you to reserve FastPasses in the other park.

But to use it, you need to first download the Disneyland app for your mobile phone. You’re going to want this app anyways. It has a great map, the wait times for all attractions and a schedule of the day’s events and shows.

This isn’t even the best part, though.

If you have MaxPass, you also get digital downloads of your photos taken at the resort by its photographers. That alone makes it worth the $15.

Did you read the first three suggestions?

Those are the key to this whole plan. If you’re not doing those, I can’t help you. This is the only way to do this in one day.

You can read the rest of my other suggestions, which are awesome, but you’ve got to commit to those first three.

OK? Good talk. Let’s move on …

Watch a show

This is the stuff you do after your crazy morning on all of those rides. People overlook the shows at Disneyland and California Adventure. That’s a massive mistake on several levels.

First off, they’re incredibly good. That’s what happens when you’re owned by the largest entertainment company in the world and you basically have a limitless budget.

Besides, you’re going to be tired. You’re going to want to sit. You’re going to want some shade or air conditioning. Go to one these shows later in the day.

At Disneyland, go see “Mickey and the Magical Map.” There’s so much to see and tons of characters from your favorite Disney movies.

At California Adventure, go to “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.” It’s basically a Broadway-level show. People line up early for this. It’s longer than most theme-park shows.

‘Fantasmic!’ is fantastic

It’s not really a fireworks show. But it has fireworks. More importantly, it has a great story. And it’s beloved by people who go to Disneyland with any regularity. It’s my very favorite attraction at any theme park anywhere in the world.

When I lived in Anaheim, I would walk to the park at nights after work just to see “Fantasmic!”

Lasers. A huge audio-animatronic dragon. Mickey Mouse. Nearly every Disney villain. The coolest Peter Pan re-enactment you’ve ever seen.

A lake literally becomes a lake of fire. Real fire. Not Disney fire.

The ending is amazing and you should bring some tissues.

I’m not crying, you’re crying. OK, I’m crying.

The fireworks

No one does them like Disneyland. The actual fireworks are incredible, but it’s more than that. The music moves you. The projections on all of the buildings on Main Street, U.S.A, are awe-inspiring.

There’s something about seeing something like this with a huge group of people at the same time that is powerful.

When people skip the fireworks, they’ve missed one of the most memorable parts of a visit to Disneyland.

What to eat?

The corn dog. And Dole Whip. And a churro.

Rinse and repeat.

If you need something more substantial, then get the fried chicken at the Plaza Inn.

But seriously, just get the corn dog.

The classics

Many of the attractions at Disneyland are at other Disney parks around the world, notably Walt Disney World in Florida. If you’ve visited Orlando, you might be tempted to skip the similar rides in Anaheim.

That’s a mistake.

The best version – often the definitive version – of those rides are at Disneyland.

Big Thunder Mountain might be a toss-up, but it’s still one of the best family roller coasters in the world. And the attractions setting in Disneyland is better in every way than its peer on the other coast.

Space Mountain is tricky because this is one of the first rides to debut in Florida and then be brought to California.

Which is one of the reasons why Anaheim’s is better. The effects are better, the on-board audio is stunning and even the actual ride vehicles are more comfortable.

Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction worked on directly by Walt Disney before he died. It’s longer and better than Orlando’s version. Plus, well, Walt built this version.

Then there’s Haunted Mansion. Again, this is the version that was built directly with Walt’s input and guidance. It has effects and scenes that are not in the Florida version.

The “real” It’s a Small World attraction from the 1964 World’s Fair is the one in Anaheim. Yes, it’s fun to make fun of the song, but it feels more relevant today than it did all of those decades ago.

An additional adventure

Should you go to Disney’s California Adventure?

Yes. It’s actually my favorite park of the two. Seriously.

When it was opened in 2001, it was widely panned. Those reasons are now gone.

The attention to detail in Cars Land is amazing. And that “land’s” signature ride – Radiator Springs Racers – is one of the greatest theme-park rides ever built. Seeing Mickey Mouse walk by you is one thing, but seeing Tow Mater drive in front of you is a whole other experience.

It’s not even the most popular ride there. That’d be Soarin’. Absolutely ride that. It’s an unforgettable treat for all of your senses.

Pixar Pier’s Incredicoaster is incredible. Walking that area brings instant smiles.

And the evening water show, World of Color, makes the Bellagio fountains look like a joke.

If you have kids going with you who are under 18 and grew up with Buzz and Woody, this park will mean more to them, as well.

Plus, two words: beer and wine.

Now, hurry! You have only one day. I’m going on Friday. Meet you there.

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