With a day at Disney’s California Adventure under our belts, we were ready for the main event: Disneyland! We had noted the crowds outside of Disneyland’s gates the day before and decided to wake extra early to secure a prime spot at rope drop. We arrived about an hour and a half before the gates opened, and had about twenty people ahead of us in line. As the staff opened more turnstiles, we moved closer and closer, and when we actually got through the gates and to the main rope, found ourselves very close to the front of the massive sea of humanity.
MaxPass reservations, including Boarding Passes for Rise of the Resistance don’t start until the gates open, so we had time to study the map, make friends in line, and review our plan of attack. Now I had read every book, post, and blog I could find about maximizing a single day in the park, how to see the Black Spire Outpost (Star Wars land) with the fewest crowds and lines, and which attractions and foods we couldn’t miss. I laid out an entire itinerary, but as we gazed at the empty park ahead of us, we decided to throw it all out and head right for the Black Spire Outpost.
They dropped the ropes about ten minutes before opening time and we were able to enter an almost empty, incredibly themed world. It was difficult not to stop and gawk around every corner, but we followed the crowds right into the Smuggler’s Run line. As we raced through the queue, we had our phones open and ready to claim our boarding pass for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The only way to check out this remarkable ride is to obtain a “boarding pass” to enter the queue. We had gotten some tips from staff as we waited for rope drop. Make sure you have all of your group’s passes added to your group in the app, close the Disneyland app completely, and be ready to launch it right at opening time. Once you do, note the “learn more” about boarding groups on the landing page. Click there, and from the new page, click “join a boarding group”, select your party, and join. Jeff and I did this simultaneously, as did thousands of other people around the park, and we were lucky enough to land Boarding Group 33. As the day went on, we could check our status on the app and it sent push notifications when it was our turn to redeem our boarding pass. Once it did, we had an hour and a half window to return.
With shouted celebration of our good fortune, we boarded the Millennium Falcon and helped steer it on a successful mission. I had been unable to reserve Oga’s Cantina, and really wanted to see it, so I again disregarded every bit of Disney advice ever published and we lined up to go inside the bar and have a drink soon after park opening. We entered with less than a five minute wait and soaked up the incredible atmosphere. From a robot DJ spinning sweet beats to the bubbly glowing drinks, Disney once again showed off their magical chops in their creation of this establishment.
We reluctantly left the Spire with promises to return after dark for more exploration. While we had used our MaxPass to reserve Fastpasses, the wait times had all steadily increased so we had to be more flexible with our plan. Here’s a quick overview of the rest of our day.
- Get Space Mountain Fast pass
- Ride Star Tours- we had hoped we would like this better than the Disney World version, and it was cool to see the updated inclusion of characters, but none of us loved this ride. We waited 45 minutes in the single rider line, which was too long.
- Buzz Lightyear- this is one of Ryan’s favorite rides at the World, and he has earned “Galactic Hero” stickers a few times. The scoring and strategy are different here and he left disappointed.
- Use Space Mt. Fastpass- this was awesome! Definitely better than the one at Disneyworld, but not sure if we liked it better than Disneyland Paris.
- Get Fantasmic Fastpass
- Small World- quite different from others we’ve seen. It was neat that the boarding was outdoors and that Disney characters are incorporated throughout.
- Big Thunder Mountain- extended theming and a fun ride.
- Get Fast Pass Indiana Jones
- Pirates of Caribbean- we had been looking forward to this as we had heard a ton about how much better this original was. We all left feeling meh about it. It was cool, but nothing special.
- Since were were nearby, we headed for treats at the Bengal BBQ (pork belly skewers and bacon wrapped asparagus) and the Tropical Hideaway (Dole Whip swirled with orange or raspberry sorbet). We used the app to save time, but still waited almost 45 minutes for both. They were delicious, and a must at Disneyland, but make sure to order before you’re so hungry you may eat your children.
- Splash Mountain- This ride is more fun and much wetter than the one at the World. We were glad we had a few lawn bags left to keep us dry.
- Use Indiana Jones FP- this is a ride instead of the show we had come to enjoy at other parks. Reminded us of Revenge of the Mummy at Universal.
When darkness fell and we had experienced all of the attractions that were most important to us, we returned to the Black Spire outpost to soak in the small details, visit the shops, and get some dinner at Docking Bay 7. Everything is so well incorporated into the theming. The bathrooms, shop entrances, and staff walking around truly helped transport us to George Lucas’s imagination. We spied Chewie and Rey heading out on a mission, and Jeff managed to score a selfie. The outdoor market area reminded us of open air markets in Asia and Northern Africa and instead of being stocked with Star Wars merchandise, the majority were selling things that you might find on an outpost: creatures from the movies, clothing, light sabers, and games. Cole got a Porg that sits on his shoulder using a magnet you slide under your shirt. We all enjoyed the lighting and random special effects like droids coming to life in the streets. The area is large enough that it never felt crowded. We played the Disney Play game around the area a bit but were never able to see how it created physical actions around us. The outpost was definitely the highlight of our day.
Here’s some tips that we weren’t able to use. By the time we returned and explored Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, we were exhausted and had to leave the park before 9. Blame it on jet lag, our early wake up, or over excitement but as we sat on the curb and waited for the fireworks, Cole fell asleep on one of my legs with his body stretched in the gutter while Ryan begged to return home. It didn’t seem worth it to force everyone to stay and be miserable, no matter how much we may love the fireworks.
- 9 or 10:30 Watch Fantasmic- arrive half hour before show time, watch from back/elevation
- 9:30 Watch fireworks
- The best vantage point is the middle of Main Street, from Carnation Cafe to Coke Corner. You can stake out a sitting point on the curb and then stand in the middle of Main Street once the show begins.
When it comes to family fun and magic, Disney absolutely does it best. We all enjoyed visiting the first Disney park and it further fueled our desire to see those that we haven’t yet visited.
Wondering how you can squeeze the highlights of this park into a single day? It takes a lot of planning and research. Some suggestions:
- Pay extra for MaxPass, and learn how to use it before you arrive. As frequent DisneyWorld guests, we thought we understood the FastPass system, and that MaxPass was just another name for the system we knew and loved. Not so. No wristbands, no advance booking, included PhotoPass, and a completely different strategy for getting FastPasses to the attractions with long waits. Here’s a good explanation from Undercover Tourist. This will save you time, give you great photo memories, and allow you to maximize your magic.
- Have a plan. There are several guidebooks and websites with ready made itineraries for different audiences. I especially liked The Unofficial Guide and The Disney Tourist Blog. I read these and several other blogs to craft an itinerary that would fit my family’s tastes. With only one day, you can’t see everything, but you can be sure to plan a day where everyone leaves feeling a little more magical.
- Wake up early and arrive at least 45 minutes before rope drop. I know it’s vacation, but there’s A LOT of magic to squeeze in, and being one of the first people in the park is one of the best ways to fit it all in.
- Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get reservations to your preferred dining options. Unlike DisneyWorld, restaurants aren’t booking up months in advance, and the realities of a day in the park mean that people don’t show up to their scheduled reservations. We found that the wait times changed dramatically throughout the day. Bring snacks so you can afford to be flexible on your meal times. If it’s a Must See for you, like Oga’s Cantina was for me, make it a priority in your day.
- This last one is tough for me to admit. Take time to soak in the magic, even if that means you miss an attraction. If you race from ride to ride, you may miss a magical moment that becomes a favorite memory. Dancing to a droid DJ and looking at every piece of merchandise sold in the Black Spire Outpost were never in my plan, but both really created magical moments for us. You spend a lot of money and time planning a Disney vacation. Enjoy it!