When I found out I was going to Disneyland for a work conference, I couldn’t decide whether I should try to squeeze in time at the parks while I was there. While I like belting out a Little Mermaid solo in the shower as much as the next girl, I’m not what you would call a “Disney fanatic” and I was unsure whether a grown adult could possibly have fun at Disneyland completely by herself. Since my flight schedule worked out to give me almost a full day at the Disneyland resort AND the conference I was attending offered discounted park tickets, I decided to take the plunge and test out if, indeed, my non-Mickey-mouse-ears-wearing self would find Disneyland to be “the happiest place on Earth”. While there were some awkward moments sprinkled throughout my time at the resort, I ultimately had an absolute blast. I picked up some tips and tricks of how to have a great time (and not feel like a total weirdo) flying solo as a grown-up at Disneyland.
BEFORE YOU GET TO THE PARK
Buy your tickets online.
There are few things I hate more than waiting in a line so why do it unnecessarily? Pick up your tickets before you go online to save yourself the hassle once you get to the park. It also gives you time to figure out whether you want to check out Disneyland by itself or pick up a park-hopper pass, which lets you hit up both the original park and the California Adventure park, that has a more mature (cough cough alcohol is sold at this park), boardwalk vibe to it. When I went, a one-park pass cost around $117 for peak demand date (a.k.a. weekends and school breaks), with a park-hopper pass coming in at a whopping $167 per day. Although I originally balked at the park-hopper price, I thought I might get bored if I stayed at just Disneyland for an entire day and since I’m not sure when (if ever) I’ll be headed back, I ultimately coughed up the extra money. This was an awesome decision for me (I hit everything in both parks I really wanted to see), but if you like going at a slower pace or are have a ton of stuff in one particular park you’re prioritizing, a one-park pass might make more sense for you.
Protip #1- In my experience, the Disneyland ticketing site is really finnicky. When entering your credit card information, everything has to be entered as an exact match of your bank’s records (i.e. if your bank thinks you live on Mickey Mouse Street, the site will not accept Mickey Mouse St.)- per the representative I spoke with on the phone, this is a common issue for abbreviations in addresses and middle initials. Although I eventually got it to work, it took me three times before my credit card info went through, so if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It also took a really long time for the site’s confirmation email to come through- almost three hours, so if you don’t immediately receive your eTicket after ordering, no need to panic (the representative I spoke with, who surely had to love me, said it could take up to 24 hours for confirmation emails to send).
Protip #2- I am a born and bred bargain hunter; part of the thrill of my vacations is stalking the best deal, from Groupons to blogger tips to using random coupon codes I find online. Despite persistently combing the Internet for cheaper tickets, I eventually realized that, except in super limited circumstances (for example, for military, through certain teachers’ unions, and conferences, like the one I attended- here’s a pretty comprehensive guide), Disney does not offer discounted single-day tickets. Even when you can snag a discount, you only wind up “saving” a pretty measly amount of money (I think I got the park-hopper pass for about $10 than it usually is). If you’re planning on having a few days in the park, there are a few more readily available discounted options (try this site), although again, with pretty insignificant savings. It’s one of those things that you either have to be able to get comfortable with the price-point or decide that it’s not worth your hard earned dollars.
2. Download the Disneyland app.
Once you order your ticket, you won’t have to stand in line at will-call at the park’s ticket counter if you either (1) print your ticket or (2) have your eticket on your mobile device. With your smartphone, you can link your purchased tickets with the free Disneyland app (so you don’t have to worry about losing a printed ticket or digging through your email to find the right confirmation email), which a park attendant can directly scan when you hit the gate. The app also has plenty of other cool features, like an interactive map, making dining reservations, and real time wait times on the rides. For an extra $10 a person per day, you can add the MaxPass feature to the app, which allows you to book Fastpasses (i.e. special free tickets that let you skip a ride’s line if you show up at a predesignated time that you typically have to get from the actual ride) from anywhere within either park. As a single person, there are plenty of other ways for you to skip a lot of the long lines (which I’ll get to later), but if you’re looking to completely maximize your riding potential while at Disneyland, springing for the MaxPass is probably worth it.
Protip- You will be using your phone a LOT while you’re at the park- both while using the Disneyland app and to keep yourself occupied while you’re waiting in line, so be sure to bring along a battery pack to keep your phone charged. When I went, I had just gotten off a four hour plus flight, coordinated with a lost shuttle driver, and checked in with my husband; needless to say, by the time I got to the park, my phone’s battery was less than 30% and I had no means of charging it. It was kind of a (totally easily avoidable) nightmare, so plan ahead! Here’s the one my husband and I use to fuel our phones during all of our adventures- 10 out of 10 would recommend!
ONCE YOU WALK THROUGH THOSE MAGIC GATES
3. Accept that all of the adults around you are total dorks and thus, you are among friends.
After entering the park, I immediately felt INCREDIBLY self-conscious about walking around a park marketed towards small children by myself. Of course, it didn’t help that the first three people I interacted with at Disneyland were all quick to ask me “Oh, are you here by yourself?”. After getting my bearings, though, and taking a step back, I realized that 40-50% of Disneyland attendees appeared to adults, 100% sans children. From retired couples to bachelorette parties (I even saw a bachelor party!) to honeymooners, there were TONS of adults hanging out and enjoying the park without kiddos, happy as can be. Not only that, most of these individuals (who likely have professional careers and maturely developed personal lives) were totally and unabashedly embracing the whimsy of the park, from wearing personalized mouse ears to Disney themed outfits- I even witnessed a proposal in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. At the end of the day, the thirty year old man casually donning a hat that looks like Goofy’s face is most likely not judging you for checking out “It’s a Small World” by your lonesome. Once I leaned into the dorkiness of it all, I stopped feeling so uncomfortable and was able to get carried away by the wonderful nostalgia of the park.
Protip- If you’re feeling extra uneasy about flying solo at Disney, do the opposite of me and for the love of all things good in the world, do not go to a character breakfast. I specifically wanted to get breakfast at the Plaza Inn (a restaurant on Main Street, right when you enter the park) as I knew they served vegan waffles (check out my vegan guide to Disneyland here). When I arrived, I found out that the only way to have breakfast at the Plaza Inn (during my time there) was to partake in “Breakfast with Minnie”. Boy, oh, boy, was this a slightly awkward introduction to the park. This was the only place that I felt wildly outnumbered by families with little kids and where I vacillated between trying to hide from the characters circulating the restaurant and being wildly offended that none of them came over to greet me. Vegan Mickey-shaped waffles just aren’t worth it, y’all (okay, but let’s be real, they really were pretty good).
4. Have an action plan.
Coming into the park, I had the vague idea that I would spend the first part of the day in Disneyland and end it in Disneyland’s cooler, older sister, California Adventure. I had some vague ideas of the rides I wanted to hit, based on recommendations from various lady traveler Facebook groups I’m in, but hadn’t really developed a plan as to how to squeeze everything in. At the beginning of the day, I basically made a list of all the rides I wanted to try in Disneyland and, based on my priorities, zig-zagged around the park, without any regard to the ride’s geographic location. This, my friends, was incredibly dumb and was definitely my biggest mistake while at the park. While Disneyland itself is not that big, it’s absolutely brimming with shops and restaurants and characters, all built in concentric circles (check out a map here), so it may be unsurprising to hear that it is epically easy to get pretty turned around in the park.
Instead of criss-crossing the park like a maniac, take advantage of the layout and methodically hit up the “themed lands” in a circular pattern. After my trip, I found out that conventional wisdom is to hit the themed lands starting from the right and working counter-clockwise (i.e. starting in Tomorrowland, working towards Fantasyland), but instead, I’d recommend hitting Tomorrowland and then working my way clockwise (i.e. heading over to Adventureland). In my opinion, the south and southwest portion of park is pretty disproportionately stocked with the more adult-friendly rides, like Space Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, so it’s best to hit these areas up early before the park gets more crowded (and HOT) as the day wears on.
Protip #1- Like most places, lines were way, way shorter at the beginning of the day. I didn’t get to the park until about 10:30 or so and was pretty surprised how late the park remained uncrowded (getting busier probably around 1 pm or so). If you get a chance, hit up the park as soon as it opens (at 8 am) to maximize your riding pleasure.
Protup #2- This is, in part, due to my crappy planning, but I walked over 30,000 steps during my trip to the parks, which is several thousand more than when my husband and I have been to Amsterdam, Paris, etc. So make sure to bring comfy shoes (and, since we’re all adults here, your favorite insoles)!
5. Single rider lines are your new best friends.
You know how I said I felt kind of weird at first showing up at Disneyland by myself? It definitely helps that being a single person lets you do something magical- skip the vast majority of the line on some of Disneyland and California Adventure’s best rides! In order to cut down on wasted empty seats, certain rides have a “single rider” line, filling in the gaps on rides for uneven parties. Not only does this significantly cut down on your wait time (I never waited more than 20 minutes on a single rider line and once literally got to walk on to a ride), this perk is available for most of my favorite rides. At the time I’m writing this, single rider lines are available at:
Disnelyand: Matterhorn Bobsleds; Splash Mountain; Indiana Jones Adventure; Space Mountain
California Adventure: Grizzly River Run; Incredicoaster; Goofy’s Sky School; Radiator Springs Racers.
Although the rides that have this benefit are clearly marked on the map, finding the single rider entrance can be a little tricky (and often feel a bit off as you either enter through the exit or through the handicap entrance). If you can’t readily find where to enter, just ask a staff member (who, by the way, are mysteriously called “cast members”)- they were all incredibly nice and helpful during my time there.
6. Fastpasses are your Plan B best friends.
Since not all rides have the single rider lines, you can’t always skip the lines. Or can you? Of the most adult-friendly rides at the parks that don’t have the single rider perk, almost all of them have Fastpass services (see a list of the FastPass rides here). As mentioned above, a Fastpass is a free ticket for a certain ride that lets you bypass the line if you return to the ride during a specific timeframe (note that this is available to all ticket holders, not just people who opt to get the MaxPass app mentioned above). To get one of these, you take your normal admission ticket, scan it at one of the Fastpass machines located near the ride, and another paper ticket will print out with your designated time on it. Unless you have MaxPass, you have to keep your paper FastPass ticket that gets scanned when you return to the ride to triumphantly jump the line.
Protip- I didn’t know this when I first used FastPass, but you can only have one FastPass until the earlier of the beginning of your return time for the current FastPass that you hold or from two hours since you last got one (for example, if you picked one up at 2:30 to ride the attraction at 4:45, you wouldn’t be able to get another FastPass until 4:30). The first FastPass I got wasn’t a ride I was particular DYING to go on, so it felt like kind of a waste to wait two more hours until I could sign up for another one. You live, you learn.
7. Prioritize the big kids’ rides.
Part of Disneyland’s charm is its mega-whimsical, nostalgic nature so if you want to go all in on the old school Alice In Wonderland tea cup and flying Dumbo type rides, I totally get it.
However, Disneyland has some pretty awesome rides that cater to an older audience as well. Since I was only spending a day there, I could really only pick the rides that I REALLY wanted to go on and I was pleasantly surprised by almost all of them. My picks for best rides at Disneyland include: Space Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure (SO COOL!), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Splash Mountain (with its trippy visuals and folksy singalong vibes, this ride seems like something straight out of Burning Man); I also hear good things about the Matterhorn Bobsleds but it was unfortunately closed for renovations when I went. For California Adventure, I’d recommend checking out Soarin’ Around the World, Radiator Springs Racers, The Incredicoaster, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, and Grizzly River Run. Disney is known for its imagination and innovation and each ride boasts its own unique, inventive vibe that is truly a joy to partake in.
8. People watch, to infinity and beyond.
During my evening there, I needed a little break from the rides, so I sat on the newly redesigned Pixar Pier, the boardwalk running through California Adventure, and just people watched and quietly sipped a beer for probably around an hour. Disneyland (and perhaps, even more so, California Adventure) is absolutely stuffed with interesting folks I wouldn’t pinpoint on the street as being Disney enthusiasts. So many rockabilly chicks and punk-rockers- these parks are just brimming with everyone from guys who look like muscleheads to dudes proudly displaying their Star Wars tats, all while confidently and non-ironically rocking those famous mouse ears.
Protip- Although you can’t sip a beer in regular ol’ Disneyland (no alcohol is sold in the original park), you can take people watching to a whole new level there by hanging out around Club 33, the super-exclusive members-only club for Disneyland’s most VIP guests. Annual fees for the club are rumored to be around $30,000 and Tom Hanks and Kanye West are rumored to be members. Even if you don’t have a celebrity-sighting here, New Orleans Square is totally gorgeous (a deadringer for one of my most favorite cities), so definitely a great place to people-watch nonetheless.
9. Take advantage of your surroundings.
I had an absolute blast going on rides at Disney, but I also really just enjoyed being at the parks themselves. Both Disneyland and California Adventure are totally pristine and with an insane attention-to-detail throughout, it’s impossible not to be blown away by the aesthetics, whether you’re a design lover like me (be sure to check out Carsland in California Adventure, a design nerd’s paradise) or if you’re a botanics-enthusiast. It’s not infrequent to turn a corner and run into a barbershop quartet or even a parade being marshalled by Mickey himself. The parks are full of stimuli, from fun food and interesting smells to weird social dynamics and nostalgic throwbacks- although your tastes are surely different than mine, I enjoyed scoping out the following things at the Disney resort:
Trying to find the weirdest Mickey ears worn by people (props goes out to the goth-looking lass with ears made of spiderwebs and dripping with plastic arachnids)
Finding and consuming as many Mickey-shaped vegan things as possible
Congratulating every bride and/or groom from the bachelor/bachelorette parties and honeymooners
Collecting as many free Disneyland pins as possible (I got mine at my vaguely ill-fated character breakfast, City Hall in Disneyland and the Chamber of Commerce in California Adventure; you can get them for being a first time visitor or for celebrating pretty much anything under the sun)
Hunting down the best craft beer at California Adventure (in my experience, the winner goes to Karl Strauss Mosaic Session IPA)
Figure out what piques your interest about the parks (perhaps trying to track down the parks’ infamous feral cats?) and see where your Disney adventure takes you!
10. Finding an Adult Escape.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by kiddos, I’d first tell you to head over to California Adventure, which is unmistakable geared more towards an older crowd. If even that is too child-infested to your liking, you can always escape the parks for a bit and check out Downtown Disney, an area full of upscale shops, restaurants, and bars that far and away have a much more mature vibe than the parks. Some particular stand-outs are nightly live jazz at Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen (check out the performance schedule here) or the crazy antics at one of the best tiki bars I’ve ever been to, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar - make sure to go when it first opens at 4 pm to snag a seat at the bar (note that Sam’s is a little bit further outside the parks by the Disneyland Hotel, but easily within walking distance or perhaps even by the trusty monorail?).
11. Dole Whip, Whip it Good.
If all else fails, make sure to end your day with a serving of the infamous Dole Whip, an airy soft-serve pineapple cup of pure unadulterated (and non-dairy!) joy. Considering you just walked 30,000 steps, may have spotted Kanye, and totally gamed the FastPass system, treat yourself with a Dole Whip float, with the tangy frozen confection smothered with pineapple juice and topped with a maraschino cherry and a tropical umbrella (you can get it at the Tiki Juice Bar in the park itself or at The Coffee Shop at the Disneyland Hotel, where they’ll even add in a splash of rum for you). Sit back and drink in the last of that delicious Disneyland goodness.
There you have it- I would 100% go visit the parks again (by myself or with a traveling companion) and can’t wait to see what’s the next solo adventure I’ll have. Do you have any tips or tricks on how to enjoy Disneyland solo? Let me know in the comments below!