Lightspeed to Disneyland: An Insiders’ Guide to Help Maximize Your Visit

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

In the past year, the Disneyland Resort has celebrated Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday, injected some much-needed flavor into Downtown Disney, completed Pixar Pier, and created its largest expansion yet—Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. We’ve gathered the most worthwhile experiences, new insider tips, and every detail in between to help maximize your visit. Think of it as your field guide to the fun.

A Whole New Word

Disneyland has its own language for many things. Here’s a quick translation guide for the rest of us.

Disney Jargon


Cast member





In the park


Restricted areas

Toothpick holder

Shot glass




California Adventure



Fab 5

Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Pluto



Rope Drop

Park opening

Extra Magic Hour/Magic Mornings

Extended park hours

Pardon Our Pixie Dust

Under construction


Random acts of kindness between customers and employees


Visit Like a Pro


Photograph by Emily J. Davis


  • Lamplight Lounge at the entrance of the recently redesigned Pixar Pier is an ideal spot to unwind with a beer from a list that features a few O.C. breweries.


  • Buy tickets, check wait times, make dining reservations, review menus and park maps, and even order food.
  • Get MaxPass for $15 more per person to reserve digital FastPasses on your smartphone and access photos taken by Disney photographers.


  • Take a breather at Animation Academy’s indoor offerings.
  • Catch a show at the Hyperion Theater, Sunset Showcase Theater, or Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
  • Find shaded seats, food, and a view at Hungry Bear Restaurant or the back of Flo’s V8 Café.
  • Request free water at quick-service locations to save on plastic and weight in your backpack.


  • Buttons to celebrate special occasions from City Hall, info booths, and most stores
  • Mickey Mouse stickers from employees
  • Sample sourdough bread from The Boudin Factory tour
  • Keepsake artwork at Animation Academy
  • Jungle Cruise map
  • 2-hour locker rental near Grizzly River Run


  • Ask about riding inside the wheelhouse at the Mark Twain and admire the river from the highest vantage point on the boat.
  • Catch the fireworks from Big Thunder Mountain or the spaceport at Galaxy’s Edge for a unique angle away from the big crowds.
  • Peer inside the window at Trolley Treats on Buena Vista Street to watch candymakers assembling treats or hand-piping characters and sweet messages onto baking sheets.


  • For a quick break from the crowds, head to the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel,  accessible from California Adventure and Downtown Disney.
  • Kids can watch cartoons while adults relax by the fireplace, listen to a pianist, or grab a drink.


  • Get a splash of coconut or dark rum on your Dole Whip float at Tangaroa Terrace at the Disneyland Hotel for a refreshing pick-me-up outside the parks.
  • Skip the line at the Little Red Wagon on Main Street, and get fries instead of chips to go with your corn dog for practically the same price at the Stage Door Cafe in Frontierland.


The website forecasts crowd levels for every day of the year and tracks the hordes in real time. As with any predictions, take these with a grain of salt—but it’s better than going in blind.


Though the front of the castle makes for a classic photo, taking pictures along the paths to the side entrances allows for closer angles and fewer photobombs. Check the hashtag #wallsofdisneyland on Instagram for unique photo locations.

The Golden Ticket

Whether you plan to visit the park once a year or all 365 days, find the package that’s right for you.

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Southern California Select
Price: $399
Perks: 10% off select dining and merchandise
Blocked Dates: All weekends, holidays, and peak seasons including summer; some Fridays
Verdict: Only want to go during weekdays? This affordable pass is for you.

Disney Flex
Price: $599
Perks: You can reserve admission for more dates (2 every 30 days); 10% off select dining and merchandise
Blocked Dates: Two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Day
Verdict: If you want to visit on weekends and in the summer, the $200 upgrade might be worth it. Reservations are limited and subject to availability, though.

Price: $799
Perks: Includes more admission dates (no reservations required); 10% off select dining and merchandise
Blocked Dates: Most of summer, Christmastime, some Fridays and Saturdays at Disneyland
Verdict: This is worth the upgrade from Southern California Select if you like to visit more often. Lack of free parking is a bummer at this price point.

Price: $1,149
Perks: 15% off select dining and 20% off select merchandise; Free parking (usually $25 a day)
Blocked Dates: Two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Day
Verdict: Free parking is a huge perk, which makes this a popular choice for passholders. Skip the crowds around the holidays and add the MaxPass feature ($100 for the whole year or $15 per day).

Signature Plus
Price: $1,399
Perks: 15% off select dining and 20% off select merchandise; Free parking; MaxPass (which includes PhotoPass)
Blocked Dates: None
Verdict: Other than being able to attend both parks around Christmas and New Year’s, we can’t justify the $250 upcharge. Save money and purchase the MaxPass add-on for the year.


  • Plan your visit for a value day ($104) instead of a regular ($129) or peak ($149) day. Park Hopper tickets are an extra $50.
  • Going for more than a day? Buying multiday tickets can save a bunch.
  • Keep an eye out for offers for Southern California residents such as the three-day, one-park-per-day ($179) and three-day Park Hopper ($234) tickets offered this spring.
  • Active and retired U.S. military personnel can purchase three-day ($178) or four-day Park Hopper ($198) tickets through Dec. 18 this year.
  • Purchase your ticket online or on the Disneyland app to avoid long lines at the ticket booths.

90 Years of Mickey

As the resort honored the iconic mouse this year, we look back at our celebration of his 50th.

The cover of the November 1978 issue of Orange Coast was dedicated to Mickey Mouse and his 50th birthday. The magazine featured an “interview” with the famous cartoon character in which he described his 1928 debut in “Steamboat Willie,” many of the physical and emotional changes he underwent on his way to midlife, as well as his party plans to celebrate half a century, which included getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Mickey probably didn’t realize that his image would end up on every type of souvenir, but the author had an inkling. The final paragraph read: “Many of us reading this article grew up with Mickey Mouse, and it appears our children and grandchildren will be doing the same.” To say the least!

Read more about Cal State Fullerton marketing lecturer Aubrey Lebard and his collection of over 187 Mickey Mouse ties here. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Year-Round Fun

Time your visit with these annual events.

Photograph courtesy of Disneyland Resort

Oogie Boogie Bash: Separate-ticket Halloween party at California Adventure featuring a new “World of Color” show “Villainous!”; new immersive treat trails; a family-friendly stage show with Mickey and friends; and a villain-inspired overlay of Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
Plaza de la Familia: Festival inspired by Pixar film “Coco” that honors Día de los Muertos with colorful decor, folklórico, mariachi music, and Mexican cuisine

Photograph courtesy of Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

Lunar New Year: Celebration through Asian-inspired food and drink, live music, a parade, and free arts and crafts
Candlelight Ceremony: Retelling of the nativity story with a processional, a choir, an orchestra, and a celebrity narrator at the Main Street train station

Photograph courtesy of Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

Food & Wine Festival: Wine, beer, and food tastings, culinary demonstrations from celebrity and local chefs, live entertainment, and seminars
Eggstravaganza: Egg hunt featuring decorated eggs inspired by Disney and Pixar characters

Photograph by Alan Bautista

The Royal Swing Big Band Ball: Swing dancing on Saturday nights with live music and dapper folks
CHOC Walk in the Park: Benefiting Children’s Hospital of Orange County, participants raise funds through a 5K walk at Disneyland before park opening.

The Evolution of Sleeping Beauty Castle

How the ‘gateway to Fantasyland’ has changed over more than six decades.

The Sleeping Beauty Castle in 2019; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

– 1955 –

Photograph courtesy of Disneyland Resort

The castle’s design was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, and named “Sleeping Beauty” four years before the animated movie’s release. Forced perspective was used to make the 77-foot castle appear taller. It also featured a working drawbridge and a blue roof that purposefully blended in with the sky.

– 1965 –

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

The Disney family crest was hung above the archway entrance.

– 1995 –
A time “castle” was buried in the courtyard (to be opened during the 80th anniversary in 2035).

2005 – Golden Anniversary

Photograph courtesy of Disneyland Resort

To celebrate 50 years, the castle was decorated with a gilded railing and five golden crowns—one for each decade.

After renovations and a long hiatus, the castle was opened to guests. Inside, they ascended winding stone staircases to relive the story of “Sleeping Beauty” through detailed dioramas.

2015 – Diamond Celebration

Photograph by Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

The castle was studded with crystals and draped with royal blue banners to commemorate 60 years.

The castle was unveiled after a months-long refurbishment to reveal cobalt-blue roofs with a sprinkle of pixie dust and a focus on golden accents. Atmospheric perspective was used to heighten the castle with warm pink hues on the bottom and lighter pink hues on the top.

New Spots at Downtown Disney

These additions keep the district fresh.

The Cake Shake from Black Tap; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Eat & Drink
➜ Try specialty ice cream flavors made from locally sourced artisanal ingredients at Salt & Straw.
Ballast Point Brewing Co., Downtown Disney’s first on-site brewery, has a wide array of craft beer and bar eats.
➜ Enjoy burgers and over-the-top milkshakes at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes.

Sugarboo & Co. is a family-owned boutique full of giftable home goods, including art prints, ceramics, and candles.
➜ From body oils to handmade soaps, the skincare collection from Rinse Bath & Body Co. is all-natural and cruelty-free.
➜ Get retro-style dresses with Disney accents at The Disney Dress Shop and whimsical decor at Disney Home.

➜ The midcentury modern-themed bowling alley Splitsville offers live entertainment and a menu that includes hand-tossed pizzas and chef-inspired dishes.
➜ Experience the latest in virtual-reality technology at The Void, which places you inside the worlds of “Star Wars” and “Wreck-It Ralph.”


Some people come to Disneyland for the rides; others come for the snacks.

Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe
Pineapple doughnut with pineapple filling, pineapple glaze, and a toasted marshmallow swirl, $6

Hungry Bear Restaurant
Churro funnel cake topped with cinnamon sugar, caramel, and Mickey-shaped whipped cream, $7

The Tropical
Loaded Dole Whip with chamoy, mango, and chile-lime seasoning, $8

Cozy Cone
Cozy Corn Elote with butter, spicy lime mayo, and your choice of cotija cheese, cheese puffs, or spicy cheese puffs, $6.49

Winnie the Pooh rice cereal treat inspired by the lovable bear’s “hunny pot,” $4.49

Alan Gibbons, Astgik Khatchatryan, and Jessica Kim contributed to this article.

Check out the rest of our ‘Lightspeed to Disneyland!’ cover story at this page, which will be updated throughout the month.

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