By: Scott S. Smith, Sandra Wells and Christian Smith

We had not been to Disneyland in Anaheim in 20 years, but during our recent visit we rediscovered the kid in all of us. We had felt we had experienced everything it had to offer adults many times, enough for a lifetime. But when we were tempted a few years ago, the prices and then the pandemic raised barriers. More recently, it seemed to us that to even get in there was an absurdly complication system for choosing a day and then matching it with an actual park reservation (we have always ignored California Adventure as less imaginative and more for families with young children). This is our guide to having the maximum fun (according to our tastes) with the least expense and effort (you should be in pretty good shape to hike the long distances through Disneyland and wait in long longs).

We chose a special offer for Southern Californians that was $104 each for a full day just at Disneyland: Think about what are the best days when you would want to go: weekdays and in late fall and winter are least expensive and most available: once you sign up for your best option, the site will make the reservation. You should definitely add the Genie+ service on their app for $20 each, which enables planning ability and some preferential treatment once in the park, including two Lightning Lane options per day to get into the shortest waiting line or to schedule a specific time to be at the ride, though they are available for some attractions). They caution you that being on the phone all the time to use this and taking photos could use up your battery time, but rather than bringing an extra battery or a cord and trying to find a place to plug in, we shut off our ancient Samsung Galaxy 10 when not on a ride and by the end of the day we still had 25% of the power left. It’s best if one person manages Genie+ for your party, so someone else could be tasked with taking most of the photos and sharing them. Anticipating long waits without active phones, we actually brought paperbacks, but did not get a lot of reading done.

We paid the discount price of $30 for parking in the Mickey & Friends structure: best to arrive at 6:30 a.m. when the line of vehicles waiting to get in at 7 a.m. is not too long, then park near an elevator. It’s a short walk to the tram that takes you to the front gates of the park. They open at 7:30, but this just gets you onto Main Street and up to the edge of the themed lands: get up to the front of the crowd ASAP after you enter and then look at your options for planning before they open at 8:00 and then walk as fast as you can to your first choice. This article has lots of good advice on how to make the most of your time:

Planning Your Priorities
We decided to ignore its advice not to head to the most popular attractions first, since everyone else has the same idea and you’ll just end up in a long wait. Our first choice was Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which is in the Galaxy’s Edge land in the north of the park just beyond Frontierland, and the best-reviewed new attraction:
Paste Magazine:
Yet although we walked slower than most of the crowd, we got into the swiftly moving line (much of it inside and out of the sun) and were done with the 18-minute adventure by 9 a.m. (otherwise, since it is out of the way, just pick a time later in the day to get in a Lightning Lane). Everyone, including those unfamiliar with the whole Star Wars saga, will enjoy this extensive experience (and there is more to do in the area, if you have the time).

We continued around the western side of the Frontierland lake to New Orleans Square, but were disappointed to find the Haunted Mansion closed for a seasonal makeover (it sounds little changed, but gets top reviews). The nearby Pirates of the Caribbean has been cleaned up a bit from the original, which emphasized drunkenness and captive women, but it remains a long and fun ride with lots of spectacular sights (the line is mostly inside and moves along steadily).

We entered the neighboring Adventureland where the Jungle Cruise has updated the guides’ commentary from the 19th century, while retaining the jokes that has everyone laughing in spite of themselves, as we came too close to those dangerous elephants, hippos, monkeys, and natives. Alas, there was no Lightning option and it took 45 min. to get into the boat, but it was worth it.
After a lunch break, we enjoyed the Enchanted Tiki Room, whose singing animatronic Polynesian tiki gods, birds, and flowers were a charming break from walking and waiting in lines. Alas, the Indiana Jones Adventure did live up to its billing as “a four-wheel drive bumpy thrill,” with so many violent twists and turns in the darkness it was impossible to get a photo (but if you love roller-coasters and those movies, good luck).

We hiked to the Tomorrowland on the eastern side of the park, where we quickly joined Star Tour, another Star Wars themed attraction. After being captured by the bad guys, we escaped in a ship and fought off the enemy, our seats shaking as the 3-D virtual reality unfolded in front of us. You might experience many different versions of this if you keep going back, since there are dozens chosen at random. Next door was Space Mountain, and while waiting for our Lightning entry time, we took a dinner break. The ride itself turned out to be the rocket version of the Indian Jones one, with steep climbs and sudden drops in darkness, occasionally lighted by bursts of the star-lit universe.

We went to the north end of the park to Fantasyland and what used to be our favorite ride of all, It’s a Small World. We were told it would take about 15 min. to get into a boat, but 45 min. later we were informed it had broken down and there was no certainty they would get it repaired even by closing at midnight. We bided our time by going on two rides whose lines were full of young children. The first was Alice in Wonderland, whose 2014 refresh “left it brimming with hand-drawn animation and surreal special effects,” according to one review. After a longish line with no Lightning option, we went through a too-brief experience that would be boring for anyone over eight, but probably scary for younger kids. The other was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a thrilling ride through the darkness of Ole London based on the children’s book The Wind in the Willows, not appropriate for the youngest, but surprisingly enjoyable for adults. Afterwards, we went back to Small World and to our delight, it had just restarted and we were in a boat in 10 minutes. It remains a really a glorious experience, with a message celebrating all the world’s cultures and our common humanity through song that is more important than ever before.

We could have stayed for the parade and fireworks at 8:30 p.m., but were exhausted. There are lots of other choices for those with other tastes, such as the submarines for the whole family, Splash Mountain for those who like to get wet, and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (“the best roller coaster in the world if you’re an eight-year-old frightened to death of roller coasters, fun, faster, and basic, with exciting twists and dips and a great theme ripped straight from old Hollywood westerns”). We won’t wait another two decades to go back.