What To Do In Disneyland If You Only Have A Day

You've got just one day to spend at Disneyland. Here are tips to maximize your time and see the best attractions.

You're in Anaheim, California. You've gotten up early and beaten the traffic to pull into an enormous parking lot. In fact, you're there a half hour before the doors open, just to be ready to go inside. You've got water bottles and sunscreen and your most comfortable sneakers on. Why are you so prepared? Cause you've got just one day to explore the Happiest Place on Earth.

If you're going during the regular season, be prepared for crowding and plan your strategies and meeting times in advance. Arrive early, get your map, and check to see which rides are closed for repairs. In general, the best time to hit the most popular rides is first thing in the morning or during the parades and Fantasmic. The best time to visit Fantasyland (and Toon Town, if it isn't closed due to fireworks) is evening, when the kids are leaving. If you've got little kids and aren't planning on riding roller coasters, then consider going to Toon Town first thing in the morning. It's at the very back of the park, so while everyone else is waylaid by the charms of Main Street and Fantasyland, you're already riding all the Toon Town rides. This start at the back and work forward strategy can also apply to Space Mountain/Tomorrowland or Splash Mountain/Critter Country.

Another tip for the traveler with little time is to check out the FastPass option. This allows you to reserve a slot in advance to ride a popular ride. While you wait for your FastPass opening at a feature attraction, you can ride other rides with shorter wait times. You should also accept that you may end up crossing the park back and forth during the day in order to make it to less-packed rides or to meet up with various family members. That's okay. One of the many ways in which Disneyland is unlike any other amusement park is in the details. There's stuff to see literally everywhere you look. Animatronic characters leaning in and out of windows, miniature signs with funny sayings - keep your eyes and camera at the ready.

It's hard to see Disneyland in a day. In fact, a great way to see the park is to spend three or more days in Anaheim. Avoid blackout dates and buy one of the cheaper season passes that covers your stay times. Go in the morning and evenings and retire to your hotel room during the afternoon for lunch and siesta. But if you can't do that this time, here are some of the key spots to visit.

Main Street: Main Street's got great shops. It's also a good place to watch parades, and to plan meetups. You can't be upset at a latecomer if you're busy watching glass blowing in The Crystal Arts or getting your name embroidered on a pair of Mickey Mouse ears in the Mad Hatter Shop.

Adventureland: There are two top attractions in Adventureland, both worth seeing. The Indiana Jones Adventure is one of the best adult rides in the park. It features a trip to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye and has possibly the very best queue line at Disneyland. If you have to wait in line here, you may not mind it so much. The Jungle Cruise is original to the park and includes seven minutes of a narrated boat ride among "wild" animals. It is almost like a different ride at dark, and the lines are shorter then. The evening is a great time to go on this ride, as long as wild animals in the dark don't frighten the kids. If you have extra time in Adventureland, consider walking through Tarzan's Treehouse. The lines are usually not too long and it's a fun way to relax on a slower attraction.

New Orleans Square: The Haunted Mansion, with its 999 happy haunts, is worth riding for the level of intricate detail alone. Don't worry, most kids will not find it too scary. Besides, you get to look in a mirror during the ride and see a "ghost" sitting next to you in your seat! The Pirates of the Caribbean is the other main attraction in the Square, and it's a wonderfully silly ride in a boat down the river, past some actual diners and some not-so-actual pirates. This ride has become more popular since the movie was released, but the lines are still relatively short. This is a must-see, especially if you like water rides, but don't like getting very wet.

Critter Country: Splash Mountain is a must for teens and adults who like log rides. You will get wet! This ride is packed, especially in summer, but it does offer a FastPass option. While older children are on Splash Mountain, younger children will enjoy The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh. In fact, they may even get to enjoy it three times while the teenagers are waiting in line for Splash Mountain.

Frontierland: Big Thunder Mountain is Frontierland's main attraction. Despite being a roller coaster on a mine train, this ride is rarely crowded. Also in Frontierland: Tom Sawyer's Island. This island of caves and trails is not a must-see, but it is a great place to spend a quiet hour exploring if the crowding in the park is too intense. Besides, the only way to get to and from the island is via a small raft, which gives you the feeling of having left the mainland. Don't forget to grab a churro while you're in Frontierland!

Mickey's Toontown: The newest section of the park offers the best selection of rides for very young children. This land is a must if you have little ones. In Mickey and Minnie's Houses they can meet the cartoon characters themselves. Everyone will enjoy Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, where you can spin the car you're riding in a full 360 degrees. This ride offers the second best queueing area of the park, with endearing cartoony creatures to amuse you while you wait in line.

Fantasyland: If you have a favorite movie that's represented in this land, be sure to see that ride. Else, two of the very best rides are Peter Pan's Flight, where you ride through the air on a pirate ship, and Alice in Wonderland, where a caterpillar takes you on a magical journey. Outside King Arthur's Carousel, snap a picture of everyone in your party trying to pull the sword from the stone. (And if you catch a scheduled performance there, someone may actually be able to pull the sword free!) It's a Small World is practically mandatory, and like the rest of Fantasyland, is less crowded early morning and late at night. If you'd like something slow and quiet to do, wander through Sleeping Beauty's castle. And if you have little girls along, keep your eyes peeled around the castle for one of the Disney Princesses. Adults who like roller coasters should definitely check out The Matterhorn, where you ride on a bobsled and zoom past the Abominable Snowman. This ride is particularly fun at night.

Tomorrowland: Tomorrowland is still undergoing some renovations. Space Mountain is deservedly one of the most popular rides of the park. It's a rollercoaster ride through a starry universe. One of Tomorrowland's newest rides is called Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, and features a shooting gallery with an online component.

Other: Around the perimeter of the park runs the Disney Railroad. It's a great way to relax for a few minutes, or travel from one land to another without fighting crowds. But if you don't have time to ride all the way around, at least make sure you ride the section from Tomorrowland back to Main Street. That's where the dinosaurs are. Disneyland is also well known for its fantastical parades and dazzling light shows. The trade-off here is time. Securing a good spot to watch the show plus the event itself can take a big chunk out of your day. If the parades are not a must-see for your family, consider using this time to take advantage of shorter lines on popular rides.

Remember: plan a general strategy in advance. Know which rides your family is most anxious to see. Keep an eye peeled for short lines and FastPass tickets. And of course, relax and have fun. Don't worry if you can't see everything. There's always next time!

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