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7 tips for tackling Disneyland in a day

February 28, 2012|By Brady MacDonald | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Next up is a set of rides that can swell to 45-minute-plus lines at times, then quickly drop to walk-on status. You'll want to hit these rides when the tide ebbs: Matterhorn, Buzz Lightyear, Snow White, Mr. Toad, Pinocchio and the Tiki Room.

Similarly, these rides tend to have longer lines that move quickly: Dumbo, Tea Cups, Winnie the Pooh and the carousel. Use your judgment, but don't be discouraged by bigger crowds at these smaller rides.

I usually avoid rides that tend to have long lines that move slowly. The list includes two of my favorites (Finding Nemo subs and Peter Pan) and two of my least favorites (Autopia and Roger Rabbit).

Obviously, you can save time on Autopia and Roger Rabbit with the FastPasses. But you have to ask yourself, "Would I rather ride Autopia or Indy?" For me, that's an easy answer. If I ran Disneyland, the first thing I'd do is put FastPass on Nemo. I'm still waiting for that call from Mr. Iger.

Also in the long-and-slow-line category is the character meet-and-greets: Princess Fantasy Faire, Pixie Hollow and Mickey and Minnie's Houses. Disney World has begun offering FastPasses for the character meet-and-greets. But not Disneyland (yet). You could spend an entire day just getting autographs from all the Disney characters and posing for photos. There's absolutely no way to meet every character and hit every ride. You're going to have to choose.

Last up are the attractions that simply aren't worth the time: Astro-Orbitor, Captain EO, Innoventions and Gadget Go Coaster. The good news is EO and Innoventions never have any lines. Not so for Astro-Orbitor and Gadget. Both can drag on forever.

That covers just about everything except for a few smaller attractions in Fantasyland and Toontown.

Tip 5: One of the things that drives me crazy is seeing people camp out for the fireworks, Fantasmic or a parade. I've been an annual passholder for 15 years now. I've seen all the big nighttime shows and daytime parades dozens of times. For me, the big people-sucking events are prime time for jumping on rides with relatively short lines.

But that's me. If you want to see a parade, I recommend finding a spot up on the elevated train station platform on Main Street or down at the terraced viewing area near Small World. You can usually walk up at the last minute and find a decent spot in either of those two locations.

For the fireworks, I like to stand between the two light posts on Main Street just in front of the soda fountain and camera shop. You can see the castle projections and the hub pyrotechnics just fine. I usually roll up a couple of minutes before show time and find a spot. Trying to get into the hub or in front of the castle is simply insane (and not worth it).

Fantasmic is a tougher nut to crack. It can be a nightmarish traffic jam along the Rivers of America just before showtime. But you can usually find a decent spot on the terraced steps in front of Café Orleans or the bridge over Pirates. I simply can't understand people who camp out for three hours waiting for Fantasmic.

Tip 6: Last but not least is food. Generally we avoid eating in Disneyland. It's expensive and just not that good. People will tell you it's gotten better over the years, but it's still theme park food. We usually try to eat at Downtown Disney or Garden Walk. My favorite restaurant around the park is Napa Rose in the Grand Californian Hotel. We like to order appetizers in the wine bar (where kids are welcome) to keep the tab down.

But if you absolutely must eat in the park, Blue Bayou is your best bet. This is not an original idea, as you'll find out if you roll up to the hostess station around mealtime. Use the Dine Line -- (714) 781-DINE -- to book a reservation a few days in advance.

Hands down, my favorite meal at the park is the Monte Cristo sandwich at Café Orleans. It will literally make your heart stop. But it is oh so worth it.

And no mention of Disneyland food would be complete without a shout out to the greatest food-on-a-stick ever conceived -- the corn dog sold at the little red cart near the Plaza Inn. As they say on Yelp: The. Best. Corn. Dog. Ever.

Whatever you do, don't buy your kid one of those giant lollipops. In fact, steer them away from any and all candy during your Disneyland visit. You'll thank me and so will everyone else at the park. There's nothing worse than seeing a stroller-bound kid crashing from a sugar high.

Tip 7: Disneyland occasionally has deals on tickets. I usually check Mouse Planet, which has the most comprehensive listing of available discounts. And I think it goes without saying that hitting the park midweek rather than a weekend or holiday will make your visit more enjoyable.

So, there's how I'd do Disneyland. How would you do it? Let us know down in the comments below.

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