Know, first, that this is NOT by any means the only way to do Disneyland. The touring plan I am suggesting can also be adapted for your own personal preference. It is for people who are not staying at a Disney hotel and who do not have reservations for a Character Breakfast (those folks know who they are and they sure as heck aren't sharing their secrets).
PART I, THE BASIC, BASICS
1. GET THERE EARLY.
If the bold, underlined, italicized words did not fully grab you, I will repeat:Get.
This means, at a minimum, that you should be parked when the parking lot opens. The lot generally opens one (1) hour before official Park opening time. If the Park opens at 8:00 a.m., the lot will be open at 7:00 a.m. Oh, and check the Park's operating hours a couple of days before you plan on going there---sometimes they change. In the summer, the hours are pretty constant, but during the off-season, you can get occasional hiccups in the schedule---including random private party events like Miley Cyrus' birthday. I feel for the family from Cleveland who found out that the Park was shutting down at 5:00 p.m. so that a private party could take place.2. Eat Breakfast Before You Get There. If you want to get on a lot of attractions, especially on a crowded day, you won't be eating between 7:30 a.m. and probably 11:00 a.m. If your are diabetic, hypoglycemic or have other special needs, bring a backpack with food to tide you over. This tour ain't for food sissies.
3. Generally, Avoid The Weekend.
If possible, try to hit the Park on a weekday. If not, GET. THERE. EARLY. Another tip: even if you are not an Annual Pass holder, look at the blackout date calendar (at the official Disney website) and REALLY, REALLY try to avoid Fridays or other dates where ALL the AP holders are able to go to the Park (i.e. dates that AREN'T blacked out). Days where everyone can get in are usually going to be very crowded.
Oh, and this just in...Disneyland is almost always crowded. Get there early.
4. Know What You Want To See.
Sound silly? The guest without a plan gets: trampled by the (original) Magic Kingdom, buried in long hot lines (for everything from churros to Mad Tea Party teacups), plagued with crying children, irritated at every turn, surrounded by 55,000 or more of their fellow Park goers---shall I go on? O.K. So, know what you want to see and experience before you get there. For most folks, the big rides fall within this category. What? You think you're the only person who wants to find Nemo? Or explore with Indiana Jones? Come on.
Here are the biggies: Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Finding Nemo (Submarines) and, for some, the Autopia. Other very popular attractions have pretty good cycle times and their lines move pretty well (i.e., Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, It's A Small World).
The main exception: Fantasyland. The rides here (except for King Arthur's Carousel, Snow White and sometimes Pinocchio) have long waits and slow cycle times (Dumbo? Peter Pan? Storybookland Canal Boats?). If you have young children that wish to experience any of these rides, you MUST go to Fantasyland FIRST.
If you intend to ride every major attraction: bless your heart. Let's hope you are a committed Disney park enthusiast and in pretty good physical shape. In that case, you might as well start with the biggies (unless you have small children---see Fantasyland above), I'd suggest the following order: Finding Nemo (get there first and avoid the nine-hour line and ridiculously slow cycle time), Matterhorn (it's not far from Nemo), Space Mountain, then burn across the park to Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder. By the way, you are almost running (we call it the "Disney walk") from attraction to attraction in order to get in as many as you can within the first 45 minutes after "rope drop" (i.e. when the whole Park is officially opened for guests). After riding Big Thunder, you can hit the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and maybe make a dash for the Autopia after that.
If you have been to Disneyland before and DO NOT intend to ride every one of "the biggies," pick the ones you want to ride---make the one with the longest typical wait time the FIRST attraction you go on. For most folks, this would be Nemo. If you can do without Nemo, make it Space Mountain, if you don't want that, go to Indiana Jones, etc. The more rides you can eliminate from your list before you start your day, the more effective your "trip plan" will be.
Again, if you want to ride EVERYTHING, you are ambitious and so is this plan.
5. EYES OPEN: TAKE THE SHORTEST LINE.
During your tour, keep your eyes open. Move to the open space. If you are walking/running from attraction to attraction, look ahead of you and find the spaces between the slower moving guests ahead. If you have reached your attraction and both lines are open, get into the shorter line.
Repeat: get into the shorter line.
Crowds follow each other. Followers love to hang out with other followers. When followers see that a line has formed on the right, they will keep adding to its length, totally ignoring the emptier (but still open) line on the left. Why? Who cares? Get in the shorter line and wave goodbye to the followers behind you.
Oh yeah, don't forget to keep moving. Hit your attractions hard during the first two and a half hours and you will actually get to see a lot. If you tire easily or aren't committed, what the heck are you reading this plan for? Go and leisurely enjoy your day at the Park. Stand in line. That is certainly your choice.
6. TRAVEL LIGHT.
Bring a back pack. Put some stuff in it. Not too heavy. Now get to the Park and GO. Each person should carry their own stuff---to the extent possible. This does not mean that your 4-year old must become a Sherpa guide, but he or she can certainly handle a fanny pack or a small back pack with a bottled water and some snacks. Don't be the mom who carries the entire family's belongings in her purse. You will end up resenting them---and this is unhealthy. I have never met a Dad who carries the entire family's belongings in anything, so dads, I'm leaving you out of this. You want water? Bring it. A snack? To each his own. Sunscreen? Why didn't you put that on BEFORE WE GOT TO THE PARK? Carry your own for "reapplication" when necessary.
You get the picture.
The more stuff you have, the slower you move. The harder it is to get in and out of bobsleds, and rockets, and other ride vehicles. A small pack is about the most you should have on you.
7. NO SHOPPING, SIGHTSEEING, PHOTOGRAPHING OR LOLLYGAGGING!
Dad wants to check out the Emporium? Let's do that later, o.k.? Need a darling photo in front of the Castle (for the umptieth time?)---NOT during the first two and half hours!! Later! New figures in the Emporium shop windows? THEY'LL BE THERE ALL DAY! Come back when it's dark!
Get it? If you can't see it as you are motoring from attraction to attraction, it ain't gonna be seen and it ain't worth seeing (at least not now). Later. AFTER you've hit "the biggies" and bought yourself some value attraction time, THEN you can mellow out the pace and do the "tourist" stuff. Got it, shutterbug??! Put down the plush toy, Mabel, we're hitting Space Mountain!
8. GO TO THE BATHROOM BEFORE YOUR ENTER THE PARK!
Seem obvious? You'd be surprised. Why did you get up at the crack of dawn, pile into the car, rush into the parking lot, fight for a spot on the FIRST tram, scamper through security and get near the front of the line at the Main Gate only to make the first attraction of the day the bathroom next to City Hall? Are you serious!? We just lost seven precious minutes. Thanks for that. The rest of us will be in Tomorrowland by the time you're starting to wash your hands. Way to go, Minnie bladder!
NOTE: There is more of this plan to follow. In the interest of getting something posted before all my devoted readers leave me in droves (can four people constitute a "drove?"), I'm hitting "Publish Post" as we speak!
All my best to you Adventurers and Adventurettes!