Disneyland Guide: One Day Step by Step Planning
If you have just one day to spend at Disneyland, fear not. Guests have been doing it since 1955. A lot has changed since then and there are more reasons to stay longer, but you can still have a full Disneyland experience without buying multi-day tickets. Disneyland is set up to be simple to navigate. So, it’s very easy to take in all of the sights and sounds and get a full Disney experience in. First, grab a map and a show schedule. Then, follow this step by step Disneyland Guide for how to get the most out of one day.
Disneyland Guide – Reservations
Carnation Cafe is a really great excuse to linger in the idealized turn of the century midwestern vibe of Main Street USA. This is a smart location for breakfast, so you can get fuelled up for a big day in the park. As a means of soaking in the environment there is only one place as good and it’s a counter service restaurant in Adventureland called Bengal Barbecue. Carnation Cafe requires reservations and you can always come back around for lunch or dinner if you plan accordingly.
Cafe Orleans and The Blue Bayou are the other two Disneyland restaurants that require reservations. Cafe Orleans is a casual dining restaurant that features cajun/creole cooking and overlooks the banks of the rivers of America. The Blue Bayou is the top of the line restaurant with romantic lighting and magical outdoor feel. It’s always night time and the dining area overlooks the bayou of Pirates of the Caribbean as passengers float by peacefully before their swashbuckling adventure begins.
Disneyland Guide – Best Counter Service
Coke Corner at the end of Main Street USA as the perfect place for a quick refreshment. Check the show schedule to see when the pianist will be performing for extra fun. Jolly Holiday, nearby is a terrific bakery to pick up a small treat or a sandwich and dine in the Hub with a view of Sleeping Beauty Castle, Matterhorn, and the entrance to Tomorrowland.
Bengal Barbecue has long been a place of tradition for those who love their beef and chicken skewers. Now that they have an expanded menu and covered seating across from the Jungle Cruise, it’s an inviting place to stay and spend some extended time in Adventureland. The Dole Pineapple Stand at the Entrance to the Tiki Room is a must stop for a dole whip. While the line is usually long, there is a much shorter line inside the reshow area for the attraction.
The French Market has a lovely patio in one of the lushest and most tranquil parts of Disneyland. There is a canopy of trees covering the courtyard between the New Orleans Square Station, Haunted Mansion, and French Market. This location is also where you can pick up Mickey Beignets and mint juleps.
The Hungry Bear always has satisfying food. The menu changes somewhat frequently but basically offers burgers sandwiches and salad, along with fries or onion rings. The dining is right over the Rivers of America and just below the Disneyland Railroad. From this tucked away spot, you can gaze on Tom Sawyer’s Island and watch the passing Mark Twain, Columbia, and Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes.
Rancho Del Zocalo is beautifully designed and offers dining in an outdoor courtyard at the foot of Big Thunder. The food is a blend of Mexican and Barbecue and it’s really easy to split a dish if you are on a budget. The food is great and the scenery includes nearly all of Frontierland. Stage Door Cafe is also an option for a bite, similar to Coke Corner, with an old west vibe.
Red Rose Tavern, formerly Pinocchio’s Village Haus is the perfect Fantasyland stop. The menu offers burgers, flatbreads, salads… and lovely beauty and the beast inspired atmosphere. This is an excellent place to stop for food if you are spending the bulk of your day in Fantasyland, or if you just really like Beauty and the beast. It’s not Be Our Guest, but it’s cute.
Mickey’s Toontown has a modest foodcourt by Goofy’s Gas Station. It’s best to avoid getting hungry in this part of the park. There is not much reason to spend a lot of time here. However, if you need to, there are hot dogs and frozen yogurt.
Galactic Grill offers up burgers and specialty beverages in Star Wars collectible cups. Alien Pizza Planet below Space Mountain offers pizza and pasta. These are convenient food stops for Tomorrowland guests, but they lack a lot of the appeal of the restaurants on the other side of the park. If you find yourself in Tomorrowland around dinner time, try Plaza Inn at the entrance to Tomorrowland. If you time dinner right, you may be able to enjoy the Fireworks from the patio while you eat.
Disneyland Guide – Point of Entry
You can start your day in Tomorrowland by taking the Monorail in from Downtown Disney. If you do this, you can get Space Mountain done first thing. You will have a choice to make from there. You can exit through the main vista and go on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters on the way out, or round the lagoon and head toward the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The lagoon and the Matterhorn are unique to Disneyland, so I recommend that you make a point of enjoying them. This path sets up a stage for exploring Disneyland in a counterclockwise rotation. You can always go back to the Tomorrowland entrance at night when the lights come on.
The Disneyland Railroad
One of my favourite ways to explore Disneyland is by train. You can board at the Town Square Station and get off at New Orleans Square, the first stop. After exploring New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Adventureland and Frontierland, you can get back on the train to Mickey’s Toontown Station. Or you can take the rest of your day on foot until you get to Tomorrowland. It is important that you ride the section from Tomorrowland Station to Town Square at some point, even if you simply ride the train around full circle. This is where the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas are. These are another feature totally unique to Disneyland that are not to be missed..
The most common way to start out your journey is to walk, or ride up Main Street USA to the hub. There you will find the gateways to Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. The two best choices are to start with Adventureland and continue through the park clockwise, or to go through Sleeping Beauty Castle. This depends largely on your interest in Fantasyland attractions. If you do this you will be faced with the option of heading west into Frontierland, or east toward Tomorrowland.
By going west you can take Frontierland, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, and Adventureland, before crossing the hub to enter Tomorrowland. This transition is particularly good at night.
By going east, you have an opportunity to take the train at the Tomorrowland Station and either disembark at Town Square, or stay on board until New Orleans Square. If you get off at Town Square, don’t miss the chance to see Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Either way this may be the time for your lunch if you received a table at Carnation Cafe or one of the New Orleans Square restaurants.
Disneyland Guide – Top 10 Attractions
Your target for attractions to experience in one day should be ten. If you get ten attractions done you’ve had a successful day. Pick your ten rides and mark them out on your map before you start so you can take them on efficiently as you move around the park. If you travel the park efficiently, you should be able to get in a few bonus attractions. The four mountains (Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Big Thunder, and Splash Mountain) are among the most popular, as are Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. If these six top your list, you should choose four more to prioritize. Alternatively, if you are with younger guests, you may want to dwell on Fantasyland attractions like Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Snow White, Mr. Toad, Dumbo, and It’s a Small World, then pick four more from around the park.
Here are some of my recommendations:
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
- Casey Junior
- Roger Rabbit’s Car-Toon Spin
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
- Mark Twain/Columbia/Canoes
- Disneyland Railroad
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
- The Jungle Cruise
- The Enchanted Tiki Room