Orange County may not have a central urban center with skyscrapers, exclusive shopping, and celebrity chef restaurants like other major cities. But, then again, we have Disneyland. With its fancy buildings, various mountains, and plenty of food and shopping it is, frankly, in some ways, better than a city center (it’s certainly cleaner). Pretty much everyone in Southern California has been to Disneyland at one time or another and knows the difference between Splash Mountain and Space Mountain. You know how to get a FastPass and which days Annual Passes are blocked out. So what else is there to know about Mickey’s park? Plenty. As a former cast member (at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World) and a current passholder, let me tell you, there is always something new to discover. Here are some of the best secrets I’ve uncovered over years behind the scenes and as a guest which I (somewhat begrudgingly) will share with you.
- After Work Happy Hour and Parking. If you are headed to Disneyland after work for the evening, it stinks to have to pay for parking and since they have cracked down on parking in Downtown Disney, it’s makes it even more challenging. So here’s the secret way around this one – have a drink at Napa Rose. If you are going to Napa Rose, you can go ahead and park at the Grand Californian’s self parking or valet for free! Then go have a drink and dinner in the lounge area of Napa Rose (no reservations necessary). A soda and pizza will cost you $20 and you don’t have to worry about parking fees plus you get dinner. If you really want to make this cheaper, you can get water and split the pizza with a friend. Even better, you can then use the Grand’s private entrance into California Adventure which is always quiet in the evenings and be right in the park. At the end of the night, collecting your car either from self-park or valet at the Grand provides a quicker exit than the structure or Downtown Disney.
- Paint the Night Parade Viewing. I almost hate to share this tip as it is so good. So you want to watch the electric parade but don’t want to camp out on the parade route for hours in advance. Well, here’s the trick to a good viewing spot: head to It’s a Small World just before the parade is scheduled to begin. Not the general area but the ride itself. In fact, go ahead and get on the ride while you are there (the line is generally incredibly short just before it closes for the parade). Once you get off the ride, rather than exiting through the gift shop, go down some steps to the left. This area is open and not convenient for people to camp out for in advance so basically fills up at the last minute with people exiting from the ride. Then watch, stand and enjoy having literally front row seats to the parade. Now, here is the second part of this secret….as soon as the parade is over, head quickly to the train that re-opens once the last float passes. Get on the train, ride to the front of the park, and exit before the parade has even finished on Main Street.
- Toy Story Mania Cheats (California Adventure). Ever wonder how people score those high scores on Toy Story? Part of is it practice for sure but part of it comes from knowing how to unlock secret screens. Some of the cheats require you and your partner to work together while others you can unlock alone. The easiest screen to unlock is in Rex and Trixie’s Dino Darts. This one can be done alone and simply requires you to shoot all the wavy lava looking balloons on the volcano. Once you do this, the volcano erupts and fills the screen with balloons. If you really want to get a game plan and learn how to maximize your score in every game, read this site while you are line to determine how you and your partner will attack each screen.
- Single Rider Lines. If you are a frequent guest at Disneyland, one thing you do not do is wait in line. However, there some rides that allow single riders to go to the front of the line and skip the majority of the wait without a FastPass. Now the caveat is that you can’t ride with your friends but how much talking are you really doing while you are screaming down a hill? Some of the single rider lines are clearly marked and not at all secret while others are a bit more difficult to discover (ask the cast member working the line for the process at that particular attraction as some require free tickets). Here’s a complete list of attractions with single rider lines:
- California Screamin’
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Soarin’ Over California. This single rider line is NOT WORTH IT. I have waited (more than once) in the single rider line as long as I would have in the general line.
- Splash Mountain
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- AP Anniversary Celebration. If you are an annual passholder, be sure to read all your snail mail that you get from Disneyland, especially around your renewal date. An underused but awesome event is the AP Anniversary Celebration nights. The park is closed early to the general public but remains open for select AP guests. The only way to learn about this event is through an invitation for you and your guests (who must all be passholders) that you will receive in the mail. There is no information about these nights (held quarterly) on the Disneyland website and advance registration is required. So be sure to keep an eye out for the invite – it’s a free night at Disneyland without the crowds!
Bonus Tip: How to Sneak into Club 33. Just give up on this one. There isn’t any way to do this (trust me, I’ve tried). Your only way in is to make friends with people who are members and ask them kindly to make reservations for you. This is the only way to get into this restaurant. Period.
Article originally appeared in Locale Magazine.