I went to the happiest place on earth with the coolest chick I know. Just kidding… well, kind of.
When people find out I spent my May long weekend in Disneyland this year, they’re not shocked. When they ask who I went with and I respond with “oh, just by myself” their interest is piqued.
While I was preparing for this trip I tried to do some research and prep myself, but most of the “Doing a Solo Disneyland Trip” posts were from people who took a side trip to Disney while they were in town for work, or people who live in California and are annual pass holders. This was my first solo trip, anywhere. One of the things on my Thirty Before Thirty list was to take a solo trip somewhere in North America. I think I had a “that I’ve never been before” clause but last time I was in Disneyland I was fresh out of my fifth birthday and all I can remember was that I got to sit on my granddad’s lap in his wheelchair and then whatever was subliminally planted in my mind via home videos. I didn’t see many (if any) posts about people going to the OG Disneyland by themselves as the specific goal of a trip, especially ones flying internationally. So, if that’s a situation you find yourself in, I hope this post can provide a little bit of guidance and maybe that little nudge you’ve been looking for!
The Lead Up.
For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve been obnoxious about my want to go to Disneyland. Considering I’ve been to Walt Disney World five times in my life, it might be surprising to know I’ve only been to Disneyland once in my twenty-eight years and it was in May 1996. Living in Vancouver, my proximity to Anaheim is substantially closer than that to Orlando, which makes this fact probably even weirder.
2017 was my last trip to WDW and it was pretty hard to beat. 2018 came close, with visits to Tokyo Disneyland (as well as Disney Sea) and Hong Kong Disneyland getting me closer to my goal of visiting all of the worldwide Disney Parks. 2019 was looking like a year-long slump as there was no financial way to justify another several-week long trip.
Disney actually offers discounted Disneyland and Walt Disney World tickets to Canadians during certain windows. I’ve been close many times to just jumping on the chance but the logistics were always hypothetical. Who would I go with? Where would I stay? When would I go? The fact that I hadn’t been since before California Adventure existed was rubbed in when my brother went with his in-laws, two of my friends road tripped there while I was in Asia and then at the beginning of this year my co-worker told me about how she was travelling to Disneyland over Spring Break. She tried to bad-influence me into coming as well and we talked about my hypothetical plans to go but again, logistics weren’t in my favour.
The deadline to buy tickets with the Canadian discount was April 13, 2019 for usage anytime before May 30, 2019. Since I work in a school, my schedule is pretty limited to the school holidays (which are generally peak times for Disneyland). I regularly played with trip planning features on Expedia and had my hypothetical trip planned out. Kind of. I was warming to the idea of going by myself. I had researched and planned a lot of the WDW 2017 family trip along with my dad, and was the sole organizer of the 2018 venture to the Disney parks in Tokyo and Hong Kong, with my brother as my travel buddy. I love my brother and we definitely had a great time together, but it was frustrating knowing that I was infinitely more excited about the parks than he was. He was a good sport but I felt guilty, like when you take someone to a movie and you’re constantly checking to make sure they’re laughing at the jokes and look to be enjoying it. It was definitely nice having my (6’4″) brother with me in the crowds of the Japanese parks and we had a blast in HK Disney but I had the thought: if I could handle those with just him for company, I could handle the OG Disneyland, just three US states south of my home. Same language, same time zone, same SIM card.
April of this year was a tough month. A lot was going on in like every facet of my life and I was overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. My mental health was suffering and I needed something to be excited about.
So I did it. On April 11th I booked the trip through Expedia over the May long weekend (Friday is a holiday specific to the school I work at, and Monday is Victoria Day, a Canadian holiday observed as a statutory holiday in some provinces, including B.C.) and took the following Tuesday off work so that I could spend the Monday in a park. The Canadian discount tickets are for three day tickets, and it works out so that you essentially get one day free.
I paid $276.05 CAD for three one-park tickets (not park hoppers). I just went on the Disneyland website now to see what it would be and the same ticket situation I purchased would cost $300 USD ($392.20 CAD at current conversion). A two-day ticket is currently $225 USD (294.15 CAD) so even though the date window is smaller, the discount was substantial and definitely worth it. I think the May 30th cutoff was due to the castle being under construction and the lead up to Galaxy’s Edge opening, to get more people through the gates despite the renovations.
Even though you’re supposed to be at the airport two hours before flying internationally, I… may have gotten there half an hour before the flight was scheduled to leave. Oops. I have Nexus (a US/ Canada trusted traveler program for “low-risk, pre-approved travellers” that grants access to expedited border/ security lines) so getting through security was super quick. The guy checking my boarding pass asked me where I was going and who I was meeting. I resisted answering with “Mickey Mouse” because he didn’t look like he was in a great mood, but when I told him my plans I’m not sure if the look he was giving me indicated that he was impressed or like “lol what a loser”.
My flight with Air Canada was direct to LAX (so I could get off the plane with my dream and cardigan, of course). They started boarding shortly after I got to the gate, and I realized that my boarding pass said I was on standby. I was unsure if it was because I checked in so late or because I was solo with no checked luggage but all they told me was that Air Canada purposely overbooked. Even though I had bought and paid for a seat, they had to ask for volunteers to get off the plane and take the next flight. The whole ordeal was super embarrassing because it looked like I was the reason why there was this weird hold-up… not exactly the greatest incentive to travel with Air Canada ever again. To top it all off, I was the last person to board the plane and everyone watched me find the seat and lift my suitcase into the overhead compartment. It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, but definitely not an ideal way to start the trip.
Disneyland: Anaheim, California.
I am used to Disney World with its humidity and general high temperatures. Last time I was there, it was in August. Last October I was in the Tokyo and Hong Kong Disney Parks. Hong Kong Disneyland is in a legitimate JUNGLE. I, a very vocal hater of temperatures surpassing 23 degrees celsius, am willing to make sacrifices for these things. Turns out, Disneyland is different to the extreme heat and humidity I was expecting. First, it was raining. Not like… serious rain because I’m from Vancouver and I know rain. But people were acting like the world was actually ending, while I found it quite pleasant. The temperature ranged from mid to low twenties and I ended up wearing long pants two out of the three days. Long pants at Disney Parks is something I never thought possible and I was very excited about it.
Another thing I wasn’t expecting was the actual surrounding area of the parks. My dad tried to describe it to me, as he has been to Disneyland a few times from the 1960s and onwards. I am used to Disney World distances. Even when we were staying “on property” at Fort Wilderness, we were still a substantial drive from any the parks. At Disneyland, I stayed off property and it was a quicker walk than the one I have to take to my bus stop from my house. And there were non-Disney establishments on the way. I stopped at Starbucks in the morning. I got pizza on the way home. It was almost like culture shock to have the park be in such a “normal” area, and not completely sequestered away from the rest of civilization.
I stayed at Hotel Indigo in Anaheim. I chose it because it was one of the hotels on my shortlist that I made thanks to Disney Tourist Blog’s ranked list of hotels near Disneyland. It met my criteria of being within walking distance, but still affordable. Since I was staying solo I didn’t want to risk staying somewhere really inexpensive in case cheap = sketchy. DTB rated Hotel Indigo as their “top pick for adults without kids on a budget”and gosh darn it, I happen to be an adult without kids on a budget! Dare I say…. I’m a childless millennial? Also the hotel TV had HBO which I discovered after I arrived, which was very exciting as I had been dealing with the prospect of having to miss the Game of Thrones finale.
My original plan was to go to Disneyland (I always want to call it Magic Kingdom lol) on the first day, California Adventure the second, and then choose my favourite park for the third and final day. I ended up changing my mind, and it’s nice that you can do that with the way the park tickets work. In Disney World, meal reservations and fast passes are reserved up to 90 days in advance, and in Tokyo we had to choose which day we world be in each park (Disneyland and Disney Sea) so there isn’t much room for spontaneity in either case.
I went to Disneyland on the first day as planned, but since it was raining on the second day and was also the Game of Thrones finale day, I decided to go to Disneyland (again, I just mistakenly typed Magic Kingdom haha) and hit all the things I missed on the first day, as well as my favourites. I still spent just under twelve hours in the park that day, even though I left early (around 8:00 pm). The last day was spent in California Adventure, which I’m glad I did because the weather was ideal and since it was a Monday, the lines weren’t outrageous.
I got one-park-per-day tickets and not park hoppers (tickets that allow you to go, or “hop”, between the two parks throughout the day) mostly because, well, I’m cheap. But I’m fine with the way I did it because it was much less overwhelming. I showed up at the park I was going to spend the day at, set the app to only show attractions in that park, and went about my day.
When I bought my tickets, I had originally planned to add the MaxPass, which, for an additional $15 a day, gives you the ability to get FastPasses via the Disneyland app as well as access to the pictures taken throughout the park. I ultimately decided to pass on MaxPass because I didn’t want to be stuck to a schedule and I’m not a huge fan of having to pay attention to the time in order to make the window for a ride that might be at the opposite side of the park. I am glad I didn’t splurge for that because it worked out pretty well by just getting normal FastPasses whenever I thought of it, not letting them dictate my day, and taking advantage of my favourite feature: The Single Rider Line.
The Single Rider Line was a discovery I made while researching for Disneyland Tokyo. Over there, you just walk up on certain lines holding up a single finger and they nod and smile, pointing where to go. Even though I was with my brother, our desire to wait fifteen-ish minutes for a ride rather than over an hour and a half far surpassed that of wanting to sit together. So while researching for Disneyland, I made a note of all the rides at both parks that allowed single riders and whenever the mood struck, I rode. I tried to do single rider twice for The Matterhorn but it was closed the first time. The second time they gave me a little ticket, and showed me where to go. My favourite Disney ride is Splash Mountain and I never had to wait more than ten minutes, from the time I entered the queue until getting into a log. The only single rider line that wasn’t great was the Cars ride, where I still had to wait almost an hour (the standby line was over 200 minutes) but it was my second time riding it (first with a FastPass) at the end of the day before hunkering down for the shows.
I’m going to use that as my segue into my “cons” list, or the more negative aspects of doing Disneyland solo. First: You’ve gotta commit. Since you’re by yourself, there’s no one to save your spot or watch your things while you run to the bathroom or (on second thought) fancy grabbing a hot chocolate before you sit. Before settling anywhere to stake out my place for a parade/ show/ fireworks or even to sit and eat, I had to make sure I wouldn’t have to get up again until it was actually time to move on, because there was no way to guarantee I would have a spot when I came back or that no one would take/ contaminate my food.
Another downside to being by yourself is taking pictures. It was easy in Disney World to ask my mom, or handing my phone to my brother in Tokyo Disneyland and getting a picture taken. And if it wasn’t good, I could give direction and get a better one. In Disneyland, however, it was a much more complex art form. When I got to the park on the first day, there was a girl taking a selfie and I offered to take the picture for her and she took mine in return (it’s the featured image for this post!). This was generally my method, scope out someone struggling to take a picture of their group or in their desired location and offer to take it for them with the hopes they would offer to do the same for me. It was definitely awkward, and I didn’t do it very often, but you gotta do what you gotta do! I also tried using the self-timer function and left my camera on a pedestal while I ran to the other side of the boardwalk to make the shot, but I became really anxious about someone stealing my camera while I wasn’t looking so it definitely wasn’t the most ideal situation. I read that cast members will take a picture if you give them your phone and ask, but I always felt too awkward to ask anyone.
The most significant downside was the cost. Instead of sharing a hotel with someone and splitting the fee, I had to pay it all. In addition, there were several opportunities where I could have split some sort of meal or treat but I would end up eating more than I normally would, or carry it around in my backpack. If I was with someone, multiple meals would have been share-able and thus cutting down on cost.
To be honest, I rather liked being at the park by myself but sometimes it would have been nice to have someone with me to split up some tasks, but I had to pay it all, eat it all, and carry it all.
There were so many advantages to being at Disneyland by myself. One of the recurring positive points I saw on like every post I read and video I watched about solo Disney trips holds very true: you get to do exactly what you want to do and you don’t have to do… well, whatever you don’t want to do! I rode Splash Mountain four times. I got up when I wanted and left the park when I wanted (well, that one was mostly dictated by park closing hours). I spent two hours in the World of Disney. Want Dole Whip for dinner? Ain’t nobody here to judge you!
Okay, my “cons” section is a lot longer than my “pros” but I think people worry about the negatives so much that it deters them from even considering the positives. The truth is, it’s going to be a different experience for everyone depending on who they are and their circumstances. To me, the less enjoyable parts were mild inconveniences and in no way did they overshadow the general amazingness of the trip. Anything that came up gave me a moment to say, “Well…. definitely didn’t see this coming…” and laugh at myself. It’s incredibly liberating to travel solo. I had a lot of fun doing whatever I wanted, and while it might sound “selfish”, I was 100% living my best life and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone!
Use your phone!
- Disneyland app: AKA the app I still haven’t deleted off my phone has everything from wait times for rides, menus for restaurants, and a full map of the park. When you just have a backpack, it can be annoying to keep taking it on and off to get the paper map out every so often, but having the Disneyland app is a great substitute for walking around… especially when you have zero sense of direction… like me 🙂
- Google Maps: I am a big fan of Google maps under normal circumstances but navigating a strange city by yourself makes it doubly helpful. As I mentioned, I have no sense of direction so being able to make sure I’m walking in the right direction…. especially when it was late at night back to my hotel, and not getting hopelessly lost… definitely a hugely important resource.
- Find My Friends: My mom was not a big fan of the idea of me going to Anaheim on my own. We watch a lot of Criminal Minds so to ease her mind (and mine) I set up the Find My Friends app on both her phone and mine so that she could see where I was (and so authorities could locate my body or at least my phone in the event that I went missing. Fourteen seasons of Criminal Minds, people!). In actuality this just resulted in random texts telling me where I was at a given time like “You’re at Bubba Gump Shrimp!”, “You’re at Cheesecake Factory!”, “Why are you still at the parks?” when nine times out of ten it was just the nearest building and not actually where I was. But it was nice having the peace of mind of someone knowing (roughly) where I was.
- Messages (and social media): Even though it was nice to be by myself, it was also good to be able to talk to people back home while I was waiting in lineups and eating. From Snapchatting my friends to my family group chat, it was like my link to the “real world”.
- Notes: Have EVERYTHING written out in your Notes app. I definitely used it more in Japan because there were more shows and parades, but it still helped on this trip to have a rough schedule and all my information (flights, passport number, hotel address) just in case. In the parks I had a rough timeframe of each day (this was copied and pasted out of the original note for… authenticity) and as I got fast passes I would insert them where they chronologically fell, along with my one breakfast reservation time. a
-soundsational parade: 3:30 & 6
-fantasmic @ 9 and 10:30
-mickeys mix @ 9:30
I used my phone case to hold my ticket. Your actual physical paper park ticket is what you use for everything… from entry to getting fast passes. WDW has it going on with the wristbands but in order to protect my ticket, I tucked it inside my phone case. I think next time I’ll look into getting one of those stick on pockets that some people use for credit cards or ID. My phone is relatively new so my battery life wasn’t horrible, but it was still helpful to have my portable charger with me for the last hour or so of each day, especially when I was using it so much in the lineups and for the various aforementioned apps.
View this post on Instagram
Yeah, being at an amusement park by yourself can be a bit awkward. Seeing families or groups of friends all together when you’re just… chillin’… in the line… or at the meal table… all alone… singing a fantastic rendition of Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” in your head… Just kidding. To be honest, I am pretty used to going places solo. Especially during post-secondary I would have these obnoxious three hour breaks between classes where I couldnt go home but it was too long to just stay at school so I would go to the mall or walk around downtown, get some food or a Starbucks and just… hang out. I know for some people it can feel super weird being by yourself in these spaces usually meant for groups. But just be open to it. Start talking with people if it helps. Pop headphones in if it doesn’t. When I was single-ridering I had some of the sweetest interactions with people checking on me and trying to include me in their groups. And when in doubt… use your phone. Something I did in Tokyo (where almost every line was at least an hour long) was reading e-books on my phone. So when I was eating or noticed people glancing at me (I felt guilty for taking up a whole table… but I let people take chairs if they asked!) I would ignore it and focus on my book or Instagram or whatever else on my phone. It also helps lineups go faster! At the end of the day you’re never going to see these people again and it’s not worth ruining your trip stressing about what strangers think.
When it comes down to it, whether or not you will enjoy doing a solo trip to Disneyland (or anywhere!) all depends on the kind of person you are. I am a Disney-loving, 28-year-old, introvert who has been bitten by the travel bug. So even though a lot of the posts and videos I looked at recommended joining these groups where people plan meet ups, that is 100% not my jam. Even though Disneyland is filled with people, it’s kind of like… alone time when you’re there by yourself. I think you learn a lot about yourself when you travel alone and after it’s done with, you feel empowered as heck.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. But I’ve got my eyes set on Disneyland Paris.
Thanks so much for reading this post. I hope it was helpful and if you have any questions, please let me know… I’d be happy to help!
See ya real soon!