Secret, Unique & Special Things to Do at DLR

Updated: March 5, 2018

You’ve spent a bundle on your tickets (or Annual Pass) for Disneyland and California Adventure. What else can you do? (Other than spend more money!) As promised on the Home page, I’m going to let you in on some secret things that many people don’t know about. (And most are free once you have entered the Parks)

1. Ride in the Monorail Nose cone or Tail

Imagine disembarking from the Monorail and everyone else wondering why you are so special that you got a private compartment. Well, it's not that difficult to do.  Anyone can ride in the Nose Cone (the front) of the monorail with the driver (this Cast Member is called the “pilot”) or in the Tail (the back car; no cast member here).  The Nose Cone and the Tail have the best views on the Monorail. 

The secret way to ride in the front or back: Just ask a Cast Member at one of the two Monorail Stations (Tomorrowland and Downtown Disney).

Of course, a few others know about this secret, so here are some tips to increase your chances of scoring these exclusive seats:

  • Wait for a relatively quiet day and time, when you can walk directly from the Monorail entrance (bottom of the ramp in TomorrowLand or at the entrance stairs/elevator at Downtown Disney) to the Monorail boarding platform (i.e. no long lines).
  • Be first in line at the boarding platform before the Monorail arrives and first to ask a Monorail Cast Member (It's first come, first serve) at the extreme left or right side of the platform.  I usually have the best results when I ask the person operating the Monorail control panel. Humbly ask if you can sit in the front. If they say it's full, ask to sit in the back.
  •  Board at the Tomorrowland station. Passengers (Disneyland Resort calls us “Guests”) who board the Monorail at the Tomorrowland station are not required to disembark at Downtown Disney, which means they might not get off at Downtown Disney.  Lesson learned: You have a better chance of riding in the front or back if you board at Tomorrowland than at Downtown Disney.
  • Be prepared to wait for the next Monorail to arrive if the Cast Member says someone else has already requested.

Enjoy the ride! Ask the pilot questions about the Monorail if you are in the nosecone.

 

2. Use the FREE Disneyland App

The Disneyland App is like having a concierge on your smartphone (Ok, maybe that’s exaggerating, but it is very helpful). Download it from iTunes or the Android store. Did I mention it’s free?

  The free   Disneyland App from iTunes or Android store (photo from Disneyland web site).

The free Disneyland App from iTunes or Android store (photo from Disneyland web site).

The Disneyland app can help with the following:

  1. Operating hours for Disneyland, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney.
  2. Buy Park tickets directly from the app (skip the ticket booth line!)
  3. Buy MaxPasses directly from the app (more about that in another post)
  4. Keep track of your FastPasses, MaxPasses, meal reservations and other event times on the app.
  5. Times of shows, parades and "nighttime spectaculars" (fireworks, World of Color water show, etc.), and list of rides that are being refurbished (aka "closed").
  6. Find out wait times for every attraction (aka rides and some shows) and FastPass return times, if FastPasses are available.  (Watch for a separate post about Fast Passes). Locations of all attraction are linked to the in-app map. More info provided: attraction hours of operation, accessibility, a short description, type of ride (examples: Big Drops, Slow Ride, Loud, Water Ride, Thrill Ride, Kids, All Ages), and other special information to know.
  7.  Dining information. Find places to eat. Make dining reservations (at restaurants that accept reservations)— up to 60 days before you get to the Parks. View, change or cancel your dining reservations from the app. Preview the  menus (with prices), and locations (linked to the in-app map), Annual Passholder discount info, type of dining experience, if reservations are taken, and type of cuisine. As long as you are signed into the app, the app will display your dining reservation times (under "My Plans").
  8. Locations of PhotoPass photographers. Connect your PhotoPass to the app so you can download your photos with Disney characters into your smart phone. Tip: you can buy a day use PhotoPass.  MaxPass and some Annual Passes include PhotoPass through the app at no extra charge. UPDATE 11/20/16: You can edit your PhotoPass photos in the Disneyland app (crop and add stickers, filters and borders). 
  9. Locations of the nearest Restrooms and Water Fountains.
  10. Information about Special Events (examples: Halloween Time and other seasonal events, special dining packages, World of Color Dessert Party, and Tours in the Parks).
  11. Location of Guest Services (such as First Aid, Lost & Found, Drinking Fountains, Automatic Teller Machines, and more.
  12. Contact information for the DLR hotels and the “good neighbor” hotels.                     

3. Keep your stuff dry while riding Grizzly River Rapids

That sign above (on the far left) is at the entrance to Grizzly River Rapids (DCA) and it's telling the truth when it says “You WILL get wet.”  DCA provides FREE lockers (for 2 hours) to keep your stuff dry (backpack, hat, sunglasses, cell phone, etc.) while you get practically drenched riding this wettest attraction at the Disneyland Resort. 

Updated TIP: Bring a waterproof camera on Grizzly River Rapids. (or get a clear waterproof pouch for your cell phone. Amazon.com has lots of them). Photos taken on Grizzly are amazing and sometimes humorous (think about your friends’ looks of horror as they realize they are really going down that HUGE drop)

These lockers are located just left of and behind the big Grizzly statue as you face the Grizzly River Rapids entrance, behind the Disney Vacation Club kiosk. We always bring waterproof sandals (usually flip flops) to wear on the ride and EVERYTHING ELSE stays in the locker until we finish the ride. See What to Bring on this page.  


4. Get a free Jungle Cruise Map

After you disembark from the Jungle Cruise (DL), ask a Cast Member near the exit for a map. It’s printed on tan paper to make it look old (sort of) and it really is a work of art. I bought this bamboo looking frame for my copy, added the pre-cut mat, and I think it looks pretty good.

Go on the ride early in the day to get this map because they are often gone by mid-morning to early afternoon.


5. Be the Conductor of the Day

The Disneyland Railroad (DRR) wasn't operating for 18 months while the tracks are being relocated for Star WarsLand construction.   Walt Disney loved trains so much that he had a small scale railroad (big enough for kids and adults to ride on) in his backyard in the San Fernando Valley: The Carolwood Railroad (Google it). But I digress.

While talking to the Conductor, ask if you can be the Conductor of the Day. You’ll get a personalized, dated certificate just for asking. (I got this one after I sat and colored a train picture--!-- with one of the Conductors.)


6. Learn to Draw Disney Characters

  Terrible picture, I know. I took this photo so I'd know what time to come back so I could draw Mickey.

Terrible picture, I know. I took this photo so I'd know what time to come back so I could draw Mickey.

February 2018 update: Since this is the Chinese Year of the Dog, many of the characters being drawn now are Disney dogs (Lady & the Tramp), Dug (from UP) and a few others.

The Disney Animation Building  (DCA, Hollywood Land) includes some great interactive attractions. One of the most fun activities (for grown-ups, and maybe for some kids, too) is the Animation Academy. See the posted schedule (inside the Animation building) listing the characters that you can learn to draw (usually 2 sessions per hour). Each guest is given a large clipboard with a pencil and a large piece of “Animation Academy” paper for drawing. A talented Disney artist leads the lesson, with the artist’s work projected on a large screen as he or she draws so you can follow along. At the end of the lesson, you'll have a cool drawing to take home.

Bonus tip: Take a photo of the schedule so you can plan to be back in time draw your favorite character.

 

7. Sample Some Bread and Chocolate

Definitely a DLR for Grownups favorite! As you enter the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop (in DCA, on Pacific Wharf), a nice cast member will offer you a wrapped piece of the daily featured Ghirardelli chocolate, and she (I’ve only seen one male Cast Member giving these out) will tell you about the daily Ghirardelli chocolate special. You’ll then get a menu, walk to the registers just inside the entrance and order a sinfully delicious ice cream sundae or soda, or buy some too-good-to-be-true chocolate (or both!). This store even sells the Ghirardelli Cabernet Matinee dark chocolate bar, a hard-to-find variety. They also sell many varieties of chocolate by the pound, chocolate covered strawberries (seasonally), giant chocolate chip cookies, brownies, hot cocoa, various espresso drinks, tea, chocolate milk, and soft drinks. (Deb is the absolute nicest cast member at Ghiradelli. I always say hi to her.)

Check out the 3D model of early San Francisco on the wall behind the counter, complete with a 1906 earthquake simulation (don’t worry; the building doesn’t shake, the display just rumbles).

Right across from Ghirardelli you'll enjoy the Boudin Bakery tour, with a funny video hosted by Colin Mochrie and Rosie O’Donnell. Learn about the history of Boudin Bakery and see the kitchen where bread is baked for various restaurants in the Disneyland Resort. A cast member gives you a small slice of sourdough bread as you enter the building. You can also buy round sourdough loaves, and loaves shaped like Mickey Mouse (and other shapes during the Halloween and Christmas holidays) at the Pacific Wharf Café next door. On busy days, a cart outside the door sells bread loaves and Mortimer's Market on Buena Vista Street often also sells the loaves.

 

8. Enjoy a FREE Birthday BUTTON AND Dessert

If you're celebrating your birthday at the Disneyland Resort, definitely pick up a free birthday button at the Disneyland City Hall or California Adventure Chamber of Commerce (both are on the left, just past the entrance gates to each park). You can also get one at the small Information Booths scattered around the parks, and at some of the stores and restaurants in Downtown Disney (Marcelline's candy shop has them for sure). A cast member will write your name and the year on the button. Everyone else in your party can get “I’m Celebrating” buttons, too.

At the very least, you'll hear “Happy Birthday" from any cast member who sees your birthday button. Don't be too surprised if other park guests (that you don't know!) wish you "Happy Birthday."

If you make a reservation to dine at a Table Service restaurant, mention that you are celebrating a birthday and you’ll probably get a (free!) birthday treat at the end of your meal. Disney trains Cast Members to look for birthday buttons, so be sure it’s visible during your meal. I’ve had the following free birthday desserts in the past few years: a Mickey-shaped beignet, a chocolate-enrobed flourless chocolate cake, a cupcake, and others I can’t remember.

9. ride more rides

You can avoid the long lines for even the most popular rides, without paying extra!

Soarin' New FastPass.JPG
  • Get FastPasses – Another well-known theme park in the Los Angeles area (I won't say which one, but its initials are US) charges extra for “Front of the Line” passes. Not Disneyland or California Adventure. You can get a FREE FastPass for any of the rides designated on the maps with the FP symbol. No charge. Ever.  Insert your Annual Pass or other DL/DCA ticket into the FastPass Machine for the ride and a "Reminder" card like the one above will pop out of the bottom. The FastPass will magically be loaded onto your AP or ticket for later use. At the time listed on the FastPass, go to the FastPass Return line and place your Annual Pass or other DL/DCA ticket (bar code up) under the scanner. The circle will turn green (and a tone will sound), allowing you to enter the ride. (DON'T, DO NOT, under no circumstances try to use the Reminder card to get into a FastPass line. It won't work and everyone behind you will think you're a Dweeb... or other unfavorable type of newby) 
  • Buy a MaxPass - The MaxPass service allows you to sign up for FastPasses directly from your phone (instead of running from Disneyland to DCA to get a FastPass that you won't use for hours, and then running back to DL in time for your next FastPass. If it's a crowded day, buying a MaxPass is a good idea.  I've only this service once and it was helpful. Keep in mind that everyone in your party must buy a MaxPass if everyone is going to use MaxPasses. Disney also has some other fine print that you should read before you buy a MaxPass (i.e. FastPasses may not be available for all the rides, MaxPasses are only good for the day you purchase them and.....see this page on the Disneyland website for the rest of the "please note," terms and conditions.)

TIP: If it isn't a crowded day at the parks, you won't need a MaxPass and you may not even need FastPasses. When you arrive, open the Disneyland app and look up some of the more popular rides to see if how the wait times are and if FastPasses are available.

  • Stay at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels: Guests at the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel and Grand Californian Hotel are allowed into one of the Parks one hour earlier (Extra Magic Hour) than everyone else on specific days of the week. Current schedule: Disneyland Park: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Disney California Adventure Park (including access to Cars Land): Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Only certain areas of the parks are open during this hour.
  • Buy a Multi-day Pass: If you buy a three-day or more ticket, you'll get one Magic Morning admission to one park (one hour before the regular opening time) to enjoy the parks without the rest of us filling up the lines.  
  • Use the Single Rider Lines: If you enjoy visiting Disneyland Resort solo (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it: it’s really quite fun!), you can reduce your time waiting in lines for the most popular rides by using Single Rider Lines (See rides designated with “SR” on the park maps, in the Disneyland App, and below). HOWEVER, you don’t have to be a "group of one" to use the Single Rider Lines. Any group willing to split up and let the cast members choose their seats on the ride can use these Single Rider Lines. You'll be in line together, ride the ride separately, and meet up at the ride exit.

Single Rider Lines exist to fill empty spots created by groups that don’t fill up a ride vehicle. For example, each Radiator Springs Racers vehicle has seats for three guests in the front and three in the back. When parties of two or four are in line, the third seats remain empty, which reduces the hourly ride capacity. Cast members at the quickest loading attractions (like Radiator Springs Racers) don’t have time to look for (or ask for) the perfect number of guests farther back in line, so adding in single riders keeps the ride moving and full. And makes the overall line go faster. (So consider yourself doing your good deed by using the Single Rider Lines). By the way, young children are not allowed to use single rider lines.

The four Single Rider Lines in Disney California Adventure

  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • California Screamin' (closed until late June: will reopen as the Incredicoaster)
  • Grizzly River Rapids
  • Goofy’s Sky School  

The four Single Rider Lines in Disneyland

  • Splash Mountain
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Space Mountain

All of these rides also have FastPasses, so you could ride all of the big rides with hardly any waiting, if you get FastPasses and use the Single Rider lines (not at the same ride!). When you can’t get a FastPass for a time you need or don’t want to come back later, hop in the Single Rider Line whenever you want.

 

10. GET THE BEST SEATS FOR sOARIN' aROUND THE WORLD

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the Eiffel Tower in Soarin' Around the World looks curved? If you sit in the outside rows of seats on this attraction (Sections A and B), the film does appear distorted. Here's the solution: After you've gone through the turnstiles entering the ride, ask the next Cast Member if you can sit in Section B. It's the middle of the theater, and the distortion is minimized.  Easy, peasy, right? (You might have to wait for the show to play once, but it's worth the better view)