D I S N E Y L A N D // Halloween, Birthdays, MaxPass, Travel Tips, TREATS!

October 29, 2017

This is long long long overdue, but I'm super excited to share all the details about our recent Disneyland trip at the beginning of October! It was just part of a bigger 8-day trip to California, but the visit to Disneyland was my favorite part of the vacation! This trip was extra special for a few reasons:
1. We'd never been to Disneyland for the Halloween celebrations.
2. I hadn't been to the parks in 6 years and Zach hadn't been in 14 years! A LOT has changed since then!
3. We were visiting for both my mom's AND Zach's birthdays! They spent their exact birthdays in the parks - how much more special could it get?

The birthday kids with their birthday pins:


For some background, we booked our package with Costco Travel (and got lots of freebies!) and stayed at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. In case you missed them, I reviewed both in two earlier blog posts here:

Our Disneyland Costco Vacation Package (get all the details of our freebies & extras!)
Paradise Pier Hotel: Would we stay there again? Is it worth the money?

Since we were only there for two days, we had to make the MOST of our time! I planned and planned and planned...even checking the ride wait time 5-6x a day for a month beforehand (I acknowledge now that was a BIT overboard). But all that planning paid off! I'm proud to say that in just two days we:

- Rode 27 rides, including multiple times on the popular rides like Radiator Springs Racers, etc
- Watched both Fantasmic AND World of Color near the front row of the viewing areas
- Enjoyed 3 meals at "Table Service" reserved dining restaurants (spending 1+ hrs at each places)
- Visited with family for a few hours
- Had a 2-3 hour break each afternoon back at the hotel

We also did not go into the parks right when they opened and we didn't stay in the parks until closing either. That's way more than I've ever done in Disneyland in two days!

PS: LOTS of pictures ahead.


Ok, I have to admit - while I LOVE Halloween, I was a little worried the Disneyland magic I'm used to seeing would be ruined by the Halloween decorations. I was worried there would just be giant orange banners & pumpkins everywhere and it wouldn't feel like the same Disneyland I grew up with. Thankfully, I was wrong! Disney has done a great job of bringing Halloween into specific areas of the parks in clever ways, without being overwhelming or tacky.

I didn't get a ton of pictures of the Halloween decor though, so forgive me!

You can see just little pops of orange & Halloween around Town Square & City Hall. Even Downtown Disney was really festive! They had TONS of pumpkins everywhere!


New this year - California Adventure got a MAJOR Halloween overlay and I LOVED it. I actually liked their decor better than Disneyland! Oogie Boogie greets you as you enter (voice, music and all!). Also, the "O" in California is brilliant.

California Adventure was not the typical "orange & black" Halloween, but more of the green & purple motif - I think that's why I liked it more. I especially love these purple banners & bats coming out of Carthay Circle!

Cars Land got the biggest Halloween makeover and OF COURSE I didn't get any pictures of it! There was also a Headless Horseman statue, but the line was always super long, so I didn't get a picture of that either. Definitely something I would do differently if I went again in October!

The best part of Halloween for us was the Haunted Mansion revamp - definitely worth going to the parks October-December to experience it!


My approach to Disneyland is to go on as many rides as possible. I know other people aren't like this, but I figure we're paying a lot to be there and we should maximize the experience as much as possible! For me, rides are my biggest priority at Disneyland. Avoiding lines and crowds, going on as many rides as possible is like a sport for me - I do all this research ahead of time and make strategic plans. I actually hated taking afternoon breaks at the hotel because I could've been on rides that whole time!

Going on a bunch of different rides was especially important because Zach had limited experience in the past. He'd never gone on ANY of the roller coasters or bigger rides before, so he needed to taste them all! The first day we went on 13 different rides, mostly rollercoasters, and learned what we liked and didn't like, so we didn't waste time on the dislikes on Day Two.

Some highlights of the ride experiences:

Radiator Springs Racers: Before we went, I didn't get what all the excitement was about. Now - I totally get it! It's a really fun ride and more exciting than I thought it would be. The staging is incredible and really beautiful and the characters/storyline is really well done. My opinion: this ride is even better at night, so if you go, try to get a FastPass after dark. Also: if you have long legs (like me & Zach), the front row of the car is a little cramped - try to get in the back row for a more comfortable experience!

Soarin' Around The World: I'd never been on the World version but loved the California one. I have to admit, I love this version even better! The smells & other sensory experiences are incredible. My recommendation: try to get a seat in the middle section - if you're on either of the sides, then the visual is distorted from the curve of the screen (like the Eiffel Tower bends at weird angles instead of being straight).


Guardians of the Galaxy: I LOVED and 10000000000000/10 would recommend. I loved the Tower of Terror theme and was sad to see it go, but I like this ride WAY more.


My mom & Zach though - definitely not fans of Guardians. Zach said he will never go on this ride again. He was grabbing my leg so tight during the ride, I thought he was going to break the skin through my pants! So if anyone wants to be my Guardians buddy, let me know! He wasn't very happy with me after the ride...

Thunder Mountain Railroad: We all love this one! This is easily my favorite coaster in Disneyland. Zach had never been on it before, so it was the VERY first ride of the trip. Now it's one of his top 3 favorite rides now!

Matterhorn: They revamped the bobsleds, but they are still pretty small! My mom & I liked this ride, but Zach was just too tall for the ride, so its was a painful experience for him jamming his legs & knees in there.


Toy Story Midway Mania & Astro Blasters: These are both always major favorites for me and it was Zach's first time on them this trip. Now Midway Mania I think is his very favorite ride - it's his competitive sports-driven nature - he wanted to go on over and over and to beat me and up his score!


Space Mountain (Ghost Galaxy): This was Zach's first time on Space Mountain ever. I actually like the original but my mom & I didn't really like the Ghost Galaxy overlay for Halloween. Zach's restraint never fully latched and they just sent us off on the ride (we tried getting their attention to help us...), so Zach & I were just scared the whole time he was going to get thrown out and seriously hurt. Not my favorite experience.

(New-ish) Disneyland Railroad: They just reopened the Disneyland Railroad and added a new outdoor section with waterfalls, etc. Always a hard ride to get a good group selfie though....


Mark Twain Riverboat: Ok this one is super random, but I'd never been on it before. We had to wait a LONG time for it to show up and we had a pretty sour experience with a cast member at this location (like, I was in tears in almost full panic attack mode). So I didn't have the best time on it since I was still preoccupied with the bad experience...but I can see why people would like it - it's a great ride if you just want to chill and see a less traveled section of the park - like this unique view of Splash Mountain. You can see the boats right after the splash!

Jungle Cruise: Classic and always fun! We got a scavenger hunt for this ride from our hotel and when we turned in the answers, we got this cute luggage tag (I'm going to make it into an ornament instead)

Pirates of the Caribbean: This is my mom's & Zach's #1 ride. The line was always super long during the day, so we just waited until 11pm and walked right on! Literally the only people in our boat. Super fun to have our own space for the ride!

Monorail: I haven't been on the Monorail in ages and we only really went on this out of necessity - you can take the monorail out of the park and it drops you off close to Disneyland Hotel, decreasing the long walk back to Paradise Pier. I forgot how much the Monorail travels by and it's actually quite pretty to relax and watch! On our last night, we just stayed on the Monorail for like 5 consecutive trips because we were SO tired but didn't want to leave yet!

King Arthur's Carousel: This was one of those late-night "look the line is short" rides. End of day 2 and our feet were dunzo, but I still wanted to go on a ride, so I dragged my mom on the carousel, whether or not she liked it ;)

We also went on Indiana Jones, California Screamin', Star Tours, Tea Cups (fun fact: 3 adults don't fit, that was fun to find out! haha), and The Little Mermaid. We didn't go on the water rides because it was too cold. Of course I wanted to go on every single ride, but I'll have to get on the others during our December trip!


After rides, this is the best part of the Disneyland experience for me. Here are some highlights of what we ate:

Blue Bayou: This was the must-do for my mom's birthday. She's been talking about eating here my whoooooole life, so it was time to make it real! Made the reservations online 60 days ahead of time and requested a waterside table when we arrived. It was so cool to see the Pirates riders floating right by our table and the ambiance of the restaurant is awesome. My mom & I split the Surf & Turf (lobster & filet mignon) and Zach got the bone-in rib-eye with the famous gumbo. It was all incredible. It was too dark inside to get good food pictures, but I snapped some of the experience!

The Pirates ride boats were floating literally right behind my mom on the other side of the fence. We loved it!

Carnation Cafe: Another classic Disney dining experience. At his request, we went there for Mickey waffles for Zach's birthday. My only regret is that I forgot to request outdoor seating and ate inside the restaurant. Highly recommend for any meal though!

ESPN Zone: Ok, not technically in either park (in Downtown Disney). This was for Zach's birthday dinner. Since he's not a huge Disneyland maniac, I wanted him to spend part of his birthday at a place that felt a little more like home haha. There is a fun arcade upstairs, huge TVs everywhere, and a really delicious & varied menu - the best Philly Cheesesteak I've ever had! I'm sad to hear Disney is tearing this one down soon though!

Smokejumper's Grill: We ate here for my mom's birthday lunch with our family in the SoCal area. I forgot to grab a picture of the food there though - it's basic American fare in the quick service style, which is so nice to not need a reservation.

Main Street Corn Dogs: I'd never had a corndog from Disneyland before and had to see what all the hullabaloo was about. It's extremely popular - we waited in line for 30 minutes for this one! You can find them in a few places, but we got ours from the Little Red Wagon on Main Street. They're hand-dipped and HUGE.

Mickey Beignets: Another classic Disney treat I'd never had! While we could've had the seasonal flavor (Dreamsicle), we chose just a bag of the original! They come in multiples of 3, which was perfect with a group of 3 people. These are one of the more "affordable" snacks in the parks - 3 beignets are less than $5. They have TONS of powdered sugar, so be prepared for a little mess! We grabbed ours from the Mint Julep Bar - shorter line than anywhere else to get them.

Gibson Girl Ice Cream: This place holds fond memories - on our last trip, we had the biggest loopy giggle fit around midnight at Gibson Girl - so my mom requested this for her birthday dessert. I was bummed that they'd removed most of the seating from here, so we took our ice cream over to Refreshment Corner to eat.

Matterhorn Macaroon:  I found this treasure thanks to my months of blog reading, Instagram stalking, research. I love macaroons anyway, but it's even better with the top dipped in white chocolate! Plus, it looks like the Matterhorn and is so cute! You can get it from Jolly Holiday Bakery on Main Street.

But I'll admit I wasn't quite sure the right way to take the first bite....is this right???

Raspberry-Rose Mickey Macaron:
This is tied with the Matterhorn Macaroon as my favorite Disneyland treat. It's gorgeous, the raspberries are FRESH, and the hint of rose is a perfect compliment. Another find thanks to blogs & Insta-stalking. Also from Jolly Holiday Bakery on Main Street.

Love at first bite.

We also grabbed some popcorn from Cozy Cone Motel & milkshakes from Flo's Cafe to take to World of Color, but it was dark so I didn't grab a picture.

Disney After Dark

In my opinion, the BEST times to be in the parks are early in the morning (smaller crowds) and after dark. When the lights turn on after dark, the parks transform and the magic is on steroids! Plus, it's a bit cooler and eventually the crowds really thin out after the evening shows. If I had to choose, I'd rather spend 6 hours at the hotel in the middle of the day than go home early and miss out on maximum night fun. I didn't get a ton of night pictures, but my favorite places at night right now are Cars Land & World of Color.

And if you aren't sick of all the details yet, here's a quick video of silly moments during our 2 days there...

How did we fit so much in each day?

I had some friends ask this question after our trip, so here are the major tools/tips we used to go on so many rides, have long meals, see 2 shows, and have afternoon breaks:

- Enter the park as close to opening as you can. We went in a little after opening (like 8:30-9 each morning) and went on a handful of rides before the crowds came out in full force. This is California Adventure first thing in the morning - no one!

- As soon as you enter the park, grab a physical Fast Pass for whatever evening show you want to see. They don't use the digital MaxPass, so you still have to go to a kiosk to get these. You'll end up with a great view of the shows AND you won't have to save spots for hours. These passes can go quick, so grab them before you do anything else.

- Make dining reservations ahead of your trip. If you know you want to eat at a table service restaurant, make a reservation online ahead of the trip. This will save time just waiting around for a walk-up and will help you plan your day out better. You don't even need to go on a computer - I used the Disneyland App to make all of our reservations. 

- Eat during slightly offset hours. If you want to avoid longer lines for a meal, don't eat when everyone else will be eating. You'll have shorter lines PLUS you can go on rides while everyone else is eating! For us, that meant eating a later breakfast, skipping lunch/having an afternoon snack, and either an early or later dinner (we did both).

- Look for alternate photo locations. If you don't want to wait in a huge line for a specific photo op or don't want to wait until there's no one in front of the castle (newsflash: that won't happen haha), look for an alternate location. We went to the side of the castle to get a shot without 295723742304 people in it. Took us 2 minutes and then we were off to the next adventure!

- The Disneyland App: This was our lifeline the entire trip. You can see current wait times, reserve dining, find characters, find shops, download pictures, etc. You can also see what time FastPasses are being distributed for each ride (this is free - you don't need the MaxPass for this function). Plus, you can scan your park tickets into the app, so you don't need to rummage around in your wallet/lanyard/purse/pocket every time you need it. This app is free and honestly, you're shooting yourself in the foot if you aren't using it.

- The MaxPass: Combined with the Disneyland App, this was our magic wand. We could grab FastPasses for rides without having to run across the parks, saving time (and our feet). This was so powerful - I was back in the hotel during our afternoon break, reserving FastPasses for that evening. The MaxPass is $10 per person PER DAY, so the cost can add up quick for a group....so...

The MaxPass - Is it Worth it?

Yes yes yes yes yes yes. This was the BIGGEST tool we had to get in 13+ rides each day, plus watch shows, eat long meals, AND have 2-3 hr afternoon breaks. If you are mostly planning on going on the bigger rides that need Fast Passes, the MaxPass will be your best friend. You also get the PhotoPass for free with the MaxPass, so if you want digital copies of the pictures (and aren't getting a freebie like we did from Costco), then there is added value in the MaxPass. There are a few instances where I think it might not be worth the extra $$$:

- if you have a large group. $10/person/day adds up with a big family or group! We just had 3 in our group and only spent 2 days in the parks
- if you'll be in the parks for 3+ days. When you have that much time, you don't feel like you need to pack it in and always have a Fast Pass in hand. Also, again $10/person/day really adds up.
- if you don't care too much about going on tons of Fast Pass rides.
- if you have a bunch of people who won't be going on many Fast Pass rides (like smaller children). Spending $10/day on them to use once or twice won't be worth it.

The easiest way I decided if it was worth it was to take my "ideal" number of rides per day, divide by $10 to see how much $$ I was spending per ride for the MaxPass (nerdy, I know). As I planned, for ME, the "ideal" minimum rides/day was 10, so $1/ride each day. In my mind, it was TOTALLY worth spending $1 per Fast Pass ride to not have to run all over the park collecting slips of paper. So my advice is to do a little planning and calculating to see if the per ride cost is worth it for your group's needs.


You always wish you did things a little differently, and I'm glad my list is short:
- More time taking PhotoPass pictures (wait in line for the Pumpkin, the castle, etc)
- Spend more time looking for souvenirs (I kept telling myself I'd just buy something online...)
- Stay at a hotel closer to the parks (Paradise Pier isn't really close despite being "on property")
- Try a dang Dole Whip!

But also, no regrets!

Overall, it was an absolutely incredible visit. We were definitely tired and our feet felt like bloody stumps, but it was so WORTH IT. Yes, I would spend a bit more time getting photos & souvenirs, but really, if those are my biggest "regrets," then it was a pretty awesome trip. I did a lot of research and planning to make this special for both of them and I felt like all the worrying paid off!

At the end of the Fantasmic show on the first day, my mom was in tears and said it was the best birthday she'd ever had. Zach, not super into Disney to begin with, actually liked it more than before and tried tons of new rides he'd never been on.

Me? Well, I did what I do best. EAT and boss people around. The food was delicious and the people were willing to be led, so it all worked out for me. ;)

I can't wait to come back in December.

Have you been recently? What did you think? Have a food or ride or tip for me to try in December? Let me know in the comments below 👇👇👇


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11 thoughts

  1. Perfectly said!!! Thanks so much for helping us have so much fun...love you!

    1. Love you too! So happy you had a good time! :)

  2. Man it looks like you had a killer time! I haven't been to Disneyland before (just Disney World) so I am soooo grateful for all the tips. That's so great that you didn't have to get there right when it opened or stay right until the end to do soooo much!

  3. I love seeing and reading about others' experiences at any Disney park. It appears that you had a wonderful time. I hope to be visiting Disney Land this time next year, and I am so excited about it.

    1. Yes! Disneyland in the fall is awesome! I hope you go!

  4. I've never been to Disneyland in October either! But it looks so fall-y with all of the pumpkins! I love it. Great pictures too!

  5. This looks like an amazing trip!

  6. It looks like you had a lot of fun! I went for the first time back in July!

  7. Besides wanting to go to Disneyland in general, I definitely NEED to go during Halloween season. I loved your pictures, sounds like you had an absolute blast! I need to try a dole whip too! That's on my list lol.

  8. What a fabulous trip to Disneyland! I enjoyed all of your beautiful pictures. It's been a long time since I've gone, and I'm looking forward to a return trip next spring.