We just had a superb trip. I used all my years of experience to design a trip for a friend who had never been to Disneyland and was successful in getting in ALL rides and attractions we wanted in a day and a half. Here is how:
We started on Tuesday which allows for early entrance for 3-day pass holders. Arrived at 7:30 AM (regular gate opened that day at 8:00 AM) and ran like mad to Space Mountain. Only a 5 minute wait to ride. Great ride now. Really improved.
Then we skipped over to Buzz Lightyear as it is a new ride. You MUST know - there are Red "Z"s in a short tunnel on the ceiling - they are flashing "z"s and they are worth 10,000 points. Also, know from the beginning you can use the joystick to turn the vehicle you are in all directions!
Then we ran to Indiana Jones about the time the front gates opened! We did 3 rides very quickly with the early entrance!
Now the general public does not really arrive enmasse until about 9:30 or so, so we just took in Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain and Pirates in very quick sucession. Ate at French Market at 11:00. This is an important tip! If you try to eat lunch later in the day there are LINES everywhere! Had steak gumbo in a sourdough bowl.
At this point we were ready to attempt CA Adventure. We ran straight to California Soarin. It was only a 30 minute wait. Then onto Grizzly Run and over to CA Screamin (which is open again and just as fabulous as always). Then we enjoyed "It's a Bug's Life." Do not allow the idea that this is for children only to deter you. It is great for all ages.
YOU CANNOT miss Tower of Terror! No one seems to know about it! This the absolute best Disney ride now. You drop 13 floors and it is a wonderfully exciting ride you will not forget. We rode it over again the next day. In fact all our favorite rides turned out to be in CA Adventure and we re-rode them the next day. Anyway, TOT does not seem to have long lines. It is out of the way, perhaps why so many are missing it.
Also, you can have a beer, wine and freshly made Boudin sourdough bread at CA Adventure. Which we did. Nice rest.
I had made reservations 30 days prior for an early evening dinner at Blue Bayou back at Disneyland. We leisurely walked back shopping along the way. We asked for a water table so you can watch the Pirates ride going by. Great food that night. My short ribs were the special and they were fantastic. We all had mint juleps. Great fun.
Soon thereafter we had tickets for the Dessert Show of Fantasmic above Pirates. YOU HAVE to call exactly 30 days prior and start phoning at 7:55 AM that morning by redialing and redialing until you get through. It sells out for the holidays within 10 minutes! But I had found this out and called in time to get them so we were set. I highly recommend this dessert seating if you can afford it. My friends loved the convenience and the time to rest since being up so early.
From the balcony you are allowed to see the fireworks after Fantasmic. It was good from this vantage point, but as others have said, the best is in front of the castle. When I finally saw the entire fireworks show 2 nights later in front of the castle and saw the real Tinker Bell flight - well I was almost in tears it is so full of memories for me. Just wonderful.
Special note: The Fantasmic dessert show includes any drink you can think of including mint juleps, hot cocoa, coffee, soft drinks. Along with fritters, cheesecake, fresh fruit on skewers, cake, etc.
We used our hot breakfast included in our package at Ayres Hotel in Orange and cut costs there. We did drive and park each day because we find that very convenient.
Like I said, we re-rode rides on Wed. morning before our friends left. Unfortunately, we were on the very TOP of California Soarin' when it broke down at noon that day. I am a bit afraid of heights, and this was truly scary for me. But now it is our favorite part of the trip to tell about. Of course, they fixed the ride and got us all down. But I was scared when it happened. This is my second favorite ride after Tower of Terror.
We missed the fabulous parades. If you can, don't miss them. We took the train three times in Disneyland to get us around the park to save our soles. We also used the Monorail to get from Disneyland to the farthest reaches of Downtown Disney for shopping.
Well, that is a pretty good update. Hope this helps!!