Are you planning a Disneyland trip this year? We are currently planning excitedly for a summer trip. Since I know it’s during the busy season and sure to be crowded, we are planning ahead so that we can maximize our fun and not be stressed about the crowds. We typically visit Disneyland about once a year since we have family in the area so we’ve gone many times over the years. Here’s my best tips so you can beat the Disneyland crowds too.
1. Book your hotel at least 3-4 months before your trip for the best price and selection. I just got a great deal at getawaytoday.com. Check out Costco and the hotel websites too. Read reviews on tripadvisor.com. If you can, get a hotel within walking distance of Disneyland Resort. The on-site hotels are great but our budget doesn’t allow that spending, so we stay at a good neighbor hotel across the street most of the time. Our favorite hotel is Del Sol. I have also enjoyed staying at Tropicana Inn and Suites and Carousel Inn and Suites and have heard good things about Desert Inn and Suites, Best Western Park Place Inn, and Howard Johnson Anaheim. If you don’t mind taking the ART shuttle or driving and parking, we also loved The Stanford Inn and Suites and Peacock Suites. The Stanford Inn has really nice two bedroom, two bathroom family suites that sleep six. The reason we prefer staying across the street is because it is much easier, less stressful, and less time consuming to get to Disneyland in the morning and to take an afternoon break at our hotel. I wrote about some of our favorite family hotels that have suites for 5-6 people in this article “Favorite Family Hotels by Disneyland”.
2. Get to the gates at least 20-30 minutes before opening time. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to park your car, take a shuttle, or walk to the resort to arrive about 30 minutes before opening. You don’t want to be parking your car at this point, since that can take 5-10 minutes, plus the 5-10 minutes to catch the tram and another 5 minutes to walk to security. During the busy season (summer, school breaks, Christmas week), you can get stuck in the security line for 10-15 minutes if you don’t get there at least 30 minutes before opening. Arriving early is essential if you have a toddler or young child that has a hard time standing in lines. You can ride 5-6 attractions in the first hour vs. 1-2 rides per hour later in the day.
3. Take advantage of Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour. Magic Morning is available for those that purchase tickets for 3 or more days and Extra Magic Hour is available for resort hotel guests. Magic Morning can only be used once at Disneyland Park on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It usually includes all of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. You get to go on these rides an hour before regular opening. Get there at least 15 minutes before the early opening starts so you can line up at the gate and be ready to go. Extra Magic Hour gives Disneyland Resort hotel guests access to Magic Morning at Disneyland on the days it is offered and they can enter California Adventure an hour early on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. They can participate in these early entries every day of their stay at a resort hotel. See http://allears.net/dlr/tp/early.htm for more details.
If you don’t have Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour, it’s best to go to Disneyland on a day that they do not offer Magic Morning, otherwise a large crowd of people has already formed at the popular Fantasyland and Tomorrowland rides (Peter Pan, Dumbo, Space Mountain, and Star Tours). The same goes for California Adventure–if possible, try to go on a day that is not an Extra Magic Hour day if you are not participating in that.
4. FastPass is a great way to beat Disneyland crowds. Many of the popular attractions have FastPass. Your park map lists which rides have them. Also see FastPass Info. Just use your park ticket to get one from the Fast Pass machine near the ride. The FastPass will tell you what time you need to come back and get in the FastPass line. This is a one hour window. We have been able to use our FastPass 5 min. early, but they do stick pretty closely to the time on your FastPass. You can get a new FastPass every two hours OR after you use a FastPass, whichever comes first. This means if you grab a FastPass within 20 minutes of opening time, that ride will usually let you use the FastPass about 30-45 minutes later and then you can grab another one for a different ride. This is a great way to ride a lot of rides before the crowds get huge. As the lines build and Fast Passes are claimed, the wait time before you can use the pass gets longer until it could be several hours later. On busy days, popular rides may run out of FastPass by noon (and the return time on these will be late at night). Before you grab your FastPass, notice the return times posted and make sure they are times that work for you. Once you grab that FastPass, remember you can’t get another one until the time starts or it’s been two hours. You don’t want to waste it on a ride which has a return time when you’re going to be doing an afternoon break or watching a show.
5. If you have a baby or young child that is too small to ride an attraction, get a rider switch pass (also known as a baby swap pass). Every ride with a height requirement has a rider switch pass. Find the Disneyland Cast Member near the Fast Pass Entrance Line and tell them you need a rider switch pass. They will usually want you to point out the baby/small child and those waiting. Then, after part of your group rides the ride, the person that waited with the baby takes the rider switch pass, along with up to TWO other people, to the Cast Member and either enters through the Fast Pass entrance or the Exit depending on the ride. If you don’t want to ride again right away, you can save your pass for anytime later that day. My older kids love this because they often get to ride their favorite ride twice with little wait if we also use a FastPass! Another article I wrote, “Surviving Disneyland Resort with a Baby” has more information on this and other tips for when you take a baby to Disneyland.
6. Make a plan with your family’s “must-do” rides and attractions. Know which are the busiest attractions with lines that build quickly. We have found that Peter Pan, Dumbo, Space Mountain, Star Tours (especially with the new Star Wars themed release), Matterhorn, Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Finding Nemo, and Autopia should all be done in the morning or with FastPass. This is easier to do if you have a multi-day ticket since you can spread out what you do over multiple days. When we take our young children, we always start with Peter Pan first. The line builds to 45 min long within 15-20 minutes of opening usually. If it’s a Magic Morning day and you aren’t there for Magic Morning, the line will already be around 45 minutes long by the time you get there at regular opening time.
Here’s an example of what our family likes to do on a Disneyland morning (getting there before opening):
1. Peter Pan
2. One adult grabs a fast pass for Space Mountain while the other gets in line with the kids at Dumbo.
3. Alice in Wonderland
4. Star Tours
5. Astro Orbiter if we have kids that want to go on it
6. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
7. Use Space Mountain Fast Pass
8. One adult grabs a fast pass for Indiana Jones or another fast pass ride while the other gets in line with the kids at Autopia.
10. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
11. Pirates of the Caribbean
12. Haunted Mansion
13. Use FastPasses that were picked up earlier. The exact timing will vary depending on how crowded it is that day.
14. Get another FastPass for a popular ride we have not done yet or one we want to repeat later. If it’s a summer day with Magic Morning at 7 am, it’s likely only 10:30 am at this point. We have already done most of our favorite rides by the time Disneyland gets really crowded! The rest of the day is more relaxed, using Fast Passes, watching shows, taking a break, and riding rides that don’t typically have really long lines or have fast flowing lines like Small World, Disneyland Railroad, and Jungle Cruise.
7. Use the Disneyland App to find out wait times, FastPass return times, a GPS map to figure out where you are and locate restrooms, rides, etc. The Disneyland App is relatively new. I have heard great things about it. Another popular wait time app is MouseWait. RideMax is a great resource for trip planning. It’s $14.95 for a 90 day subscription. You pick the rides and attractions you want to do and the days you want to do them and it makes a plan for you. You can put in break times, meal times, etc. If you are going during a busy time of year, the price is well worth it if you aren’t sure how the crowds build at Disneyland or California Adventure. Touringplans.com is also great for information and planning to avoid getting stuck in the Disneyland crowds.
8. Plan ahead on where you want to eat your meals. If you don’t want to wait in long lines for your food, eat at off-times (before 11:30 or after 1:30 for lunch; before 5:30 or after 7:30 for dinner). My favorite place to find all the menus to plan ahead for meals at Disneyland Resort is allears.net. You can also find them on the Disneyland App.
9. Take an afternoon break at your hotel for a few hours if you want to have fun in the evening and stay late. Babies and young kids especially need a break from the exhaustion, sounds, chaos, and stress of Disneyland. Even older kids and adults appreciate the break and feel rejuvenated and ready to enjoy the amazing evening atmosphere and night shows. We like to leave when the parks are at their peak crowd level and heat (in the summer), around 1 or 2 pm, and return around 5-6 pm. We swim in the hotel pool, take naps, watch a movie, etc. Before we head back, my husband or I will often go out to get pizza or fast food and bring it to the hotel room to save money and avoid busy dinner lines.
10. Take a quiet rest break to cool off from the heat and get out of the crowds for awhile.
Disneyland Quiet Areas: Mark Twain Riverboat, bottom level of Hungry Bear Restaurant (nice, open, shaded area with lots of tables and chairs next to the Rivers of America), at the Wishing Well near the castle, on the Disneyland Railroad, and the benches near the Big Thunder Mountain exit.
California Adventure Quiet Areas: Animation Building, the trail behind Grizzly River Run, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail has a couple spots to rest in the shade that are out of the way, the lower deck of Silly Symphony Swings, or go through the entrance to the Grand California Hotel and rest in the beautiful lobby.
11. If you want to see a parade, fireworks, Fantasmic, or World of Color, get there early to save your spot. On busy days, that’s typically at least an hour early. You’ll need a FastPass for World of Color and Fantasmic. These articles http://www.disneytouristblog.com and http://disneydose.com have good tips on where to sit for World of Color and awesome photos and videos. For information on Fantasmic and how the FastPasses work for this show, check out https://touringplans.com. This article https://www.undercovertourist.com is great for figuring out where you want to sit/stand for the fireworks. (A side note: Fantasmic is currently closed while Disneyland works on building a new Star Wars Land in that area).
I hope these tips help you to survive the Disneyland crowds and have a wonderful Disneyland Resort vacation. Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments.