So you've only got a day or maybe a weekend to spend at Disneyland and you want to know how to make the most of your trip. Should you get park hoppers? Can you do both parks in one day? How can you make sure you'll get to go on all the best rides without spending all day in line?
Never fear.. my wife and I have been to Disneyland and California Adventure so many times that it's (almost) embarrassing to admit. While I'm sure many kids dream of going to Disneyland someday, we are two quasi-adults who have gone more times than we can count or is appropriate for a couple without any kids. As an official Disney employee though, it would feel like a waste not to take advantage of free entry into the happiest place on earth as much as possible. We've learned a lot about Disneyland in the past few years and definitely have our own personal favorite rides, but here are a few tips to help you be the most efficient Disney guest you can be.
- Avoid going on peak days if possible - The first step you can take to avoid standing in line is to choose when you go to Disneyland. You can check on the Disneyland website to see when the peak, regular, and value days are, which should give a good indication of which days are the most crowded. https://disneyland.disney.go.com/tickets/
- Buy your tickets in advance to avoid the ticket lines outside of Disney.
- If you're at downtown disney or staying at the disneyland hotels, you can use the monorail to enter the park and avoid the regular line.
- Get the official Disneyland app. It gives you a nice map, accurate wait times for all the rides, show/parade times, and lets you manage all of your PhotoPass/Ride pics in once place.
- Show up early. If you're staying at a Disney hotel, on some days you'll be able to take advantage of the fabled "magic hour" where you can enter the park an hour before everyone else. Even if you're not part of the magic hour, if you can get there right when the park opens to the general pubilc, you'll be able to hit up busiest rides before the lines get too long and even ride on them multiple times in a row. Suggested rides (that usually have long lines) to go on if you're at the park early:
- Cars (California Adventure)
- Midway Mania (California Adventure)
- Soarin' Around the World (California Adventure)
- Hyperspace Mountain (Disneyland)
- Indiana Jones (Disneyland)
- Star Tours (Disneyland)
- Casey Jr Circus Train (Disneyland) - JUST KIDDING. This ride sucks. Don't waste time standing in line for this.
- Stay late - Sometimes (but not always) if you stay till very late, the lines will thin out and you can go on some rides with wait times usually under 30 minutes. A few might be even shorter than that. Here are some rides I've noticed that may have much shorter wait times at the end of the evening (so don't go on these during the day if you have to wait longer than 30 minutes in line).
- Haunted Mansion (Disneyland)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland)
- Big Thunder Mountain (Disneyland)
- Matterhorn Bobsleds (Disneyland)
- It's a small world (Disneyland)
- Take advantage of Fastpasses. This is crucial if you want to avoid standing in line as much as possible. Certain rides have fastpasses which let you skip the regular line (check the disneyland app and when you select an attraction it should tell you if there's a fastpass or not and what time the fastpass will be valid. To get a fastpass, you need to scan your ticket at the ride's fastpass booth and come back during the indicated times on the ticket. You can only get one fastpass (per park) every two hours, so to make the most of this, you'll want to get a designated person (usually someone who doesn't mind walking a lot, who's already been to the park before and knows his/her way around and who's not worried about missing some rides/attractions) to run around getting fastpasses for everyone in your group while they either get food/go to the bathroom/watch a parade, etc. You'll need to keep close track of when the fast passes become available again and what times your fast passes are for. Also getting fast passes for California Adventure's World of Color are separate and don't affect fastpasses for rides. Here's another article going into more detail about fastpasses.
- Ask the Disney photographers standing around to take pictures for your group. If you're into taking group pictures and don't want to awkwardly ask other people to take pictures for you, you can take advantage of Disney's photographers who are paid to take pictures of guests. You can use the Disneyland app which they will scan and the pictures they take will appear in the app. You should also ask them to take pictures with your own camera too though, because the PhotoPass pics cost a lot of money to print or download.
- Park Hop with Caution. If you plan to hop between parks, keep in mind that the time it takes to walk out of the park, get through the entrance line of the other park, and walk to a ride over there could take upwards of 20-30 minutes. Try to do as much as you can in one park before moving on to the next park and only jump back to use a big fastpass (like Cars) or watch one of the big shows (like World of Color)
- Get a Dole Whip Float and watch the Tiki Room show to rest and cool off. The line for the Dole Whips are usually shorter from inside the Tiki Room waiting area.
- Don't bring kids with you (just kidding... sorta)
- My favorite rides at the parks:
- California Screamin' (California Adventure)
- Goofy's Flying School (California Adventure) *(most underrated ride in either park)*
- Star Tours (Disneyland) *(different every time you go on it)*
Let's say you can't get into the park early, which can happen when your group oversleeps or if you're driving in and arrive after the park opening. You can still hit the highlights of each park in one day using the tips above (and see an example itinerary below). If you have two days--even better: you can spend one day at California Adventure and one day at Disneyland (and save a little money by not buying park hopper tickets).
Example Itinerary for California Adventure/Disneyland in a day (requires Park hopper tickets of course):
- 10am: Enter California Adventure, pass all the tickets to one person (the "runner") while the rest of your group lines up for Soarin' Around the World. The runner goes to get fast passes for Cars and World of Color. Usually World of Color is at late in the evening and the Cars fast pass (if available) will also be very late (If Cars is out of fast passes, which it very may well be, you'll have to bite the bullet and wait in line for over an hour or just skip it this time). The runner should then cross over to Disneyland and get fast passes for one of the busiest rides like Hyperspace Mountain or Indiana Jones. The goal early on is to gather as many fast passes as soon as you can to use for later in the day, where you can reap the benefits of skipping the long lines. It's also important to remember that fastpasses tend to run out quickly on the more popular rides, so the earlier you get fastpasses, the better. For the purposes of this sample itinerary, let's say you got Hyperspace Mountain at 8pm and Cars at 8pm as well.
- 11am: Depending on your group, you may want to try California Screamin' if they really like roller coasters. If not, you could start lining up for the Frozen show or go on Grizzly River Rapids. Goofy's Flying School may have short wait times around this time too.
- 12pm: lunch... I'd suggest getting something to go if you're only here one day and want to save time. The lunch hour may have decreased wait times on rides due to people grabbing lunch at this hour. It should be about time to grab more fastpasses from both California Adventure and Disneyland again..perhaps Big Thunder Mountain or Star Tours? For the purpose of this itinerary, let's say you got Star Tours at 7pm.
- 1pm-2pm: Have your group cross over to Disneyland. get in line for something short or watch a parade/take pictures until it is time.
- 2-4pm: Time get more Disneyland fast passes. Let's get one for Big Thunder Mountain and assume it's for 5pm. Have your group stop by the Tiki Room for Dole Whips while they wait for the runner to get fastpasses.
- 5pm-6pm: Use the Big Thunder Mountain fastpass. Have the runner get a new one for Indian Jones (let's say it's for 10pm). Go to Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean if the line is short (under 30 minutes).
- 7pm: Time to use your Star Tours fast pass so head back over to Tomorrowland. You should probably grab some quick dinner around this time, too. If you have a little more time for dinner, I recommend Plaza Inn's fried chicken. Then head over to California Adventure to use your Cars fast passes.
- 8pm-10pm: Use your Cars fastpass then run back to Disneyland to use the Hyperspace Mountain fastpass. Now, you'll need to choose between watching the fireworks at Disneyland or going back California Adventure for the World of Color show. Lately there has been a nighttime parade at Disneyland around this time so if you decide to watch fireworks, you could line up for the parade, then stick around for the fireworks right after that.
- 10pm-12am: California Adventure should be closed by this time so head back over to Disneyland and try to go on rides with shorter lines (see above) and use that Indiana Jones fastpass.
- 1am: Wait in line one more time, for the tram back to the parking lot
This is just an example. This one is extra intense because it involves a lot of park hopping. Feel free to stick to one park to avoid the extra walking if you have the time and also go ahead and substitute the rides that your group wants to go on and the shows/parades you want to see as necessary. Also remember this itinerary is contrived and that you may not always get the fastpasses you want or the times may not always be convenient for you and may conflict with other shows/fastpasses. Lastly, remember that you're in the (allegedly) happiest place on earth so just go with the flow and have a great time there!
Sept 2013 Disneyland blog entry (sadly outdated because it still refers to the Michael Jackson Captain EO movie and the dearly departed Aladdin show):