How to Maximize A Trip To Disneyland

Iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle

A trip to the happiest place on earth doesn’t always feel like it.  The Disneyland Resort is crowded on most days and the cost for a family of four is enough to put a down payment on a house.  A few tips and little planning can make things a lot easier. To get the most out of your trip, here are some of the top ways to maximize your trip to Disneyland.

Epcot (left) is 300 acres. Disneyland and California Adventure combined are only 157 acres. Google Maps

Size Matters

For those used to Disneyworld, the Disneyland Resort is much smaller yet packed to the gills with attractions and shows.  In fact, the entirety of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure easily fit inside of Epcot.  However, the two California parks pack in as many attractions as the four Disney parks in Florida. What that means is the ability to do more in less time by not having to travel more.

All Disney parks require guests go through security to enter the Theme Parks.  Disneyland has recently extended their checks to include Downtown Disney as well as the parks.  Once inside, you have free reign to go back and forth between either park and Downtown Disney without having to go back through security.  All told the intimacy Disneyland has over its Florida sibling makes it much easier to get around and allows guests to see more in a day.

Buying your tickets in advance saves lots of time in this line

Buy Tickets in Advance

Avoid one line by buying your tickets in advance.  The easiest option is purchasing on the Disneyland website or the official Disneyland App.  You may also purchase tickets from authorized resellers like Undercover Tourist and save a little money.  Walk right up to the gate and begin your day. 

Get There Early and Stay Late

The early bird gets the worm.  Attraction wait times are always lower early and late in the day.  This is especially true at Disneyland where a large portion of visitors are locals and tend to show up later in the day.  Being at the front gates 30 minutes before the park opens will allow you to experience 3-4 attractions with minimal wait on most days.  

Staying late also has its advantages.  Crowds thin out after parades and fireworks.  Take advantage and besides, Disneyland is great after dark.  Another tip is to take a break mid day to recharge when crowds are at their peak.

Use Fast Pass

Fast Pass is a service that “virtually” saves your place in line at key attractions while you enjoy the rest of the park.  Unlike DisneyWorld where you reserve attraction times well in advance, at Disneyland you must be in the park and reserve a time later that same day. 

There is a free FastPass service and a paid MaxPass service available.  FastPass has kiosks located next to the attraction.  Scan you ticket and the machine spits out a return time ticket, allowing you to skip to the front during a one hour window.  MaxPass allows visitors to do the same thing but in a virtual setting through the Disneyland App.  This enables you to not have to visit the attraction to get your return ticket.  You can also change your return time or change attractions in MaxPass, something you cannot do with the free FastPass.  Unlike DisneyWorld’s system at Disneyland you may not book attraction times in advance of your visit.  You must have your entry ticket scanned and be in the park before you can start selecting attraction return times. MaxPass currently costs $10 per day per person or a $75 to all Annual Passes except Signature Plus and Premier which includes the service as no additional charge.

You can only hold one Fast Pass at a time.  The key to maximizing your trip is to always be holding a Fast Pass.  As seen above, your ticket will display the time window you can ride along with the next available time you can get another Fast Pass. Time it correctly to pick up your next Fast Pass as soon as you can.  

Know When to Hit Key Attractions

Disneyland is a crowded park and you will no doubt hit lines.  You can minimize how long you wait by creating an itinerary that is designed to avoid hitting the busiest attractions at peak times.  Assuming you arrive at rope drop (When the park opens) your first stop of the day should be Fantasyland.  The rides are low capacity and none of them have skip the line FastPass.  Peter Pan’s Flight will typically hit a 40 minute wait within a short time after opening.  Knock out Fantasyland within the first 1-2 hours of opening and you will be way ahead of the game.  Another tip for Fantasyland is riding them right after the fireworks.  Most of the rides close for the Fireworks show and will re-open right after.  This is another opportunity to get in a ride or two with minimal wait.

While it is important to know which rides have a low capacity, it is equally important to know which rides enjoy a high capacity and therefore can accommodate more riders.  Attractions with a high capacity include Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and It’s a Small World.  Ride these attractions when the park is busier.  Combine this strategy with smart use of Fast Pass and you can get the maximum number of attractions per day.

Use the Disneyland App

Technology can come in handy during your visit.  The official Disneyland app along with some third part unofficial app’s give up to date wait time and will also let you know when attractions go down temporarily (which happens quite often.) . The app also is great for providing entertainment show times, allows to make dining reservations, has a park map, and more.

Using Single Rider lines can save a lot of time

Use Single Rider lines

Many rides including some of the most popular accommodate single riders to fill in empty seats.  If you are visiting alone or don’t mind riding without your family and friends, single rider lines typically are a fraction of the regular standby queue.  Currently the following rides have single rider options at the Disneyland Resort:

Indiana Jones Adventure -Disneyland

Splash Mountain – Disneyland

Matterhorn – Disneyland

Radiator Springs Racers -Disney California Adventure

California Screamin’ – Disney California Adventure

Goofy’s Sky School – Disney California Adventure

Grizzly River Run -Disney California Adventure

Food, Parades, and Shows

Eventually you will want to get off your feet. Watching a show mid day allows you to take a break while continuing to enjoy what the park has to offer.  Disneyland and California Adventure both have lots of great entertainment choices.  Check a Times Guide for options and show times.

For the ultimate in efficiency, have a snack or full meal while claiming your spot for a parade.  To grab a premium viewing spot for a parade waiting over an hour is not uncommon.  Luckily Disneyland as lots of great snacks that you can eat while waiting. 

Eating at table service in Disneyland is a wonderful experience, but is a time waster.  Disneyland is loaded with very good counter service options that allows you to have a quality meal quickly and get back to the rides.

Be Aware of Seasonal Changes

Disneyland offers many seasonal events and attraction overlays.  These provide a great chance to see an attraction in a different light, but also bring large crowds.  For example, the Haunted Mansion has a fairly short wait most of the year, but during Halloween and Christmas, it transforms into Haunted Mansion Holiday and commands a much longer wait time.  The same goes for It’s a Small World during Christmas.  Keep that in mind when deciding when planning.

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