Disneyland is celebrating 60 years through September 5, 2016, and one of the most anticipated celebrations remains the Paint the Night Parade. If you are visiting Disneyland you don’t want to miss this parade, which combines all the nostalgia of the Electrical Light Parade with modern technology and over one million sparkling lights to bring guests unique and exciting entertainment. It is sure to thrill every member of your family. The Frog Family has watched this parade several times, and we have some advice for you so that you can find the best viewing of Paint the Night Parade to make it a magical and unforgettable experience.
Tips for the Best Viewing of Paint the Night
Step 1: Plan Ahead
This parade is one of the most popular attractions for tourists and season pass holders alike. The first day we watched the parade there was an 8:50 p.m. parade and an 11:00 p.m. parade. People started reserving their spots for the first parade before 5:00 p.m. All benches and curbs were taken first. Families laid out blankets and ate picnics while they waited. The parade times do vary based on the time of year and park hours, so check the calendar and show times ahead of time. Assess the crowds during your visit to make a plan for getting your spot. A less-crowded day is easier to get a good spot. As time has gone on it has gotten easier to find a great spot without having to camp out, but you still need to pay attention about two hours before the parade or plan to watch the later parade, which is much less crowded.
If you do decide to put down a blanket to save your parade-viewing spot, be aware that about 30 minutes prior to the show a cast member may ask you pick up your belongings and stand up so that other guests can squeeze in behind you. Your whole party should be present by this time. Main Street curbs and benches along the route fill up quickly. The raised areas across from Small World offer a great view and do not start to fill up until the 30 minutes before the parade.
If you are traveling with a guest in a wheelchair, there are a few mobility disability parade-viewing areas. One is near the Disney Showcase near the entrance to the park. Another is across from It’s a Small World. There is one near Pixie Hollow, but the ground is not perfectly flat there, and we have heard from guests that it is not ideal. If you want to stay in place for both Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever Fireworks, the It’s a Small World location might be the best bet.
Step 2: Know the Parade Route
Paint the Night “lives” by It’s a Small World. The first parade of the night begins near It’s a Small World and travels toward the castle, then down Main Street, ending near the Mad Hatter by the entrance to the park. The second show reverses the route and heads back home to It’s a Small World. If you are facing the castle on Main Street, be aware that the parade travels only on the right-hand side (the Tomorrowland side) of the circle. You do not want to be stuck on a curb on the Frontierland side of the circle, or you will be further from the action.
The best viewing of Paint the Night Parade at Disneyland is a spot in which you can see the parade coming for a while. That will give you the best viewing pleasure and a chance to watch the many dancers and sparkling floats for the longest amount of time. So know which direction the parade is coming toward you. You can always ask a cast member for advice if you forget.
Step 3: Choose a Spot That Also Allows You to Watch Fireworks
Are you watching the Disneyland Forever fireworks? The Parade and Fireworks are a great way to put a grand finale on your day at Disneyland, and depending on the show schedule, they are often scheduled near each other. The first parade often ends shortly before the fireworks show. The parade (if you are stationary) lasts about 20 minutes, but the last float reaches the end of the route about 40 minutes after the parade begins. The fireworks usually begin about 5 to 10 minutes after that first parade ends (again, check the schedule for possible variations). That does not give you a lot of time to move, and navigating is difficult as many viewing areas are roped off and crowds are very thick at that time.
Most people stay in their same spot to watch fireworks, so choose a parade-viewing location that is also a good fireworks location. This is much easier on you, too. The fireworks appear to go off behind the castle but also behind Toontown, so viewing locations that look toward the castle on Main Street or at It’s a Small World (facing Toontown) will allow you to see both the projection and the fireworks show. Try to avoid being directly behind or under the many trees in the park. Many of the central viewing locations in front of the castle are reserved for VIP guests (people who paid for tours or dining plans).
If you are viewing Paint the Night from a curb or sidewalk on Main Street, immediately following the parade you will be asked to take your belongings and move into the street for fireworks and projection. The Disneyland Forever fireworks begin only about 5 to 10 minutes after the parade ends there and people will move in quickly.
One of the advantages of staying in place (or nearby) for both Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever is that it becomes extremely difficult to move within the crowds of people in between the shows. Disneyland Cast members control the direction of foot traffic. Plus, they close the area between Alice in Wonderland and the castle before the Fireworks. You cannot simply follow the parade from Small World or the Matterhorn onto Main Street. You cannot make a left from Tomorrowland onto Main Street. You will want to just stay in place.
If you are watching the parade near It’s a Small World, you will have plenty of time between parade end and when the fireworks start. We like to move to the fence in front of the It’s a Small World line (and slightly to the right of the entrance) after the parade goes by. It is uncrowded and offers a first-row view of the projection. The fireworks are very close by. You have plenty of room. Yes, there is a bit of a longer wait between shows there, but much less stress.
Step 4: Decide How Late You Can Stay Up
The Frog Family does not enjoy spending several hours waiting for the first parade. (You know we frogs are always trying to save time.) We choose to go on rides up until about 15 minutes before the fireworks, because Tad likes taking advantage of the significantly shorter ride lines during the first parade. If we simply cannot stay up late we’ll find a great last-minute parade spot about 15 to 20 minutes before the show in the raised areas across from It’s a Small World.
If we are watching the late parade, we like to watch the castle view of fireworks show from Main Street and then after all of those people make for the exit, we find a great spot to watch Paint the Night on Main Street on a curb across from Jolly Holiday, which happens to be one of the best quick-service restaurants in Disneyland. We get some baked goods to snack on while we wait an hour for the parade, and Tad and Lily do some shopping at the light-up toy souvenir kiosks. The first time we watched the late parade, the froglets bought some magical wands and paintbrushes that interacted with the parade as well as other guests’ light-up ears and bows or toys nearby. That made the time fly quickly. Before the parade, the crowd is usually very entertaining and excited.
The late parade is definitely past Lily’s bedtime, but it is worth it to have a good seat to see the parade coming down Main Street, and Lily literally hopping up and down to see Tinkerbell, Woody, Buzz, Lightning McQueen, Sulley, Belle, Ariel, Anna, Elsa and other favorite movie characters, as well as Mickey and all of his friends all lighting up the night. The music is upbeat and even includes a little bit of the original Electrical Light Parade music, which brings back many happy childhood memories for Mommy Frog and me. Tad recorded the parade so he can relive it over and over. We all sleep in the next day. If you have an early morning the next day, the late parade may not be a good choice.
You will need to decide which parade time is right for your family. If you have young children or find that an earlier parade is the only one that will do for you, then plan ahead, bring a blanket or lily pad to sit on, and provide food and maybe some activities to occupy the kids. Think up some games, people watch or encourage them to take a nap — we know that spending a day in the park is exhausting. One parent can even take kids on some rides while the other holds the spot. If you can stay up late, then the later show is definitely easier to catch and you will be part of a much thinner crowd as you exit the park. As time goes on those crowds are thinning a bit and forming later, so just keep an eye on when people start claiming spots.
Skip the Steps and Make Paint the Night Dining Plans
If you really want to make finding your parade location stress-free, you might consider reserving a Paint the Night Dining Plan. One of the new dining options in 2016 is the addition of Paint the Night packages. They have meal-on-the go packages from Aladdin’s Oasis that give you a voucher for a reserved location to watch the parade near It’s a Small World. We have not had problems securing a good viewing area in that location, and we always strive to save money at Disneyland, so we have not tried that or the other more expensive option.
If you have always dreamed of eating at the romantic Blue Bayou restaurant located inside Pirates of the Caribbean, then perhaps the three-course prix fixe table-service meal that offers a voucher for a preferred parade viewing area on Main Street would work for you. Main Street is definitely the more challenging place to get a perfect viewing location. You can make dining reservations up to 60 days in advance.
No matter where and when you watch Paint the Night parade, you and your family members will be asking, “When can we do this again?”
We hope you'll find these tips help you find the best viewing of Paint the Night Parade. If you have more tips, be sure to share them below. And if you have questions about the parade, let us know those too.