You're giving your family the best holiday gift ever this year — a trip to Disneyland! We know you want to know how to manage your time, avoid the crowds and save some money on this journey. Don’t worry; we are toadally with you on making this a great trip with our Disneyland holiday tips. You cannot fully escape the crowds, but, with our Disneyland holiday tips and tricks, you will definitely learn how to maximize your time at Disneyland, save some money and outsmart the crowds. If you're looking for more details on what to expect in terms of holiday entertainment, hop on over to our guide to the Hoppiest Holidays at Disneyland.
Our Top 10 Disneyland Holiday Tips
We're so hoppin' excited to celebrate the holidays at Disneyland. It's the most festive time of the year! All the holiday entertainment and fun is back (except World of Color).
But there are a few changes at the Disneyland Resort this year as Disneyland continues a phased reopening following its temporary closure due to CVOID-19. You'll need to bring a face covering for indoor spaces and transportation vehicles. You'll want to plan and reserve your trip earlier than in years past, from purchasing park tickets to making dining reservations. Plus, there will be new time-saving tools to use. Dining and entertainment are much more in demand since people seem to be making up for the lost time in their happy place. We've taken all this into consideration in developing our Disneyland holiday tips for 2021. Our posts on what Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are like right now offer more details and even more tips on visiting at this time.
1. Buy and reserve ASAP
There is a big game-changer this year at Disneyland. The theme parks limit capacity, which is great in terms of controlling the crowds and lines. But that capacity is limited with a park reservation system, which means the holidays will sell out in advance. You need to purchase tickets and reserve your dates now or you will be left out in the cold. OK, more like California sunshine, but you will be sad that you cannot get into Disneyland, so it will feel like Elsa has frozen your heart for a second. Usually, you could decide last-minute which days to visit and even purchase same-day tickets, but that is not the case this year. Here are your most-important links to planning, purchasing and reserving tickets this holiday season:
- Disneyland Park Availability Calendar — Check this calendar before you purchase to make sure the parks you want to visit are available on the days you want to visit. Compare the Park Hopper calendar versus the 1-Day ticket calendar, as they are different, and you may find better availability with a Park Hopper ticket.
- Discount Disneyland Resort Theme Park Tickets — Save with multi-day tickets that have no blackout dates.
- Guide to Disneyland's New Theme Park Reservation System — If you're new to the reservation system, here's how to use it. You may reserve up to 120 days in advance.
- Disney Genie — There are several new tools expected to launch before the holidays that will help you manage time. You may want to purchase a theme park ticket with Disney Genie+ already loaded to save time. We'll go over more details on Disney Genie and Disney Genie+ below.
- Magic Key Pass Access Calendar — If you have this annual pass, you can reserve up to 90 days in advance, and popular dates fill up quickly, but we usually have good luck checking in the evening for cancellations or early in the week (mornings) when more dates are released.
2. Arrive at the front gate 45 minutes before park opening
We have a saying in our family: The early frog gets the flies. And that means getting into Disneyland before rope drop. On crowded days, everyone is trying to arrive in that first hour or two after park opening, so already being in the park before the park opens can mean avoiding the giant line that forms outside the gates and being among the first to ride attractions with little to no wait times. On a busy holiday, it can sometimes take two hours to park, go through security, get a bus or walk to the front of the park and get through the gates. Avoid this by being ahead of the crowd.
The good news about arriving early is that you can eat breakfast in the parks. If you skipped breakfast to skip the lines, you can still enjoy a hearty meal or heavy snack once you're securely in the park and have reserved your first ride with Genie+.
3. Purchase multiple-day tickets with park hopper
When you purchase multi-day passes rather than single-day tickets, you can save a lot of money. All of the one-day tickets sold for Christmas break from Dec. 17, 2021, through Jan. 9, 2022, are at peak prices. Peak prices run $159+ per day for a 1-Park per day ticket, but a 3-day ticket takes the price down to $103.77 per day, a 4-day pass comes to $84.90 per day, and a 5-day pass comes to $71.70 per day. If you're trying to decide which days to visit during the holidays, visiting before Christmas and after Jan. 2 will be your best bet. We recommend at least three days for a first Disneyland visit, but with all the holiday entertainment, you could easily take four or five days to see it all. There is just so much to see and do!
We recommend adding a park hopper to a multi-day ticket at Disneyland. Why? First of all, it's $60 to add Park Hopper to a ticket no matter how many days are on the ticket, so the more days the ticket, the cheaper it is to hop, per day. It's the same $60 whether it's a 1-Day or 5-Day ticket. It comes to just $12 per day per ticket to hop on a 5-day ticket. The theme parks are right across from each other, making hopping quick and easy.
Keep in mind that you can only hop back and forth after 1 p.m. and have to choose a park to start in each day. Having a park hopper gives you more options and flexibility. If Disneyland is full the day you want to visit but Disney California Adventure is available as a starting park, with a park hopper ticket you can start your day at DCA and hop to Disneyland at 1 p.m. That way you can still get all your nighttime holiday Disneyland feels with a parade, fireworks and snowfall.
4. Use time-saving tools to manage your day
You may have heard that some of our favorite ways to skip the lines, FASTPASS and MaxPass, have been retired. But there are several new tools to manage your day this holiday season. Just in time for the holidays, Disneyland is rolling out four new services this fall (TBD):
- Disney Genie — This free service through the Disneyland app can help you plan your itinerary and get suggestions in real-time.
- Disney Genie+ — This optional paid service ($20 per person, per day) allows you to make selections to skip the standby line and access rides through the Lightning Lane (formerly FASTPASS Return entrance) via your smartphone. It also includes PhotoPass.
- Individual Lightning Lane selections — Three of the most popular rides are not on Genie+. You can pay to skip the line for Radiator Springs Racers (the standby line and Single Rider line remain free) and two rides that may use free virtual queues: WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
- Re-vamped Disability Access Service (DAS) — People with certain disabilities can soon set up DAS in advance of their visit via video chat and can make DAS return time selections on their phone instead of getting them in person.
Since you’ll be visiting during the most crowded days of the year (which fall during the holiday season), it is worth it to add on Genie+, which will operate similar to MaxPass. We frogs are always looking to save money, but this is not one of those times. We promise that you will not regret this add-on cost to be able to skip some lines.
It's up to you to decide if you want to add on some individual Lightning Lane selections. The per-person, per-ride price will vary per day. You can still access the free virtual queues, so give those a try first before shelling out money to pay per ride. However, if you fail to join, then it is nice to have a buy-in option if those rides are super important to you. Hop over to our Disneyland virtual queue post to learn tips on how to join the virtual queue for free. Our Genie+ FAQ post may answer your questions about Disney Genie, Genie+ and individual Lightning Lane selections.
There are a few other tools to keep in mind. You’ll want to arrive at the parks not only with our Disneyland holiday tips in mind and these new tools but also armed with a touring plan. Some rides offer Single Rider lines for parties that do not mind being split up (all guests must be age 7 or older). If you have smaller children who don't want to ride or aren't tall enough, ask about Rider Switch at the ride entrance.
5. Check the entertainment schedule
Be sure to check the entertainment guide each day so you know what to expect and can map out your day. That way, you know of any special holiday entertainment such as parades, snowfall, fireworks, tree lightings, or Viva Navidad! celebration showtimes to be sure that you do not miss anything. Knowing what shows and parades are on your must-see list can help you plan your day and formulate a touring plan. Some days have special entertainment available, such as New Year's Eve. You can find the calendar at the Disneyland site and on the Disneyland app (there are no longer paper entertainment guides). Arrive early for all shows and entertainment, and get in place for fireworks and parades well in advance.
6. Make dining reservations
Having dining reservations during the busiest days of the year is a smart plan for several reasons. This is one of our top Disneyland holiday tips! It takes the guesswork out of where to eat. It helps you skip long food lines and avoids that awkward search for a table while carrying a heavy tray of food with your froglets in tow. Plus it allows you to sit down and rest your tired feet and legs. You can make reservations for restaurants in the parks, hotels and Downtown Disney up to 60 days in advance through Disney Dining. There are usually special Christmas meals Dec. 22 through 25 at Storytellers Café, Goofy’s Kitchen and Napa Rose. Napa Rose usually offers a New Year's Eve bash. Hop over to our New Year's Eve post if you plan to visit then.
We recently got the parade dining package at Plaza Inn. It was pricey, but it took the guesswork out of where and when to watch the parade. Plus we enjoyed surrounding Town Square entertainment while we waited for the parade to start.
If you miss out on reservations, there is still hope. Keep checking! You might pick up a cancellation. Also once you're in the park and near a restaurant, you can check for walk-up availability for that location in the Disneyland app.
Another strategy for snacks and meals in the park is to carry some food with you so that if your blood sugar levels take a dive, you have quick and easy choices available without waiting in line. Bringing snacks can save you some money and whining. It’s a win-win!
Be sure to take advantage of Mobile Order. At busy times, such as the holidays, we pre-order our food, and even treats, a couple hours in advance before we get hungry so that it'll be ready right when we're ready to eat. If you wait until you are hungry to start thinking about meals and find that the arrival windows are one to two hours away, you'll have some #hangry froggies. Nobody wants that. Keep everyone hoppy by planning ahead for meals and having some snacks on hand. Save some room for some of these Disneyland holiday treats.
7. Check the weather
Be prepared for sunshine, rain and cool nighttime temperatures. A warm, sunny day at Disneyland, can turn into sweatshirt weather as soon as the sun sets. There are lockers at Disneyland to store nighttime clothes or rain ponchos, or if you have a stroller, you can store them underneath for later. With the new reservation system, you'll be locked into your day no matter the weather, so dress for comfort.
8. Pack patience
When so many people are in one place, you’ll need to expect lines and that you'll be walking at a much slower pace than you're used to. That just comes with celebrating holidays at Disneyland. You may need to hop in place for parades and fireworks fairly early, and you should plan an hour or two ahead for that. You should plan extra time for meals and consider eating at less crowded times.
Lily still uses a stroller at Disneyland, and on crowded days, we have developed a love-hate relationship with that stroller. You might want to park your stroller in a central area of each land, while you visit multiple nearby attractions and only use it for traveling longer distances. It can be more challenging to move in a crowd with a stroller, but it does come in handy for transporting tired toddlers, schlepping bags and keeping children strapped in and safe.
9. Take measures to avoid lost children
Nobody plans to lose a child, but with heavy crowds and so much to see, it can be easier to do than you think. Be smart and plan ahead. Talk to your kids about safety and sticking close by. Hold hands as much as possible. Tell kids what to do if they get separated — they should stop and look around them. If they cannot find you, they should go to a Disney employee with a name tag to get help. Set up a plan in advance with older children for where to meet if you get separated, and have a plan for a time and place to meet at the end of the day if you're splitting up. Don’t rely on cellphones, which can die. Carry portable chargers to prevent this. Take a group photo in the morning so you can note each person’s clothing. Wearing matching colors or shirts can make it so much easier to keep an eye on everyone. Read on for more tips to avoid losing a child at Disneyland.
10. Stay nearby and avoid parking at Disneyland
If you can stay on-site or at a nearby hotel, it can make your life a lot easier. It's best if you can walk to Disneyland from your hotel instead of driving. If you can take a bus or taxi/Uber, it can save you over an hour of parking. Parking runs $30, but on busy days in the morning, the process of parking can become very time-consuming and you do not want to waste the precious early hours of the day sitting in gridlock traffic. Plus, if you need a break or nap time, staying nearby can be convenient for that mid-afternoon break. Looking for lodging in the Disneyland area? Undercover Tourist can help you get a jump on that with discounted hotels in Anaheim near the Los Angeles area. We even offer discounts on Disneyland Resort hotels!
Sounds like you're in for an amazing journey spending the holidays at Disneyland. Follow these Disneyland holiday tips and you'll be good to go! Remember you can save some green on Disneyland Resort tickets and hotels with your favorite festive froggy friends.