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You are 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 are 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.
10 Disneyland Holiday Tips
1. Arrive at the front gate 30 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 rides with no wait time. On a busy holiday it can sometimes take two hours to park, get a shuttle, go through security, and get through the gates. Avoid this by being ahead of the crowd. The good news is that they serve breakfast in the parks, so if you skipped breakfast to skip the lines, you can still enjoy a hearty meal once you are securely in the park and have obtained your first FASTPASS.
2. Avoid the park with early entry
If you do not have an early entry ticket, then avoid the park that offers Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour. That park tends to be the more crowded park all day and will run through FASTPASS distribution a lot faster than on days that do not offer early entry. Disneyland has early entry on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Disney California Adventure offers early entry on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
3. Purchase multiple day tickets
When you purchase multiday 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 15 through January 7 are at peak prices. Peak prices run $124 per day, but a 3-day pass takes the price down to $90 per day, a 4-day pass comes to $72.50 per day, and a 5-day pass comes to $61 per day. If you are trying to decide which days to visit during the holidays, visiting before December 15 and after January 2 will be your best bet. Rumor has it that while still crowded, December 24, 25, and January 1 (especially in the morning on New Years Day) may be slightly less crowded than the surrounding days. Because December 24 falls on a weekend, that may mean it could be more crowded than if it fell during the week.
4. Skip the lines with MaxPass and FASTPASS
You’ll want to arrive at the parks not only with these Disneyland holiday tips in mind, but also armed with a touring plan. Since you’ll be visiting during the most crowded days of the year (which fall during the holiday season), it’s definitely a great time to splurge on MaxPass. MaxPass is an optional paid service that allows you to make FASTPASS reservations from your smartphone, plus it includes unlimited PhotoPass downloads. You can add MaxPass to your multi-day ticket when purchasing, or you can add a day of MaxPass to your ticket once you have entered a park. MaxPass costs $10 per person per day. 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. Even though the parks still offer free FASTPASS distribution, there are several advantages to MaxPass over regular FASTPASS:
- You can reserve FASTPASS for rides in either park if you are ParkHopping.
- MaxPass usually offers earlier return windows than are concurrently being distributed by the free machines—like several hours earlier.
- You can usually reserve your next ride much faster with MaxPass than with the free FASTPASS, allowing you to get in many more rides when using the paid MaxPass.
- You can save the walk to collect a FASTPASS, and during the crowded holidays it just makes life much easier and less stressful to reserve from your phone than it is to fight your way through the crowds to get to a distribution kiosk with your tadpoles and strollers. Less walking means having more time for other fun in the parks!
If you are debating whether to add MaxPass or add ParkHopper, go for MaxPass and just explore one park per day. MaxPass saves money over ParkHopper, and you can focus on one park at a time. It seems to us that stand-by lines are longer now that more people are using FASTPASS and MaxPass, so you do not want to be left out in the cold. Skipping the lines definitely helps keep frustration levels down. If you are traveling with a foreign phone and do not have cell services, be aware that the wifi in the park is spottier than a speckled frog, so using MaxPass may be more frustrating for you. Get help if you have any trouble from the information kiosks located throughout the parks. Keep in mind that not all rides offer FASTPASS. We frogs have had the opportunity to hop about the parks and use MaxPass on both uncrowded and extremely crowded days, and besides a few technical difficulties we really love how much more we can accomplish, even on a crowded day, with MaxPass in hand. It’s a game changer and should be on your holiday wish list and part of your Disneyland holiday survival guide.
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 like parades, snowfall, fireworks, World of Color, or Viva Navidad! celebration show times (as well as other great everyday shows like Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, Jedi Training, Fantasmic! and more) 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 Years Eve. You can also find some unique holiday character opportunities by consulting the park entertainment guide at the turnstiles.
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, it avoids that awkward search for a table while carrying a heavy tray of food with your froglets in tow, plus it allows you 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 special Christmas meals Dec 22 through 25 at Storytellers Café, Goofy’s Kitchen, and Napa Rose. There is a New Years Eve Dinner Buffet at Disney’s PCH Grill, but it sells out fairly early. Napa Rose also offers a New Years Eve bash.
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!
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.
8. Pack patience
When so many people are in one place, you’ll need to expect lines and that you will be walking at a much slower pace than you are 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 and hour or two ahead for that. You should plan extra time for meals, and might 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 nametag 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 are splitting up. Don’t rely on cellphones, which can die. Take a group photo in the morning so you can note each person’s clothing, and wearing matching colors or shirts can make it easier to keep an eye on everyone.
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 is 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 $20, 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 naptime, 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.
Sounds like you are in for an amazing journey spending the holidays at Disneyland. Follow these Disneyland holiday tips and you'll be good to go! Be sure to visit our Guide to the Hoppiest Holidays at Disneyland to help you plan your trip and learn all about the special entertainment offered this season.