It's one of the busiest times of the year at the Happiest Place on Earth. Heading to the Disneyland Resort during your summer vacation requires planning and a cool head. Seriously. The hot California weather can cause meltdowns to your patience as well as your Mickey Ice Cream bar. So here's to summer, and here are 13 tips to manage the summer crowds and heat at Disneyland so that you have a magical trip.
Managing Summer Crowds and Heat at Disneyland
1. Buy Tickets in Advance
You'll be standing in lines all day — you do not want to add a line at the ticket booth. Be prepared by purchasing admission tickets in advance. Disneyland single-day ticket pricing varies per day and season, so some days are more expensive than others. For single-day tickets, most of the summer is designated as either regular or peak season. You might find a few weekdays in late August marked as value days. Here's more info on the best times to visit Disneyland.
Multi-day tickets seem to be the best way to go, and passes that are three days and longer come with one Magic Morning admission (if bought online, but not at the ticket booth). Plus, the more days you buy in advance, the cheaper it is per day to add Park Hopper privileges.
Undercover Tourist has hopped into discount Disneyland ticket sales, so you can save even more on both Park Hopper and 1 park per day tickets (and you’ll still get to enjoy one Magic Morning for tickets that are three days and longer)!
2. Arrive Early
We cannot stress this enough. If you are staying on-site or have access to a Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour early entry, take advantage of it. But that requires this tactic — arriving early for the early entry. Say what? With bag checks and metal detectors the new normal, it takes a while to make it to the park gates. If the park opens at 9 a.m. and early entry is 8 a.m., aim to be through security and at the front gate by 7:30 a.m. That will give you the best use of that magic hour. If you're staying at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, you can take advantage of its own entrance into Disney California Adventure Park.
Disneyland has Magic Morning hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. California Adventure has Magic Morning on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The FASTPASS ride reservation system is now active during Magic Morning to collect return times, but the return times begin once the park is officially open to the public.
If you do not have Magic Morning, you should also arrive early, but for the lowest morning crowds, you should go to the park that is NOT having Magic Morning. Aim to arrive at the gate 30 minutes before park opening and go as far as the ropes. Grab your coffee and perhaps a pastry. When the park opens, you will be the first in line for your own magic morning of low crowds since many early birds are in the other park. Early arrival helps to manage summer crowds and heat at Disneyland, allowing you to beat the harsh midday sun and the late risers.
3. Use FASTPASS Throughout the Day
It is tempting to run on Big Thunder Mountain or Star Tours with no wait first thing in the morning, but you can grab a FASTPASS for one of those rides right away, then go on some attractions that do not offer FASTPASS, such as Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Pirates of the Caribbean or most of the rides in Fantasyland (especially Peter Pan and Dumbo) while their lines are short. As soon as you can acquire another FASTPASS, do so. Save those FASTPASS rides for the end of their one-hour return window because your FASTPASS short wait is secure, but the waits at other lines will just get longer.
FASTPASSes for Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure are distributed early in the day and run out quickly. If you want a FASTPASS, get in line for one at park opening. Leap here for our Guide to Disneyland FASTPASS.
4. Make the Most of Disney MaxPass
The process of getting FASTPASS has changed for some people with the optional Disney MaxPass add-on. MaxPass is a paid FASTPASS service that allows guests to reserve tickets through the Disneyland mobile app rather than acquiring paper tickets. We’ve used the service a lot and have found it to be a game-changer in terms of getting on more rides and being able to make FASTPASS reservations more quickly from anywhere once we have entered a park for the day. Read our post about Disney MaxPass to learn how it works and how to get the most from your investment in it. It also includes unlimited PhotoPass photos, so if you are a fan of the on-ride photos or the professional photos taken in the parks, MaxPass will save money vs purchasing downloads. MaxPass does not work for show FASTPASS; If you want to get a FASTPASS for Fantasmic! or World of Color, be sure to pick up a paper FASTPASS ticket in the morning.
5. Use Single Rider Lines
A number of attractions offer a much shorter Single Rider line, and if you have kids ages 7 and up willing to ride alone, that could be a time-saver for you. Keep in mind that they may close the Single Rider lines if they get long, and you do not get to choose your seat, so if you must have the front seat, then Single Rider is not for you. The following Disneyland rides offer Single Rider:
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Splash Mountain
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Space Mountain
The following Disney California Adventure rides offer Single Rider:
- Grizzly River Run
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Radiator Springs Racers
There is another option at Disney California Adventure — the Buddy Pass. Both Monster’s Inc. and Toy Story Midway Mania offer Buddy Passes to small groups of one or two people to fill in empty rows. At Toy Story Midway Mania, the row can also accommodate two adults and one small child, although only two people can play the games.
6. Visit Water Attractions Early or Late
The summer heat sends waves of people to Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run. Once the day heats up, the line for these attractions will grow. We recommend grabbing a FASTPASS for Indiana Jones on the way to Splash Mountain and then riding Splash Mountain first thing. For Disney California Adventure, grab a FASTPASS for Soarin' or Radiator Springs Racers, then head to Grizzly River Run. You will stay cool for some time and have plenty of time to dry off during the day. If you miss your window to ride these attractions, then try to get a FASTPASS, but if the return times don’t work for you, ride it later at night. People usually lose interest in the water rides once it gets dark.
7. Cool Off Midday
If you are staying locally, take a break from the park midday. Mid-afternoon tends to get crowded and hot, so go take the tadpoles for a dip in the pool. I know I love to get some pool time or a nap and shower in before going back into the park for round two. If you do not have a room close by, the afternoon is a great time to see Frozen — Live at the Hyperion, enjoy a reservation lunch at a relaxing restaurant like Carthay Circle or Blue Bayou, or leave the park to have a character dining lunch or chill out at Downtown Disney with a bite, beverage and maybe even a game of bowling or VR experience at The Void. You will all feel refreshed and ready to hop back into the park for evening entertainment, which you do not want to miss. Stay in the park as late as you can. Most people leave after the fireworks, so the lines take a sharp dive. If you can, stick it out and enjoy the rare warm nights of Southern California.
8. Make Dining Reservations Now
You can make reservations for table service restaurants inside the parks, Downtown Disney and the hotels 60 days in advance (starting at midnight PST). You can use the online system or call after 7 a.m. PST. Being able to sit down and relax for a nice meal will really help you to recharge and have the energy for long days in the parks.
9. Get Park Hopper Tickets
If you only have a few days in the parks, spring for Park Hopper tickets. The price goes down per day the longer your stay. If you buy a four-day Park Hopper ticket from Undercover Tourist, the total increase is still only $50 more than a 1-Park ticket to have this advantage for all four days. That’s only $12.50 per day more to have the Park Hopper advantage! The two parks are a minute’s walk from each other, so if one park is crowded, you can escape to the other park, which might not be as crowded. The park that does not have Magic Morning tends to be the less crowded park throughout the day. If you have Magic Morning AND a Park Hopper, you can really take advantage of being able to visit one park extra early and then migrate to the less-crowded park after opening.
10. Expect Bigger Crowds Than Usual at Disney California Adventure in 2019
Disney California Adventure is usually less crowded when many of the Annual Passholders are blocked out in summer; however, beginning summer 2019, the annual pass system is changing. The blockouts now vary by park, so some mid- level Passholders have access to Disney California Adventure on days that they are blocked from Disneyland Park during the end of June through the middle of August. With the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and changing blockout systems, it will be difficult to predict park crowds for either park in 2019. You don’t want to miss this gem of a park, though. Disney California Adventure is where you can meet some characters who are not at Disneyland such as Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Marvel heroes, the residents of Radiator Springs, Zootopia characters, the Incredibles, other Pixar characters and more.
California Adventure is a great park with many unique attractions such as Toy Story Midway Mania, Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’, Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!, the Incredicoaster and a thrilling water ride — Grizzly River Run. It also has several underutilized rides and indoor attractions that offer shorter lines, such as Animation Academy and Sorcerer's Workshop. Be sure to grab a FASTPASS for the nighttime show, World of Color. You can buy adult drinks in California Adventure and many of our favorite table service restaurants are there.
11. Know How to Cool Off
The Disneyland sun is strong. It may not be as humid as Disney World, but you will definitely be feeling the heat and sun, especially in July, August and through the fall. Bring sunscreen, hats and even umbrellas or blankets for shade.
Our favorites rides and shows for cooling off at Disneyland Park include:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- it’s a small world
- Splash Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Star Tours
- Haunted Mansion
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- The Enchanted Tiki Room (bring your Dole Pineapple Whip inside and enjoy it while you watch the air-conditioned show)
- Mickey and the Magical Map
- “Tangled” or “Beauty and the Beast” live shows at the Royale Theatre
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Our favorite ways to cool off at California Adventure include:
- Grizzly River Run
- Frozen — Live at the Hyperion
- “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” show
- The Little Mermaid — Ariel's Undersea Adventure
- Water play area in Bug’s Land
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Disney Animation (Turtle Talk, meeting Anna, Elsa and Olaf; taking an art lesson at Animation Academy; and the Sorcerer’s Workshop.)
- Eat at Carthay Circle restaurant or lounge
- Grab an inside, downstairs table at Lamplight Lounge and cool off with a frosty drink
Another way to stay cool is to indulge in the many ice cream treats, fresh fruit, frozen lemonades and icy drinks (like the colorful Memory Refreshers at Bing Bong's Sweet Stuff) in the park. Be sure to stay hydrated by carrying water with you!
12. Catch a Later Parade or Show
In the summertime, there are often two afternoon parades. If that is the case, opt to watch the second parade to mitigate the summer crowds and heat at Disneyland. Not only are you likely get a spot closer to parade time than the earlier parade, but also you’ll find more shade available and slightly cooler temperatures. While the nighttime shows do not have sun and heat issues, you’ll find it less crowded and easier to get a good spot if you wait to see the later show (which is why that afternoon break or nap is so important)!
13. Relax on a Bench Near the Castle
Some of the most surprising things have happened while we were simply sitting on a bench near the castle. We spend so much time rushing around the park trying to get it all in, but there is tremendous value is just sitting still and observing. While sitting near the castle, we have seen the Disneyland Band play, with Mickey and friends dancing about and then parading down Main Street. We have seen Mary Poppins and Bert stroll by (as well as other characters on their way to meet guests). We have also seen the Pearly Band play with Mary Poppins and Bert dancing in a show. And it is fun to people watch, as well! These are not necessarily things you will find on any entertainment schedule, but they have been special experiences for our family. Also, the benches just behind the churro cart to the right of the castle and near the path to the Wishing Well make a great place to sit and watch for characters coming from the pretty path to Tomorrowland. So sometimes we grab some ice cream or popcorn and have a seat to rest and see what will happen next. Usually, some ducks come by to say hello, which is always fun for the little frogs.
Summer can be an amazing time at Disneyland due to the long days and exciting entertainment. Do not let fear of crowds stop your fun. If you plan well, you can manage those summer crowds, beat the heat and have a great time.
How do you beat the heat and have a great summertime visit to the Disneyland Resort? Do you have any more questions about summer crowds and heat at Disneyland? Share in comments below!