A note from Leap: After a temporary closure due to COVID-19, Disneyland theme parks will begin a phased reopening in late April! Hop over to our Disneyland reopening post for the latest dates, news and what to expect. The following tips for managing crowds and heat during summer at Disneyland apply to a typical year. Some of the below advice, tools and entertainment will not apply or be available in summer 2021. With the changing pandemic and California guidelines for theme parks in flux, it's a tad early to predict summer tips. Keep hopping back for updates once a reopening date and the details are announced.
Ah, summertime! It's one of the hoppiest times of the year at the Happiest Place on Earth, with new celebrations, long days and so much exciting entertainment. But summer can also be one of the hottest and most crowded times of the year.
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. Don't worry. We are pros at Disney summers and we have frogtastic tips to help you keep your cool! Here are 14 tips for managing the summer crowds and heat at Disneyland so that you can make it a magical trip.
Tips for Hopping to Disneyland in the Summer
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. In fact once Disneyland reopens, a reservations system will be in place to limit capacity. That means you will have no choice but to purchase and reserve in advance. Disneyland single-day ticket pricing varies per day and season, so some days are more expensive than others. Here's more info on the best times to visit Disneyland.
Multi-day tickets are the more affordable way to go, and tickets that are three days and longer come with one Magic Morning admission (when purchased online). At least they did before the pandemic. We do not know if Magic Morning will return during the reopening phase. We can say with confidence that the more days you buy, the cheaper it is per day to add park hopper privileges! Adding park hopper to a one-day ticket and a five-day ticket will cost you the same price. That's like getting the park hopper on the other four days for free!
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)! You can even purchase tickets loaded with MaxPass so you'll be ready to go as soon as you enter the park.
2. Arrive early.
We cannot stress this enough. You want to arrive early to Disneyland. Of course the following advice is based on our past experience and assumes Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hours are still in place. With capacity limitations, we expect mornings to be a lot less crowded in general. But even when we visit Downtown Disney during the park closures, we still find that arriving early helps us beat the crowds.
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 temperature checks, bag checks and metal detectors as 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 of Disneyland by 7:00 a.m. and Disney California Adventure by 7:30 a.m. That will give you the best use of that magic hour. Otherwise, you might spend your magic hour waiting in line to get in. That is not very magical! 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 usually 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. You can start making FASTPASS reservations on you phone if you've purchased MaxPass as soon as you enter the park.
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 hosting Magic Morning. Aim to arrive at the gate 30 to 60 minutes before park opening and once you enter the park, 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. You, too, can start making FASTPASS reservations if you have MaxPass as soon as you enter the park.
Another reason you might want to arrive early is if you're hoping to ride the newest Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. The ride may still have a virtual queue, known as a Boarding Group, this summer. There is no standby line. Keep in mind that during the virtual queue period for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, people were arriving much earlier than usual to join a Boarding Group, and this is making both parks more crowded than usual upon park opening.
At Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida a new reservation systems helps hopeful riders avoid morning crowds by allowing people to join a Boarding Group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance before the park opens in the morning. Then there is a later opportunity in the afternoon for in-park guests to join a Boarding Group. The latest update for the Disneyland app shows a new Virtual Queues section. Does mean there are changes to come to Disneyland as well? Load the Disneyland app and link your party's tickets in the app. As soon as the park opens to all guests, you'll attempt to join a Boarding Group through the Disneyland app.
You can read more about this and take steps to ensure the force is with you in Tad's Galactic Guide to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. He will update that post with the latest tips as soon as they are announced for Disneyland. Boarding Groups are fully distributed in seconds to minutes, depending on the day. If you get a Boarding Group (yay!), you'll be given a number and will approach the ride entrance when your group's number is called.
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 Alice in Wonderland 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 complete Guide to Disneyland FASTPASS.
Keep in mind that at Disney Wolrd, FastPass+ has been temporarily disabled. We do not yet know the future of FASTPASS (and MaxPass) at Disneyland when it reopens.
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. MaxPass 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 versus purchasing downloads. MaxPass also works for show FASTPASSes; If you want to get a FASTPASS for Fantasmic! or World of Color, be sure to reserve one as soon as you enter the park in the morning. They go quickly!
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. With Single Rider, 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 (at least during a normal year):
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Splash Mountain
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Space Mountain
- Star Tours
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. At times, 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. The row can also accommodate two adults and one small child, although on Toy Story Midway Mania, 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. Visit in early summer.
If you do not like the heat, visit in early June. The "June Gloom" cloud cover usually does not burn off until the afternoon, which keeps things a little cooler and more comfortable than in July.
8. Take a break 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 a show, enjoy a reservation lunch at a relaxing restaurant such as 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 at Splitsville Lanes. 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. Late night is one of our favorite times to visit Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. If you can, stick it out and enjoy the rare warm nights of Southern California.
9. Make dining reservations as soon as possible.
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 Disneyland app, 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.
10. 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 you stay. If you buy a 4-day Park Hopper ticket from Undercover Tourist, the total increase is still only $55 more than a 1-Park ticket to have this advantage for all four days. 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. Then you have your pick of nighttime entertainment in either park.
11. Expect limited capacity in 2021.
Summer 2021 crowds could be unpredictable. Disneyland will use an advanced reservations system and limited capacity give guests and cast members plenty of social distancing space. We wish we had a crystal ball to give you the specific details.We can tell you that demand is high and tickets will be limited, so once tickets do go on sale, book early.
During normal years, many annual passholders are blocked out in summer, however, Disneyland canceled all passes for the reopening period. That means all guests will have to purchase tickets until a new passholder program is introduced.
One thing to keep in mind is that Avengers Campus will be swinging into action soon at Disney California Adventure. You don’t want to miss this gem of a park! California Adventure is home to 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.
12. 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 thin blankets for shade.
Our favorites rides and shows for cooling off at Disneyland Park include (note that some of these experiences may not be initially available):
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- it’s a small world
- Splash Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Star Tours
- Star Wars: Launch Bay
- 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 (shaded)
- “Tangled” or “Beauty and the Beast” live shows at the Royal Theatre (shaded)
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
- Take a shaded trip around the park on the Disneyland Railroad
Our favorite ways to cool off at California Adventure include (note that some of these experiences may not be initially available):
- Grizzly River Run
- Frozen — Live at the Hyperion
- The Little Mermaid — Ariel's Undersea Adventure
- 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)
- Mickey's PhilharMagic
- Eat at Carthay Circle restaurant or lounge
- Grab an inside, downstairs table at Lamplight Lounge and cool off with a frosty drink
You can find some great spots to cool off just outside the parks, as well. Hop over to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel for delicious foods and tropical drinks in a nice cool, dark environment. Try the Dole Whip with a coconut rum float, or without the rum for the tadpoles. Yum! When at Disney California Adventure, we love hopping through the theme park entrance to Disney's Grand Californian. You can chill in the air-conditioned lobby, or have a poolside meal at the GHC Craftsman Bar.
Another way to stay cool is to indulge in the many ice cream treats, fresh fruit, frozen lemonades and icy drinks (including the colorful Memory Refreshers at Bing Bong's Sweet Stuff) in the park. May we recommend the Pixar Pier Parfait at Adorable Snowman's Frosted Treats or one of the Dole Whip Loaded Whips at the Tropical Hideaway?
Be sure to stay hydrated by carrying water with you! Filling stations and fountains are closed due to the pandemic.
13. Catch a later parade or show.
In the summertime, there are often two afternoon parades. Once parades return, 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)! The ride wait times usually take a dip during the shows (especially in the area of Fantasmic!), so use the first show to take advantage of shorter wait times! Keep in mind that Pixar Pier attractions close during World of Color, so get those in before show time.
14. 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 in 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 (usually about 12:30 p.m. if you want to join in). 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.
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 (or wait for a parade) 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 visit during the summer at Disneyland? Do you have any more questions about summer crowds and heat at Disneyland? Share in comments below!