As a SoCal frog, Disneyland was my second home. Trips to the park were as routine as visiting the grocery store. I definitely put my experience to good use when coming up with tips and tricks to help visitors save time and money. Knowing that the Happiest Place on Earth can be also one of the busiest places on Earth, it's helpful to have some strategies in play when you hit the parks. That's what this post will provide — a list of tips that will help you maximize your time at Disneyland (which may also work with many other theme parks too)!
Hop into Our 36 Tips to Maximize Your Time at Disneyland
1. Buy tickets online.
When you buy tickets in advance, you'll go straight through to the entrance and won't have to spend any time in ticket booth lines, which can save you an hour on a busy day! If you purchase a 3-day ticket or longer, you'll be eligible for Magic Morning. With Magic Morning, you can enjoy one day of early admission to Disneyland Park usually on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.
2. Pick the best times to visit.
While it's always a good time to visit Disneyland, there are times during the year that are better than others. Holidays, school schedules and annual passholders have a big impact on Disneyland's schedule. Use this guide to determine the best time to visit Disneyland.
3. Stay on property.
For the most immersive Disneyland experience, stay on property. The three onsite hotels—Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel are creatively themed with great Disney touches. You will enjoy the Extra Magic Hour for every day of your stay at an onsite property. The Extra Magic Hour benefit gives you one-hour early access to either Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park, which can be absolutely critical to reducing your waits on the most popular attractions (talkin' about you, Radiator Springs Racers). All resort guests can also use the dedicated resort entrance to Disney California Adventure from Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Here are more benefits to staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel.
4. If you can't stay on property, at least stay close by.
Some of the offsite hotels near Disneyland are actually closer than the resort hotels and less than a 5-minute walk to the Esplanade that connects the entrances of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. If you stay close by, you won't have to pay to park at Disneyland and you won't lose any time in the parking garage. There are other benefits of staying at hotels near Disneyland too! There are also hotels that are a short walk to the free parking lot shuttles. (Psst! Psst! We can save you $$$ if you book your hotel through Undercover Tourist!)
5. Ease your way through the security line.
The best way to get through the security line quickly is to be prepared. Make sure all of your bags are out and open for the cast member to peek into. Have keys, cell phone, coins and any metal devices ready to be passed to the guard at the security scanners. Have something that you know will buzz, such as a belt? Take it off and shove it into a bag for a moment.
6. Get to the parks before they open.
We say this over and over again, but it's true—the very shortest waits of the day are in the first hours of a park's opening. When you arrive at the park before it opens, you will be one of the very first people inside the parks.
7. Snag a locker.
Lockers can be a lifesaver. It's smart to travel light in the parks, but you want to bring sweatshirts, jackets and cameras. Make renting a locker your first priority of the day. This eliminates the need to haul off your gear around yet not out of the way for a quick stop for more sunscreen and such.
8. Download the Disneyland Moble App.
Life. Save. Er. Download the Disneyland Mobile app before you arrive. Wait times, show listings, park maps, restaurant menus and so much more. If you buy your park tickets with the app, you only need to show your barcode at the gate for admission when you first arrive at the park! Having the Disneyland Mobile app is necessary for using MaxPass.
9. Make use of Fastpass.
The Fastpass system is one of the best ways to maximize your time at Disneyland. In case you're not familiar with the system — select attractions in both parks allow you to insert your park ticket and get a pass that gives you a return time to the specified attraction. Hop back through the Fastpass Return line for a minimal wait.
There are a few fine points worth mentioning. You can only use the Fastpass during the specified one-hour return time window. You'll grab your new Fastpass after a waiting period once the return time window opens for the current pass you are holding or two hours have passed since you obtained your most recent Fastpass. The earlier you arrive at an attraction, the earlier in the day the Fastpass return time will be. Finally, many attractions do run out of Fastpasses, so don't count on Fastpasses to be available at the most popular attractions later in the day — especially at Disney California Adventure.
Disneyland Park Fastpass Attractions
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Haunted Mansion
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours — The Adventures Continue
- "it's a small world" Holiday (only during holiday time)
Disney California Adventure Fastpass Attractions
- California Screamin'
- Goofy's Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Guardians of the Galaxy—Misson: BREAKOUT!
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Soarin' Around the World
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- World of Color
10. Use MaxPass to obtain Fastpasses and use PhotoPass
The ultimate way to maximize your time at Disneyland comes with a small price tag. Disneyland MaxPass is an optional add-on service that costs $10 per day per person. It allows users to make Fastpass reservations from their smartphones. That means that the second you walk in the front gate, you can reserve a Fastpass for Radiator Springs Racers instead of getting in a long line and waiting to obtain a pass. You can get a jump on other Fastpass users. You can usually reserve earlier return times than other Fastpass users and make your reservations wherever you are for either park (if park hopping) once you have entered a park for the day. If you plan to use PhotoPass, MaxPass will save money with included unlimited photo downloads compared to purchasing each picture individually.
11. Take advantage of Extra Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hours.
The only way you benefit from the Extra Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hours (EMH) is if you actually show up early for them. Both allow one-hour early admission into the parks, a huge jump on the rest of the touring population. You want to get to the park at least a half hour before the extra hour begins. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a long line of not-quite-early-enough risers who are also waiting to get into the park! Some rides now distribute Fastpasses during EMH and Magic Morning, but availability is not guaranteed.
12. If you are an early bird not staying on site, start the day in the park not hosting Extra Magic Hours.
Even if you arrive ahead of park opening, you'll still find extra long lines from those early EMHers who weren't quite early enough. You're better off heading to the opposite park.
13. If you aren't staying on site and want to experience Radiator Springs Racers first thing, head to Disney California Adventure on a non-EMH day.
The advice above is especially true if you're set on riding Radiator Springs Racers first thing (you won't be alone). On days with Extra Magic Hours at Disney California Adventure, the park will already have plenty of guests who are in line for the attraction or its Fastpass machine by the time you actually make it inside. You can pick up your Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses next to It's Tough to Be over in "a bug's land" not Cars Land. You'll want to head that way first thing if you plan to use traditional Fastpass Radiator Springs Racers (or book your first ride from anywhere if using MaxPass). Note that Fastpass is now sometimes available during EMH, so EMHers will line up for the machine ahead of the official park opening and snag all the early return times. Hop Tip: The ride’s line moves fastest in the first hour of park opening because there are fewer Fastpass users slowing down the standby line. If you want to do this attraction more than once in your day, grab your Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass tickets then head to the attraction and hop in Single Rider (all single riders must be 7 and up).
14. Use Rider Switch if you have young children who do not meet the height requirements.
If you have tadpoles that are not tall enough to ride (or don’t want to ride), go to the entrance of the ride with the entire party and get a Rider Switch return window. One parent can supervise the tadpole(s) while the rest of the party rides, then once the riders return the supervising parent can have a turn to ride while skipping the line. The person using Rider Switch can usually bring up to two people with them. You can also use Rider Switch with Fastpass.
15. Only have one person in your party get Fastpasses or schedule MaxPass Fastpasses.
It's much easier for one person to be your appointed Fastpass "runner," or manager. I'm the runner in our family and hold onto all of our reminders. When using MaxPass, I also manage the whole family and make all our Fastpass reservations to make sure we all have the same return window.
16. Park Hop.
It's much easier to hop at Disneyland than it is at Disney World. Both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure are just a short hop, skip and a jump away from each other. With the entrances maybe a minute walk apart, park hopping can be an effective way to maximize your time at Disneyland. Disney California Adventure park normally closes before Disneyland, so when you park hop, you can head to the later park when the first one closes. Here are more tips on choosing the best Disneyland ticket.
17. Have a plan and prioritize attractions.
You want to visit the attractions with the longest waits (and no access to Fastpass) when they have with the lowest waits (at park opening and closing). If you've got one day for each of the parks, follow our 1-day Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure park plans.
18. Saving time in the Dole Whip line.
Securing this delightful dessert with the massive following takes some strategy. Lines can be long during the day, so consider indulging in your Dole Whip when the stand opens. If you're craving it as an afternoon snack, the line inside the Enchanted Tiki Room waiting area is usually shorter than the one outside in Adventureland.
19. Buy your souvenirs ahead of time.
Yes, who doesn't want a Disneyland hat, shirt, mug, pin, Tsum Tsum, framed artwork and all the other tempting Disney trinkets? We all want a little something special from the parks—Disney Dress Shop Dresses OMG—but we like to buy a few souvenirs online to give to Tad and Lily ahead of the trip. This saves us time spent in the shops but also money ... which we'll use on more dresses.
20. Wait until the end of the evening to shop.
If you're looking to maximize your time at Disneyland's shows, attractions and parades, consider saving your shopping until the park closes. The shops are open an hour after the park closes. Also, World of Disney in Downtown Disney is open one hour after Disneyland closes.
21. Save the shows for later in the day.
The parks are least busy the first few hours of the day. You don't want to find yourself in a 30-minute show when Peter Pan's Flight and Dumbo will see their lowest waits of the day!
22. Make use of the Single Rider Line.
Single Rider, which can be even faster than using Fastpass, is a great way to maximize your time at Disneyland. If you don't mind splitting your group on the actual ride, you can experience the following attractions at super low waits on select attractions.
Disneyland Single Rider Attractions:
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
Disney California Adventure Single Rider Attractions:
- Radiator Springs Racers
- California Screamin'
- Goofy's Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
23. Know when and where to find your favorite characters.
While a handful of Disney characters have their own dedicated meet-and-greet stations, most of them are listed on the official site with published times. However, with the right strategies, you may very well land that meeting with favorites such as Peter Pan, Mulan, Oswalt the Lucky Rabbit or Moana. Pick up the entertainment guide when you enter the park for some character suggestions, and the Disneyland Mobile App offers the locations of all the characters. Also, character-helping cast members — usually in red vests and hanging out with the characters — will let you know if and when you can catch your favorite. Check out our tips on meeting your favorite Disneyland character!
24. Cozy up to your favorite characters at breakfast.
A character meal is a great way to get up close and personal with a bunch of your favorite characters all at once. To really maximize your time at Disneyland, schedule a breakfast before the park opens. Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel and the Plaza Inn inside Disneyland Park offer the largest selection of characters.
25. Have a plan for a lost child.
It's easy to get distracted in a theme park, for kids and adults as well. There are lots of people and lots to see. On more than one occasion, we've stopped to shoot off a quick text message, looked up, and couldn't see the tadpoles among the sea of guests. Make sure you have a plan in place in case someone gets separated from your group. Here are top 10 don'ts for getting lost in the theme park.
26. Pack your own snacks and water.
You'll save time, money and meltdowns by packing your own snacks and water (just no glass bottles).
27. Make dining reservations.
Knowing when and where you're going to eat can be a timesaver. By eliminating the time to consider your options, hopping right to your restaurant really speeds up your day. Visit the Disneyland website or the Disneyland Mobile App to see your options and reserve. Our two favorite spots are the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square and Carthay Circle Restaurant on Buena Vista Street.
28. Eat during off-peak hours.
If you can't secure a reservation or would rather dine at a quick-service location, you'll save time waiting in line and finding a place to sit if you dine during the off-peak hours. This is from 10:30 a.m to noon and then 3 p.m to 5 p.m. Here are some of our Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure quick-service favorites.
29. Dine on the move.
You can save some time by dining on Disneyland eats that can be enjoyed on the move. Turkey legs, corn dogs, meat skewers, chili and Frito bag (firefly) and chili cone queso (in Cars Land) are all compact enough to be munched on while you're moving.
30. Bring your own lunch.
If you really want to save time and money, you bring your own lunch. Think picnic items, such as sandwiches, raw veggies and fresh fruits. You may even bring a full picnic and store it a locker outside the park near the Picnic Area.
31. Pack the essentials.
Don't forget sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, cell phone cords and chargers (MaxPass does wear down phone battery) and bandaids etc. It doesn't rain all that much in Southern California, but if you don't want to get wet on the water rides or plan on being in the front row at World of Color, you should bring your own poncho. You'll save time and money when you need them. Speaking of getting wet at Disneyland, we have a post with 8 essential rainy day at Disneyland tips!
32. Know when the different park areas close.
Mickey's Toontown — where you'll find Mickey, Minnie, other characters and more family rides — sometimes opens one hour after the regular park opening time and closes earlier than the rest of the park. Over at Disney California Adventure, many Paradise Pier attractions (basically everything except Goofy's Sky School) close prior to World of Color performances.
33. Plan meals around parade and show waits.
Choosing a great spot for Fantasmic!, World of Color of the fireworks is a rite of passage in our family. We make the most of this time waiting for the show to start by making it "dinner time" as well. We find our ideal viewing location, and then one family member sets out for burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken from Plaza Inn or other grab-and-go type foods for the rest of the family. We eat sitting down while we wait for the show to start!
34. See the second show.
During the busiest times of year, there are often two showings of the parades and Fantasmic! and multiple showings of World of Color. The later you stay, the less time you need to stake out a viewing location for these shows.
35. Grab a Paper Fastpass for World of Color or Fantasmic!
The Fastpasses at World of Color and Fantasmic! are not available through MaxPass and are not connected to the rest of the system, so you can grab these Fastpasses without worrying that they will affect your ability to obtain ride Fastpasses. Know that you will not get to choose your seating area or show time (if there is more than one). The Fastpasses are distributed sequentially by show time and viewing area. The World of Color Fastpass kiosks are located near The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure. Fantasmic! Fastpasses are distributed near Frontier Landing.
36. Save any of the long wait attractions you missed in the morning for the end of the night.
Wait times drop off in the last couple of hours of park operation, which makes this a perfect time to hop in line at Indiana Jones Adventure, Peter Pan's Flight or Space Mountain.
37. Make sure you are in a ride line when the park closes.
Once you're in a line, you will get to ride even if it is already past park closing time.
We hope you've enjoyed our tips to maximize your time at Disneyland. Do you follow any of these tips? Have a tip we haven't listed? Share in comments below!
Related: Best Time to Visit Disneyland