As long-time Disney frog-natics, Disney is practically our home, second to our humble lily pad. Trips to Disneyland are almost as routine as visiting the grocery store. We use our extensive experience to give tips and tricks so that you can get the most out of your Disneyland visit. Knowing that the Happiest Place on Earth can be also one of the busiest places on Earth, it's important to have some strategies when going to the parks. Well frogs, that's why we're here! Here's a list of tips that will help you maximize your time at Disneyland.
40 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. This can save you an hour on a busy day (plus save you some green by purchasing your discount Disneyland tickets through Undercover Tourist)! 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 at a Disneyland Resort hotel.
For the most immersive Disneyland experience, stay on property. The three on-site hotels — Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel — are creatively-themed with great Disney touches (plus, you can save money by booking your stay through us!). You will enjoy the Extra Magic Hour for every day of your stay at an on-site property. The Extra Magic Hour benefit gives you one-hour early access to either Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park, which can be critical in reducing your waits on the most popular attractions (talkin' about you, Radiator Springs Racers). Resort guests at the Grand Californian can use the dedicated resort entrance to Disney California Adventure from Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, which is a nice perk to staying there. (Here are even 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 off-site hotels near Disneyland are actually closer than the on-site 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 or waiting for shuttles. 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. (Ribbit! 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. Only bring items you will need for the day. Bring bags with the fewest zippers and compartments possible. 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 in your clothes pockets 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. The Harbor Boulevard security lines (the area where Toy Story Lot and off-site hotels tend to enter) have a special security line for people with no bags. If you have no bags to check, you may save yourself a long line there!
6. Get to the parks before they open.
We say this a lot, and here it is again: The 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. You can enter up to the ropes and when the park officially opens, you will hear an announcement and the cast members will pull back the ropes. This is a called "rope drop."
Until further notice, if you want a chance to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, you'll need to have entered Disneyland Park before park opening. At published opening time, you can attempt to join a virtual queue, called a Boarding Group, on your smartphone through the Disneyland app. You must act quickly because the Boarding Groups and backup Boarding Groups fill within seconds to minutes. Check out our tips on how to accomplish this mission in Our Galactic Guide to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
7. Snag a locker.
Lockers can be a lifesaver (and a back saver). 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 all of your gear around, yet isn't out of the way for a quick stop for more sunscreen, layers and such.
8. Download the Disneyland mobile app.
Life. Save. Er. Download the Disneyland mobile app before you arrive. It has wait times, show listings, character locations, 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, and Mobile Order is great for skipping some food lines. As mentioned, the app is important for obtaining a spot in the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
9. Use FASTPASS.
Disney's FASTPASS system is one of the best ways to maximize your time at Disneyland. In case you're not familiar with the system, certain attractions in both parks allow you to insert your park ticket and get a pass, called the FASTPASS, which gives you a return time to the specified attraction. Keep touring the park then 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 (although you can arrive five minutes early and up to 15 minutes late). You'll grab your new FASTPASS after a waiting period once the return time window opens for the current pass you are holding, or up to two hours have passed since you obtained your most recent FASTPASS. If the ride should break down in your return window, you can redeem the unused FASTPASS at another FASTPASS attraction in the park any time until the park closes. Finally, many attractions do run out of FASTPASSes by evening, 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 / Haunted Mansion Holiday
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (coming soon!)
- Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
- Space Mountain*
- Star Tours — The Adventures Continue*
- "it's a small world" / “it’s a small world” Holiday
- Fantasmic! (does not affect obtaining ride FASTPASSes)
*All of the Tomorrowland FASTPASSes are distributed from one location in front of Space Mountain.
Disney California Adventure FASTPASS Attractions
- Goofy's Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Guardians of the Galaxy — Misson: BREAKOUT! / Monsters After Dark
- Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Soarin' Around the World
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- World of Color (does not affect obtaining ride FASTPASSes)
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 $20 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. Note the time you can make your next FASTPASS reservation and reserve as soon as you can. You do not have to ride the other rides you have reserved first before making the next reservation. Choose earlier return windows in the morning to maximize the amount of rides you can get on in a day. You can now reserve show FASTPASSes via MaxPass as soon as you enter a park.
11. Take advantage of Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hours.
The only way you benefit from the 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 leap 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, and the FASTPASSes' return windows will become active once the park opens to the general public.
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, the park with Extra Magic Hours or Magic Morning will have more people in it, and you’ll encounter some lines and fewer immediate FASTPASS options. You're better off heading to the opposite park. You can usually enter the other park 30-minutes early, but you will have access to the entire park once the rope drops at official opening.
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 in Cars Land behind Flo’s V8. You'll want to head that way first thing if you plan to use traditional FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers (but you can 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 of the early return times.
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 digital Rider Switch return window added to the supervising parent’s park ticket (along with up to two other people). 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. Some members of the first party can also be part of the second party and ride with the first supervising parent when they take their turn, but they have to scan their tickets in advance because you can’t change your mind later. 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 of our FASTPASS reservations to make sure we all have the same return window. If members of the group try to make their own FASTPASS reservations individually, everyone might get different return times, so it’s best to have one person manage everyone when you want to ride together.
16. Park hop.
It's much easier to hop at Disneyland than it is at Disney World. Both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park 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. We recommend starting in Disney California Adventure and then hopping over to Disneyland. Allow at least 30 minutes from entering one park before entering the other park or you might get delayed at the gate for hopping too quickly. 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 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. Save 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 from Tropical Hideaway in Adventureland or by using Mobile Order from the Tiki Juice Bar.
19. Buy your souvenirs ahead of time.
Yes, who doesn't want a Disneyland hat, jersey, set of ears, mug, pin, Tsum Tsum, framed artwork and all the other tempting Disney trinkets? We all want a little something special from the parks, but we prefer to buy souvenirs online and at discount shops to give to Tad and Lily ahead of the trip. This saves us time spent in the shops and also money.
20. Wait until the end of the evening to shop.
If you must shop, wait until the park closes. The shops on Main Street, U.S.A. and Buena Vista Street are open an hour after the parks close. 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 Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Alice in Wonderland will see their lowest waits of the day! When lines peak in the afternoon, it’s showtime (and a good time to rest those legs).
22. Make use of the Single Rider Line or Buddy Pass.
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 up 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
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours
Disney California Adventure Single Rider Attractions
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Goofy's Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
Buddy Pass is a similar option to reduce the wait for small parties at Disney California Adventure. Monster’s Inc. and Toy Story Midway Mania may offer Buddy Passes to parties of one or two (as well as up to two adults and a small child) at certain times. Buddy Pass holders enter a separate line and fill in empty rows as they come up. Buddy Pass is subject to availability.
23. Know when and where to find your favorite characters.
While a handful of Disney characters have their own dedicated meet-and-greet stations, many of them roam freely at Disneyland. However, with the right strategies, you may very well land that meeting with favorites such as Peter Pan, the Incredibles, Anna and Elsa or Moana. The Disneyland mobile app offers the locations of all the more common 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 it takes 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 three favorite spots are the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square, Carthay Circle Restaurant on Buena Vista Street and Lamplight Lounge at Pixar Pier. Café Orleans has fun food too (like their Monte Cristo, pommes frites and Mickey beignets).
28. Eat during off-peak hours or dine on the move.
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.
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. Hop over for help in finding the best on-the-go Disneyland foods for when you really need a meal, but can’t stop the fun.
29. Plan your visit to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
Disneyland's newest land takes a little planning if certain experiences are important to you. You can make advance reservations to build a lightsaber at Savi's Workshop, build a droid at Droid Depot or visit Oga's Cantina. More time slots are released at 7:00 a.m. each day for same-day reservations through the Disneyland app or online. Learn more about how to make the most of your time in Batuu from our Galactic Guide to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. You can maximize your time in the park by saving your visit to the land for later in the day when the lines may be shorter and the land will be less sunny or hot.
30. Use the Mobile Order service.
The days of long food lines are gone! With Disneyland Mobile Order service, you can order food from anywhere. Make a food order while you're in line for a ride, at the back of the long restaurant line or even in your hotel room. Just stop by the Mobile Order window and pick up your food. Many restaurants inside Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa currently offer Mobile Order.
31. Bring your own lunch.
If you really want to save time and money, 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 of the park near the Picnic Area. No glass containers, loose ice or dry ice are allowed though security.
32. Pack the essentials.
Don't forget sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, cell phone cords, chargers, battery packs and band-aids. Using MaxPass on your phone can drain your battery. It doesn't rain very 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 eight essential rainy day tips!
33. Know when the different park areas close.
Mickey's Toontown — where you'll find Mickey, Minnie, other characters and more family rides — closes earlier than the rest of the park on nights with fireworks. It usually opens an hour after park opening. At Disney California Adventure, several Pixar Pier and Paradise Gardens Park attractions, food and merchandise locations close prior to World of Color performances. The following attractions close prior to World of Color:
- Games of Pixar Pier
- Jessie's Critter Carousel
- Toy Story Midway Mania
- Pixar Pal-A-Round
- Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind
- Silly Symphony Swings
- Jumpin’ Jellyfish
- Golden Zephyr
If you want to ride the Incredicoaster at night (our favorite time to ride), you’d better ride it before World of Color. The park often closes just before or after the last World of Color show.
34. Plan meals around parade and show waits.
Choosing a great spot for Fantasmic!, World of Color or the fireworks is a rite of passage in our Frog 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, corn 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!
35. See the second show.
During the busiest times of year, there are often two showings of the parades and Fantasmic! The later you stay, the less time you need to stake out a viewing location for these shows. When there is a later World of Color, the crowds tend to be much thinner for the second show.
36. Grab a FASTPASS for World of Color or Fantasmic! early in the day.
The FASTPASSes at World of Color and Fantasmic! move quickly. They are now available through MaxPass (so you can reserve them from your smartphone as soon as you enter a park for the day if you have MaxPass). That also means they disappear even faster! They are not connected to the rest of the system, so you can obtain 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. For slightly better or reserved viewing areas, you can reserve dining packages that include vouchers for viewing the shows.
37. Save any of the attractions with long waits that 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.
38. Ride during show times.
The wait times drop significantly for rides in New Orleans Square and Critter Country during Fantasmic!, making show time the best time to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain. You may also find shorter lines in Disneyland during fireworks and at available rides at Disney California Adventure during World of Color if the park is still open.
39. 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.
40. Pick up an Entertainment Times Guide.
Disneyland no longer puts the paper entertainment times guides at the turnstiles by the entrances, but you can still find one near the tunnel in Disneyland and to the right of the bathrooms just inside the entrance to Disney California Adventure. Even though you can find everything you need in the Disneyland mobile app, the paper guide is a great quick reference that does not require Wi-Fi or phone battery. Plus, we usually find entertainment or character information we never would have thought to look up on the app in these guides. So grab a park map at the entrance and seek out a times guide. It has information for the week, running from Friday to Thursday.
We hope you've enjoyed our tips to maximize your time at Disneyland. Do you already follow any of these tips? Have a tip we haven't listed? Share in comments below!
Related: Best Time to Visit Disneyland