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Our Summer Park Plan for Disneyland Resort

by Leap on June 27, 2023 Los Angeles

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - PinterestAhh! It's summertime at Disneyland. We love the long hours, extra shows and nightly entertainment. The crowds and heat? Not so much ... but we can help with that! Here's a perfect summer park plan that will put you ahead of the crowds, help you catch all the must-see entertainment and keep you out of the sun. It's a general guide for how to plan your summer mornings, afternoons and evenings at Disneyland while keeping the whole family hoppy.

Our Summer Park Plan at Disneyland — Morning

How you start your day makes a huge difference in your overall mood and vibe. The morning hours are much cooler and less crowded, allowing you to get a lot done before things heat up. It's somehow more magical to enjoy an uncrowded park while the crowds build up slowly than to navigate midday crowds. So even if you like to sleep in, perhaps we can help you reconsider getting up early for your Disneyland visit. Here's the best way to make the most of your morning at Disneyland.

Arrive One Hour Before Park Opening

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Rope DropThe theme parks open their turnstiles about 45 minutes early each day. Hotel guests with Early Entry benefits can hit select attractions 30 minutes before park opening. Everyone else can also enter the park, but will be held back with ropes near the entrance to each land. Once the park opens, cast members drop the ropes after an announcement and release you into the park. You can literally walk right onto most rides without a wait for that first hour of the parks being open. We frogs love our sleep, but on theme park days, we are motivated to hop out of bed early because we know the early frogs catch the most flies … the flies being rides in this scenario.

Start Smart — Don't Follow the Crowds

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Pirates with short line in morningEveryone else in the park will be running to Peter Pan, Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disneyland. At California Adventure, they’ll be heading to Radiator Springs Racers. You are not going to follow the crowds. Nobody wants to start their day standing in a long line. Instead, hit the other rides in the park first. You’ll ride three to five rides before they even board their first ride.

Our advice is to knock out Frontierland, Adventureland and New Orleans Square in the first hour or two at Disneyland Park. Thrill seekers can start with Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain or Matterhorn Bobsleds.

People with small children can quickly move through several rides in Fantasyland right at park opening before heading to Toontown for some free play. In fact, in the early morning, we always run into the best characters wandering around Fantasyland, inviting us to engage with them. After an initial surge at park opening, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway's wait time will drop after a bit, which makes it a great time to head to Toontown after Fantasyland.

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Alice and Mad Hatter playing with guests in Fantasyland

If you start in Disney California Adventure, head to Pixar Pier to ride Pixar Pal-A-Round, Toy Story Midway Mania and Incredicoaster and surrounding rides with no lines. Then use the single rider line for Radiator Springs Racers — if your party is made up of people over 7 years old and willing to split up — to save about 90 to 120 minutes. We don’t usually wait in the standby line, but we sometimes see wait times dip late morning just before park hopping time.

Set Alarms for Joining Virtual Queues

Our Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Rogers: The Musical marquee

While it’s true that no Disneyland Resort rides currently operate with a virtual queue, two shows at Disney California Adventure utilize a virtual queue:

You must have entered a theme park and have a reservation for Disney California Adventure or a park hopper ticket to join the queue. Set your alarms to remind yourself to join them. It’s so easy to froget it’s time to join when you are busy having fun!

Our Summer Park Plan at Disneyland — Midday

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Tale of the Lion King Show

Your morning may start off cool, but soon the SoCal sun will be blazing above you. This is when the crowds peak, between noon and late afternoon — attraction lines are long and you're getting plenty of vitamin D. Here's what to do!

Avoid the Sun 

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Mickey Ice cream sandwich at pool

Your best bet is to find shows, rides and restaurants to keep you out of the sun or consume lots of water, plus frozen treats, to cool you off. Don't froget to wear sunscreen and bring hats and sunglasses. Stay hydrated by bringing plenty of water, asking for free water from restaurants and using the refill stations to fill your bottles.

Reserve Table-Service Dining for Lunch

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Mickey greets guests at breakfast

It will feel so good to sit and rest indoors or under an umbrella. You can refuel and give your feet a needed break. If you cannot get a reservation, see if you can acquire walk-up availability in the Disneyland app.

Here's our favorite pick: Book brunch at Storyteller’s Café at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. It’s just inside the hotel near the Disney California Adventure hotel theme park entrance, so it’s practically in the park (or a short walk from Downtown Disney). You’ll get a great indoor meal while you let the characters come to you. Plus, your family will be so full, you won't need to stop for snacks or maybe even dinner, saving time and money into the evening. You can get out of the sun for an hour and a half this way and save yourself some character lines.

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Pluto visits picnicker in ToontownIf table-service dining is out of your budget or you have wiggly tadpoles who need to stay on the move, have your own perfect picnic lunch on a shady lawn in Toontown. You can bring your own food or purchase snacks or food in the land. Plus, you never know who might hop by to say hi while you eat!

Ride Indoor Rides

Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway and "it's a small world" are great for cooling off in Disneyland Park. A trip around the park on the Disneyland Railroad is not a bad plan either. Ride Rise of the Resistance during the first parade. Parade crowds will make the line drop, allowing you to wait inside the building and escape the heat with one of the shorter wait times of the day.

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Rise of the Resistance

At Disney California Adventure, The Little Mermaid and Soarin' come to mind. The Redwood Creek Climbing trail is a heavily treed, shady area that the kids will love playing in.

See Shows and Indoor Entertainment

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Disney Junior Dance Party

This is a great time to grab a Dole Whip and head into the air-conditioned Enchanted Tiki Room or sit in a shaded show such as Tale of the Lion King or The Royal Theatre. Midday is a great time to visit Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

At Disney California Adventure, spend some time indoors in the Animation Building, watch Rogers: The Musical or go for some 3D action at Mickey's PhilharMagic. If you have toddlers and preschoolers, Disney Junior Dance Party is a must!

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Kids play in fountainGet Wet

We do not have the option of getting splashed on Splash Mountain this summer. As an alternative, head to Toontown’s CenTOONial Fountain for some water play. Donald's Boat eventually gets a splash pad, but its opening was delayed. You may get refreshingly soaked on Grizzly River Run in Disney California Adventure. Your tadpoles will also like playing with a large, wet granite ball in Tomorrowland or Pixar Pier.

If you hoppen to be staying on-site or at a nearby hotel, head back for a splash in the pool (or even a nap and shower). You’ll all feel better after cooling off and will be reenergized to head back to the park for evening entertainment. Be sure to hop over to our post on managing summer crowds and heat at Disneyland for even more ideas for staying cool on even the hottest day.

Our Summer Park Plan at Disneyland — Evening

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Parade in evening

The sun will get lower and be less intense and eventually cool off, making it more comfortable to walk around the park. It's time to plan for evening entertainment.

Watch the Second Parade

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Moana float in evening

Magic Happens hoppens twice a day, usually at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (always double-check the entertainment schedule to confirm). We prefer to watch the second parade when it's cooler outside. Also, it's easier to see some of the lights and screens on floats when they are not in the bright sunlight. If you can’t wait that long, hop in place early for the 3:30 parade in a shady spot, but make sure as the sun moves it won’t take the shadows with it, leaving you exposed.

Shake It Off at a Dance Party

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Dance party

You and your tadpoles will love Stitch's Interplanetary Beach Party Blast. Here's your chance to learn dance moves from Disney characters in Tomorrowland from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Plan for Nighttime Entertainment

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Fireworks

The summer brings nightly entertainment, which we toadally love. Both Wondrous Journeys fireworks and World of Color — One are special shows designed for the Disney 100 Years of Wonder celebration. Which park ticket you have will basically decide which nighttime spectaculars you can access. Park hoppers can do it all.

Fireworks are in Disneyland Park, usually at 9:30 p.m. There are several viewing areas — we have a whole post on the best spots to view Disneyland fireworks. We find that Main Street, U.S.A. is a pretty easy place to see the projections and the castle in the distance. Plus, if you have a park hopper and want to see World of Color as well, then you can quickly exit Disneyland to enter Disney California Adventure for the second World of Color show. You must move quickly as you have to enter Disney California Adventure before it closes at 10 p.m. You'll want to try to get a virtual queue for the second World of Color earlier in the day. World of Color usually shows at 9 and 10:15 p.m. nightly. Yes, that second show takes place after the park closes.

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - World of Color

Besides fireworks and World of Color, there is an Encanto projection show. It hoppens several times a night on the facade of "it's a small world." Fantasmic! is not showing in summer 2023. But if you want a really empty spot to watch fireworks while also seeing projections and hearing the music, go to Rivers of America. That area offers a lot of room. You'll spend no time securing a spot. If you want to be right in front of the castle, you'll have to invest some time. It is the best spot to see the Blue Fairy and Baymax fly over the castle.

Consider Dining Packages

In addition to finding your own place to watch shows and parades for no added cost, you can take some of the guesswork and virtual queue stress out of the equation by paying for dining packages. We have a Disneyland dining packages post that offers honest pros and cons for each package to help you decide if they are worth it to you.

Hit More Rides

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Girl on carousel at night

After the nighttime shows end, Disneyland guests tend to head to bed. If you still have some jump in your legs, this is a good time to hit any must-do rides. You can even meet characters in Town Square. Disneyland Park is usually open until midnight, giving you a chance to get a late-night snack or ride in. Most Fantasyland rides and Toontown close for fireworks but then reopen about 20 minutes later.

Although Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance closes by 10 p.m., nighttime is a great time to explore the rest of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge without bright suns or big crowds. If you can hop in line for Rise of the Resistance just before it closes, you may find a shorter line than most times during the day.

Disney California Adventure closes at 10 p.m. most nights. The ride wait times drop off significantly in the last hour, especially during World of Color.

Tools to Help You in Summer at Disneyland

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Lightning Lane at Matterhorn

We keep a few tools in our tool belt for getting the shortest waits and managing our day. Here are a few things we recommend adding to your summer park plan at Disneyland.

Genie+

You can add Genie+ to your park ticket. This optional service allows you to reserve a time to access the Lightning Lane, skipping the longer standby line for that attraction. At Disneyland, you can purchase a ticket pre-loaded with Genie+ or purchase Genie+ in the Disneyland app after entering a theme park each day. Genie+ also includes all your PhotoPass photo downloads for that day. A limited number of rides in each park are included with Genie+.

Individual Lightning Lanes

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Radiator Springs Racers

A few other new or popular rides have a Lightning Lane, but they are not included in Genie+. You can use the free standby line, or you can pay to use the Lightning Lane for up to two of these rides per day. Rides with individual Lightning Lanes include:

  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
  • Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway
  • Radiator Springs Racers (also has a Single Rider line)

Single Rider

Summer Park Plan Disneyland - Single Rider sign at Space Mountain

Guests ages 7 and up who are willing to separate from their parties can use the Single Rider line to fill in available seats. This line is often significantly shorter than the standby line.

The following Disneyland Park rides offer Single Rider Lines:

  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Space Mountain

The following Disney California Adventure rides offer Single Rider Lines:

  • Goofy's Sky School
  • Incredicoaster
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Grizzly River Run
  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Soarin' Around the World
  • Monsters Inc. (offers a Buddy Pass for parties of one or two, plus a small child)

Summer Park Plan at Disneyland-Screen shot of rider switchRider Switch

If you are traveling with a baby or small child who does not meet the height requirement for a ride, talk to the attendant at the ride entrance about Rider Switch. We go over it in more detail in our Disneyland height requirements post. But basically, the first parent rides while the other parent watches the baby. Then the second parent rides while the first parent takes a turn watching the baby. But the second parent can use the Lightning Lane or a different entrance to access a shorter wait so they don't have to wait in the full line. The second parent can bring someone with them to ride. That means sometimes an older sibling of the baby gets to ride twice!

Mobile Order

You can save a lot of time by skipping long food lines when you mobile order from quick-service restaurants through the Disneyland app. Order meals ahead of time ... especially if you know you'll want to pick up food and have a picnic while you wait for a parade or show.

Park Plans

We also offer step-by-step park plans, telling you which ride to ride and when, if you want further guidance. But since ride breakdowns occur and parties have different ages and personal interests, we broke our summer park plan at Disneyland up by morning, midday and evening to tell you what you need to know to make the most of your day, your way.

If you are looking for discount Disneyland Resort tickets for this summer, Undercover Tourist can help you save on multi-day tickets, with and without Genie+. If you are a California Resident, we have some special deals for you!

Related: Disneyland Park Plan for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Related: 20 Cool Tips for Visiting Disneyland in Summer

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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