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Happy through the Crowds: Tips for Reducing Wait Times at Disneyland in Anaheim, California

Updated on February 7, 2012
The sign above the Main Street Railroad station entrance at Disneyland.
The sign above the Main Street Railroad station entrance at Disneyland. | Source

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

The Happiest Place on Earth may not seem that way if you come on holidays, weekends or summers. You not only have to contend with triple-digit ticket prices but crowds that precede every three-minute ride with a one-hour wait. You can’t do anything about the costs. But you can follow these tips to tour the park efficiently and with less wait time, even during the high season.

Sequential Tour

Typical tourists arrive at around 10 AM. They start with the first land on their left, which is Adventure Land, and spend time admiring the decor. They then stroll into the first ride that they see, which is the Jungle Cruise. Though the line may look deceptively short, it winds inside the jungle station and may require a wait of half-hour or more, depending on the time. Visitors then continue to Indiana Jones and may break for lunch before continuing through the park sequentially.

If they’re lucky, they may encounter shorter wait times in the first few Adventureland attractions. But the crowds will continue to grow throughout the park. By the time they get halfway through the Disneyland, they may suffer through waits of one-to-two hours even for the less enjoyable rides. At that rate, they’ll be lucky to go through eight attractions before the park closes, and may miss several of the major thrills.

Zigzag

There is a more efficient way to see the park so that you catch the best rides when they are less crowded. This is especially useful if you only have a day or so to visit Disneyland. The method involves some advance planning and zigzagging across the park.

1. Browse the Disneyland website.

Get a sense of how the park is laid out and what attractions are available in each area. Then make a list of attractions that you want to visit and ones that you can skip. Some of the biggies include the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Submarine Voyage and Space Mountain.

Those with children under seven will also need to make time for the attractions in Mickey’s Toontown and Fantasyland, which are geared especially to them.

2. Sort your attractions by importance.

Put your must-see rides at the top. Find their locations on the map. If any rides are next to each other, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, list them under one cluster under the highest-ranking ride. This is the order you’ll follow when touring Disneyland, no matter where the attraction is located.

If the Submarine Voyage is on your list, put that at the top. Despite having several vehicles and two loading areas, this attraction develops a long line very quickly and you may be waiting a half-hour or more even if you go in the early morning.

3. Buy your tickets ahead of time.

They are available on the website, as part of CityPass or as part of vacation packages. If you must purchase admission at the Disneyland ticket booth, allow at least 15-30 minutes for the process. Ticket booths open about a half hour before opening.

4. Arrive before the park officially opens.

If you need to park your car, arrive at least half an hour before the park officially opens because it can take at least that long to pull into a space and take the shuttle to the main gate. Parking structures open an hour before the published opening time. On Magic Morning Early Admission days, the Mickey & Friends parking structure opens 90 minutes before the published time.

If you have a 3-Day Park Hopper ticket, you’re entitled to one Magic Morning entry, which is available on certain days. This allows you to enter the park one hour before the published opening time.

Be at the entrance to the park about 10-15 minutes before the opening to get in line. Note that you will have to pass through a security line first before you reach the entrance. This line is usually very quick but can take up to half-an-hour on busy summer weekends.

5. Zigzag according to your list.

The park opens a few minutes before the published time so the crowd can move to the barriers at Main Street. Follow the crowd. As soon as the stanchions are moved, rush to the first attraction on your list. If you’re lucky, you may be the first one there.

When you are finished with the ride, move on to the next one on your list. The attraction may be next door if it’s part of a cluster. Otherwise, you may need to cross Disneyland to get to the ride. You want to ignore any distractions that are not on your list.

This method does involve a lot of walking and running, but it ensures that you see your best attractions before they become crowded. To avoid further congestion, take your lunch at around 11:30 AM or earlier, if you plan to buy food at the park. You’ll avoid the lunchtime lines and can then continue your tour when the rest of the visitors are eating.

Once you’ve gone through your list, you will have seen everything you wanted to see. You can now more leisurely visit the different lands in consecutive order, and catch rides that you originally missed.

Options

Disneyland offers three options for minimizing your wait time. All options are free with admission.

  1. FASTPASS is available on seven rides including Star Tours and Autopia. This grants you an appointment ticket for a later time. When you return with the FASTPASS, you can go through an alternate entrance where the line is smaller or non-existent.
  2. Single Rider Service is available on Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain. If you’re willing to split up your party into individuals, a staffer, also known as cast member, will seat each person in any open seats that come up.
  3. Baby Swap/Rider Swap is available on any rides with a height requirement such as Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. All family members who want the option must speak to the cast member. You will then receive a baby swap pass that is good for the whole day on that attraction.

    One person can line up for the attraction, while the other person stays out with the baby. When the first person is done, she can go watch the baby, while the second person enjoys the ride without waiting in line. Since each ride handles the baby swap option differently, be sure to ask for the details when you pick up the pass.

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    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Hi Aurelio,

      Useful tips. I'll keep it in mind the next time I visit Disneyland.

      Voted up, useful & interesting.

    • alocsin profile image
      Author

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Space Mountain is still a biggie!

    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image

      Anastasia Kingsley 6 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      Great suggestions. I used to work at D-Land and we told people to go straight to the Country Western Show to buy tickets first (in Adventureland, like you said) and then go to Space Mountain, which used to be the #1 attraction. Of course a lot's changed in 20 years, LOL. But getting there early is very important. Voted up, naturally

    • alocsin profile image
      Author

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Very true. I've been to WDW as well and have used these tips there.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I've been to Disney World in Orlando and many of these same tips could apply there as well. Voted up and useful!

    • alocsin profile image
      Author

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      No argument here. Actually, my favorite time to go is mid-week in the fall right after school starts. October used to be good too, until they started doing that Halloween at Christmas thing.

    • formosangirl profile image

      formosangirl 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Alocsin, going on weekday in the winter is better than a weekday in the summer. There was almost no line in the winter. In the summertime, there was literally one hour wait per ride, and we took turns getting beverages because it was so burning hot. Voted up and useful.

    • teachertalking1 profile image

      teachertalking1 6 years ago

      OK, now you've got me wanting to go to Disneyland! Thanks for your great tips! You've definitely spent some significant amount of time to be so well informed! Thanks for sharing!

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Great tips! My family loves amusement parks. I will definatly try your advice!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      You sound like you have a lot of experience at Disneyland. It reminds me of a friend of mine who likes to take her family there once a year. A general marshaling the troops would not have a more thoroughly thought out plan of attack.

    • alocsin profile image
      Author

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thanks for these excellent bits of advice.

    • Jennifer Essary profile image

      Jennifer Essary 6 years ago from Idaho

      My first job was at an amusement park and your tips are very useful. I also found visiting in the middle of the week or days when schools are in session are less crowded. Voted up, useful, and shared.

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 6 years ago from California

      My Honey and I LOVE disneyland. We know the parks pretty well. What we've done is buy the annual passport and go as often as we like. Usually the week days are the best. Hardly any lines at all. When one Disneyland is busy, we head over to California Park and go on our favorite rides there. The fast pass is great to use on busy days. But you do have to plan your time well to not miss the time frame when the pass is valid. Great Hub Alocsin! Voted Up and useful! and Shared!

      Lisa

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