Disneyland can quickly turn from “The Happiest Place on Earth” to a nightmare. Regardless of the size of the park-hopping party, crowds become a recipe for spaghetti strap sunburns, broken flip-flops and chaffed legs.
The amusement park rakes in more than 16 million visitors a year, and while some seasons are heavier than others, there are tried and trusted tricks to make the trip a little easier.
Avoid busy seasons
Not only is summer the hottest time to go, it’s also the busiest. School is out, the kids are getting cabin fever and parents can finally organize a vacation for the entire family. If at all possible, plan the trip for the off-season — basically anytime from January to Labor Day and September to the holiday season. It will be cooler and Splash Mountain may be a little less appealing, but the crowds will be smaller.
Dodge long lines
There’s not an exact science to avoiding long ride lines; newer rides will have long lines no matter what, and lines for water rides will correlate with how hot it is. Park staples like Indiana Jones and the Matterhorn will be headache inducing, but if you hit the major rides as soon as the park opens or right before it closes, the lines will be exponentially shorter. More kid-friendly rides, like Peter Pan and It’s A Small World, are good late-night picks when the park’s demographic tends to be a little older.
Close down the park
If you have a favorite ride but aren’t willing to wait in line during the day, close down the park and ride it over and over again. Big rides like Splash Mountain and Space Mountain are notorious for their hour-long lines, but once the crowds die down at the end of the night, wait times drop to just minutes. Night owls can ride their favorite rides half a dozen times long after the little kids are tucked into hotel beds.
It’s not just about the rides
Park-goers often get lost in the rides and the long lines and forget about the simpler attractions like the light shows, plays and Tom Sawyer’s Island. Sitting down for “Fantasmic” or “World of Color” can break up a long day of walking while offering up all that the park has to offer. Other often overlooked attractions are California Adventure’s Aladdin “A Music Spectacular” and the Disney Animation Building which hosts an array of hands-on activities and exhibits that are fun any age.
Capitalize on show times
Staking out a spot for the park’s shows is key to experiencing them and all their magic, so make party assignments for someone to hold down the fort while others hit up the nearby rides. “Fantasmic” is a must-see, but park-goers often wait hours for a good seat. Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion are near the waterfront, so take turns going on the rides and waiting for the show to start.
Don’t hop from park to park
Both Disneyland and California Adventures are constantly adding to their roster of rides and attractions, like the recent addition of Cars Land, so it makes sense to allocate time to experience each. Rather than spending half the day in one park and half in the other, plan on spending a day in California Adventures and the rest of the vacation in Disneyland. There’s more to see and do in Disneyland, but California Adventures keeps growing and can now rival its sister park and is best done in a day rather than trickled across several.
Have a plan
That being said, Disneyland is best approached with a plan. Disneyland is split into themed lands, like Frontierland, Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown, so try conquering one at a time. It doesn’t make sense to hop from one edge of the park to the other without checking the biggies off the list, so come up with a strategy and hit each land with a purpose. It will save time and there will be less inter-party bickering.
Pack light and dense
No one wants to carry around a giant bag full of sunscreen, water bottles and peanut butter sandwiches, so pack strategically. For park-goers staying nearby, slather on the sunscreen and take only the necessities — a small, refillable water bottle and some beef jerky — and leave the rest for a mid-day nap back at the hotel.