My friend Keri recently took a trip with her family of 5 to Disneyland and was able to successfully do it on a budget. (Make sure to read her post, 12 Tips for Saving Money at Disneyland, in case you missed it!) She recently was telling me that “time is money” at Disneyland and thought it might be useful to share some of the key ways her family maximized their time at Disney. I wholeheartedly agreed with her, and asked her to please share her ideas! With that, here’s Keri:
If you read my last post, you know that my family recently took the budget route to Disneyland. While saving money is of utmost importance, so is saving time! After all, time IS money, especially at Disneyland. I calculated that for a 5-day stay at the park for my family of 5, each hour at Disneyland cost us $25. That’s not including food, drinks, or souvenirs. That being said, you don’t want to waste any time, because you are paying for every minute you are in the park. So, I’ve come up with some efficiency tips and tricks you’ll want to employ on your next trip to the happiest place on earth!
1. Go in the off season. The #1 tip for saving time at Disneyland is to go in the off season. This greatly reduces the amount of time you will spend waiting in lines, meaning you get to ride more rides! Or, you can even ride the SAME ride 5 times in a row because there is no line! Some rides will be closed for refurbishment, but the fact that you can literally walk onto rides is a great trade off. Our trip was Monday-Friday, and we noticed that Tuesday and Wednesday were the slowest days in the park. So, if you can go midweek, that’s an additional way to beat the crowds.
2. Fly into a smaller airport. Both John Wayne Airport (SNA) and Long Beach Airport (LGB) are a mere 20 minutes (without traffic) from the park. Walking from the gate to ground transportation took us less than 10 minutes at SNA. And, when we flew out, there was absolutely no line at security.
3. Arrive early and stay late. This will get you the most bang for your buck, IF your family can handle it. We departed Seattle at 6:15 a.m., arrived at SNA at 8:45 a.m., and were able to enter the park right around 10:00 a.m. We also took the latest flight out so we could have a 5th day in the park. This way we paid for 4 nights, but got more out of the trip because we had a full 5 days at the park. Keep in mind that the more days you stay at the park, the less each day costs. We found that a 5th day at the park was only $12 more. Since our hotel/airfare costs were the same, we took the latest flight out to have that additional day of magic.
4. Hitch a taxi. Unless you have need of a rental car, hitching a taxi is the most efficient and frugal way to get from the airport to your hotel. For my family of 5, we paid $90/round trip via taxi from SNA to our hotel across the street from the park. In the past, we took the pricier option of the shuttle bus and wasted a lot of time waiting around for its arrival/departure. We also made multiple stops along the route, which lengthened the commute. When you depart Anaheim, reserve your taxi ahead of time so you don’t have to wait for one to arrive.
5. Store your luggage at the hotel. If you arrive in Anaheim before your hotel room is ready, store your bags at the hotel. Some hotels offer this as a free service and others have a minimal charge. You can also store your bags on the day of departure if you have to check out before you leave Anaheim. This will allow you to capitalize on tip #3!
6. Stay within walking distance of the park. There are some hotels that offer shuttle service to the park, but we found that much like the taxi, it was faster and easier to walk. Our hotel was directly across the street from the park entrance. We didn’t have to wait for the shuttle, or load/unload our stroller. We simply exited the park and walked to our hotel room.
7. Read books ahead of time. This is especially helpful if you have never been to Disneyland and are unfamiliar with the typical day, where everything is located, or what the rides are like. You can also predetermine ahead of time if your littlest ones are of the appropriate height requirements for each ride, so you don’t waste time standing in line for a ride your kiddo can’t go on. My favorites were the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland the Disneyland Encyclopedia (both available at Amazon). Not only is this a fun way to anticipate all the fun things to see and do at Disneyland, it also enhances your experience. We learned fun things about the park that we would not have known otherwise.
8. Wear color coordinated clothing. You don’t have to wear matching t-shirts, although many people do. But, in a big crowd, it’s easier to keep track of your kids (or your husband) if you are all wearing the same color. This way you can quickly count their little heads and be on your merry way. Here we are on our green day.
9. Bring a stroller! If your kiddos are under the age of 5, bring a stroller. Even if they don’t ride in the stroller, it’s a great storage on wheels for all of the stuff you will be hauling around all day. Each ride has a designated stroller parking. I found that parking the stroller as close to the exit of each ride saved time, too. That way I didn’t have to back track. Even better, park the stroller once in each land, and retrieve it when you move on. Also helpful for time saving is to attach something bright and unique to your stroller so you can easily spot it in the sea of strollers. The best time saver with the stroller was that if we were in a hurry or someone got tired, we could walk faster by putting the kiddo in the stroller. This was particularly useful after a parade or fireworks show when the masses are all heading in the same direction. It’s safer, easier, and faster to have the little ones buckled in rather than walking on their own. (Obviously, you’ll want to not leave any valuables on a parked stroller.)
10. Be at the park for the rope drop. You can enter the park before the rides are open, usually 30 minutes to an hour prior. They will have a rope sectioning off certain areas of the park (such as the end of Main Street). If you are a real early bird, you can stand at the rope and as soon as it drops, be the first to get on the rides. While waiting, you can peruse the gift shops or take pics with fewer photo bombers in the way.
11. Don’t forget the FastPass! Disneyland has a FastPass for the most popular rides, such as Star Tours and Radiator Springs Racers. These passes allow you to return to a ride at a later time in the day and not wait in line. You may still have to wait in the Fast Pass line up to 15 minutes (if there is a line), but generally your wait will be much shorter than the standby lines. Be sure to get your FastPass for the most beloved rides first thing upon entering the park, because those DO run out! To save even more time, send only one member of your party with all the tickets to retrieve the FastPasses. The rest of the party can wait in another ride line while the designated FastPass retriever is on the run.
Also, ride the most popular rides FIRST. When you enter enter the park, make a beeline for the must do rides, like Star Tours, Splash Mountain, or Radiator Springs Racers. These rides start accruing lengthy wait times pretty quickly. If you get to these first, you can ride them before the lines build. Also, if you are passing by and see that the wait times for any of the most popular rides are less than 20 minutes, GET IN LINE. We noticed the line for Star Tours was only 10 minutes at one point in our trip. We had planned to do Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, so we went there first. By the time we made it out of Buzz (about 15 minutes later), the wait time had increased to 30 minutes. It can happen that quickly!
12. Be aware of ride types. The slow loading rides will always have a longer wait simply because it takes longer to load the passengers. Some of these include the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Autopia. Other rides, such as Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure are constantly loading and therefore usually have a very short wait time. Plan your day to accommodate for these types of wait times. Use the longer wait times to switch of for potty breaks, refilling water bottles, or reapplying sunscreen!
13. Ride during parades/fireworks. Many of the rides have very short lines during parades or fireworks displays because everyone is at the show! Note that some rides do close during these times, but you can work this to your advantage as well. Stand as near to the rope as you can get, then when they drop the rope at the end of the show, you can be the first to get in line for the rides!
14. Bring your own food! While this is a great way to save, it also saves time. No standing around trying to get 5 people to agree on where to eat or waiting for food to arrive. If you decide to eat at the park restaurants, be sure to make reservations in advance to save on wait times. Also, browse those guide books to make choices ahead of time on where you will eat each day.
Also, eat while waiting. If you plan to watch any of the parades, fireworks, or shows, you generally want to save a spot 30+ minutes before start time. My boys were keen on doing the Jedi Training Academy. So, we got there about 40 minutes before showtime, saved a spot up front, and had a picnic lunch. If you have a longer wait time for a ride, you can also eat in line. I don’t recommend this when the kids are little, because taking time to sit and eat is a good break. But, for some, this will work just fine.
15. Potty breaks. We take designated potty breaks as a family. This way we are all on the same schedule and no one has to go at inopportune times. Of course, if your kid has to go at an un-designated time, TAKE THEM. And, best of all, if your kiddo has an accident, I have heard that the park is more than happy to help you get new clothes.
16. Last minute rides. You can hop into any ride line up to the last minute of closing. So if the park closes at 8:00 p.m., you can get in the line up until 7:59 p.m. This is especially useful if you don’t want to spend time in your day waiting in one of the longer lines. You may not be able to avoid waiting in line for Star Tours, but waiting 20 minutes after park closing is better than waiting 2 hours while the park is open.
17. Shop strategically! The gift shops are all open before and after park closing. Don’t waste precious time during the park’s opening hours when you can shop before or after your day at the park. The World of Disney store in Downtown Disney is also a great option for shopping late, and they have SO MUCH STUFF.
At the end of the day, you may have to wait in lines longer than expected, or you may have to take time to discuss what to do next, or you may get caught in a crowd. Try to enjoy yourself no matter what! After all, Disney is an experience not everyone is privileged to have. It’s a special time that is filled with magic, wonder, and memories you will treasure for a lifetime.
What are your best time saving tricks for the happiest place on earth?
PS – If you are planning a trip, make sure to check out my Disney page for even more money-saving and trip-planning tips. I’ve got posts on both Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando!