My friend Mike is what I’d call a true Disneyland expert! He’s been there many times and plumbed the park for all kinds of fun experiences. He’s written a number of posts for the site over the past month (see my Disney page for all of them), and he’s back at it today with a new post for you! So, Disney fans, here’s Mike:
When it comes to Disneyland, one age old adage still rings true. When you gotta go; you gotta go. Though I have previously written about the best times of year to visit Disneyland, for many families, school vacation is the driving force for making their plans. Many are restricted to summer vacation, spring break and possibly the winter holiday season. Even smaller vacation times like Thanksgiving weekend, Columbus Day and Labor Day face similar scenarios.
On the plus side, those times of years have many perks. The parks will be open early and stay open late. Most attractions will be up and running so you won’t have to miss out on the favorites. Additionally, there can be additional seasonal offerings or extra showings of parades and fireworks. So when kids are out of school, Disneyland is putting its best foot forward.
But these times of years do have some drawbacks. The crowds can be startling. According to some studies done by statisticians at the “Unofficial Guide for Disneyland” (Amazon) on certain days like 4th of July, New Years Eve and Easter, the parks are at their very busiest. How busy? If the scale was 1 – 10, those days would break the scale and hit an 11 (or 12). All of which can cause some massive lines for all attractions, and make headliners (Space Mountain, Indiana Jones) have multiple hour wait times. With those massive amounts of people, hotel and resorts will be at the highest price points as well.
So you’re paying more and waiting longer, is there any hopes for families stuck to school breaks? Let me break down some of the way to get the most out of your vacation during these busy times of the year.
Tip One: Go Early
One of the best tips I can give anyone during any time of year is get there early. This is even more imperative during these busy times. If possible, be at the gates 30 to 40 minutes before the parks open. Make sure the coffee run is already done and no one will be visiting the happiest bathrooms on Earth right after going through the turnstiles. It is possible to get more done in the first 3 hours of the day than the following six hours.
If you can swing it, there can be value with staying at one of the three on-site hotels to gain the extra perk of entering in one of the two parks an hour before non-resort guests. This is also is a great way to pick which park to go to if you’re not staying on-site. Head to the park where extra morning hours are not being offered if you’re not able to take advantage of them.
Tip Two: Invest in a Touring Plan
For many, the idea of planning out your day ahead of time seems like drudgery or fanaticism. However, a good touring plan can cut the times you wait in line significantly. I like the LINES app offered by the folks at Touring Plans. Based on real time data, they give you the best order to hit rides. They even offer it under different family scenarios. Touring plans for small kids, touring plans for adults, and even One-Day with two parks touring plans. Subscribers can even customize their plans to get the best method for battling lines. They have an optimize feature, which allows you to refresh your plan and use current info to make slight alterations based on what is going on in the park. Get your family to try it out for the first hour or two and see how they react to how much time they are saving. Most people I have traveled with are sold pretty quickly.
Tip Three: Take a Break
When traveling with kids during extremely busy times of the year, you may need to stop for a break. This can absolutely save your vacations. Right before or right after lunch, head back to the hotel for naps or swim time. In many cases, you will miss the heaviest crowds, the longest lines for both rides and restaurants and, of course, the warmest of weather.
Taking a break also gives your kids a chance to reset Disneyland is a place of heightened emotion, some sleep and swimming can be just enough to make it through the day. This also gives you a chance to eat at some great spots not inside the parks and possibly save some money. Check out Pizza Press on Habor Blvd, Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney and even White Water Snacks in the Grand Californian.
Tip Four: Consider a Dining Package
Often, Disney has dining packages that include specialty seating at their night time spectaculars. Now, these shouldn’t be seen as a value proposition in terms of money. They are often at nice sit down restaurants that are normally priced in such a way that it will cause you to make sure to order all the free bread you can stuff inside a purse. However, for many, saving time is where you find value. Often, families may not be able to stay for the second showing of the fireworks, Fantasmic or World Of Color because of young children. And people will begin to grab their spots for these events hours beforehand. I have been in the park and seen people waiting for Fantasmic at 3pm for a 7pm showing. I admire the tenacity, but there’s some percentage of crazy mixed in with that decision that doctors are probably doing studies on.
If you were planning to do a sit down meal already, you might spring the extra few dollars and do a dining package for one of the popular events. Now you get a great meal and you can stroll to your assigned seating area a mere 30 minutes prior. (Which allows extra time to hit those rides you haven’t gotten around to yet.)
Tip Five: Optimize your Fastpass
Obviously, Fastpass is a great way to save time. The ability to have access to a faster line by grabbing a pass from the attraction with a return time later is one of the nicer ways to do the bigger rides. But there are some rookie mistakes with using the Fastpass system. For instance, don’t walk across the park just to grab a Fastpass for an attraction only to then walk back across the park to partake in a different ride. In that case, you’ve pretty much wasted all the time saved from the hike back and forth. If the ride has a posted wait time of 30 minutes or less, it might be wise to use the regular line and see if there is a nearby Fastpass you can grab for another attraction.
Here’s a bonus pro tip: if you’re leaving the park, see if there is an attraction you can get a Fastpass for on your way out. Try to find one with a return time that seems close to when you think you’ll be returning. If you want to do a specific attraction at a certain time, like a water ride in the heat of the day or Big Thunder Mountain at night, keep an eye on the return times posted. The previously mentioned LINES app help can be immensely helpful to get the best Fastpass strategy.
Tip Six: Add a Fifth Wheel
Family time at Disneyland is every bit as magical as you’d imagine. But just think how more magical it will be is when those young kids are ready for a nap or bedtime and Grandma and Grandpa takes them back to the hotel while you and your beau continue enjoying the park. Maybe you get to do a ride you weren’t able do because not everyone met the height requirements. Or you can go through a shop without being asked to buy everything seen. Perhaps it’s time to get an adult beverage while looking longingly into your special someone’s eyes and reminisce about the time when your clothes didn’t double as a hand towel. Taking Grandma/Grandpa or that crazy Aunt or whomever with you on vacation can really help make sure that everyone leaves with special memories.
If you are unable to make an arrangement like this work, but still want a little adult time, you are not without options. Those staying on-site can send their tikes to child care offered at the Grand California, Pinocchio’s Workshop. And while the name actually sounds a bit terrifying, the quality of staff and activities available are top notch.
Tip Seven: Character Dining
Again, this in no way can be considered a money saving idea. It can be a huge way to save time though. If you have kids, like mine, who wanted to meet every character they possibly could, prepare to stand in lines. Characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and Tinker Bell can have massive wait times. And don’t even ask about Anna & Elsa. If you have to stand in line to meet the ladies of Frozen, play a game to see how many times you can sing “Let It Go” before the person in front of you walks away.
With that in mind, a character meal can be a great way to save time. Places like Goofy’s Kitchen and breakfast with Minnie and Friends can be a virtual smorgasbord of character interaction. Not only will you see several characters, you will probably have a lengthier time with them. This can create some moments you won’t normally find at a ordinary character meet and greet. The best part is, they come to your table. No standing in lines aside from the buffet for a slice PB&J Pizza (not kidding).
So how about you? What is your best tip for the busy times at Disneyland? Need help? Shoot me an email and I’ll help you plan and book your next Disneyland vacation!
For more tips on saving money in Disneyland, please see our Disney page.
Mike Rinehart is an independent travel agent affiliated with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MikesTravelThoughts/ View more of this travel thoughts at mike-rinehart-e3x2.squarespace.com Or request your free no obligation quote on your next Disneyland, Disney World, Aulani, Disney Cruise (and any other cruise line) vacation by emailing him at Mike.Rinehart@mei-travel.com. Mention “The Coupon Project” and receive a free gift with your completed booking.