These are my top tips on what to do when you visit on a crowded Disneyland day!
Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you! This post was originally published Apr 1, 2015 and has been updated.
Is it Busy at Disneyland?
It’s never ideal to visit the two Disneyland theme parks when it’s crowded. However often work or school schedules predict your vacation time. Maybe the summer, holiday break or three day weekend is the only time you can visit. So how can you maximize your time and navigate the crowds? It does still matter when you visit but there are additional tips on what to do when you go and it’s crowded.
I’m sharing my expert tips on how to make the most of a crowded day at Disneyland including prepping your kids, ways to plan ahead, what rides to go on and how to use Fastpass and Maxpass to your advantage.
In the past, guests planning a Disneyland vacation could count on patterns or ebbs and flows in crowd levels based on the season. Most Dates to Avoid Disneyland When Planning a Vacation still hold true. You’ll know quickly if the dates included here will have larger crowds during your visit.
Unlike at Walt Disney World, where the parks are huge and spread out, the Disneyland parks are much more compact. This means congestion in many areas can be oppressive and tight at times. The same number of guests at Disney World looks very different at Disneyland, where the park walkways are much narrower.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – How Will Star Wars Land Affect Crowds?
One of the big unknowns currently is how Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (opening May 31st, 2019) will affect Disneyland Park crowd levels. This new Star Wars Land is highly anticipated and expecting to draw in many guests. How busy it will be long term in relation to current crowd patterns is yet to be seen! I’ll be there for opening day and will be reporting back with more information on how Star Wars Land affects business in the park and how this new area works in to your day plan.
1. Know What to Expect from a Crowded Day at Disneyland
How crowded is crowded at Disneyland? While some areas are more congested on busy days than other areas, on a very crowded day at Disneyland it can be a challenge to find a bench to rest on, a table to eat at or shade to stand under!
There are people…everywhere! Ride queues are long and attractions are jam-packed. If the thought of this sends prickles up your spine, consider rescheduling your vacation for a less busy time! (Keep reading down on how to choose).
So as an adult, you know what to expect. But how can you prep your kids for long lines and lengthy waits? Before you hype up doing ALL the things during your visit, plan out logistically what you’ll be able to actually see and do during the time of your visit. Obviously if you only have one day at Disneyland, you won’t be experiencing as much as someone with a 4 day pass. .
- Have kids choose one or two must-do attractions then verify those things will be operational during your visit.
- Plan ahead by having things to do while waiting in line. You’ll want to stock your day pack with items that will help pass the time. READ MORE: 12 Things to Do When You’re Waiting in Line at Disneyland.
- Take safety precautions if you have kids that wander off. I use a backpack with a safety harness tether when my youngest wants to walk but I still want her close.
- Older kids can understand crowds, so share that information with them ahead of the trip. They should be made aware that heavy crowds means they might not see everything and that wait times will be long.
2. Is it Going to Be Crowded at Disneyland?
On the Disneyland with Kids Facebook group, we received the question, “Will it be crowded on Memorial Day?” The answer is yes and there’s an easy way to quickly determine if Disneyland parks will be busy: If kids are out of school, crowd levels at Disney will be higher. School holidays mean that families will take advantage and often go to the parks.
Any Disneyland crowd predictor will tell you that any day kids are out of school the Parks are going to be crowded. But it’s much more than that. Here are common questions to “Will it be busy at Disneyland?”:
- Is it crowded at Disneyland on Super Bowl Sunday? Yes, based on personal experience. There are tons of people who don’t care about football or who don’t have a team in the game.
- Is Easter crowded at Disneyland? Yes but the crowds ebb and flow as families come to the parks after church or leave in the evening for Easter dinner.
- Is it crowded at Disneyland on Christmas Day? Yes, in fact the time from mid-December to New Year’s Day are the busiest season of the year in the parks.
- Will it be crowded on that 3-day weekend holiday? Yes, kids are out of school and families often plan a visit to Disneyland during the holidays including Columbus Day, President’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day.
More Days it’s Crowded at Disneyland
- Is it crowded at Disneyland on a rainy day? Sometimes. If the rainy day is on a mid-week in March, then it will probably discourage crowds. However if the rain comes on what is regularly a busy season, it will probably still be crowded at Disneyland. We still saw some really heavy crowds on a rainy day at Disneyland during the Halloween Time events.
- Is Thanksgiving crowded at Disneyland? Yes, but the mornings seem to be busier than evenings. Seems many people go in the earlier hours then leave to go have Thanksgiving dinner.
- Are Mondays crowded at Disneyland? Yes, as are Fridays (especially after noon). Guests often create their own 3-day weekends adding on a Friday or Monday visit to their holiday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mid week visits generally have lighter crowds.
- Why is it so crowded at Disneyland today? Disneyland is a major family vacation destination, bringing fans from around the world! Add this in to the fact that many locals have Annual Pass and come to the park for a few hours, adding to the crowds.
3. Planning Ahead for an Optimal Vacation Time
Disney vacations require advance planning to ensure a smooth trip. First time guests cannot expect to simply show up and “wing it”, in particular during busier times of the year. You’ll want to plan out things (at least roughly) in advance so you’ll have a plan for the day.
These are a few things to look for when planning:
- Download the Disneyland app onto your smart phone. Get familiar with it and see how you can check wait times, see where characters are and find out show times.
- Search your travel dates on the Anaheim Convention Center website. Big conventions in the area (like D23) can add massive crowds to the parks.
- Search your travel dates online to see if there are any other events happening in the parks. Non-Disney sanctioned events like Gay Days and Dapper Days can add extra crowds.
- Know what time the Parks open and close. Check the Disneyland Resort Parks calendar on their website in advance so you can schedule your day. Certain special events like the Halloween Party and/or Grad Nights can abbreviate park days when they close early for the event.
- Figure out what shows are must-see. Some shows like parades and fireworks shows are not shown year round. Check the park calendar.
- Look at the Annual Pass holder block out dates, especially the Southern California pass. Dates when pass holders are blocked might be less busy. However there might be a reason they are blocked out (like during busier seasons or days).
- Websites that offer a crowd tracker or crowd predictor aren’t always accurate (since they are comparing dates from year’s past). Use them with a grain of salt.
- Consider a “Disneyland Plan”. My friend Jessica at The Happiest Blog on Earth will custom design the perfect itinerary for your family!
4. Book an Advance Dining Reservation for a Special Meal
While generally you might be able to dine at Disneyland without Advance Dining Reservations, during very busy seasons you should book one. Restaurants, in particular the popular locations, will fill up early (think Blue Bayou, Lamplight Lounge and all character meals inside and outside the park, including Minnie’s Breakfast at the Park at Plaza Inn).
Throughout the year, both Disneyland parks offer special dining experiences for shows like parades and nighttime entertainment. You’ll want to research if these are something your family would enjoy and book as soon as possible, because they do sell out. These include the Frozen dining package, Fantasmic! dining package, Tomorrowland Skyline Lounge Experience and World of Color Dessert Party.
5. Fast Food Even Faster at Disneyland
If you’d prefer to choose dining as you go or would rather eat “quick service” due to the lower cost, mobile ordering can save loads of time. Using the Disneyland app, guests can order from select quick service restaurants. When you arrive at the location, just click the “prepare my order” button and then approach the mobile order pick up location (there are signs at the counter). Your food will be ready much faster and you can skip the line to order and pay!
There are advantages and disadvantages to the mobile order system:
- Not all quick service locations participate.
- Can order your meal at any time, even while waiting in line.
- Credit card is stored in your Disneyland app account so you don’t need to reenter.
- Can’t use gift cards.
- May be able to make special requests.
In advance of my vacations during a busy time period, I’ll still have a rough plan on where we want to eat. This eliminates unnecessary walking around the park, time spent deciding where to eat and then perusing the menu. Have your family look at menus online pre-trip (they are on the Disneyland website for every dining location) and decide what they’re going to order.
6. Pre-purchase Disneyland Tickets (at a Discount!)
Always purchase your Disneyland ticket ahead of time so you don’t waste precious time waiting in line to buy them at the gate when you could already be in the Park. Seriously, the line at the Disneyland parks JUST to purchase tickets could be 30+ minutes wait. And you’ll be paying full price!
I recommend my partner Get Away Today for discounted Disneyland tickets. You can purchase these 2+ day tickets at a discount, even with Disney MaxPass added on.
7. Always Arrive Early (for Everything)
Area traffic on the freeways can cause morning delay getting to the parks. Then add in the time spent parking, taking the shuttle, walking, getting through security and then standing at the gate to enter. If you aim to be at the Disneyland parks early, you’ll want to stay overnight close to the parks. There are three Disney Resort hotels and tons of other choices within walking distance of the parks.
There are benefits to staying “on property” at either Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa, the Disneyland Hotel or Paradise Pier Hotel.
A few notes about choosing a Disney Resort Hotel:
- Fairly close to the gates, with a quick walk through Downtown Disney to the front gates or use of the Monorail inside Downtown Disney in the morning.
- Shorter security lines on the Disney Resort Hotel side. Guests at the Grand Californian have dedicated security lines that are usually very short.
- Use of Extra Magic Hour in either of the parks on certain days.
- Guests at the Grand Californian may access the private entrance straight into Disney California Adventure park with their valid park ticket.
If you’re staying at an Off-Site Area Hotel:
- Even if you’re staying at a non-Disney hotel you can still make use of the added hour. Guests may use Magic Morning (only at Disneyland Park) when purchasing an advance 3-day park ticket.
- Certain hotels are even closer to the parks than the Disney Resort hotels. Check an online map to be sure which are best.
- The security lines at Harbor Blvd can be extremely long so allow extra time. Arriving at security during park opening time will assure very long waits, get there 45-60 minutes before park opening.
- Some area hotel shuttles might not get you to the park as early as you’d wish. Consider taking ride share like Lyft or Uber.
8. Arriving Early on Regular Disneyland Days
On a non-Extra Magic Hour day, you should aim to be at the Park entrance 45 minutes before the official opening. On busy days, the gates will open early and a select amount of those at the front of the lines will be admitted onto Main Street U.S.A. where you can shop, visit the restrooms or stop in at City Hall.
The official “rope drop” (when the rest of the Park opens) will happen on time, if not a few minutes early and you’ll be steps ahead of everyone else who are still lingering at the gate, waiting to be let in. For more details on how to take advantage of those first few hours after Rope Drop, read my post about how to Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland.
Arriving early also holds true when you want to attend parades, fireworks or other shows/attractions. If you want a decent viewing area, you’ll need to get there early and stake out your spot. However this doesn’t mean you can set up hours early!
Keep in mind that “holding spots” on busy days may not be permitted. Disneyland Cast Members need to keep pathways open for the flow of traffic and will let guest know when they can set up blankets on the curb for parades.
9. Best Use of Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hour
Maybe you’ve heard of a way to access the Disneyland park an hour early in the mornings? Both Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hour are fantastic ways to get in some early morning park time with lighter crowds. But how do you know if they apply to you and how you can access these special hours?
My friend Jessica at The Happiest Blog on Earth has all the details on her post Disneyland Resort Magic Mornings for all the details on how and when these apply.
10. Stay Late
Just like arriving early, staying late at the parks is another way to maximize time. A large amount of Guests, in particular those with small children, will immediately pour out of the Park after the Fireworks show. Stay as late as you can to take advantage of the emptying Park and subsequent shorter queues.
If you weren’t able to land a coveted FASTPASS for a particular ride, here’s an insider tip that can help (so long as you can hold out until the wee hours of park closing!) Hop in line just before the official park closing time. You’ll be permitted to wait in line for that attraction until you are able to ride, even if the park is officially “closed”.
11. Don’t Leave Disneyland…or You Might Get Shut Out!
Disneyland Parks limit the number of Guests that are allowed into their Parks at any one time. This means that on extremely busy days, if you leave the Park for any reason, you may not be allowed entrance back in if the Park has met its capacity. Think Christmas season, Fourth of July and New Years Eve. Plan to arrive quite early and stay all day or risk not being allowed back inside if you leave.
Remember that if you make an ADR for a restaurant outside of the parks, even those at the Resort hotels, you may be prevented from returning into the parks if they are at capacity. This includes popular dining locations like Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel or Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian. During extremely busy seasons you might be better off booking these meals on days when you’re not going to the parks.
12. Use Disneyland FASTPASS and MaxPass
Take advantage of the free FASTPASS service which essentially gives you a placeholder for a return time with a shorter wait in line. Only certain attractions have this service but it can be invaluable on a busy day.
If it’s 10:00 am and you get a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers but the return time is 8:00 pm, you’ll be able to get another FASTPASS two hours after scheduling the first one (at noon, in this scenario). Using the Disneyland app feature to keep track of your FASTPASS schedules is ideal. You can also choose to cancel FASTPASS or pick a new one, if you like.
MaxPass is another great way to maximize your Disneyland vacation time. Purchase MaxPass via the Disneyland Parks app and the daily cost will allow you to book your FASTPASS using your smart device. You won’t need to be at the actual attraction, you can book FASTPASS from anywhere inside the parks. This is an incredible time saver!
13. Which FASTPASS Should You Schedule First?
FASTPASS and the use of MaxPass on your mobile device is an awesome time saver on a crowded day at Disneyland! However on truly busy days, those FASTPASS appointments will quickly fill up. You may find that the most popular rides will “run out” of FASTPASS bookings by the afternoon.
So which FASTPASS should you grab first thing in the day? These are the suggestions for each park.
- Space Mountain (or Hyperspace Mountain, when this Star Wars themed overlay is available)
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Splash Mountain (in particular during warm weather or summer months)
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Haunted Mansion (when it’s Haunted Mansion Holiday during the months of September through December)
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
- “it’s a small world” (when “it’s it’s a small world – Holiday” during the winter months, usually early November through early January)
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Disney California Adventure Park
- Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land
- Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: BREAKOUT!
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Grizzly River Run (in particular during warm weather or summer months)
- Goofy’s Sky School
14. Use of Single Rider Lines
Traveling with older kids or just adults? Take advantage of the attractions with Single Rider Lines to maximize time spent waiting. Those in the Single Rider Line will be used to fill empty spots one at a time in ride cars.
These are a few tips when using this system:
- Single Rider Lines aren’t always open. Ask a Cast Member at the entrance is Single Rider is open.
- Guests will wait in line together and then be separated. You cannot request to be seated together.
- Don’t use Single Rider if you want Photopass ride photos of you and your family together (on rides that offer this feature).
Attractions that offer Single Rider:
- Space Mountain
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Splash Mountain
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Radiator Springs Racers
15. Two Ways to Optimize Wait with Young Kids
Are you one parent traveling with one child or have two children that includes one lap sitter? Two rides at Disney California Adventure park have a special pass for these families that will minimize wait time.
Toy Story Midway Mania! offers a “Moving Buddy” pass. Monsters Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue! also offers a “Buddy Pass”. Ask the Cast Member at the entrance for one if you qualify. You’ll be permitted to go through the exit, making a wait time of approximately 10 minutes or less! These special passes aren’t always available. Ask a Cast Member at the entrance if they are using them during your visit.
16. Ride the Fast Loaders
Some rides in the Parks are “Fast Loaders”. These rides at the Parks are fast loading or have a large capacity. So even if the lines appear quite long, the speed at which Guests are moving through the queue can be quicker than others.
- Mark Twain Riverboat
- Haunted Mansion
- “it’s a small world”
- The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
- Pirates of the Caribbean
17. Stay Out of the Parks
If your trip involves multiple days at the Resort, skip what is forecast to be the busiest day and don’t go into the Parks.
- Go to a Character meal at one of the Resort hotels instead (book an Advanced Dining Reservation ahead of your trip).
- Lounge poolside.
- Wander through the Downtown Disney District to shop or dine. There are plenty of places that kids will enjoy, including the LEGO Store.
- Check out this post on Spending an Off-Day at the Disneyland Resort for more ideas!
18. Just Relax and Go with the Flow
If the Park is wall-to-wall people, you may have trouble sticking to your touring plan. It’s important that you do whatever you can to keep your family relaxed and happy. If a long wait is ahead of you, these are a few things you can do:
- Ask each person beforehand what their one “must do” ride or attraction is for the trip. Make sure those things happen! Anything else you can accomplish after that is just a bonus!
- Eat your meals at “off-times” to avoid the meal-time rush.
- Window shop and take photos with the souvenirs. The hat shops are particularly fun!
- Play a game of “I-spy” while you wait in long lines. There’s even a pocket-sized World of Disney Eye Found It Card Game (nice to play when waiting for restaurant meals!)
- Purchase a Hidden Mickey Book, like Disneyland’s Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Disneyland Resort’s Best Kept Secrets to give your group something to look for while waiting.
- I have more waiting-in-queue tips on my post 12 Things to Do Waiting in Line at Disney Parks.
There are pros and cons to visiting Disneyland when it’s peak season. Yes, you’ll be dealing with more people and possible frustration when waiting in line for everything from a corn dog to the restroom. However Park hours are longer (opens earlier and stays open later) and more rides will be operational. Disney Parks often refurbish rides during slow season so they’ll be up and running during peak season.
It’s a personal choice for sure when scheduling your vacation during peak season. Just remember to relax, have fun and even when the Parks are busy, you can still have a magical time!
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For more tips on handling crowded days at Disney, check out these additional posts!
- What’s the Point | Making the Most out of Walt Disney World Magic Hours
- Trips with Tykes | 6 Tips for Picking Less Crowded Days at Disneyland
- Disney Mamas | Top 5 Tips for Managing Crowds at Walt Disney World