Concerned about experiencing a crowded Disneyland day? Disney Parks are popular destinations for families from around the world. That means, more often than not, Disneyland is going to be busy. Planning ahead and knowing these travel tips can help you prepare for Disneyland crowds ahead of your vacation.
Crowded Disneyland Day
Once upon a time, Disneyland had a pretty predicable off-season, when you were practically guaranteed lower crowds. Nowadays, you can usually count on higher crowd levels daily at the California theme parks. While you might not be able to avoid the packs of people, there are ways to maximize a crowded Disneyland visit.
There’s really no “off-season” when it comes to the Happiest Place on Earth, especially since the Disneyland reopening. These are my top tips on what to do when you visit on a crowded Disneyland day.
Is it Busy at Disneyland?
It’s never ideal to visit Disneyland when it’s crowded. However, work and school schedules often dictate your personal vacation dates. Maybe summer, holiday break, spring break or 3 day weekends are the only time you can visit.
So how can you maximize your time and navigate the crowds? Does it matter what time of year and when you visit? Are the ways to know exactly when fewer people will be in the parks?
These are my expert tips on how to make the most of a crowded Disneyland day including prepping kids, ways to plan ahead, making an itinerary and using Disney Genie+.
Do Dates Matter Anymore?
In the past, guests planning a Disneyland vacation could count on ebbs and flows in crowd levels based on the season. With the increase in special seasonal events throughout the year, seasonal advantages no longer hold true. Disneyland is busy all-year long.
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.
Know What to Expect from a Crowded Day at Disneyland
How crowded is crowded at Disneyland? If you’ve never experienced a crowded day at Disneyland, you might not know what to expect.
- Some areas are more congested 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!
- Expect to see people…everywhere!
- Ride queues are long and attractions are jam-packed. There are lengthy waits for just about everything from ordering food to getting a stall in the bathroom.
But if you know that it’s going to be bustling in the parks, there are still things to see and do. Making a pre-vacation plan, showing up for “rope-drop” and using these time saving tips will offer you more opportunity for fun, despite the crowds!
1. Go for More than One Day
If you’re visiting on what you know will be a crowded day, it’s best to plan on a multi-day Disneyland pass. Seeing and doing it all at Disneyland in one day is impossible, even under the best circumstances.
Plan on at least 3 days at Disneyland to properly experience the parks. Choose a 5 day Disneyland ticket or longer if visiting during especially busy seasons like during Thanksgiving or Christmas break.
With the multi day passes, the pressure will be less rushed to hurry and do it all. Fit in a mid-day break to escape the crowds or enjoy a leisurely full service restaurant meal. With more than one day at Disneyland, the desire to join the throngs of other guests will be eased.
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2. Prep Kids for a Crowded Day at Disneyland
As an adult, you’ll know more about what to expect when the theme parks are packed. But how can you prep your children for long lines and lengthy waits? These are a few thoughts on preparing kids for crowds on vacation:
- Don’t hype up doing ALL the things. Plan out a rough schedule. Logistically, you’ll be able to get an idea on what can actually be experienced during the time of your visit.
- Check the ride closures ahead of your trip so you’ll know what’s not operating.
- Have kids choose one or two must-do attractions for each day of your visit. Aim to complete those items and the rest of the day is a bonus!
- Have things to do while waiting in line at Disney. Stock a day pack with items that will help pass the time whether in queue or waiting for food.
- Take safety precautions if you have kids that wander off. I personally use a backpack with a safety harness tether. I used this on my youngest daughter as a toddler. She liked to walk independent but I still wanted her close, especially when passing through large groups.
- 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.
3. Is it Going to Be Crowded at Disneyland?
On the Disneyland with Kids Facebook group, we consistently received the question, “Will it be crowded on this particular holiday?” “Is it packed?” The answer is usually a resounding, YES. There are a few easy ways 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.
Another way to predict that you might be visiting on a busy day? Is the date on the Disneyland reservation calendar “sold out”. There’s a good chance the park has met their capacity and might be more crowded than usual.
Are Disney Crowd Calendars Accurate?
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 Sunday 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 Spring break busy? For sure, but with a few caveats. The actual spring break varies between school districts so it’s really more of a busy month than just a week or two. Read up on what to expect during Spring Break at Disneyland.
Listen to the Disneyland With Kids podcast for additional spring break travel tips.
- 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. Read these tips for visiting on busy days during the holidays at Disneyland.
- 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 Magic Key annual passes and come to the park for a few hours, adding to the crowds.
4. 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. Of course getting a theme park reservation is a must-do as well.
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 ahead of your vacation. See how you can check wait times, mobile order, pinpoint where characters are and find out show times.
- Purchase a Disneyland ticket with Disney Genie+ added in. You’ll save yourself time after scanning into the park and immediately be able to book your first Lightning Lane attraction (more on this coming in the article).
- Know what time the Parks open and close during your planned vacation. Check the Disneyland Resort Parks calendar on their website in advance so you can schedule your day. Certain special events like the Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween Party and Grad Nights can abbreviate park days when they close early for the event.
More Ways to Plan Ahead
- 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. Events like Gay Days and Dapper Days can add extra crowds.
- 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 Magic Pass 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 years’ 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!
5. Use Disney Genie+
The free FASTPASS system and the paid MaxPass are no longer offered at any Disney park. The new line skipping plan is called Disney Genie+. For $20 per person, per day, guests can schedule popular ride times on a mobile device.
Yes, it’s an awesome time saver on a crowded day at Disneyland. The extra cost is worth the time saved compared to waiting in long queues. Work in the additional upcharge when planning out your Disney vacation budget.
On truly busy days, most rides will “run out” of bookings, so you’ll want to schedule early. For more tips about using Disney Genie+ at Disneyland, check out this helpful guide from my friend Leslie at Trips With Tykes.
6. Purchase Individual Lightning Lane
Separate from Disney Genie+, there are currently three attractions for which an “individual Lightning Lane” can be purchased. The only other option to get on these rides is through the stand-by queue, which could be several hours long for each.
At Disneyland, buy your way to the front of the line at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. For Disney California Adventure park, purchase LL for either Radiator Springs Racers or WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure inside Avengers Campus.
7. Book Advance Dining Reservations for Full Service Meals
While generally you might be able to eat at Disneyland without Advance Dining Reservations, during very busy seasons you should absolutely book them. Full service dining restaurants, in particular the popular locations, will fill up early.
Consider booking reservations for all full service locations, especially 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.
Scoring Coveted Advance Dining Reservations
If dining at table service restaurants is a must-do on your trip, booking with advance dining reservations is essential. Avoid having to stalk the Disneyland app to book ADR and try MouseDining.
There’s a way to upgrade your account for additional features but for most people, their free program is adequate. Here’s how this system works:
- Open the MouseDisney website and search the restaurant you want to dine at.
- Add in your dates to see if a reservation is available.
- If everything is booked, simply set up an alert with more details including meal, preferred time, and party size.
- MouseDining will email you when a reservation comes available!
8. Fast Food without Slow Waits
There are many reasons to choose quick service at Disneyland. The cost is lower than full service table dining. And mobile ordering can save loads of time. While you might prefer to choose dining as you go throughout your day, I still recommend planning meals ahead of your trip. Planning out which restaurant you’ll eat at as well as reading menus ahead is a huge timesaver.
Mobile ordering is a must on a crowded Disneyland day. Wait times for restaurants will be long and ordering through the Disneyland app can speed up the process for food. Food is ready much faster and you’ll skip the line to order and pay!
Here’s how to use mobile ordering at Disneyland. Choose the quick service restaurant and place your order in the Disneyland app. When you arrive at the location, click the “Prepare My Order” button. Use the mobile order pick up location (look for signs at the counter).
Mobile Ordering Tips for Busy Days
Plan ahead all of your restaurants and meals before your vacation. This will eliminate unnecessary walking around the park. Have each family peruse menus in their own time ahead of the trip to decide on the orders. Menus for each restaurant location are in the Disneyland app.
On busy days at Disneyland I recommend placing ALL of your mobile orders first thing in the morning. Often times, I’ll do this while waiting in line for my first attraction of the day.
Simply place all the orders through the Disneyland app and schedule them for when you think you’ll be ready to eat. You can always push back the time in the app if necessary.
9. Stay Close to Arrive Early
Area traffic on the freeways can cause a morning delay getting to the parks. Then add in the time spent parking, walking and taking the tram. Don’t forget passing 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.
Before booking read up on this comparison of staying at a Disneyland Resort Versus an Anaheim “Good Neighbor” Hotel. 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.
- *currently suspended* 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.
Staying at an Off-Site Area Hotel?
- 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.
- *currently suspended* 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.
- 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.
10. Arrive Early for Everything
Guests should aim to be at the Park entrance 45-60 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. You’ll be able to 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.
11. Best Use of Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hour
*editor’s note* Both Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hour are currently suspended at the Disneyland Resort. I’ll update this article if/when it becomes available again.
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.
12. 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 Disney Genie+ booking for a particular ride, here’s an insider tip that can help. This only works if you can stay 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”.
13. Keep Track of Your Stuff
It’s easy to lose things in the crowd, including strollers, cell phones or your own family members! It’s highly recommended to personalize your things that might be misplaced. Use Name Bubbles to add a personalized sticker inside Disney hats or on souvenirs.
- Add the Life360 app to your cell phones. Even if your partner doesn’t answer a call, you’ll be able to use the app to track location. Be aware that the app drains batteries quickly so have a fully-charged external power bank phone charger.
- Dress each family member in a brightly colored t-shirt that makes individuals easier to spot in a crowd. Use code AFF20PCT for 20% off your first order at Primary.com.
- Glow stick bracelets and necklaces make kids easier to find after nightfall.
- Use Disneyland lockers outside of the theme parks in the esplanade. These lockers tend to be less packed with people than the locations inside the park, especially at park closing.
- Personalize your stroller with bright ribbons, a balloon or battery-operated fairy lights on the handle for night time.
14. Where to Go on Evening Event Days
Is there a special evening event being held at either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure park? If you have a regular park ticket for the day of the event, you’ll be required to leave that park early. Only those with the special event ticket will be permitted to stay.
If you’re using a regular park ticket on one of these days, consider visiting the park that is hosting the evening event. For example, if California Adventure is hosting the Oogie Boogie Bash Disney Halloween Party in the evening hours, start your day at that park. Odds are good that most guests will visit Disneyland that day instead.
Purchase a Disneyland Park Hopper ticket and move over to the opposite park before the party “mix-in” hours begin. You’ll be able to finish the night out at the other park!
15. Use Single Rider Lines
Traveling with older kids or just adults? Take advantage of the attractions with Single Rider Lines to maximize time spent waiting. Guests using 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 available.
- 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:
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Splash Mountain
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Grizzly River Run
16. Two Ways to Optimize Wait with Young Kids
*editor’s note: These passes have not been tested since reopening. 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 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.
17. 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”
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
18. Seek Less Populated Areas
If you’re in search of more space to spread out and avoid people, try some of these less populated areas in the parks. You’ll find spots for kids to play, areas for relaxing and locations to distract from a Disneyland meltdown.
At Disneyland Park:
- Snow White’s Grotto
- Waiting areas at each Train Station
- Back patio at Hungry Bear Restaurant
- Mark Twain Riverboat
- Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
- Accessible space indoors to view the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
- Outdoor patio at restaurant Docking Bay 7
- Backside of Harbour Galley restaurant dining patio
- Boat pier next to Edelweiss Snacks in Fantasyland
At Disney California Adventure park:
- Grizzly Trail behind Grizzly River Run
- Hollywood Land, just outside of Monsters Inc
- Paradise Garden Grill patio dining
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
19. 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. Plan one of these fun things to do with the family instead!
- Lounge poolside at one of the pools of the Disneyland resort.
- Go to a Character meal at one of the Resort hotels instead (book an Advanced Dining Reservation ahead of your trip).
- 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!
20. 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!
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 (Disneyland 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!
Save Money on Your Disney Vacation!
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Lin @ DisneyMamas
Friday 10th of April 2015
Great tips! We are big users of Touring Plans as well and it definitely came in handy for our Disneyland vacation last summer!
Friday 3rd of April 2015
Great tips! I would suggest many of the same for those visiting Walt Disney World. However, for myself, I prefer to visit during the slow times. I know when those are at WDW, but when would you say are the slower times at Disneyland? I am determined to visit there one of these days!
Friday 3rd of April 2015
I prefer that too Heidi! It's getting harder and harder to predict the "slow" periods at Disneyland. January & February (but avoid any of the "race" weekend dates) though you might be dealing with rainy weather. I would say that early September is still great. First two weeks of December are still good and mid May (after all the spring break stuff and before summer break). Hope to see you in California one of these days!
Thursday 2nd of April 2015
Great tips! While I haven't been to Disneyland, I am a big fan of arriving early and staying late at WDW. It's a great way to beat the crowds and get more time in the parks!
Friday 3rd of April 2015
It can be a challenge with little ones but it really does make the difference in your day to try at least one or the other if you can't do both.
Disney Mamas 5 Tips for Managing Crowds at Disney Parks
Thursday 2nd of April 2015
[…] 1st Stop – Saving Up for Disney | Tips for Handling a Crowded Disneyland Day […]
Rosanne @ The Disney Point
Thursday 2nd of April 2015
Great tips! It was pretty crowded during our trip last year to Disneyland and we managed it well. The best part about Disneyland crowds versus Walt Disney World crowds is the weather! I don't mind waiting in lines outside when it's 80 and sunny rather than 90 with the Orlando humidity! :)
Thursday 2nd of April 2015
That's a interesting spin on it Rosanne, I hadn't thought it about it like that. I always wondered about the crowds at WDW. Since the entire place is the size of San Francisco I would think it would be less congested than Disneyland, which is literally the size of a few city blocks!