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Disneyland Rope Drop – How to Maximize the First Two Hours

Disneyland Rope Drop – How to Maximize the First Two Hours

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Get ready to learn all about Disneyland “rope drop” and why the first two hours at Disneyland Parks is the best way to maximize time! Disneyland insiders know that the first few hours after park opening is ideal to beat the crowds. These are the must-read Disneyland tips for morning itineraries, getting out of the hotel on time and what to do first in the theme parks. Includes important details on how getting in line for Rise of the Resistance factors in.

New Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland

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Tips to Make the Most of the First Two Hours at Disneyland!

Anyone who has been planning their big California vacation wants to maximize time at Disneyland. Making the most of a Disneyland morning is one of the best time-saving Disneyland tips. Having a plan for your first two hours at Disneyland can mean the difference between walking on rides without a wait first thing in the morning or standing in queue for 90 minutes in mid-afternoon.

It all starts by planning ahead of time, before you even step foot into the theme parks. Disneyland has many moving parts to consider in order to ensure your travel plans go smoothly. Once inside the park, there are several important ways you can make the most of your first two hours at Disneyland. Having a basic itinerary can mean the difference of spending hours waiting in line versus experiencing more magic in the amusement parks!

Splash Mountain at Disneyland

What Has Changed Since Disneyland Reopened?

Many factors about the way to tour Disneyland and Disney California Adventure has changed since the reopening in 2021. This includes some of the tips mentioned in this article about maximizing the first two hours at Disneyland.

For thoughts on the reservation system, mobile ordering, scoring advance dining reservations and more, be sure to read the things to know about Disneyland in 2021.

What Happened to FASTPASS?

It’s true, FASTPASS is no longer available at Disneyland. That means Maxpass and the Fastpass lines are gone too. Coming in their place is Disney Genie, Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane.

While we don’t know everything about this new cut-the-line system, it’s expected to be released before the end of 2021. In the meantime, listen to more about how Disney Genie will work on the Disneyland With Kids podcast episode.

Get Familiar with the Lay of the Lands

If this is your first Disneyland visit, make sure you know your way around a bit before your trip. Study the park map online ahead of time so you aren’t wasting time on your day wandering around. You can check out the Disneyland website before your trip to view the park maps.

2020 spring disneyland guide map
Grab a guide map at the entrance (or use the Disneyland app)

Also it’s a good idea to add the Disneyland Parks app to your smartphone before entering the parks. WiFi is sketchy in the parks so you’ll want to download the app to your smart phone at home.

Using the Disneyland app in the parks can save you a TON of time! You’ll quickly be able to find out the locations of characters, join a virtual queue boarding group (if needed), check show times, and use Mobile Ordering. Practice using the app at home to familiarize yourself with its functionality.

Choose Your Disneyland Vacation Dates Wisely

Making the most of your first two hours also depends upon the time of year you are visiting. The Disneyland reservation calendar can give you a hint on whether your park day will be crowded. If the date of your visit is “sold out” or fully booked, you can be sure the parks will be busy.

During holidays and over the weekends, crowds are naturally heavier. Weekdays, particularly Tuesday and Wednesday in the “off-season” are your best bet for lighter crowds.

These are ways you can figure out the Best Times of the Year to Visit Disneyland as well as be made aware of the Dates to Avoid When Planning a Disneyland Trip.

Disneyland hours vary throughout the year. During off-peak times or when special events take place, the parks close much earlier. However Disneyland hours in the morning are usually still early, which means you can take advantage of the lighter crowds. For instance, the morning crowds are lower the day after Oogie Boogie Bash takes place during Halloween Time.

Check the Disneyland website or app while planning to get an idea of the Disneyland park hours during your visit.

Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!

Have a Disneyland Plan of Attack

If you only have one day at Disneyland, then make sure you are making the most of the first two hours. If you have more than one day, I’d recommend taking at least one of your vacation days to follow this plan.

This doesn’t mean you should sleep until noon on the other days though. I still always recommend that you arrive at rope drop because crowds are considerably lighter in the mornings. You’ll be able to see and do so much more on your trip if you take advantage of morning hours.

Disneyland carrousel

Before you even step inside the gates, I recommend coming up with your morning schedule. My friend Jessica at The Happiest Blog on Earth offers her tips on how to accomplish 10 rides in the first 2 hours.

Want a personal Disneyland Plan? If you want to schedule out your day, Jessica can also come up with a highly personalized itinerary. Use code Mom for 5% off your personal Disneyland Plan.

Girl watching the Mad Tea Party teacups ride at Disneyland through the bars

Getting Up and Out of the Hotel

If your family was out late the night before, it could be a challenge getting out of the hotel on time the next morning. These are a few ways to ease the morning rush and make it to the parks for Disneyland rope drop!

  • When my kids are just too excited to sleep, melatonin is the trick! Even I have a tough time sleeping in hotel rooms sometimes. Zarbee’s Naturals Children’s Melatonin supplement comes with us on every trip so that I can ensure my kids are well rested.
  • Prep as much as you can the night before. That includes organizing the hotel room by setting out outfits, packing your day bag and prepping snacks.
  • The Disneyland Resort hotels offer a free character wake-up call.
  • Create grab & go morning bags for each kid. Include a breakfast snack and evian character water bottle in each bag so that kids can eat and drink on the way to the front gate.

Disneyland Morning Itinerary for Little Kids

With younger kids, I’d start in Fantasyland at Disneyland. You’re going to find the most rides without height restrictions in this area. None of the rides listed below have a height requirement so everyone (including babies and toddlers) can ride with an adult.

If you want to accomplish rides in your first two hours at Disneyland, I recommend that everyone hit Peter Pan’s Flight first. Wait times are easily 45+ minutes the rest of the day. Even if you head to Peter Pan first thing, know that you’ll likely still spend 20-30 minutes waiting in the morning.

If you only have one early morning, I’d actually suggest completely skipping Peter Pan’s Flight so you can do everything else. The rest of the rides in this area usually have minimal wait first thing in the morning. On a non-holiday season weekday, you can usually complete everything in Fantasyland within two hours.

Disneyland Fantasyland with Carrousel and Matterhorn Bobsleds
Fantasyland quickly fills up with crowds as the day wears on!

Disneyland with Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers

Try going on rides in this order to maximize time and minimize lines:

  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Casey Junior Circus Train
  • Mad Tea Party
  • King Arthur Carrousel
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
  • “it’s a small world”
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds (if your child meets the height requirement).

Click through to read more about a single day itinerary if you only have One Day at Disneyland with a Toddler.

it's a small world Disneyland

Disney California Adventure Park Morning Itinerary for Little Kids

You might have heard that there isn’t as much for little kids to do inside Disney California Adventure park. The loss of a bug’s land to make room for Avengers Campus was a tough blow for families of preschoolers.

However there are still plenty of things to do inside DCA, but not as many rides as Disneyland proper. Don’t skip the park but here’s my recommendation. Measure your kids and check height requirements for Disneyland rides before your trip.  You’ll want to know which rides your toddler or preschooler will be able to ride and which ones they’ll need to skip.

If your child is 40″, plan to visit Radiator Springs Racers first thing. Then head for Soarin’ Around the World immediately after. This itinerary will maximize your time but there is quite a bit of walking across the park. Consider a stroller for your little one so you can walk briskly!

Disney California Adventure Park Pixar Pal-a-Round Ferris Wheel

Try going on rides in this order to maximize time and minimize lines:

  • Radiator Springs Racers (40″+)
  • Toy Story Midway Mania (no height requirement, anyone can ride)
  • Pixar Pal-a-Round (no height requirement, anyone can ride)
  • Jessie’s Critter Carousel (no height requirement, anyone can ride)
  • Inside Out – Emotional Whirlwind (no height requirement, anyone can ride)
  • Soarin’ Around the World (40″+)
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (32″+)
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters (32″+)
  • WEBSLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure (no height requirement, but virtual boarding group required)

Disneyland Morning Itinerary for Older Kids, Teens & Adults

With older kids, teens or adults only, you’ll want to decide which direction to go first inside each Park. Big kids and grown ups will likely want to hit the thrill rides and “Disney Mountains” first, considering these often have the longest queues.

Because this itinerary is about maximizing those first two hours, there is a good amount of walking to cover the park. Make sure you’re wearing good walking shoes for Disney so you can move fast!

Disneyland Matterhorn Bobsleds

Try going on rides in this order to maximize time and minimize lines:

  • Rise of the Resistance (40″+, possible virtual boarding group required to ride this attraction)
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (40″+)
  • Splash Mountain (40″+)
  • Indiana Jones (46″+)
  • Star Tours (40″+)
  • Space Mountain (40″+)
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds  (42″+)
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (38″+) – Guests should check the Disneyland app during their visit to watch for low wait times. 

Is this your first visit to Disneyland? Read the Must-Do Disneyland- Perfect Itinerary for First Timers and aim to follow these ideas for one day of your visit.

Wondering if there's anything thrilling at the Disneyland Parks? Check out this guide to the thrill rides at Disneyland including tips for mini-thrill seekers, anti-nausea advice and how to please everyone from preschool to adult! #Disneyland

What About Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Avengers Campus?

There are no reservations or a “virtual queue” to enter Disneyland Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a Star Wars-themed Land. The same goes for Avengers Campus, the Marvel-themed land at Disney California Adventure park. Anyone can enter these areas whenever they wish. However there are some things to note about the entertainment in these Lands and how it will affect the morning hours at Disneyland.

R2D2 from Star Wars inside Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland

Morning Tips for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

If you plan to eat & drink at Oga’s Cantina you’ll need to obtain an advance dining reservation time for this before your trip. Same for light saber making at Savi’s Workshop. These are both very popular reservations so you should book exactly 60 days ahead of your visit. Make your reservation for afternoon or evening, so you can still have your mornings free (when crowds may be lighter).

Choose a hilt at Savi's Workshop inside Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
Customizing a light saber at Savi’s Workshop requires a reservation time.

Wait times vary dramatically for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. I highly recommend watching the Disneyland app to see what the current wait time is before jumping on board. 

Smugglers Run does also have a single rider option but I don’t recommend using it for the first time. You’ll miss the pre-show story, chess room and likely not be given the chance to pilot.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge spires above the Millennium Falcon

For more details on what to do with younger kids, check out this post about taking toddlers and preschoolers to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Morning Tips for Avengers Campus

Avengers Campus is the hottest new land inside California Adventure. Naturally guests want to be there to experience all the Marvel super hero entertainment and fun. Watching Spider-Man leap between the buildings is a must see. Here’s how to work Avengers Campus into your day.

Main entrance to Avengers Campus
  • PYM Test Kitchen and Tasting Lab are both popular dining locations within Avengers Campus. Within the first two hours at Disneyland, book your mobile orders through the app for a future time. You can always adjust this time if needed.
  • View show times on the Disneyland app for popular shows and character greetings. Black Panther and the Dora Milaji, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man all make appearances that you won’t want to miss. Set alerts on your phone to remind you.

What to Know About Virtual Boarding Groups

Rise of the Resistance and WEBSLINGERS have recently moved from virtual boarding groups to stand-by queue. If riding these attractions are important to your visit, this can definitely put a kink in your itinerary.

Photo of Rise of the Resistance boarding pass on phone
Boarding group obtained! But will you need to get one anymore?

Until recently there were no stand-by queues for the Rise of the Resistance or WEBSLINGERS attractions. However this recently changed when Disneyland dropped virtual queues and went to standby only.

Expect to stand in line for hours for these attractions. Heading to either ride first thing upon rope drop may minimize your wait time, but it will likely still be lengthy. Plan for extended wait times or consider skipping altogether.

Those with Disneyland Disability Access Service should be able to request a pass for either Rise of the Resistance or WEBSLINGERS to ride.

How Virtual Boarding Affects Mornings at Disneyland

It’s highly recommend to check the Disneyland app on the day of your visit. You’ll want to find out if the theme parks are using a virtual queue or standby lines only.

The rush to book a virtual boarding group can really affect your Disneyland morning. The slots can literally fill up within seconds! Here’s how to work this into your day.

  • Set alarms on your phone. It’s easy to get distracted in the hotel room at 7 am when you’re scrambling to get ready for the day!
  • Pay attention to the boarding group number you receive. If it’s an early time, make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to arrive. You’ll receive a push alert when it’s time to get in line.
  • Missed the early morning group? You’ll have a second chance to try at 12:00 pm (set another phone alarm to remind you!)
Entrance for WEB SLINGERS ride at California Adventure

Disney California Adventure Park Morning Itinerary for Older Kids & Adults

Most guests will jump in line at the first ride they get to! At Disney California Adventure Park, this itinerary will have you starting at the back of the park and moving forward. You’ll find that rides in the Pixar Pier section will have little to no wait times in the first 15 minutes of opening.

crowds at Disney California adventure park pixar pier
Crowds in Pixar Pier area will get heavier in the afternoon

Try going on rides in this order to maximize time and minimize lines:

  • Incredicoaster (48″+)
  • Toy Story Midway Mania (no height requirement, anyone can ride) *Use the shortcut through Pacific Wharf to access Cars Land
  • Radiator Springs Racers (40″+)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!  (40″+)
  • Soarin’ Around the World (40″+)
Guests riding Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure park
Ride Radiator Springs Racers early!

What About Water Rides?

If going on Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run are a must-do, consider hitting them first thing. Most guests will not visit the water attractions right away. If you don’t mind getting soaking wet in the morning, you’ll likely be rewarded with a walk on.

Single Rider

When traveling with older kids or just adults, a true time saver and one of the the great Disneyland tips is using the Single Rider line. Only certain attractions have Single Rider and unfortunately, they don’t always have them open and available. If you see Single Rider lines open for these rides, definitely take advantage of them!

Incredicoaster at Disney California Adventure park
Incredicoaster has a Single Rider line

Here’s how Disneyland single rider lines work: Your group will line up together and be chosen separately to fill empty spots on the ride cars. This means you will not necessarily ride with the rest of your group (and you cannot request to sit together). Single Rider works for families if you have older kids who don’t mind riding with a stranger.

Single Rider attractions at Disneyland:

  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Splash Mountain
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Space Mountain
  • Star Tours
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

Rides with Single Rider lines at Disney California Adventure park:

  • Grizzly River Run
  • Incredicoaster
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Radiator Springs Racers
child holding Disneyland single rider pass

Stay Onsite and Enjoy an Extra Magic Hour – CURRENTLY SUSPENDED

*Editor’s Note: Extra Magic Hours has been suspended and there is no mention of an estimated return time for this program. I’ve kept the information here for future reference.

Registered Disneyland Resort guests are treated to early entry for each day of their stay with valid park ticket. It is recommended to arrive one hour and 15 minutes before official Park opening. Not all rides are open during Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland. Be sure to check with your resort to find out what will be available.

The schedule for Extra Magic Hour is as follows:

  • Disneyland Park: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
  • Disney California Adventure Park (including access to Cars Land): Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays
Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!

Save Money at DISNEYLAND!

Purchase discount tickets and vacation packages from my affiliate Get Away Today. Use the Promo Code REWRITTEN and receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California package. (Hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to qualify for the discount). 


Arrive Early to Security Lines

This Disneyland tip is one that many overlook but can definitely add time to your morning. A plus to staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel is that the security lines are generally MUCH shorter than the lines coming off of Harbor Blvd. Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa guests have their own security area that is usually very fast.

crowds walking towards security at disneyland
Crowds walking towards security check off of Harbor Blvd.

Guests at the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel have a security entrance that can be shared with overflow parking lots but it is still faster than those lines on Harbor. Make sure to save time in your morning to get through the security lines.

So how early should you arrive at Disneyland? Even “regular days” are busy. Add more time to this morning routine during holidays and weekends. I suggest allowing at least 45 minutes to park in one of the lots and to get through security, another 15 minutes for the tram and 5 minutes to walk from the tram to the gates. Editor’s Note: The trams are currently not operating. Plan for a much longer walk when using the parking garage.

Disneyland security line at Downtown Disney District
This is the security line for guests of Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier & overflow parking.

Magic Mornings at Disneyland – CURRENTLY SUSPENDED

Editor’s Note: Magic Mornings has been suspended and there is no mention of an estimated return time for this program. I’ve kept the information here for future reference.

Guests with a valid 3+ day Park ticket (purchased ahead of their visit) can enter Disneyland one hour before official gate opening on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. This is a great way to beat the crowds and enjoy select attractions even earlier. It is recommended to arrive one hour and 15 minutes before official Park opening.

My travel partner Get Away Today has sweet discounts on Disneyland-area hotels that are within close walking distance of the Disneyland park gates. You’ll often find specials including the third or fourth night free and complimentary breakfast at a less expensive rate than the Disneyland resort hotels.

Eat Breakfast Before You Enter the Gates

Breakfast at the Carnation Cafe is just lovely and Breakfast with Minnie & Friends at the Plaza Inn is Character dining perfection. But if you are trying to maximize those first two hours in the Park, stopping for a lengthy breakfast isn’t the best idea.

I recommend that you grab your breakfast to-go outside the Park and eat it while you wait for the gates to open. The Earl of Sandwich and Jamba Juice are two great breakfast locations in the Downtown Disney District that are usually open before the Park gates. Grab a breakfast sandwich or a smoothie and nibble while you wait at the Park entrance.

However to truly maximize time at Disneyland, we usually eat at the hotel or on our way there. Pack a Disney cooler bag with yogurt, pastries and chocolate milk. My family packs granola bars and fruit for our first meal to eat while we’re waiting at rope drop. Then we fill up later with an early lunch.

Arrive for “Rope Drop”

Stroll up to the gates at Park opening time and you’ll see lots of people lined up, already waiting to get inside. Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to Park opening and you might be one of the first allowed entry to Main Street U.S.A. Shops. Some dining spots are open (hello, Starbucks!). You can also visit City Hall or the information kiosk, if needed.

At the end of Main Street U.S.A. you can line up with other guests to await the official “rope drop” or opening of the Park. What a great way to beat the crowds!

Character Meet n’ Greets

If you want to guarantee photos with lots of Characters (without the extra expense of Character dining), the first few hours of Park opening are the perfect opportunity. Meet n’ greets now are much faster than in the past. All characters are “socially distanced” behind a barricade or on a platform. This allows more guests to interact without the long lines.

The Fab 5 are usually posted around the main hub of Main Street USA in Disneyland. At California Adventure, characters are located around the fountain in front of Carthay Circle. On one morning visit we were able to meet n’ greet with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Pinocchio and the Mad Hatter within about 30 minutes.

Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!

More Disneyland Tips for Early Morning

Any other day I’d recommend you take your time and enjoy Main Street U.S.A. However if you are trying to maximize those first two hours at Disneyland, these are the things you should not do.

  • Don’t buy your tickets that morning. ALWAYS pre-purchase your Park tickets, have them in hand and avoid waiting in line at the ticket booth. (editor’s note: All in-person ticket sales have been stopped. Tickets can currently only be purchased ahead of time, online) I recommend my affiliate Get Away Today, who offers discounted Disneyland tickets and full vacation packages
  • Don’t stop to shop. In fact, I recommend doing all or most of your souvenir shopping on an “off-day” and visit Downtown Disney District instead. Even better, save some money and purchase souvenirs ahead of time on ShopDisney.
  • Don’t stop at City Hall. Grab your “celebratory button” like those for birthdays or first visits after a few hours or get them on a day when you aren’t trying to maximize time.
  • Don’t stop for pictures. The exception being is if you have a clear shot of Sleeping Beauty Castle and can pose your family quickly in front of it. In that case, you should always get the photo!
Disneyland Railroad
Take the “Grand Circle Tour” on the Disneyland Railroad but not when maximizing Disneyland mornings!

Now Is Not the Time To…

More tips for making the most of the first two hours at Disneyland –

  • Don’t get in line at Starbucks. Seriously, this line will be a mile long in the morning. Grab your coffee at the hotel or at Downtown Disney District. Bring coffee with you to save yourself the time in line at the Main Street USA Starbucks. Even better: Save time with mobile ordering at Starbucks in the Downtown Disney District (the Main Street USA location does not offer mobile ordering).
  • Don’t look at the Main Street windows. But most definitely come back this way later in the day to check them out, they are wonderful!
  • Don’t take the Disneyland Railroad. The train is one of my favorite rides on a leisurely day and a great way to see the entire circumference of the park by taking the Grand Circle Tour. But this isn’t how you should spend your first 30 minutes if you are maximizing your time. You’ll be better off on foot.
Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!

What Happens When it Starts to Get Crowded at Disneyland?

After the first few hours, other guests will start trickling into the parks for the day. This is a great time to revisit some of these other attractions on what to do on a crowded day at Disneyland.

Have a plan with your family on when you’ll return back to the hotel. Escape the parks with an afternoon swim break, returning after the heat and crowds have lessened.

Schedule a lunch time advance dining reservation for a full service meal. Use the free MouseDining website to help you book the restaurants you want the most.

If you plan to stick it out in the parks and don’t mind the longer wait times, try some of the Disneyland tips in this article about what to do waiting in line at Disney.

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Sherrie Hart

Tuesday 17th of January 2017

I've lived in southern California all of my life. Growing up, my mom would take us out of school on Wednesday. We would ride all the kiddy rides during the day. At dinner time dad would meet us at the picnic area. Stuff our extra food in the lockers. And on to the bigger rides. These were the days when they had A, B, C, D and E tickets. I remember being around 12 and riding the cars all by myself. I think that I went around 3 times before getting off the ride. I miss those wonderful memories of going to Disneyland with my family. My birthday is extremely close to Halloween. The year i turned 50, my sister and I went tick-o-treating at Disneyland. We had a blast. Thank you Disneyland for All the wonderful memories of a truly magical place.

Julie Bigboy

Wednesday 18th of January 2017

Sweet memories Sherrie!! I remember tickets as well :) I haven't gone to the Halloween party at Disneyland yet, it's definitely on my bucket list! Thank you for sharing.

Crowded Disneyland Day? Top Tips on What to Do!

Tuesday 3rd of January 2017

[…] 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. […]

2016 – A Look Back at the Year that Was on Saving Up for Disney Blog

Friday 30th of December 2016

[…] Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland […]

Tim

Sunday 13th of March 2016

As a visitor from the east coast, it was no problem to be up and ready to go by rope drop. We got lots of stuff done in the morning leaving our afternoons free to hang out at the pool.

Mary

Sunday 13th of March 2016

These are great tips. As a typical east coast Disney person it can be quite overwhelming understanding how Disneyland works.

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