Time is Money: Maximize Time at Disneyland!
We all know that a trip to Disneyland can be expensive, so maximizing your enjoyment of your vacation time is the smart thing to do! Who wants to spend the whole time standing in line or staking out a spot to watch a show? Here is a compilation of tips and tricks for you to maximize time at Disneyland!
In my many visits to Disneyland, I’ve learned that some pre-planning (and a few judicious purchases before you leave) can save you both time and money. On this page I’ve gathered some important “survival” hints that everyone should know before departure.
The Disney fans who visit MouseSavers.com have lots of great information to share. This “Time is Money” page includes many reader contributions. Thank you to all who have shared their hints, tips and tricks to help you maximize time at Disneyland!
- How to Take MouseSavers.com Along on Your Vacation
- Essential Equipment
- Ultimate Packing List & Tips for Packing Better
- Avoid the Crowds
- Shorter Waits in Ride Lines
- See Mickey Faster
- Best Places to Watch Shows
- Treating Cast Members Right
- Lost Kids
Would you like to have this site at your fingertips while you’re at Disneyland? Accessing MouseSavers.com on a smartphone (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc.) makes it convenient to look up tips and tricks, check on dining discounts, see what events are happening during your stay, and lots more.
This site works perfectly on any phone that allows you to access the Internet. Just fire up your phone’s Web browser and navigate to MouseSavers.com!
By the way, if you’d like to have a MouseSavers icon on your iPhone, Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry that will take you directly to the site, click here for directions.
Here are several items you can bring that will help to make your Disneyland trip much more comfortable, particularly if you will be visiting in the summer:
You might be surprised to learn that cotton socks are NOT the best for walking in the heat. They quickly become saturated with moisture and then they start to rub — voila, nasty blisters. A much better choice are high-tech socks that wick moisture away from your skin. CoolMax is a major brand, but there are lots of good competitors.
Comfortable Shoes or Sandals
Be sure to buy these well before the trip and wear them on some walks around the neighborhood, to make sure they don’t “rub you the wrong way.” Different people swear by different shoes, but the critical components most people need are arch support and thick soles. Thin-soled shoes of any kind are a recipe for disaster — the hot pavement radiates up through them and they don’t cushion your foot against the cement walkways. Some people love Teva brand athletic sandals. Personally I prefer a good quality pair of athletic (walking) shoes. Zappos is one of my favorite places to buy shoes. It offers FREE shipping and FREE returns (so if the shoes don’t fit or you hate ‘em, you aren’t out anything). Zappos has an amazing variety of shoes, so if you have a hard time finding your size, width or exactly the right shoes, I highly recommend checking it out.
Moleskin (foot padding)
Don’t worry, it’s a synthetic material and no actual moles are harmed to make it! This product is much better than regular sticky bandages for preventing blisters. If you know your shoe is rubbing at a certain point, or you start to feel a “hot spot” on your foot, just cut a piece of moleskin to size and cover that area of skin to prevent it from rubbing on your sock/shoe. It works really well. Available in most American pharmacies under the Dr. Scholl’s brand. Buy it in advance so you can pre-cut some to various sizes.
A light-colored ball cap or other hat with a brim is a great thing to have at Disneyland. It gives your face a little shade, which both keeps you cooler and helps prevent sunburn. (It also helps to prevent sunburn on the top of your head — obviously this is a worry if you’re a little light in the hair department, but you can even get burned along the parting in your hair!) Hats are sold everywhere in the theme parks, but $19-$20 for a ball cap is the norm. It’s much cheaper to bring one along from home: you can get Disney-themed hats many places for much less.
You’ll need lots of this, and get at least SPF 20. Don’t say “oh, I never burn.” There is a lot of light-colored concrete everywhere at Disneyland, all radiating the sun’s rays at you from every angle. This can cause burns in the most unlikely places, like the backs of your knees and under your chin! I personally like the spray-on sunscreen, because it just sprays on with no rubbing and feels nice and cool. I find it is very effective, waterproof, light and not sticky. You can buy sunscreen throughout Disneyland, but it’s a lot cheaper to buy it at home.
Waist Pack or Backpack
- A waist pack (aka fanny pack, or “bum bag” as our British, Aussie and Kiwi friends would say) makes it much easier to carry your stuff (ID, room key, money, credit cards) around, is relatively secure against pickpockets if you wear the bag in front, and keeps your hands free. I know they look kind of silly, but so do Mickey Mouse ears! Don’t worry, you will see lots of people at Disneyland sporting both. Try eBags for a wide selection and good prices on waist packs.
- Alternatively, consider a small backpack/daypack. As long as it’s small and squishy enough, you can probably cram it in beside you on any rides that don’t provide storage space for personal items. A favorite of many Disney park fans is the Baggallini Messenger Sling Bag, which is sort of a backpack hybrid with lots and lots of pockets and compartments, including an outer mesh pocket that’s perfect for a water bottle. eBags carries this bag in many colors at a very good price.
This one will definitely save you some time even before you head to Disneyland! I’ve updated and reorganized a great list originally compiled by Michelle E from Charlotte, NC. This packing list includes everything you would ever need, and a lot you don’t — it’s smart to pack as light as possible since surcharges are now in place at most airlines for checked bags!
It’s in Word format so that you can adapt it to your own needs — just delete any items that don’t apply to you. Also includes a checklist of things to do before you go, such as stopping the paper and the mail, etc.
- To download the list in Windows, right-click on the link and select “Save Target As.”
- To download the list on a Mac, hold down the Option key while clicking on the link.
TSA Packing Hints
Be sure to check out the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) web page that discusses baggage limitations and tells you what NOT to pack in your checked luggage — some of the items may surprise you.
In addition, bear in mind that liquids and gels over 3 ounces are banned from CARRY-ON luggage, and 3-oz bottles or tubes must be carried through security in a single, clear, quart-sized zip-top bag. This includes items such as deodorant, suntan lotion, toothpaste, perfume, makeup, contact lens solution, bottled water, etc.
NEVER pack valuables in checked luggage! Keep anything valuable (electronics, jewelry) or hard to replace (prescription medications, glasses/contacts, photos) with you, in your carry-on luggage. You should also keep all travel documents for the entire trip (flight/hotel/rental car confirmations, trip insurance documents, etc.) with you in your handbag or carry-on.
Nothing affects the value of your vacation as much as WHEN you choose to go! So, when are the busiest and least busy times at Disneyland? Be sure to see the answer in the Frequently Asked Questions section.
“The first suggestion should be branded on everyone’s forehead, ‘Go during value season.’ There is simply no comparison in the levels of attendance…. This is one’s first line of defense in the ‘Time is Money’ battle.” - Jeff D from Toms River, NJ
- Crowd Calendars showing you the expected crowd levels, best parks to visit and the parks to avoid, every day for the next 12 months.
- Touring Plans with step-by-step advice for visiting the best Disney attractions while saving you up to four hours in line per day.
- Lines, a mobile phone application showing current and future wait times and FASTPASS times at every attraction (for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and more).
MouseSavers.com readers get an exclusive 20% discount on subscriptions to TouringPlans.com!
- Click here for details on the special discount.
If you are traveling with young children who will want to ride Dumbo and the other “little kid” attractions in Fantasyland, I strongly recommend that you arrive at park opening and make a beeline for that area. Dumbo, in particular, is a very slow-loading ride and once the park has been open for an hour or two, the lines are huge. Get that one out of the way first! Peter Pan is another ride to do as early as possible.
If Main Street, U.S.A. is mobbed with people waiting for the parade (or just plain crowded because it’s a busy day), avoid the long slog through the crowds by going straight up the stairs of the train station just inside the entrance. Ride the train one stop to New Orleans Square and get off if you want to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise or Splash Mountain. If you want to ride the Fantasyland or Toontown rides, stay on the train until the second stop at Toontown.
- Extra Magic Hours – Early Entry for Resort Guests
- Early Entry for Annual Passholders
- Magic Morning – Early Entry for Bonus Ticket Holders
- Child Swap (aka Baby Swap)
- Single Rider Line
- Special Needs
Here are a few things you should know about FASTPASS, a system that can save you a lot of waiting in line:
- FASTPASS is FREE to anyone who is visiting the Disney theme parks.
- FASTPASS is available for the most popular rides and attractions.
- To get a FASTPASS, you insert your park admission ticket into a FASTPASS machine. You will get a FASTPASS allowing you to return at a specific time (usually it assigns a one-hour period during which you can return) to bypass the regular “standby” line. When you return, you wait in the special, much shorter FASTPASS line.
- The current FASTPASS return time is posted above the machines, so that you can decide whether that time will work for you before you get the FASTPASS.
- Your FASTPASS willhave printed on it the next time you can get another FASTPASS. It’s possible to be holding more than one FASTPASS at a time, if you take advantage of this feature.
FASTPASS Tips and Tricks
It used to be that FASTPASSes were honored from the earliest time on the pass through the rest of the day, but starting 2/18/13 the return times are now enforced.
The FASTPASS systems at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are not connected. Since it is easy to “hop” between the two parks, you can hold and use FASTPASSes at both parks during the day.
Recently California Screamin’ (DCA) and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin (Disneyland) have not been connected to the rest of the FASTPASS system in each ride’s respective park. So essentially they are like “free” FASTPASSes that you can get anytime, without regard to any other FASTPASS(es) you may be holding. I recommend getting the FASTPASSes you really want first, and then trying for the California Screamin’ or Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin FASTPASS, just in case they have been reconnected to the system.
If you want to experience all the FASTPASS rides in Disneyland in one day, it’s best to collect your FASTPASSes in this order (skip any that you don’t care to ride, of course):
- Star Tours
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Indiana Jones
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
During Halloweentime, the best order is:
- Star Tours
- Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy
- Haunted Mansion Holiday (may be a walk-on early in the day – if so, skip the FASTPASS)
- Splash Mountain
- Indiana Jones
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
If you want to experience all the FASTPASS rides in Disney California Adventure in one day, it’s best to collect your FASTPASSes in this order:
- Radiator Springs Racers (FASTPASS for this ride often runs out in the first hour after the park opens!)
- Soarin’ over California
- California Screamin’
- Grizzly River Run (summer/hot days only – otherwise it will be a walk-on most days)
- Tower of Terror
“…always take advantage of the FASTPASS. On the most popular rides we get a FASTPASS as soon as we enter the parks. Depending on the wait time you may only have to wait for less than 20 minutes [in the standby line] to ride, and then you can use your FASTPASS to ride again.” - Toni K from Bel Air, MD
“Check the FASTPASS times for Big Thunder Mountain Railway and Splash Mountain. If the wait time and FASTPASS time are close together, get a FASTPASS for one and wait in line for the other. When you get off the first ride (that you waited in line for) you can walk right on the next ride.” - Patrick S
“While we were in one line, my husband would [take everyone's tickets and] run to the next FASTPASS ride and get passes. While I waited in line for food, he was running to get the next FASTPASS. While waiting for our time period on the passes, we would do other rides with short lines. If you plan your day around the passes and where you want to eat you can do the whole park in one day.” - Gerry P from Crescent Springs, KY
“If you are with people who don’t ride much (grandparents, wimps, etc.) have them go get a FASTPASS for you with their admission ticket for another ride. This way you wait less time and they wait less time waiting for you!” - Kevin P from Bayport, NY
Disneyland Resort hotel guests receive length-of-stay access to Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland one hour before the park opens to the public on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. Extra Magic Hours guests usually get access to most Fantasyland attractions, the Matterhorn and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Star Tours, Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear. Disney’s hotel guests can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours throughout their stay. Extra Magic Hours are particularly valuable if you have little children who will want to ride Dumbo, the Tea Cups, etc., because those are slow-loading rides and the lines get huge later in the day. This is also a great time to ride the very popular, updated Star Tours.
Disneyland Resort hotel guests also have length-of-stay access to Extra Magic Hours at Disney California Adventure one hour before the park opens to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Extra Magic Hours guests get access to select attractions in Cars Land, Golden State, Hollywood Land and Paradise Pier. Disney’s hotel guests can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours throughout their stay. Extra Magic Hours are a perfect time to ride Toy Story Mania!, which is very popular and has no FASTPASS or single rider line.
Annual Passholders can get early admission (one hour before the park opens to the general public) during most weekends January 5 through April 14, 2013:
- Saturdays at Disney California Adventure Park
- Sundays at Disneyland Park
Early Entry will not be available on the following dates:
- Saturday, January 19, 2013
- Sunday, January 20, 2013
- Sunday, February 3, 2013
Click here for full details.
Disney offers a special feature called Magic Morning for those who have 3-day or longer Bonus Tickets (one Magic Morning per ticket). The Magic Morning program allows you to enter Disneyland one hour before official opening on certain days of the week (Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday) and ride some of the attractions.
Magic Morning guests generally get access to most Fantasyland attractions, the Matterhorn and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Star Tours, Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear. Magic Morning is particularly valuable if you have little children who will want to ride Dumbo, the Tea Cups, etc., because those are slow-loading rides and the lines get huge later in the day. This is also a great time to ride the very popular, updated Star Tours.
Magic Morning is not available at Disney California Adventure.
Will you be visiting Disneyland with a child who is too short to ride some of the attractions you’d like to experience? You can still ride as long as you have two adults present, by taking advantage of the Child Swap, which is available on most height-restricted rides. When you enter the queue area, tell the Cast Member you’d like to do Child Swap. This allows the first adult to ride while the second adult stays with the child. Then the second adult can ride — without waiting in line again — while the first adult stays with the child.
If you don’t mind possibly sitting separate from the rest of your party, use the Single Rider line, which is available at Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’ Over California, Grizzly River Run, California Screamin’ and Goofy’s Sky School. The Cast Members loading ride vehicles draw from the Single Rider line to fill in empty seats, so this line often moves much faster than the regular line.
Those with special needs (mobility, visual, hearing or cognitive disabilities) can get a special pass, which is called a Guest Assistance Card, from Guest Services when you arrive. Different passes are offered to people with different needs, and depending on the type of pass, may allow you easier access to the various attractions. For more great info for those with disabilities who are planning a trip to Disney World, I recommend Teri’s Disney Travelers’ Disability FAQ.
Some tips from a Character Attendant who escorts the characters:
- Believe it or not, everyone will get through the character lines more quickly when families get in one line together. Holding places in line and then having to round up family members, or having the family photographer off on the side and then trying to jump in to take pictures adds to the confusion and slows the line.
- Have everything ready to go before you get to the front of the line. Have cameras out of camera bags, turned on and lens caps off. Have autograph books out and pens ready with the caps off. Have your children out of the stroller before it’s time for them to go up and visit the characters.
- If you have a large group, have a plan. Decide in what order you are going to go up for your photos before you get in the line. For instance, you might decide little Bobby and Sally will take a photo with the character first, then Aunt Judy and Uncle Jim, then Grandma and Grandpa.
Thanks to Jim R for the info!
World of Color, Disney’s newest light and water show, is presented nightly at Disney California Adventure. You stand during the shows, which are offered during peak season three times per night (usually at 9:00, 10:15 pm and 11:15 pm); and in the off-season, one time each night (usually at 8:15 or 9:00 pm).
FASTPASSes are color coded to indicate in what section you will stand. Usually there are Blue, Yellow and Red passes, plus special passes for the Preferred Reserved Viewing area that comes with the Dining Packages. If you get a free FASTPASS, it can be any of the three colors.
Generally the best viewing is from the front row of any section (but good luck getting a spot, and be aware that you may get quite wet) or the Blue section in the rear center. Regardless of the color of your World of Color FASTPASS, you want to stand along a fence, either in the very front row, or the front row of an elevated section. You also want to stand as close to center as possible, for the best effects.
Tip: if there are two or more showings of World of Color on the night you’re attending, be aware that since a lot of people want to get their kids to bed early, the first showing is by far the most popular. If you don’t mind staying up later, the second show will have sparser crowds and it will be easier to see. If there’s a third show, the viewing is even easier.
You may bring strollers into the viewing area.
If you do not obtain a FASTPASS for World of Color, you can still watch the show from the boardwalk side of Paradise Bay, but the view is very limited. I don’t recommend this.
The FASTPASS for World of Color is available each morning at the Grizzly River Run FASTPASS terminals. You insert your park tickets into the terminal to obtain a FASTPASS ticket for the show, and you are assigned a specific show time. The FASTPASSes are distributed in show time order, and then in this order: Blue, Yellow and Red passes.
As with other FASTPASS attractions, a limited number of passes are available for World of Color. When all of the day’s World of Color FASTPASS allotment has been distributed, Grizzly River Run terminals convert back to distributing the Grizzly River Run FASTPASS tickets.
If you are in line and want a Blue pass, but they’ve already been taken for the first show, ask the attending Cast Member when they will be resetting the machines for the second show, and if you can stand aside and wait until the Blue passes start being distributed for the second show.
Prix fixe lunch and dinner are available at Wine Country Trattoria and Carthay Circle Restaurant, and prix fixe dinner is available at Ariel’s Grotto. These packages come with a FASTPASS for World of Color Preferred Reserved Viewing. (Viewing is from a reserved area in the regular viewing section, not from the restaurant!) This is the very best viewing area other than the VIP section, which is only for, well, VIPs.
Dining packages must be reserved at (714) 781-DINE, up to 60 days in advance. Annual Passholder discounts apply.
The wonderful Disneyland show Fantasmic! is included in your theme park admission and is shown every night in the summer, and on weekends during parts of the winter. In low season it may not be offered. Unlike the Fantasmic! show at Walt Disney World, there are no bleachers at Disneyland — you must stand (or sit on the ground, depending on the area).
Most people feel the best spots are the ones right up front by Rivers of America (ask a Cast Member if you’re not sure where). You can sit on the ground in that area during the show (bring a blanket), and kids can see well.
Tip: if there are two showings of Fantasmic! on the night you’re attending, the fireworks will usually take place right after the first showing. Since a lot of people want to get their kids to bed early, the first showing is by far the most popular. You’ll have to stake out your spot really early if you want to watch the first show. If you don’t mind staying up later, you can usually walk right up after the fireworks and get a decent spot for the second show.
Fantasmic! Premium Seating includes a reserved seat in a private roped-off area. There are about 60 seats in the Premium Seating area. You will also enjoy a fabulous dessert and drinks such as water, coffee, soda and iced tea (plus hot chocolate in the winter). If you book Premium Seating for the first performance of Fantasmic! offered that evening, you will also be allowed to keep your seat for the fireworks.
This is strictly a luxury experience and very costly. Reserved seating for Fantasmic! is $59 per adult, $49 per child.
To get reserved seating for Fantasmic! you MUST call one month before the day you plan to attend. (It usually sells out within minutes.) Be on the phone to (714) 781-4400 at 8:00 am (PST). They will give you a confirmation number. On the day of your reservation, you will need to bring that confirmation number, the credit card used to purchase the tickets, and photo ID.
“Cast Member” (CM) is a Disney term for employee. The reason for this terminology is that Disney expects its workers to act as if they are “onstage” whenever they are working with the public.
The vast majority of Cast Members are exceptionally friendly, kind and helpful. However, they take a lot of abuse from guests who don’t realize what a tough job it can be to deal with large crowds of demanding people all day. As a guest, it’s easy to go into “vacation mode” and start thinking of CMs as if they are Audio-Animatronic or “just part of the Disney experience.”
In reality, of course, they are only human. Being polite to you and assisting you is a Cast Member’s job — but as with any employee anywhere, they can choose to do the bare minimum. That’s why having the right attitude can change your whole experience at Disneyland. So few guests really go out of their way to be friendly, kind and patient toward CMs that when you make that extra effort, it is often returned tenfold!
Joe M from Columbus, GA offers these words of wisdom about Cast Members, which I couldn’t agree with more!
“Be friendly to all Cast Members. They are not responsible for the heat, crowds, obnoxious guests, or prices. They do, however, control most of your park experience.
We have been offered priority seats (when available) just because we were having a friendly conversation with the attending Cast Member. On our last trip we were given 3 free drinks for our children because we have befriended some Cast Members and we ALWAYS stop by their location to say hello. Our sons were given a special FASTPASS because they were polite to a Cast Member. I had a special dish made for me at a restaurant because I mentioned how much I enjoyed and missed it. (The entree had been discontinued). We have been given special seating for fireworks and parades simply because we were nice to the Cast Members working that event.
We never ask for anything, we just recognize that these people are working very hard to be sure OUR vacation is the best.”
In short, when it comes to dealing with Cast Members, the Golden Rule definitely applies: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” Treat a Cast Member with a little extra kindness and friendliness, and that CM is much more likely to “go the extra mile” for you.
A parent’s worst nightmare is losing track of small children in a crowded theme park. It happens surprisingly often, because everyone (kids and adults) can get distracted by all the fun things going on around them. Going on a hunt for a lost child can really put a damper on your day.
For that reason, be sure your kids know what a Cast Member badge looks like (white, oval). If they become separated from you, tell them to find the nearest Cast Member, who will help them find you.
If you can’t find your child, don’t panic. Locate the nearest Cast Member, who will direct you on what to do next. There is a centralized “Lost Parents” system and usually they’ll have you all reunited in minutes. Good to know: no child has ever been kidnapped from a Disney theme park (perhaps because there are hidden cameras everywhere).
To make it easier for a CM to reunite you with your child in case you are separated, it’s a good idea to make sure each child has your cell phone number and/or other contact info physically on him somewhere. There are many commercially-produced ID products for kids, ranging from rubber bracelets to temporary tattoos to dog tags to shoelaces printed with your contact info. However, there’s no need to spend money on any of those. You can write the information in permanent marker on a piece of white fabric and safety-pin it into the back of the child’s shirt collar, or put it on a slip of paper that is slipped into a shoe or pocket. If your kids are wearing lanyards (for pin collecting or just to hold their room key, tickets and FASTPASSes), the attached plastic sleeve is a good place to stow a business card with your contact info, or at least a piece of paper with your cell number. Don’t put your child’s first name or nickname anywhere that is visible to a casual observer.
MouseSavers.com reader Francis T has this additional suggestion: “Use a digital camera to take a photo of your kids BEFORE you head out to the park. Take a close up head shot and a full body shot. In the unlikely event that you and your children become separated, you have digital photos to show cast members, security guard or local police. Descriptions are great, but a picture is worth a thousand words. And don’t forget to retake the photos when you buy and wear that new Disney sweatshirt, tee shirt or hat!”
MouseSavers.com reader Cristina C from Mexico has this suggestion for those whose kids don’t speak English: “My kids speak only Spanish so I write with permanent ink on a piece of white fabric and attach it in the back of their shirts on the inside. As soon as we get somewhere I teach them who can help them in case they get lost and tell them to show that person where they have the information tag with the info in English: ‘I only speak Spanish.’ ‘My name is…and nick name is…’ along with both mom’s and dad’s names and cellphone numbers.” Don’t put your child’s first name or nickname anywhere that is visible to a casual observer.