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 our many visits to Disneyland, we’ve learned that some pre-planning (and a few judicious purchases before you leave) can save you both time and money. On this page we’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

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!

You can also add a MouseSavers icon on your smartphone that will take you directly to the site.

Avoid the Crowds

WHEN you choose to visit can make a substantial difference! Even if you are heavily constrained by school or work schedules, optimizing the exact dates can reduce the overall crowding you experience. Trust us, even 10% fewer people can make a massive difference in your overall enjoyment and how much you get to see. 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

If you are traveling with young children who will want to ride Dumbo and the other “little kid” attractions in Fantasyland, we 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.

Shorter Waits in Ride Lines

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Disney Genie, Genie+ & Individual Ride Selection (Formerly FastPass/MaxPass)

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Overview

Disney’s latest technological system for minimizing the amount of time visitors spend in line is called Disney Genie. It includes a couple of optional, paid upgrades that can minimize wait times even more through access to a special entrance at certain rides called the Lightning Lane

A little background: For the last 20+ years, Disney has actually spent a ton of money and time trying to reduce the line waiting time for guests. Their market research tells them that guests love the Disney parks, but hate waiting in lines. Disney, of course, would like guests to have a great time and go back home and tell all their friends how fantastic Disneyland is, and lowering the time waiting in line helps customers feel satisfied. Not to mention, every minute a guest is standing in line is a minute they can’t be buying merchandise or churros. Disneyland’s first system to reduce wait times was called FastPass, to which they added an online reservation option called MaxPass. Now they have a new system, which pulls together ideas from both of the previous systems, called Disney Genie.

Disney Genie

The Disney Genie service is a FREE planning and optimizing tool, built into the Disneyland app, available for most smartphones. The service is conceptually pretty simple:

  1. At some point (preferably before you arrive), you use the app to select any specific attractions you want to experience or restaurants you’d like to visit. You can also select more generic types of experiences you are interested in, like “Princesses” or “Star Wars”.
  2. The app puts together an “optimized” plan for you, trying to pick attractions that match your preferences and hopefully minimize wait times as best it can. It also suggests places to have lunch and/or dinner, and lets you either make a reservation or pre-order your food so you can swing by and eat with minimal wait. It’s smart enough to not recommend a restaurant that is already fully reserved or an attraction that is currently down for refurbishment.
  3. If you aren’t happy with any part of the plan, you can change things around as you see fit. You can either change the plans in the app, or just ignore any part of the plan and do something else. Like a GPS, the app will constantly recalculate its best overall recommendations for the rest of the day, whether you follow its suggestions or go your own way.

Following the app’s plan should reduce the amount of time you will wait in line compared to just randomly going to whatever attraction looks good in the moment. The app can know, for example, that the lines for Haunted Mansion go down a little when a big parade is happening, and can tell you to wait until the parade time to visit that attraction. It could know that in the morning, going on Splash Mountain before Pirates of the Caribbean should result in a lower overall expected wait time than going on Pirates before Splash Mountain. These may seem like small things, but we can tell you from experience, it really adds up.

If you don’t already have an optimized touring plan, we tentatively recommend letting Genie put together a plan for you. Obviously until we all see how good the plans Genie builds are, we don’t know how much value they’ll offer. Optimized plans like the ones printed in The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland can be very good, and have been proven to save time. It’s unlikely that Disney Genie will generate a plan as good as the Unofficial Guide plans or similar plans from other reliable sources, but we assume that Genie will save some amount of time, and any savings in wait time is worth having. 

People who are used to planning a Disney trip and like to use optimized park plans may not get much out the Genie-built touring plan. The thing is, the average park guest doesn’t use any kind of plan, so Genie has a lot of potential value to offer even if it only builds an “OK” plan. We think the average guest will get a fair amount of benefit out of using Genie, assuming it’s reasonably easy to use and not too confusing.

Disney Genie+

For those who want to take a bigger bite out of wait times, there’s also Disney Genie+, which is a paid upgrade you can buy directly in the Disneyland app. Disney Genie+ costs $30 per person per day at Disneyland when purchased as a ticket add-on, and $30 or more when purchased day by day at the park. (On most days, it will be $30 to purchase, but on busier days, Disney reserves the right to raise the rate as needed to control demand. No upper limit on price has been announced.)

Magic Key (annual pass) holders get 20% off the purchase price for Genie+, just for themselves, on days they enter the park with their Magic Key.

With Disney Genie+, you can get faster access to one ride at a time, selected from a set of popular attractions, all day long. When you go into the app and look at the wait times for the various attractions, some of them will have a “Lightning Lane” button and a future time window. If you tap the button, you reserve that time window to visit that attraction. When you arrive at that attraction during that given window, you can use the Lightning Lane to ride the attraction with minimal wait (typically 10 minutes or less, though that isn’t guaranteed). 

Here’s the list of attractions that are covered by Genie+ (subject to change):

You can make your first Lightning Lane selection as soon as you enter your first park. Once you’ve badged in for your first selection, you can make a second selection, and so forth. If you are in a park and have a Park Hopper ticket, you can make reservations at a different park, but if you have a one-park-per-day ticket, you can only select rides in the park you are in that day.

You can make another Lightning Lane selection as soon as you scan in to your first ride, or after 2 hours have passed, or after the end time for your first ride selection has arrived, whichever comes first. After you use that reservation or 2 hours pass, you can make another, and so forth for the rest of the day. If you select a Lightning Lane reservation that starts more than 2 hours from the time you book, you will be able to book again once 2 hours pass; you don’t have to wait until scanning in to the Lightning Lane for your most-recent selection.

You can also make a new selection if you cancel any of your existing Genie+ reservations, in case your plans change and you want to swap a selection for something else. You can even select the same attraction you just canceled, if you want to get a different time. 

You can modify an existing Genie+ reservation if you realize your existing selection isn’t going to work well for you. You can change to a new ride or a new time for the existing ride (if any times are available for the existing ride).

You can only use a particular ride’s Lightning Lane once per day with Genie+. You can always ride that ride as many times as you want by waiting in the regular standby lane, but you can only use the Lightning Lane once under normal circumstances. (VIP tours, Disability Access users, guests doing child swap and people holding a guest recovery pass also use the Lightning Lanes, so it is technically possible for some guests to use Lightning Lane for a ride more than once per day.)

If you let a Genie+ reservation expire without using it, that counts the same as using it, and you won’t be able to reserve that ride’s Lightning Lane for the rest of the day. For that reason, if you know you won’t make it to a Lightning Lane reservation, be sure to cancel the reservation immediately.

Disney Genie+ also includes unlimited PhotoPass photo downloads of any ride photos or photos taken by Disney’s PhotoPass photographers from the day you bought the upgrade, just like MaxPass did. The photos will stay available from the Disneyland app and from your Disneyland account for a limited time before they get deleted, so remember to download them when you get home! There are also some special audio experiences built into Genie+ that let you hear Disney artists and imagineers talking about the attractions and décor at various spots around the parks.

Individual (Paid) Lightning Lane

There are a handful of ultra-popular rides in each park that are not available to reserve via Genie+, but have a separate paid option to get a Lightning Lane reservation. You don’t have to pay for Genie+ to get access to these paid Lightning Lane options. You can buy up to two of these each day, totally independently of whether you buy Genie+. You can buy them both at the start of the day, or wait and see how the crowds and wait times are looking. Don’t wait too long, though – they can and sell out before the end of the day, and often will, especially on busy days. 

The prices for Lightning Lane access to these attractions varies, depending on the specific ride’s popularity and the time of year. Prices range from $7 to $25 per ride per person, depending on the ride and day, and Disney reserves the right to increase or decrease those prices as needed based on demand (though they won’t change it in the middle of a day – if it starts the day at $20, it will stay $20 all day).

The rides with this option are (subject to change):

These Individual Lightning Lane selections can be chosen independently of the Genie+ selections, so you can have multiple Lightning Lane reservations at the same time, via Genie+ and individual paid selections. 

All guests can start making individual paid Lightning Lane reservations once they enter their first park. There is no special head start for guests staying at the Disney resorts.

Using Lightning Lane

Lightning Lane is a special entrance available at select rides and attractions that allows a guest to skip the regular line and get straight to the ride quickly, usually in 10 minutes or less. If you’re familiar with FastPass, it’s roughly the same thing. How do you get access to the Lightning Lane? Read on!

First, you need to make a Lightning Lane reservation, either via Genie+ or via paying for an individual ride. There are a few other ways you might end up with a Lightning Lane reservation. Disney might give some out just to add magic to a guest’s day, or to encourage guests to move to a less crowded part of the park. Guest Services cast members can give people extra Lightning Lane passes to help make up for a problem or mistake like a ride breaking down. But most of the time, they’ll be ones you booked yourself on your phone.

The Disneyland app will show your outstanding Lightning Lane reservations, each with a return time window. At any time during that time window, you can go to the Lightning Lane entrance of your reserved attraction and scan your park ticket or a code displayed on your phone. If you see a green light on the scanner, you’re good and can proceed into the Lightning Lane, which should get you onto the attraction (either the loading zone or the first pre-show experience) within 10 minutes or so.

If you scan in and the light flashes blue, that means there’s a problem, and the attendant at the entrance can tell you what’s going on. Typically you’re there too early or late, but in any case the attendant can offer various options depending on the exact situation they see on their console.

There is an automatic grace period: you can arrive up to 5 minutes early or 15 minutes late and the computer will just let you in. If you show up earlier or later, the attendant might potentially let you in, especially if you have a good reason why you are there at the wrong time. Typically if you are only a bit late, and were held up through no fault of your own (a ride or transportation breakdown, for example), attendants have some wiggle room to let you ride. This is never guaranteed, however, and you should not rely on getting onto the ride any later than the automatic 15 minute grace period.

Virtual Queues

A “virtual queue” is a way of letting people get a spot in line for an attraction without having them actually have to stand in a physical queue. Disney uses this system sparingly, typically only for one or two rides per park that are brand-new and/or in very high demand. Disney has also used it to manage access to new park “lands” like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

At Disneyland Resort, a virtual queue is currently in use for World of Color – ONE.

A virtual queue will be used for Haunted Mansion Holiday when it reopens on August 23, 2024.

Be sure to check if any rides or show you want to experience are using a virtual queue before you arrive, because the system for using them is unique. Instructions for joining virtual queues are below. 

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How to Join Virtual Queues for Disneyland Shows

Disney can change the system for virtual queues at any time, but here’s the system currently in use for World of Color – ONE.

How to Join Virtual Queues for Disneyland Rides

Currently, there are no rides using a virtual queue. But, Disney can change the system for virtual queues at any time, so you may want to check Disney’s web site for any changes before you go. If there is a virtual queue being used for a ride, basic instructions are below

Early Entry for Resort Guests (formerly “Extra Magic Hours”)

The Early Entry program allows you to enter Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure 30 minutes before official opening. Early Theme Park Entry is available every day, but only one theme park will be open. Check Disneyland’s theme park calendar to see which park is going to be open early.

Select attractions, dining and merchandise locations will be open. If you are staying at one of the official hotels owned and operated by Disney (Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa, Disneyland Hotel or Pixar Place Hotel (formerly Paradise Pier)), you qualify for this program.

To enter a park early, you need valid admission, a theme park reservation for that park and a hotel room key card from one of the participating resorts

Rider Switch (aka Child Swap or Baby Swap)

Will you be visiting Disneyland with one or more children who are too short to ride some of the attractions you’d like to experience (or just don’t want to ride)? You and others in your party can still ride as long as you have at least two adults present who are capable of watching the children, by taking advantage of Rider Switch, which is available on most height-restricted rides and a handful of others. When you enter the queue area, tell the Cast Member you’d like to do Rider Switch. This allows the first group of adults to ride while the second group stays with the children. Then the second group can ride — without having to wait in the regular line — while the first group stays with the children.

Most of these rides have a dedicated Lightning Lane, so the second group basically gets a special Genie+ reservation, usually valid for the rest of the day. If logistically it makes sense for the second group to ride later in the day, that can typically be accommodated. On some rides, that won’t work because they don’t use the Lightning Lane to handle Rider Switch. If you do want to have the second group ride later, ask the cast member if that will work.

You don’t have total freedom to split your party any way you want, as there’s a limit on the number of guests that can ride in the second group. That limit is usually about 3 or 4, but can vary at Disney’s discretion. For example, if 10 total adults want to ride, you might prefer to have 6 adults ride first and 4 ride second, but Disney might have a limit of 3 adults in the second group. Be sure to check before you make concrete plans about who’s riding with who!

As always, Disney can change specific procedures at any time, but they have had some form of this process for many years. Just ask any cast member at the entrance of the ride if the ride has Rider Switch, and if so, how it works. Be prepared to be flexible!

Single Rider Line

If you don’t mind possibly sitting separate from the rest of your party, use the Single Rider line, which is available at Goofy’s Sky School, Grizzly River Run, Incredicoaster, Indiana Jones Adventure, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Radiator Springs Racers, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Star Tours. 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.

Special Needs

Those with special needs (mobility, visual, hearing or cognitive disabilities) can get a special pass, which is called a Disability Access Service (DAS) card. You can enroll in the DAS program pre-arrival and DAS participants can then select attractions directly in the MyDisneyExperience app. You can also enroll in the DAS program at 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 Disneyland, we list several resources in our Disneyland FAQ.

Essential Equipment

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:

Portable Charger

With the addition of Genie+, Lightning Lanes, Virtual Queues and Mobile Ordering to Disneyland, it’s harder and harder to get by without a phone. Using your phone all day will drain its battery, and while Disney does have charging stations in each park, you really don’t want to spend part of your precious day at the park hanging around a charger waiting for your phone to charge enough to get you through the day.

While you can get “charging cases” that integrate a spare battery with a bulky phone case, they really add a lot of weight. We think it’s a better bet to carry a beefy charger (at least 10,000 mAh) with two outlets, and use it to top up your phone(s) as needed.

We like the Anker Power Bank chargers, as they tend to be reliable and they tend to work with a wide variety of quick-charging systems for both Android and iPhones. The most recent phones tend to have standardized on the Power Delivery (PD) system, which requires a USB-C charging cable on the charger end, and either USB-C or Lightning on the phone end. In a pinch, any phone can charge from a regular USB-A port, but it may charge significantly slower than with a compatible fast-charger.

This charger is the one we take to the parks. It’s about the size and weight of a large phone. It will charge an iPhone 14 or earlier at full speed, and also quick-charge most Android phones. We usually only need one for both of us, as it can charge two phones at once. We just put the phones on it while we’re having lunch or a snack. It comes with USB-C charging cables. If your phone uses any other plug, such as Apple’s Lightning cable or micro-b, you can bring the charging cable you use at home, but it may be convenient to get an extra cable for traveling.

Moisture-Wicking Socks

You might be surprised to learn that cotton socks are NOT the best for walking in the heat. They quickly become saturated with moisture, which makes them get sticky. The sticky socks start pulling and rubbing on your skin — voila, nasty blisters. A much better choice are high-tech socks that wick moisture away from your skin and still feel dry even in humid weather. Yes, they’re usually made of artificial fibers but in this case it’s a good thing. Look for “performance” socks designed for runners or hikers. Some brands are super expensive, but there are some good deals out there. You want socks made with some combination of CoolMax, polyester, olefin, spandex, tencel, wool and/or lycra. Avoid any sock with more than a tiny percentage of cotton. Even if the socks are labeled “performance” or “moisture-wicking,” if they’re mostly cotton they are just not going to work well.

When we first looked into buying these we thought it was crazy to pay $10 or more for a pair of socks (they’ve come down in price considerably since then). But one of us (Don) routinely gets horrible blisters walking around the parks, so we bought a few pairs of different brands to try them out. Don tried Under Armour ResistorWigwam Cool-Lite, Swiftwick Aspire, and Fox River Wick Dry, all of which worked great! No more blisters!

Our advice is just to buy whichever performance socks you can find a good deal on. You can also find these socks at Target, Walmart, and so forth, but read the package carefully. Champion, for example, makes some nice polyester and lycra “Double Dry” socks, but also sells cheaper socks also labeled “Double Dry” that are mostly cotton, which is no good.

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 we prefer a good quality pair of athletic (walking) shoes. Zappos is one of our 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, we highly recommend checking it out.

Another good place for walking shoes is Amazon.com. Even though Zappos is owned by Amazon.com, the selection is slightly different between the two sites, so they’re both worth checking out.

Moleskin (foot padding)

Don’t worry, moleskin is just thick flannel; 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. Moleskin is sold in many Disneyland shops (usually it’s behind the counter and you must ask for it), but at inflated prices.

Hat

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 part 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.

We’re big fans of the wide-brimmed “sun hat” or “boonie” style. The one Don wears most often makes him look like a river guide, but it’s light, breathable, packs easily, and it really keeps the sun off. There are more fashionable hats available that also have a nice wide brim. But any hat with any brim is better than no hat. The sun in California can be brutal.

Sunscreen

You’ll need lots of this, and get at least SPF 20. Don’t say “oh, I never burn.” You WILL burn at Disneyland. There is a lot of water and a lot of light-colored concrete everywhere, 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! Every time we go to Disneyland we see a number of poor souls who look like cooked lobsters — don’t let this be you! Also keep in mind that if it’s generally sunny year-round in Anaheim. The average weather in Anaheim during the coldest part of winter is sunny and 71 F (22 C).

We personally like the spray-on sunscreen, because it just sprays on with no rubbing and feels nice and cool. We find it is very effective, waterproof, light and not sticky. For their faces, Sarah and the kids prefer the sunscreen sticks, but Don just sprays sunscreen into his hand and rubs it on his face. You can buy sunscreen throughout Disneyland, but the selection tends to be limited, and it’s a lot cheaper to buy it at home.

In recent years we’ve been really pleased with Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen. We’ve tried the spray-on, the cream/liquid and the sticks. Compared to the ones we were using (mostly Coppertone and Banana Boat) it feels much less greasy. You don’t feel like you’ve been coated in plastic when it dries. It also smells nicer, which is a big plus for the kids. It’s definitely more expensive, but for us it’s worth it. We’ve also seen generic store-brand versions of the Ultra Sheer at Walgreens and CVS, and both of them work just as well.

Handy sunscreen tip: if you take our advice and bring a hat with a wide brim, you can skip putting sunscreen on your forehead. This solves the problem of sunscreen mixing with sweat and dripping down into your eyes. This doesn’t work as well with baseball-type caps; when the brim is only in the front, the sides of your forehead will still get plenty of sun as you move around and the sun hits from various angles.

Waist Pack, Crossbody Bag or Backpack

A waist pack (aka fanny pack, or “bum bag” as our British, Aussie and Kiwi friends would say) or a crossbody bag (basically a waist pack worn diagonally across your body) makes it much easier to carry your stuff (ID, hotel key card, money, credit cards) around, is relatively secure against pickpockets if you wear the bag in front, and keeps your hands free. Yes, they look kind of silly, but so do Mickey Mouse ears! Don’t worry, you will see lots of people at Disneyland sporting both.

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. Baggallini’s sling-style bags are good choices, but really, any sling bag or daypack will work. We recommend one that’s small and light, but with enough space to hold a rolled-up jacket, and at least one outer pocket you can fit a small water bottle in.

Personal Handheld Fan with a Mister/Spray Bottle Attached

These fans are a low-tech personal “air conditioner” that can be surprisingly effective on a hot day. They usually come with a long strap so you can sling them over a shoulder. One brand name (widely sold in the theme parks for $17) is Squeeze Breeze by O2 Cool. It’s a good idea to buy these BEFORE you go, because the exact same item or even a fancier version can often be found for a lot less, either online or at a discount store like Target or Walmart! Thanks to Pam P for the info.

Cooling Towel

A cooling towel is just a long, narrow towel, roughly like a short scarf, You wet it, and it cools the air around your head somewhat as it dries. To use one, you wet it and drape it over your shoulders, and as the water evaporates the surface of the towel gets cooler than the surrounding air via the evaporative cooling principle. When they get dry enough to stop working well, you just re-wet them in the nearest bathroom sink or water fountain. Some instructions will tell you to “snap” them in the air, but it’s not strictly necessary. You can wave them around a little to get a head-start on the cooling process, but it’s a very limited boost.

Cooling towels work best when the air is dry (thus increasing the evaporation and cooling), so they work really well in a very dry place like Arizona, and not well at all in a very humid place like New Orleans. Southern California is somewhere in the middle and unless the humidity is unseasonably high you will generally find that wearing the towel keeps you cooler than not wearing it.

There are two basic kinds of cooling towels – PVA towels and microfiber towels. They have pros and cons, but in general for theme park use we’ve stopped using PVA towels and have switched to microfiber.

Microfiber cooling towels are just a thin, narrow microfiber (usually polyester) towel with a weave that is supposed to maximize the amount of water they can hold while still being reasonably breathable. In practice, they don’t hold as much water as the PVA towels, so they need re-wetting more often. In a place like Disneyland where there are drinking fountains and bathrooms everywhere, this isn’t a huge problem. And they dry quickly and can still be folded when they’re dry, so they are much easier to put away and re-use on the next trip. The cooling towels they sell at Disney gift shops and kiosks are microfiber towels, but they’re $17 each! Definitely you will save money buying them in advance. 

For microfiber towels, try Amazon, or check discount stores. You can easily find multipacks for 4 for $10-$12 or so, and all the ones we’ve tried have worked basically fine. You can even cut up a regular towel or kitchen towel, but make sure it’s microfiber or some kind of synthetic. A thick cotton towel won’t breathe, and your shoulders will feel hot even if your face and head are cooler.

PVA is polyvinyl alcohol, a type of water-absorbent plastic, and PVA towels are like a thin sponge with a stronger polyester backing to keep them from tearing or falling apart. They absorb a lot of water, so they last longer before you need to re-wet them. Unfortunately, they get very stiff and hard when dry, making them impossible to fold. And if you put them away wet, they can get mildewy. In theory, you can wash them out, let them dry a little so they aren’t sopping, fold them into a size you can fit in a ziplock or something, and then let them dry all the way before sealing them up. This is a real pain, and we usually end up stuffing one into a ziplock still damp, forgetting about it, and needing to by a new one for the next trip. 

For PVA towels, you can buy various name brands like Frogg Toggs or O2 Cool either online or at big chain stores like Target or Walmart, or just buy the cheapest PVA towel you can find. They’re often sold in the auto store or auto section of discount stores as car drying towels or “synthetic chamois.” You can cut them in half or even smaller if you find that wearing a whole one is overkill.

Rain Poncho

Rain isn’t super common in Southern California but it does happen, mostly in November-April. We find umbrellas a hassle to carry around. A rain poncho squishes down to almost nothing and can be put away in a pocket, backpack or waist bag. A poncho comes in handy for wet rides like Grizzly River Run or Splash Mountain, too.

We were able to buy a large multi-pack of thin disposable ponchos for about $1 each online, and we just grab a handful before each trip. You can carry one easily in your pocket or pack. They aren’t super sturdy, but they work fine for keeping the rain off. When it stops raining, you can just toss it. MouseSavers.com reader Cheryl D has a good tip: “Walmart has 87 cent ’emergency ponchos’ in their camping supply department that are quite nice. They are transparent, hooded and roomy. We buy them by the dozen since ponchos never seem to fold up into those tiny little packages after used.” You can also often find semi-disposable ponchos at dollar stores.

If you don’t find a poncho that cheap, or don’t want to carry a poncho with you, don’t worry. Better-quality plastic ponchos are sold everywhere at Disneyland for about $9. A good thing to know is that if your Disneyland poncho rips during that trip, you can take it and your receipt to the nearest Disneyland shop that sells them and they will replace it.

If you’d like a lightweight windbreaker that will also keep the rain off, we bought a packable nylon jacket for Don, and it works well and packs into its own pouch (the pocket turns inside out and becomes a mesh bag). It’s also nice in the mornings on those days when it’s just a little nippy or windy, but is going to warm up later.

Water Bottle and Strap

You will need to drink a lot of water, especially in the summer heat. There are plenty of water fountains all over Disneyland and a fair number of water bottle filling stations, so bringing your own bottle is a great way to save. You can buy bottled water, but it’s very pricey. Any counter-service restaurant or stand that serves drinks in cups will give you a small cup of cold filtered water FREE at any time, but you may have to wait in line, and it’s no help if you’re halfway through the line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with a thirsty child. Regular plastic water bottles or metal water bottles work fine, but if you’re picky about taste, a filtering water bottle is a good way to go. We like the Brita personal filter bottle.

A strap or sling makes water bottles much easier to carry with you. You can easily buy one that will fit most disposable water bottles when you arrive, as they are available for about $4 in every park. If you want something a little more durable or you want to carry your own reusable water bottles, we use these ChicoBag Bottle Slings. They are super light and hold almost any personal water bottle, including the Brita filter bottles mentioned above. The strap works well for normal-to-tall adults, and can be adjusted for children by tying a knot in the strap.

Pop-up Hamper

OK, a pop-up hamper really doesn’t count as “essential” but it is handy for traveling. It has a sewn-in springy wire, so you just unfold it and it pops out into a small hamper. We like the rectangular kind with a circular opening on the top. We have one from DAZZ and one from StorageIdeas and like them both. They only weigh 8 ounces, fold down to a small circle, and fit nicely into hotel and stateroom closets. 

Ultimate Packing List & Tips for Packing Better

This one will definitely save you some time even before you head to Disneyland! We’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.

Disneyland Vacation Ultimate Packing List

  • To download the list in Windows, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.”
  • To download the list on a Mac, hold down the Option key while selecting 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 3.4 ounces are banned from CARRY-ON luggage, and 3.4 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.

  • Need small sizes of your favorite items to fit in a TSA-approved baggie? You can buy a TSA-approved bottle set and fill them with your favorite lotion, hand sanitizer, shampoo, 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.

See Mickey (and Other Characters) Faster

Some tips from a Character Attendant who escorts the characters:

Thanks to Jim R for the info!

Disney Visa cardholders get access to two character meet and greets, which include complimentary downloads of your Disney PhotoPass photos. The Disney Character Experience is available daily from 10:30 am – 1:30 pm in Disney California Adventure in Hollywood Land, near Stage 17. The Star Wars Photo Opportunity is available daily from 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm in Disneyland Park at the Star Wars Launch Bay in Tomorrowland. You will need to show your Disney Visa card to enter these meet and greets; offer valid for up to 6 people per cardmember account (each cardmember account may be used for entry only one time per day). Some things to keep in mind:

Best Places to Watch Shows & Parades

For many of the shows, you can purchase a dining package or dessert party that includes access to a reserved viewing area. You don’t get a specific reserved seat or spot, but the area reserved for folks with dining packages is centrally located and has a good view. Or, you can book a VIP tour – typically they won’t guarantee they can get you reserved seating or viewing for a particular show, but in our experience the VIP tour guides have a lot of resources at their disposal and can almost always get their guests a good spot to view shows. The VIP tour option is realistically outside the price range for most groups, but you can read more about it on our Special Events, Activities & Tours page.

Below we cover the reserved viewing options and give our recommendations for the best value.

Jump to:

Fantasmic! at Disneyland Park

Fantasmic! is the evening show at Disneyland Park and includes fireworks, projections, music and other special effects. It usually lasts about 30 minutes. The primary Fantasmic! viewing areas are part of the walkways near New Orleans Square and Frontierland. 

Fantasmic! Reserved Viewing Options

The Blue Bayou Restaurant Premium Dining Package includes a 5-course fixed price meal plus admission to a reserved viewing area for Fantasmic!. The cost for lunch or dinner is $95.45 per adult (age 10 and up) and $37.54 per child (age 3-9), tax included. 

The River Belle Terrace Premium Dining Package includes a 3-course dinner while viewing the first showing of Fantasmic! from your table on their outdoor terrace. The cost is $95.45 per adult (age 10 and up) and $48.26 per child (age 3-9), tax included. 

The River Belle Terrace Standard Dining Package includes a 3-course brunch or dinner plus admission to a reserved viewing areas for Fantasmic!. The cost for brunch or dinner is $58.99 per adult (age 10 and up) and $32.18 per child (age 3-9), tax included. 

The Rancho del Zocalo Standard Dining Package includes a 3-course lunch or dinner plus admission to a reserved viewing areas for Fantasmic!. The cost for lunch or dinner is $37.54 per adult (age 10 and up) and $26.81 per child (age 3-9), tax included. 

Our Viewing Recommendations for Fantasmic!

The cheapest viewing option for Fantasmic! is to get in line for a viewing spot.  You can join a line no earlier than 2 hours before showtime. 

If seeing the show is really important to you and you don’t want to spend time in line, then a dining package is a way to save some time. The cheapest option, by quite a bit, is the Rancho del Zocalo Dining package. But all of these options include a meal, so if you were planning to have a nice sit down meal anyway, pick the package at the restaurant you prefer. If you want to be seated during the show, note that only the River Belle Terrace Premium Dining Package offers that option.  

Magic Happens Parade in Disneyland Park 

Parades in Disneyland Park generally go through Town Square, down Main Street, U.S.A., around Central Plaza (in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle) and then head past the Matterhorn towards “it’s a small world”. Some of the parades will start by “it’s a small world” and some will start in Town Square. But they follow the same route. Viewing spots are first-come, first-served anywhere along the route.

The Magic Happens parade is led by Mickey Mouse and his pals. The parade includes nine floats, more than 90 performers and more than two dozen Disney and Pixar characters. You can stake out a spot or purchase a dining package that includes access to a reserved viewing area.

Magic Happens Reserved Viewing Options

The Plaza Inn Restaurant Magic Happens Parade Dining Package includes lunch (entrée, vegetable, dessert and a drink) and access to a special viewing area for the second parade performance of the day. The cost is $59.26 per adult (age 10 and up) and $30.17 per child (age 3-9), tax included. Reserve a time between 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm to pick up your meal and then eat at an available table at Plaza Inn Restaurant. If there are two parades that day, the dining package is only available for the second parade performance.

Our Viewing Recommendations for Magic Happens 

The cheapest option, of course, is to stake out a spot along the parade route. But if seeing the parade is really important to you and you don’t want to spend time holding your spot then the dining package is a way to save time. However, note that you will be eating a fairly late lunch or early dinner. So, you may end up needing a snack or light meal in addition to this “lunch”. 

World of Color – ONE at Disney California Adventure

World of Color – ONE,  the current nighttime spectacular at Disney California Adventures, celebrates 100 years of Disney storytelling and temporarily takes the place of World of Color during the Disney100 celebration at Disneyland Resort. It includes fireworks, projections, music and other special effects and usually lasts about 30 minutes.

Because the primary World of Color – ONE viewing areas are part of Paradise Gardens and have limited capacity, you should join a virtual queue or book a package that includes access to a reserved viewing area. You cannot stake out a viewing spot just by showing up early. If the virtual queue reaches capacity, go to the Paradise Bay viewing area 30-45 minutes before World of Color – ONE begins and check in with a Cast Member to see if there are any walk-up viewing options. If you aren’t able to get into the reserved viewing areas for World of Color – ONE, you can still watch the show from the boardwalk side of Paradise Bay, but the view is very limited. We don’t recommend this.

Generally the best viewing is from the front row of any section (be aware that you make get wet if you are in the very front row). You also want to stand as close to center of a section as possible, for the best effects.

Tip: if there are two or more showings of World of Color – ONE 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.

Please note: during the holiday season (early November through early January), World of Color – Season of Light will be shown instead.

World of Color – ONE Reserved Viewing Options

The World of Color Dessert Party includes a dessert buffet and admission to a reserved seating area for World of Color – ONE. The cost is $89 per person, tax and gratuity included. Children who are 2 years old or younger may attend for FREE provided they sit on the lap of an adult. 

The Wine Country Trattoria Dining Package includes fixed price lunch or dinner at Wine Country Trattoria and admission to a preferred viewing area for World of Color – ONE. The cost is $66.81 per adult (age 10 and up) and $39.87 per child (age 3-9), tax included. The rib eye steak costs an additional $10.78, per person, tax included. For this package, make a regular dining reservation and then let your server know you want the World of Color Dining Package. 

The Storytellers Cafe Dinner Buffet Package includes a buffet dinner, 3 hours of complimentary valet parking at the Grand Californian (with validation) and admission to a preferred viewing area for World of Color – ONE. The cost is $68.96 per adult (age 10 and up) and $40.95 per child (age 3-9), tax included. Please note: you still need to have valid admission to Disney California Adventure, even though you are dining outside the park. For this package, make a regular dining reservation and then let your server know you want the World of Color Dining Package.

The Magic Key Terrace Dining Package (for Magic Key holders only) includes includes fixed price lunch or dinner and admission to a preferred viewing area for World of Color – ONE. The cost is $66.81 per adult (age 10 and up) and $39.87 per child (age 3-9), tax included. The beef short rib costs an additional $10.78, per person, tax included. You must show your Magic Key pass when you check in. 

Our Viewing Recommendations for World of Color – ONE

The cheapest option is to join the FREE virtual queue for World of Color – ONE, but note that joining the virtual queue does not guarantee access to the viewing area. The Disneyland app will let you know which viewing area entrance to use. Admission to the reserved viewing areas begins 45 minutes before showtime, but people still line up in advance.

That said, good viewing spots are a bit tough to get for World of Color – ONE, even within the reserved viewing areas. Within each viewing section, the best views are usually at the front of an elevated tier. Kids and shorter adults can find their view obscured as their section fills up. Those who purchase a dining package get a central viewing spot with less crowding, so it may be worth the extra cost. If we had to choose between the Dining Packages and the Dessert Party, we would pick one of the Dining Packages. For less money you get a full meal, not just dessert. The dining packages cost about the same, so you should pick based on which kind of food you most enjoy. With the Dessert Party, the value of the food is not as high, so mostly you’re paying for the seated viewing spot. 

Treating Cast Members Right

“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 we 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.

Lost Kids

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 and tickets), 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.