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

Disney Genie is not yet operational, but will be available sometime in Fall 2021. 

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, making sure your favorites are included, plus other attractions that fit into the plan well, 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 $20 per person per day at Disneyland. With Disney Genie+, you can get faster access to one ride at a time, selected from a set of popular attractions, all day long. Basically 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). Once you’ve scanned in at a Lightning Lane attraction, you can use the app to get a new Lightning Lane reservation for another attraction. Current rumors suggest that you’ll only be able to get one Lightning Lane reservation per day for each attraction, but that’s not an official announcement.

In the past (with original FastPass and MaxPass), you could get another selection after 90-120 minutes, or when you scanned into the entrance gate for your previous ride selection, whichever came first. It’s unclear whether that will continue to be true. and if so, how long you’ll have to wait. Early reports suggest that Disney intends to allow you to get another Lightning Lane reservation after 90 minutes have elapsed, even if you haven’t yet used the previous Lightning Lane reservation, but that has not been officially announced. 

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.

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) Ride Selection

There will be a handful of ultra-popular rides in each park that will not be available to reserve via Genie+, but will 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 probably will sell out before the end of the day. The most popular attractions might well sell out very early.

The prices for these attractions will vary, and it’s not yet known what kind of pricing we’re talking about. Our guess is that a single ride will cost somewhere between $5 and $25 per person, depending on the specific ride’s popularity and the time of year. The complete list of specific rides have not yet been announced, but Radiator Springs Racers and Rise of the Resistance will definitely have this option.

These individual ride 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 ride reservations once they enter their first park. There is no special head start for guests staying at the Disney resorts. This is, of course, subject to change; they may eventually offer some kind of benefit or head start for folks staying at Disney’s own hotels.

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.

In the past (with MaxPass), you could almost always show up for your FastPass reservation as much as 5 minutes early or 15 minutes late and the computer would just let you in. If you showed up earlier or later, the attendant might potentially let you in, especially if you had a good reason why you were there at the wrong time. Typically if you were only a bit late, and were held up through no fault of your own (a ride or transportation breakdown, for example), attendants had some wiggle room to let you ride. It remains to be seen if these grace periods will continue with the new Lightning Lane system.

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.

Currently at Disneyland Resort, a virtual queue is in effect for Web Slingers and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Be sure to check if any rides you want to experience are using a virtual queue before you arrive, because the system for using them is unique.

Disney can change the system for virtual queues at any time (and has, several times), but here’s the system currently in use:

Extra Magic Hours – Early Entry for Resort Guests

Please note: As of 3/12/21, Extra Magic Hours are temporarily suspended until further notice.

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 Lightning Lane.

For now, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is NOT included in Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland. You can read more on our Visiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge page.

Magic Morning – Early Entry for Bonus Ticket Holders

Please note: As of 3/12/21, Magic Mornings are temporarily suspended until further notice.

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.

For now, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is NOT included in Magic Morning at Disneyland. You can read more on our Visiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge page.

Magic Morning is not available at Disney California Adventure.

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. Beginning Fall 2021, you have the option to 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:

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 and rub and chafe — 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 are fine; buy whatever is on sale. 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 a cheaper sock also labeled Double Dry that is mostly cotton.

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 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, hotel key card, 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.

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 Bag, which is sort of a sling/backpack hybrid with lots and lots of pockets and compartments, including an outer mesh pocket that’s perfect for a water bottle.

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

This is a high-tech towel that holds more water than a plain cotton or microfiber towel. Typically they are mostly made from PVA (polyvinyl alcohol, a type of water-absorbent plastic), and they are like a thin sponge with a stronger polyester backing to keep them from tearing or falling apart. To use one, you wet it and drape it over your shoulders, and as the water evaporates the surface cools, which draws heat from your body and also cools the air surrounding your head and chest. When they get dry enough to stop working well, you just re-wet them in the nearest bathroom sink or water fountain. These 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. Anaheim 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.

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 is much easier, because it 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. The instructions provided were cryptic, so pay attention when you unfold them. It’s easy to fold them down to a flat rectangle, but to then collapse that to a small circle is trickier. Hold the rectangle on opposite corners, then twist the two corners in opposite directions like you’re trying to make the springy outer wire into a figure 8. This will cause the whole wire to sort of collapse in on itself and make one circle with three stacked loops. Wrap the elastic band that came with it around it to keep it coiled up. Try it a few times when you unpack it to get the hang of it.

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.

Please note: Due to COVID-19, TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Please confirm this information before packing for your trip.

  • 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

Please note: As of May 2021, character meet and greets are temporarily unavailable, however characters may be spotted throughout the day waving and posing in the background of photos. At Disneyland Park, Mickey Mouse and his friends may be on the steps of the Main Street, U.S.A. railroad station or outside their homes in Mickey’s Toontown. Disney Princesses may appear at the Royal Theatre in Fantasyland. In Disney California Adventure, check for characters at Carthay Circle and the Pixar Pier bandshell. Disney Junior stars may say hello from the stage of the Disney Theater in Hollywood Land.

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, next to Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue. The Star Wars Character Experience 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

Please note: Fantasmic! and World of Color are temporarily unavailable, so the dining and special viewing options below are not available.

There are two evening shows at Disneyland Resort parks – Fantasmic! and World of Color; they can include fireworks, projections, music and other special effects and usually last about 30 minutes. There is no separate charge to watch either, but they do require getting a FREE reservation or buying a special meal+show package. Guests are not allowed to simply stake out a spot and wait for the show to begin. The reservation system for both Fantasmic! and World of Color are disconnected from the Genie+ system, so getting one does not keep you from getting a Lightning Lane reservation for another attraction around the same time.

For all of these 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 reservations, the dining packages and give our recommendations for the best value.

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Fantasmic! at Disneyland Park

Please note: As of July 2021, Fantasmic! is not being shown and so the dining packages below are not available. The information was current as of the last time it was running, but may change once Fantasmic! returns.

Because the primary Fantasmic! viewing areas are part of the walkways near New Orleans Square and Frontierland, you must have a reservation. You cannot stake out a viewing spot just by showing up early.

Fantasmic! Reserved Viewing Options

Access to a reserved seating area for Fantasmic! can be booked for FREE. The FREE reservation for Fantasmic! is available each morning at the terminals along the Rivers of America near Frontier Landing. You will be assigned a specific show time and viewing section, so get reservations for your entire group at the same time, or you can end up in different sections. (The Fantasmic! machines are disconnected from the Genie+ system, so getting one does not keep you from getting a reservation for another attraction around the same time.)

The Blue Bayou Restaurant Dining Package includes lunch or dinner at the Blue Bayou Restaurant and admission to a reserved viewing area for Fantasmic!. The cost for lunch is $66.81 per adult (age 10 and up) and $31.25 per child (age 3-9), tax included. The cost for dinner is $80.81 per adult (age 10 and up) and $32.33 per child (age 3-9), tax included.

The River Belle Terrace Dining Package includes lunch or dinner at River Belle Terrace and admission to a reserved viewing area for Fantasmic!. The cost for lunch or dinner is $48.49 per adult (age 10 and up) and $26.94 per child (age 3-9), tax included. For an extra $25 per adult and $15 per child, you can upgrade to the premium 8:00 pm seating and stay at your seat after dinner to watch the first performance of Fantasmic! (seating is on the outside patio). Reservations for the River Belle Terrace premium 8:00 pm seating must be made at River Belle Terrace or by calling (714) 781- DINE (3463) between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm Pacific Time.

The Fantasmic! On-The-Go Package includes a box meal and admission to a reserved viewing area for Fantasmic!. You can eat at one of the tables at Hungry Bear Restaurant or take your meal elsewhere in the park. The cost is $32.33 per adult (age 10 and up) and $21.55 per child (age 3-9), tax included.

Our Viewing Recommendations for Fantasmic! 

The cheapest reserved option is to get a FREE reservation for Fantasmic!. Admission to the reserved viewing areas begins 1 hour before showtime, so you’ll want to show up at least 20-30 minutes before the show starts. Come even earlier if you want to stand right at the railing. 

Of the dining package options, the Fantasmic! On-The-Go Package is the least expensive option. The Blue Bayou package gives you a slightly more central reserved spot, but all of the dining package viewing locations are very good. The box meal isn’t anything to write home about, and we estimate an adult meal as worth about $17 (allowing for Disneyland food prices), so you’re paying about $15 for the reserved spot. We also recommend finding a table and eating your box meal before you go to your viewing area. That way you don’t have to stand (or sit on the ground) while you are eating.

World of Color at Disney California Adventure

Please note: As of July 2021, World of Color is not being shown and so the dining packages below are not available. The information was current as of the last time it was running, but may change once World of Color returns.

Because the primary World of Color viewing areas are part of Paradise Gardens and have limited capacity, you must have a reservation. You cannot stake out a viewing spot just by showing up early. If you do not obtain a reservation for World of Color, 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 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 Reserved Viewing Options

Access to a reserved viewing area for World of Color can be booked for FREE. It is available each morning at the terminals near the entrance to The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. You will be assigned a specific show time and viewing section, so get reservations for your entire group at the same time, or you can end up in different sections. (The World of Color machines are disconnected from the Genie+ system, so getting one does not keep you from getting a reservation for another attraction around the same time.)

The Wine Country Trattoria Dining Package includes lunch or dinner at Wine Country Trattoria and admission to a preferred viewing area for World of Color. The cost starts at $53.88 per adults (age 10 and up) and $26.94 per child (age 3-9), tax included.

The Carthay Circle Dining Package includes lunch or dinner and admission to a preferred viewing area for World of Color. The cost for lunch starts at $60.34 per adult (age 10 and up) and $26.94 per child (age 3-9), tax included. The cost of dinner starts at $79.74 per adult (age 10 and up) and $26.94 per child (age 3-9), tax included.

The World of Color Dessert Party includes a dessert buffet and admission to a reserved seating area for World of Color. The cost is $84 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.

Our Viewing Recommendations for World of Color

The cheapest reserved option is to book a FREE reservation for World of Color. Admission to the reserved viewing areas begins 1 hour before showtime, but people still line up in advance.

That said, good viewing spots are a bit tough to get for World of Color, even with everyone required to have a reservation. 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. Of the dining package options, the Wine Country Trattoria Dining Package is slightly less expensive. 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.