The Happiest Place on Earth is also one of the most popular and this is reflected in the crowd level of the parks nearly year round. It's rare to find a day that is considered ‘slow' at the Disney parks anymore. If you can, you can try to visit at a time of year when the crowd levels are expected to be down and not when Disneyland is crowded.
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But that doesn't mean the crowds should ruin your day or stop you from experiencing everything Disneyland has to offer! Here are our top strategies on how to handle a day when Disneyland is crowded.
Be Familiar with FastPass, MaxPass, and Mobile Food Ordering
Be familiar with how FastPass, MaxPass, and Mobile Food Ordering works. Seriously. This will save you time spent (so much time) waiting in hot lines. Disney works hard at giving you options to beat the lines- utilize these resources on days when Disneyland is crowded.
You can find our detailed guide to everything you need to know about FastPasses here. Seriously, take the time to read this guide. It always baffles me how many folks wait in the long two hour standby lines when they could easily grab a FastPass and wait 10 minutes instead! You will thank yourself for doing a bit of research before your trip.
If you can, spring for MaxPass. Having that advantage of selecting FastPasses on your phone will be a lifesaver. Especially if you plan on park hopping. MaxPass allows you to select your FastPasses from your phone rather than having you walk across the park to get them. It costs $10 per person and also gives you unlimited PhotoPass downloads. I truly believe that it is a MUST for guests at Disneyland. To see how successful of a day you can have with MaxPass, check out my visit to the parks in August here and here.
Mobile Ordering is a new feature at the parks and is available at select locations. It's really easy to use and so convenient! Basically, you order your food and pay in advance on the Disneyland app. Then when you arrive at the restaurant, you click ‘prepare my order,' and voila! Your order is ready in minutes and you don't have to stand in the LONG lines that tend to build on busy days for your food. Everyone wins! For more on mobile ordering, check out our guide here!
Arrive Early with a Strategy in Mind
We can't stress enough how arriving to the parks EARLY before they open will maximize your time- even on the most crowded days!
Here are our tips for morning arrivals and strategies to help you spend those morning hours riding your favorite attractions without standing in long lines:
- Arrive an hour prior to the scheduled park opening. This will put you in a good position to be let into the parks early and position yourself at Rope Drop. Typically, Disney lets guests into the parks 15-30 minutes prior to opening time and they have ropes up blocking off entry into the main ‘lands' of the parks. If you're there at Rope Drop, you will have the advantage of literally walking on to some of the most popular rides.
- Show up with a strategy in mind so you can go straight from ride to ride without having to sit and discuss with your group. This will save so much time!
- Check out our morning strategy for Disneyland here which includes plans for small kids and big kids/adults.
- Check out our morning strategy for California Adventure here which includes plans for small kids and big kids/adults.
- If you have Magic Morning or Early Magic Hour- use it! That extra hour will give you so much time to ride rides without waiting in line. See our guide and strategies for Magic Morning and Early Magic Hour here.
- Be prepared with games and other ways to keep kids entertained in line. The Disney Parks Play App is a good one and it won’t use your data. Other favorites for most kiddos is Pokémon Go or games like Heads Up!
- Have snacks ready. You're on vacation- feed your kids candy all day if that's what it takes to keep them happy in line. Or do whatever works best for your family. Either way, come prepared with snacks for the morning hours so you don't have to stop in between rides.
Know Which Rides Will Run Out of FastPasses
Know which rides will run out of FastPasses and adjust accordingly. On our last visit, I knew my son NEEDED to ride Radiator Springs Racers one more time on our last day. So I made that FastPass a priority over all others because I knew it would run out.
When Disneyland is crowded, FastPasses run out extra quickly too. Set alarm reminders on your phone for when it’s time to pull the next one so you don't miss out! When you book a FastPass it will tell you at what time you are eligible to pull the next one- make sure you stay on top of those times!
The rides that typically run out of FastPasses first are:
- Radiator Spring Racers in California Adventure
- Star Tours: The Adventure Continues in Disneyland
- Space Mountain in Disneyland
- Toy Story Midway Mania in California Adventure
- Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout! in California Adventure
- Indiana Jones in Disneyland
Keep in mind that ALL FastPasses can run out over the course of a busy day but these rides are the ones that tend to run out first. Radiator Springs Racers being the absolute top of this list. Make sure to keep an eye on the return times for these rides to make sure you get a Fastpass before the day is done. If you have to, you can cancel an existing FastPass to grab a different one if you need to.
And if you purchased MaxPass, you can select FastPasses for either park regardless of which one you are in! This is so essential for park hopping plans when Disneyland is crowded.
Alternatives to Waiting in Long Lines When Disneyland is Crowded
Have a list of things you want to do besides rides with long wait times ready for the afternoon when the wait times get intense when Disneyland is crowded. Usually you will end up with an hour or two waiting for your FastPass times if you planned accordingly.
Rather than melt in hot afternoon lines- go explore other options for awhile to take a break. You’d be surprised just at how much there is to see and do in Disneyland besides rides.
Here are our top favorite things to do when Disneyland is crowded:
- Meet characters, enjoy movie clips and movie props, and games at Star Wars Launch Bay in Tomorrowland.
- Ride the Main Street car vehicles and horse drawn carriage rides on Main Street U.S.A.
- Grab a Dole Whip and watch a show at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland.
- Walk through Tarzan's Tree House in Adventureland.
- Run around Tom Sawyer's Island to take a break from the crowds in Frontierland. Or ride the Mark Twain Riverboat or the Sailing Ship Columbia in Frontierland.
- Watch Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln located near the entrance of Main Street U.S.A.
- Enjoy a stroll through Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Through in Fantasyland.
- Ride the Disneyland Railroad around the park and enjoy the scenery.
- Watch a show or performance like Mickey's Magical Map, Storytelling at the Royal Theatre, or Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. Look for ‘entertainment' on the Disneyland app to find current times.
- Ride The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Critter Country which usually has low wait times all day long even with large crowds.
Here are our top favorite things to do when California Adventure is crowded:
- Watch Frozen: Live at the Hyperion in Hollywood Land.
- Enjoy Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in Grizzly Peak.
- Explore all there is to do inside the Animation Academy in California Adventure. Meet Anna and Elsa, find the Beast's Library, learn to draw from a real Disney artist, or have a chat with Crush.
- Disney Junior Dance Party in Hollywood Land is perfect for toddlers and small children.
- Enjoy the delicious smells and sights at The Bakery Tour in Pacific Wharf.
- Take the time to notice all the details and things to see in Cars Land.
- Enjoy the games on Pixar Pier which typically have low wait times all day long.
- Treat yourself to a Everything but the Kitchen Sink icecream sundae at Clarabelle's on Buena Vista Street.
- Find characters such as Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Panther, and other Marvel favorites in Hollywood Land.
- Ride The Little Mermaid which usually has low wait times all day long even with large crowds.
The biggest two factors that helped us on our last visit when Disneyland was extremely crowded: MaxPass and patience. Seriously, remembering to be patient will help so much. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated with the crowds. Take a deep breath. If you need some space, retreat out of the walkways and breathe for a moment.
And if you have MaxPass, or at the very least use FastPasses, it is fully possible to still ride everything you want without waiting in long lines. Check out our post from August when we were there on one of the busiest days all month! We still got everything done we wanted to using MaxPass and had a great time. You can too even when Disneyland is crowded.
Remember: you’re here to have fun and you can’t control the crowds. Just work with it the best you can. Slow down and enjoy being in the most magical place on Earth.
Check out our visit from August when we utilized these same tips to deal with the crowds. We had a magical time and you will to if you remember our tips and tricks!
Ready to Plan Your Disneyland Vacation?
There is always a lot of information to consider before planning an Disneyland vacation. Make sure to spend time planning your days in the theme parks and become familiar with everything Disneyland has to offer. Don’t forget to subscribe to our FREE Deals Newsletter to stay on top of the current planning tips, strategies, and deals.
You can discover more about planning your trip to Disneyland from these links:
- California Adventure Touring Strategy: Guide to Maximize Your Mornings
- Disneyland Morning Touring Strategy: Guide to Maximize Your Mornings
- How to Plan Your Disneyland Trip
- Lamplight Lounge Dining Review
- 40+ Places to Find Cheap Food in Disneyland