When to Visit
While there are sites that will assess crowds on a 1-10 scale, Disneyland really only has four crowd categories: Low (0-30 minute waits for headline attractions), Moderate (30-45 minute waits), Busy (45-60 minutes), and Very Busy (60-120 minutes). While it is impossible to predict exactly how crowded any specific day will be, the following calendar provides a good approximation:
In addition to the above calendar, please note that certain days may be busier than expected due to special events. The most affected days include the weekends of the runDisney events (Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, the first weekend in May, Labor Day weekend, and Veteran's Day weekend) as well as the weekend of Gay Days (first weekend in October).
Common sense says to avoid visiting during very busy periods unless absolutely necessary. However, is it better to visit during low, moderate, or busy periods? The answer is very much up for debate. During the low-crow periods, Disneyland has shorter hours and closes attractions for refurbishment. During busy periods, most (if not all) attractions should be open and the park should have full hours. Moderate periods are somewhere between these two, with a few attractions potentially closed and the park closing around 9 or 10pm instead of midnight.
With a good plan, there is no reason to fear crowds at Disneyland, so visiting during the moderate or busy periods is better for a first-time visitor than visiting during a low-crowd period. As for specific days during the week, Disneyland is generally least crowded on Wednesday and most crowded on Sunday.
Lastly, for those planning visits in 2016, note that the following attractions will be closed for the entire year (and potentially beyond) in order to allow for construction of Star Wars Land.
How Much Time is Needed
While Disneyland is only a medium-sized park, there is a lot to do here. With more than 40 attractions spread across its eight themed lands, the park has far too much to do in a single day. First-time visitors should allow a minimum of a day and a half for Disneyland, with two full days recommended if time permits. Even those who have visited other Disney parks should allow a minimum of one full day for just Disneyland, as approximately half of the park's attractions are unique to the park or significantly different from similar installations elsewhere. For returning visitors, one full day is likely sufficient for the park to revisit your favorites.
While it is possible to spend three or more days at Disneyland (not the resort as a whole, just Disneyland itself), this is not necessary unless you wish to have an extremely relaxed pace or will only be doing partial days (five hours or less). Visit our Disneyland page for a complete list of attractions to see what most interests you.
When visiting Disneyland, the first rule is to arrive early. At minimum, you should be at the park gates 25 minutes before opening. If you are driving to the resort instead of walking from a nearby hotel, keep in mind that it may take as long as a half-hour to park in the Mickey and Friends parking garage or Toy Story parking lot and take a tram to the park, so factor this when planning. The gates will open up to 30 minutes before official opening time, at which point you will be free to enter Main Street USA. A rope at the far end of the street will block further passage into the park until the official opening time.
Once the rope is dropped, the crowd will disperse throughout the park. Fantasyland is usually the first area of the park to become crowded, followed by Tomorrowland. The remaining areas of the park take longer to fill and might not see heavy crowds until after noon. Your first priority at opening should be to get a Fastpass for one of the headliner attractions, then do rides in that area until your return time comes up. Once you are able to collect another Fastpass, do so, and follow this pattern during the day. In addition, decide which shows you wish to see and plan accordingly. Remember that you can send one person in your party ahead with everyone's tickets to collect Fastpasses for the entire group.
When it comes to the nighttime spectaculars, if you wish to see both Disneyland Forever and Paint the Night, your best option is to attend the first Paint the Night showing. Select a spot on Main Street before the first Paint the Night parade. While viewers will begin camping out 90 minutes or more before the parade, you should be able to get a decent spot if you arrive at least 30 minutes in advance. Following the parade, go into the street and get into position as quickly as possible for Disneyland Forever. If you are not interested in Disneyland Forever but still wish to see Paint the Night, it is much easier to get a good viewing spot in Fantasyland for the second parade. Seeing Disneyland Forever from Main Street is difficult if you do not also see Paint the Night, but good viewing spots are easier to find in Fantasyland and Frontierland. Lastly, note that Disneyland's third nighttime spectacular, Fantasmic, will be closed in 2016 to facilitate construction of Star Wars Land.
For a first time visitor, the following are Disneyland's must-do attractions, as rated by Theme Park Insider readers (attractions in alphabetical order):
In addition to the above, the following are recommended as time allows:
*These attractions may be skipped for time if they have been experienced at another Disney park.
**These attractions are more geared toward children and may be skipped for time by those who do not have any young children in their party or who are not interested.
Due to the vast audience it serves and the range of interests visitors have, there is no "one size fits all" plan for visiting Disneyland. Therefore, the following plan is somewhat general and can be adjusted as desired in order to fit the preferences of your group. If you don't care about an attraction, skip it. If something is missing that those in your group wish to experience, insert it at the point where minimal deviation would be required (such as when doing other nearby attractions), or wait until you have free time to get to it. If something is down, simply skip it and try again later when convenient. Also, note that this plan is intended for day one of your visit. On your second (or later) day, simply follow the general strategy and attraction priority lists in order to revisit your favorite attractions and see other things you missed.
1. At opening, proceed to Tomorrowland and collect a Fastpass for either Space Mountain or Star Tours. Since it is early in the morning, your return time should be no more than an hour away. Stay in Tomorrowland and ride the attraction you did not collect a Fastpass for, then Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Then it should be time to redeem your Fastpass. Waits should be no more than 20 minutes at this time.
2. After using your Fastpass, cross the park to Frontierland and collect a Fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Proceed into New Orleans Square and ride Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, in either order. By the time you have done both of these attractions, it will likely be time to return to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. However, you might be able squeeze in Splash Mountain, too, before returning to Thunder. Go for it if the standby wait does not exceed 20 minutes — and it's warm enough that you're okay with getting wet.
3. After using your Fastpass, collect one for Indiana Jones Adventure. While waiting for this Fastpass, visit the Jungle Cruise and Enchanted Tiki Room (or ride Splash Mountain if you didn't ride it earlier), then grab lunch. Once your return time for Indiana Jones Adventure arrives, use your Fastpass and have lunch if you have not done so yet. Theme Park Insider readers' recommended Disneyland restaurants (in alphabetical order) include:
***Blue Bayou and Cafe Orleans are table-service restaurants that accept reservations. Call +1-714-781-DINE in advance of your visit for reservations to avoid what can be a lengthy standby line on busy days. Reservations are available up to 60 days in advance of your visit.
4. After lunch, the remainder of your day will be primarily dictated by show schedules. Decide which shows you would like to see and make a note of the times, then be certain to arrive early. Aim for 15 minutes before show time and 30 minutes early on busier days. (Get there 45 minutes on busy days for Fantasy Faire Royal Theatre, though Fastpasses might be available for this show on certain days. Check on the hub, in front of the castle, for availability.) Otherwise, head to Fantasyland and ride Alice in Wonderland and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, then head to Toontown for Roger Rabbit's Car-Toon Spin. Finally, work your way around the park to any interesting attractions you skipped earlier, or attractions you'd like to revisit, before seeing the parades and fireworks.
In some situations, it is not advisable to follow the general plan listed above. Here are some alternate strategies for the most common situations.
Visiting with Young Children
If your group includes primary young children who are all below 40" inches tall, they will be unable to experience several of the park's headliner attractions. Therefore, it is advisable to follow a plan more catered to their interests.
1. When the park opens, head directly to Fantasyland. Start with Peter Pan's Flight and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, then work around the land to do whatever interests your children. Note that Snow White's Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride might be too intense for very young children. Also, if meeting Disney princesses is a priority, be sure to visit the Fantasy Faire Royal Hall early to avoid 45+ minute waits on even low-crowd days.
2. When Toontown opens, send one adult to retrieve Fastpasses for Roger Rabbit's Car-Toon Spin. Continue doing Fantasyland attractions until it is time to ride, then head to Toontown to use your Fastpasses and explore the rest of that land. (You can meet Mickey and Minnie in their houses in Toontown.)
3. Head over to Tomorrowland and secure Fastpasses for Autopia. Ride Buzz Lightyear and get lunch while waiting for your return time. (Head back to Main Street for the Plaza Inn or the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe, for your best bets at lunch.)
4. After Autopia, cross to the west side of the park and do any appropriate attractions. The order won't matter much beyond this point as unrestricted attractions are either high capacity or rarely experience significant waits. Suggested attractions include the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise. Follow the previous advice for the nighttime shows.
Visiting on an Early Entry Day
Unlike at Walt Disney World, early entry does not have a huge effect on overall crowds at Disneyland. However, early entry does affect morning traffic patterns in the park. On a rainy day (where crowds will be minimal anyway) or an off-season weekday, the general plan can be used. However, on weekends or during school breaks, use the following alternate plan.
1. When the park opens, proceed to Space Mountain and grab a Fastpass, then head to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and Haunted Mansion, then retrieve a Fastpass for Indiana Jones Adventure on your way back to Space Mountain.
2. After riding Space Mountain, do the other rides in Tomorrowland while waiting for your Indiana Jones Adventure Fastpass. Once your return time is reached, collect a Fastpass for the attraction of your choice and head to Indiana Jones Adventure.
3. After Indiana Jones Adventure, ride Pirates of the Caribbean and grab lunch. From here, follow the previous advice.
Visiting with Special Needs
Depending upon the specific needs in your group, you can follow any of the strategies listed above. If you are using a wheelchair, a cast member might direct you to an alternate entrance on some attractions. If you have questions or concerns about waiting in line, please see a cast member at City Hall, located in Town Square on Main Street USA. You might be eligible for Disney's "Disability Access Service," which acts as a Fastpass-style system reservation system to allow visitors with disabilities to wait for an attraction without having to actually go through the queue. Assisted listening systems and audio description devices for use in Disneyland attractions also are available at City Hall.
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