Yesterday (11/30/2018), I took my annual holiday visit to the Disneyland Resort, and since I was solo for a majority of the day I decided to give my latest touring plan a field test. The result? Very successful. With the holidays approaching, I suspect there will be a lot of So Cal residents taking relatives to the park in the coming weeks (or non-locals taking a vacation to the resort), so I figured I might as well share it here.
A few notes before getting to the plan: This test occurred on a day I would describe as straddling the line between moderately busy and very busy. Earlier in the day, lines were not that bad, with E-tickets generally posting wait times of around 30 minutes. By the evening, however, crowds had swelled as locals came after work, with most major attractions posting wait times in excess of an hour. Over at DCA, the crowd was more consistent throughout the day (likely due to the Festival of Holidays drawing guests), with 45-60 minute waits for most headliners. For testing, MaxPass was not used, but it may be used with this strategy if desired. The plan below is geared toward first-time visitors or guests who visit infrequently (no more than once every couple years), and is designed to hit as many of the resort's signature attractions across both parks as possible. Using this strategy, you should be able to hit 20-25 attractions on a busy day, and may even get to as many as 30 if crowds are on the lighter side and you encounter no unexpected delays.
Arrival: In order for this plan to be effective, you must be at Disneyland's main entrance no less than 20 minutes before they open for the day (8 A.M. for my visit). If you'll be driving in, I recommend arriving at the resort 45-60 minutes before opening to allow ample time to park, get through security, and make your way to the gate. Additionally, this plan will work best on a day when Disneyland Park does not offer early entry (generally Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday).
Morning: When you are able to enter Disneyland, position yourself as close to the ropes leading into Tomorrowland as possible. At opening, head directly to Space Mountain. Do not be tempted to stop for a Fastpass...it is unnecessary this early in the morning. You should be on and off Space Mountain within 15 minutes. After riding, head directly to Star Tours and ride. This early in the morning, waits at this ride are usually non-existent.
With the two Tomorrowland headliners complete, grab a Fastpass for the nearby Matterhorn Bobsleds. I got to this ride around 8:45 and found a return time about a half hour later. Use that half hour to tackle any Fantasyland dark rides you'd like to ride (lines will be at their shortest), or do the holiday version of It's a Small World (on my visit, this was the busiest ride at the entire resort, posting wait times of 60-90 minutes for much of the day). When it's time, use your Fastpass for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, then head to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and pull a Fastpass there (mine was retrieved around 9:30 and had about a 45 minute delay). During this wait, do Indiana Jones Adventure, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and (if time permits) Pirates of the Caribbean. Assuming you don't encounter any unexpected delays, you should be able to finish all of this (including your ride on Thunder) within the first three hours of operation. If you have time to spare, I suggest trekking back to Toontown for Roger Rabbit's Car-Toon Spin, but that attraction is optional. To stay on schedule, you should be heading over to DCA around 11 A.M.
Afternoon: Unlike Disneyland, DCA has only a handful of major attractions, so it's easy to knock this park out in a few hours. Upon entry, grab a Fastpass for Soarin' Around the World (expect return times of about three hours later), then get an early lunch at a counter-service restaurant. After lunch, there are three main attractions to hit: Toy Story Midway Mania, Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout, and Radiator Springs Racers (for adrenaline junkies, Incredicoaster may be added to this list as well, but it is not a must ride). Tackle these attractions in any convenient order, utilizing the single rider queue on Radiator Springs Racers to cut the typical 45+ minute wait down to 15-25 (usually). If you have additional time between completing these and your Soarin' return time, enjoy any other DCA attractions that catch your interest. Once you've had your fill of DCA, head back to Disneyland (try to return before 3 or after 4:30 to avoid the daytime parade).
Evening: Back at Disneyland, grab a Fastpass for a headliner you missed in the morning (if any) or Buzz Lightyear, then work through the other attractions of interest at the park. For the most part, crowds will be fairly consistent until after the fireworks, so exact order is relatively unimportant. Note that Splash Mountain generally sees a huge drop-off in interest around 7 P.M. during the off-season, so if you're okay with getting a little wet at night you can often walk onto the ride after this time. For Fantasmic, there is usually sufficient non-reserved viewing at the second showing...return 30-45 minutes before showtime for the best selection. For parade viewing, the evening parade (6 P.M.) is busier but has a much better atmosphere. If possible, try for a late dinner (~8 P.M.) to avoid the largest crowds.
Using this strategy, it should be possible to hit all the headliners in both parks in a day (barring unexpected issues). Note that the most important key to success is a willingness to arrive at opening...what you can do in one hour in the morning can take as many as three later in the day. As more people arrive, it becomes less critical to follow a strict itinerary, but having a general idea of what your group would like to do and what can be skipped is helpful.
If you'll be visiting the Disneyland Resort during the holidays, I hope you have a great time. If you happen to use this plan for help, comment back how your visit went. This should also be a viable strategy through the spring of 2019, though I expect everything to change once Star Wars Land is open in June.Tweet
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