What's the best strategy for visiting Disneyland?

April 5, 2023, 1:18 PM

Since April Insider fumbled the ball on this one, I would like to ask for your help in keeping our Disneyland strategy guide up-to-date and helpful for all Theme Park Insider readers. You can read the current version, with hyperlinks, on https://www.themeparkinsider.com/reviews/disneyland/

I've pasted that below and welcome your feedback in the comments. Please tell me what I should change, add, or delete. Thanks!

(And, yes, I will be adding discussions on other park strategy pages in the days ahead.)


You must make advance reservations to visit Disneyland, via Disney's website. This is true for "Magic Key" annual passholders as well as daily ticket holders. Unlike at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland's hotel guests get no special preferences for admission reservations. However, Disneyland's hotel guests can get early admission to the park on select dates.

If you want to go to the Blue Bayou or Oga's Cantina, make reservations up to 60 days in advance on the Disneyland website or the official app. You may need to use Disney's virtual queue system to get a ride time on Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, as well. Here's how to do that.

Disneyland now offers a new tool called Disney Genie on its official app to create a custom itinerary for each day of your visit. In addition, Disney offers two ways for its theme park guests to pay to access shorter wait times for many popular attractions. You can learn more about these options in our posts:

How to Use Disney Genie (free and useful trip-planning tools, plus the automated itineraries)
How to Use Disney Genie Plus (one-time daily payment to skip many lines)
How to Use Disney's Individual Lightning Lane (pay-per-use line skips for the most popular attractions)
If you get a virtual queue return time for Runaway Railway, drop whatever you planned to get there then for that. Otherwise, the good, old-fashioned free strategy is to get to the park gates at least half an hour before opening (accounting for time to park). If you are staying at one of the three on-site Disneyland Resort hotels, you can go on select attractions in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland 30 minutes before the park opens, so take advantage of that opportunity.

If you are not staying on-site, start your day instead on the west side of the park, with Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise, or Big Thunder Mountain before heading over to either Tomorrowland for Space Mountain followed by Star Tours, or, if you have young kids, to Fantasyland for Peter Pan, then Dumbo, then working your way around the dark rides. Save high capacity rides such as Pirates and Mansion for later in the morning or early afternoon.

Many visitors will rush to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance first thing in the morning, but unless you are among those on-site hotel guests who can get to the back of the park before the bulk of the crowd, you're going to end up with a long wait for a long ride that costs you any chance at shorter queues during the park's first hour. Rise of the Resistance typically closes early - often by 8pm - but wait until later in the afternoon to ride this award-winning attraction to maximize the number of other Disneyland attractions you can experience during your visit.

Replies (12)

April 5, 2023, 1:43 PM

Handy as just went to Disneyland yet interesting how for the first hour or so, everyone is at Rise of Resistance so much easier time to hit Space/Big Thunder/Splash and stuff like Indiana Jones.

Keep in mind, lines for several rides that may be light in WDW are longer here like Pirates, Haunted Mansion and most everything in Fantasyland. This is where the app is a must-have, to let you know ride times, if something is suddenly down and such. Also, ordering food is much easier there.

Now when it comes to California Adventure, Radiator Springs MUST be your first stop first thing when it opens because that can be nearly two hour wait within fifteen minutes of the park opening. Single rider line is a help but otherwise, there, then hit Spider-Man Web Slingers and Guardians ride. Toy Story Mania is the other big one for waits, Soarin can depend on time of day.

Which is why LL and Genie are good use for the really long ones and yes, the app should be a given.

April 5, 2023, 1:51 PM

What's the best strategy for visiting Disneyland? umm Don't :P

Edited: April 7, 2023, 5:51 AM

I found a slightly different touring strategy to work rather well when I visited most recently in December. This was done without Genie+ or early entry on an 8 A.M. - 12 A.M. day with a one-day Disneyland only ticket and allowed me to experience around 25 attractions.

1. Arrive at the Disneyland Resort 45 minutes before opening to allow sufficient time to park, get to the gate, and enter the park. Once inside, position yourself along the rope nearest the Tomorrowland entrance.

2. When the rope drops, head to Tomorrowland. Your goal is to try to get on Space Mountain plus one or two of Tomorrowland's other attractions in the first hour. Pick whichever are your highest priorities, but make sure you're not spending much more than the first hour here.

3. Cross to the west side of the park. Your three highest priorities over here are Indy, Mansion, and Thunder, so start with the one that has a shortest wait, then hit the others. After riding all three, move on to the other attractions on this side of the park. Don't bother with Galaxy's Edge for now...we'll get to it later.

4. Plan to make your lunch stop either before 11:30 or after 1:30 to avoid the worst of the crowds. I personally usually aim for an early lunch in the 11-12 A.M. window, get a snack around 4 P.M., then go for a late dinner around 8 P.M. when visiting Disneyland.

5. Try to wait until afternoon before venturing to Fantasyland and Toontown. By this time, the entire park is going to be crowded, but due to the attraction density of this area and lack of Genie+ for most attractions, ride lines are generally not as bad as they appear (Matterhorn and Peter Pan are the only ones that regularly exceed 30 minutes). With Toontown having recently reopened from a complete overhaul, that section of the park and all the attractions in it are likely to experience consistent lengthy lines for now, so be patient when experiencing the attractions back there.

6. Unfortunately, there is no good time to ride Rise of the Resistance without investing over an hour into the attraction. Therefore, save this one until after completing as many other priority attractions as possible. My recommendation is to aim to get in line sometime between 4-7 P.M. so that you'll be out in time to catch the nighttime shows. Do note that this ride usually closes several hours earlier than the rest of the park and has frequent downtimes, so don't wait too late if it is a priority. Do any additional Galaxy's Edge exploring after riding Rise of the Resistance, as the land generally gets less busy in the evenings and can become a ghost town after Rise closes.

7. After the nighttime shows conclude, head to anything that you missed earlier in the day or anything that you wish to re-ride. In particular, the last hour of the day will have extremely short lines for most attractions.

April 7, 2023, 12:38 PM

Thank you AJ!

April 7, 2023, 2:19 PM

Also depends if you're going with others or alone as a few attractions do have single-rider lines which can help.

I do think better to get to the Adventureland/Frontierland side of the park first. I still check Disneyland app and since reopening, Indiana Jones very long lines so hitting that early is a good idea and then Jungle Cruise/Pirates/Mansion/Thunder/Splash in whatever order you want.

Another factor to consider is Tomorrowland can fill up a bit from folks coming in from the monorail and while Space Mountain is generally always busy, Star Tours/Buzz Lightyear can be lighter.

Curious AJ, how you feel on DCA? Again, I think always best to get Radiator Springs out of the way first thing as that's the longest lines and then to Avengers Campus before spreading around.

April 7, 2023, 6:56 PM

Mike, my strategy for DCA is a bit unconventional, but as long as you're willing to use single rider it actually works extremely efficiently. Rather than deal with the craziness at the front, I usually head straight to the back and start by hopping on Incredicoaster and TSMM with minimal waits (usually under 20 minutes). From there, I usually loop around the park clockwise, hitting (in order) Soarin, Monsters, Guardians, Web Slingers, Racers, then other stuff. This usually results in getting all the noteworthy attractions done by approximately 2 P.M. (assuming an 8 A.M. opening start), which leaves plenty of time for additional attractions, shows, re-rides, and taking in a sit down lunch or dinner. If I'm doing both parks the same day, I'll usually go for a DCA start and use my DCA plan (with Monsters and smaller rides omitted) to get on all the core attractions by noon, then hop to Disneyland, pick a starting land based on wait times, and go counter-clockwise around the park from there.

Regarding my Disneyland strategy, with Rise of the Resistance being such a huge draw, I've found it to delay filling of the west side attractions by up to an hour vs. past crowd patterns as most head there first, then head elsewhere after riding. If you can get on Space quickly in the morning before Lightning Lane causes the queue to swell to an hour, then get to Indy before people make their way there, you're pretty much golden aside from Galaxy's Edge and Toontown.

April 8, 2023, 3:28 AM

As an international visitor who only rarely visits (although luckily twice in the last year) I would recommend genie plus. Costs more, but if you've spent thousands on airfares you want the best bang for your buck.

I would hit 5 or 6 big attractions in the first hour and a half before even thinking of using lightning Lane. Importantly I'd do pirates since it isn't lighting Lane (and jungle cruise early to mid morning, before the queue gets big). Once crowds start getting big use LL, then go to DCA once you've used your passes up.

Yes it costs more, but when time is a commodity I think it's worth it.

April 8, 2023, 10:52 AM

Sounds a good plan, we lucked out as sister signed us for VIP tour so a lot of LL to use but can get your plan too.

April 10, 2023, 11:25 AM

Thanks AJ! Were actually going to USH in May and I think will try going to Disneyland again. Haven't been for years but they have enough new stuff that I'm excited to visit again. The Haunted mansion and the Indy rides were my favorite so looking forward to experience them again.

I still wish Disney had a normal express pass but will jus have to cross our fingers and hope we can at least try the Star Wars rides. Paying for individual rides doesn't personally bother me but what worries me is even if your willing to pay you potentially still can't ride it since they sell out so quickly.

April 10, 2023, 8:18 PM

Francis, the good news for Disneyland is that unlike Walt Disney World, Genie+ and Lightning Lane rarely sell out at Disneyland, so as long as you're not waiting until later in the day to make a purchase you should be able to get them if you want. In the event that you can't, every attraction also offers a standby line, so there's no risk of being completely locked out of an attraction if you can't get into the express queue. Barring circumstances outside your control (aka rides going down), you should definitely be able to get at least one ride on all the headliners if that's your goal (though I would recommend at least two days if you're doing both parks...doing all the big rides in both parks in one day might be pushing it).

April 11, 2023, 11:29 AM

Thanks AJ that's helpful to know because that's the main reason we've avoided WDW for so long. Can't even buy your way into the express lanes without being lottery lucky! We've booked for a Tuesday and Wednesday 1 day in each park so I think will be ok to see everything. Can't wait to see Cars land! :)

April 12, 2023, 12:26 AM

Francis, I'd say get Cars Land out of the way first, that fills up very fast. When I was there, folks were lined up just outside Radiator Springs from early entry a good half hour before the park officially opened and a two hour standby wait within twenty minutes of opening. So yes, if you don't use LL or Genie for that, get it first.

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