When we visited Disneyland with our children and my mom in 2010, it was not my first time to Disneyland, nor my husband’s. However, it was the first time we visited Disneyland as a family. Furthermore, it was June so we expected the park to be crowded. We wanted to have a great experience, so we do what we usually do before a vacation. We turned to the experts.
We found The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Bob Sehlinger with Len Testa. This useful guidebook includes sections on planning, hotels, maps, visiting Disneyland with kids, dining, shopping, Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure. It has specific information on every ride. It is available at our local library, online and at bookstores. This is Sehlinger and Testa’s Disneyland philosophy in a nutshell:
“It’s easy to spot the free spirits at Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure, particularly at opening time. While everybody else is stampeding to Splash Mountain or Indiana Jones, they’re the ones standing in a cloud of dust puzzling over the park map…
Face it: Disneyland Resort is not a very existential place. In many ways it’s the ultimate in mass-produced entertainment, the most planned and programmed environment imaginable. Self-discovery and spontaneity work about as well at Disneyland as they do on your tax return.”
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland offers advice and plans for getting your family on the most rides without spending crazy amounts of time in line. When we stuck with the guide’s advice, we rode favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain in record time. When we digressed from the plan, we waited in line for 45 minutes in the hot sun for the Peter Pan ride with whiny children.
Here is the advice from The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland that served us especially well.
Plan for more than one day in the parks
The Unofficial Guide recommends three to five days in the parks, with a minimum of one day per park. We purchased a 5-for-the-price-of-3-day deal. After the fourth day even our kids were Disneyed out and we went to the beach on our last day. We didn’t see and ride everything, but we were able to ride nearly all of our favorites at least twice.
You can see Disneyland in one day if you prioritize and hit the park hard from open ’til close. I did it that way when I was single, but it would be hard with young children. Purchasing a park-hopper admission for only one day is a waste of money because you just can’t get your money’s worth in both Disneyland and California Adventure in a single day.
Arrive 30 minutes before opening
Disneyland does not open at the same time every day. The week we visited, the park opened at three different times in four days. California Adventure typically opens later. Get the schedule for the days you’ll be visiting and plan to get in line 30 minutes before the park opens. I know you want to sleep in on your vacation, but this is so worth it. You’ll avoid big lines for your top-priority rides before the sleep-in crowd arrives.
Fast-loader vs. slow-loader
Once you understand this concept, it’ll change your amusement park strategy forever. Everyone knows (or should) that you need to get in line for the popular rides early to beat the crowds. Take that one step further by paying attention to the difference between fast-loading and slow-loading rides.
Fast-loading rides, like Indiana Jones or It’s a Small World load continuously. The line never stops moving, so you won’t spend as much time in it, particularly if the ride is not very popular.
On the other hand, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Mad Tea Party are slow-loaders. The ride loads a limited number of people, runs its course, and then unloads those people before the line moves again. You could spend an unreasonably long time waiting for beloved rides like Dumbo.
The bottom line:
- Visit your top-priority popular slow-loaders first.
- Visit popular fast-loaders next.
- Save less-popular fast loaders for the crowded time of day.
The plans in The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland use this logic, the park layout and FastPass to save people like us from standing in line and criss-crossing the park unnecessarily. We followed the 2010 guide’s Two-Day Plan A and the California Adventure One Day Plan and rode all of our priority rides before lunch every day. That left our afternoons open to ride the less popular rides, see parades and shows and buy mouse ears.
Four straight days in Disneyland is fun, but it is also exhausting. We left the park every day at dinner time so we could have the energy to arrive at 7:30 the next morning. We skipped fireworks and the new World of Color show, which are also great Disney experiences. Some families will make different choices, but beating the crowds in the morning was a priority for us and that decision paid off.
We had a great Disneyland vacation with our children and I wouldn’t do anything differently. Having a plan saved us so much time in line that we were able to enjoy visiting Disneyland during peak season. We cherish those Disney memories with our kids and look forward to another Disney vacation before too long.
Planning a Disney trip?
Need a place to stay? We have recently stayed on-property at the Grand Californian and off-property at the Anaheim Hilton Garden Inn, which is just down the street from Disneyland. Both are good options! Click the links to read my reviews.
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