Updated: December 2017
Maximizing your Disneyland experience - Best Disneyland RidesA Disneyland vacation is always a lot of fun, but since millions and millions of tourists visit each year (especially when you want to go, during the summer or over the holidays), let's just say it - the place is crowded. When you wait in line 1 hour to ride Dumbo, not only do little kids get whiny and start to cry, but so can adults! But when it comes to getting on all the best rides, there are 2 kinds of Disneyland visitors: those that are prepared and come with a plan (they ride EVERY great ride every day, some 2 or 3 times, and most of the others as well, maybe 35 or more rides per day), and those with no plan (they ride one or 2 great rides and a handful of others, getting in maybe 15-18 rides in a day). Which group do you want to be in? Read below for Disneyland secrets and tips!
Disneyland Early AdmissionThe first critical secret to getting on the most rides at Disneyland is Early Entry days. At this time it is offered on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday - if you have Early Entry tickets, you can enter the park 1 hour before everyone else. How do you get Disneyland Early Entry tickets? Currently, if you buy a 3 day (or more) park hopper pass, you get one early entry day. Some of the Disney hotels also offer early entry passes for their guests with special package deals, and AAA has been known to offer it when you buy tickets from them. You can buy your tickets in advance on the Disney.com site - confirm that they come with Early Entry privileges. Now you don't get access to the entire park, only the Fantasyland area, including the Matterhorn. So if the gates normally open at 8AM, you get there at 6:40 to get in line and you get in at 7AM. Now picture this, you walking into Disneyland, and NO ONE ELSE IS THERE! Getting the picture? So you dash over to Fantasyland, and you and the kids hit the Matterhorn twice, with no wait in between rides. Then Dumbo, 1 minute wait. Then Snow White, no wait. Then Peter Pan Ride, 2 minute wait. Then Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, 1 minute wait. Getting the picture? These kids rides will soon have 30-60 minutes wait for a 30 second ride experience. You'll have done them all, multiple time, in your first hour. Now it is 8AM, the gates open for the rest of the regular ticket holders, and the crowds trickle in around you. However, for the first 90 minutes, there are very small lines for most of the big rides. Hit Space Mountain quick right at 8AM with only a 5 minute wait. Jump on Buzz Lightyear with only a 8 minute wait. Head over to Thunder Mountain, 10 minute wait at the most. Pirates of the Caribbean, probably a 5-8 minute wait even at 10AM. Haunted House, 10 minute wait. Splash Mountain, 15-25 minute wait by 10:45 or so. So it's not even noon and you have hit most of the major rides already. So, BE SURE to get early entry passes - that may be your best day ever at Disneyland. And every day, get as early a start as possible. Sure it is a pain getting up and organized so early, but those first 2-3 hours are critical if you want to get in as many rides as possible. Come back and take a nap between 1:30-4 when the lines are longest.
So assuming it is a day when you don't have early entry passes, here is your next trick for getting into the park quickly. If you stand near the far right side of the ticket turnstyles, you'll see the few Early Entry gates they have open for early entry people, right up until 1 minute before the normal gates open. Of course, the normal gates have 200 people standing in line, but that is not going to be you. You linger by the early entry gates, and 8AM they spin around the sign on top and they become regular entry gates, and guess what, you are the first in line! This is totally legitimate, no one who works there will say a word, but the people in the other lines will be in a state of shock! Doesn't matter, they could have done it as well if they had planned their trip to Disneyland better.
How to ride the most rides at Disneyland - FastPassMost people are confused by the FastPass system at Disneyland. But it is really quite simple. Certain popular attractions (Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Roger Rabbits Car Toon Spin, Autopia, Space Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear) allow you to get special tickets, usable during certain time windows, without standing in the normal long line. You pick up your tickets in advance by popping your Disneyland pass into the special machines setup outside these rides (you can't miss the FastPass signs). You'll need a ticket for each person, so it is a good idea to carry everyone's tickets together. Put your park ticket in, and out pops a FastPass ticket for that ride with a time stamp on it - "valid between 12:10 and 1:20", for example. Also, at the bottom it will tell you when your next FastPass ticket is available, usually right after the beginning window time on your current ticket. So you skip the long line now, come back at 12:20 and go to the FastPass express line, which usually involves just a 10 minute wait or so instead of an hour or more. One little FastPass secret is that the passes don't really expire after the ending time listed on them - hang onto them and use them a few hours later. This way you aren't forced to rush back and forth across the park to ride at certain times. Almost no one knows this, and the cast members may occasionally growl a bit, but there is nothing they can do about it. So whenever you are near a popular FastPass ride, grab a FastPass ticket. When your window for another pass opens, grab another. You can end up with a stack of passes in your pocket this way, and use them at your leisure later when you are near those rides.
On non-early entry days, you may still want to tackle a few of those Fantasyland rides first before the lines get too long, but split up if you can and have someone grab some Indiana Jones FastPasses (or Space Mountain, whatever) while the rest get in line for Dumbo, then an hour later grab some Autopia FastPasses as you ride Buzz Lightyear. You can use those FastPasses anytime duing the day, remember. So look at the Disneyland park map and get a plan - pick up FastPasses as often as possible, tackle a few rides in an area at a time to minimize walking, and ALWAYS get there before opening time in the morning - those first early morning hours are critical! One other thing to look into is Ridemax.com. This is a private software service that costs around $15. They have a pretty sophisticated database built around average ride wait times throughout the day and throughout the year. You tell it when you are going, what rides you want to go on, and it evaluates millions of combinations to come up with the best ride plan to maximize your rides and minimize your wait time. We used it last year and it worked well. One tip, print out several possible itineraries and keep them with you - that way you can see what the average wait times are for various rides throughout the day and can make changes on the fly if you want to.