12 Tips for Tackling Disneyland for the Holidays

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12 Tips for Tackling Disneyland for the Holidays

In recent years, Disneyland has become an increasingly popular destination over Christmas vacation. It is easy to see why. The park is festooned with Christmas decorations and certain rides are re-themed with a (secular) holiday theme. The weather is typically mild. The only problem is the crowds, but that is enough of a problem that I would suggest the following tactics:


Line for Pirates of the Caribbean extending into New Orleans Square

Line for Pirates of the Caribbean extending into New Orleans Square

1) Don’t Go

We were using a few apps (see below) to help us get the most out of our visit. While Disney does not release attendance figures, our 3rd party app rates the crowds on a scale from 1-10. We visited on Tuesday and Wednesday between Christmas and New Year’s. The first day was rated at a 9 and the second at a 10. These are some of the busiest days all year. Disney blocks out this week for most annual pass holders and charges the most for tickets for both Disneyland and California Adventure during this time period.

You will ride fewer rides, you will stand in longer lines and you will fight bigger crowds if you come at this time of the year. So the first piece of advice is to think about whether a different time of year will work better. The weeks before Christmas are slightly less busy if you want to see the park in its Christmas finery. If you don’t care about holiday decorations, themed rides, and parades, the smallest crowds are when school is in session in the LA area.

Disneyland Main Street decorated for Christmas
2) Pre-purchased tickets

There are 3 lines before you get into the park and you can avoid one. You have to go through the security line before you reach the entrance for either Disneyland or California Adventure. If you don’t bring a backpack or bag, that line will go a little faster.
You have to go through the turnstile to show your ticket every time you enter one of the parks, even if you are switching from one park to the other on a Park Hopper ticket.

But, you don’t have to wait in the extra line to get tickets. You can buy tickets in advance. You can buy tickets online or do what I did and buy discounted Park Hopper tickets (you can go to both parks on the same day if you like) at a AAA office. Why wait on an extra line and pay more for your trouble?

DIsneyland Holiday Parade

Disneyland Holiday Parade

3) Get there early

When you go

Disneyland rewards early birds any time of the year, but particularly on busy days. The lines at the park are best before 10:30 am. Be at the gate at least 15 minutes before the park opens to have time to clear security.

If you stay at a Disney brand hotel (The Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel or Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa) many days will have an early admission that will give you one extra hour before the park opens. Those hotels are more expensive but that might be worth it for you if you come on a very busy day. When we visited only the most expensive, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, had any rooms available and they started at more than $400 a night. If you want to stay in the Disney hotels at a busy time of year you will need to book further in advance.

4) Stay Close

Even if you can’t stay in an official Disney hotel, I like staying within walking distance so that you don’t waste time with the Disney parking garage or shuttles. We stayed at Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground which worked well, even if the weather was a bit too cool for a water playground.

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5) Fastpass

Your best friend to minimize lines at Disneyland is the Fastpass system. Using your admission ticket you can reserve entry to some of the most popular attractions at a specific time using a Fastpass. You, or someone from your party, will need to wait on a shorter line to get a Fastpass. You will put each admission ticket into the Fastpass machine and will get a Fastpass with a specific time window like 10:15-11:15 am. When you come back to the ride at that time you will join the much faster Fastpass line.
This can make a huge difference in how much time you want on lines. The Indiana Jones ride was basically taking anyone with a Fastpass before anyone without one. We rode the ride twice, once with a Fastpass and once without. At this busy time of year, we waited 2 hours when we did not have a Fastpass (counting 20 minutes when the ride broke down) and maybe 10 minutes when we did have one.

In general, you can hold one Fastpass at a time. But, once you get to your Fastpass window (10:15-11:15 am in the example above) you can get another Fastpass on any ride, even if you have not yet used your first Fastpass. So the best thing to do is grab a second one just before riding the first ride.

You don’t even need to be in the park when you get a Fastpass, but your ticket does. I grabbed all the tickets for my party and crossed from California Adventure to Disneyland (I could change parks because we had Park Hopper tickets) to get us each a Fastpass for Indiana Jones. Sometimes to speed up the Fastpass line a Disney employee will ask you how many Fastpasses you need and will hand you that many. If that happens, you just won the lottery. Since they did not scan your ticket, the system does not know you have a Fastpass so you can grab another set. This happened to me so I quickly ran to Tomorrowland and scored Fastpasses to Star Tours as well before rejoining my group.

Minnie Mouses's House Toontown

6) Have a plan

People enter each of the parks from only one entrance so that side of the park and the most popular rides (probably the newest rides) will fill up first. If you want to visit Toontown for instance, which is on the far side of the park, it is much much less crowded before 10:30 am. We rode Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin and the Gadget Go Coaster with virtually no line, Visited Minnie and Mickey in their houses all within the first hour that Toontown was open, even on one of the busiest days of the year.

Mickey's House in Toontown

When you come into the park make a beeline to the one ride you really want to take and get a Fastpass. Then go do something else until you get to that time. The first day we grabbed a Fastpass for Hyperspace Mountain, rode the less crowded Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster in Tomorrowland, tried to ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds (but they were closed), rode the Holiday themed Small World while we waited for Toontown to open (it opens about an hour after the park) and then tackled Toontown before returning to Hyperspace Mountain to ride it using the Fastpass.

Disneyland Lines from TouringPlans.com
7) Have an App

We used two apps to give us a good idea of which rides had faster lines at the current time. We used the Disneyland official app and the unofficial Disneyland Lines from TouringPlans.com. We relied more heavily on the unofficial app. Download the app a couple of days ahead and you can see how different rides fill up. For instance, the Haunted Mansion Holiday ride tended to fill up at the start of the day but then get less crowded later in the afternoon.

The app will also tell you parade times. Each parade will happen twice a day. The first time it will start at a gate next to Small World and exit at a gate in Main Street opposite the Town Hall. The second time it will start near Town Hall and end near Small World. The center of the park will get very crowded at parade times and for an hour before the nightly fireworks as people try and find a viewing place.

Radiator Spring Racers in Cars Land in California Adventure

Radiator Spring Racers in Cars Land in California Adventure

8) Single Rider

A Fastpass will only get you so far. If you are traveling with adults or older kids you can take advantage of the single rider line. When a group of 5 people wants to board the Matterhorn Bobsleds, for instance, they leave one empty slot as the cars hold 6 people from carports. Matterhorn has a separate and much shorter line of people who are willing to ride by themselves who fill in that empty slot. On a day when the Bobsled line stretched to Tomorrowland, we rode in 10 minutes instead of 60 by riding as single riders.

On our second day, we walked towards the Fastpass line for the newest ride which was Radiator Spring Racers in Cars Land in California Adventure. We got in the park just as it opened but the line for Radiator Spring Racers was already 90 minutes by the time we got there (we saw it get to 3 hours later in the day). The line for the Fastpass itself stretched into Bug’s Land and we estimated it was 20 minutes long. The Lines app said that the single rider line was 4 minutes long. It may have been twice that, but still was the best option.

Jingle Cruise

Jingle Cruise

9) Holiday Changes

As mentioned above, some rides and attractions are changed for the holidays. Haunted Mansion becomes Haunted Mansion Holiday and is themed with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Small World becomes “It’s a Small World Holiday” with more Jingle Bells and Santa Claus in the mix. Jungle Cruise becomes the Jingle Cruise. Still a lot of bad jokes but now holiday decorations everywhere. And still, one of my favorite rides if you get the right guide.

The parades also change for the holidays and Christmas carols are playing everywhere (none of them religious).
Main Street is probably the most beautifully decorated of all the lands with a huge Christmas tree right near the entrance.

Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land

Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land

10) Have a List

We made good use of the article The Best Restaurants at Disneyland which ranks every restaurant at Disneyland. I just wish we had read it before we visited Pizza Port in Tomorrowland. Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland was a great find as was Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land.

12) Walking

If you tackle the park as we did you will do more walking so wear good walking shoes and stay hydrated. On the second day when I was changing parks to grab Fastpasses, and we were walking to find the rides with the shortest lines, my walking app said that I had walked my 10,000 steps by 10:40 am. By the end of the day, that count hit 24,000 or almost 12 miles.

13) Become an Expert

For more information on how to make a strategy for tackling Disneyland, I recommend the book which is what I used to become an “expert” on Disneyland… although I don’t think that it hurt that I had a Disneyland map on my wall as a child.

[amazon_textlink asin=’1628090855′ text=’The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland ‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’chrischrissho-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ eff081d0-07d1-48f9-9d8b-b42f07d5faa7′]

see all my Disneyland photos

12 Tips for Tackling Disneyland for the Holidays #travel #trip #vacation #disney #disneyland #california #anaheim #theme-park #southern #orange #christmas #holidays

Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won numerous awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine. He move to California in 1964.

One Response to “12 Tips for Tackling Disneyland for the Holidays”



Judith suggests:
Great article……for further savings remember you can pack snacks in…..it saves $$$ and you don’t have to spend time waiting in long lines for the food…..also we have found some of the best deals and food if you want to eat out are at City Walk just outside the theme parks.

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