Disneyland Sample Itinerary
Having a plan at Disney will make or break your vacation. Disneyland has the potential to be both crowded and hot, and consequently miserable! Like traveling to a foreign country, you have to work WITH the crowds and the heat to make the experience bearable.
Here’s how the crowds unfold at Disney during the day. The parks start out uncrowded and the first hour the parks are blissfully empty and cool from 8-9. You can get MOST of the rides in during this hour if you plan things right. Crowds start to arrive en force around 10 am, by 12/1 pm all the rides are crowded. From 1-4 ish is Disney hell. It’s hot and crowded and kids are melting down cause it’s their naptime left and right. By 5/7 pm, the Annual Passholders show up after work and further gum up the rides. After 7 pm, the shows start which takes many people off the rides, decreasing wait times. As the night wears on, the crowds thin. From 10-12 pm, the wait times are back to 5 min all over the park, excluding the big kid rides like Space Mountain.
Now that you know generally what to expect, here’s how to schedule your day. If you want an even tighter schedule, we LOVE RideMax. It’s a non Disney affiliated software that calculates the lowest wait times for every ride you want to ride. It’s about $10-$20 bucks and it’s worth every penny. You plug in what you want to ride and it spits out an exact plan to the minute.
The key to a great Disney day is making it to rope drop. This is when they open the park. They play a little song and count down and it’s a speed walking race to ride your favorite rides. To make it for rope drop, plan to be AT the Disney gates 1/2 hour before opening. That means if you don’t have tickets, you’ll need to wake up a little earlier to get them. Plan on 30-45 mins to get from the parking structure to the actual park, add 30 min to buy tickets if you need to. So if Disney opens at 8, you will need to be at the parking structure by about 6:30 to make it in time for the most magical hour of your vacation. If you’re staying in a hotel, it’s a bit easier to make it to the gates by 7:30 but make sure to buy tickets the night before so you don’t lose time.
BE CAREFUL OF MAGIC MORNING! Some park guests get this as a bonus with their three day ticket or hotel stay. They get to enter the park a full hour before opening, rendering your dragging everyone out of bed at the crack of dawn useless. Disney Magic Mornings are Tuesday Thursday and Saturday. DCA’s are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You want to AVOID rope drops on these days because the parks will already be crowded.
Make a plan once you are at rope drop. I like to bring breakfast and feed everyone during the half hour we are waiting there. I also make sure everyone’s bathroom needs are taken care of. In Disney, the ride to ride first is Peter Pan. If you aren’t at the front of the line in the initial crush of people, skip this one. You will lose all your time waiting for it! They make you park your stroller far away from this ride, so it’s hard to make this ride with a stroller unless you split up. Dumbo, Space Mountain, the new Star Wars ride, Indiana Jones are all rides with high demand and low ride load (not a lot of people on the ride at once) so they all get crowded too. In DCA, the main Cars ride and The Incredicoaster are the two rides with high demand.
Grab a Fast Pass or two for the other rides you want to do. Some Fast Pass times come up quickly, so you can cover a lot of ground using Fast Passes in the mornings. Toontown opens one hour after the park does, so that’s a good time to go meet Mickey and Minnie in their houses. However, whenever I get there early, I always see Mickey and Minnie on Main Street, sometimes before park opening! Keep riding rides consistently until wait times creep above 20 min (usually around 11:30/12) and then stop for a leisurely lunch. Now it’s time to watch everyone else wait forever rides you’ve already ridden!
This is usually the time we go home for naps or back to the car to take a break. Breaks are key for keeping stamina up at Disney and afternoons are the perfect time! If you can’t or don’t want to leave, a good strategy for Disney is to go in the air conditioned Star Wars exhibit in Tomorrowland, spend time on Tom Sawyer Island, or just ride the Disney train around the park (takes about 30 min to do a loop) again and again until everyone falls asleep. There’s also the parade around this time. Our favorite place to watch is in front of the King and Queen bathrooms near the Alice and Wonderland ride. I’ve heard of people watching from the teacups but I would definitely barf. For DCA, we love killing high wait times in Redwood Creek Challenge Trail or seeing the Frozen show.
Around 5 pm, many of the little kid rides will open up again. Just use your Disney app and look for anything with a low wait time that you haven’t already done. This is also a good time to bite the bullet and wait a long time for a ride you’re dying to do. You won’t be missing anything.
Once night falls, Disney becomes magical all over again! We love the fireworks show. You’ll get the full experience on Main Street, but lately we’ve loved watching from Frontierland near the Star Wars entrance, Fantasyland near Dumbo, Small World, or Tomorrowland. They light the fireworks from Toontown, so you get to be really close!
Fantasmic is a fun show too, but kind of scary for the little ones. It’s easy to get a spot, but you can do a Fast Pass to get an even better spot. You can hold this Fast Pass in addition to others, so it’s worth it to grab one if you’re in the area during the day. The World of Color show is cool, but not as cool as the Disney shows. Make sure you’re in the park well before 10 pm otherwise they may not let you in!
Once the shows are over (or during if you’ve already seen the shows), it’s a good time to catch up on any rides you missed. Now do you see why I recommend LESS days in Disneyland? It’s possible to do everything in the parks in two days if you plan in right. It will be exhausting, but I think drawing it out makes it more exhausting and the magic wears off a bit.