Help me maximize a last-minute trip to Disneyland.
November 9, 2014 9:02 AM   Subscribe

We're going to Disneyland tomorrow. We haven't done any advance planning. I don't have a lot of time today to devote to research, either, so I thought I'd ask if anyone can brain-dump a quick-and-dirty way to shave some time off the inevitable waiting. More detail and explicit instructions are better.

We'll have 3 adults and 2 kids, 6 and 4. The 6-year-old is tall enough for Space Mountain, so we'd like to do that. Would also like to do the popular rides for little ones, like Peter Pan.

Honestly, we're not picky about exactly what we do, I just don't want to walk out of the park and realize that we spent hundreds of dollars for about 15 minutes of actual entertainment (which is what happened last year). An answer like, "Arrive at x:00. Walk to attraction x; pick up fastpass. Now get in line for x," etc., would be awesome.

We're coming from LA (Mid-Wilshire), in case that affects the answers.

Just to reiterate: we have a full day today, too, so not a lot of time to follow a bunch of links with advice. An answer with links to websites of Disney enthusiasts is not what I'm looking for here. Thanks!
posted by palliser to Travel & Transportation around Anaheim, CA (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get there 15 minutes before the park is opening and when it opens truck it to one of the attractions you really want to do, like Space Mountain or something else that usually has a line. Use your fast passes for stuff later on in the day.
posted by MadMadam at 9:10 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't have the complete list memorized, but there aren't really that many attractions that offer fastpasses at DL. They're clearly marked on the map. So look at those, see if any of them are important to you, and prioritize getting fastpasses for them. I'm pretty sure there is no fastpass for Space Mountain but I could be mistaken. Haunted Mansion is in holiday (nightmare before Christmas) mode right now, and worth seeing.

I'm not sure lines will be as bad as you think on a November weekday. We usually go about once a month, and I think the "all you do is wait in lines" thing is generally overblown, though certainly on a holiday or a summer weekend, it's going to be very busy.

Also, there are some smartphone apps you can get that will tell you the wait times at the different attractions. In my experience the accuracy is pretty hit and miss, but it's probably worth installing one so you can try to keep an eye out for short waits.
posted by primethyme at 9:12 AM on November 9, 2014

We just got back from a 4 day trip to Disney. Being there on a Monday is great, and this is a good time of year to go. I would find out which rides are definitely a priority, and make a beeline for them right away. Thunder Mountain Railroad usually has a quick line, not too bad of a wait, so don't get fast passes for this immediately. I would get fast passes for Indiana Jones or Splash Mountain before anything else, as those lines can get long even on slow park days. At the beginning of the day, try to knock out rides like Dumbo and the Metterhorn, which have shorter lines at the beginning of the day, and save things like Small World and Pirates if the Carribean for the afternoon, as those rides have fast moving lines. Don't buy lunch at noon. Eat early or late, so you don't waste a bunch of time in lunch lines. Save souvenir shopping for the end of the day. Unless parades are important to you, use parade time to ride more rides. Payouts mentioned Peter Pans Flight, and we had the best luck riding that the end of the day. That line was insane all day, with no fast pass available when we were there.
posted by Happydaz at 9:16 AM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: Get there and be waiting outside the turnstile between 8:30-8:45. When they let you in, haul ass to Peter Pan and ride that. If you want to ride Alice in Wonderland or the Storybook Canal boats, do that next. Head over to Space Mountain and get your fastpasses. While you're waiting for your ride time, go to Toontown if your kids want to meet Mickey. If you want to ride Roger Rabbit, you can get a fastpass for that before the time on the Space Mountain pass says you can. Ride Space Mountain. After that you're basically going to be getting near lunch, and can just see how you feel and maybe go watch a show or parade or something.

But that first hour is mostly the important part.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 9:17 AM on November 9, 2014

I always head for the ride I want to hit most that is the farthest away from the entrance. The majority of people hit the rides at the front of the park first and work their way back so it is usually advantageous to do the opposite.
posted by youdontmakefriendswithsalad at 9:39 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty sure there is no fastpass for Space Mountain

Yes, there is.
posted by cecic at 9:41 AM on November 9, 2014

Yes, there is.

Yeah, you're right. I don't know what I was thinking of. Maybe it didn't always? Or maybe I'm just posting before having enough coffee... Anyway, I stand corrected.
posted by primethyme at 9:48 AM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: Being there on a Monday is great, and this is a good time of year to go.

I was thinking that at first too, but the X factor here is that tomorrow is probably Veteran's Day (Observed) for a lot of folks and school systems. But, I say "probably" because I don't know, because I haven't had Veteran's Day off myself in well over a decade, so it's kind of a toss-up on how busy it will actually be. I would guess it would be much less crowded than on a summer weekend, but more crowded than your general off-season weekday.

I've gone to Disney Land three times on weekdays since 2009, twice in the summer and once in December. The second summer visit was the most crowded of those three, but it still didn't feel as bad as some of the times I went when I was a kid and lines for some rides would stretch way out into auxiliary areas where you just go back and forth for half an hour. Generally, the rides across those visits (mainly the summer ones) that we felt the need to get fastpasses for were Space Mountain, Indiana Jones (may not be able to take the 4-year old on this one either, and it breaks down frequently), and Star Tours on the last visit, since they revamped the movies and destinations. For our December visit, we hardly waited for anything at all. The rides we routinely had to wait any kind of significant time for were Roger Rabbit and some of the "dark rides" in Fantasy Land that don't have fastpasses - Peter Pan and Mr. Toad seemed to be the worst, but we had 20 minute waits for Alice, and maybe Pinnochio and Snow White. Buzz Lightyear had some long waits in our second summer visit, but we'd previously been able to almost just walk right on. Surprisingly to me, we were practically able to just walk on the Pirates, Matterhorn and Haunted House rides, which both always had hour waits when I was a kid.

Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about having the perfect plan in place, since I'd guess you'll be able to do most things that you'll want to. If you get there when it opens, maybe get a feel for how many little kids are there, since if there's a bunch, they'll mostly be headed toward the Fantasy Land rides (note: one of the best Fantasy Land-type rides that's not in Fantasy Land and seems to always have a minimal wait: Winnie the Pooh) to impact the lines there. I think I'd only worry about getting fastpasses for Space Mountain, Roger Rabbit, Star Tours, and Indiana Jones (assuming it's functioning and you actually want to go on it). If you want to just run around and have fun with the kids without worrying about lines at all, maybe just head over to the pirate hideout island during the middle of the day when things are most crowded.
posted by LionIndex at 10:12 AM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: Good news! Tomorrow is not an early admission day for people who are staying at the hotels, so if you get to the front gate about half an hour before you're in good shape. Doing Peter Pan first thing is a good idea. Then do Dumbo. I'd do Fantasyland rides for the first 45 minutes (and maybe send an adult with the tickets as a runner to retrieve fast passes for Space Mountain. The only danger is that if you get a fast pass at, like 9:15 am, it's sometimes for, like 9:25 am.)

Toontown opens one hour after the park opening time, so if you'd like to go to Mickey or Minnie's house go right at 10. (Also, no matter the actual temperature, Toontown becomes a hellscape on the surface of the sun in the afternoon. Avoid.)

The Jungle Cruise and Mark Twain riverboat are closed tomorrow.
posted by purpleclover at 10:16 AM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: If you want to ride Peter Pan do that very early in your day... as in, the first or second ride you go on. It's a ride with a very low capacity and it's also the most popular Fantasyland dark ride... so it can literally have a 45-60 minute wait later on in the day, which is insane. And the line is horribly slow moving and mostly standing out in the sun.

Also, make use of Fastpasses! Most Disneyland tourists still don't understand how they work. It's the easiest way to save time during the day, though. As a general rule, I refuse to stand in regular stand-by lines for any Fastpass ride these days, and I refuse to stand in line any longer than 20-30 minutes for anything. If you use Fastpass, you can pull this off easily.

Here's a really fast primer.

In front of several rides at the park, there are Fastpass machines. (Autopia, Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, Roger Rabbit, Splash Mountain, and Star Tours if I remember right.)

You put in your ticket(s), and you get special little passes.

On the pass it will give you a time to show up again, e.g. 9:30-10:30. When you show up during that time and turn in your pass, you get to cut most of the line... your maximum wait will be in the neighborhood of 10-15 minutes, as opposed to standing in a 60 minute standby line. You must show up by 10:30 though... you can't use it late.

However, as soon as 9:30 rolls around, you're eligible to go get a pass for another ride. So you can stagger picking up tickets with using tickets throughout the day.

I've gone to Disneyland on very busy Saturdays where the longest line I waited in was 15 minutes, and I hit every major attraction (and lots other little fun ones). Fastpass rules if you know how to use it.

Last bit of advice: the park gets at its most crowded between about 1 and 6 in the afternoon. My favorite thing to do that time of day is the Tiki Room, and that's when I do all my shopping and wandering around Main Street and things like that. I'll also do things like wandering in Innoventions, or going to get something to eat, or whatever. I usually don't try to fight the crowds... I do big rides in the morning and the evening.

OK, last last bit of advice: If you buy souvenirs and you don't want to cart them around all day, you can take them to the very front of the park right by the gates where there's a bag check. Ask a cast member to show you where it is. It sure beats having to cart around another bag of stuff all day long.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:54 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the kids are hep to the Pirates of the Caribbean and you'd like a relatively cool, dark peaceful lunch or dinner, see if you can fit into the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square. They recommend reservations, but I've walked up in the off-season and had a table a few hours later.

Personally, my advice would be that in between the big tentpole rides, go for a good-sized helping of the hokey Walt's True Americana type stuff. Like riding the train (dioramas!) and steamboat or canoes, wandering the station, visiting the petting zoo, watching Steamboat Willie in the Main Street Cinema… for all that it's not flashy and branded, it's profoundly weird stuff for kids. At least, it's what stuck with me. I know that's not an actionable timetable, but I think you can find a lot of entertainment by engaging with the bones of the park, as it were. It's a long term payoff.
posted by mumkin at 2:53 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. This is just what I was looking for. Heading out now!
posted by palliser at 7:10 AM on November 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thought I'd summarize our experience, in case others have the same question...

We arrived later than we'd planned because we underestimated rush-hour traffic getting out of LA. (It turns out it is impossible to overestimate rush-hour traffic in LA.) So we pulled into the giant Mickey & Friends parking structure at around 8:30 and faced a big line to get into the structure; then another big line for the tram headed to the park; then another big line for security; then another big line for tickets (which took a full half-hour, kind of astonishingly, and would easily have been avoided by buying tickets online, oops). So we didn't get into the park until 10:30.

We went first to Peter Pan, and the line was estimated at 40 minutes, but I used the time to act as runner and take everyone's park tickets to Space Mountain to get fastpasses. After Peter Pan, we rode Snow White, then headed to Pirates of the Caribbean. While waiting in that line (30 mins), we ate the lunch we brought. At that point, we were eligible for another fastpass, so we picked one up for Splash Mountain. We rode Winnie the Pooh and then headed to the Pirate's Lair island to hang out until our fastpasses started to come due.

Meanwhile, a very kind Disney employee had come upon us looking at our maps and given us what she called a "golden ticket fastpass" that would get us on any ride without waiting, whether it took fastpasses or not. (What can I say, these girls are adorable.)

So then the fastpasses started to work their awesome magic, and we rode Space Mountain while one of the adults and the 4-year-old waited in the line for Small World. We joined them with only a few minutes to go in that line, and then it was time to ride Splash Mountain. We used our golden ticket on the Haunted Mansion (kind of disappointing) and then rode the carousel and walked through Sleeping Beauty's castle to finish the day.

Anyway, I know this is not at all some kind of Disney Pro itinerary, but I thought we did well -- thanks to all of you! -- for doing as little advance planning as we did, plus the time constraints at either end (coming from central LA in the morning and needing to leave by 5pm to get these small kids in bed).

Thanks again!
posted by palliser at 4:12 PM on November 13, 2014

Response by poster: Forgot to add that from my perspective, lines were bad. By 1pm, most were above 40 minutes. At 3pm, the standby line for Space Mountain was an hour and a half. It may have been our perspective as out-of-towners (the Disney employee said it was "not crowded as long as you can see the ground" and are not actually prevented from moving forward), or it may have been that Veteran's Day was the next day. Figuring out the fastpass system was definitely essential for us to have enjoyed the day.
posted by palliser at 4:23 PM on November 13, 2014

By 1pm, most were above 40 minutes. At 3pm, the standby line for Space Mountain was an hour and a half. It may have been our perspective as out-of-towners (the Disney employee said it was "not crowded as long as you can see the ground"

That's not insanely busy, but worse than any time I've gone recently. I thought Pirates was maybe just a ride you didn't have to wait for any more.
posted by LionIndex at 8:15 PM on November 26, 2014

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