Can I avoid crowds at Disneyland?
July 26, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I want to take my kids/nieces/nephews to Disneyland, Universal Studios, and other SoCal theme parks. But I hate crowds. I'd like to go on the least crowded days. Given this is summer, is there a big difference in crowdedness if I go on a weekday vs weekend? Or will I just have to suck it up and deal with a huge crowd regardless of what day I go?
posted by b_thinky to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The one universal truth I've found with Disney parks is that EVERYBODY is trying to come when it's not crowded. Therefore, it's ALWAYS crowded.
posted by cosmicbandito at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I went on two extensive theme-park vacations in SoCal, and from my observations, mid-week was the ideal time to visit the parks. Weekends are definitely more crazy, especially in Disneyland (when I was there on a weekend, it was ridiculously crowded).
posted by I_love_the_rain at 2:06 PM on July 26, 2007

You are correct in your assumption that during the Summer, due to the heavy tourism factor, whether or not you go on a weekend or weekday doesn't make nearly the difference it would during most other times of year (I experienced this first hand when I took my family to Disneyland over the kids Spring Break this year on a weekday and the crowds were absolutely horrendous). I suppose you at least won't have to deal with the locals during the weekdays, but at this time of the year I doubt you'd even notice the difference.
posted by The Gooch at 2:09 PM on July 26, 2007

Midweek will be a bit better (i.e., very crowded as opposed to full-on insanely crowded), but yeah, it's crowded no matter what this time of year. Of all the SoCal parks I've been to (on season and off), Knott's Berry Farm seems to be the one that tends to have the most manageable crowds.

Note: as of April, when I was last at Disneyland (fyi, it was packed on a weekday even at that point), some of the worst lines of the day were for the trams back to the parking structures at the night. They have a new(-ish) system in place that seemed to be suprisingly badly managed, considering that Disney's always made a bit of an art out of crowd control. Hopefully they've made improvements for the summer crush; if not, you may want to allow for the (looong) walk back to the parking structure.
posted by scody at 2:22 PM on July 26, 2007

duh. " the end of the night."
posted by scody at 2:23 PM on July 26, 2007

Our best trip to Disneyland was in the middle of the week in late September.

Any day during the summer, I guess it's Fatty Town for you.
posted by shino-boy at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Depends on how strictly you define "summer". If you can stall until the first or second week in September, most of the schools in the country have started by then, so a large chunk of the populace won't be standing in front of you in line at Pirates of the Caribbean, eating all the ice cream and taking pictures of animatronic alligators that you're trying to see.

But if you've gotta go in August, yeah, you're boned. My only advice at that point is, get there right when the park opens - and by "get there" I mean be in the ticket line at the time the park is supposed to open. At least that way, you have a chance of getting a few things in before the hordes arrive.
posted by pdb at 2:33 PM on July 26, 2007

Best tip I can possibly give you is this :

Claim you've just had knee surgery, and your Dr recommended you didn't visit the park, due to the length of time you'll be standing. Walk with a slight slimp. Kinda slow.

Once you enter the park, head to Guest Services (to the left, just beyond the entrance) and talk to someone at the desk. Tell them your knee surgery dilemma, and that a guard at the front told you to come into Guest Services and someone in there would "assist you". (the idea is to play dumb)

They will give you what is called a Special Assistance Pass. This allows you to go in through the exit point of every line in the park. The longest wait you'll possibly have for any right is about 15 minutes. And, that'd be for rides like Pirates and Haunted Mansion. Be kind to the actual disabled people, by letting them go in front of you. It's not nice to make them wait because of your lie.

At any rate, using this tactic, you won't even notice there are other people at the park cause you'll be on every ride twice.

Oh, and try a weekday if you want, but most kids are out of school during the summer so it doesn't really matter. I used to live across the street from Disneyland for about 2 years. The least busy times of the year are..

- The days before and after Easter
- Super Bowl Sunday
- A rainy day in mid-November
posted by revmitcz at 2:38 PM on July 26, 2007

*longest wait you'll have for any RIDE.
posted by revmitcz at 2:39 PM on July 26, 2007

Late July - late August = peak of peak traffic at Disneyland. These dates are even blacked out of Disney employees with silver passes.
posted by mullingitover at 2:39 PM on July 26, 2007

It's not nice to make them wait because of your lie.

Probably shouldn't lie at all, actually. You can't be that desperate to go to Disneyland, can you? Faking a disability to jump a line's kinda messed up.
posted by pdb at 2:51 PM on July 26, 2007

I've heard great things about going on Thanksgiving. Supposedly, it's very empty.
posted by Eringatang at 2:52 PM on July 26, 2007

revmitcz has got it.

Of course, you could be slightly more ethical if you bring along someone with an actual disability or sort-of-disability.

I went with a blind friend once. There's nothing that would actually prevent him from being able to stand in the godawful long lines, but who am I to complain? Jumping the queue for every ride (for you and your whole party) is awesome.
posted by puddleglum at 3:10 PM on July 26, 2007

Yep, going on Thanksgiving is a blast.

Speaking as someone with chronic pain (knee, hip, back, and foot; take your pick) and who literally limped through Disneyland the last time and stood in line like everyone else (including my sister, who also has chronic pain), I personally think the idea of making up a story about surgery in order to jump the line is pretty contemptible.

There is a legitimate means at Disneyland to jumping into a faster line -- for the really popular rides, they have something called a Fast Pass. They hand them out at each ride for a set period of time, then you're allowed to come back at another set period of time and get in the express line. If the park is really packed, you probably won't be able to get Fast Passes for everything, but you'll at least be able to get a few for the most popular rides with the longest lines (Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, etc.).
posted by scody at 3:22 PM on July 26, 2007

Please don't abuse the special-assistance entrances. I worked at Universal Studios Hollywood for (too many) years. Once, while working at the Backdraft show, I ushered a guest in a wheelchair to the special entrance and said, "Well, at least you don't have to wait in the line on a hot day like today." She replied, "I'd gladly wait in that line if it meant I could walk."

That said, at Universal at least, the weekdays are considerably slower than weekends. Arrive early--in my experience working at and visiting parks, many will open before their posted opening time. Consider buying your tickets in advance, so that when the park opens, you can be in the crowd headed toward a ride instead of still waiting to swipe your credit card.

Finally, Universal has the Front of the Line Pass and the VIP Experience, which offer various benefits (including skipping the general queue) for a premium. I used to give VIP tours (among other things) and, if you can handle the ticket price and you're into film, I still strongly recommend that as a way to make the most of your day.
posted by serialcomma at 3:23 PM on July 26, 2007

Second the Fast Pass - but you can only get a certain number of them, I think. You can't go to every Fast Pass ride the minute you get to the park and get a time to go back to the ride - but for rides you really want to make sure you go on before the crowds go insane, it's the way to go.

Please don't fake a disability.
posted by pdb at 3:24 PM on July 26, 2007

Definitely visit Knott's Berry Farm, and I believe the best period to go would be late afternoon/early evening. During the summer, they're open until around 10, and since it stays light and is also cooler (temperature wise). I think they stay open even later on weekends, but I guess the age of the kids involved would dictate your schedule more than anything. If you can't go late, go as early as possible.
posted by djgh at 3:33 PM on July 26, 2007

Now I know where our wheelchair went. Some jerk took it so they could get ahead of others in line. My wife is totally handicapped and in a wheelchair. A few years ago when she could still navigate with crutches for 25 feet we left the wheelchair outside. When we came back some low-life had taken it. The helpers told us it happens all the time. I can't imagine someone taking advantage like that just to "jump the line." Those that do that will get their "special reward" sometime. Count on it.
posted by JayRwv at 4:25 PM on July 26, 2007

Unless it has changed, you can only have one open Fast Pass at a time. Going on rides late, during the parades, can make things nicer, but really, wait till a Wednesday in November. Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are of my mom calling us both in sick and going to Disneyland. They won't miss out on that much at school.
posted by dame at 4:29 PM on July 26, 2007

Mod note: removed the smelly fatties line from the question, WTF
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:18 PM on July 26, 2007

Unless it has changed, you can only have one open Fast Pass at a time.

There was a time when the Fast Pass systems at Disneyland were on several different networks, such that if you knew exactly how to game the system you would be able to have two or three out at one time without them "seeing" each other. I am pretty sure they have long since plugged that hole. In any case, when you get your fast pass it will also have printed on it the time when you are eligible for another fast pass. I don't know how the system currently works at Disneyland, but at Disney World that time is either two hours from when you got your Fast Pass, or the end time of the Fast Pass, whichever is earlier. For example, just yesterday I was at the Animal Kingdom and around noon got a fast pass for one ride with a return time of about four o'clock. I was also eligible to get another fast pass at about two o'clock, which I did. So, for about two hours I had two different fast passes out, which was perfectly allowable under the system.

So what you want to do is get the fast pass for the busiest ride first, and then check on the ticket to see if maybe you are eligible to draw another fastpass earlier. As long as you understand the system, you can get a surprising amount done on even a very busy day.
posted by Lokheed at 7:03 PM on July 26, 2007

Is there any truth to the rumor I heard a week or two ago that the parks are really open an hour before the announced opening time?

The best day I had at Disneyland (I'm a Washingtonian, not a Californian, so in some ways I never had a bad day there) was sometime during the week after Christmas, 1973. The park was far from empty, but it was in no way crowded. The weather was moderately cold but gorgeously sunny.

We left the next day, and they closed I-5 over the Grapevine behind us because of snow.
posted by lhauser at 7:58 PM on July 26, 2007

The park is open early or late for guests of the official Disneyland hotels.

The best way to estimate the crowds is to use the calendar of available days (.pdf) for Southern California Annual Pass holders. SoCal residents can buy a pass that allows them to use the park when it's less populated. It's Disney's way of filling the park.
posted by 26.2 at 9:34 PM on July 26, 2007

Also, when the park was open an hour early (only on certain weekdays, mind you), ONLY Fantasyland was open for riding. Unless you're foaming at the mouth to ride Matterhorn a bunch of times before everyone else, it's not that big of a deal. When the park is open later, it's usually just Main Street that is open.

I've been told that the week after Christmas is pretty swamped these days (or so my relatives said 2 years ago). The last time I went was in mid-January on weekdays and it was really nice. Weather was in the 70's and I got on every ride after 5-10 minutes, tops. (The rain waited until the day we left to kick in...)
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:26 PM on July 27, 2007

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