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Disneyland Touring Plan

Here are some ideas for avoiding crowds and squeezing in the most attractions

Photo of Disneyland's beautiful Matterhorn mountain framed by colorful flowers Have you ever wondered just HOW you might make the most of a busy day at Disneyland? How you can manage to be where the crowds are NOT...and ride the most rides/see the most attractions possible?

I was recently asked this question by a reader who will be making a first visit to Disneyland Park soon. Since the answers I gave her could apply to other would-be Disneyland visitors as well, I decided to paraphrase my reply for you here on this page.

We'll talk about what you can to to maximize your time at Disneyland. Make no mistake---you DO need to plan ahead, ESPECIALLY if you plan to visit Disneyland theme park during the summer busy-season or during a heavy holiday period (such as Christmas or Easter/Spring Break.) If you don't plan ahead, making a trip to Disneyland could seem to you like one of the UN-fun places on Planet Earth...instead of one of the world's greatest delights (which it can be!)

On this page, we'll talk about touring strategies for families without small children. This means, you won't need to head to the rides in Fantasyland or Mickey's Toon town. Families who have young kids will use entirely different Disneyland touring strategies than those who don't. So, for this page, let's assume that you DO want to experience the roller coasters, and that you DON'T want to go on the kiddie rides.

Disneyland Touring Plan -- First Step: Study the Disneyland Attractions

It's hard to believe that in this day and age---with busy Disneyland Parks not only in North America, but in Europe and Asia, as well---that some people still show up at the park unprepared for their day ahead. Even first-time visitors need to know IN ADVANCE just WHAT rides and attractions are available, and WHICH ONES they're interested in seeing. Not to have these things in mind before you get to the park is just inviting disaster---wasted time from standing in lines that could have been avoided; wasted money from not getting to see everything you wanted to experience.

THE FIRST STEP towards having a good experience at Disneyland is to know what you want to see ahead of time. If you've never been to Disneyland (or if it's been a long time since you were there), this means that you should familiarize yourself with all the attractions. But, even if you've been to Disneyland before, you still need to think through what you'd like to see best...and also learn what the other members of your group want to see first-and-foremost, as well. Get any differences of opinion ironed out ahead of time. Be ready to head to the first attraction of the day when you arrive at the park...and then you won't waste precious time standing around discussing your plan once you're at the park.

Disneyland Touring Plan -- 2nd Step: Get into the park early

Any Disney touring plan that you'll read on-line or at the bookstore will tell you the same advice: GET TO THE PARK EARLY! The number one thing you can do to make sure to see your favorite rides and attractions is to get to the park when it opens, if not head of time! Sounds simple, right? But, it's a very basic point that many people choose to ignore. Because, if EVERYBODY got to the park when it opened, you wouldn't have any advantage, right? But, instead, people trickle into the park steadily for the first several hours of the the early-arriving guests a definite advantage over those who arrive only an hour or two later.

Simply put, the lines for popular rides are shorter during the first hour or two during the day than at any other time. BE THERE to take advantage of this!

Now, arriving early at the park means "be ready to ENTER the park" when it opens...not "be waiting in line to buy a ticket when it opens."

No, you'll need to already have your tickets in-hand when the park opens in order to make the most of your day. Buy your tickets in advance, if at all humanly possible. Get them on-line. Purchase them at your local Disney store. Or, another fun idea is to visit Downtown Disney the night before your trip to the theme park. Stroll around Downtown Disney looking at all the shops. Get dinner or a snack. And, head to the Disneyland ticket booths. You won't find a crowd in the evening!

Disneyland Touring Plan -- Step 3: Make a decision about Space Mountain

Photo of Disneyland's Space Mountain ride at night You should know ahead of time which rides have the worst lines...and which rides don't. Simply put, once you've entered the park as early as possible, you only have an hour or two before the lines become terrible. Don't waste these moments waiting for a ride that will be easy to get on later; head first to the rides with the worst lines.

The number one choice for families with older kids and adults to make is whether or not to head to Space Mountain first. That's because Space Mountain is the number one longest line in Disneyland Park. The line at Space Mountain starts to get long from the moment the first visitors arrive in the park, and stays long until the park closes. The line at Space Mountain stays long all throughout the busy summer season...but unlike other rides, STAYS long all throughout the winter, as well. Where do all these people come from? Who knows...but what it means for YOU is that if you want to visit Space Mountain, you'll pay a price time-wise.

If visiting Space Mountain is a "gotta-see" on your list, head there first. You simply won't be happy unless you do. See Space Mountain as quickly as possible. Also, while you're not too far away, ride the Matterhorn roller coaster before the line builds, as well as the Autopia miniature freeway. The other attractions in the Tomorrowland area have lines that are manageable, and can be saved until the afternoon.

Disneyland Touring Plan: Step 4: Head to the LEFT side of the park early in the day

Photo: New Orleans Square has light morning crowds, even on a busy summer day at Disneyland If your group will genuinely be happy without riding Space Mountain, then you're really lucky! You'll be able to see quite a number of popular rides during the morning while the crowds are elsewhere. The left side of the park fills up more slowly than the right side of the park, at least in my experience. In the photo to your left, you can see New Orleans Square about 1/2 hour after opening time on a busy August 2006 day. Where are the people? They haven't arrived yet! This plaza will be busy in a few hours...but it isn't busy yet early in the morning.

When my grandkids and I visited in August 2006, I made sure we rode the train to New Orleans Square rather than walk. When I go to Disneyland by myself, I can leave any time I want. With the grandkids along, I knew I'd have to physically last the entire day---and leaving wasn't an option.

If you're in my same situation (scared that you'll wear out before you've seen everything), DO take extra measures to protect your feet from tiring out. Riding the train instead of walking is one of those things that can help to keep your feet fresh...something you'll really appreciate later in the day!

Photo: Lines for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride get thick by afternoon, but aren't bad in the morning Ever since the Pirates of the Caribbean ride added the animatronic character of Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp in the "Pirates" movies), the line has been longer for this attraction! So, you'll want to catch the Pirates of the Carribean ride early in the day. If you head here first thing in the morning, you can literally walk right onto it. This past August, the grandkids and I rode "Pirates" several times in a row with no wait. When I took this photo of the Pirates of the Caribbean line (to your right), the crowd was starting to head towards the attraction...but the line still wasn't bad. I took this photo on our 3rd time through, about 1 hour after park opening time.

Photo of a snake-themed sculpted pillar at Disneyland's Indiana Jones ride After having our fill at Pirates of the Caribbean, the grandkids and I headed to the Indiana Jones ride in Adventureland...which isn't far from the Pirates ride. Yes, there was already a line; no, it wasn't too bad. The line LOOKED bad, but that's only because the workers were having the line wait outside the "temple" structure. The interior of the temple can hold hundreds of people; the line at Indiana Jones can disappear any time they want it to. About an hour after park opening time, it took us about 1/2 hour to get through the line, onto the attraction, and off again.

Photo of animatronic elephant bathing in the waters of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride Next, we hopped onto the Jungle Cruise ride because there was still virtually no line even after Disneyland had been open for 1 1/2 hours. The Jungle Cruise has some new additions you'll want to check out if you haven't been on this ride since it was re-done for the Disneyland 50th Anniversary Celebration.

I knew that by taking the Jungle Cruise at this point, lines could be building up at other rides. I might be sorry later. Still, I couldn't resist the prospect of walking right onto the ride after only a 5 minute wait.

Photo of Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain ride Next, we headed to Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland. I hate waiting in lines later in the day at Big Thunder Mountain; the waiting queue is unshaded. In the morning, we waltzed right onto the ride after only a 5 to 10 minute wait.

After leaving the Big Thunder Mountain ride, we headed towards Critter Country, stopping at the Haunted Mansion along the way. Crowds were only beginning to arrive at the Haunted Mansion, and so our wait was short. For guests visiting Disneyland Park during the months of October, November and December, waiting times will be longer at the Haunted Mansion than at other times of the year. Why so?Because the seasonal "Nightmare Before Christmas" decorations are up at the Haunted Mansion during the last 3 months of the year. So, during these months, make getting into the Haunted Mansion a priority for the morning time. During the rest of the year, lines at the Haunted Mansion usually diminish during the evening hours.

Photo showing uncrowded single rider's line at Disneyland Park's Splash Mountain log flume ride Next, we headed to Splash Mountain. The line at Splash Mountain is ALWAYS a big problem. In my opinion, the lines at Splash Mountain are the 2nd longest in the park...only Space Mountain's lines are longer.

The good thing about Splash Mountain, however, is that it offers a "single rider" option. Our group generally splits up and rides separately from one another as single riders. We save oodles of time by doing this. However, if you don't want to split up your group, change your touring plan and head to Splash Mountain earlier than we did. By the time we arrived, the park had been open for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, the line was an hour long...and even the fast pass ticketing machines had a 10 minute-long line waiting for them! (Note: Splash Mountain fast passes DO run out by afternoon on a busy day!)

In the photo to your right, you can see the difference between the two lines. The "regular" line is stuffed with visitors. The single rider line (to the right side of the photo) is empty.

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