Conquer Disneyland during the holidays
Disneyland is at its absolute best during the holidays. The park is transformed throughout and the feeling is utterly magical. Everybody wants to go to Disneyland during the holidays. But not everyone dares. Here’s the thing, according to cast members (CM) Disneyland was actually designed for the average person to have about 10 park experiences during normal operating hours. With this guide, you can actually hit 18-20 experiences — during the Christmas Holidays. We’ve collected tips from Disneyland Afficianados in our network and tested our guide during the busiest of seasons - the day after they lost power in Disneyland, and we still came out ahead.
Disneyland will open for extended hours from 8AM-12AM (double check it here) to account for greater traffic. If you are planning on staying overnight, you’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck. For day-trippers, you’re out of luck. Your best bet would be to visit Disneyland on a day with the shortest hours of operation.
Be at the security line by 730AM so you have time to walk to the rope drop by 8AM. Hit the feature rides between 8-10AM before the park starts to slow down with increased traffic. Let the kids nap and re-fuel during the park’s busiest times and head back when the crowds start to die down. Pro tip: Bring grandparents to babysit and parents will get extra time back in the park. Keep reading for more tips to make this trip pain free.
What to get in advanced
Get your Disneyland gear ahead of the time. As an example, Minnie ears cost $30 in the park. Here’s what to get:
Bring a portable USB power bank for your phones. Your battery WILL run out and you will be forced to rent a charger for $30/day. I love the Jackery Power Bank recommended by NY times. It has a built in cable and is super compact. We use it for every single trip now!Where to stay
Strollers = speed and capacity. This is key to hitting as many experiences as possible and being able to shuttle all your stuff to/from the hotel/airports. If you prefer not to travel with one, you can rent a single stroller for $15/day. Here are some ideas:
Where to stay
Stay close to the park so you can retreat for naps: Best Western Plus, Park Vue Inn, Anaheim Desert Inn are all 5 mins walk from ticket scan. Hojo has bunk bed suites, a fantastic pool but is a 12 minute away.
Thoughts on Disneyland hotels: We considered it but at $400/night it just wasn’t worth it for us, especially as a party of 5. We paid $270/night at Park Vue Inn for a 2 queen + sleeper sofa in living rooms. That enabled us to leave the kids in the bedroom while the adults hung out in the small living room. It is a really basic motel so don’t expect much frills like you would with Disneyland Hotels. You can also see fireworks from the neighboring hotels so don’t let that stop you. During the holidays, fireworks start at 9:30pm. If you bring grandparents along, you’ll get the chance for “parents night out” when the kids go down.
Considerations for flying in
We flew in so I had to do some research into how to get from John Wayne to our hotel. There are five options: Uber/Lfyt, Bus service, Hotel shuttles, Super Shuttle or Rent a car. A few hotel chains offer airport shuttles but these hotels are not walking distance from Disneyland entrance. Uber and lyft was an option but not the best given we are a party of five. Bus service and super shuttle were both at about $25-35 per person. The bus shuttle timing ran every hour but it almost never coincided with our flight times. I looked into costco car rental a week in advance and rented a full-size at $88 for three days! This also gave us the flexibility of driving out to get supplies and try out neat restaurants. Try to rent from the guys that are IN the terminal like Budget, Enterprise, Hertz. The prices increase as you get closer to the date so do not procrastinate on this. You can always cancel your reservation if things don’t pan out. The most portable booster car seat we have found is the mifold grab and go. Your child must meet all 40”/40lb/4yo requirements.
There are no discounts for tickets unless you’re a Disney employee or an LA resident. The only hack we found is to buy tickets on target.com with Target RedCard to get 5% off. We waited until the day before we left to buy the tickets just in case we had to cancel our trip.
Download the Disneyland app ahead of time and link your tickets. Get familiar with the rides in terms of whether or not it has fast passes and height requirements.
Everyone should take screenshots of their ticket passes on the app so they’re okay if they lose their paper ticket (issued at the gate).
The Disneyland app isn’t actually that easy to use. Make sure you are a pro at switching between attractions > photographers > shows
If you’re in one big group, everyone should log in to the disney app with the same login so that everyone has access to the fast passes.
Have an idea of what your itinerary would look like. Depending on your kids age range, the strategy would differ.
Disneyland restaurants book up in advance, especially for character breakfasts. Start using your app to make reservations ahead of time. We tried to book two months in advance and it was too late. Even better if you can get a restaurant on the parade route.
The cafeteria/walk-in food options in the park are expensive and meh. Some of them decent. The night before we had dinner at Kang Ho-Dong (yummy korean bbq) in Buena Park and walked over to the 85C bakery to stock up on easy to eat food like buns and sandwiches. We also brought apples and odwalla smoothies. You could alternatively make reservations at the decent restaurants in Disneyland. Many of them are in the hotels so they require a further walk.
Make sure you’re armed with snacks, drinks, puzzles or games.
On the day of, do your homework!
Plan to be at the security gates 30 minutes before official opening because you have to go through security check AND ticket scan.
Be at rope drop inside the park at least 10 mins before opening. It’s nice to walk main street and have the cast members welcome you.
Once your tickets are scanned at the entrance immediately buy MaxPass ($10 per day/per person) which enables you to sign up for fastpass from your disneyland app. Book your first fast pass of the day. You want your first pass to be for after 11am since the first two hours in the park is pretty easy going. I would recommend either buzz lightyear or It’s a Small World. Choose the one with long wait lines. Plan to book fast passes in the area that you’ll be exploring. Since Toon Town opens slightly later, it might make sense to focus on fantasyland first, and then stop by small world using fast pass before heading to Toon Town.
Pro tip about maxpass/fastpass: If you don’t like the first time slot given to you, cancel out of it and try again. You’ll get a new time. You keep trying until you get a time slot you like and then you book it. You can cancel your maxpass at anytime so it doesn’t hurt to always have some passes booked on standby.
Don’t buy your maxpass until you show up at the park. If you buy it with your tickets online, they will force you to buy maxpass for every single day. You might only need it for the first day.
If you’re only using maxpass for the free photopass benefits, only one person in the party needs to buy maxpass.
Do your research on how to use rider switch to your maximum benefit. It’s key if there’s one child that won’t be able to ride due to minimum height requirements. This enables parents to be able to enjoy rides and have older siblings be able to go twice! Most rides have rider switch. We didnt take advantage of it until splash mountain when I knew my 5 year old wanted to go twice. With rider switch, the second party doesn’t have to go right away. You have an hour to return for the second ride. That’s a really nice perk! Just make sure you tell the CM at the entrance of the ride.
Personally the wait for Mickey and Minnie were ridiculous given the time we were there (holiday week). We waited 30 mins to spend 30 seconds with them. Might be worth splurging on a character dinner if they’re really into characters. Our kids were not. Seeing the characters in shows and parades were enough. If you plan to do character breakfast, don’t do it on a day where you have tickets. It would be a waste of precious time you should be in the park. Same comment with the princesses. Our 5yo much preferred watching the princesses perform in royal theater over lining up to take a photo with them. Sometimes the less popular princesses (rapunzel) will show up in the courtyard by the royal theatre for photos. Those lines are MUCH shorter and just as fun. Look out for those photo opps on the app.
Prioritize non-fast pass feature rides between 8-11am when the crowds are less. Kids favorites like dumbo, storyland boat rides, submarine, alice in wonderland, tea cups, (These were for our 3 and 5 year old)
Peter Pan is a GREAT ride but a controversial topic in terms of WHEN to go in line. It doesn’t have a fast pass but consistently has a long wait. So to some, it doesn’t matter WHEN you line up. I’d say go for it as your first ride if the line doesnt look long (You can see the line visibly from outside). The Cast Members (CM) at the line are actually great estimators of the time a line takes. The app told us it was a 60 minute wait but CM said it was only 30 mins. We went in line and timed it and it took 33 mins!
Use the app to find out where the characters and photographers are as you walk around. With maxpass, you get unlimited free photopass downloads from the app. Don’t forget to take pictures of codes from the ride cameras in splash and space mountain.
The kids LOVED royal theatre for the shows and mickey’s magical map show. Try to fit that into your schedule. The app will tell you what the times are. We did the 12pm show so we can stop for lunch.
Train rides are a great way to rest our feet and still have an experience. Our boy loved both the monorail and disneyland train. Check the app for wait times, they can get long around 11-1pm when everyone wants to take a break.
Our completion list
Dec 29-30, 2017 Friday and Saturday
Listed in chronological order for two kids: 3 and 5
Day 1 - Friday (18 experiences)
Casey jr circus train
Dumbo the flying elephant
Mad tea party
Buzz Light year Astro blasters*- Fast Pass (FP)
It’s a Small world (holiday) - FP
Gadget’s go coaster
Roger rabbit’s car toon spin - FP
Mickey and Minnie house
Royal theatre (Beauty and the beast, Tangled)
Splash Mountain* (x2) - Emmy only, FP
Characters met in person: Mickey, Minnie, Rapunzel, Flynn, evil queen, Goofy, Pluto, Winnie
Nap: 1:30-4:30pm (If you only have 1 day, skip the naps.)
Christmas tree lighting
Small world holiday lighting
Dreams come true fireworks (adults only in-person)
Day 2 - Saturday (21 experiences)
Finding Nemo submarine voyage*
Storybook Land Canal
Alice in wonderland
Peter Pan’s flight
King Arthur’s Carousel
Royal theatre - Beauty and the Beast
Splash mountain - FP + rider switch
The many adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Holiday Parade (1:00pm)
Disneyland train to toontown station
Mickey’s magical map show (540pm)
Buzz Light year and Astro Blasters - FP (540-640pm)
Monorail to downtown Disney for dinner
Dreams come true fireworks (from hotel patio)
Without kids: Pirates of Caribbean
Without kids: Haunted Mansion Holiday
Without kids: Space Mountain - FP
Without kids: Indiana Jones Adventure - FP
Without kids: Big mountain thunder - FP
Without kids: Fantasmic
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