Disneyland insiders know that making the most of your first two hours at Disneyland Parks is crucial. This is not a time to catch up on your beauty sleep because the early bird catches the worm…or the coveted FastPass, in this case! Getting to the Park at “rope drop” and having a plan for your first two hours at Disneyland can mean the difference between walking on rides without a wait first thing in the morning or standing in queue for 90 minutes in mid-afternoon…which do you prefer?
Here are my top tips on making the most of the first two hours at Disneyland!
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1. Get Familiar with the Lay of the Lands
If this is your first Disneyland visit, make sure you know your way around a bit before your trip. Study the Park map ahead of time so you aren’t wasting time on Park day wandering around. You can check out the Disneyland website before your trip to view the Park maps.
2. Choose Wisely
Making the most of your first two hours also depends upon the time of year you are visiting. During holidays and weekends, crowds are naturally heavier. Weekdays, particularly Tuesday and Wednesday in the “off-season” are your best bet for lighter crowds.
3. Plan of Attack
If you only have one day at Disneyland, then make sure you are making the most of the first two hours. If you have more than one day, I’d recommend taking one of your vacation days to follow this plan.
This doesn’t mean you should sleep until noon on the other days though. I still always recommend that you arrive at rope drop because crowds are considerably lighter in the mornings and you’ll be able to see and do so much more.
Before you step inside the gates, I recommend coming up with your morning schedule. First off, which direction are you going to go?
With younger kids, I’d start in Fantasyland. Hit Peter Pan first (because there is no FastPass for this ride and waits are easily 45+ minutes the rest of the day) and then Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. The rest of the rides in this area should have minimal wait and you can usually complete everything in about an hour.
With older kids or adults only, decide which direction to go inside each Park…turn right for Tomorrowland or left for Adventureland, New Orleans Square and Critter Country. At Disney’s California Adventure Park, first stop should be Cars Land and then either to Hollywood Land or the Paradise Pier area.
4. FastPass is Your Friend
First thing in the morning, lines are already at a minimum. But with each minute that the Park is open, crowds are filling in and what could be a walk-on attraction at first can quickly have a wait. I recommend grabbing a FastPass for highly coveted attractions first and then riding other things in that area before returning to redeem your FastPass. Here are several ideas:
- Grab FastPasses for Space Mountain and then go on Star Tours: The Adventure Continues and the rest of the rides in the Tomorrowland area.
- Or hit Adventureland by getting your FastPasses for Indiana Jones Adventure, riding The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and maybe even Splash Mountain and the Haunted Mansion before returning to redeem your FastPass.
Save even more time by purchasing MaxPass. This allows you to “book” your FastPass reservations from your mobile device. You won’t have to physical walk to the ride to schedule the FastPass, you can do it from your smartphone. I was even able to schedule FastPass when I was waiting in queue for another ride – so convenient and what a time saver!
You’ll be using your Park tickets to redeem FastPass – Keep your Park tickets close at hand inside a coin purse on a lanyard, like these: Mickey and Minnie Mouse Lanyards with Detachable Coin Purse
- Over at Disney’s California Adventure Park, your first stop of the day should be to grab a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers (the FastPass machine is located near the entrance to bug’s land). You can probably just follow the crowd! If crowds are light, you might be able to just hop on that ride immediately instead!
- Head over to California Screamin’ and get your FastPass there. Then get in queue for Toy Story Mania, take a spin on Mickey’s Fun Wheel and return back to the coaster to redeem your FastPass.
- My older kids like Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout so we’ll often pick up that FastPass first and then head over to bug’s land for a few rides with their little sister.
Stay Onsite and Enjoy an Extra Magic Hour
Registered Disneyland Resort guests are treated to early entry for each day of their stay. It is recommended to arrive one hour and 15 minutes before Park opening. The schedule is as follows:
- Disneyland Park: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
- Disney California Adventure Park (including access to Cars Land): Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays
Guests with a valid 3+ day Park ticket (purchased ahead of their visit) can enter Disneyland one hour before official gate opening on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. This is a great way to beat the crowds and enjoy select attractions even earlier. It is recommended to arrive one hour and 15 minutes before Park opening.
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Though breakfast at the Carnation Cafe is just lovely and Breakfast with Minnie & Friends at the Plaza Inn is Character dining perfection, if you are trying to maximize those first two hours in the Park, stopping for a lengthy breakfast isn’t the best idea.
I recommend that you grab your breakfast to-go outside the Park and eat it while you wait for the gates to open. The Earl of Sandwich and Jamba Juice are two great breakfast locations in the Downtown Disney District that are open before the Park gates. Grab a breakfast sandwich or a smoothie and nibble while you wait at the Park entrance.
We have also brought granola bars and fruit for our first meal and eat those at the gates and then fill up later with an early lunch.
Arrive for “Rope Drop”
Stroll up to the gates at Park opening time and you’ll see lots of people lined up already waiting to get inside. But arrive at least 30 minutes prior to Park opening and be one of the first allowed entry to Main Street U.S.A. Shops and some dining spots are open and you can visit City Hall, if need be (we always have to visit and pick up a DAS card on our first day).
At the end of Main Street U.S.A. you can line up with other guests to await the official “rope drop” or opening of the Park. What a great way to beat the crowds!
Meet n’ Greets
If you want to guarantee photos and autographs with lots of Characters (without the extra expense of Character dining), then the first few hours of Park opening are the perfect opportunity.
As soon as the gates are opened, you’ll see several Characters hanging out in front of the brick wall. Pass through the tunnels and the Fab 5 are usually posted around the main hub, along with other favorites. On one visit we were able to Meet n’ Greet with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Pinocchio and the Mad Hatter within about 30 minutes.
In order to move things swiftly, have your camera ready and autograph book open with the pen prepped. You can also hand your camera over to the PhotoPass photographer if you’d like them to take a shot with your own camera.
Now Is Not the Time To…
Any other day I’d recommend you take your time and enjoy Main Street U.S.A. However if you are trying to maximize those first two hours, these are the things you should not do.
- Don’t buy your tickets that morning. ALWAYS pre-purchase your Park tickets, have them in hand and avoid waiting in line at the ticket booth.
- Don’t stop to shop. In fact, I recommend doing all or most of your souvenir shopping on an “off-day” and visit Downtown Disney District instead.
- Don’t stop at City Hall. Grab your “celebratory button” like those for birthdays or first visits after a few hours or get them on a day when you aren’t trying to maximize time. We always have to visit City Hall to pick up a DAS card on our first day but this can easily take 30 minutes waiting in line and processing.
- Don’t stop for pictures. The exception being is if you have a clear shot of Sleeping Beauty Castle and can pose your family quickly in front of it. In that case, you should always get the photo!
- Don’t get in line at Starbucks. Seriously, this line will be a mile long in the morning. Grab your coffee at the hotel or at Downtown Disney District and bring it with you to save yourself the time in line at the Main St. Starbucks.
- Don’t look at the Main Street windows. But most definitely come back this way later in the day to check them out, they are wonderful!
- Don’t take the train. Though this is one of my favorite ways to start a Disneyland day (by taking the Grand Circle Tour) this isn’t how you should spend your first 30 minutes if you are maximizing your time. You’ll be better off on foot.
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Lesser Known Disney Tips Loop:
- 1st Stop – Saving Up for Disney | Disneyland Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours in the Park
- 2nd Stop – Magical Memories with the Mouse | With Package Pick-Up & Shipping, Disney Makes It Easy to Get That Perfect Souvenir Home
- 3rd Stop – Dad for Disney | Top Walt Disney World Transportation Shortcuts
- 4th Stop – Family Travel Escapades | Five Benefits of Staying in Magic Kingdom After Closing
What is your favorite way to spend the first two hours at Disneyland? Share with me in the comments!