Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

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…Wouldn’t you rather maximize your time at Disneyland?

Here are my top Disney insider tips on making the most of the first two hours at Disneyland!

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Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

Parking at Mickey & Friends Parking Garage bright and early ensures a good spot & minimal wait for the tram

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.

Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

A very light crowd in the early morning through Downtown Disney District

2. Choose Your Disneyland Vacation Dates 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.

Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!

Nobody here yet! We arrived 45 minutes before Park opening to wait outside the gates and ensure we’d make it for “rope drop”

Check out my posts about choosing the best Disneyland vacation dates to avoid 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.

Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

Disneyland Morning Itinerary for Little Kids

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). 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.

Disneyland Morning Itinerary for Older Kids & Adults

With older kids or adults only, decide which direction to go inside each Park. Big kids and grown ups will likely want to hit the mountains first, considering these often have the longest queues. At Disneyland, go straight across the bridge into Fantasyland to access the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Turn right at the hub for Tomorrowland (Space Mountain & Star Tours). Or left for Adventureland (Indiana Jones), Frontierland (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) and Critter Country (Splash Mountain).

At Disney’s California Adventure Park, first stop should be Cars Land for Radiator Springs Racers. Then head to Hollywood Land (Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!) or the Paradise Pier area (Toy Story Midway Mania).

Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

Grab that FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers first!

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.

Please note that you can’t get FastPass during Extra Magic Hour but as soon as the Park opens to regular guests, you can grab your first one!

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.
  • 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.

5. Disneyland MaxPass Explained

Save even more time by purchasing MaxPass. This allows you to “book” your FastPass reservations from your mobile device. You won’t have to physically walk to the ride to schedule the FastPass – you can do it from your smartphone. I was even able to schedule FastPass on the MaxPass app 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

Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

Early morning and the wait time for Radiator Springs Racers is low.

6. 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:

Not all rides are open during Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland. Be sure to check with your resort to find out what will be available.

Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

7. Magic Mornings at Disneyland

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 official Park opening.

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8. Eat Breakfast Before You Enter the Gates

Breakfast at the Carnation Cafe is just lovely and Breakfast with Minnie & Friends at the Plaza Inn is Character dining perfection. But 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.

Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

Entering through Sleeping Beauty Castle just after rope drop

9. 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!

Insider Tips -Make the Most of Your First Two Hours at Disneyland

If you want Characters they are out in full force early in the morning and the waits are minimal.

10. 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.

Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!

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. I recommend my affiliate Get Away Today, who offers discounted Disneyland tickets and full vacation packages.
  • 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.

Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!

For more lesser known Disney tips,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Lesser Known Disney Tips Loop:

What is your favorite way to spend the first two hours at Disneyland? Share with me in the comments!

Follow these insider tips for your first two hours at Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure park and maximize your time!


21 replies
  1. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    I always tell my family”You can sleep when we get home”. While others are eating breakfast we are riding the mountains! Best tip is to always arrive at least 20 minutes before rope drop.

  2. elaine massey
    elaine massey says:

    We’ve just been to Disneyland twice, but the extra magic hour was critical for us to get to ride things as they don’t have as much Fast pass ability as Disney World. We loved rushing to Radiator Springs Racers and at Disneyland back to Fantasyland.

  3. Kimberly K
    Kimberly K says:

    I love your list of “don’ts” at the end. When one can get in so many more attractions in those first couple of hours because most of the crowd hasn’t arrived yet, it’s definitely best to maximize one’s time that way.

  4. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Great tips! I’m taking my daughter to Disneyland in May and I haven’t been there in 12 years. I better study the map!

  5. Author John Glass
    Author John Glass says:

    After getting a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers I would immediately gram one for World of Color, and then go grab a third Fastpass somewhere close by like Soarin’ Over California. Though you can only have one Fastpass at a time, Radiator Springs Racers and World of Color do not count towards that total, so you can have Fastpass to Radiator Springs Racers, World of Color, and any third ride all at the same time. Sometimes California Screamin’ Fastpasses are taken off the main network too, so you can get a Fastpass there and have 4 Fastpasses at once!!! It doesn’t hurt to try to get a California Screamin’ Fastpass after you get the other 3. – John Glass (author, 100 Things You Don’t Want to Miss at Disneyland 2016; )

      • Erin B
        Erin B says:

        RSR is actually connected now, though it was disconnected for quite a while. The only ride at DLR that isn’t connected to the system now is (totally randomly) Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. Always grab a FP for that one (same spot as for Star Tours) and avoid even a shorter line!

  6. Erin
    Erin says:

    Gonna disagree with the Starbucks comment a bit. I totally agree with not stopping after rope drop. However, since Starbucks in both parks is before the rope, that’s where we choose to grab our breakfast before they let everyone in!

    • Erin B
      Erin B says:

      We have usually had good luck with Starbucks before rope drop, though we do tend to choose less crowded days for most of our trips. I have never seen such efficiency in a Starbucks before. Our last trip, a few weeks ago, my son decided that he wanted to get a FP for RSR first thing, and we got into DCA about 15 minutes before rope drop. We decided to see how long the lines were at Starbucks and we ended up with just one person in front of us in the left line (there were more in the right line). We were in the crowd with more than 5 minutes to spare and got our FPs with no problem

  7. Erin B
    Erin B says:

    We live just a couple of hours away and are AP holders, so most of our trips are for one day. Therefore, we always aim to be there at rope drop to take full advantage of the lower morning crowds. We never have early access, since we use APs and don’t stay onsite when we do spend the night, but we always make the most of that time. We often stay right across the street from the gate to avoid using transportation at all, but when I do have to park in one of the lots I now head straight for Toy Story. It has been years since we used Mickey and Friends. I find that the shuttles load faster and are more plentiful there, and we nearly always are just walking right onto a bus and heading out. Occasionally we have even had an entire bus to ourselves.

    Before Hyperspace Mountain we almost always headed into DCA first, because Radiator Springs Racers is my seven-year-old’s favorite ride. We would position ourselves to the left side of the rope drop area, grab a FP for RSR, and then walk straight back to Toy Story Midway Mania, which has no FP and tends to get quite a line going. Generally you are only waiting 5-10 minutes at that point, so you are off quickly and can hit Screamin’ while it still has no line. If we are within 5-10 minutes (or beyond) our FP time for RSR, we walk over to grab a FP for Soarin’ before using our one for RSR. We like to have one ready to go if it’s not going to be too much of a time suck to get.

    My best tip for FPs at Disneyland (which has worked every time for us on light to moderate days), not needing to be done first thing in the morning, is to get a FP for the Haunted Mansion before you get in line for Pirates. Every time we have done this we are at most ten minutes out from our FP time for the Mansion and either take a potty break or head right over. Two rides for the line wait of one, even on a day when it’s only a 15 minute wait for Pirates!

  8. Mary
    Mary says:

    These are great tips. As a typical east coast Disney person it can be quite overwhelming understanding how Disneyland works.

  9. Tim
    Tim says:

    As a visitor from the east coast, it was no problem to be up and ready to go by rope drop. We got lots of stuff done in the morning leaving our afternoons free to hang out at the pool.

  10. Sherrie Hart
    Sherrie Hart says:

    I’ve lived in southern California all of my life. Growing up, my mom would take us out of school on Wednesday. We would ride all the kiddy rides during the day. At dinner time dad would meet us at the picnic area. Stuff our extra food in the lockers. And on to the bigger rides. These were the days when they had A, B, C, D and E tickets. I remember being around 12 and riding the cars all by myself. I think that I went around 3 times before getting off the ride. I miss those wonderful memories of going to Disneyland with my family. My birthday is extremely close to Halloween. The year i turned 50, my sister and I went tick-o-treating at Disneyland. We had a blast.
    Thank you Disneyland for All the wonderful memories of a truly magical place.

    • Julie Bigboy
      Julie Bigboy says:

      Sweet memories Sherrie!! I remember tickets as well 🙂 I haven’t gone to the Halloween party at Disneyland yet, it’s definitely on my bucket list! Thank you for sharing.

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