Every year, it seems like Disneyland wait times get longer.
If you want to stand in line 30 minutes or less on average, it takes planning and few tricks and tools. These tips will help you have more fun and spend less time in line. In fact, you could save so much time that you can shorten your stay, which is the best way to cut your Disneyland travel costs.
When to Go for Shortest Wait Times
Right Time of Year: For smaller crowds, plan your trip off-season. To choose the best time to go, with all the information you need about typical park hours, weather, crowds, and seasonal closures read about when to go to Disneyland.
Pick the Right Day of the Week: If you plan to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure, you can save time in line by picking the right day of the week to go to each one.
Early entry is only available on weekdays and only a few days a week in each park. When it happens, lines at popular rides can get long before the official opening time. If you don't have early entry privileges, find out which days each park offers them in the Magic Morning Guide. Then be a contrarian - go to the other one!
Nine More Ways to Shorten the Wait
The tactics that follow will all reduce your waiting time.
Use Ridemax to Create an Optimized Itinerary With Minimum Wait
Ridemax is a software tool that seems almost like magic. In fact, when I use it I sometimes feel like I have a magic wand that makes the crowds disappear.
If you use Ridemax to plan your day ahead of time, it can save you hours of standing in line. During busy times, I won't go to Disneyland without it.
Ridemax costs just a fraction of what you'll pay for your tickets. In fact, by using it, you could shorten your stay by a day or more and still do everything, which can save you a lot of money.
To find out how much time I have saved by using it, check out the Ridemax review.
Take Advantage of FASTPASS to Get to the Front of the Line
Disneyland's solution to long wait times at their most popular rides is called FASTPASS. The best thing about it is that it's free with your ticket purchase.
All you have to do is pick up a FASTPASS at a ride that offers them. Then you can do something else while it saves your place in line. Come back during your time window and get right in.
Quite a few people think a FASTPASS is too much trouble. I think those folks are wrong - or maybe they haven't tried it. By using FASTPASS for just a few of the busiest rides, you could trim hours off your day's waiting time.
The photo above shows how much time you could save on just one ride by using FASTPASS instead of waiting in line.
All the ins and outs, pros and cons - and a step by step how-to - are in the FASTPASS Guide
Use the Single Rider Line to Get On Faster
If you stand in line with your pals, you can be sure that you'll sit together on the ride. That's important for adults riding with children. And some people want to be sure they're sitting next to their screaming pals on Space Mountain so they can scream theirselves silly without feeling like a bozo.
If you're alone or with others who don't mind splitting up, look for Single Rider lines at selected busy rides. Cast members use people from that line to fill single empty seats, and the wait is much shorter.
Rides that have the option are listed on the Disneyland Ride Sheet.
UseYour Mobile Device to Save Time
A good app or two can help you find rides with the shortest waits and a lot more.
To find out which apps work best to manage wait times, see the check out the review of Disneyland iPhone apps.
The official Disneyland app will give you access to mobile ordering that lets you bypass the line for most foods and snacks at Disneyland, including the infamously long Dole Whip line outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Just fill out your order, pay for it and go straight to the pickup window.
Parents, Don't Wait in Line Twice
Here's the problem for two adults with one or more kids: One or more of the kids either don't want to go on a ride, or they can't ride because of height or weight restrictions. But others in your group want to.
The time-consuming solution is to send one adult through the line while the other waits outside with non-riders. Then the other adult gets in line when the first one returns.
Those poor folks double their wait time at every ride. You're a smart visitor, and you know what to do instead. This works for any ride.
To use Rider Switch, go to the attraction and find the Cast Member who is greeting new arrivals. If you have a FASTPASS for the ride, go to the FASTPASS return entrance.
You will divide into two groups: first riders and supervisor(s) who stay with the non-riding kids. Your party can have up to three supervisors, who must be at least 14 years old. First riders will get in line right away.
Cast Members will scan the supervisors’ tickets and they get a return time to use after the first party is done riding. When the supervising adults arrive during their time window, Cast Members will scan their tickets and they can enter the line and board without waiting in the regular queue.
Time Your Day the Smart Way
Plan to get to the parks early enough to be parked, through security and standing outside the entry area at opening time. To do that, you need to arrive at the parking area an hour before the park opens. If you're walking from a nearby hotel, try to be at security at least 20 minutes ahead of time.
If the lines at the gates are already long when you get there - and if it's an early admission Magic Morning day - try this: Look for gates labeled "Magic Morning." Guests who have early admission can use those gates until regular opening time. If you hang out near them, they will turn into regular entrance lines shortly before opening time. Be quick, and you can be one of the first in line.
Strategies to Shorten the Wait Time Inside the Parks
Visit major attractions early or late. Late - after the parade and fireworks - works especially well in summer. Lines tend to be shorter then, after a lot of exhausted visitors have gone home. Don't risk disappointment, though: Toontown and Fantasyland close early on evenings then there are fireworks (for guest safety) - and in California Adventure, Paradise Pier rides close during the World of Color show.
You can stretch your time in the park by a little bit with good timing near closing. If you are standing in any line at the official closing time, you'll get to ride before you leave. Try to get in your last line about 5 minutes before closing and don't be late. If you show up just one minute after closing, you won't get in.
Disneyland: Timing for a Shorter Wait for the Busiest Rides
Peter Pan and Finding Nemo are popular and don't have Fastpass options. Their lines are long all day. Your best chance for a shorter wait is this: Go on a non-early entry day. Use the Disneyland Monorail entrance in Downtown Disney instead of the main entrance, getting there before the park opens so you can get onto the first train.
Get off in Tomorrowland, and you'll be close to the Finding Nemo entrance. After you've found him, head to Peter Pan.
You should also know that this strategy won't work if you're going in at the normal opening time on Magic Morning days.
California Adventure: Timing to Get Shorter Lines for the Busiest Rides
If you want to ride Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure without an interminable wait in the standby line, you need to get your FASTPASS quick.
Go on a non-early entry day. Get to the gate at least 15 minutes before the park opens. When you get inside, go straight to the Fastpass line for Radiator Springs.
After that, go pick up a FASTPASS for World of Color if you want to see it. That FASTPASS machine is near Grizzly River Run.
If you choose to use the Single Rider line at Radiator Springs and find the line closed when you arrive, don't walk away. Instead, hang around for a few minutes to see if it re-opens (which usually happens within 10 to 15 minutes).
Be an Early Bird if You Can't Wait to Get In
Disneyland Resort offers guests a way to get in early. It's called Magic Morning, Early Morning Hours or Early Entry. In some Disney fan forums, you'll see them abbreviated as MM, EMH or EA. Use the wrong phrase at some of those forums, and you may get a snooty response, but it's all basically the same thing - you can get into the park an hour before the rest of the crowds.
This benefit is available to guests of the Disneyland Resort hotels, some Good Neighbor hotels, and with some multi-day tickets. Days vary, and not everything in the park will be open.
I'm not a huge fan of Magic Morning. Get all the reasons why, details about how to use it, along with pros and cons in the Magic Morning Guide.
Magic Morning at Disneyland
If you're staying at the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier, or the Grand Californian, use the Monorail entrance in Downtown Disney. You'll get off just above the line for Finding Nemo. After you've found him, head straight to Peter Pan.
Magic Morning at California Adventure
You can get a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers (and you should), but you can't get one for Toy Story Mania, so I think it's the best place to head first. And while you're in Paradise Pier, you may be able to get on California Screamin' too. Or just go back and shoot some more stuff at Toy Story.
After that, be sure you're back at the Radiator Springs FASTPASS machine about 10 minutes before the park opens so you can get in line before everyone else gets inside.
Don't Believe Everything You Read About How to Shorten Your Wait Time
If you do a lot of research for your Disneyland vacation, you'll find a lot of information. Some of it sounds good but isn't. Some of it is out of date. Some of it is just plain wrong.
One of the worst mistakes people make is to try using an itinerary from a guidebook. That's not a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, you'll find yourself in line with everyone else who read the same book, making the same early morning dash to Indiana Jones.
A more important issue is that wait times vary by season and by day of the week. They're different when annual passholders can get in than when they can't. Things break down and close for maintenance. Any one-size-fits-all approach is bound to be wrong as often as it's right. If you want a touring plan, opt for one that takes some of these variables into account.
When you read tips on forums and other places, check the date to be sure they're recent. You'll see all kinds of things online that may have ended five years ago. Guidebooks are out of date before they get printed.
And ask the person who posted it if they tried it themselves and when.
There are plenty of sources that keep things updated, so why bother with sources that don't?
Don't Wait Everywhere Else, Either
The rides aren't the only place people end up losing time during their Disneyland day. These tips will help you stay out of line in other places:
Don't Stand in Line Outside
Buy your tickets in advance online, and you won't have to stand in line at the ticket booth (with the kids tugging on your sleeve, begging you to hurry up). Find all the options in the Disneyland ticket guide.
Alternate Park Entrances
Smart Disneyland visitors know that you can enter Disneyland through the Monorail entrance in Downtown Disney.
At peak times, this can be a time-saver but beware. While the line outside the gate can be short, it may look different when you get inside the station. If only one monorail is in service, it comes every 10 minutes and can be partially full when it gets there. On a busy day, you may have to wait for one or two to arrive before you get on. It's a 10-minute walk to the main gate from the monorail entrance, which may get you in faster except during the busiest times.
There's also an entrance to California Adventure from the Grand Californian Hotel. Walk through the lobby, past the pool and Napa Rose restaurant to find it.
Eat Out of Sync
Eat lunch before 11 a.m. or after 1 p.m. Restaurants will be less busy. If you've already seen the parade, find an eating place away from the parade route and have your meal while everyone else is watching.
Shops on Disneyland's Main Street and Carthay Circle in California Adventure sometimes open before the rest of the park, and they're not as busy then as they are in the evening.
Disney hotel guests can have their packages delivered to their rooms. If you're staying somewhere else, check your purchases at the booth near the exit gate and pick them up when you're ready to leave. Ask the cast members in any shop for more information.