I am here to attest that, even over the holidays which is known for being the busiest time of year at Disney parks, you can still accomplish everything on your to-do list. I recently spent a day at the parks over the holidays and only had from park open at 8am until about 2pm to play around before my flight back home. In that 6 hour time span I was able to ride eleven rides at Disneyland, and four rides at DCA. Plus I also spent a lot of time snacking and relaxing.
In this article I will give you an explanation and timeline of everything I did at Disneyland in six hours over the holidays. I walk you through my entire day and explain my thought processes so that you can recreate my plans for yourself. And then you can also visit Disneyland like a true expert too!
How to Make Your Disneyland Day A Success
Before I give you all of the details of my timeline on this particular day and walk you through my thought processes, there are a few caveats to mention.
1. Arrive Early
In order to have the success that I had on this Disney day it is imperative that you arrive early. As early as possible. Preferably aim to arrive to the park gates no later than 30 mins before park open. So if you’re driving in, it’s best to be parking your car at least one hour before park open. The importance of arriving early can not be understated – you will see this in my timeline shortly. You can also check out this article for more details about Rope Drop, how to plan your day, and why arriving before park open is so great.
2. Be Flexible
As you can see in my timeline below, being flexible is extremely valuable at any Disney park. Sometimes rides will be down right when your about to get on. Or maybe you can’t find a FastPass for the time you want for a certain ride. Being open to being flexible will not only make your day much more enjoyable, it will also make you more successful in the parks.
3. Fast Passes – You NEED Them
Using the Fast Pass system to its fullest is the best way to get an advantage over others while at a Disney park. The reality is that the average guest is not too familiar with Fast Passes or using MaxPass on their phone. With my tips you can feel comfortable doing so and be able to reap the rewards. In addition, if you can swing the $15.00 per person upcharge per day, MaxPass is EXTREMELY worth it, in my opinion.
MaxPass enabled me to get at least two or three more Fast Passes that I most likely would not have gotten if I was using just the regular Fast Pass machines. And it also saved me time walking back and forth all over the park collecting tickets from the Fast Pass machines. Because I could do it all from my phone! Stay tuned to the blog as I have a MaxPass article in the works to explain all of the information and tips in more detail.
My Timeline and Experience – Everything I Did at Disneyland on a Sunday (Over the Holidays)
7:10am – Arrived at Mickey and Friends Parking Garage
I then used the walking path to Downtown Disney from the garage, but you could also take the free tram instead. This time I chose to take the walking path because I wanted to try it out since it was new, but also because I wanted to stop by Starbucks on the way into the park. The walking path will dump you out right in front of that Starbucks on the west side of Downtown Disney.
To save time, I mobile ordered my drink from the Starbucks app on my phone when I started my walk on the walking path. However, I did not anticipate the wait at bag check at Downtown Disney (the no bag line was not open yet!). Next time I would wait to mobile order until a few minutes into my walk so my drink isn’t sitting so long. Although I always order cold coffee so it doesn’t matter too much to me, but it may to you.
Once I got through security I walked into Starbucks, which is straight ahead from the parking garage walking path security. I grabbed my drink in less than a minute. The parking garage walking path drops you off right by the Disneyland Monorail (it’s across from the Starbucks).
So depending on when you arrive and what your plan is for the day, it may also be beneficial to wait for the first monorail into the park. The monorail is about a 7 minute ride from Downtown Disney to Tomorrowland though. So depending on your plan you may be able to walk faster to your first ride from already within the park.
7:39am – In Line to Scan Ticket to Enter Disneyland
I was cutting it really close here to be on time for an 8:00am Rope Drop. I would usually recommend getting to the ticket line at least 30 minutes before Rope Drop, the earlier the better. BUT, to save time and get in quickly, I usually have success using this expert tip… Look for the lines behind the trees.
There are a few fairly large planters with medium sized trees interspersed in front of the Disneyland park gates. Because of the planters locations, it always makes for a shorter line for the ticket scanners located in front of the trees. This particular day, I found a line in front of one of the planters that was half the length of most of the other regular lines.
If you dont think getting in front of the planter is an option, at least get in one of the lines right by the planter. This is because people in those lines, as they get closer, will realize they can also go in front of the planter. Meaning even the lines nearby the planters will move faster in general.
7:45am – Into the park and selecting first MaxPass (for Space Mountain)
The secret planter line trick worked like a charm, and I was in the park about five minutes after I got in line at the front gate. As soon as I got inside, I took a quick obligatory photo of the Disneyland train station at the entrance, of course! And then I pulled over to the side to set up MaxPass for the day. I purchased MaxPass from the Disneyland App and selected my first FastPass right away. Yes, you can book FastPasses from your phone via MaxPass even before official park opening time. This is a great advantage of MaxPass!
My MaxPass Thought Process – Crucial to Everything I do at Disneyland
I chose to get a MaxPass for Space Mountain because I knew I would still be able to get another FastPass quickly. Typically with MaxPass when booking a popular ride like Space Mountain, if you’re booking it anytime after an hour or two past opening time, you will most likely be required to wait 90 minutes minimum until you can get your next FastPass. 90 minutes is just way too long to wait for another FastPass when you’re trying to conserve time. So it’s best to avoid those 90 min waits. Which you can do by booking FastPass reservations for the popular rides very early in the morning. At 7:45am I booked a FastPass for Space Mountain with a use time from 8:45am-9:45am. So I could get my next FastPass as early as 8:45am.
I secured this FastPass for Space Mountain as I was walking to the Rope Drop area with my goal of heading to Matterhorn first. When I arrived at the hub in front of the castle, I was about 5 people back from the rope. As soon as it hit 8:00am and the announcement came on the loudspeakers declaring the park officially open, I took off speed walking (NOT running, of course, hahaha) for the Matterhorn. Because I was alone and I am a fast walker, I made pretty good time.
8:00am – The Park Officially Opens and The Fun Begins!
- 8:01am – Rode Matterhorn via standby line (was a walk on)
- 8:10am – Rode Alice in Wonderland (was about a 5 min wait)
- 8:23am – Rode Mad Tea Party (was a walk on)
- 8:30am – Rode Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (was less than 5 min wait)
- 8:37am – Bathroom break on the way to Big Thunder Mountain
- 8:45am – Reserved next FastPass for Haunted Mansion Holiday (for a return time of 8:45am-9:45am)
- 8:45am – In line to ride Big Thunder Mountain via standby (was a little less than 20 min wait)
- 9:15am – Rode Haunted Mansion Holiday via FastPass
- 9:15am – Reserved next FastPass for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (for a return time of 9:15am-10:15am)
- 9:35am – Picked up Mobile Order from Jolly Holiday and spent about 5 minutes sitting and eating my bacon and cheese croissant
- 9:45am – Bathroom break on the way to Space Mountain
- 9:45am – Reserved next FastPass for Matterhorn (with return time from 10:15am-11:15am)
- 9:55am – Rode Space Mountain via FastPass (used the 15 min grace period on my FastPass)
Two Hours into Park Open and Crowds Start to Thicken…
- 10:10am – Walked over to ride Buzz Lightyear but saw it was temporarily down. Because of this I was issued an anytime/anywhere FastPass (with the exception of Peter Pan/Space Mountain/or Indiana Jones). So instead I went to ride the Matterhorn with my existing Matterhorn FastPass I had just booked at 9:45am. I wasn’t sure yet if I’d go back to Buzz Lightyear later or use it for something else.
- 10:15am – While waiting in the FastPass line of the Matterhorn I reserved my next FastPass for Guardians of the Galaxy at DCA (for return time of 11:40am-12:40pm, which was my first 90min FastPass wait of the day)
- 10:25am – Rode Small World Holiday with Buzz Lightyear Replacement FastPass
- 10:50am – Rode Pinocchio. I Had planned to ride Snow White before it went down for refurbishment for a few months, but the line was way too long so I chose to ride Pinocchio instead which was less than a 5 min wait.
Crowds Are Really Coming In Now… Perfect Time for a Rest and Lunch
- 11:05am – Mobile Ordered lunch at Hungry Bear (which I chose so I could try their seasonal cold brew coffee – snickerdoodle flavor!) while walking over from Pinnochio.
- 11:15am – Ate my lunch at Hungry Bear and rested at the table for a bit, and then hit up the bathroom. I then decided to Mobile Order some beignets from Mint Julep Bar as dessert.
- 11:45am – Reserved my next FastPass for Incredicoaster (for a 1:00pm-2:00pm return time) while walking to Mint Julep Bar to pick up my order
- 11:50am – Picked up my beignets from Mint Julep Bar and sat on the brick bench by the train station while I ate them
12:00pm – Park Hopped to DCA
- 12:05pm – Perused the gift shops and bought a Mickey baseball cap…because obviously.
- 12:20pm – Rode Guardians of the Galaxy via FastPass
- 12:45pm – Took a break and found a bench to sit on and do some people watching on Pixar Pier. In hindsight this would have been a great time to find more iced coffee or ice cream…
- 1:00pm – Rode Incredicoaster via FastPass
- 1:00pm – Reserved next FastPass for Goofy’s Sky School (for 1:50pm-2:50pm return time)
How To Secure Better Fast Pass Times Using MaxPass on the Disneyland App
Here’s another hot tip: If you’re booking a FastPass via MaxPass on the Disneyland App and you can’t find a time that works for you, keep refreshing and occasionally you can finagle it to a better time. That is what I did in this case. Originally when I opened up the app it was trying to offer me Fast Pass return times after 3:00pm for all rides at DCA, which was not an option for me because I wanted to leave the parks by 3:00pm at the latest.
So instead of admitting defeat, I knew better and I kept refreshing the app and finally a time popped up for Goofy’s Sky School that would work into my plans. To refresh the app you just need to continue to go back to the page in the MaxPass booking step where you select the theme park. You can keep clicking on the same park each time, but the more you switch back and forth from the theme park choice page and the time option page, the more options that will become available.
Now some of this is from people cancelling their existing MaxPass Fast Passes, and some of it is luck with finagling the Disney system. While I was searching I saw several early times pop up for attractions that had already “sold out” for the day like Radiator Springs Racers, for example. It took me about 20 times of refreshing to get the earlier Fast Pass time for Goofy’s Sky School. So it does take some dedication for sure. But it is doable, most of the time.
Finishing Up My Day
- 1:15pm – Bathroom break by Incredicoaster and then a leisurely walk over to Goofy’s Sky School. On my way there I realized there was almost no wait for the Silly Symphony Swings so..
- 1:25pm – Rode Silly Symphony Swings via standby (I only had to wait through one cycle which was a little less than 10 mins-ish but it felt like longer haha).
- 1:40pm – Waited a little bit outside of Goofy’s Sky School until I could scan in for my FastPass using the five min early grace period.
- 1:45pm – Rode Goofy’s Sky School via FastPass
- 2:00pm – Exited the park through the Grand Californian Hotel to visit the lobby and see the Christmas decorations
- 2:20pm – Did some shopping in Downtown Disney at World of Disney and Marceline’s Treats before walking back to the parking garage.
- 3:00pm – Arrived to my car in the parking garage and drove away from Disneyland 🙁
There’s nothing sadder than seeing Disneyland in your rearview mirror. But I can still rest easy knowing that I accomplished everything, and more, that I had planned or wanted to do! Let me know in the comments below, how do you plan your Disneyland days? Do you show up for Rope Drop or use MaxPass?