So you want to go to Disneyland at peak season, huh? Listen, I don’t blame you…sometimes there just isn’t another choice when you look at travel schedules, holidays, and PTO. When we went on December 27, the park hit max capacity by 11am. To give you a point of reference, Disneyland hits max capacity at 85,000 people plus about 10,000 cast members so just about ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE. But there are definitely ways to get the most bang for your buck (and at peak season, that’s a big buck) when visiting the happiest place on earth at the busiest times of year.
The busiest times of year are generally:
- MLK Jr. Day weekend in January
- President’s Day weekend in February
- Late March and early April – spring break and Easter crowds
- Weekends in May – Grad Night takes place these weekends
- Summer through late August – Especially 4th of July
- Thanksgiving week
- Late December through early January
It can easily feel overwhelming, stressful, and like a giant waste of money if you go into these times of year unprepared. It might seem annoying to you to make a pre-meditated Disneyland plan but I promise it is much more annoying to spend your $200 Disney day waiting three hours for each ride, retracing your steps over and over, and not being able to get a single dining reservation. So here are my tips!
- Get Disney Max Pass | I 100% recommend investing in the Disney Max Pass for a day when the crowds are expected to be at their highest. It is $15/ person/ day but we WELL made up that money in time saved. The Max Pass allows you to choose Fastpasses from your phone every 1.5 hours instead of having to go in person to physically print out a Fastpass from the ride location. It works in both Disneyland and California Adventure. So by the time we got in the park and got in line for the Millennium Falcon ride that still has no Fastpass, we secured our Matterhorn Fastpass and were able to hop from ride to ride (with a snack in between each one of course). We probably rode around 7-8 rides which is really good even on a moderately busy day. You also get all of your Photopass and ride photos sent to you for free from the day so that is a fun perk! This Pass made all the difference in the world at a max capacity day.
- Make a Dinner Reservation | If you know that you will be going to the parks even a day in advance, make a reservation! If you watched my video, then you saw that by the time dinner was starting to approach, there was not one SINGLE reservation available on the entire property. Not in Disneyland, California Adventure, or Downtown Disney. Crazy. Disney does have a cancellation policy (each policy can be slightly different for each restaurant) and will charge you a small fee for a no show if you change your mind but I promise that after a long day at a fully maxed out Disneyland, you will be so grateful to have a secured dining reservation!
- Snack Along the Way/ Eat at Weird Hours | When we go to Disneyland, I actually prefer snacking throughout the day opposed to eating a full meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are soooo many treats (you can see some of my favorites here) and I can easily stay full just off of Disney snacks. But if you are going in for a sit down meal, try to plan your day so that you eat your meals at different times than the norm. Eat an early lunch at 11:00am or try to wait until 2:00pm. Grab a late dinner at 8:00pm. You will miss the crazy dining crowd rush and you will also snag some shorter ride wait times while people are eating!
- Plan Your Routes | This one might be for a bit more of an advanced, well-seasoned Disney vacationer but I will break this one down– you don’t need to plan out every step of your day, and I actually recommend that you don’t as you will see in my final tip below, but at least have a general idea of where you want to go, at least for the first half of the day when you have the most life in you. Have your top rides in mind and try to be mindful about hitting the big ones first, hitting a land at a time so that you aren’t retracing your steps over and over on a packed day and also plan to not have to go in and out of the parks too often. On a max capacity day, they will shut down the entrance to Disneyland to allow enough people to exit so they can let more in, but during that down time, the entrance lines can get wayyyy backed up. Just try to be efficient with your steps!
- Manage Your Expectations | Ooo honey. So this is a big one and pretty self-explanatory but don’t go into Disneyland on a major holiday weekend or on Independence Day or New Years Eve thinking you are going to do it all. You are going to be walking slow, standing in lines, taking detours and you just have to go into it knowing that. Thankfully Disneyland is magical even in a queue line, but still, be prepared to be moving at more of an Eeyore pace, not a Tigger pace, ya know?