How We Averaged 13 Rides a Day at Disneyland

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This past Valentine’s Day, Steven surprised me with tickets to Disneyland and California Adventure. All year, we waited for the right time to redeem our tickets, and decided to use them as part of our 2 year anniversary celebration. Seeing that Steven wasn’t really a huge Disney fan as a kid, he hadn’t yet been to the park during the holiday season to see all of the infamous thematic changes they make every year.

From the gorgeous glow of the Christmas lights on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, to the giant tree display in Main Street USA, to The Haunted Mansion themed in a Nightmare Before Christmas get-up, to the holiday version of It’s a Small World, I couldn’t wait to show him what happens when the happiest season of all meets the happiest place on earth.

We visited over Veteran’s Day weekend, flying down to Los Angeles Friday night and enjoying the park Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with our last day being cut short to fly back to San Francisco. On our first two days, we rode rides 13 times, and on our short day, a total of 10 (which easily would have been 13 if we had stayed a few more hours like we usually would.) And whenever I told friends and family our ride stats, they were shocked. A common question I got asked was “How empty was the park?”

Being that we visited the park on a three-day weekend, a national holiday and the very first week of the Christmas theming, I can tell you it was one of the most crowded Disneyland experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Rides were constantly breaking down, it took twice as long as usual to walk through the park through dense crowds of strollers and children, and every line for a ride was incredibly competitive. Some rides would even run out of fast passes for the day in the early afternoon. Needless to say, it was not easy getting our money’s worth ride-wise. But we did it. How you might ask? By taking the following steps that I’ve learned over the years as a Disney kid who loved the park, or realized recently due to technology and trends.

1. Keeping comfortable and practical

There’s no way that anyone is going to accomplish 13 rides in a single day at Disneyland if they are uncomfortable. From wearing clothes and shoes you feel comfortable walking around in, to carrying bags you can easily stow during each ride, to staying hydrated and fed, any way you can make your trip more comfortable and practical will put give you more bang for your entry ticket buck.

No one wants to spend their whole trip to the park sore, frustrated, dehydrated or hangry. It takes away from the experience, and slows you down by causing you to take more sitting breaks than necessary. Whatever comfort is to you, prioritize it when packing for your trip, and while planning out each day at the park. And staying hydrated throughout the day will make you less likely to guzzle down drinks, so you won’t feel the urgent need to “go” when you’re in line for a ride.

2. Coming early; staying late

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It’s no surprise: The longer you stay at the park, the more attractions you’re likely to see, and more rides you’ll be able to go on. For the first two days, we got to the park around 9AM and stayed until 11PM or midnight. We noticed that the lines to enter the park start to get crazy around 9:30 or 10AM. The earlier you get to the park, the fewer people there are. And the later you stay, the more you’ll notice the lines and crowd lighten. Which makes sense, as not everyone wants to wake up at an ungodly hour to catch the 7AM to 8AM Magic Hour, and most people with kids try to leave the park at a reasonable hour at night. But if you decide to go against the grain and take advantage of those early and/or late hours, you will witness astounding 30 minute waits for the park’s most popular rides.

3. Using The Disneyland App

We all know that one of the biggest time savers in the history of the park has been the Fast Pass. It has given those of us who can’t stand the thought of spending 2-3 hours in a line, the ability to cut to the front for the park’s biggest attractions several times a day. It is a miracle being able to eat a churro or watch a parade in the time you’d be leaning against a Tomorrowland rail, playing “Heads-Up” for the 800th time.

But for those of you who haven’t been to the park in a while, I recommend downloading the Disneyland app for your next visit. When you connect your group’s park passes to the app, it gives you the ability to check into the park using barcodes on your phone, and allows you to order fast passes from wherever you are, (pending you’ve at least checked into one of the parks that day.) This saves time and energy of running back and forth all over the park to pick up fast passes.

The app also gives you approximate wait times for each ride, letting you know if it’s worth it or not to walk across the park or over to the next park to line up. Warning: Sometimes there can be a slight lag in their app updating the current wait time.

You can also save yourself time by using the app to order food from various restaurants around the park. They simply charge the credit card you used to purchase your tickets. Believe it or not: Avoiding those pesky lines for food can be a total game-changer.

4. Setting a timer for the next Fast Pass

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After each fast pass you retrieve, you are given a set amount of time you must wait until you can plan the next one, so as not to overcrowd the Fast Pass lines and defeat the purpose of them. But the moment that the next opportunity arises, you are going to want to take advantage of it quickly. Set a timer for yourself as a reminder, or make sure someone in your party is watching the clock diligently. Thanks to the app, you are potentially competing for Fast Passes with everyone at the park at any given time, so a few minutes of lolligagging on your Fast Pass opportunity could be the difference between riding Space Mountain at a 2:30-3:30 window or a 4:40-5:40 window.

5. Knowing Which Lines to Use Fast Pass For

Like everything in life, Disneyland lines aren’t all created equal. Some move along rather quickly and some make you feel like you’ve been standing in the same spot all day. Some have fun visuals and activities to enjoy while you wait (Indiana Jones, Star Tours) and some make you feel like you’re painfully standing at a futuristic version of the DMV (Space Mountain). So if you are having a hard time choosing between fast passes, I encourage you to choose the passes with the lines that are the most painful to stand in, whatever that means to you. For example, I personally wouldn’t use my fast pass on It’s a Small World or Star Tours because I feel that the line for It’s a Small World moves quickly, and I find the line for Star Tours to be entertaining. I’d rather save it for Space Mountain and the Cars ride, as it kills my soul to stand around looking at nothing in those lines.

However, if it’s the same month a movie related to a ride’s franchise has been released, or the ride has been themed for a holiday, you may want to prioritize whatever those are in your Fast Pass selection. Whatever keeps you standing in line playing 21 questions the least amount of time every day.

6. Utilizing Pirates of the Caribbean and small Character rides

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If you are killing time before your next Fast Pass slot, look no further than rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World (when it’s not Christmas season at least) or the small children’s character rides like Snow White’s Scary Adventure or Pinocchio’s Daring Journey.

Boat rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World can fit many parties onto each vessel, and each boat can float closely to one another, (unlike roller coaster cars, which have to maintain a distance from each other due to their speed) making it easy for them to seat guests at a rapid and consistent pace. Even when the lines are long, they move constantly, making them easy to get through. Plus you get the relaxing experience of sitting down on a Disneyland Ride for an extended period of time.

As for the character rides, they’re naturally likely to be less popular than the high-speed adventure rides at the park. And with the exception of Peter Pan’s Flight, the wait times for these rides are pretty short. And with many of them being located right next to each other in the heart of Fantasyland, riding them all in a row can make for a relaxing afternoon.

One of the fastest moving lines in my opinion is Ariel’s Undersea Adventure in California Adventure. I believe it’s due to the conveyor belt design, which can - again - fit a large number of carts and keep them moving at a consistent rate. I think that if it weren’t for The Haunted Mansion’s intro of being lowered down into the ride in groups before loading into the conveyor belt style vessels, that the line would move by at a similarly fast pace. But of course, that intro is so memorable and sets the mood so well, that I would never suggest they actually get rid of it.

7. Using Parades, Light Shows and Fireworks to your Advantage

My last piece of advice would be to plan out which days you’d like to watch parades, light shows and the fireworks display. If your party has a list of events and shows they must see, decide which day you’d like to (or in some cases need to) watch them, so that you can get the best possible spot for viewing, and know what time you need to be done eating or getting out of rides in order to see them.

Why is this piece of advice for these shows on a list about how to maximize the number of rides you can go on in a day? Simple. For every parade, light show or fireworks display that is going on in the park, that’s hundreds or sometimes even thousands of people who are too busy watching them to be in line for rides. If you plan which shows you want to see in advance, you will know exactly which shows and performances you will be able to skip out on. With that knowledge, you can plan to stand in line for rides that will have unusually short wait times, while everyone else is watching the show. Years ago, I went on Splash Mountain 8 times in a row because everyone was too busy watching Fantasmic. And another time, I went on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 6 times in a row while everyone was watching the fireworks display. It’s definitely worth it to take advantage of these showtimes. Just be aware of where the crowds will be when cutting across the park during a show. Swimming against the current at a Disney park can eat up your time immensely, not to mention frustrate you.

This list by no means fits all Disneyland guests’ goals, and I don’t think that everyone necessarily has to follow these rules to optimize their time at the park. If you are not a huge ride person, or like to relax more than maximize your time, there is no judgement here. These are just tricks I’ve learned over the years while visiting the park that can really help you out during what can be a very pricey and stressful vacation. Whether you prioritize the rides, the shows, the food, the character meet and greets or the shopping, Disneyland really can be the happiest place on earth; as long as you focus on doing what you love to do at the park. If you’re a ride person, I hope that this helps you to get your money’s worth on your trip.

I already can’t wait for my next trip to Disney. Hopefully it won’t be too far down the road. Until we meet again!

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