Taking Grandkids to Disneyland:
Beating the Disneyland Crowd
Imagine that you are fighting the Disneyland crowd in the summer heat with lots of children with you and one goes missing. Not, just missing, but really, truly gone! Not just around the corner, or over chasing some ducks. No where in sight at all – GONE!!
It’s a parent’s (or grandparent’s) worst nightmare!! Trust me, I know. That happened to us many years ago when we had a family reunion with my husband’s family, and someone thought going to Disneyland with that big of a group was a good idea.
We broke off into pairs of adults and older children to begin scouring the park completely frazzled and in a total panic. There were an awful lot of people there that day! And, little Lisa was only about 4 years old. We had at least a dozen kids with us, but there were also a lot of adults. So, a couple of adults stayed behind with all the kids corralled and sitting in ONE spot. So, we searched and waited. . .and waited. . .and waited. . .
How would we ever find her in this crazy Disneyland crowd?
When it comes to taking kids or grandkids to Disneyland, crowds are one of the biggest factors. Let’s tackle spending a day at the park with kids. . .and yes, even a Disneyland crowd.
The #1 tip I have for beating a big Disneyland crowd, is to skip the very first line. . .THE TICKET LINE! Please don’t wait to buy your tickets at the park. It’s a no brainer to buy your tickets ahead of time and. . .usually at a discount. Our partners at Get Away Today keep us current on every single discount that Disneyland offers. The discounts might be small – maybe enough to buy just a souvenir – or sometimes big enough to buy character dinners for the whole family or even more! So, check out the latest, greatest deals here!
How Big Will that Disneyland Crowd Be When You Go?
You often plan your trip to Disneyland months in advance. So, how can you predict the crowd size on the day YOU will be there? While there is no guarantee, I can give you some advice on how to make an educated guess:
Use a Disneyland crowd index
This is a free app that will help you with planning your day at the park. It shows opening and closing times, current ride wait times, and so on. (More about this later.) So, you can look during the week before your trip to see what you might be in for. As I said before, it’s impossible to tell what it will be like when you actually arrive, but it will give you a good idea about which days of the week are better than others.
Best Days of the Week
Well, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are typically better days as long as they are not holidays. However, many people like to see the fireworks on the weekends. So, you have a choice to make there.
Time of Day
The earlier in the day the better! Disneyland crowds tend to increase as the day goes on and they typically peak around noon. If you want any chance of going on some of the rides in Fantasyland (mainly the Peter Pan ride), you MUST get there first thing in the morning. Those lines don’t seem to go down all day!
Preparing for a Disneyland Crowd
The best way to beat the Disneyland crowds is to know when they will be there and be prepared for them. You know what they say: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Here are some tips for keeping track of the kiddos in large crowds:
Take pictures of each of your kids at the beginning of each day. This is so you know what they are wearing if you need to report a lost child and you have their pic. (When we lost our little Lisa, it was before the days of cell phones and digital photos, and we were all wracking our brains to try to remember just what she was wearing.)
I know some people think this is a bit cliché, but at least do same color of shirts. Let me tell you how helpful it is in locating your kids as you are quickly scanning the crowd to find them!
Have a Plan
Just in case you get separated. Teach the kids to look for a worker. Teach them what they look like and that they are wearing the oval badges. Remember that in Disneyland, kids are never lost – it’s only parents who get lost. So, go to the Main Street office, and your kids can claim you there! 😉
Use the Buddy System – this has worked your whole life! Don’t abandon the good sense now. Have each person keep track of at least one other person in your group.
Write Your Phone # on each childs’s arm – That way, when the workers find your child, they can call you right away and save you minutes or. . .heaven forbid. . .hours of panic. By the way, write the number on their upper arm where it won’t get washed off right away.
(We saw this in action one day as we watched a panicked family frantically looking for their lost 3-year-old. The mom was left behind to watch the other children while the dad and other adult members of their group went in search of the lost little one. When the mom got the call from a Disneyland worker that her child had been found, the relief on her face was priceless. Boy, was that a teary reunion! You know, that’s a situation where it’s hard to tell the difference, in that moment, between anger and total relief. 😊)
Make the Most of a Crowded Day
Get There Early
Get there early, it’s worth it to go early rather than stay late when you have kids with you. By nighttime, the kids are pretty worn out. . .and, my grandma friend, you will be too! Trust me on this one!
Plan Your Arrival
Plan time to get in the park – If you haven’t been to Disneyland lately, you should know that it is going to take you a minimum of 30 minutes to go from your car inside the park gate. On a crowded day, it could take closer to an hour. Plan that into your arrival time.
Taking a Stroller
It’s worth it if you have a little one that just can’t take all the walking. Oh heavens! Sometimes I wish I had one! The small strollers that fold up easily, have a shade component, and have a space under the seat for storage are my favorites.
Tip: To save time, make sure everything in the bottom storage space of the stroller is in a bag. That way, when you get on the trams, you can quickly grab the bag, fold the stroller, and go.
Know that large strollers are now banned at Disneyland. You can find the size requirements here. If you don’t have a stroller that fits the requirements, you can always rent one at the park.
This is one of the most frustrating places to wait in line! But. . .it’s a reality. . .especially in the women’s bathrooms. Because this can take up a lot of precious ride time, we have a rule in our family – if one goes, we all go! This rule came about because on one trip, we seemed to be stopping every 10-15 minutes for someone to go potty. It was a ridiculous time waster! This way, we all make one stop every couple of hours. Of course, there are emergencies when you have little ones, so be patient with the exceptions.
Buying snacks at the park can be time consuming AND expensive. (Trust me! I have a terrible weakness for the popcorn.) So, take snacks that don’t need to stay cold and won’t melt. To save more time and money, you can take meals in also. Just use good sense, and don’t take anything that will spoil. Although is money is not a problem and you’re only looking to save time, consider mobile food ordering (see more about this below).
ALWAYS take water! It doesn’t matter what time of year it is. Waiting in long lines and being on your feet all day, in the heat or not, can really take a toll on you. Water is critical to keeping everyone energetic and healthy. You will find that you get tired and cranky much faster without being hydrated.
One year, we had someone in our party get dehydrated and pass out. It made for a very long day of emergency responders and medical issues. We missed out on going on many rides that day. (On a happy note, we got an unscheduled “tour” of the backlot of Disneyland! You know, lemonade out of lemons.)
This is a critical timing issue. If you’re trying to beat that big Disneyland crowd out of the park at night, leave BEFORE the end of the fireworks show. A lot of people will stay for the fireworks and leave right after. The lines for the parking lot trams get really long at that point.
Rider Switch Pass
If you have little ones that aren’t tall enough to ride some of the rides, you need to understand the Rider Switch Pass (RSP). Take your whole party to the cast member who is working the entrance to the ride, and ask for an RSP. This pass will allow the person who is sitting out with the child who can’t ride to come back through the Fast Pass line with two other people from your group.
Pray for Rain
I know this sounds odd, but rainy days drive the local Disneyland crowds away. If there is any threat of rain, make that a Disney day for sure! Just be prepared with ponchos and dry socks.
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Using the Disneyland App
The Disneyland app is free to download and use. It’s so worth having! Let’s explore some of the benefits of the app:
Add Your Passes
Definitely take advantage of loading up your tickets into the app. That way, if you lose your paper ticket, you will still have a way to get into the park and on rides. You can keep everyone’s ticket in one account on the app. This is another advantage of buying your tickets ahead of time, because you can put them into the app before you go.
The app will give you current wait times for all the rides. This is an awesome feature, but do note that these wait times are not necessarily a guarantee.
This app will tell you where all the bathrooms are – most especially where the CLOSEST bathrooms are.
FastPass & FastPass Reminders
The app will remind you when your FastPasses are available to use. It pops up on the app so you can plan to use them within the next hour. If you want to know more about the FastPass system and how it works, go to the Disneyland website here.
While we’re on the subject, is Max Pass worth the extra money?? The short answer is that if there is a big Disneyland crowd at the park and you have lots of people in your group that can ride the big thrill rides. . .then yes. However, you will have to decide if the extra money will easily fit into your budget or not. Since I share her opinions about the MaxPass, I’ll let Becca from LoveOurCrazyLife tell you all the pros & cons about spending the extra money on the MaxPass
How do you spell time saver?? Mobile ordering is one of the newest features of the app that allows you to order food and choose what time you want it ready. At the chosen time, you just go pick it up! Easy Peasy! You can find food places and see the menus all from the app!
You can find showtimes, parade times, park open & close times, ride closures, food menus and whole lot more!
Extra Batteries/Power Bank & Extra Mobile Data
You will need some extra power for your phone if you’re using the app all day. Make sure you have a way to recharge (there are some charging stations around the park) your phone because it WILL drain your battery! Also, because you will be using your data to keep the app giving you the most current info, make sure you have a mobile data plan that won’t cost you a bunch extra to use the data.
Taking Breaks During a Disneyland Day
I could talk all day about how important it is to take some breaks during the day. It is just as important for us grandparents and it is for the kids. One of our preferred ways to structure the day is to arrive at the park early in the morning – take advantage of the Magic Mornings if possible. Then, we stay and play until the afternoon. During the afternoon hours, we go back to the hotel and either swim or nap. Whatever we decide to do, we get off our feet!
If you decide to stay at the park or just need a break sometime during the day, I’ll share with you some of my favorite relaxing spots. Yes! There are some places that you can kick back and relax for a bit while you recharge your own “batteries.” These are either rides, shows or places for you to sit while the kids play:
- Tiki Room – this attraction is the perfect place to relax. You don’t have to stand in line to wait for the show to begin. You can sit and even grab a Dole Whip while you’re waiting! Yummy!! Once inside (a welcome place to beat the heat), the show lasts for a little over 15 minutes. The show is super cute! And even though they haven’t changed it up in years, I still love it!!
- Disneyland Railroad – Hop aboard a train car and kick back for about 20 – 25 minutes. The time depends on how long the train is stopped at each station. If the Disneyland crowd is really big, expect to wait in line for a bit to get on the train.
*We got super lucky one time and got to ride in the caboose of one of the trains – the Lilly Belle Car!!! It’s a privilege only reserved for the rich, the famous, or the extremely lucky few of us ordinary folk.
- Tree Houses – Tarzan’s or Chip & Dale’s – These are great for finding a place in the shade to relax while the kids climb and play in these awesome little spaces.
- Goofy’s Playhouse
- Donald’s Boat
- Sneak Peak Theaters – Main Street & Tomorrowland – Here is where you can get a sneak peak of the upcoming Disney movies. These usually last about 10 – 15 minutes.
- Tom Sawyer’s Island – This one is a haven for kids to explore and roam to their hearts’ content! Over on the island, you may have to follow them around a bit, but there are plenty of rest places along the way. Be careful, because my Littles get so lost in this adventure that they forget that there is a whole other park to explore.
- Rivers of America Boats – There has been a lot of renovation lately, so it’s hit and miss as to whether or not they are running. But either the Mark Twain or the Columbia offer a bit of a respite from walking around and standing in line as you tour the Rivers of America.
- Parades – You can always be the one who volunteers to save spots for the next 2 hours for the upcoming parade. 😉
- Hyperion Theater – It doesn’t matter what show is at the Hyperion Theater, it’s a great production! You should get in line about 30 minutes early, but the line doesn’t move until the theater doors open. So, you can sit down and take a break right there in line. Once inside, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. And, since the production is usually about 45 minutes long, you can take a short snooze (like our Papa does – ha ha!) or just relax and enjoy the show! Tip: This is a great place to take your lunch and eat while sitting in line.
- Disney Playhouse – This nifty little attraction was just MADE for the grandparents/parents to relax while the kids wear themselves out! The characters change to keep up with what is popular with the kiddos, but the show features all their favorites from the Disney Jr. Channel. The kids get to play with bubbles, dance and interact with the oversized puppets for a good 20 minutes. (My Littles were absolutely “star struck” the first time they saw this show. It was so funny!)
- The Animation Studio – There are several things to do inside this awesome building! You can talk to Crush (the sea turtle from Finding Nemo), learn to draw your favorite Disney Character visit Anna & Elsa, or just sit in the middle of the main gallery and enjoy several screens playing scenes from all your Disney favorites. BUT. . .do NOT miss the best part! Venture downstairs to the Sorcerer’s Workshop and my favorite – the Beast’s Library – where you can discover which Disney character you are most like!
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail – This playground will outshine any park playground that you have ever been to! You can find a nice spot to chillax in the shade and let the kids run from thing to thing – climbing, swinging, balancing, and running around in a safe environment. There’s even a zip line for older kids that they absolutely love!! Don’t worry, Grandma, it’s super safe!
Take a Complete Break from the Disneyland Crowd
One of my best tips for resting and keeping yourself refreshed is to take the middle day off. What do I mean? If you are going for 3, 4 or 5 days, you are going to have a hard time even wanting to go back on the last couple of days. Take a rest day in the middle of your Disney days and take a break from that Disneyland crowd.
We often will do a 5-day vacation. We spend the first two days at Disney and explore other Southern California adventures on Day 3. As long as it isn’t too much on our feet, we are ready for Day 4 (which is usually our last Disney day.) After that, we often like one last day to relax before we have to head home.
It’s All About the Attitude
Hopefully, these tips will give you a few ideas for making your day at Disneyland a bit more enjoyable. If you want more tips for planning your trip to Disneyland, we got them for you here. The bottom line is that if you have a bad attitude about the day and the Disneyland crowds, you’re going to be miserable. However, if you go into it expecting to wait in lines and deal with the crowds, you’ll be just fine!
Remember: This is the happiest place on Earth!! 😉
Oh, before I forget, you may want to know what happened to our little Lisa. We were so grateful that she had been taught to look for a worker if she ever got lost. She did just that, and we were able to be reunited with her just over an hour later. Needless to say, there were a lot of tears and lots of hugs.
And. . .nobody let her out of their sight for the rest of the day!
Cookies & Milk for Everyone!