Skip the lines at Disneyland: 9 line-busting tips for less waiting and more playing
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Whenever casual acquaintances hear how much my family visits Disneyland in Anaheim, California, they invariably ask about how we manage the long lines.
Most are surprised to hear my response: “I don’t do lines at Disneyland.”
How is that possible in a place that is regularly in the news for massive crowds? Sure, the crowds at Disneyland can be crushing. But if you have a smart strategy, it’s 100% possible to dodge most lines.
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To do so, you simply need the right information to construct a smart touring plan. That’s where this guide to skipping Disneyland lines comes in.
Here are all the tools savvy travelers can employ to have much shorter wait times on a Disneyland vacation (yes, even at newer attractions and lands like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Avenger's Campus and even after all the post-pandemic modifications to operations at the parks).
If you are new to Disneyland travel, first read 9 things families should know before visiting Disneyland, and then come back to this guide for more advanced lessons on reducing your Disneyland wait times.
Related: These are the best times to visit Disneyland
Consult a crowd calendar
An easy way to experience shorter lines is to visit Disneyland when everyone else isn’t.
While there used to be days when the parks were relative ghost towns, that is much less often the case now that Disneyland implemented a park reservation system. But even with fewer truly low crowd dates, there are some sweet spots guests with flexible schedules should target.
How do you accurately choose a less crowded Disneyland date? There are a number of sites that publish crowd calendars to help you choose smarter days to visit if you have some flexibility. TouringPlans.com and IsItPacked.com are two of the most reputable and accurate sites.
Of course, many travelers, especially families with kids in school, can’t always choose a lower-crowd day for their Disneyland vacation. That’s still OK — there are many other line avoidance strategies that should be in your toolbox.
And while they are a useful tool, do be careful to not put too much stock in crowd calendars either, especially many months in advance. Curveballs (such as when a local Southern California ticket deal is released) can result in crowds shifting radically, and Disney doesn't often announce these kinds of game-changing offerings in time for out-of-towners to dodge.
Related: Best credit cards for Disney and Universal
Arrive for rope drop
The most straightforward way to stand in line less at Disneyland — on any day — is simply to be in the parks during the lowest crowd times of the day.
The crowds are always much smaller first thing in the morning. Many guests have trouble getting up early on vacation, which is a factor that you should exploit. You can often get as much done in the first hour after Disneyland opens as you can all afternoon, when crowds are much heavier.
So that you can plan accordingly, it's not enough to arrive at the parks a few minutes before the published park opening time. You need to put yourself among the early crowds that line up for “rope drop" (aka opening) if your goal is to really get in some rides without lines.
What is rope drop? Usually, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will open the gates up to 30 minutes before the published park opening times.
Guests can stroll up Main Street USA (or Buena Vista Street in DCA) and queue behind an actual rope further into the parks that cast members will “drop” at the official opening time. If you are right along the rope, you can be one of the first making a mad dash (I mean, “walking quickly”) to the most popular attractions.
On lower-crowd days, I recommend lining up at park gates at least 45 minutes before the park opening to make rope drop. On busier days, an hour or more is recommended to get maximum value from your time. Remember that you have to pass through Disney’s security and bag checks and often take a parking shuttle if you are arriving via car, so leave time for all those steps.
Related: These are the best places to stay at Disneyland
Take advantage of early entry for Disney hotel guests
For Disneyland guests splurging on one of the three Disney-owned hotels (Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, the Disneyland Hotel or Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel), there's now a new way to beat even the rope drop crowd.
In August 2022, Disneyland brought back early entry privileges for all on-property hotel guests.
Note that this new early entry offering in 2022 is different than the previous methods of early entry at Disneyland Resort (formerly known as Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hour). Now, on-property hotel guests can access both parks every single day of the week 30 minutes before the official park opening. Not every attraction or land is open at that time, but quite a few of the most sought-after ones are available.
If you thought rope drop was great for short lines, early entry is that much better, since it is capacity controlled by being limited to guests of just three hotels.
In Disneyland, it's possible to ride two or three Fantasyland dark rides in this time and maybe also even hop in line for a coaster like Space Mountain before the rope droppers flood in. For Star Wars super fans, you can even use the time to position yourself by the closer Fantasyland entrance into Galaxy's Edge and make a beeline for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ahead of the rope drop crowds.
Especially smart picks to ride during early entry are Peter Pan (but only if you are speedy and in the very front of the group entering the park), Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, and Space Mountain.
Over in Disney California Adventure, top attractions to ride during early entry include Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout!, Soarin’, and Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure.
Cut the standby lines with Disney Genie+
Many theme parks have cut-the-line or virtual queuing services that help you stand in line less. For many years, Disneyland offered a free service called FastPass and a paid upgrade called MaxPass that allowed guests to reserve times to return to rides with a shorter wait.
Disney overhauled its cut-the-line offerings substantially in 2021. Free FastPass is now gone. Replacing it is a pretty close successor to MaxPass.
Known as Disney Genie+, this app-based offering helps guests book return times to popular attractions on their smartphones, sending them through a shorter queue when their reservation time arrives.
While Disney Genie+ gets a bum rap because of challenges with a similar product by the same name offered at Walt Disney World, it's a pretty robust service at Disneyland. It costs $20 per person per day and allows guests to reserve the next available return time window on up to 19 different rides across two parks.
Redeeming works much like FastPass did. When a guest's one-hour return window starts, they enter the attraction through the "Lightning Lane" queue by scanning their park ticket or a barcode on the Disneyland app (very soon Disneyland will also have MagicBand+ to use as well).
Genie+ doesn’t let you cut the ride’s line entirely, but you’ll generally be on most attractions within about five to 15 minutes rather than the 60- to 90-minute waits that have become standard for popular thrill attractions like Space Mountain.
For the most part, you can only hold one Genie+ booking at a time and are limited to one booking per attraction per day. Savvy guests who really learn the rules of the system, however, can max it out on all but the busiest of Disneyland days (see how I rode 26 attractions in a single day with Disney Genie+ at Disneyland and check out more advanced strategies for Genie+ at Disneyland).
Related: How to skip the line at America’s favorite theme parks
Purchase paid Lightning Lanes
For guests looking for even more ways to shortcut lines, Disneyland has yet another pay-to-play offering to keep in mind: paid Lightning Lane.
While Genie+ is a means to cut the line on most of the popular attractions at Disneyland, there are a few extremely sought-after rides that aren't part of the Genie+ system. These rides have Lightning Lanes for shorter waits, but to access those Lightning Lanes, guests must pay a separate per-ride a la carte fee.
The three attractions currently offering paid Lightning Lane include: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (in Disneyland park) and Radiator Springs Racers and Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure (in Disney California Adventure). Prices vary from $7-20 per person per attraction. Guests are limited to two purchases of paid Lightning Lane per day.
While having to pay another fee is never ideal, paid Lightning Lane really can offer some time savings for the most popular Disneyland rides.
Related: Disney World vs. Disneyland, which is the better park to visit
Go solo with single rider lines
Another way to find shorter lines for some attractions at Disneyland without having to pay for the privilege is by using single-rider lines. These lines are usually much shorter than the standard line, but come with the caveat that your party will be split up to fill in empty scattered seats on the attraction’s ride vehicles.
Unless you have small kids who aren’t ready to ride alone, or are trying to capture that perfect family ride photo all in a single vehicle, using single-rider lines is a no-brainer.
They are often helpful on Radiator Springs Racers (especially mid-morning), Web Slingers, Incredicoaster and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
Just be sure to check Disneyland's current list of attractions offering single-rider lines before your visit, as they do sometimes change without much notice. A few rides that used to offer Single Rider for many years were recently removed from the system.
Also, be aware that single-rider lines can and do get shut down on busy park days when the line gets too long for the small spaces they occupy. As a result, these lines tend to function most optimally on medium-crowd days when the demand for rides is sufficient to open them, but not so great as to overwhelm their capacity.
Swap out with rider switch
While Disneyland’s Rider Switch won’t necessarily shorten your wait times, it is a valuable service that will prevent families with babies, toddlers and impatient young children from waiting in extra lines. Rider Switch enables parents or caregivers to take turns caring for little ones who are too small or too scared to ride — and still only stand in line once.
Rider Switch works by allowing, for example, mom to stand in line and ride on the Matterhorn with big sister while dad stays behind with baby brother. Then dad gets to go on the ride right afterward (usually by entering via the Lightning Lane or another access point with no wait) while mom takes care of baby brother.
Big sis can even ride a second time with dad if you request it, as the second wave of riders from one group can include up to three people at Disneyland. Combine Rider Switch with Genie+ or paid Lightning Lane for even shorter waits for the first round of riders.
Book a dining package
Some of the longest waits guests have at Disneyland are to see popular parades and evening shows like Fantasmic! or World of Color. Guests often camp out for an hour or two or more for the prime viewing areas. While these waits aren’t technically “lines,” most of us want to avoid them.
If parades and shows are a priority for you, then you can shortcut these long waits by booking a dining package.
These dining packages include a meal as well as a reserved viewing area for the show. To be sure, booking a dining package isn’t the most budget-friendly way to do Disneyland and the food isn't always Disneyland's finest. You’ll pay more for these meals than you would at a regular Disneyland restaurant, but the upcharge can well be worth the time you won’t have to spend camping out for a good view of the show.
The restaurants and included shows change with the seasons, so be sure to check the Disneyland site for all the offerings during your visit. Disneyland dining can be booked up to 60 days in advance, so have your rough plan in place by this date to secure the more popular packages.
Related: The best restaurants in Disneyland
Be a VIP (or just luck into Disney magic)
Although all of the strategies we’ve discussed thus far are available to mere mortals, there are some VIP and lesser-known tricks to cut down your wait time.
- Hire a VIP Tour Guide: For the ultimate splurge, hire a Disneyland tour guide (affectionately known as a “Plaid”) for the day. Your guide will escort you onto rides, with no waits and no Lightning Lanes needed. Prices start at $3500 for seven hours and your group can include up to 10 people.
- Dine with a Club 33 Member: If you are lucky enough to know someone who is a member at the exclusive and expensive Club 33, you can sometimes score extra multi-attraction Lightning Lanes from cast members when you dine there.
- Luck into 'Disney Magic': Last but certainly not least, sometimes Disney pixie dust falls onto your head when you least expect it. Cast members at Disneyland often have Lightning Lanes they can give out at their discretion, just to spread Disney magic. You’ll find reports of guests receiving them under a wide variety of circumstances, including simply keeping their cool when other guests were behaving badly after something went awry. While you should always be on your best behavior, being an exceptionally good guest can sometimes pay off in ways you might not expect.
Related: What it's really like on a Disney VIP tour
You can’t control how many other people visit the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but you do have a lot of control over how much of your day is spent in line at Disneyland.
We’d love to hear your favorite line-avoidance strategies. Meanwhile, here are some other articles to help you plan your family’s magical trip to Disneyland: