(This post covers the time of day to arrive at DLR. For choosing what day to go to DLR, see this post.)
When checking the Disneyland Resort Park Hours & Schedule calendar, you'll see the opening and closing hours of each park. Does this mean you should arrive at the Park opening time posted on the calendar?
Example: Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Disneyland Park: 8:00 AM to 12:00 AM
Disney California Adventure Park: 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Wellll, noooo. Here's why.
First reason: Most people driving by car to DLR (including you) will park at the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. It's HUGE (holds over 10,000 cars; it's reported to be the second largest in the world). So it will take longer than you thought to get to a parking space, gather the stuff you are bringing into the park (someone will forget something, or decide that they really DO NEED their sweatshirt), and take the escalators down to the Mickey & Friends tram loading plaza. Your tram takes you to Downtown Disney (about a 5 minute ride), and a 5 minute walk to the security gates leading to the theme parks' actual entrance. The security lines can be long, since Disney Cast Members are required to inspect all bags, backpacks, strollers and other items carried by people entering the park. After clearing security, you will see ticket booths with people in line to buy their tickets. (Ticket booth lines can be long and they always seem to move slowly, no matter which line I've chosen.)
From the ticket booths, you'll walk 2 minutes (max) to the entry gates (turnstiles)--and these might have a line too--where tickets are scanned and you (finally!) enter the park.
All of the above can take 30 minutes or more, so you'll enter the park at least 30 minutes AFTER the posted opening time. And others will enter before you do. How many others? Well, it depends.
- People who are staying overnight at the Disneyland Resort hotels may enter the park 1 hour before everyone else. This is called Extra Magic Hour. So if the park opens at 9 AM, DLR hotel guests can enter the Park gates at 8 AM. Specifically, Extra Magic Hour is at Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; and at California Adventure on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
- People who buy certain multi-day tickets (three or more days, as of this writing) also receive one Magic Morning as part of their ticket. This allows them to enter Disneyland (only Disneyland) one hour before posted opening time on one day of their visit.
- All Park ticket holders are allowed to enter a limited area of each park about 30 minutes before the posted opening time (only Buena Vista Street in California Adventure, and Main Street in Disneyland), and prohibited from entering other areas by ropes (and Cast Members) located at strategic locations. People gather at these ropes. At the posted opening time, Disney music plays over the loudspeakers and the rope is dropped (Rope Drop) to allow excited guests to enter the rest of the park.
Based on exceptions to the Parks' opening and closing times above, here is my strategy for getting into the parks before most other people:
- Time Saver #1: Buy your ticket before you get to the park. You can buy park admission tickets online (from Disneyland Resort site , the Disneyland app, and at many other legitimate locations, such as ParkSavers, most Auto Club offices, and the "Gift Card Mall" at many grocery stores). If you are coming from out of town and booking a vacation package, your travel agent may be able to include your tickets in your package. IMPORTANT: You'll want to buy a ticket that allows you to bypass the DLR ticket booth. Some tickets are vouchers that require you to visit the ticket booth anyway. Don't order one of those. WARNING: Never buy a ticket from anyone on Ebay, CraigsList or other unofficial website, even if they say the ticket has several days on it. It could be counterfeit, used up or otherwise not valid (aka not a money saver).
- Time Saver #2: Check the Extra Magic Hour days for each park and go to the other park in the morning. For example: I'll start my Tuesday visit at California Adventure, since Extra Magic Hour on Tuesday for DLR hotel guests is at Disneyland.
- Time Saver #3: Arrive at the Mickey & Friends Parking structure one hour before the park opens. This extra time allows you time to make sure you've got everything you need for the day before you leave your car, travel down the escalators to the tram plaza, stop at the restroom at the ground floor of the parking garage, walk to the tram boarding area, take the tram to Downtown Disney, go through security, and walk directly to the turnstiles of the park you've chosen for that day. And arrive before the Park opens.
- Time Saver #3: Eat breakfast before you enter the park. If you've gotten up early to get into the park before everyone else, don't waste these less crowded hours by sitting in a restaurant at DL or DCA when you could be in a short line for your favorite ride. If you are staying at a hotel before your visit to the Parks, pick a hotel that serves a good breakfast that you can grab and go (try the Grand Legacy at the Park), or get to your breakfast breakfast earlier than with a to-go breakfast.
- Time Saver #4: Get FastPasses for the most popular rides and shows before you ride anything. (I'll cover maximizing FastPasses in another post later).
WHY SHOULD I GET THERE THAT EARLY?
Most people don't know all the tips I've given you about getting to the Parks early. They'll do what I used to do: get to the parking structure whenever I got up and go through the tram, security and enter the park (finally). As the day wears on, more people come to the park, with the heaviest crowds in the mid-afternoon through about 7 pm. You WILL be able to ride the most rides (attractions), see the best shows, and get the best (earliest) FastPass times if you enter the Parks before "Rope Drop" or at least right when the park opens. I've had mornings when I've been on two rides and gotten 3 FastPasses (for the Frozen show, Soarin' Around the World, and World of Color), all before 8:20 am.
Three fast passes and two rides done-- all before 8:20 AM. (and this was during the third week in June... typically a busy time at the Parks)