May 8, 2013

Maximize Your Time in Disneyland

We are heading to the happiest place on earth in three weeks and can't be more thrilled!  Our last trip to Disneyland was in August 2011, when Crumpet was 7 years old and Gümby was 3.  That trip was the first Disneyland trip where we used my newfound "Divide & Conquer" method - it was a big hit!  I was amazed at how much we could see in just two days at Disneyland Resort during peak season (August).

The Divide & Conquer method made such a big difference that we were able to do everything we wanted to do to plus more.  We even rode a few popular rides multiple times!  Frankly, I was surprised it worked so well.

Naturally, we will be using this method again for our June trip.

Divide & Conquer works so well because it minimizes your time walking through crowds, a huge time drain.  Plus, let's face it, it's also pretty stressful for parents to easily navigate young children through crowds.  Don't fight the crowds more than you have to!  This method dramatically minimizes these two issues.

One caveat: This method works best if you plan to spend 2 days in the park.

Let's take a look at the park.  See how it's circular?

Divide that circle in half.  Spend one day in one half and the other day in the other half.  During our 2011 trip, we spent the first day on the left side of the park (Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Bear Country, and Frontierland) and the second day on the right side of the park (Fantasyland, Toon Town, and Tomorrowland).  We planned our meals and made necessary reservations accordingly.  With young children, we are big fans of table service meals because, let's face it, standing in line, carrying multiple trays of food, and trying to find an available table while herding young children can be frazzling.  We avoid as much as possible.

On the first day, we made lunch reservations for Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square and planned a cheaper, casual counter-service dinner in Bear Country.  On the second day, we made lunch reservations on Main Street (since we'd be on our way out of the park to the hotel for nap/downtime) and made dinner reservations at the barbecue on the Frontierland/Fantasyland border.  We also had an impromptu breakfast in Tomorrowland since our hotel breakfast left much to be desired.

See that?  We did not have to unnecessarily traipse around the park.

If you have just one day, expect to work your way around the park in a clockwise or counter-clockwise pattern.  If you want to eat in specific restaurants, plan your meals and make reservations accordingly.  If you are planning longer than 2 days in the park, you can divide the circle into smaller sections and enjoy an even slower, relaxed pace.

Now that that's all said and out of the way, let's get down to the nitty gritty.  This is how you can maximize your time in Disneyland:
  1. Use the Divide & Conquer method, described in detail above.
  2. If you plan to eat in a table-service restaurant, make your reservations according to your Divide & Conquer method.
  3. Arrive early.  Be at the gate when they open.  Crowds increase exponentially until their peak in the early afternoon.
  4. Use Fast Pass.  Be sure to get Fast Passes for the most popular rides of your day's division area (see above Divide & Conquer details) as early as possible.  Fast Passes can run out!
  5. Use Rider Switch Pass, also known as Child Swap, when available (typically only offered on rides with a height restriction and, I believe, rides that utilize Fast Pass).  This is an unpublicized trick and a brilliant way of allowing all adults in the party to ride without leaving a child unattended.  If your child isn't tall enough to ride a popular ride or just doesn't want to, you can ask the cast member standing at the entrance of the ride's queue for a Rider Switch Pass, which allows 2 riders to ride.  One parent rides the attraction, the other stays with the unriding child.  After the parent comes off the ride, the other parent can ride without waiting in line (using the Fast Pass line).  For an older child who wants to ride again, this is an amazing opportunity to ride twice!
  6. If you're staying within walking distance of the entrance gate, plan nap time, pool time, or any other downtime during the middle of the day.  Crowds typically peak between noon and 3 pm so it's a good idea to be back at the hotel kicking up the ol' heels in the air conditioning or taking a dip in the pool.  Afterward, tackle the park again with renewed vigor and stay up late!
Enjoy doing and seeing more than you thought possible.

For more time-saving tips, be sure to read my most recent installment: "More Disneyland Resort Tips".

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