I can think of few things more disappointing then saving your hard-earned money for a trip to California’s Disneyland Resort, only to get there on a super crowded day. It’s super frustrating to look up and see a virtual sea of people as you make your way down Main Street and attempt to navigate long lines, all in the spirit of good fun. In recent years, nothing has stopped the crowds at Disneyland, with there being fewer and fewer “ghost town” days where you can basically walk on rides. Not even rising ticket prices are keeping people away from experiencing the magic of Disney. As an annual pass holder, I visit the resort often and most of the time it’s crowded. If I waited to go on empty days, we would probably never go. So, we’ve learned how to make the best of a trip to the Disneyland California Resort (assuming you have a park hopper ticket) on a crowded day. Here are some of the fun things you can do to keep the magic alive on a packed day.
1. Watch All The Parades
Nobody does a parade like Disney and if you plan to visit the resort, you can can count on being able to see 3-4 parades in 1 day if you want. Both Disneyland and California Adventure have their own themed parades, from Mickey’s Soundsational Parade to the Pixar Play Parade. They only last between 15-25 minutes but provide tons of entertainment, especially for little kids. You can always find a last minute spot to watch so you don’t need to waste time saving a seat (unless you want to catch the last few showings of the Main Street Electrical Parade- which I highly recommend!). For parades at Disneyland, I suggest grabbing a spot at the start of Main Street (the end with the railroad station) because there is ALWAYS a great spot and you can make a quick exit out of the park if the parade is your last attraction of the day.
2. Check Out The Star Wars Launch Bay
You don’t have to be a diehard Star Wars geek to love the Star Wars Launch Bay. Perfect for a hot day, this air conditioned attraction in Tomorrowland is perfect for any age. Although, you should note that it does have lots of characters and loud noises you would normally associate with the film franchise. In other words, if your kids are scared of Darth Vader or Kylo Ren, just keep your eyes peeled. This attraction is so large that it’s never crowded, and you can enjoy character meet and greets, films on the Star Wars legacy and even Jedi Training.
3. Tour Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
If you have a young princess with you, don’t miss the chance to do a self-guided tour through Aurora’s Castle. Guests get to climb the stairs of the iconic Disneyland castle and see beautiful renditions of this famous tale. It’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle, and something little girls tend to love.
4. Watch Live Performances
Disneyland and California Adventure have tons of hidden gems in the form of live performances. When lines are too long to wait in a ride, consider snagging a seat for a show to get your dose of magic. The Royal Theater off Main Street has both Rapunzel and Beauty & The Beast performances, the Fantasyland Theatre has Mickey and the Magical Map, and California Adventure hosts Disney Jr. and Frozen shows (which are BOTH air-conditioned!). If you don’t want to sit for a long time, you will be treated to any number of street performances by groups like the Dapper Dans, the Newsies, Mariachi Divas and other musicians depending on the time of year (like Carolers at Christmas!). If you’re in Cars Land, be prepared to catch Lightning McQueen and fellow co-stars roaming the streets and stopping for the occasional song and “dance.”
5. Go On All The Carousels
The Disneyland California Resort has two major carousels: King Triton’s over in California Adventure and King Arthur’s Carrousel at Disneyland. I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for King Triton’s and more than 20 for King Arthur’s, so they are a must even on a busy day. The horses and sea creatures are beautiful and worth a ride or two, especially to get out of the heat. It will also give your kids a ride experience without sacrificing two hours in line for a 30 second ride.
6. Visit the Animation Building in California Adventure
I visited California Adventure for over a year without stepping foot inside the Animation Building and what a shock! This is one of the coolest (literally- it has GREAT AC) placed in the park and a must-see on a crowded day. This building houses Turtle Talk, an interactive animated show, Animation Academy, Sorcerer’s Workshop with Beauty and the Beast exhibit and an Anna and Elsa meet and greet. But beyond those things are the BEAUTIFUL showings of Disney’s classic movies on huge screens across every wall. While waiting in line, you are treated to the magic of how your favorite movies were created, complete with hand drawings and your favorite music. Did I also mention there are tons of couches?
7. Do Character Meet & Greets
Rarely is a character line longer than an attraction ride, and that’s why it’s a great option for a crowded day. Your prince or princess can pick from nearly every Disney character in the book and snap some picture perfect photos to last forever. The Princess Fantasy Faire is over in Disneyland off Main Street, Mickey and Minnie can be found in Toon Town, and you can now find tons of Marvel Characters off the back end of Hollywood Land in California Adventure.
8. Visit Toon Town
Toon Town is perfect if you have younger kids who love the traditional Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Daisy, Donald, Pluto characters. There are several rides to choose from, all the character houses and meet and greets, some fun food and an overall quirky atmosphere which makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a cartoon.
9. Spend Time In Cars Land
While the Racers at Radiator Springs is often a 2+ hour wait, there are many more things to do in Cars Land that usually have little wait times. Mater’s Junkyard and Luigi’s Rollickin Roasters are two of our favorite attractions because the lines are usually no longer than 20 minutes. And if they are- come back because it’s not worth waiting for much more than that. Cars Land also has the Cozy Cone with tons of tasty treats and you can usually see at least one of the Cars characters parked outside. There are other great shops and restaurants in this land that are fun to visit, and make you feel like you are right in the movie.