“When will it be busy at Disneyland?” Ahh, the age old question. With Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, and other new areas of Disney California Adventure, there is no better time to start planning a trip to Disneyland for late 2014 or 2015. Disney California Adventure, a park with many unique attractions, and Walt Disney’s original theme park, Disneyland, justify taking a trip to Disneyland Resort–even if it means putting off your annual Walt Disney World trip! Heck, Radiator Springs Racers, one of the most impressive attractions Disney has ever built, might be worth the trip alone!
Plus, Walt Disney World (click here for Walt Disney World crowd information) fans owe it to themselves to see Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom and the amazing new Cars Land. Just like when planning a Walt Disney World vacation, some days and times of year are better than others for Disneyland trips. Since Disneyland has a high Annual Passholder-base and is a popular destination for convention attendees, times when Disneyland will be crowded are less intuitive than Walt Disney World. Obviously, the big holidays are all busy. Spring break, Easter week, Christmas week, and Summer vacation are good times to avoid visiting Disneyland if you want to avoid crowds. For some of the less-intuitive times that might be busy, consult our resources and tips below.
Disneyland crowds are largely dependent upon tourist vacationing habits (which are largely dependent upon school breaks) and Annual Passholder habits (which are largely dependent upon blockout dates and weekends). Unlike at Walt Disney World, Disneyland has the luxury of blocking out large groups of Annual Passholders during times that it anticipates tourists descending upon Disneyland. As a result of this, during busy tourist seasons, like the summer, many Annual Passholders are blocked out from visiting the parks. This, in effect, is Disneyland’s way of “neutralizing” some of the heavy tourist seasons. Because of this, there is often little difference between the Busiest and Moderately Busy times. In fact, specific dates within the “Busiest” and “Least Busy” ranges actually fall within the moderately busy range, but creating a calendar of specific crowd conditions is beyond my expertise. In general, there are some things you can glean about crowds by studying the AP blockout schedules provided at Disneyland.com.
As Disney California Adventure has substantially changed Disneyland Resort crowds recently, please note that these crowd patterns have been updated for 2014. So if you previously consulted them, look again, as some things have changed.
The following times generally see the crowd trends listed below:
Due to its massive popularity and the resulting Cars Land crowds, it’s worth discussing Cars Land in its own section. Cars Land’s most popular attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, is frequently drawing wait times that are over two hours long. FastPasses are often gone for it by 9:30 am. Due to its low capacity and slow load times, Luigi’s Flying Tires also regularly has a long midday wait. If you visit Disneyland in 2014, make sure to prioritize Cars Land–do it first thing in the morning, or last thing at night (or both).
Cars Land is not impacting wait times or crowds in other parts of Disney California Adventure too much. So once you get those rides of Radiator Springs Racers and Luigi’s Flying Tires out of the way, you won’t have to worry about Cars Land crowds or Disney California Adventure crowds much at all!
In general, if the Deluxe Annual Pass (the highest tier of AP that has block outs) is blocked out, Disneyland is expecting it to otherwise be busy. Since Deluxe Annual Passholders don’t number that high, their absence isn’t significant-enough to offset the “other” gains in crowds. Thus, expect these specific dates to be the absolute most busy. Consult Disneyland’s blockout calendar for an up-to-date list of the dates of these blockouts.
Conversely, when the Southern California Annual Passes are not blocked out on weekends, expect these Annual Passholders to inundate the parks. When these Annual Passes aren’t blocked out on weekends, it’s because Disneyland doesn’t expect heavy tourist crowds. However, there are so many SoCal Annual Passholders that they more than offset the lack of tourists. Since these Passholders are blocked out most of the summer, Disneyland in the summer isn’t as crowded as Walt Disney World in the summer–but it’s still busy. (Although it’s still rather busy!) Disneyland is primarily a locals’ park (although that is shifting, especially since Cars Land opened).
Similarly, when any Passholder group is going to be, or has been, blocked out for several consecutive days, expect the day before and the day after the blockout to be busy as Passholders attempt to have “one last hurrah” or “return quickly for another dose of the magic.” While we don’t recommend Annual Passes for many casual guests, depending upon the length of your visit and if you plan on taking another trip within 365 days, it might be worth it for you (in which case the blockout calendar may be even more relevant for you) to buy a lower-tier Annual Pass. Click here to read all of our Disneyland ticket recommendations and see how you can save money on advance purchase tickets!
Crowds should not be the only consideration on when you take a Disneyland vacation. School schedules, weather, special events, and park hours may all affect when you want to visit. Obviously, these variables will also influence crowds.
If school schedules are something around which you must plan, chances are you’re going to go during one of the busier (or at least not one of the least busy) times of the year, as that’s the paramount consideration for many other families planning trips, too. It may seem like a convenient time to visit during one of the ‘holidays’ your kids have off from school, but it’s important to consider whether other schools have these same times off, as well. Of the traditional school holidays, summer break is probably the best time to visit, as it is the longest school break so you don’t have the concentration of guests all visiting during the same week of other holidays. Since summer break is largely blocked out to SoCal passholders, historically, it has not been a bad time to visit.
However, this has begun to change already in 2012, as we witnessed larger summer crowds in 2012 as tourists came in greater numbers to visit Cars Land and the new Disney California Adventure offerings. The plus side is that operating hours and supplementary entertainment will likely be added to offset the substantial attendance gains due to Cars Land.
Most schools have the week before Christmas until the shortly after New Year’s off, making this week-plus an especially busy time. The same is true for President’s Day weekend, Easter week, Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July holiday, and Thanksgiving week. Although schools do vary their Spring Break schedules, don’t expect the parks to be any less busy because of somewhat-staggered Spring Breaks. March and April are also busy times at Disneyland. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t visit during these times, as some people don’t have many other options, but if you do go, at least bring your patience with you, or at least a good plan for touring the parks!
Unlike Florida, Southern California has a pretty temperate climate. The typical hot seasons are hot, but humidity isn’t nearly as bad as it is in Florida. It can get colder at night, and in the winter months, but the weather isn’t nearly as much of a rollercoaster ride like it is in Florida. Blue skies and puffy clouds are more rare in California, but overall the weather is much more favorable for vacationing than it is in Walt Disney World.
Rain isn’t as common in Disneyland as it is in Walt Disney World. It does rain in the fall months at Disneyland, but torrential downpours in SoCal aren’t too common.
Make sure to pack some jeans, sweatshirts, and maybe even coats if traveling during the months of October through March. It won’t necessarily be cold during your trip, but the weather can drop below 50 degrees during these months. Consider your tolerance to cold, and weather you’re willing to purchase countless $60 Mickey Mouse sweatshirts during your trip when, inevitably, members of your family get cold!
Not considering park hours when planning your trip is a huge mistake. Usually less busy times of year have shorter park hours and busier times of year have longer park hours. Thus, many feel they can basically get the same amount done in a shorter day during a less busy time of year than they could during a busier time of year. Due to FastPass and good plans for touring the parks, this isn’t true. By strategizing well, you can accomplish more during a busy day with longer hours than during a shorter day with light crowds.
Also important to note is that on days with longer hours, Disneyland will have more entertainment scheduled. Even during short days and slow times of the year, Fantasmic and World of Color play to packed houses. However, on days that offer multiple showings of these entertainment offerings, the later showings are almost always less crowded. If you want to avoid waiting multiple hours for a good view of Fantasmic, go on a longer day with multiple showings!
Similarly, your sleep habits make a difference here. If you’re a night owl, days with shorter hours may be a bad idea, as by the time you roll out of bed, you may find that you only have a few hours to enjoy the parks. Conversely, if you rise early and generally want to leave the parks by 7 pm or so, the shorter/less busy days are great times for you to visit. Make sure you check Disneyland’s park hours calendar when planning your trip. While this calendar is subject to change, it doesn’t change nearly as much as Walt Disney World’s calendar, which is almost never accurate when first posted.
Disneyland doesn’t have nearly as many special events as Walt Disney World, but there are some events worth planning for or around. Basically, these events are the D23 Expo (every other year, towards the end of summer), Gay Days (fall), HalloweenTime at Disneyland (late summer and fall), Half Marathon (fall), CHOC walk (fall), Holidays at Disneyland (fall and winter), and Grad Nites (spring).
On a personal note, our absolute favorite time to visit is during Christmas-time at Disneyland. The parks look gorgeous, there are special attraction-overlays, and lots of seasonal foods available. You can read more about Christmas-time at Disneyland in our in-depth guide.
During Disneyland’s slower seasons, expect a lot of attractions to be down. Not only is maintenance and upkeep better at Disneyland than Walt Disney World, but Disneyland also has a few seasonal attraction overlays, which lead to popular attractions like it’s a small world, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain being closed for a few weeks each in the fall (and late-winter in the case of it’s a small world and Haunted Mansion). If you’re visiting in the fall or spring, be sure to consult refurbishment calendars to make sure your favorite attractions are operational.
If you must visit Disneyland when it’s busy (as is the case for many with kids in school), it’s important to have a good plan of attack when you visit the parks. Determine which attractions are best and the ones to experience, figure out where you want to eat in advance and dine at hours when the parks are busiest, and most importantly, arrive at the park before it opens and get as much done as you can in the first few hours of operation when lines are much shorter than they will be later in the day.
I mentioned TouringPlans.com above for their comprehensive and park-by-park crowd calendar as it can assist you in planning the best times to visit. TouringPlans also has touring plans (hence the name) that allow you to determine the best “order of attack” for the attractions you want to experience. You can print out pre-made ones with recommended attractions, or customize your own based on the attractions you want to visit and access them on your mobile phone (along with wait times for each attraction on the TouringPlans app, Lines). We highly recommend this for first-time visitors.
As for planning the rest of your trip, including what you should pack, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, at which restaurants you should eat, and a number of other things, you really should check out our comprehensive Disneyland trip planning guide!
Hopefully this is a valuable primer to help you plan when to visit Disneyland, and we hope your 2014 Disneyland trip is a blast!
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Do you have any favorite times to visit Disneyland? Which special events do you think are best? If you have any questions or other tips about the best and worst days to visit Disneyland, please share them in the comments!