Now is the perfect time to start developing your plan of attack for the D23 Expo so you can survive this whirlwind, 3-day event. In this guide, we’ll offer strategy for making the most of the D23 Expo, offer tips for braving the crowds, and a few recommendations for things to do to improve your experience.
Personally, I’m really looking forward to the D23 Expo. I’ve had a good time at each of the past Expos, and enjoy making a wishlist/predictions for the Parks & Resorts presentation (comingsoon), which is what I care about most. Beyond that, I think this is the best slate of presentations we’ve ever seen. If anything, I’m overwhelmed by just how much there is of interest at the D23 Expo.
I’ve attended the past several D23 Expos and have lived to tell about it. Based on my experiences in years past, here’s some advice for making it through the weekend. Note: this guide covers the last D23 Expo, held back in 2019. If you’re looking for current information and advice, see our 2022 D23 Expo Guide.
Have a Plan
Your first step towards this should be downloading the D23 Expo app. You can find it now on the App Store and the Google Play Store. This app has the complete schedule, a show floor map, ways to favorite what you’d like to do, and much more. I recommend starting your planning by favoriting everything you even might want to attend on this schedule.
It does not matter if some of the things you’re scheduling conflict with other things (in fact, that’s good!), just go through and favorite anything of interest. There are over 250 “things” to do at the D23 Expo: presentations, panels, concerts, demonstrations, meet-and-greets, sneak peeks…even a recurring pancake art making seminar(?) There’s more than enough to keep you busy for 3 full days.
The reason for some overlaps being okay is because you’ll inevitably get shut out of certain presentations. The D23 Expo’s motto should be “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” From long lines for the seminars to congested areas to lines even for restrooms to [insert random thing you currently don’t expect to cause you delay] you cannot predict what will prevent you from making it into a particular panel. The only thing that you can safely predict is that it will happen.
If the D23 Expo had a second motto, it’d be “lines, lines, everywhere a line.” Add to that widespread confusion among volunteers and attendees, and you have a perfect recipe for delays. The scope and scale of the event that D23 organizes is incredibly impressive in a lot of ways. Historically, crowd control and guest management have not been one of those ways. Be prepared to encounter some frustrating situations.
If you’re really into lines, and the daytime lines just are not enough to quench your line-thirst, you can camp out overnight in a line! You can line up at 10 p.m. the night before Friday and Saturday for the Show Floor and Hall D23. I’ve never done this, as I think it’s excessive, even by Disney fan standards.
I have arrived earlier for these sessions (like 5 a.m. or 6 a.m.), and I can tell you the place where you line up is a sterile basement with a concrete floor. You may not have cell service at all down there, and you certainly will not get a good night’s sleep. There are almost no scenarios that require arriving before 7 a.m.
There are ways to reduce your frustrations. First, use StagePass. Think of this as FastPass for certain panels (noted in the D23 Expo App). It’s a great way to avoid waiting in line and you can show up 15 minutes before a panel starts and be guaranteed a seat.
Second, skip the panels with celebrities. This is probably going to be a controversial recommendation, but any panel I’ve ever attended with a big name celebrity has not been worth the effort. The primary offenders here are the movie panels and the Disney Legends panel. We’ve done both a few times but won’t again.
Yes, there some big names will make surprise appearances and you’ll see sneak peaks at movie trailers that won’t make it to YouTube for another whole week, but you will be so far from the stage that you’ll be watching on a monitor anyway, and you’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn to wait in line. I’ve made this mistake before, and won’t be repeating it this year.
I know FOMO is strong, but it’s okay to skip the marquee panels. Not only will it relieve you of stress and time in lines, but it frees up some of your time to explore the show floor, which is crucial. At past D23 Expos, I’ve spent about 25% of my time exploring the show floor. Given the panel schedule, I don’t know how I’ll manage that this year, but you should set aside at least 2-3 hours over the course of the weekend for the show floor.
Finally, expect the unexpected. As mentioned, I’ve attended the last few D23 Expos. The one consistent thing I’ve encountered is no consistency. All policies and procedures seem to be made up on the fly, and no one actually knows what’s going on. Roll with the punches and be flexible, otherwise you’re gonna have a bad time.
Sunscreen— The entirety of the D23 Expo takes place inside the Anaheim Convention Center. However, you’ll have to wait outside to pick up your tickets and get through security, and that can take some time. Be sure to pack sunscreen.
Water Bottles — Nice to have while waiting in line outside, waiting in line inside, and during the seminars. There are plenty of drinking fountains around the Convention Center, but they won’t always be accessible.
Compact External Charger — Poor reception in isolated queues for the presentations and constant use of social media means your battery will be running low before noon. Bring a spare so you’re not the outcast sitting in a random corner of the Anaheim Convention Center with your phone plugged in.
Energy Bars — Both for their nutritional value and the burst of energy they’ll give you, these are handy. Having time for two full meals (or even one) per day of the D23 Expo is a luxury few people can afford, timew-wise. (And money-wise…the food is overpriced!)
Technically, no outside food is allowed into the Anaheim Convention Center, so don’t get carried away and bring a cooler or anything. I’ve never had a problem bringing protein bars and beef jerky. Your mileage may vary, though.
Additionally, I’d recommend dressing in layers. I know this sounds preposterous and like over-planning, but we’re having a heat wave in Southern California right now, so it’ll be hot in the morning while waiting in line, but the inside of the Anaheim Convention Center is hospitable for polar bears. Throw a sweatshirt or something in your backpack to stay comfortable. Shoes rather than sandals might be a wise option, too. You’ll easily get your 10,000 steps per day in while navigating the huge Convention Center.
I remember being stuck at home during the first D23 Expo, jealous of those attending and worried I’d miss out on all the news. Thanks to the magic of a nascent social media platform called “Twitter,” I did not. In fact, I was bombarded with a moment by moment account of the happenings from just about every major Disney news outlet. Flash forward 8 years, and you can expect Disney fans to have the same news repeated 20+ times into their social media streams.
If you’re planning on posting live updates to social media, make them original and interesting. I say this not as a clever move to “eliminate” competition (I don’t plan on live tweeting during panels at D23 Expo), but myself as a consumer of social media during the Expo. Going for the less sexy, obscure stuff might not seem exciting, but I think most people would rather see something fresh than the same “news” for the twentieth time.
Where to Eat
Honestly, I have no good answer to this. At lunch, lines for the quick service options in the Anaheim Convention Center can be quite lengthy. I’ve tried “beating” the crowds by going to the nearby hotels (the Marriott and Hilton both have quick service restaurants in them that are easy to access), but have encountered long lines and only slightly better food there.
In the past, I have noticed that by mid-afternoon (~2 to 3 p.m.) lines at the Convention Center’s food places are non-existent. Eating a large breakfast, packing some protein bars and other snacks, and doing a late lunch during the middle of a seminar time is probably the best method to beating the crowds. With this method, you’ll hopefully also only have to eat one meal per day in the Convention Center. This is highly recommended, as the food is not good.
Oh, and don’t miss the flavor-swirled ice cream. It’s the same type that used to be served at Catch-A-Flave (RIP!) in Disney California Adventure. Pricey, but worth it.
Look, if you’re reading this, there’s a strong chance you’re into some dorky stuff. As the one writing this, I know I’m a total dork. With that said, it’s important to have some semblance of self-awareness. Know the bounds of your dorkiness, and the limits of what others are willing to tolerate.
This brings us to a very important topic: question and answer panels. Whenever there’s something Disney-related that offers a Q&A segment from fans, I cringe. The worst is shareholder meetings, the annual reminder for CEO Bob Iger and other executives of why they should try to avoid the fan community.
…takes over 30 seconds to ask, is over a paragraph long, or would not end with a question mark if written
…includes the word “petition” somewhere in it
…is actually a thinly-veiled attempt at flaunting your knowledge to the panelists (they don’t care) or other attendees (neither do we)
…is asking for a personal favor
…involves any sort of Armchair Imagineering.
There are no exceptions to any of the above. Consider these the Six Commandments of D23 Expo panels. If these Commandments hit a little close to home, sorry…but honestly, you’re the one who should be apologizing to me, in that case. 😉
I know this might seem harsh or even mean, but I promise you that you would not think that if you’ve ever attended D23 Expo. Believe me, when it comes to D23 Expo Q&As, I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
That’s about it in terms of what you need to know when attending the D23 Expo. There’s other basic info on the ‘things to know’ page of the D23 website that should answer any remaining questions. Oh, and remember, if all else fails, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are only a 15 minute walk away… 😉
Do you agree or disagree with our advice for the D23 Expo? What have been your experiences with crowds and lines at past D23 Expos? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!