D23 Expo Survival Guide
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 (coming soon), 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.
Your question is a bad question if your question…
- …could be answered by LMGTFY
- …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… 😉
Speaking of which…if you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
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!
This Sat 8-24-19 will be 1st time @ D23. Reading everything regarding the lines are VERY confusing. Is the overnight line (Fri for Sat) & early Sat morn line before D23 opens just ONE line for everything & everybody (Gold members, non-gold members, those with StagePass, those without StagePass, those with StorePass, those without StorePass, etc)? How will it all be split out when D23 opens? Will there be different wristbands for all of the above once you get into line, or as you enter D23 when it opens? How will we know when the individual areas are completely capped off?
We are seniors with Gold member status that did NOT get StagePass nor StorePass. We would like to get into the 1st Hall D23 panel, and after that try to get into Dream Store. We are trying to get to the convention center by 5am & park at one of the hotel parking lots or the GardenWalk area. It sounds like the line starts around the arena area. Will everyone be waiting in line outdoors or indoors? Are there restrooms available while waiting in the overnight-early morning lines? Can you get out of the line & get back into the line to use the restrooms?
Also, I am the guest of the Gold Member. Both Badges are in his name. We were told we need to change over the guest badge into my name in the North Hall Level 200 which opens at 7am. Do both of us need to go to the D23 membership services? How can we do this & still save our place in the long overnight-early morning line for the 1st Hall D23 event? Should we wait until after 1st Hall D23 & Dream Store to change the guest badge info?
How many people are expected to attend the daily 2019 D23 expo (30,000 – 50,000 – 100,000)? Just trying to put the day into perspective. How many attended D23 expo in 2017?
How many people will be seated into Hall D23 (Anaheim Convention Center specks says it can hold approx 15,000)? How many people will be seated into D23 Expo Arena (Anaheim Con Ctr specks says it can hold approx 7,500)? How many people will be seated into Stage 28 (Anaheim Con Ctr specks says it can hold approx 3,050)? How many people will be seated in the Archives Stage (Anaheim Con Ctr specks says it can hold approx 1,600)? This will give an idea of how our chances will be during the daily scheduled events. (recently attended 2019 San Diego Comic Con with 130,000 attendance; Hall H seated 6,500 while Ballroom 20 seated 4,800). Just trying to put things into realistic perspective. 8-23-19
I am attending the expo this year solely to look at and buy merchandise. Any pointers? I know lines will be long for limited edition items. But I want them.
Well – here’s a silly question…
I’m trying to budget to buy FOUR tickets to D23 Expo (my first time). Does anyone remember if they charge tax and fees on those tickets? I figure they won’t announce the prices until a week before they go on sale (like they did for 2017), and I need to make sure I have enough saved up!! Aaah! Any comments are greatly appreciated for this newbie!
If you are single and disabled….Do yourself a favor and don’t go. It is a nightmare. There is literally no accommodation to assist you in any way. Lines are ridiculous and the D23 staff throughout the event are either rude or literally no help or really appear not to care. I really wish D23 would reach out to the community to apply simple solutions that would help a lot! Or just send someone to ANY of the other conventions which handle this much better. It was so bad this year this Disney fan and D23 charter member will more than likely not subject myself to this nightmare again.
Can we use the toy story parking? In the d23 website it lists the convention center and Honda center.
I’m planning to take my out of town niece & nephew for their first Disneyland trip tomorrow (during D23), in the past has attendance at the parks been high during D23?
I remember attending a Haunted Mansion Q&A with the craziest of questions. The highlight was somebody asking that they have heard that touching the wallpaper in the knocking doors hallway in the attraction would give healing powers. I’ve know heard it all.
Im thinking about planning a Disneyland Trip for the next D23 Expo. Im wondering, do I need to be a D23 member to attend the Expo, or are tickets available to the general public?
D23 Expo tickets are available to everyone. You get special perks for being a member but you don’t need to be one to go.
You don’t need need to be a D23 member to purchase tickets. However, being a Gold D23 member allows you special access and discounts, but you have to pay for the membership. Good Luck!
Any chance D23 will be bringing up a night parade return at MK in WDW?
I highly doubt it.
Tom do you have any suggestions on who to follow on twitter for live info?
I would start by searching the hashtag #D23Expo2017, seeing which accounts are typically posting info that interests you, then following those.
I wish they would show this video before all Q&A sessions. https://youtu.be/yumNIhIQmLU
My first D23 Expo was the one held in 2015. I actually had the pleasure of running into Tom at the Expo by the Shanghai Disneyland exhibit: he was very cordial. Something I would share with fans of, as Tom says, “the dorky stuff” is that the major panels all receive extensive media coverage that is published online moments after the panel. I never once stepped into the crowded main auditorium any of the three days I attended the Expo.
Crowd-averse fans of “the dorky stuff” who can live without seeing panels where Marvel stars pal around with Bob Iger would do well to look into the smaller panels that are held upstairs. The Walt Disney Archives panels in particular were quite special in 2015, and the panel held by the merchandise arm of Disney Parks & Resorts was a lot of fun as well. Upstairs panels on the then-forthcoming show “The Muppets” and the history of The Jungle Cruise were also a blast. Most of the content covered by the small panels never makes it to the Twitterverse, like all of the content from the big panels does.
I am not attending the 2017 Expo due to scheduling conflicts, but I hope everyone who goes has a wonderful time, whether they attend the big panels, small panels, or a mix of the two. It’s a fun time for Disney fans to engage with different parts of the company and the community, and a few days at the Expo augment a Disneyland vacation beautifully.
“The Walt Disney Archives panels in particular were quite special in 2015…”
The same should be true this Expo. I’m spending the bulk of my time at the Archives stage.
Your advice of not showing up for the main stage before 7am might not be good. 2 years ago I got in line for Live Action Movies about 5am and I was at the end of those guaranteed a seat. This year I plan on showing up earlier. I loved Legends, Animation, and Live Action and plan on doing them all again. For me it was 100% worth it. Everyone has their own preferences and saying it’s a waste of time is a personal preference.
I got in line for Live Action around 7:30 a.m. (I know because the Toy Story lot didn’t open until 7 a.m. and I had to wait at the gates!) and I got a seat. I don’t know at what point they cut off behind me, but I think most people got into the panel. I strongly suspect even those lining up around 8-8:30 a.m. got seats, too.
You’re right, we were told repeatedly we were in an area that was not guaranteed a seat, but Hall D23 is massive, and there’s a ton of good counter-programming this year.
ah – thank you – thank you. this is the most helpful advice i have seen!
just in case you see this before friday – do you have a general thought on how many hours ahead of time you should line up for a presentation in hall d23?
It depends upon the presentation–Parks & Resorts had empty seats last time, but Live Action was totally full. I think it ultimately depends upon how close you want to be to the front, whether you’re willing to do something else, etc.
I’d probably get in line by 7:30 a.m. for Disney Legends or Live Action and noon for Pixar/Animation; those are the highest-demand panels.
can we go ahead and extend those commandments to Q&A panels at any sort of convention? I’d also add in not insulting the panelist. I don’t know about Disney fans, but I recently saw a Harry Potter fan tell Jason Isaacs that she wished he could be replaced by someone else during his panel (literally, she named a different celebrity she wished was there at that moment). Maybe Disney fans are nicer than that, but general respectfulness is probably good.
I have heard questions like that at Shareholder Meetings, but never at the D23 Expo. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky. But yes, that should be a commandment, too!
“Eating a large breakfast”. Not if you enjoy #2 potty breaks, which is hard if you’re by yourself unless you have friends or neighbors willing to save your space. Stave off your appetite with occasional snacks until you gotten your panel or reached your goal.
Seems like many people are there for reasons other than the panels like buying merchandise or cosplay. Doesn’t sound like fun. Even though I live 20 minutes away, I never went. Better to hear the news later. Still never went to any Star Trek conventions.