Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary is now underway, and with Paint the Night parade, new fireworks, and new World of Color, it’s drawing big crowds. This guide to the Diamond Celebration offers tips & tricks for making the most of your time at Disneyland during this anniversary year, including insight on when to go, where and when to camp out for the entertainment, and other assorted tips.
While these tips were originally written shortly after the Diamond Celebration began, they’ve been updated as of February 2016 (greetings to those of you who just watched the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Special on ABC and now want to know more!) with some thoughts on the continued crowds, plus news on how Halloween and Christmas at Disneyland will be impacted.
With that out of the way, let’s address the two biggest questions we’ve received thus far: when will the Diamond Celebration end and when is the best time to go to avoid crowds? Disneyland has now officially announced that the Diamond Celebration will last until September 5, 2016. Makes sense, as this allows it to end just in time for next year’s Halloween Time at Disneyland festivities to start, without having to compete with the Diamond Celebration decor.
We fully expect the Disneyland Forever fireworks and Paint the Night parade to continue well beyond that, as the new non-seasonal entertainment. As of the date when we last updated this post (February 20, 2016), their popularity has proven too much for either to simply be replaced. Even right now, during a time that is otherwise the off-season, the fireworks and Paint the Night are incredibly popular. The smart money is on seasonal fireworks running for Halloween and Christmas 2016 in place of Disneyland Forever, while Paint the Night continues to run during both seasons, as normal.
The second question is a little more difficult to answer. Disneyland Resort was a madhouse last summer and fall, and remains busy this winter. Weekdays right now aren’t quite as bad as they were last year, but once Easter and Spring Break seasons arrive, crowds will spike again.
“It’s going to be busy regardless of when you go–so deal with it” probably isn’t a good answer to that second question, so let’s take a closer look and try to point out some times amongst those busy dates that might be less busy, and then take a look at some tips for seeing the entertainment…
Again, when it comes to picking a time to visit during the Diamond Celebration, I don’t think there are any dates that are going to be “slow” or “dead.” The entertainment already has strong buzz and positive word of mouth will keep it popular through this entire year. If you want a truly slow time, anytime before mid-March 2016 will be your best bet. (With surge pricing rumored for park tickets starting as soon as February 28, 2016, you might want to either buy now to lock in current pricing or make sure you visit on slow weekdays. Details here.)
Beyond that, we would recommend going on weekdays, especially in November and December when school is not out of session for most, and/or when the lowest tiers of Annual Passes are blocked out. Although this is purely speculative at this time, my reasoning for this is that local Annual Passholders have a surplus in time (the average Southern Californian works approximately 8 hours per week 😉 ) and are willing to camp out hours in advance for entertainment, which is something that most tourists with limited vacation time are simply unwilling to do.
In other words, while the days with more Annual Passholders blocked out are days that Disneyland projects to be busier (that’s why the APs are blocked out), I think that, since you’re going to be dealing with crowds regardless, it’s better to be dealing with tourist crowds. Tourists are easier to “compete” with for parade and fireworks spots.
Now, beyond that generalized piece of advice, I’d simply recommend following the tips in our When to Visit Disneyland post. Note that crowd levels will be elevated throughout the year to a higher level than for the average year, but the general trends in that post should prove true. September through early October this year will be particularly busier than normal, especially on Friday nights.
This brings us to the next big question: what about Halloween and Christmas entertainment and decorations? You won’t see certain normal elements of both seasons. Disneyland has already confirmed that the Christmas fireworks and decorations on Sleeping Beauty Castle won’t happen, but the Christmas parade will, in addition to Paint the Night.
As for Halloween Time at Disneyland, we’ve visited a few times since it started, and the decorations have definitely been scaled back and integrated with the 60th decor (as you can see in the photo above). As we shared in our Mickey’s Halloween Party Tips post, some elements of the party this year are being changed to account for the 60th. (For example, there’s no Halloween Cavalcade this year.)
In other words, when it comes to Christmas and Halloween, expect scaled back seasonal offerings. If you are planning a trip during either time of year, you’ll see a hybrid of seasonal and Diamond Celebration offerings, but not the full slate of seasonal stuff that would have been shown in past years. This is not a bad thing–frankly, the Diamond Celebration offerings are far superior to a lot of the seasonal offerings. You should get the best of both worlds those times of year.
Now, let’s turn to some tips for the entertainment itself…
The primary entertainment in Disneyland is the Paint the Night Parade and the Disneyland Forever! fireworks. Currently, guests are grabbing spots for Paint the Night about 2 hours in advance of the parade. During busier seasons, people start camping out as soon as Mickey’s Soundsational Parade. That’s roughly 5 pm for a nighttime electrical parade that starts at 8:50 pm. Roughly 4 hours of potential waiting. The upside to this is that you can get a spot that will be good for both Paint the Night and the Disneyland Forever fireworks, which occur back to back. The downside: 4 hours.
Now, you don’t have to arrive this early to get a curb spot, but you do need to arrive at least 2 hours in advance, and this remains true even following the summer tourist season. I really expected the popularity to die down a tad from the initial mania (and it has to a degree), but Main Street is incredibly packed for the first parade and fireworks hours in advance, and we’re now in the “slow” season (slow, my @%#$.) In my estimation, the only way that’s worth it is if you bring an iPad full of ALF episodes and watch them while waiting…even then, I’d much rather be enjoying Disneyland than sitting on a curb watching ALF.
Instead, what I would recommend doing is chilling in Tomorrowland during the first Paint the Night, and start moving towards the Main Street curb walkways (do NOT use the back alleys to exit) as the Frozen float passes. Time this so you’re to Main Street as Mickey passes, and then make a mad dash for the center of Main Street just south of Refreshment Corner as the parade ends. If you’re only viewing the Disneyland Forever fireworks once, this is a great “last minute” spot because it allows you to see some of the Main Street projections while still being able to see the Matterhorn and the Sleeping Beauty Castle projections. I have other viewing spot recommendations in my Best Disneyland Forever Fireworks Viewing Spots post.
When the fireworks end, quickly retreat to the curb, where you should be able to grab a front-row spot for Paint the Night (if you’re quick) while “only” waiting a little over an hour for the next running of the parade. This will be an excellent spot for Paint the Night, too. (Even if you’re back a row or two, it’s a great spot with limited waiting.)
Alternatively, if you don’t like really heavy crowds or don’t want to wait as long, the ‘it’s a small world’ mall also offers a great location following the same fireworks -> second Paint the Night strategy. Unfortunately, if you’re used to this being a dead zone as it was for previous fireworks, you will be sorely disappointed. Due to this being along the Paint the Night parade route, it will have pretty heavy crowds for the fireworks, just not quite as heavy as Main Street.
The upside about this spot is that the same projections shown on Sleeping Beauty Castle are projected onto the facade of ‘it’s a small world’. The downside is that you can’t see Nemo fly, or numerous other effects that make Main Street the unquestionable “best” spot for the fireworks. You miss a lot of the show from back here, so I’d recommend just sucking it up and dealing with heavier crowds.
I think that about covers it for Disneyland entertainment, so let’s head over to DCA for World of Color…
Disney California Adventure
The situation at Disney California Adventure is a much simpler one, as World of Color: Celebrate is the only new piece of entertainment, and it has FastPass. So long as you have separate days for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (which I’ll assume you do), seeing World of Color should be a piece of cake.
The first thing to know here is that FastPass for World of Color has changed–at least for now. When World of Color debuted, you had to make a mad dash for FastPass when the park opened if you wanted to see the show. Currently, Disneyland Resort management has (quite cleverly) decided to offer virtually unlimited FastPass for World of Color. Per Cast Members with whom I spoke at the distribution areas, FastPass for the second show would be offered “at least until 9 pm” from now on.
This seems counter-intuitive when you consider it’s a new show that a lot of people probably want to see, but consider the alternative: more people in Disneyland trying to see the nighttime entertainment there. Since World of Color is now the less popular nighttime entertainment (despite having its own new version), offering unlimited FastPass for it helps redistribute some crowds and keep some guests in Disney California Adventure at night.
Think of it along the lines of those “surprise!” FastPass that used to be given out for Carousel of Progress as a bonus when you got a Space Mountain FastPass at Walt Disney World–Carousel of Progress has never needed FastPass, but people who got a “coveted” FastPass for anything were more likely to use it, thus increasing ridership at Carousel of Progress. Same idea here, although World of Color is slightly more popular than Carousel of Progress. Giving out more FastPass to World of Color is effectively a way to manipulate crowds and prevent Disneyland from being (even more) overwhelmed by guests wanting to watch Disneyland Forever and Paint the Night.
The unfortunate side effect of this is now that the World of Color FastPass area packs in guests like sardines (and has been expanded to include areas that aren’t all that great views of the show). This makes it more important to show up early for your FastPass return and get a spot as soon as possible. As in, show up right when the return window opens. In other words, because it’s now easier to get a FastPass for this popular show, you now have to wait longer for it.
With that said, I’d recommend watching the late show, and trying to get a FastPass for the Yellow Section. The section is a matter of preference, but with the late showing, you’re more likely to find a smaller crowd. (However, if you have only one day in Disney California Adventure, I recommend late night Radiator Springs Racers rides with minimal waits, meaning you should do the first World of Color: Celebrate instead and then head to Cars Land immediately after it’s over.) For the most part, my World of Color Viewing & Photography Tips post still applies.
I’ve always been a big fan of the front row for the original World of Color, and that remains my position for World of Color: Celebrate. However, I have to present a huge caveat with that. This new show might as well be named “World of Color: Monsoon,” as you are virtually guaranteed to get drenched in the front row (or even farther back). With the old show, how wet you got depended upon the wind. You might get soaked, you might only get a light spray on your during the Buzz Lightyear blast off–it all depended upon which way the wind was blowing.
Now, there are water jets that are basically aimed at the audience, and you’ll get drenched regardless of wind. I don’t know what the World of Color: Celebrate team was thinking with this, but it’s pretty awful. I had heard this warning from a friend, but I assumed he was underestimating the impact of the wind, so like a passenger aboard Indiana Jones Adventure, I did not “take heed.” I brought my rainsuit with me, but didn’t put on the paints during my first viewing because I didn’t think they’d be necessary. (And I didn’t want to intimidate other guests with my totally rad fashion statement. BTW, if you get this rainsuit–and I recommend it–go all out and get the bright yellow version. Go big or go home, right? 😉 ) I left the show with soaked shorts.
Even if you’re going during the summer months, don’t stand in the wet section unless you have a full-on rainsuit. A poncho will be insufficient, and Southern California summer evenings are chilly, especially if you are wearing wet clothes. If you do have a rainsuit, the front row is the best option, as it will be the least crowded. Apparently few guests bring rainsuits to theme parks? (Fools!)
During my viewings from this area, I fortunately had a poncho on my camera, but the constant spray during the show meant I had to fight a losing battle wiping water droplets off my lens. If you’re planning on taking photos of World of Color: Celebrate from the front row, make sure to protect your camera gear. The show can easily ruin a camera–even a weather sealed one.
For now, that’s what I think you need to know about World of Color: Celebrate…
60th Anniversary Plussed Attractions
In addition to the new entertainment, several attractions have been and will be enhanced, or “plussed.” Personally, I was really hoping that the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh would be “plussed” into Country Bear Jamboree, but thus far, that has not happened. It remains pooh, in more than one sense of the word.
Haunted Mansion, the Matterhorn, and Peter Pan’s Flight are the attractions that have been plussed. As a result, these two attractions have seen incredible spikes in popularity, with Haunted Mansion now even offering FastPass at certain times. There’s no FastPass at Matterhorn, and it’s now the longest wait in the park.
Haunted Mansion is easy to do with or without FastPass, and I wouldn’t recommend rope dropping it. However, now that it’s Haunted Mansion Holiday, lines are quite a bit worse for it.
Still, your early morning time is still better spent in Fantasyland, as you can grab a FastPass (if available) for Haunted Mansion in the middle of the day. Matterhorn, by contrast, is now either an attraction to do early or via the Single Rider line. Even if you’re going as a family, I’d highly recommend the Single Rider route. There’s no ‘communal’ aspect to Matterhorn’s seating and no on-ride photo, so there’s really no reason to ride together.
Personally, I like doing it right before sunset and at the end of the night, as the ambiance is radically different both times. With that said, I wouldn’t recommend doing it more than twice unless you want to punish your body on that rackety track. (I recently met someone while in line for Matterhorn who was in a “Matterhorn Single Rider” social club who said he all he does when he comes to the park is ride Matterhorn, and that he once did it “70 times in a day.” He exhibited no signs of brain damage and walked perfectly fine, so perhaps the ride isn’t so bad for you.)
Since this post was originally published, Peter Pan’s Flight has reopened (and looks great). Since it has neither Single Rider nor FastPass, lines for it are insane. You will want to race here right at rope drop or do this at the very end of the night. It’s the longest wait at Disneyland of attractions that don’t have FastPass.
For now, that’s it on the topic of 60th Anniversary attractions…
There’s tons of merchandise and foods for the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration, but thus far, outside of some cups with the 60th design, I have yet to try any of these!
I figured it more important to get the article up with strategy for those of you heading to the parks soon than wait until I can offer comprehensive coverage of every bit of minutiae of the Diamond Celebration, so stay tuned!
Overall, the Diamond Celebration is already proving to be pretty…dare I say…dazzling, and I would highly recommend any and every Disney fan to visit and experience this all for themselves. Don’t be discouraged by the crowds–they are worth the hassle given the quality of the Diamond Celebration. I realize a trip to California is not exactly an inexpensive prospect, but it is something that virtually anyone who vacations to Walt Disney World (and flies to get there) can make a reality. With the Florida parks offering nothing new of consequence this year or next, why not head to Disneyland to see all of this awesomeness instead? Unless you’re a fan of humidity and afternoon rain showers, I see no reason not to take a summer vacation to Southern California instead of Central Florida! 😉
As for figuring out the rest of your Disneyland trip, check out some of our other popular Disneyland Resort trip planning articles:
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Are you looking forward to the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration? What excites you the most? Planning a trip specifically for the new entertainment and other festivities? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional tips for Disneyland’s 60th or any questions, please share them in the comments!