Early Entry at California Adventure: Sarah’s Slingin’ Step-by-Step Strategy

Early Entry is now available at Disney California Adventure for guests staying at the Hotels of Disneyland Resort, and we’ve had a chance to check it out. This photo report offers a step-by-step look at what we accomplished at DCA during the morning Extra Magic Hour replacement and at park opening, tips & tricks, and more.

We stayed at the Grand Californian for this visit, which is far and away our favorite hotel at Disneyland Resort. It’s also typically the most expensive of the three–and none of them are cheap. From our perspective, it offers slightly better value for money than Disneyland Hotel and is significantly superior to Paradise Pier Hotel, the latter of which is surpassed by a few dozen off-site hotels.

Disney California Adventure currently opens at 8 am, meaning that Early Entry begins at 7:30 am. Unlike Walt Disney World, all three of the on-site hotels are located within walking distance of both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. As such, there’s nothing to discuss in the way of transportation or parking for Early Entry. However, there is one question of strategy here…

Grand Californian offers a private entrance into DCA. Proximity to the park is actually one of the hotel’s bigger selling points, and this is normally really convenient. GCH guests can enter or exit Disney California Adventure through Grizzly Peak, which is normally much faster than going through the front entrance.

The problem with this approach, at least on the day that we did Early Entry at DCA, was that bag check opened at the same time as the turnstiles, which was ~2 minutes before Early Entry started. Disneyland Resort still doesn’t have the contactless bag scanners, so this was a tedious process. Even being towards the front of the line, we weren’t inside the park until shortly after 7:30 am.

It’s possible this process will change over time, but our recommendation for now is to take the longer route and enter Disney California Adventure through the front entrance, even if you’re staying at the Grand Californian.

Once inside the park, we were already past the rope drop checkpoints. This meant we had full access to DCA, and didn’t need to show our room key or pull up the resort hotel reservation in the Disneyland app.

Even if we had to do that, it’s a quick and painless process, taking a matter of moments. Once you’re verified at one of these checkpoints, you’re good to go for the morning–room keys are not checked at each individual attraction.

Our plan was to take a divide and conquer approach, with Sarah starting at WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure while I began at Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission BREAKOUT! (I’ll roll a report on my morning into an upcoming DCA rope drop post.)

If you’re wondering why neither of us started at Radiator Springs Racers, it’s because that Cars Land E-Ticket isn’t open during Early Entry. Our plan was to rope drop it after knocking out a couple other headliners.

Sarah was in line for Web Slingers by 7:35 am, into the pre-show by 7:37 am, and in one of the very first ride vehicles dispatched to fight the Spider-Bots.

She was off the attraction by 7:46 am, after achieving one of the day’s high scores! Wow!!!

Sarah immediately got in line for round two of Web Slingers, and was in the pre-show at 7:49 am.

This is where we started to run into trouble, as Web Slingers briefly went down. This actually isn’t the only issue we had. Multiple headliners were down this particular morning during Early Entry and at rope drop. That’s not altogether uncommon, but really throws a monkey wrench into things at DCA where the top attractions are scattered throughout the park.

The downtime was relatively brief, and she was on Web Slingers by 7:58 am. Sarah once again achieved a high score, and was allegedly told by a fellow rider that she has “the fastest arms in the West!” Double wow!!!

The problem here is that the brief downtime resulted in her being done with Web Slingers just after 8 am, which meant no rope dropping Radiator Springs Racers. That wasn’t a problem this particular morning, as RSR was one of the headliners that was down.

On the plus side, we did learn that it’s theoretically possible to do Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure twice during Early Entry and still be at the front of the pack to rope drop Radiator Springs Racers.

That’s a nice way to do three rides on Individual Lightning Lanes attractions with no wait, assuming no ride stoppages, downtime, or other issues. An alternative approach would’ve been knocking out both of the Avengers Campus E-Tickets–or doing Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout after the second ride on Web Slingers. As a pure efficiency play, that would’ve been savvier, but Sarah can’t do Mission Breakout.

She instead headed to Toy Story Midway Mania for regular rope drop. She was in line for that at 8:12 am and on the ride by 8:33 am. And guess what? Another high score. Triple wow!!!!!!

This ~21 minute actual wait time is probably not indicative of a normal morning. Three other headliners being down pushed a lot more people to Pixar Pier than would normally prioritize that part of the park.

Mickey’s Fun Wheel (or whatever they’re calling it now) was next up; Sarah was in line for that by 8:41 am and on the ride by 8:47 am. No high score here, but she made new pals. Maybe the real high score is the friends we made along the way?

The rest of her morning isn’t worth reporting on because of all the attractions with downtime. We met back up to start doing Genie+ attractions around 9:30 am, which is about the ideal approach for booking Lightning Lanes.

Speaking of which, Early Entry guests who purchase Genie+ are eligible to book their first Lightning Lane selection immediately upon entering the park. Don’t.

Your return time will, without question, be 8 to 9 am. Even the tail end of that window is too early to start using the Lightning Lane–you want to be knocking out rides via standby until (at least) 9:30 am. Again, Genie+ is way more laid back at Disneyland Resort than it is at Walt Disney World. See our Guide to Genie+ at Disneyland & DCA for more info, recommendations, etc.

Ultimately, Early Entry at Disney California Adventure is a solid on-site perk that enables guests to accomplish multiple Individual Lightning Lane attractions in a really short window of time. From our perspective, Early Entry is not as useful as at Disneyland, where you can easily knock out all of Fantasyland in walk-on fashion.

However, you might disagree if your party skews older and you’d otherwise purchase Individual Lightning Lanes. The perk has a theoretical value of $14 to $36 per person on that basis–potentially more if you also include the value of the jumpstart on Radiator Springs Racers. We would not value it at that, but then again, we’ve never purchased a single ILL at Disneyland Resort. (Single Rider line, for the win!)

From my perspective, real benefit of Early Entry–and this applies everywhere–is having access to the park while it’s waking up for the day. Walking through Grizzly Peak, hearing the birds chirp and the background music as the morning light flitters through the trees, walking down Route 66 with no one else around…even seeing Avengers Campus before the crowd makes it totally chaotic. To each their own, but that’s my favorite part of the perk.

Sarah’s favorite element of Early Entry at Disney California Adventure was being enshrined in the record books at Web Slingers (x2) and Toy Story Midway Mania. Fastest arms in the West, indeed.

For more info about this on-site guest perk, see our Guide to Early Entry at Disneyland and DCA.

As always, we recommend booking a hotel + ticket vacation package via Get Away Today. Whether you opt to stay on-site to take advantage of Early Entry or off-site for lower prices, Get Away Today’s package pricing will save you money. In addition to their discounted vacation bundles, some hotels have ‘4th night free’ promos (we highly recommend checking out those options) and you can save an extra $10 by using code TOURIST at checkout.

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and tons of other places!


Thoughts on Early Entry at Disney California Adventure? Would you book a night or two at Grand Californian Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier Hotel in order to have access to this on-site perk? Excited to take advantage of this morning head start to knock out Avengers Campus and get a jumpstart on Cars Land crowds, or will you stick to regular rope drop at Radiator Springs Racers? Disappointed about the eligibility rules or attraction lineups? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!

10 Responses to “Early Entry at California Adventure: Sarah’s Slingin’ Step-by-Step Strategy”
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