Guests staying in on-site hotels at Disneyland Resort have access to Early Entry. This strategy guide covers everything you need to know: eligibility, ride rosters, how the perk works, tips & tricks, and reports on our experience with this extra time at both parks. (Updated September 1, 2023.)
In terms of basics, Early Entry offers admission to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park 30 minutes early to enjoy a limited number of attractions, dining, and shopping locations. This is the spiritual successor to both Magic Mornings and Extra Magic Hour, two similar-but-different perks we’ll discuss in the commentary below.
There are a couple of big distinctions between the perks. First, Magic Mornings and Extra Magic Hour were offered on select days and at select parks, whereas Early Entry is offered at both Disneyland and DCA every single day. Second, the eligibility pool is significantly smaller for Early Entry (at least…for now!). These two factors in tandem should make Early Entry a better experience.
However, there is one thing that might make Early Entry less attractive than Magic Mornings and Extra Magic Hour: it’s half as long. Extra Magic Hour was one hour long, hence the name. Early Entry is 30 minutes in duration. The obvious drawback is that it’s 30 minutes shorter than its predecessor, so you have less of a head-start on off-site guests than during Extra Magic Hours.
The upside is that Early Entry is offered at both parks, every day of the week. This means on-site guests taking advantage of the perk are diluted–spread among all of the parks rather than concentrated in a single one. This itself is a downside for off-site guests, who now cannot avoid Early Entry to strategize around it.
September 1, 2023 Update: Starting January 20, 2024, Early Entry will be reduced from both parks every day, to one designated park each day. Each day, either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure will offer Early Entry. You’ll need to check the theme park calendar for the schedule, as it could vary and won’t necessarily be DCA/Disneyland every other day.
This is undoubtedly happening due to low demand. Well, not really low demand so much as an incredibly small guest pool not necessitating both parks every single day. Honestly, we’re surprised that Disney is doing this, rather than expanding the eligibility pool to select Good Neighbor hotels with vacation packages purchased through Disney–a few of the luxury resorts in Anaheim would probably pay a good fee to Disney for the perk (that’s how it works with third party hotels at Walt Disney World).
Equally interesting here is the potential implications for theme park reservations. Walt Disney World has already announced that it’s dropping reservations for guests who purchase regular park tickets in January 2024, once the holiday season rush is over. It wouldn’t surprise us if the exact same thing happens at Disneyland Resort, and announcing this change is the first step towards that. Otherwise, on-site guests could get grumpy if they’re unable to score reservations for the park offering Early Entry.
Moving on, here’s a look at the eligible hotels for Early Entry at Disneyland:
Early Entry Eligible Hotels
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
The Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
The Villas at Disneyland Hotel
Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel/Pixar Place Hotel
That’s it. Unlike Walt Disney World, which has a list of two-dozen plus first party hotels plus another dozen third party hotels that are eligible for Early Entry, there are currently only 3 hotels at Disneyland Resort plus Disney Vacation Club wings at two of them that receive this early admission perk. This can and likely will change, but for now…only registered guests of those hotels are eligible for Early Entry.
Guests of Grand Californian Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Pixar Place Hotel are able to enjoy Early Entry on both check-in and check-out days, as well as all other days of their stay. In theory, this would mean that a 1-night stay gives you access to two days of Early Entry (so long as you check-in prior to Early Entry on your arrival day).
Next, what’s open for Early Entry at each of the 2 theme parks…
Early Entry Rides at Disneyland
Alice in Wonderland
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
King Arthur Carrousel
Mad Tea Party
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Peter Pan’s Flight
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
Early Entry Dining & Shopping at Disneyland
Churros near Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Esplanade Stroller Shop
Fantasyland Fruit Cart
Little Green Men Store Command
The Mad Hatter in Fantasyland
Main Street Fruit Cart
The Star Trader
Early Entry Rides at Disney California Adventure
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission BREAKOUT!
The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
Soarin’ Around the World
WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
Early Entry Dining & Shopping at Disney California Adventure
The Collector’s Warehouse
Esplanade Stroller Shop
Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe
As you can see, options are somewhat limited during Early Entry at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. With some exceptions, these lists are pretty similar to Magic Mornings and Extra Magic Hour. Only certain lands in each park were open to start the morning for that perk, and the same is true here. (The bigger differences are at DCA, but that’s mostly because Avengers Campus didn’t exist when Extra Magic Hour was last offered.)
Moreover, the Early Entry schedule and available attractions are subject to change without notice. Applicable theme park, days and times of operation, attraction and service availability may vary and are subject to change without notice. Subject to capacity and cancellation. [Insert other boring boilerplate caveats.]
To enjoy Early Entry admission, all guests (ages 3+) must be staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels, have valid theme park admission, and a park reservation for the same park on the same date. Link theme park tickets or passes, theme park reservations, and hotel reservations to the Disneyland app to show verification of these requirements.
Tickets and passes can be viewed by selecting “Tickets and Passes” and hotel dates of stay can be viewed by selecting “My Hotel Reservation” in the Disneyland app. This too works the same way as morning Extra Magic Hour, with eligible guests having their park ticket media scanned to gain access either at the turnstiles themselves, or at a certain ‘checkpoint’ within the park to deeper areas while off-site guests await traditional rope drop.
Early Entry Strategy
Our recommendation is arriving at least 30 minutes before Early Entry starts at Disneyland or DCA. In other words, an hour before official park opening time. This is nothing new–we offer this same advice for normal days and will continue to advise off-site guests to get to the parks at least 30 minutes early.
This is because getting through bag check and the turnstiles can be unpredictable, and time-consuming. The time flies by, and you’ll want to be as close to the front of the pack as possible when Early Theme Park Entry begins so that you can experience as many attractions as possible.
In general, we recommend at least one day of Genie+ while visiting the California parks. If you have Park Hopper tickets (which we highly recommend–see our Disneyland Ticket Buying Guide) it’s usually possible to complete everything that’s a high priority in a single day via Lightning Lanes in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Whether you want or need Genie+ for subsequent days will depend upon your budget and if you want to re-ride favorite attractions.
Let’s start with Disneyland strategy, where the question is essentially whether you start in Fantasyland or Tomorrowland. This is pretty much identical to the big rope drop dilemma, and our mantra with Disneyland park opening is Fantasyland First.
Not only are these timeless attractions a quintessential part of the Disneyland experience, but several don’t offer Lightning Lane line-skipping access via Genie+ and are easy to knock out in the morning in quick succession.
The reason that Fantasyland is the “correct” place to start is quite simple: the time it takes to do each attraction in Fantasyland is significantly lower than alternatives in Tomorrowland. Fantasyland dark rides are mostly old school, no-nonsense attractions. They have short queues, no pre-show, and dump you right out near other attraction entrances.
The minimum ride time for most Fantasyland attractions is under 5 minutes. You can easily accomplish numerous Fantasyland attractions during Early Entry at Disneyland. By contrast, Space Mountain and Star Tours – The Adventures Continue each can consume a decent amount of time by virtue of the lengthy queues and load processes.
See our Early Entry at Disneyland Step-by-Step Plan for a full photo report, strategy, and (as the title suggests) a step-by-step itinerary for Early Entry at Disneyland. As of Fall 2023, we’ve taken advantage of Early Entry at Disneyland over a half-dozen times, and the approach covered there has consistently worked!
Over at Disney California Adventure, the best approach for Early Entry isn’t quite as clear-cut since the operational attractions are spread all over the park. We favor starting with Avengers Campus, as this Marvel-themed land has two popular rides that will have long waits later in the day. You’ll likely want to start out with WEB Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and bounce over to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout from there.
Where you go next is up in the air, but the best approach if you’re speedy is crossing over to Cars Land for traditional rope drop at Radiator Springs Racers. The minimum time for all of the eligible attractions at DCA is higher, so you may not be able to do both Web Slingers and Mission Breakout while still beating the rope drop rush to Radiator Springs Racers. We’ve had mixed results with this.
Suffice to say, crowds during Early Entry at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are minimal. Even though the attraction lineups are limited, so too is eligibility. With only three participating properties at Disneyland Resort, there simply are not that many hotel guests who have access to this perk.
That’s a far cry from the situation at Walt Disney World. Although Florida has double the parks, which obviously helps, there are also exponentially more eligible hotels. This means significantly higher demand on each park, even with 2 more parks than California.
As compared to Magic Mornings and Extra Magic Hour at Disneyland Resort pre-closure, crowds are nothing during Early Entry. We were not fans of Magic Mornings or Extra Magic Hour at Disneyland, because they were open to so many guests. Those days didn’t just have guests of the three hotels, they were also open to 3+ day ticket holders and those who bought qualifying vacation packages for Good Neighbor Hotels.
Our expectation is that Disneyland Resort will eventually expand Early Entry in a similar fashion, but not to that extreme. It’s likely that guests of the 3 on-site hotels won’t even come close to fully utilizing the parks during the 30-minute head start, and Disneyland management will want to expand the offering to other guests to incentivize sales of more vacation packages or tickets. That’s just a guess, though.
Ultimately, that’s everything you need to know about Early Entry at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. We will undoubtedly be updating this strategy guide several times in the coming months, as we already have hotel stays booked to test drive this new perk and formulate specific strategy. Stay tuned–we’ll continue to cover all of the important Disneyland planning details and also share Early Entry photo reports from our experiences with this new on-site hotel benefit!
Thoughts on Early Entry at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure? Would you book a night or two at Grand Californian Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Pixar Place Hotel in order to have access to this on-site perk? Excited to take advantage of this morning head start or think it’s too short to be useful? 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!