Grad Nights are an annual event at Disneyland Resort for graduating high school seniors featuring an after-hours party in Disney California Adventure and daytime admission to both parks. In this post, we’ll cover info you need to know about Grad Nites, including their dates, avoiding Grad Nite crowds, and our random thoughts about the event.
Most of you probably graduated from high school a couple years ago (what? longer ago? well you don’t look like it!), and are wondering how this information is relevant to you. Well, these graduation parties occur every Friday and Saturday in May, along with Tuesdays and Wednesdays the second half of the month, and through the first week in June.
This is significant not because hordes of high school students roaming Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is scarier than the Walking Dead (although…maybe), but because the crowd levels at Disneyland Resort on the weekends during Grad Nites can be like a roller coaster, with spikes at each park.
Disneyland offers three ticket packages, including one that returns Grad Nite to the traditional graduation party, instead of the all-day celebration Disney has pushed for the last 5 years. This is noteworthy because we anticipate many students choosing this ticket option instead of the more expensive all-day options. (For most people reading this, those pricing tiers are not pertinent, but you can read about them here on the official Grad Nite site if you’re curious.)
Before we get to some thoughts on Grad Nite crowds and strategy for visiting during Grad Nites, here are the 2020 Grad Nite Dates…
2020 Grad Nite Dates:
- May 8, 9, 15, 16, 20, 26, 27, 29 or 30
- June 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 12 or 13
In terms of avoiding Grad Nite crowds, your best option is simply not going on one of those days. This is especially true with the Friday and Saturday dates, as those days would be busy even without Grad Nites. Add this event into the mix, and crowds can be really bad. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are less likely to feel incredibly busy, but they will likely feel busier than the adjacent Monday and Thursday.
For the last several years, the prevailing wisdom for avoiding Grad Nite crowds was to start at Disney California Adventure and do that in the morning before park hopping over to Disneyland in the late afternoon. This avoided the vast majority of Grad Nite crowds, and made crowds more manageable. The rationale behind this was that Grad Nite students had park hopper tickets and would do Disneyland during the day because their private party occurs at Disney California Adventure in the evening.
While 2020 Grad Nites have yet to begin, we believe that approach will be a poor strategy this year. With the new tiered ticket options, only the most expensive option ($139) grants students access to Disneyland. This is a steep price for many students and their families (a lot of Southern California schools had already ‘opted out’ of Grad Nites due to rising costs), and we suspect it’s the option very few school groups will choose.
As such, we anticipate the bulk of the student crowds–throughout the entire day–being confined to Disney California Adventure. If you have a park hopper ticket and DCA is a must-do for you on a Grad Nite, we’d recommend doing that park at rope drop, and being prepared to bounce to Disneyland as soon as crowds start to arrive. Otherwise, we’d just recommend avoiding DCA all day on Grad Nites.
Even though it’s a hassle for locals and tourists, we are big proponents of Grad Nite. One thing we’ve learned since moving to Southern California is that Grad Nite carries significant meaning for a lot of people. We expected local high schoolers to be “tool cool” for a Disney event, but that’s definitely not the case.
Rather, Grad Nite is a rite of passage and tradition that, for many families, dates back a couple of generations. The event has been occurring annually since 1961, and people we know generally love it. Many have fond memories…or hazy ones…of an evening they’ll never forget. (Related: if you want a look at the acid dream that was Grad Nite in the 1970s, check out the Movin’ On film Disney made to promote the event in Florida. It is the epitome of “Weird Disney.”)
My high school’s graduation event was held at some shady “Fun Center” and the coolest thing there was go-carts, which had a huge line and we were repeatedly warned not to bump. The only reason my friends and I didn’t leave to go play Dreamcast in someone’s basement was because we couldn’t. I wish I could go back in time and have a do-over at Disneyland!
Grad Nites definitely have critics who have very valid concerns about the atmosphere it creates. The way Disney expanded the event to make it an all-day affair five years ago was questionable, as it puts the student groups into more direct contact with regular day guests.
There have been countless horror stories on social media about recent Grad Nites as a result. Despite being in the parks on several days when Grad Nites have occurred, we’ve never experienced any of this first-hand. This is not to say these anecdotes are overblown…just that we’ve had no personal issues with Grad Nites.
Nevertheless, I’m not going to suggest high school students are perfectly well-behaved angels. There have been enough reality tv shows about entitled kids in Southern California acting like demons for you to see through that. Attendees who are drunk or high is a known issue with the event, and teenagers with minimal adult supervision are always going to be rowdy and obnoxious.
I think reactions ultimately come down to how sensitive and cognizant you are of other guests in the park. I don’t mean ‘sensitive’ in a pejorative way. Some people just have a more keen alertness of this type of thing than others. For example, I can sleep on a flight like a champ even with a crying baby next to me; the same thing might drive others crazy. If tuning people out were a super power, I could sign up to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At the other end of the spectrum, I think some guests are very acutely aware of other guests, with an almost extra-sensory perception of obnoxious behavior. If drunks at Food & Wine, tour groups, etc. really bother you, we would strongly recommend avoiding Grad Nites. You’re likely going to have a bad time.
Ultimately, we do recommend avoiding Grad Nites to the greatest extent possible, but that’s almost exclusively due to the crowds. If your trip falls over a stretch when there are four Grad Nites in five nights, that’s not really possible. In that case, park hopper tickets are definitely an essential, and doing DCA early in the day before crossing the Esplanade to Disneyland will help you avoid crowds and eliminate whatever headaches might come with being in a theme park with large groups of teenagers with minimal adult supervision.
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!
Have you attended a Grad Nite at Disneyland, either as a graduating student or as a regular day guest? What did you think of the experience? Have any horror stories or other anecdotes about Grad Nites? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!