New Year’s Eve will be one of the busiest nights of the year at Disneyland, as guests cram into the parks to ring in 2021. Even with most Annual Passholders blocked out this year, it will be one of the busiest nights of the year at Disneyland (Disney California Adventure, far less so). It can be a pretty unpleasant experience, but if you follow our tips (which focus mostly on New Year’s Eve, but can be applied to the week between Christmas and New Year’s, too), you can make lemonade out of lemons.
First tip: if you live in Southern California, do something else. Seriously. There are so many better days to visit, and unless you don’t get the SyFy Channel (and thus can’t watch the Twilight Zone Marathon), there’s at least one better thing to do. We’re betting that there are probably “a few” other things to do in Los Angeles and Orange County for New Year’s Eve, too.
If you really want to see the fireworks, our recommendation would be to see them from somewhere outside the park and to use park admission another day. Normally, the Esplanade between the parks is a popular spot for this, but even it will be over-crowded on New Year’s Eve. Instead, we’d recommend watching from the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure, or Downtown Disney (Catal restaurant has a great viewing terrace).
If you’re an out-of-town tourist and are sort of “stuck” with visiting Disneyland for New Year’s Eve (or are finding this post via Google on New Year’s Eve from Disneyland as you wonder “what have I gotten myself into?!”) then we have a few things you should know and tips that can help…
If you’re visiting Disneyland on New Year’s Eve, you need to brace yourself for the reality of the crowds. You will encounter congestion that makes driving the 101 during rush hour feel liberating by comparison. Just navigating normal walkways will test your patience, and that’s before you even get to the lines for attractions, restaurants, and even restrooms.
We aren’t kidding about that. Restroom lines are common on New Year’s Eve, and don’t be surprised to wait 20 minutes or more for them. Even before you get into the parks, the line to get into the parking structure and then through security checkpoints will be pretty miserable. Oh, all of that’s even assuming you can get in to begin. On New Year’s Eve, the parks (primarily Disneyland) closing to capacity earlier in the day is not uncommon.
If all of this sounds scary…that’s sort of the point. The idea here is to convince you (if it’s not too late) to visit Disneyland some other day. We are not exaggerating any of this, and while you can still have an enjoyable time, the odds of a bad experience or meltdown are exacerbated on New Year’s Eve. Moreover, if avoiding crowds is your paramount concern, you should be avoiding the weeks around the holidays, not reading this guide.
With that said, if you do want to avoid crowds–to the extent that can be done–here are a few tips. First, arrive early and stay late. Plan on getting to the security checkpoints an hour before the parks open, so you can be through security and among the first guests to get inside Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Security will get backed up later in the day.
Crowds are always lightest in the morning, getting progressively worse as the day wears on. Having an efficient itinerary that prioritizes popular attractions first is key, and we recommend following our 1-Day Disneyland or 1-Day Disney California Adventure Plans for this.
On New Year’s Eve, it will be a “successful” day if you can accomplish 25% of what’s on those plans at Disneyland. In DCA, you’ll be able to accomplish far more. Arriving early and knocking out as much as possible before 10 a.m. will at least start the day out on the right foot.
For the best of both worlds, use a Park Hopper ticket and start out at Disneyland before park hopping over to DCA around 10 or 11 a.m. Disney California Adventure will be far less busy throughout the entire day. Just don’t expect to be able to get back into Disneyland–it’s likely to close to capacity (it’s highly unlikely that DCA will close to capacity this year).
Our standard tips for avoiding crowds at Disneyland apply equally here, and we’d recommend focusing your attention on the less popular attractions and shows in both parks. Space Mountain and Radiator Springs Racers will be there in 2021, and will have shorter waits by a matter of hours. Expecting to do every popular attraction is not just a poor idea, it’s literally impossible.
Additionally, we’d recommend eating at off-hours, when restaurants first open or between 2 and 4 p.m. to avoid the rush dining periods, which can mean long lines at restaurants, and minimal empty tables.
You also might want to look at our list of the Top 10 Restrooms at Disneyland, and seek out ones that are off the beaten path. Seriously. This can save you 10-15 minutes in line for a restroom each time…
So this post has been a lot of doom and gloom up until now, but finally, we have a silver lining! Because the crowd levels are so high and wait times for everything are so long, there is a ton of extra atmospheric entertainment in the parks for New Year’s Eve. The highlight is the Fantasy in the Sky New Year’s Eve fireworks at Disneyland and the World of Color “Fountains and Fireworks” Countdown to midnight, but there’s plenty even before then…
While Disneyland has not yet released an official schedule or lineup for New Year’s Eve, if the past is any indication (and it should be) you can expect countdown dance parties all over both parks starting at around 7 p.m.
Some of the dance parties will end at midnight, but others will run until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. (on December 31, 2020 Disneyland should close at 2 am and Disney California Adventure should close at 1 am) For all of the negatives we’ve highlighted, these parties do give a nice energy to both parks. Particularly DCA, which we think has a bit more of a sophisticated/adult atmosphere during the parties.
Typically, dance parties are located in Disneyland near it’s a small world, Fantasy Faire, Tomorrowland Terrace, and in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. The swing dance in Fantasy Faire is our favorite–and it’s fun to people watch (not to sound creepy or anything) there, as some talented dancers show up.
In Disney California Adventure, dance parties are in Cars Land, Paradise Garden, Hollywood Land (Backlot), Carthay Circle, and Sonoma Terrace. In our experience, the Paradise Garden area is least crowded. It’s also unclear whether Hollywood Land will have a dance party this year now that Mad T Party is no more.
Party favors are also distributed in both parks. This might sound like a fun bonus if you’re reading this sitting in the comfort and solitude of your own home, but once you’re there, you’ll realize it’s a particularly cruel form of torture, likely concocted by the same masterminds who devised Gitmo. Think about it: tens of thousands of people…crammed into a tight space…many of whom are inebriated…all with noisemakers.
Even before the dance parties begin, you can expect more atmospheric entertainment and live music in the parks than on a normal day. This is particularly true at Disney California Adventure, where the live performances for Festival of Holidays will still be going strong, and will provide music in all corners of the park. (This is another reason why we recommend DCA below for New Year’s Eve.)
Finally, if you’re into “adult” entertainment, Disney California Adventure is your default option as alcohol is not served in Disneyland. If this is your idea of a good time on New Year’s Eve, read our Disneyland Resort Bar Crawl Guide, for recommendations on where to grab drinks and enjoy the ambiance. Disney California Adventure has several stops on this crawl.
There are also recommendations in that guide in the hotels and Downtown Disney outside of the parks. Leaving and getting back in can be a hassle during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and downright impossible on New Year’s Eve if the parks hit capacity. (Disneyland is much more likely to hit capacity–and often does so by noon.)
A final note with regard to drinking–if your plan is to rely upon Uber, be warned that surge pricing can be really high. Last year, I saw it get above 5x (I wasn’t actively looking for a ride, just checking out of curiosity) in Orange County.
Which Park for the Night?
It remains to be seen whether the parks will close to capacity in the evening this year, or if the aggressive blockout schedule is enough to lower crowd levels (my bet is that it will not hit capacity for that reason), but regardless, it’s wise to choose a park in the early evening and stick with that.
My choice for that would be Disney California Adventure. Here’s why I’m not so keen on Disneyland for New Year’s Eve…
A lot of people head to Disneyland for the experience of ringing in the New Year in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, as I guess it’s one of those romanticized things like celebrating in Times Square. Just like being in Times Square (which looks miserable on television), reality does not match the vision. If you choose to be in front of the castle, you’ll need to stake out a spot hours in advance (people start staking out the benches in the Hub at around noon), and will be packed in like sardines. It’s not pleasant.
Then there’s the issue of leaving after the fireworks are over. If you’ve ever experienced post-fireworks crowd flow during a busy evening at Disneyland, multiply that by about 10. The reason this is so much worse is because of higher crowds and also because about half of that crowd is trying to head deeper into the park (Disneyland doesn’t close after the fireworks) and the other half are heading towards the exit. This results in gridlock. If you’re lucky, you can get from the Hub to the park exit in about 40 minutes.
DCA is going to be less crowded than Disneyland. Not only is it going to be less-crowded but it’s also built to handle crowds much better with wider walkways and more breathing room, generally. (Remember, Disney California Adventure was built nearly 50 years after Disneyland!)
Last year, we did Disney California Adventure on New Year’s Eve, and it felt less crowded than a random summer weekday. At worst, the park was moderately crowded, and the only real exception to this was World of Color: Countdown (but we were still easily able to score a FastPass for it upon arriving in early afternoon).
It was actually a bit surreal to see Disney California Adventure so uncrowded–like we stepped into the Twilight Zone. Speaking of which, when we did Tower of Terror (now Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!) and the elevator doors opened at the top, we could see to Disneyland, and it just looked like a sea of people. It was an incredibly stark contrast.
There are two other considerations, though. The first is that you can see Disneyland’s fireworks from Disney California Adventure, but you cannot see World of Color: Countdown from Disneyland. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy both main pieces of New Year’s Eve entertainment if you’re in Disney California Adventure.
Equally as important, World of Color does not get cancelled due to winds and Disneyland’s fireworks do–pretty regularly. It would stink to camp out for the Disneyland New Year’s Eve Fantasy in the Sky fireworks only to hear the “due to winds at high elevations…” message, cancelling the fireworks. That stupid wind balloon above the park is one of my least-favorite sights at Disneyland.
Most people are probably going to disregard this and do Disneyland anyway (just like they’ll disregard this post and assume crowds won’t be that bad to begin with), but I’d (again) caution you against letting the romanticized notion of ringing in the New Year in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle cloud your judgment.
There’s nothing even remotely romantic about that experience.
With all of that said, we can see the appeal of wanting to be in Disneyland or Disney California Adventure to ring in the New Year. While we obviously don’t recommend doing Disneyland, it can be a fun experience (or good test of your patience?) so long as you know what you’re getting yourself into and prepare accordingly. Hopefully these tips help you devise a strategy for New Year’s Eve at Disneyland…or at least mentally prepare for the chaos.
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 done New Year’s Eve at Disneyland or DCA? What did you think of the crowds? Any survival tips? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of New Year’s Eve at Disneyland? 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!