PICKING A DATE
Before you pick a date to visit the parks, know that you will have a much better day (or days) if you arrive at the parks early. I’ll cover what is meant by “early” in another post (this one).
The dates you pick for visiting the Parks will have a huge influence on how much fun you will have (I bet you don’t want to stand in line all day or feel like you can’t walk 3 feet without getting run over by a baby stroller.). I use a number of sources to decide when to visit.
- Calendar Dates
- Crowd calendars
- Special Events
- Annual Pass Blackout dates
- Ticket prices
USUALLY the least crowded days in the parks:
- Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays during the following months:
- Early January through mid-May, with some exceptions (see Special Events below)
- First week in June
- After Labor Day (second week in September) through third week in October
- Early November until (but not including) Thanksgiving week
- The week after Thanksgiving through middle of the second week of December
Of course, all of these can be more crowded if there’s a race, a new or upgraded ride or attraction, or some other huge Disney event. So keep reading.
Touring Plans has a “crowd calendar” that’s a great resource for determining the best dates to visit DLR. They rank “crowdedness” of Disneyland, California Adventure and the overall resort on a scale of 1-10. They define a crowd as “the average posted wait time for the key attractions between 10:00 am and 5 pm.” And that’s important because you want to ride as many rides as possible, rather than standing in lines all day and feeling like a sardine. (no offense to sardines).
Touring Plans’ crowd index is related to the following:
- How hard is it to walk around the parks?
- How far in advance do I have to book my hotel to make sure I get a room?
- How long do I have to wait to experience the most popular attractions?
- What is the total attendance across the resort?
- When I tour around the parks how does it feel? Do I feel like people are in my personal space or is there room to breathe?
Their crowd indexes are based on scientific formulas and historical data, as well as calendars, and it is right MOST of the time. I’m ok with that, since at least I have some idea of how crowded the parks will be. I highly recommend that you subscribe to this service (here) to help you plan your visits. ($7.95 for an entire year) Bonus tip: install the iPhone or Android app on your smart phone to check crowd levels anytime.
Generally, a lower Crowd Index number means a much better day for you because fewer other guests are in the Parks. You’ll experience shorter lines for rides, attractions, restrooms, and food, so you’ll get to do more things–and get run over less often.
As an example: a day where the overall DLR is ranked as a 10 would be one of those days when you can hardly move because there are so many other people in the park all trying to go someplace other than where they are; the lines for all the rides are at least 45-60 minutes long; the FastPasses distributed in the morning tell you to return really late (if there are any left at all!); and the Parks start running out of your favorite foods. On some of these “10” days, DL management could close the turnstiles because too many people are in the park.
In contrast, a day predicted to have a Crowd level of 2 or 3 is what we all love and wish for. Lines for most of the rides in each park have wait times of 5 to 10 minutes; the restaurants have no or minimal waiting time; and you can actually take good pictures without waiting for the crowd to walk by. On a really low attendance day, some FastPass machines will not even be turned on because the wait time is so low. I’m really picky about how crowded the Parks can be when I visit. In general, I will not go to the Parks on a day with a crowd index of 7 or more. Your experiences may vary, depending upon your tolerance of crowds (and stroller derby parents).
Disneyland Resort sponsors several special events that affect how crowded the parks are. These include:
- Any day of a Disney race at DLR. For those who don’t know, the Disney sponsors many themed 10Ks, marathons, and half-marathons running/walking races, such as the Princess, Star Wars, Avengers, and a bunch of others that start at end at the DLR. During the early morning hours on the day (or days) of the race, the Parks can be less crowded. But within an hour or so after the first racers finish, guess where they go? (I hope you didn’t say “home.” That’s wishful thinking.)
- Superbowl Sunday. This WAS a good day to enjoy the parks. Not anymore. But since the SuperBowl starts so late (4 pm, Pacific time), crowds are at the same level as a regular Sunday, and some people will leave to go watch the game around 3 pm. Of course, not everyone watches football, so the parks stay full.
- The first day of a new, upgraded, or reopened “key” ride. For example, Soarin’ Over California recently became Soarin’ Around the World, which resulted in a very busy day at California Adventure.
ANNUAL PASS BLACKOUT DAYS
Disneyland Resort Annual Passports can be purchased at various prices, each with a corresponding number of days that the pass can be used for admission to the parks. The most expensive DLR Annual Pass (AP) allows the passholder to visit EVERY day of the year; second most expensive AP allows every day except the 14 days of Christmas vacation; and so on, down to the Southern California Select Pass, which doesn’t allow visits during most of summer, and many weekends, in addition to the Christmas vacation days.
Disneyland Resort publishes a calendar on their website showing the days when the various levels of Annual Passes are not admitted to the park; these days are “blacked out.” The passes are blacked out on specific dates because Disney Parks management expects the crowds to be heavier on these days. Therefore, a handy way to check how crowded the parks will be: view the Annual Pass Black-out calendar. If no APs are blacked out, the day will be less crowded than if one level is blacked out. And if one type of pass is blacked out, the parks will be less crowded than if two or three levels are blacked out.
Disney has recently adopted crowd-based ticket pricing, which has become another clue to predicting Park crowd levels. One-day tickets are sold at three prices, based upon predicted crowds:
- Value for less crowded days: $95
- Regular for average crowds: $105 (can be used on Value days also)
- Peak for most crowded days: $119 (can also be used on Regular and Value days)
See this page for more information, including the calendar. As of this writing, the price of multi-day tickets does not change based on the date and predicted crowds.
Many people who live in or visit Southern California will not go to Disneyland on a rainy day. Use this to your advantage. For example, if you purchased Regular-priced tickets and heavy rain is predicted, this would generally be a really quiet day at the parks (assuming some special Disney event isn’t scheduled). Be prepared (see WHAT TO BRING), and you will be rewarded with shorter lines + fewer other people in the parks.
WHEN NOT TO GO
In general, you’ll want to avoid the typically crowded days at the Disneyland Resort.
- The two weeks around Christmas and New Years (known as Christmas vacation, winter break, or some other name). Disney calls it “The Holidays.” These are absolutely, positively, with 100% certainty THE MOST CROWDED DAYS at Disneyland Resort. (check out the crowd calendar and the blackout calendar)
- Spring Break, which can get really complicated when you’re planning your vacation. When I was growing up, we always had Easter break the week before (or after) Easter Sunday. Not as simple now. Some schools get the week after Easter, some get a break 10 weeks after the winter semester starts, some 8 weeks after the end of Winter break, and many more variations. When I start planning a Spring season trip, I usually review online school calendars for the University of California, California State University, Orange County Schools, and Los Angeles Unified School District to determine if any of them will be on Spring Break.
- Thanksgiving, including the day before Thanksgiving, and the Friday through Sunday after Thanksgiving.
- Most summer days between the first week of June and the third week in August. Yep, that’s when the kids are on summer break from school. And so one (or both) of their parents take a day off work and guess where they go? Yep. Enuff said. Grad nights are also scheduled during the end of May through mid-June.
- Second week of December to third week of December. Same reason as summer, but not as bad as during winter break (aka Christmas vacation).
- First few days of January. Most schools don’t resume until at least a few days after January 1, so these days fall into the school break category, but worse than summer.
Of course, there are days that defy the crowd calendars and logic: July 4, 2016 was widely reported to be a low attendance day. Peak-day (highest price) one-day tickets were sold that day, and it is a national holiday. Go figure!