The Grand Circle Tour (Disneyland Railroad)

  The Guided Tours booth is where all of the Disneyland Park tours begin. (After you pass through the turnstiles, walk through the left tunnel, below the train track next to the Main Street station. It's just to the left of City Hall. 
The Guided Tours booth is where all of the Disneyland Park tours begin. (After you pass through the turnstiles, walk through the left tunnel, below the train track next to the Main Street station. It’s just to the left of City Hall. 

To celebrate the reopening of the Disneyland Railroad (it’s been closed since January 2016), Disneyland has started a new tour. It’s so new that when I joined it, the tour had been given only 4 times and hadn’t yet been advertised on the Disneyland web site or the Disneyland app. (One of the Disneyland train conductors told me about the tour)

Everyone on the tour received this cool badge on a lanyard (Our “credentials”) to identify us as members of the tour.

The tour begins in the charming courtyard behind the Tour ticket booth, with specially-decorated donuts from the Jolly Holiday Bakery, coffee, hot chocolate, and fruit (not shown here are the apple slices and bananas, too). A gluten-free option is also available on request (my flourless brownie was amazingly delicious!). Our guide (Carlos) said he wanted to make sure we had enough energy to do the walking portion of the tour. Each person also gets a listening device with headphones for use during the tour.

Carlos, our Tour Guide, kept telling us that because this is a new tour, a few things were still being ironed out (such as, I was the first person to ask for a gluten-free treat instead of the doughnut). He was an excellent tour guide, always keeping things moving and leaving time for questions. He said it was his fourth day of doing this tour, but you wouldn’t know it because he didn’t miss a beat. Very professional.

  Carlos, our Tour Guide extraordinaire! (the guest behind him was not on our tour)
Carlos, our Tour Guide extraordinaire! (the guest behind him was not on our tour)

This tour is different from Disneyland’s other tours because it’s one of Disneyland’s new “immersive” story-telling tours that use video, film and audio clips to help tell the story. Carlos carried an iPad Pro to show us historic film and pictures, as well as for playing interviews, radio clips, and other spoken information.

This post is a brief summary of the tour…you wouldn’t want me to give away everything, right?

After our snacks and coffee, the tour started outside City hall by introducing Walt Disney’s fascination with trains as a young boy that eventually led to construction of Disneyland Park and the Disneyland Railroad as we know it today. From there we learned about the Main Street Station,  followed by a short walk along Main Street, stopping at several places, including a stop to watch train-related cartoon inside the Main Street Cinema. 

  This is a 1955 map of the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad, back when DRR only had two locomotives. (From my personal collection)
This is a 1955 map of the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad, back when DRR only had two locomotives. (From my personal collection)

From Main Street, we walked through Frontier Land to New Orleans Square, with stops along the way along way to further develop Walt Disney’s relationship with trains, animation,  movies, and Disneyland.

After a “comfort break” in New Orleans Square (restrooms and water fountains), we boarded one of the DRR trains, and not just ANY car. We rode on the Lilly Belle, which Lillian Disney (Walt’s wife) helped to design after his passing. Our guide continued the story with more information about the inspiration for and history of the car, as we rode along the portion of the railroad route between New Orleans Square and the Toon Town station. Of the four people on this tour, I was the only one who had ever been on the Disneyland Railroad. The Imagineers did a great job of re-routing the train tracks for Star Wars Land construction, including incorporating some new (and references to old) scenery into the route, while hiding most of Star Wars Land construction (other than a crane and some building shells).

All of the furnishings are antiques or custom-made reproductions, and the colors are Lillian’s favorites. Yes, the car has Hidden Mickeys too.

After stopping at the Toon Town station (did you know it used to be the Fantasy Land Station? and that it’s been relocated several times?) our train ride passed through the freshened-up Grand Canyon and Primeval World exhibits (they’ve got some new lighting and special effects — and a new narrator! — but the stories are the same).  At the Main Street station, we disembarked and met Eric, one of the Disneyland Railroad Cast Members, who told us more interesting stories about the trains and answered our many obscure questions.

At the very end of the tour, we each received an illustrated Map of the Disneyland Railroad, complete with illustrations of each of the locomotives that make up the fleet. (Sorry, no picture! I have to leave something to surprise you, right?)

Bonus Train experience…another first for me. If you see this caboose, definitely ask to ride in it (but not on a warm afternoon…it has no air conditioning!).

By the way, according to the Tour Guides, taking this tour will now be the ONLY way to ride the Lilly Belle.

I highly recommend that you make your tour reservations in advance (up to 30 days before you visit the park). 714 781-8687 or day Walk-up reservations are sometimes possible (at least 30 minutes prior). The tour is currently only being given in the morning, so get to the Tour booth early if you haven’t made advance reservations. 

Soooo.. What is your favorite part of the Disneyland Railroad?


What to do on a Really Crowded Day at DLR (Part 1)

Also known as “You know the Parks are going to be super-crowded, but you NEED a Disneyland Day.” 

You’ve read When to Go Parts 1 and 2, and checked Touring Plans’ Crowd Calendars, and the results are not good.  Maybe friends or family are visiting and they really “have to” go to Disneyland, but it’s the middle of summer or that crazy week between Christmas and the New Years Day weekend. What do you do?

  Photo courtesy of OC Register
Photo courtesy of OC Register

Your options:

Option 1: Go Anyway (but follow a carefully thought-out plan)

Option 2: Spend a day doing other fun Disney activities

Option 3: Use the time to plan a trip to DLR on a less-crowded day

Option 4: Spend a day at another cool destination in Southern California

I’ll discuss Option 1 in this post, since that’s what this site is about. The other options are definitely good second choices, especially on THE MOST CROWDED days at the Parks. (More about the other options in Part 2 .. and maybe Part 3.)

First, here are some Rules for having a good Disneyland (and/or California Adventure) day when it’s really crowded:

1. Make sure you’ve checked the Disneyland website and you know what the parks hours are. Take advantage of the longer hours that the parks are usually open on the most crowded days. In other words, get into the parks early and stay until closing. Most people don’t know about getting into the park before Rope Drop. And a tsunami of people leave the parks right after the fireworks show, especially people with small children. Most people leave relatively early on Sunday nights and weeknights that aren’t followed by a weekend or holiday. (In summer, this staying late rule doesn’t work as well because so many people are there on vacation.)

 photo from MyVeryGeekyLife
photo from MyVeryGeekyLife

2. It will be crowded. Make the best of it and think of it as a chance to (see #3)…. 

3. Ride some rides, and visit some attractions and parts of the park that you usually don’t see.

4. Plan your meal times away from the usual “lunch at noon to 1 pm; dinner at 5 pm to 7 pm.” Use the time when other people are eating to enjoy the somewhat shorter lines.

The first row of pictures below show wait times at Pirates of the Caribbean, HyperSpace Mountain, and Autopia on a very uncrowded day at Disneyland. The clock on Hyperspace Mountain says 7:20 a.m. (We had an Extra Magic Morning hour before park opening at 8 a.m.)

The bottom row shows wait times on a more crowded day at Disneyland (the left and middle pictures) and California Adventures (the last picture), without Fastpasses. Yep, 120 minutes (2 hours!) for Radiator Springs Racers. We went to see Soarin’ Around the World instead. (If you were using the Disneyland App and clicked on each of the ride boxes, you’d see the FastPass return times).

The Plan

BEFORE you arrive at the parks (preferably at least the night before you leave home—or sooner!):

1.  Load the following apps onto your smartphone:

MOST IMPORTANT: The Disneyland App– It’s FREE and is a wealth of useful information. See this page for more info and a link to download it. 

Heads Up (game) – Many people play this game in the line for Toy Story Midway Mania (it’s rarely less than 30 minutes long; usually much longer). It’s a fun game and helps pass the time during long lines (and you can dazzle your friends with some Disney trivia!). (It’s also available at The App Store and Google Play).

2.  Be sure you have a valid ticket for your Disneyland day. This includes making sure your ticket (Disneyland calls it a “Pass”) or Annual Pass (“Annual Passport”) has not expired, and is not blocked out for the day.  If you have a One-Day Ticket, check the calendar on this page to determine if you’ll need to upgrade your ticket.  Go to this page to determine Annual Pass Blockout days.  If you don’t have a ticket (a Pass), buy one online here so you (and your friends) can be in the park, not don’t wasting time waiting in the ticket booth line. You can buy Annual Passes online, too.

3.  Review the tips about when to arrive at the park and add 15-30 minutes to your driving/train/walking time.

4.  Ask each person to decide on one “must-do” ride, attraction, or parade. Figure out locations of the rides and their FASTPASS kiosks (if available). Then set up sequence for getting these rides done first (or getting a FASTPASS for each of these). Parades don’t have Fastpasses, but you’ll want to figure in some time for staking out a spot on the parade route at least 30 minutes before the parade. If you get these done, everything else will be less stressful.

5.  Fully charge your phone, and bring a charging cable and a charger. If you don’t have a charger, consider getting a Fuel Rod at Disneyland. I think Fuel Rod is one of the best inventions EVER! See this page for my review.

On Your DLR day….

Plan to arrive at the turnstile lines (entrance gates to the individual park; where the Cast Member will scan your ticket) at least 45 minutes to 1 hour before the official park opening time. Why? For Rope Drop! See this page for details.  (If you STILL didn’t get a Park ticket yet, you can buy it through the Disneyland Mobile App on your way to the park: see this page.)

After you show your pass to the cast member and go through a turnstile, walk directly toward the Rope Drop area leading to your first “must-do” ride. This can be a good time to send one person to fetch snacks, coffee or other beverages while the others wait for the rope drop. 

  This is the Starbucks on Main Street in Disneyland. It had a line out the door right after people started entering the park. Within 15 minutes, the line had shrunk to this. Lots of Baristas in this Starbucks, so the line moves quickly.
This is the Starbucks on Main Street in Disneyland. It had a line out the door right after people started entering the park. Within 15 minutes, the line had shrunk to this. Lots of Baristas in this Starbucks, so the line moves quickly.

The California Adventure Rope Drop map is below–red lines are the location of the “ropes.” EXCEPT during my last visit to DCA, the Rope Drop area on the left side of the Buena Vista Street fountain–was relocated further into the Park. It’s now between the Little Mermaid ride and the Little Mermaid shop. Along the walkway to this rope, there are at least three restrooms and several places to get food. You can also get World of Color FastPasses before park opening near the Little Mermaid ride. (People with Extra Magic Morning tickets and guests staying at the DLR hotels are allowed past the ropes for one hour prior to park opening. The rest of us look on with anticipation).

The red lines near the Buena Vista Fountain (to the right–to Hollywood Land– and below it–toward Cars Land) and the purple line near the Little Mermaid ride are the locations of the Ropes that “drop” at the official DCA opening time. People gather behind the ropes waiting for the official park opening.

As soon as the rope drops, go directly to the FASTPASS kiosk for your first choice ride/attraction that you REALLY want to do (or ride that ride if the line is short).  Find the FASTPASS Return line after you get a FASTPASS. For example, the StarTours FastPass return line is a new location (near the Tomorrow Land entrance, facing the “Hub.” 

UPDATE: As of June 30, you will receive a paper FastPass “Reminder”  and your FastPasses will be loaded onto your Annual Pass or Park Pass (aka Pass). You’ll scan your Pass (not your FastPass!) at the FastPass Return Line for each ride. Some rides will have one scanner near the FP Return Line entrance; others will also have a FP scanner closer to where you get on (in?) the ride.  The scanner will not let you into the ride if you are too late or too early (usually 5 minutes early is ok) for your FastPass Return time

Next, get in line for a ride near the FASTPASS kiosk that you just visited (OR pull a FASTPASS for the next ride with a long wait time). Depending upon the return time of your first FastPass, you can usually go on another ride.  Repeat as necessary, with meal and rest breaks, of course. For more information about FastPasses and how to maximize their use, see this page from Disneyland Daily (Casey explains it very well..why reinvent….Thanks, Casey!).

If you’ve arrived before Rope Drop, you’ll be able to ride several rides and pull at least a few FASTPASSES during the first two or three hours that the park is open. Keep monitoring the Disneyland App for wait time and FASTPASS return times, because wait times seem to change for no apparent reason.

Sometime around 10 or 11 am, you’ll notice the park getting very busy and the lines will have gone from 20 and 30 minutes to 40, 50 and 60 minutes, with an occasional 120 minute wait. This is a good time to take a break and have a snack, or lunch.You’ll start going to the rides that are less busy, have fast-moving lines, or have moderate length lines, but are either inside a building (the air conditioning is a big relief during Southern California summers, late spring and fall) or longer than the average rides and shows. See the lists below for the rides that typically have the longest lines (especially in the afternoon and early evening)

Most popular rides at Disneyland (FP = FastPasses available)

Star Tours (Tomorrowland; FP)

HyperSpace Mountain (Tomorrowland; FP)

Indiana Jones Adventures (Adventureland; FP)

Matterhorn Bobsleds (Tomorrowland; FP)

Splash Mountain—on warm days–(Critter Country FP)

Peter Pan’s Adventures (Fantasyland)

Finding Nemo (Tomorrowland)


Disneyland’s less popular/shorter lines; some with longer length rides or longer shows (The first two are in air conditioned buildings; the Monorail has air conditioning too.)

Tiki Room (get a Dole Whip–from the line inside the waiting area–and enjoy it during the show)

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln/Disneyland Story & gallery

Tarzan’s Tree House


Disneyland Railroad (on hiatus until mid-2017 due to Star Wars Land construction)

Mark Twain Riverboat, Pirate’s Lair, & Columbia Sailing Ship (on hiatus until mid-2017 due to Star Wars Land construction)



Most popular rides at Disney’s California Adventure (FP = FastPasses available)

Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: BREAKOUT (Hollywood Land; FP)

Radiator Springs Racers (Carsland; FP)

California Screamin’ (FP)

Toy Story Midway Mania (Paradise Pier; FP–just arrived on 4/7/2017)

Grizzly River Run (Grizzly Peak; FP — especially on warm to hot days)

Soarin’ Around the World (Grizzly Peak; FP)

Goofy’s Sky School (Paradise Pier; FP)

California Adventure’s Less Crowded/Shorter lines; some with longer time rides or shows (the first four are inside an air conditioned building)

It’s Tough to Be a Bug (Bug’s Land)

Animation Academy (Hollywood Land)

Turtle Talk with Crush (Hollywood Land)

Little Mermaid- Ariel’s Adventure (Hollywood Land)

Silly Symphony Swings (Paradise Pier)

Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (Grizzly Peak)

Golden Zephyr (Paradise Pier)

Other Disneyland Resort Activities

Shopping, especially along Main Street (DL) and Buena Vista Street (DCA), and in Downtown Disney

Get a sample of chocolate at Ghirardelli’s and bread at Boudin’s (DCA)

Search for Hidden Mickeys all over the parks

Tour Carthay Circle Restaurant (Free! Arrive at 10:20 a.m. for the tour at 10:30 am.)

Get a cold drink or an ice cream cone, find a bench or chair, and watch people

Take the Monorail to Downtown Disney and browse the shops, enjoy some music (evenings), or have something to eat or drink from one of the many many delicious choices.

Watch candy-making at Trolley Treats (Buena Vista St- DCA); Candy Palace (Main Street-DL); Pooh Corner (Critter Country – DL); or Marceline’s Confectionary in Downtown Disney.

I hope these tips will help improve your next Disneyland Resort visit on a super crowded day.

Next installment: options 2 through 4:

Option 2: Spend a day doing other fun Disney activities

Option 3: Use the time to plan a trip to DLR on a less-crowded day

Option 4: Spend a day at another cool destination in Southern California

Watch Facebook for these!

Do you have a tip I didn’t list here? Please tell me about it in the comments box below.