Popular amusement parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Six Flags seem to just keep getting busier. How can you make the most out of your visit to the Happiest Place on Earth while fighting the crowds?

For starters, staying in one of the three Disney-owned hotels will give you multiple benefits. Aside from not having to walk or drive and battle parking in the lot, hotel guests get a perk called “Magic Hour.” Magic Hour allows you to get into either Disneyland Park, or California Adventure Park an hour before opening. The wait times are practically nothing, the longest still being Space Mountain in Disneyland and Guardians of the Galaxy in California Adventure Park. So it’s best to ride those first if they’re high on your to-do list.

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Another neat asset to staying in the hotel is the restaurants inside for breakfast and dinner buffets with the characters. This is one of the best experiences for families because the characters will interact with the kids while parents enjoy wrapping up their meals. The Disney Hotels also go out of their way to make your special occasion feel more personal by sending free treats and balloons to your hotel room, with a pin to wear in the park that says what you’re there for. These pins include everything from anniversaries to birthdays, first trips to the park, graduations, and newly weds. Wearing these pins will get you congratulations from both Disney employees and other guests, and occasionally free desserts or other small gestures to thank you for spending your special day at Disneyland. Regardless of whether or not you stay in a hotel, you can still ask for one at guest services before entry into the park. 

If you’re planning out multiple days to stay in one of the hotels, if possible the best time to go is in the beginning of the work week. Typically, three days is enough to do everything you want to since Disneyland in California is no where near the size of Disney World in Florida which is larger and has more parks. Before booking your stay, consider what holidays are near. While Disneyland gets all decked out for both Halloween and Christmas, these are the busiest times of the year. If you have a younger child who can’t ride as much, this may be a fun time so that they have other things to do and see. But older kids who can ride most of the attractions will probably prefer going during non-holiday seasons where there’s less visitors and less wait times. But holidays aren’t the only large scale events hosted by Disneyland, check the schedule to see if there’s grad-nights, conventions, or any other events where either (or both parks) may be closing early. This will put a huge damper in your trip if you had the expectations of staying all night long, so if you’re going to spend the money on a hotel room and a ticket for three days, make sure you’re not going during the worst times.

If you are planning a visit just for the day, again it’s highly recommended to go in the beginning of the work week to avoid as much foot traffic as possible. Leave early to avoid car traffic as well! The nice part about a few days is the ability to take your time with shows and attractions, but if you’re going for a day, map out with your family or friends what things you want to do specifically and stick to them. Get fast-passes for the long wait rides (Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredicoaster, Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Mania, Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones etc.). Consider buying the MaxPass which allows you to get back to back fast-passes easier through your Disney app on your phone, while not entirely necessary for a longer visit it’s absolutely worth it for a one day experience. Aside from planning rides, figure out where you want to eat dinner or what snacks you want to try during lunch time. When you’re staying for multiple days, you can always have a sit down dinner in Downtown Disney or one of the fancy restaurants inside either park. But if you’re trying to hit everything on your list in just a day, consider eating at a few of the pay and go restaurants in one of the parks, so that you don’t have to leave and go to Downtown Disney.

Some of these spots in Disneyland are the Alien Pizza Planet (based off of Toy Story, located towards the back of Tomorrowland), the Bengal Barbecue (located directly across from Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones), or just grab a classic turkey leg! While restaurants like the Plaza and Blue Bayou Cafe are delicious and unique experiences, they’re also much more high priced and take a long time because you have to wait to be seated, wait to eat, and wait to pay. If it’s an important stop on your list, try getting a reservation, but just know that a lot of time can be spared by getting a faster meal at one of these smaller scale stops. California Adventure Park also offers restaurants similar to this, located on the bridge near the boardwalk in between Cars Land and Pixar Pier. Their dining options include Chinese food, Mexican food, and a bakery which serves soup in bread bowls, Mac n cheese, and pastries, A secret menu option is the Mac n cheese bread bowl, which will keep you satisfied for most of your stay!

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Disney is always a fun experience, but it’s best to try and get the most out of your time there since it is so pricey and busy. With these tips in mind, enjoy your stay or visit to the happiest place on earth!