Want to Make the Most of Your Disney Theme Park Experience?

Want to Make the Most of Your Disney Theme Park Experience?

Here are our secrets for enjoying Disneyland and Walt Disney World… everything from when to visit, to how to get a good deal, to how to do more in the limited time you have.

Best Times to Visit

When is the best time to visit the Disney theme parks?

If you want to visit when the number of Guests is fairly low, plan to stay mid-week (Tuesdays-Thursdays) during

  • mid-September through mid- November
  • mid-January through mid-March
  • or mid-April through mid-May

The benefit of visiting the Resort when number of guests is low is that wait times are shorter and you can do more.
However, the parks may be open for shorter operating hours, there may be fewer entertainment and events,
and attractions are more frequently closed for refurbishment.

If you want to visit while the theme parks have extended hours, entertainment, events and most attractions operating,
plan your stay for weekends, including extended holiday weekends during:

  • Christmas and Spring Break
  • or June-August

During these times, the number of guests is usually increased substantially.

Arrive Early

Ride major attractions early in the morning, take a break in the afternoon when crowds and temperatures peak, and return to the park in the evening.

For that afternoon “break,” you can go back to your hotel, or consider the “theater-based” attractions like Tomorrowland Terrace, The Main Street Opera House, Aladdin’s Oasis, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, Innoventions, Main Street Theater (Mickey cartoons), Golden Horseshoe, etc.

Length of Stay

“How many days should I plan to spend to see everything?”

Whew, that’s a tough question. I know lots of people who go for one day and have a good time. But it’s hardly enough to really see everything.

Here’s the ideal:

At Disneyland Resort, plan two days for Disneyland and one for Disney’s California Adventure. And figure an evening in Downtown Disney.

At Walt Disney World, plan two days for the Magic Kingdom, and another day for each of the other theme parks, and one or two nights for Downtown Disney District. There’s even more you can do, with two water parks, golf courses, and other sports opportunities.

(I’ve usually gone to Walt Disney World on a three day passport, and always left thinking I’d only started to see what I wanted.)

Stay longer? There’s always a lot to do, and some things you’ll want to do more than once! I could spend a week at Epcot, just eating!

Getting Tickets

Types of tickets: Disneyland

  • One-day, One-park Ticket. Use at Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure, but not both.
  • Park Hopper Passports. Good for one to five days, at both parks. Consecutive days are not required, so you can take a break and go to Knotts or the beach. But they do expire 13 days after their first use.
  • Annual Passes.

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World in Florida and brought home
partially used Park Hopper Passes, and if they haven’t expired, you can use them at Disneyland.

Types of tickets: Walt Disney World

  • Magic Your Way tickets. At Disney World, they have tickets good for one to 10 days.
    (The more days you buy, the less you pay per day. Last I checked, a 10 day ticket
    made the price about $22 a day.)

    The basic ticket is a single park ticket, meaning that each day you use the ticket, you must
    go only to one theme park in the Disney World complex. For an additional price, you can
    add a park hopper option and a water park option.
    With the multiple day tickets, consecutive days are not required so you can take a break and
    go to Universal take a “day off.”. But they do expire 14 days after their first use. For an extra fee,
    you can get the expiration date waived. This “sounds” good, but examine the costs carefully.

  • Annual Passes.
  • Special event tickets.

Disneyland Park Hopper Passes are not accepted at Walt Disney World.

Discount Tickets

It’s hard to save much at a Disney venue, because Disney theme parks are the top attractions in the world. They don’t have to rely on discounts. Still, saving 5 to 10% for a family can add up, so consider these options:

Sometimes you can get discount tickets through a supermarket or through a AAA office, if you’re a member.

You can also save money by buying a multiple day ticket. (Disney calls them Passports. After all, you’re going off to a new “land” or “world.”)

At Walt Disney World (not Disneyland) they offer “Magic Your Way” tickets. The daily price goes down as you buy more days. You can also buy “non-expiring” days, which might save overall if you’re buying ahead for next year’s visit. It’s a bit complicated, so check the prices online before you leave at DisneyWorld.com.

Sometimes there’s a deal at the official websites: Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

MousePlanet also keeps track of what’s on sale, as well as which attractions are down for refurbishment. Go to MousePlanet.com and click on the latest Update for the park you’ll be visiting.

Disney World tickets can be purchased from UndercoverTourist.com, a long-established official vendor of Disney World tickets. Note: Prices at UnderCover Tourist include the sales tax, so consider that when comparing.

You may also find a deal at MouseSavers.com.

The Annual Pass

You might also consider an annual pass.

Disneyland Annual Pass secrets:

  1. An annual pass at Disneyland is about the same cost as six days in two or three separate visits. If you’ll be coming back within a year, it might be a best deal. At Walt Disney World, it’s a bit higher, but there’s a lot more to do, so it still might also be a good value.
  2. You can upgrade a regular ticket to an annual pass. If you bought a one day or multiple day ticket, you can upgrade it to an annual pass at City Hall (at Disneyland it’s faster at the Bank of Main Street), and they will apply what you paid. The only catch is that you can’t do it after the ticket expires.
  3. Annual passholders may get discounts on merchandise and dining, and may get parking. This varies with the type of annual pass, but may be a significant benefit if you buy a lot of “stuff.” And parking, last time we checked, was $11 a day.
  4. You can upgrade an annual pass later to a more expensive pass. The cheaper passes at Disneyland and the
    special seasonal pass for Florida residents at Disney World have “blackout days,” days when the pass cannot be used.
    Today you buy the cheapest annual pass that fits your current visit. Later, if you decide to go on a date which
    is restricted on your pass, upgrade it to a pass that will cover it for the difference in price. The advantage?
    You delay payment, and you don’t buy the more expensive pass unless you have too.

    When upgrading, remember you keep the old expiration date.
    In some cases, an upgrade might not be advantageous.

  5. You can also buy a blackout pass, that is, for an extra fee you can gain admittance on a day when your annual pass is “blacked out.” Frankly, I think this is usually a bad idea, unless your pass is about to expire and you know you’ll not be back. Then it might save you money.
  6. Disneyland has special annual passes for Southern California residents, and Disney World has special passes for Florida residents. Proof of residency for each adult is required. If you qualify, take advantage of it!

By the way, I’m not a qualified resident either place, so I pay the higher prices. And it offends me to think that Disney places a higher value on local visitors who may be likely to spend less per day (on food and merchandise) than me. It’s one place Disney misses the point. And they make it worse with advertising and signage in the entry area at Disneyland. While Disney isn’t listening to me, you are, and I highly recommend you not offend your customers this way.

At Disneyland, you can upgrade a ticket to a longer multiple day ticket, as long as you do it before your ticket expires. (I’m sorry, I don’t know if this works at Walt Disney World. It should.)

In other words, suppose you go to Disneyland and buy a one-day ticket. You’re having so much fun you decide to stay another day. Go to City Hall (or to a ticket booth at the entrance) and upgrade the one day to a two day ticket. Then you can come back tomorrow for much less than buying a second ticket tomorrow.


One of Disney’s greatest inventions is FastPass.® Those hour-long lines at top attractions still exist, but you don’t need to stand in them!

Recently, a friend told me about her friends who came back from Walt Disney World complaining about all those “rich people and their FastPasses!” My friend was shocked when I told her that FastPass is free!

This free guest service saves your place in line, allowing you to venture off and experience more before returning to board your attraction with a minimal wait.

It’s like making a “reservation” to come back later and get in the “front of the line.” Wow!

Certain high-demand attractions have FastPass machines. Check the complete list of attractions at the Disney website, or look on the brochure they hand you at the park entrance.

To use Disney’s FastPass service, simply slip your Park Pass into the FastPass machine to receive an assigned return time and enjoy the rest of the park while Disney’s FastPass saves your place in line.

It makes sense that you should always be holding a FastPass card in your pocket.

FastPass Secrets:

  • Your FastPass card shows a time “window” when you should return. Cast members will not let you in line early, but they generally will let you in a little late, but not much. Plan accordingly.
  • Your FastPass card shows the time when you can get another FastPass. But you can break that rule at certain attractions where the machines don’t know you picked up a card at another attraction. It’s hard to know what’s “disconnected” but sometimes a cast member will share the secret (some don’t even know about it). And you can always find out if you subscribe to RideMax.
  • Sometimes the “fetch time,” the time you can get another FastPass on another ride, is shorter than the time printed on the FastPass card. Instead of waiting the full two hours, try an hour later on a different ride. This may work, and it may vary from ride to ride, apparently depending on popularity and how busy the park is that day.
  • The most popular attractions may run out of FastPass cards, or end up with return times that are really late, so get FastPasses for those attractions early.
  • Parks are disconnected. You can get a Fastpass just as you’re leaving Disneyland, and get a FastPass right away at Disney’s California Adventure. Later in the day, when you go back to Disneyland, you already have a FastPass ready to use!
  • There’s nothing wrong with getting a FastPass, then getting in the longer “Standby” line at the same ride. After waiting, and riding, you can ride again with the FastPass.
  • It’s like standing in two lines at the same time!

It’s another free Disney guest service.

Disney Dining

Many of the Disney restaurants take reservations. They call it “Priority Seating.” It’s a lot better than standing in line to eat!

You can call before you leave home. Or you can call as little as an hour before your meal time.

I’ve used my cell phone to make dinner reservations at Disneyland as close as an hour and a half ahead. Then I arrived at the restaurant with my family and we got a table right away.

Others waited. But they could have called. It’s another free Disney guest service.

Disney Dining Phone numbers:

  • Disneyland: 714-781-3463
  • Walt Disney World: 407-939-3463

Put these in your Cell Phone NOW!


Mark and Liesle Winters love Disneyland. Over time, they made a “game” to see how much they could fit into one day at the park.

Mark is a software engineer, and he thought he might be able to write some software to minimize the amount of time they spend in line, thus maximizing the number of attractions they could visit.

It took several years. Today RideMax is helping many people “beat the crowds” at Disneyland and Walt Disney World!

Ridemax is not a Disney service. But for just $15 to $30, it’s a great investment.

I’ve had friends say that with RideMax, they did more in one day than they’d done before in three days! Learn more.

Which Hotels are Best

This advice may be the hardest to give because I don’t know your finances or preferences, but here’s a quick rundown:

For conventions, Disney has a great bunch of hotels with meeting rooms and catering. They can’t be beat!

For personal, leisure travel…

At Disneyland, Anaheim, California…

The Disney hotels are great, but almost an extravagance since you’ll probably spend almost all of your time in the theme parks. My favorite is the Grand Californian; it’s also most expensive. Other nearby hotels may offer good value, with regular shuttle service to the theme parks. I often find great room values under $100 a night, sometimes under $80.

For he best rates check KillerHotelDeals.com and click on Disneyland.

At Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida…

Walt Disney World is a big place. The onsite hotels are far better than offsite, with theme park transportation included (via a daily fee). Disney has a range of hotels from luxury to value. The best onsite Disney operated values are the All-Star and Pop Century hotels. You can also choose non-Disney lodging.

For the best rates check KillerHotelDeals.com and click on Walt Disney World.

Books — Useful Books, not just Guidebooks

There have been plenty of guidebooks about Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But only a handful which actually make the experience a lot better. I think these books are wonderful:

Disneyland Detective by Kendra Trahan. This is a practical history of Disneyland, revealed through the contributions of various Disney Imagineers. You’ll also learn about Hidden Mickeys, puzzles of sorts that make any Disney park experience better.

You’ll discover more about Disney theme parks in Disneyland Detective than in any guidebook. Learn more.

The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation by Steven M. Barrett. Dr. Barrett visits WDW weekly, and he hates to stand in lines. He figures you do, too.

So in this volume he reveals things like where to find the least crowded bathrooms, shady spots for viewing parades, attractions with minimal waits, and quiet spots for taking a rest. Learn more.

Charge Off your Disney Theme Park Trip

Okay, this isn’t meant as tax advice, and I highly recommend you talk to your tax advisor before doing this.

Buy my books about the Disneyland and Walt Disney World business methods. Before you go make a list of things you want to see in action. While you’re there, make a log of business practices you see that you might be able to apply in your business.

That might make your trip a business expense. It depends on your business and tax situation. It’s worth checking out.

The books may also be a deduction.

The Books:

These are great books! Okay, I’m biased. Buy them and read them anyway!

Official Disneyland Information

Disneyland Guest Relations
P.O. Box 3232
1313 South Harbor Boulevard
Anaheim, CA 92803-3232
Tel. 714-781-4565 for recorded information
Tel. 714-781-7290 for live information

Official Walt Disney World Information

Walt Disney World Guest Relations
PO Box 10000
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
Tel. 407-939-6244

Prepared by Rich Hamilton with help from Dave Tavres.

Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Magic Your Way, FastPass and Downtown Disney are a registered trademarks of Disney Enterprises.