When to Visit
Note: If you're viewing this guide on your mobile device, be sure to use the Hours & Schedules section to get the most up-to-date park hours, schedules and attendance estimates. This section is designed for trip planning.
After the decision to visit the Disneyland Resort has been made, the most daunting task is left to complete. Over the past ten years, the "off-season" at Disneyland has shrunk dramatically as new special events in the fall and around the holidays have attracted visitors. Many would now say that the weekends are always "on" and never quiet, even during the "off" times of year. However, there are still fluctuations in the attendance level and amount of events at the park throughout the year.
The on-season is the best choice if:
- Seeing all of Resorts famous shows is a must
- Crowds are not a problem
- Having the option of 15 hours to visit the park, from 8 a.m. to midnight is a plus
The off-season (or what's left of it) will be best if:
- Extremely small crowds are a preferable
- Getting onto attractions without being forced to use Fastpass sounds appealing
- Viewing the larger shows is not a priority
- Shorter park hours, usually from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., are okay
Park Hours and What They Represent
When deciding when to visit the Disneyland Resort, park hours should be the number one guide for estimating attendance. Planners at the Resort will usually offer increased hours when they expect larger crowds. For example the normal hours deep in the off-season are usually 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., compared to 8 a.m. to Midnight for the average summer day. Operating hours are a very clear indication of what attendance is expected for a given day.
On the extremely rare occasion underestimates will be made as to the attendance on a given day. In these cases Disneyland will extend its operating schedule by an hour or two, to accommodate the increased crowds. Announcements will be made throughout the park notifying visitors of these changes.
The on season is best known as that time when the Disneyland Resort sees its largest crowds. Vacation periods are created with federal holidays and the long summer break afforded to most school children. The Disneyland Resort is a very popular choice for families and groups looking for something to do on their much-deserved time off and the crowds definitely show this.
When Is It?
Over the past decade, the 'on' season at Disneyland Resort has greatly expanded. Traditionally the on season shows its longest sustained attendance rates during the summer, which runs Memorial Day weekend in the end of May until Labor Day weekend during the first week of September. While things used to slow down at this point, the Halloweentime events at the Resort now continue crowds from September through the end of October, at which point the Holiday season begins. Crowds also peak around other holiday weekends, including Martin Luther King Jr., President's Day, & Easter/Spring Break. In early June, attendance also peaks as Southern California Annual Passholders rush to visit the park before their passes are blocked out all summer. The absolute busiest time of the year to visit the park is now during the December holiday rush, where you may even see attendance maxed out and the front gates close to new ticket holders.
While these times are the busiest of the year, they are a great opportunity to see all of the shows the Resort offers. The Resort looks too keep all guests entertained, even when there are large crowds. During the on season the Resort will offer its full slate of entertainment features from its daytime entertainment to the nighttime spectaculars.
The on season does have its fluctuations in attendance with the lightest crowds from Tuesday to Thursday during the week. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest time with later hours and peak attendance. The parks are open late every night, usually until midnight, during the on season. Guests should be prepared for the crowds and hot temperatures during the summer. The What to Bring/Wear and Attractions sections in this guide offer information on how to beat the heat and offer recommendations on seeing the main attractions without being absorbed in heavy crowds.
Summertime is definitely a good time to visit for those guests who would like to see the Resort's largest shows and do not mind if they cannot ride every attraction. For those guests who would like to get on as many rides as possible and must visit during the summertime, it can be done but must be planned out accordingly. Most guests dislike this season because of how busy it is, but it depends on the attitude and expectations of the guest. Here are a few tips for guests entering the park during the on season:
- Guests should ensure the family is well rested and gets a good night's sleep before the big day(s) at the parks so that crankiness is kept to a minimum.
- Guests should not enter the park expecting to ride every ride or see every show, as this is just not possible on a busy on season day. Guests who are aware of this and come just to enjoy the day will have a much more relaxed time.
- Guests with young children should be aware of the different attractions for children and adults, and should try not to get frustrated if a child wants to spend hours in one location of the park.
- It is recommended to plan a break during the middle of the day, when the park is busier and the hottest. For guests staying at a hotel close to The Disneyland Resort, it is a good idea to return and take a rest. Another relaxing option is to visit one of the less popular attractions in the parks. See Midday - Afternoons in the Attractions section for details on the less popular attractions. Often a short rest or period of relaxation is well needed and well deserved, and guests should not hesitate to take one in the middle of the day.
- Plan carefully for viewing night time entertainment, and arrange priority seating or have a volunteer in your party scope out spots early on. Nighttime has become a much busier time at the Resort than it used to be because of the influx of Annual Passholders who often visit after work.
Disney California Adventure
Disney California Adventure has added an extra twist to larger crowds during the on season. This park has a limited capacity of 30,000 to 35,000 guests. While DCA has not filled to capacity since its opening months in 2001, the 2011 and 2012 attraction additions and expansions to the park are likely to increase its popularity and cause it to reach capacity more often during busy times. If this happens they will stop selling tickets to guests, but should let those who already hold tickets enter.
The off-season was once a much longer stretch of time and was a favorite of Resort regulars, offering small crowds with a very relaxed atmosphere. However, since the addition of more special events throughout the year and a huge influx of Annual Passholders, there are very few times at the Resort where crowds are not present. In fact, many Disneyland fans would now say that there are no "off-season" weekends - Fridays - Sunday generally stay quite busy at the Resort, even during the quiet times of year. Generally speaking, the time of year with the lowest crowds runs from January - Early March, with the exception of holiday weekends. The off-season is a great time for guests who would like to visit the parks without all the crowds and who don't mind missing some of the more popular shows. Weekdays during the off-season (excluding some Fridays) don't usually have much in the way of entertainment.
There is some daytime entertainment, but nothing large and the parks are usually not open past 6 or 8 in the evening. Weekends (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) will typically include most of the summertime shows and be relatively busy. The parks are open until 10 p.m. or midnight. Guests who cannot visit during the week should visit on Sunday, which offers all the same shows that Saturday does but with slightly fewer crowds (again, Sundays are much busier than they used to be as AP Holders like to visit when they are not blocked out) Sundays are also only open until about 10 or 11 p.m. as opposed to Saturday's midnight. Guests who dislike crowds should try to stay away from the park on Saturdays, as it may get as busy as a summer day.
This is a great time to visit for guests who are willing to take their child out of school. Since the attendance is much lower, a day at the park(s) becomes less taxing, which helps to provide more energy to keep going for longer periods of time.
Attendance Trends Throughout the Year
The following is a seasonal outline of general attendance projections and crowds at the Resort throughout the year. Besides seasonal events, Guests should be aware of several factors that can impact park hours and crowds. Special events and conventions at the Anaheim Convention Center can make for a busy day during what would normally be a quieter period - these include company picnics, student band/cheerleading competitions, Gay Days, and Grad Nites. Annual Passholders also have a significant impact on park attendance. AP's generally visit in the evenings (particularly Friday nights) or Sunday afternoons, but frequent the park more regularly during certain seasons. Because more Guests (AP'ers) work full time, attendance tends to peak in the late afternoon/evening hours just as much (if not more) than midday as locals come in for a visit or night out after work.
TIP: Use the Annual Passholder Blockout Days as a guide for trip planning.
January - Early March
The beginning of the year starts with the massive removal of all the Holiday decorations adorning the Disneyland Resort and odds are January will find Haunted Mansion and it's a small world closed for the removal of their Holiday overlays, probably beginning the second week of the month. Expect to find as many as six attractions undergoing refurbishment at any one time during January and February. Generally the first quarter of the year finds the parks remarkably less crowded than the rest of the year, and there is a strong chance of rain as Southern California moves into its wet season (known as winter everywhere else!). The one good thing about rain is that almost every ride in the Parks will have NO wait.
Non-holiday weekends still get crowded, though not near what you find during peak seasons. If the weather is nice and sunny, Park Attendance will reflect the good fortune. While the first week of January may still maintain holiday hours, the next six weeks will find Disneyland opening from about 10am - 8pm M-Th, 9am - 10pm or 11pm F-Sun and Disney California Adventure opening at 10am each morning while closing at 6pm M-Th and 8pm or 9pm F-Sun. These hours will extend over the Martin Luther King Jr. and President's Day weekends in January and February, which reflects higher attendance numbers and bigger crowds. The park will remain less crowded until mid-March, when the spring break crowds hit.
Mid March - Memorial Day
Spring Breaks are a bit more unpredictable than they used to be across the nation, so attendance now remains high from the midpoint of March until the early days of May with students young and old taking advantage of their time off school. The end of May also kicks off the season of high school grad nights, where the park may close earlier to the public to allow the influx of teens in for the evening. While weekdays in May let up a bit of this trend, Memorial Day weekend comes in with a bang and kicks off the summer season with high crowds. Memorial Day weekend is also a common time for the Resort to promote summer attractions with special events, making for big crowds in both parks.
June - Annual Passholder Rush
The early parts of June before most kids are out for summer used to be a nice time to visit the parks, but the month is now a popular time to visit for Annual Passholders whose passes are "blocked out" during the rest of the summer. Disney has received a huge influx of passholders over the past decade, and locals now make up a good part of the crowd. June is a particularly common time for local passholders to visit the park and hit some of their favorite seasonal attractions/entertainment before they are blocked out for the rest of the summer. Grad Nites also continue throughout most of June, so be sure to check current hours and schedules.
Late June - Labor Day: Summer!
Here comes SUMMER! With the full on explosion of summer vacation, the kids are out of school and it's time to go to Disneyland! There will be crowds, there will be parades, fireworks, the full summer heat and LOTS of tourists from all over the world. Pack your patience and all your dreams because high season runs all the way through Labor Day weekend! There will probably be no refurbishments during these months unless there is a major attraction redevelopment underway.
September - October
After Labor Day, things do calm down for a bit at the Resort as school starts and tourists return home. The Parks are better known as "Refurbland" so plan on lots of attractions being closed for their yearly face-lifts and in-depth services after the long summer of ride after ride. Haunted Mansion closes early-mid September to begin the transformation to Haunted Mansion Holiday, and normally reopens around the last week of the month.
The Halloween Festivities kick off almost immediately in the middle of September and run through Halloween night, which make for very busy nights at the park in the evenings. Annual Passholders are able to return after the summer blockouts and add to the rush.
Disneyland has taken to restricting the special Halloween fireworks, which grew very popular in years past, to a separate ticketed event with special admission that is not included in the price of a normal ticket. Be advised the park will close early to accommodate these special events, or if open to the public, will be extremely busy.
The Holiday Season officially kicks off (normally) the 2nd weekend in November with the taping of the Christmas Day Parade for NBC. The park will be packed with fans showing up to celebrate Christmas Day in November, and a chance to be seen on camera and to catch a peek at the celebrities during their cameos or performances in the Holiday Parade. For the best weekend in November, try the 1st weekend as the crowds are usually very low all week, but after that it's no-holds-barred celebrating. Thanksgiving weekend tends to be busy and many of the fine dining locations offering up their normal grub and assorted Thanksgiving yummies.The beautiful Holiday version of it's a small world will open it's doors about 10 days in to the month and refurbishment of other attractions will probably be minimal. November is another "rush" month for Annual Passholders, as they make their final visit to the park to see the holiday festivities and decorations before their passes are blocked out by the middle of December.
An interesting phenomenon has developed the past few years whereby there are so many Annual Passholders that the Monday - Wednesday of Thanksgiving week are actually busier than the holiday itself and the subsequent weekend.
The beginning of December is one of the MOST magical times to visit the DLR. The crowds really cut back as school is still in session, there aren't a lot of vacations going on since Thanksgiving just ended and the park is in its full decorated glory. On the other hand, expect a lot of local Annual Passholders to be rushing to the park during this time before their passes are blocked out the second half of the month. The Annual Passholder impact has once again changed what used to be an "off" time of year into a much busier one, particularly in the evenings. Historically the first weekend of December hosts the Candlelight Processional and park attendance will skyrocket for those few days. After the 2nd weekend in December the park hours open back up to accommodate the December busy season, the crowds pack their warmer clothes and hit DLR in force. A new trend has started over the past few years where the parks reach capacity and ticket sales actually stop by midday during the last two weeks of the month over the Christmas holiday. Attendance peaks in the evening hours as Guests come in to see the parade and fireworks. Be prepared for some beautiful sights but a LOT of friends there to enjoy it with you.
Attendance Trends Throughout the Day
Afternoon Parade Crowds & Those That Leave
The afternoon parade crowds are not all that bad, but once it is over expect to see a sea of people leaving the viewing areas all along the streets from It's a Small World to Main Street. Since the afternoon parades are not as popular as the nighttime spectaculars, crowds do not get overly large, but they can be difficult to navigate through on busy days. To avoid these crowds give about a half-hour before and after the scheduled show time to let the crowds watch the parade and then leave after the parade is over. During this time you will want to check out the attractions on the west side of Disneyland. It is also after the last afternoon parade that many people exit the park to eat at outside restaurants or return to their hotels for a while. At the same time, this is when many Annual Passholders will be entering the park for the day, particularly on Friday nights after work. It's not recommended to try and leave at this time because it will be difficult to get out of the park and the parking lot.
Evening Shows & the Mass Exodus
The nighttime shows are the busiest of any of the shows. This is the worst time to try and get around the park, unless you are willing to stay in Adventureland, Critter Country, or Tomorrowland. If at anytime during the shows you want to cross the parade route to get to the other side of the park, you will want to be careful and expect to wait a few minutes to get over. Cast Members do open up walkways across the street during small break in the parade to allow guests to cross.
Fantasmic! causes a huge crowd mess. Starting about an hour before the first show, it is very difficult to get through the New Orleans Square area. Cast Members have a very elaborate set up for guest control that helps out, but the walkways that they have set up can still get pretty crowded. Make sure that you listen to the Cast Members in the area so you know where you should be going. Once the show has started it is very easy to move through the walkways because everyone has stopped to watch the show, and cast members force those that stop to stand on the viewing side of the ropes. This allows for a clear walkway. Once the show is over you feel like you have become a cow, and are being herded out of a meadow. I would suggest staying out of the area for about 20 minutes to 40 minutes after the scheduled start time. Before that time is fine because the show is still going but after that you will be stuck in heavy crowds.
The Fireworks have the largest crowds of all because they combine the crowds that were watching both of the shows, and are now even more popular because of the special effects and interactive elements they include throughout the park. Everyone pictures the Fireworks over the Castle, probably because of the Wonderful World of Disney TV show that was on for many years. Because of this most head over to the Hub, and Main Street area to watch the fireworks. There is absolutely no way to get around in this mass of humanity, once you are in a spot you're there for a good half-hour at the very least. Your best bet is to be in line waiting for an attraction during this time rather than trying to get anywhere in the park.
Once the Fireworks are over, most of the people turn around and head out of the park. This causes a huge standstill on Main Street, particularly during the holidays when special shows are in place. Disneyland is even closing some of these shows to the public (ticketed event only) because the crowds have been so incredible. At times, Cast Members will route departing Guests backstage when it's particularly busy. Another tip to get around the masses on Main Street is to depart through the stores rather than down the street. If you want to leave in the evening, it is best to do so about an hour before the fireworks begin, or a good hour after they end on the days when the park is open late and you don't want to stay until closing. Leaving at times far removed from the fireworks show also enables a smoother tram ride back to the parking garage (expect long waits for the tram at this time) and exit back out to the freeways.
We haven't made mention of California Adventure, and that is because even with the popularity of World of Color, Disney planned far ahead and instituted their Showpass system. This requires guests to have a ticket to watch the show and viewing areas are limited to ticket holders only. California Adventure has such wide open walkways, that even during more popular parades or shows such as the Electrical Parade in recent years it has still be fairly easy to get around the park during the shows. With all the changes coming to the park this may change in the coming years, but overall DCA is much easier to maneuver around in the evenings.