Tips from our 5 day trip + feedback on the DL overall experience


#1

We had a great trip, but not without some frustration. Here are some learnings to help others:

  1. Pay for Max Pass. If you wisely use your electronic Fast Pass selection, you can largely avoid lines for all rides. Get to the park early, and walk on to all the non-Fast Pass rides as soon as possible (i.e. Fantasyland rides, Nemo Subs, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, etc). We were at the park 2 mornings, and we walked on to rides that built to 45 minute/1 hour waits within an hour of riding them. No way am I waiting in a 45 minute line or longer with a toddler and 8 year old —and you don’t have to! While riding these rides, we booked our 1st fast pass for a ride that had a short window, meaning we could book our second one 30 minutes later, and so on. You can end up holding 3 Fast Passes to ride in the mid- morning, before you start running into 1.5 hour windows between FP selection opportunities. Note: b/c we had a 5 day park hopper, I didn’t think I’d want to pay for Max Pass every day as some days were show-centric, so I elected to purchase each day as I entered the park. Going through that process each morning was a hassle. One morning it didn’t work at all: I got an error messaged telling me I had to go to the Disney help desk, meaning I had to wait in yet another line to get it fixed (on top of the 2 I had already waited in). We ended up getting FP for all 5 days, for all members of our party but 1 on one day. I saved $10 by doing it daily, and ended up with the hassle of the disney customer service line desk. Just factor it in as a cost of the trip, and avoid the stress by purchasing it for all days for your tickets.

  2. make time for pics with the professional photographer. this was my biggest surprise. i always thought this professional picture thing was a complete waste of time and money. However, even though park photographers were few and far between, the pics taken by the professional photographers (free with max pass) were the best pics of our trip, and also the most iconic ones. this is one reason i am so glad we decided to spend so much time in DL, and not cram it into 1 or 2 days. We didn’t feel badly waiting in line to get pics, and my only regret is I didn’t spend the time to do it more.

  3. Skip Peter Pan first thing in the AM unless you are seriously the first 20 people or so in line. The lines build to 40 minutes within 5 minutes of opening and stay that long all day. The opportunity cost of staying in that line during those first 40 minutes in the park when you could be walking on to 4 rides (or more) rickety split are high. Might as well wait till the afternoon when all lines are long, and you aren’t giving up 4 rides while waiting. The one caveat is the Fast Pass for Indy. When lines are long (i.e. 70 minutes), the FP line is also very long (20 minutes). Other FP lines are incredibly fast and efficient, not Indy. As such, I’d get an Indy FP for earlier in the day when even the stand by lines are short by comparison. PLUS, the ride breaks down all the time (see below).

  4. Plan to be frustrated with how frequently rides break down. We jokingly developed disneyland ride phobia: fear of being stuck on a ride. We got stuck on It’s a Small World for 7 minutes, I got stuck in the pitch black on Indy for what seemed like an eternity (and I was the only passenger that didn’t accept the offer to stay on and ride immediately again), and myriad rides broke down and closed temporarily while we were in line or just about to board, including Roger Rabbit, Matterhorn, Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and more. Many stopped for less than a minute or two while riding, ie. Haunted House, Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story Mania, etc. They honestly need to put cell signals on these rides so you can text your waiting family to tell them where the heck you are and why it’s taking so long! Even more frustrating, they cancelled shows! We were in line for the 5pm showing of Frozen, and at 4.32pm, they cancelled it. What, were both understudies sick? Very unreliable Disneyland/DCA is…

  5. If you have young kids, use Rider Swap. Yes, the changes to the Rider Swap were not favorable to families with a wide age range gap, especially a still napping child. You can’t hold more than 1, and the 1 hour window to return to the ride is way too short if you don’t want to hold your little one hostage all day to the older kids rides. I hope Disney considers extending it to 1.5 hour or even 2, and allowing you to hold 2 instead of just 1. Having said that, if you have older kids and younger kids, it’s the only way to make the experience worthwhile for all. And, you can split your FP’s. I.e. for our party with 3 ticketed guest (our 2 year old was still free), we would get 2 for Radiator Springs / 1 for Guardians. In this scenario: 2 ride first, and then you get Rider Swap for 2 to ride second. My 8 year old got to ride almost every ride appropriate for him twice. This works as long as one person doesn’t mind riding alone first on Guardians. In these instances, we used this for rides that even my oldest child wouldn’t ride, and then my Mom and I swapped so we could experience these rides. TIP: if you are very close to your next FP window opening up, wait, select your next FP BEFORE going to the entrance, and asking for a Rider Swap. A few times, the Rider Swap addition then caused my next FP window to extend out. I felt jipped. I also gave up my chance to ride using the Rider Swap on several occasions for the benefit of my 2 year old, especially in areas of the parks where there just isn’t something great for him to do while waiting. With longer windows, we’d have more flexibility to enjoy the park on a better schedule for all, returning later perhaps when the youngest is napping, to fit in those rides.

  6. Park Entrance Lines: get to the parks earlier than you think you should. We were already a rope drop family, but on a busy fall weekend in October, the lines to get in 30 minutes before an 8AM opening were shockingly long. We honestly felt like DL & DCA were much less efficient than WDW. Having said this, look for lines into DL that form around the big planters that then split just on the park side of the planters into 2 turnstiles. SO much faster. Two lines can’t form b/c of the obstacle, but they split into 2 just beyond the planter so you get in twice as fast. Avoid large families too -b/c if it is their first day - you are guaranteed an endless wait while each person in their party of 14 gets their pic snapped. At least with a mix of people, you are guaranteed some first day folks, some 2nd day or great, and some AP holders.

  7. Security Screening: at about 30 minutes prior to opening, they added an additional security screening line at the far left side of the screening. We always chose the security line over at the far left, knowing very quickly around 7.30 or 8.30AM, depending on the park opening time for that day, they’d open up a new line, making getting through security screening faster.

  8. If you go in the fall, go to the park that has the Mickey Halloween Party. We were in DL on a Friday and a Tuesday when the party was that evening and the park closed early at 7pm and 6pm respectively. The crowds were SO, SO, SO much less on both of those days, making DL so much more enjoyable. I.e. our Friday in DL on a party day was considerably less crowded than a Monday. Our Tuesday morning in DL on a party day was equally uncrowded. On that note, our least favorite day was the day the park opened at 9AM, very late, guaranteeing way more people there pre-rope drop, and lines building very fast. Given DL’s poor advance planning (see below), it’s pretty hard to know with any reasonable assurance what the park hours will be when you plan your vacation, though. Touring Plans does a decent job based on prior years, but DL messes with their schedule all the time.

  9. don’t try to time F! Fast Pass ticket selection, you risk losing out entirely; avoid park hopping in the AM at all costs. Because of the way our schedule needed to be, we were in opposite parks in the morning on days in which we wanted to watch either WOC or F! that evening. For example: I had to enter DCA with my entire family, then try to time when DL’s Fantasmic Fast Pass booth would switch over to the 2nd F! show. When I left DCA to park hop over to DL to get my F! tickets I ran into the MOST horrendous lines I’ve ever seen. The lines to get into both parks overlapped in the promenade, making it a chaotic mess. By the time I got into DL, they were sold out, and I had to make my way back into DCA waiting in yet another horrendous line to get back in. A sweaty, 1 hour waste of time. I then had to do it the next day for WOC. However, the next day was considerably less crowded, taking just 30 minutes round trip. Note: if you can snag dinner tickets for F! that is probably the way to go, but DL made that process so frustrating as well (see below).

  10. FW’s evening show not worth the hassle if you have little kids. Disneyland changed the FW’s at the last second from the scheduled regular ones to the Halloween ones…we didn’t love the Halloween ones, especially so when we caught the regular ones from our room the next night and noticed the difference. It was also so incredibly jam packed. CM’s came around and made everybody stand such that my 8 year old couldn’t see, my 2 year old needed to stand on the stroller, and we were in a suffocating crowd of people . Having said that, my two cents if you are going to go: those online tips that say to be on main street to get the full immersive experience, that’s not right for the Halloween ones. The closer to the HUB the better. And, I suspect with small kids, that is the case for the regular ones as well. Who cares if you miss a few things on main street if you can’t see the projections?

  11. WOC Fast Pass was great, especially seeing an 8.15pm show on an early closing night. My older son and I used our Fast Pass early to get a seat right on the railing (arrive 1 hour in advance and foregoing a chance to ride Soaring for the second time in our trip) while my Mom took my 2 year old on the carousel and Toy Story Mania (using Fast Pass) to kill time. My son and I played Head’s Up, a professional photographer saw us and took one of the most memorable pics of the trip, and my mom and other son joined us closer to 8pm. We had a great view on the railing, had a great time, got back to our hotel at a reasonable time. No need for dessert party.

  12. If you want to plan to get a F! dining Fast Pass, expect that the reservations won’t open up at 60 days as Disneyland says. At the 60 day mark, the reservation window was still closed, and DL expected customers to check back daily. Build that into your planning.

  13. Overall customer experience: All in all, I felt that WDW provided an overall better customer experience when attending 2 years ago.

Not once did any CM’s in Disneyland say, 'have a magical day." Worse, several CM’s were unaccommodating and unhelpful when things went wrong. For example, when my stroller broke and wouldn’t collapse late one night while in line to get on the Toy Story shuttle, the CM said I couldn’t board - sorry, that’s the rules, I just enforce them. When fellow guests saw the ensuing conversation between my Mom and I about who would walk back (I insisted it be me, my Mom insisted it be her), they intervened, and encouraged the CM to ask the bus driver for an accommodation. Only then did he ask, and the bus driver, not a Disneyland cast mate, said 'no problem." On our first night, one of the security castmates at the entrance to Downtown Disney (where we were headed for dinner and shopping) stopped us and said we couldn’t bring in our car seat. We had ubered it to dinner that night, and were going to uber it home from the other side of downtown, on the park entrance side so we could redeem our vouchers the evening before our 1st day in the parks. Of course, by law, we had to have our 2 year old in a car seat. The CM was pretty rude about the whole thing, making us seem like we were crazy for having it with us to go to a restaurant. He was like “Disney doesn’t allow car seats.” He then said he could ‘call his supervisor.’ The supervisor said it was fine to bring it to downtown disney, and it’s just the parks themselves you can’t bring it into. That’s fine. Train your CM’s better - and then don’t make us feel stupid. And yes, we wouldn’t bring our car seat into an amusement/theme park! On a more serious note, while in DCA one day, my mom took my 2 year old in his stroller to Flo’s diner to order everyone lunch while my 8 year old and I were on our Rider Swap Radiator Springs ride. While on the ride I got an urgent call from my Mom (yikes). Turns out, she had asked the CM giving her food if there was any way he could put all the food on one tray as she had her hands full with a 2 year old and a stroller. Instead of saying, let me find someone to help carry the tray(s) to your table, he told her to “make 2 trips.” A nearby guest offered to help when he saw my Mom balancing the tray with the stroller. In the moment my Mom stopped to hand off the tray to the kind guest, the tray toppled over onto my son, hot dipping sauce that goes with the turkey sandwich included. My son got burned, and soaked, causing their excellent crisis management team to go into motion: supervisor, manager of restaurant, and a nurse. By the time I got there, someone had run next door to get a hat and shirt for my son, plus a lightening mcqueen lunch box, so he was all smiles by the time I got there (after wailing inconsolably for several minutes after the injury). The nurse had put burn cream on, and given me her contact info, as well as local urgent care and hospitals, plus the kitchen whipped up all new lunches. It was quite a turn out, and very appreciated, especially given his burn was on his chest. The good news was the burn was superficial, and the mark disappeared the next day, and my Mom and I appreciated the ‘team’ that Disney sent out to help manage the whole situation (my 72 year old grandmother on the floor, a screaming, injured 2 year old, etc). The bad news was the entire incident could have been avoided with a helpful counter castmate. Even McDonald’s employees help customers in need carry trays to their table - and don’t say, 'make 2 trips." If it had been me, I would have insisted on being helped, asking for his supervisor. However, my Mom is fiercely self sufficient, so when the castmate told her to make 2 trips, that’s what she thought she should do, not even thinking about the hot dipping sauce balancing perilously on a tray above my child.

The reliability of the rides was problematic, often making us return to a ride at a later time (and with longer lines). Even Frozen was cancelled at the last minute. To my great disappointment, we were never able to work Frozen back into our schedule. Even the reliability of the Fast Pass Purchase process was unreliable. On 1 of the 5 mornings I purchased, there was a glitch - making me have to wait in yet another line to get it resolved.

My ability to plan a vacation in advance was also hampered by Disneyland’s own lack of operational excellence. If you are supposed to book reservations 60 days out, then at 60 days, for goodness sake, have it ready. Fantasmic and World of Color dining packages were not available to be booked at 60 days, nor was the date it would be available to be booked published. Disneyland’s solution of having the customer check back daily is the poorest of customer experiences. Am I really supposed to log on daily?

Similarly, I strongly felt like Disneyland catered to its local Annual Passholders at the expense of its destination travelers. For those of us not on the West Coast, we have a choice between DL and WDW. I think WDW makes its destination travelers feel much more welcomed and appreciated than DL does. Keep that in mind when deciding which to visit. From when they publish their park hours, to when they announce the dates of their Halloween parties, to when how they keep their commitments to their customers…they make it very hard for destination travelers to make plans.

Finally, if you are going to make customers pay for MaxPass, then allow us to secure Fantasmic and WOC fast passes without having to turn ourselves into a sweaty pretzel to run to get them, especially when we are across at a different park.

When planning this trip, many people said, 'welcome to the laid back coast." While California is laid back, Disneyland is a company who prides itself on being customer oriented and caring about the customer experience. As such, the company itself should not be ‘laid back’. They should have their Park Leadership Team set dates and hit them, no excuses.

So, did my kids and I have a memorable vacation? Yes. Did we create our own disney magic memories? Yes. Was it fun? Yes. Was it super fun to go to Radiator Springs, especially for my 2 year old who loves Mater? That Mater ride was a hoot, we went on it no short of 4 times. Should our vacation have been this hard to plan? No. Were the castmates magical? No. Was the park operationally excellent? Not even close. Will I return to Disneyland when my youngest son is 6, our next planned Disney vacation? No. We’ll go back to WDW where our experience was significantly better.


#2

Great summary of your trip, thanks for sharing! :slight_smile: As an Arizona resident, DL is definitely the closest to us…never been to WDW…and I’ve noticed these things creeping in a bit as well. We went the last week of September and it was chaos, especially compared to what I was expecting based on past trends (not just from TP, but everywhere I looked online). I think part of the problem this year with the Halloween season is that DL didn’t plan for the crowds that would come to see the new stuff. The breaking down of rides was especially frustrating; one one morning, Indy, HM, Splash, and Space Mountain were all broken down at the same time. The walkways were PACKED, needless to say, and it was pretty miserable.

I’m not sure how I feel about the AP situation. Might make money from a business standpoint–keep the park full all year–but it doesn’t make those of us that can only make it once every few years feel very welcome or appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still my happy place, and I’ll go as much as my wallet will allow. I think I just need to adjust my expectations and hope for the best–the park that we used to be able to enjoy without feeling like we were at a packed concert doesn’t exist any more.


#3

Sorry to hear about the less than magical moments during your trip, but thanks for posting all of the great tips!


#4

We recently booked a trip to DLR after just having returned from WDW. After reading your account, now I am second-guessing our decision. We haven’t had any particularly bad experiences in the past, though, so I’m hoping for the best.

I haven’t used MaxPass yet, but I was informed by our TA that we can’t add MaxPass in advance when booking a vacation package. It can only be added in advance if the tickets are purchased separately. I know this is correct, as I verified it on the DLR website. I’m not sure why they do this; it doesn’t seem very guest-friendly. In fact, if anything, doesn’t it seem like it should be the other way around? We booked a stay at the DLH in addition to getting our tickets; it seems like that should give us the privilege of adding MP to our package - similar to how those who stay at the resorts at WDW can schedule their FPPs earlier than others. Maybe it just comes back to the fact that, as you mentioned, they don’t seem to be catering to the destination guests and they are favoring the locals.

Your experiences with the CMs there are certainly disheartening - especially at a place that is supposed to be known for its excellent service.

I am glad your son was okay. If just one CM would have taken 20 seconds to help your mom with her tray, not only would she and your son had a more magical time, this would have saved the supervisor, a manager, and a nurse from being needed; the cost of the burn cream; the cost of the hat, shirt, and lunchbox they gave to your son; and the cost of the original lunches that they evidently ended up throwing away. Talk about passing by dollars to pick up pennies.

Have you contacted guest relations about these issues? I’m not sure that much would come of it, but at least it would give them the opportunity to address them and perhaps get things back on track. Maybe they need Lee Cockerell to pay them a visit and give them some kindly reminders.


#5

On the contrary, this approach to reserving fast passes is VERY guest friendly. Unlike WDW were you are forced into the maddening rat race of reserving fast passes sixty days prior and obsessively refreshing the webpage while praying to get your selections in time, at DLR you leisurely stroll into the park and begin making your selections right there on the spot along with all the other civilized guests.

It is also more fair to guests staying offsite as there is not distinction between a sixty or thirty day reservation for FP.

We were able to ride Radiator Springs Racer four times under this system, I doubt we will get to right Flight of Passage even once next year when we visit WDW.

Simply because of the MaxPass system, DLR has become my ideal choice over WDW.


#6

I wasn’t referring to the FastPasses themselves. I am fine with booking these each day of our visit; in fact, I prefer this to booking them 60 or 30 days in advance. But I was just referring to the fact that we weren’t able to add MaxPass to our tickets in advance and that we will need to purchase MaxPass each morning before we can select our first FastPass for the day.


#7

I understand now, I felt the same way when we visited. If it is of any help, the process to add the MaxPass is very easy and takes literally three clicks using the app and it takes only an instant. We usually bought ours while waiting for RP.

DLR has a large number of hyper local guests with AP. I suppose having an advance reservation system would pose problems to the experience of other guests and not to say it would prevent Disney from getting that sweet sweet upcharge,


#8

Don’t second guess, DLR will be amazing! I was just there at the end of September with friends, and am returning in 4 weeks with my husband and kids. Maxpass was fantastic, and I won’t go without it now. I actually liked it better than FPP at WDW, just because you don’t need to plan which park 60 days in advance.
Also, there really is no benefit to booking a package at DLR. I don’t understand why they won’t let you book MP with the package, but it is very easy to cancel the package and just book DLH as a room only. Then buy your tickets separately. I just bought tickets for my family yesterday (I have an AP with MP added already) and they are already linked in the DL app. You will have a great time, we love DL for the easy park hopping and laid back California vibe. I find both WDW and DLR to share in the “bad experiences” reports, we have had magic and also not-magic, for lack of a better term, on both coasts. Enjoy!


#9

I enjoyed reading about your trip. I am sorry about the bad experiences you had, glad you still had a good time. I wanted to comment on this:

These rides stop frequently in Cali, that is true. However it is because of loading those with mobility issues, and nothing to do with the actual ride. I think it is common for people to believe the ride has a malfunction, but it is simply them slowing the ride to allow safe entry for all. We notice this much more in California than we do in Florida. In fact I was just at WDW and my friends and I commented how one day when we rode Haunted Mansion it never stopped one time during the ride. That would never happen in California, for some reason there are more people with the need to have it slowed in California.
You should contact guest services about the issue at Flo’s, they should definitely be aware of that kind of behavior from their staff.


#10

We were DLR at the end of August and loved the MaxPass!! Super easy to buy each morning. We did it while waiting for rope drop.


#11

Thanks all for your comments to my post. A few thoughts:
I was giving my perspective traveling with young kids and looking for an immersive Disney experience, purposely spread out over many days to avoid a military ops type of one day or die experience. If you have preteens/teenagers and/or are traveling with adults and really just want to maximize your ability to hit and re-hit as many thrill rides as possible over the course of one or two days, I do think Disneyland with its new addition of MaxPass, could have the edge, depending on where in the country you live. The parks are MUCH smaller, so criss-crossing to get to one Fast Pass window to the other is very simple. We benefited from that a few times as well. You can load up your passes such that you can do many throughout the day. And, if you don’t enjoy pre-planning your trip, then DL is the ONLY way to go. Having said that, I didn’t enjoy the fact that I had to be on my phone quite a bit throughout the day, even on a few rides (albeit boring ones such a Storybook Canals), securing my next Fast Pass. Young kids notice that, and I kept telling them when I was distracted that I was booking our next big ride. Of course, if we had visited in June, pre Max Pass rollout, you would have seen a much more critical review of DL, as our ‘family’ time would have been decimated with me having to criss cross the parks trying to pick up fast passes from machines. The 2 times I did it for Fantasmic and WOC took me away from my family for 1.5 hours! I can’t honestly figure out how families with young children enjoyed Disneyland at all before Max Pass roll out, unless the adults just forewent going on any of the super headliner rides.

Again, if the park had been more operationally sound, and the castmates had delivered on that ‘magical’ experience, we’d strongly consider going back.

Some other thoughts for families traveling with little ones:

The Disney Jr. Dance Party at DCA was a HUGE hit with my little one. He jumped up and down the entire time. Fun for all of us to watch him. Definitely worth hitting if you have a toddler.

My kids (including my incredibly squeamish 8 year old boy) loved the It’s a Bug Life show…not scared, and we thought it was cute. However, Bug’s Land in DCA overall was a big disappointment. I had thought it would be a great place for my 2 year old, but the rides were almost too tame for him, especially if your children go to local amusement parks and enjoy the kiddie rides there. Even the bumper cars were so pokey that there wasn’t much bumping. I’m thinking that will be the next land to renovate over there for sure.

The live show at Fantasyland Theatre (ours was the comical rendition of Beauty and the Beast) was OK for toddlers, but most of it went over their heads, but cute for adults with good acting by the castmates. Little girls loved Belle. Since I had boys, and my 2 year old hadn’t yet seen Beauty and the Beast, it was just OK for him. Plus it was an open air theater (read VERY HOT), and very little true interactivity with the young kids. We loved the live pianist, but if you are short on time, even with toddlers, I’d skip unless you have Belle or bust young children in tow.

Mickey and the Magical Map was also open air, so read VERY HOT. I think b/c Orlando is just hotter/more humid more in the year, they have more of their shows in nicely air conditioned theaters. We were melted by the end of the Magical Map (in our 104 degree heat wave). Sit close to the stage though so when the streamers come down, the kids get delighted.

The other young child ride I’d skip if short on time was Storybook Land Canal Boats. Super inefficient loading, so even when lines looked short in the AM, took awhile. Very ho hum experience.

Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Alice, Snow White all delivered, and were especially appealing b/c we walked on to all those in the early AM with no waits. We saved Peter Pan till the last day, and just after getting in a 40 minute wait line, the ride broke down. This turned out to be in our favor, as we headed to Dumbo instead, and then just as we were getting off Dumbo, a hoarde of people were rushing back in the previously closed line. We joined the hoarde, and waited just 19 minutes, just about as good as you can get on that one.

And finally, yes Max Pass sign up in the AM was easy, when it worked! We had a 20% failure rate (1 of our 5 days it seized up), making me have to go wait in a customer service line. My recommendation was to just prepay for all the days of your ticket, just to avoid the potential day of failure, unless you know in advance there are days you won’t use, or some on your party won’t use. The day our e-max pass sign up didn’t work was on the day I had to leave my family anyway to park hop to DCA for the WOC tickets, so I went to the DCA customer service line. Two veteran Californians in front of me told me that the DCA customer service line is always much shorter.

As I said, we had a great time, made unforgettable memories, and my kids, who don’t watch regular TV so have little exposure to Disney outside of movies, are now true Disney fans.

We are watching Little Mermaid tonight for our Friday Night Movie night so my little one, who has been singing Under the Sea nonstop since our return, can see it for the first time.

All good!!!


#12

I totally agree about WDW being far better in hot weather. When we were there it was over 100 all three days and we were melting. WDW seems to have a lot more shade and AC so waiting is far more bearable and indoor shows as you say!!