I’m all about riding more and waiting less at Disneyland. When you have a baby, though, all hopes of riding dozens of attractions each day during your Disneyland visits quickly goes up in smoke. Or does it?
On our recent travels to Disneyland, my family found a smarter Disneyland strategy with a baby by maximizing our use of Disneyland’s Rider Switch and Fastpass services. I’d like to think we found a way to hack Disneyland with a baby.
Rider Switch Basics
The key is Rider Switch, which is a benefit many families with young kids already know about and use. Rider Switch allows some members of your group to ride an attraction while one or more adults waits with a baby or young child not tall or not brave enough to ride. The adults then “switch” baby duty, which allows the rest of the group to ride. It is offered on all the major attractions at Disneyland park and California Adventure that have a height limit. Usually you just need to have the baby or young child present at the entrance to the ride so a cast member can verify you are entitled to the benefit.
It works a little differently on each ride, but the basic principle is the same. The adult waiting behind is given a return ticket that allows him or her to ride the same ride with up to two additional companions with little to no wait. A little known fact is that you don’t have to use the Rider Switch pass right away. A Rider Switch ticket is good for the rest of the day (and this will become very important later if you keep reading!).
How does the second group of riders skip the line when they do choose to redeem the Rider Switch pass? On rides that offer Fastpass, the Rider Switch return ticket offers entry for the second riding group into the Fastpass line. On a few other rides without Fastpass, the second riding group cuts the line through the exit or a side entrance to access the ride. Just ask the cast members at the front of the line where the Rider Switch entrance is and they’ll direct you.
Combining Rider Switch and Fastpass
For those of you who know and use Rider Switch, there is a way to use it even more efficiently. Rider Switch works in conjunction with Fastpass, which is another method to cut down on wait times (see this primer on Fastpass if it is a new concept to you and note that Fastpass at Disneyland is very different than the new Fastpass+ system at Walt Disney World).
If you are using Rider Switch with your child, you can and should obtain Fastpasses as needed just like any guest not using it. After all, there is no need for the first group of riders in your family to wait unnecessarily.
When you are acquiring Fastpasses to use later in conjunction with Rider Switch, your instinct might be simply to use your tickets to grab Fastpasses for everyone in your group for the same ride at the same time. Because everyone except the baby wants to ride that attraction, right? No! Wait!
You should only obtain enough Fastpasses as needed for the first group of riders in your party. The others who will wait behind will not need a Fastpass because the Rider Switch ticket acts like a Fastpass when it is their turn to ride. But a Rider Switch ticket is better than a Fastpass because it has no time limit on its use that same day (for those who bemoan the end of “late Fastpass,” this essentially means it’s back for you if you have a baby). A Rider Switch ticket can, and often should, be saved for later.
At the same time you are getting Fastpasses for the first group of riders, put the tickets for the second group of riders to a better use: getting yet another Fastpass for a different ride! You can essentially double your Rider Switch ticket acquisition using this strategy.
When the Fastpass window for the first of these two rides becomes available, the first set of riders should take those Fastpasses and present them at the Fastpass entrance as usual. Be sure to tell the cast member as you enter that you are part of a group that also needs a Rider Switch ticket (remember that the rest of your group usually needs to appear at the same time to “prove” that you actually have a baby).
When that first ride is done, pocket the Rider Switch return ticket. Go on to use the second set of Fastpasses for the other ride (this assumes, of course, that you’ve timed it all right and the ride window for that second ride is open). Pocket the Rider Switch return ticket as well and save them both for use during crowded park times or just when using them fits into your family’s overall plan. Of course, as soon as you can, get more Fastpasses for your next pair of rides and repeat the process.
How Our Family Maximized Disneyland Rider Switch and Fastpass
Here’s an example with our family of 4. We have a 1 year old son (too small to ride anything with a height limit) and a 5 1/2 year old daughter (tall enough for almost everything). Our baby is too young for a ticket, so this meant we had three park tickets to use to obtain Fastpasses during our visit.
When we arrived at the park to start our day, we obtained three Fastpasses with our three tickets: two for Star Tours, immediately followed by one for Space Mountain. All of these Fastpasses had return times of about 10-11 am. Right at 10 am, my daughter and I presented our two Fastpasses to ride Star Tours while my husband waited with the baby, being sure to ask the cast member at the Star Tours entrance for a Rider Switch ticket as we entered.
As soon as we finished (with our Star Tours Rider Switch pass in hand), my husband then headed to Space Mountain to ride it alone with the single Fastpass. My husband obtained a Rider Switch ticket for Space Mountain for our family to use later. While he was riding Space Mountain, I took both kids to ride something else nearby like Buzz Lightyear (this is also a great time for a bathroom or snack break). Within the span of about 30 minutes, we then had obtained a Rider Switch pass good for three people for Star Tours and and the same for Space Mountain. We pocketed both for the time being, and everyone had gone on a ride or two.
If we had initially obtained a Fastpass for all three of us for Star Tours, one of those Fastpasses would have been superfluous and and probably gone unused due to expiration. And we would not have had that return ticket for Space Mountain.
Because Rider Switch essentially allows you obtain a Fastpass that you can use at any time, wait and save them for later as we did. Collect a few early in the day when crowds are shorter and save Rider Switch tickets for redemption during the middle of the day when lines are at their worst.
Another Rider Switch & Fastpass Example: 4 Park Tickets for 4 People
For families of 4 with one older child and one young child old enough to need a park ticket but too small to ride the thrill rides (ages 3+), your older child will really reap the benefits of Rider Switch. Here’s the same Star Tours/Space Mountain scenario played out when your family has four park tickets but one younger child who needs to wait behind.
- Family obtains 2 Fastpasses to Star Tours
- Family obtains 2 Fastpasses to Space Mountain
- Mom & Older Child ride Star Tours (get Rider Switch)
- Dad & Older Child ride Space Mountain (get Rider Switch)
- Older child gets to ride both rides again with one parent later in the day.
So, while Mom and Dad are switching off throughout the day, the older child gets to ride double the thrill rides. Just don’t leave out the younger kid in this scenario! Instead ride the many other age-appropriate rides while you wait on the thrill-seekers.
Taking Rider Switch to the Next Level: Date Night
Want to really take Rider Switch and Fastpass to the next level? Use it to your advantage for a Disneyland date night. My husband and I often hire a babysitter from a trusted agency in Anaheim to stay with our kids at the hotel one evening during our Disneyland trips. On a few trips, we have had grandma along to watch the kids one evening instead.
On our last trip, we collected Rider Switch return passes all day long (my daughter still got to ride everything she wanted but my husband and I traded off with the baby on different rides). The result? We had collected quite a few Rider Switch return tickets by the time we were due to pass our kids off to the babysitter for bed time. We headed back to the park and used them ourselves. Using this strategy, we managed to ride 9 attractions and even have a sit-down romantic dinner at the Blue Bayou restaurant on our date night. And on a holiday weekend no less! That was a successful date night.
Final Thoughts on Rider Switch and Fastpass
To be sure, this Rider Switch and Fastpass strategy is not for the inexperienced. You need to know Disneyland pretty well to get maximum value. You need to know which rides offer Rider Switch and which ones are close enough to each other that you can hit Fastpass machines for both rides without adding a lot of extra walking time to your trip (Star Tours & Space Mountain make a great pair, as does Big Thunder Mountain & Indiana Jones; the pairings aren’t as close together in California Adventure). If you want to collect as many Fastpasses as we did, you need to plan and move quickly even with small kids in tow.
But even if you only employ this strategy on a casual level, doing it a few times during the day is worth it. I can guarantee you will still get to ride much, much more than anyone else at the park with a baby. I can probably promise you that you will also ride more than the average person in the park without a baby. All it takes is a little planning, preparation, and understanding of how to use the system.
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