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6 Tips for Picking Less Crowded Days at Disneyland

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If you’ve been on a Disneyland vacation lately, you probably already know that the two Disney parks in Anaheim have been experiencing record crowds in the past few years.  Although there are lots of strategies for navigating Disneyland on a crowded day, the best way to manage crowds at Disneyland is simply to be there on days when the crowds are NOT!  But you have to know the secrets for spotting those days well in advance.

6 Tips for Picking Less Crowded Days at Disneyland

Of course, sometimes it is impossible to plan your Disney vacation around less crowded times.  Families with children of school age often can’t go during traditional low season times.  And many working parents may find themselves with limited vacation days to pick the ideal times for avoiding crowds at Disneyland.

If you do find yourself with some flexibility in choosing vacation days, however, here are six tips to help you pick less crowded days at Disneyland.

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Top Tips for Picking Less Crowded Days at Disneyland

1) Go during Disneyland’s low season.

Before my older child entered kindergarten this year, my family always chose the lowest of the low seasons for our Disneyland vacations.  That strategy serves families with preschool age kids very well.  Early December (after the Thanksgiving crowds but before the Christmas ones) and non-holiday weeks in January and February are perfect times to go.  Even September right when school is back in session is traditionally less crowded.

Disneyland Holidays Castle and Walt

The holidays are a beautiful time to visit Disneyland, but often not a great time if your goal is to avoid crowds.

The trade-off of going during low season is the risk that several attractions could be closed for refurbishment.  Additionally, park hours are usually shorter during these times as well, meaning that there is less time to ride the attractions that are open.  But some of these tradeoffs are worth it, especially if your visit to Disneyland isn’t a once in a lifetime trip that would be ruined if a big ticket ride like Space Mountain or the Matterhorn was closed.

2) Check annual passholder blockout dates.

Disneyland has a bit of an annual passholder problem that has contributed to overcrowding in recent years.  There has simply been too much demand, meaning that locals can overwhelm the parks some days, even on what would otherwise be average weekends.

Luckily for out-of-town visitors, some of the cheaper annual passes are blocked out on a number of days of the year.  A few of these passes block out most Saturdays.  As a result, we’ve found that many Saturdays are less crowded than Sundays as locals who are blocked out on Saturdays swarm the parks for a Sunday outing before the week starts.

Always check the annual passholder calendar for your visit to anticipate what the effect of locals will be.  Non-holiday weekend days where some or most of the annual passes are blocked out might be your best bet for a weekend visit.

3) Watch for special events.

Disneyland hosts a number of special events throughout the year which can have some odd effects on crowds.  Movie promotions, holiday events, annual passholder events, the D23 Expo, Run Disney events, and Gay Days are just some of the types of events that can throw a monkey wrench into crowd prediction.

Sometimes, special events actually don’t contribute that much to the crowds in the parks because they draw the crowds elsewhere.  D23 is a prime example, as attendees are often not in the parks when key parts of the expo are in progress (although hotel rooms will be hard to come by that entire time and attendance may swell when the expo in not in session!).  In other cases, however, the presence of a special event in one park can both overwhelm that park as well as drive non-event guests to the second park, crowding it as well.  If you must plan a visit during a special event, study its effects on crowds carefully.

4) Review school calendars.

Disneyland Crowds at Rope Drop on Holiday Weekend

Disneyland crowds at rope drop on a holiday weekend.

There is nothing more disappointing than planning a trip during what you think will be a slow time only to find out that all the Southern California schools have a holiday that drives crowds into the stratosphere.  It is very important to pay attention to local school calendars and scheduled holidays to make sure you don’t bump into a spike in attendance as a result.

Checking SoCal alone may not be enough.  The school calendar of any state within driving distance of Anaheim can radically affect Disneyland crowds.  The affect of Utah’s school calendar is the most notorious.  Utah schools regularly have a fall break in early October and it sometimes seems as if all of the state relocates to Anaheim that week.  If you want to see the Halloween decorations at Disneyland, don’t go during Utah’s fall break week!

The converse of this rule is to check your own children’s school calendar.  If your school district happens to have a holiday or in-service day that most other school districts in the region don’t, these days are perfect for planning a quick trip.  Our local school district also happens to have quite a few “minimum” days (half days when not as much gets done), and it may make sense to take advantage of missing one of these short days rather than a full one if you need to pull your child from school for a family vacation.

5) Go in shoulder season.

If you can’t go during low season, your next best bet for finding a less crowded time is to go during “shoulder” season.  Shoulder season is that time when crowds die down because some children have either already returned to school or have not yet ended their school year.  Families with children who happen to be out of school at these times can definitely take advantage!

Disneyland California Adventure Mickey's Fun WheelNote that most California schools are in session until early or mid-June, so if you live in a part of the country where school ends before Memorial Day, late May or early June is a great time to go to Disneyland.  Similarly, many California schools start about a week before Labor Day in late August, so if your child’s school doesn’t start until early September, take advantage of the late August/early September shoulder season as well.

6) Consult a crowd calendar.

It is a lot of work to research these many factors that can contribute to Disneyland crowds.  Luckily, there are a lot of sites that have already done much of the work for you.  Crowd calendar publishers analyze historical crowd trends, watch for special events, and predict crowds on a day-by-day basis.  Some of my favorite sites for predicting Disneyland crowds include:

  • Is it Packed? Disneyland Crowd Forecast Calendar: Classifies Disney days as “Ghost Town,” “Hey, It’s Alright,” “Yup, It’s Packed,” and “Forget About It.”  Forecasts about 6 months in advance.
  • TouringPlans Disneyland Crowd Calendar: Rates the crowd levels 1-10 in each of the Disneyland parks (Disneyland and California Adventure).  The calendar lists annual pass blockouts as well as special events.  TouringPlans predicts one month in advance for free, but seeing additional months requires a subscription ($12.95 a year – well worth it in my opinion!)

Just because you’ve cleared your vacation days many months in advance using a crowd calendar doesn’t mean you are in the clear.  Disneyland may announce special events or closures with very little notice, so it is always important to consult Disney’s official park calendar in the weeks before your trip to spot changes.

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6 Tips for Picking Less Crowded Days at Disneyland

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Saturday 5th of December 2015

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Disney Mama Lin (@DisneyMamaLin)

Friday 10th of April 2015

Another Touring Plans fan here! I seriously can't visit a park without them!

I've never heard the term "Shoulder Season" before. I like it!

Lori Ketcherside

Sunday 5th of April 2015

Touring Plans is *such* a life saver. I love traveling during off season. #HomeschoolPerks

Heidi Strawser

Friday 3rd of April 2015

I have got to plan a trip to Disneyland one of these days, but I feel so lost! Thankfully, we are a homeschooling family, so we can pretty much pick up an go whenever we want to. I try to avoid crowds as much as possible!