The main walkway in Cars Land.

How do FastPasses Work at Disneyland

Crowds at Disneyland can be a deterrent. For most of us, it is difficult to go when the park is not completely full. School and work schedules generally make it tough to go during off-peak times. However, it is still possible to get onto all of the top attractions during your visit.

The first way to maximize your ride time and minimize your time spent standing in line is to plan your day and go first thing in the morning. We have found that you can get up to ten rides done, including several popular rides before lunch. The parks get very crowded by 11 AM, but if you are there at rope drop, you can really get a lot done.

Now the key to making the most of your visit is understanding how to use the FastPass system. FastPass is Disney’s way to allow guests to make a reservation on a ride. When you have a FastPass you bypass the majority of a given ride’s queue. Less time spent standing in line means more time on rides. The most popular attractions can have lines in excess of an hour. That is a long time spent standing in line.

The FastPass Entrance next to the Standby Entrance for Indy

FastPass Entrance for Indiana Jones. This bypasses the entire exterior part of the queue.

A few key points to remember. Not all rides have a FastPass available. Make sure you know which ones have them and where they are. There is a limited number of FastPasses for each ride per day. You can hold one FastPass until your FastPass return time, then you can get another one. This is key. If you do it right you should always have a FastPass in hand.

Here is how it works. Find the FastPass Distribution. They are near the ride entrance but you may have to look around a little bit. You will want to know what the FastPass return time is, there is a sign near the distribution. As the day goes on, the FastPass return time will be later and later from when you retrieve your FastPass. You have an hour in your return window. Be sure you will be in that part of the park when your return time rolls around.

Matterhorn FastPass Distribution across from the Matterhorn entrance

Matterhorn FastPass Distribution across from the Matterhorn entrance

You have found the FastPass Distribution. Go up to one of the machines and have your park tickets ready. Put your park ticket into the top slot.

Insert your Park Ticket in the top slot

Insert your Park Ticket in the top slot

Your FastPass reminder ticket will come out of the bottom slot. Take it with you to remind you when to return. It’s also a nice memory of your trip.

Waiting to get your FastPass Reminder

Waiting to get your FastPass Reminder


FastPass Reminder of your Reservation

FastPass Reminder of your Reservation

Now you have your FastPasses in hand. They tell you when to return for your reservation. They are linked to your park ticket, you do not actually need the reminder. When you return to ride you go to the FastPass entrance instead of the Stand By entrance. You scan your park tickets and go on in, bypassing the bulk of the line.

FastPass Reminder tickets for Indiana Jones

FastPass Reminder tickets for Indiana Jones

You will want to be strategic. If the return time is an hour from now, you will likely want to stay in that part of the park. Plan what you are going to do. What rides nearby have a short line, or maybe get something to eat, catch a parade or a show. If the return time is hours from now, just be sure you have planned a few things to do between now and then.

A couple of quick notes. There are also FastPasses for shows. You can get a FastPass for Fantasmic! in Disneyland and Worlds of Color in California Adventure. It is best to get these right when you get to the park. You can hold FastPasses for shows and still get FastPasses for rides. Also, your FastPass reservation will show up in the Disneyland mobile app if you use that. That is a nice way to check your reminder without having to pull out pieces of paper.

Here are the rides that currently have FastPasses available.

In Disneyland

In California Adventure

Give the FastPass system a try on your next trip.


Disneyland a Family Vacation Destination

Disney properties are sort of the ultimate family tourist vacation destination, or tourist trap depending on your perspective. I grew up in the southwest and visited Disneyland often as a child. Then there were many years when I didn’t go. However, when our youngest daughter entered kindergarten we started taking trips to Disneyland and it has become something of a tradition. We have been back roughly every 18 months since. We joke about the frequency of the trips. “Maybe you should go somewhere else”, my wife will gently suggest. I agree we could get another trip in somewhere else if we skipped this, but it’s so predicable, we just know what to do and what to expect. It is the easiest vacation trip possible.

This is the view from Tarzan's Treehouse of New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America

This is the view from Tarzan’s Treehouse of New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America

It is fun to go with kids and see how they evolve from year to year when you visit the park. I used to think adults going there by themselves was a little creepy. We will see what my attitude becomes when the nest is empty.

Why it is a good trip

It is a great value! What I mean by that is for the price of admission, all of the entertainment is included. Now sure it is very commercial. The food is overpriced and bland and there is barely a vegetable to be seen. They have stores everywhere, many rides dump you into a gift shop. They work hard to eek money out of you at every turn, but if you stay focused you won’t spend much more than the ticket price.

It is also a good trip because there is something for everyone. The Disneyland trips we do now that our daughter is 13 are very different from when she was 5. There is always something different to see and unexpected entertainment is just around the corner.

Why is it a bad trip

I won’t kid you, the tickets are expensive. For a 2 day ticket you will pay out $200/person. If you want to hop between parks then it’s more like $244/person last I checked at Disneyland Tickets.

The other reason are the crowds. Disney does a good job smoothing out the spikes in crowds by using blackout dates for Annual Pass holders during naturally busier times of the year and by using variable price single day tickets. I assume there are times when the park is pretty quiet, like the week after Labor Day when all school are back in session. However, the reality for a family is that you are going to go on a weekend, and likely a holiday weekend. You will experience crowds and you need to learn to deal with it. It is possible to work around the crowds very effectively.

Main Street USA in Disneyland!

Main Street USA in Disneyland!

Getting There

Ok, I convinced you to go. Great! Now you have to get there. The easiest thing to do is to fly into Santa Ana (unless you live nearby), also called John Wayne airport. This is the closest airport to the park and it is small with light travel volumes. Clearing security on the way home is generally not a long wait.

Don’t rent a car unless you intend to do other things while you are in town. The quickest way to get to your hotel and the park is to just catch a Lyft or that other rideshare operation. Yes there are shuttles and cabs also but Lyft is just convenient.

If you rent a car, depending where you stay you may have to pay for parking on top of the car rental. Just make a Disney trip about Disney. If you go to southern California for other vacations then do those things and skip Disney.

Where to Stay

You made it to Disney, now where do you stay. Basically, you have two options. You can stay on property or off property. The tradeoff is convenience and proximity to the parks vs. price.

If you stay off property you either want to stay at a place that has a shuttle that can take you back and forth, or you want to stay at one of the properties directly across from the main gate. Those are the places directly across Harbor Blvd. That should give you the shortest walk. If you want a nice off property hotel then the Hilton Anaheim at the Convention Center is highly recommended. However, it is a hike to the park from there. At the end of the day your feet will be tired.

Now, if you stay on property there are three options, but really only two are worthwhile. You are going to pay for staying on property but the convenience is worth it. If you are on property then you can go to your hotel in the middle of the afternoon which is the hottest time of day and the most crowded. Go take a rest and sit by the pool and let the kids play for a couple of hours.

Your two options are the Grand Californian or the Disneyland Hotel. You can also stay at the Paradise Pier, however that is a longer walk to the park than some of the off property hotels I directed you to earlier. It is cheaper but still much more than the off property locations.

The Grand Californian is the closest to the parks, it even has it’s own entrance into California Adventure for Disney guests staying in one of the on property hotels. The hotel is spectacular in terms of the lobby area and the architecture. They have a nice pool facility with a water slide for the kids. Whenever I look for trips this hotel runs between $100 and $150 more a night than the Disneyland Hotel.

That brings me to the Disneyland Hotel. It is maybe a 5-10 minute walk further than the Grand Californian and for that you shave a little money off your bill. It is a huge hotel and has several restaurants as well. The big draw for the kids is the pool facility. The water slides are great and the pool area is just very nicely thought out.

Mickey's hat at the Disneyland Hotel

Mickey’s hat at the Disneyland Hotel

We have stayed at both hotels and don’t really have a favorite. They are different and you have to pick between price and convenience. If you plan to spend lots of time on the trip at the pool you should go to the Disneyland Hotel.

How to Manage your Day

We kind of have a system. If you stay on property, then you get an extra hour in one or the other park each morning. You will have to check the calendar to see what time the park opens for you. We get up and just go to Starbucks in Downtown Disney for coffee and a breakfast sandwich then head to the line to wait for the park to open. The extra hour in the morning is key. You can get a lot of rides done. If the Magic Morning is in Disneyland you choose between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. If the Magic Morning is in California Adventure then you choose between Radiator Springs and Paradise Pier. We will generally go to a very popular ride, then go to another popular ride. At some point you will need to start getting fast passes. As soon as the Fast Pass return time is about an hour after the current time it is worth it.

After the Magic Morning hour the park will start to fill up. Keep hitting rides and using your fast passes. Generally at lunch time or right after we will head back to the hotel and sit for a couple of hours by the pool. Then we head back to the park around the dinner hour. In the evening there are parades and fireworks. These pull a lot of people off of attractions so go do the popular rides now. If you have the stamina the park gets very empty late at night.

What to Eat

Let’s be honest, you aren’t going to Disneyland for the food. The food in the parks is expensive and not great., but there are a few treats to be had.

The Blue Bayou is generally considered the best restaurant in the Disneyland park. It is pricey but the setting, inside Pirates of the Caribbean, is a fun thing to experience at least once. The other place inside of Disney that is fun for the location is Harbour Galley. It is located right next to Splash Mountain and you can watch the logs come off the mountain while you eat.

Other than table service the popcorn is a great snack if you have to stand in a long line. We treat ourselves to ice cream from Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor once a trip. You also need to have at least one churro each trip.

Enjoying Churros across from Mickey's Fun Wheel in California Adventure

Enjoying Churros across from Mickey’s Fun Wheel in California Adventure

What else

There is so much to describe about Disneyland that it won’t fit into a single piece. You should go and discover it for yourself. Also, watch this place for upcoming articles about trips and more information about what you should do.