What You Need to Know to Enjoy 24 Hours at Disneyland

The Disneyland 24-hour event is tomorrow(!!) so I’m reposting this for any of you who might be thinking of attending (this year or future events).  Have fun!!

Disneyland and Walt Disney World have hosted a 24-hour event every year since 2012.  Last year, Rick & I (with our friend Bonnie) attended our first of these 24-hour events: the Rock Your Disney Side event at the Disneyland Resort.  In a previous blogpost, I describe the origins of the event and summarize reporting from the very first event as well as a provide a link to a (hilarious) reporting of last year’s event that was published in Buzzfeed.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland.  Because of the Diamond Celebration, I expect that the kickoff event will be more crowded than it has been the last few years.  In order to best enjoy your 24 hours at Disneyland, I’ve provided a few helpful hints based on our experience.  I will make a disclaimer up front…we were not in the parks for 24 hours.  As you can see from this picture:

Steve, Bonnie and Rick at California Adventure.  Note the time (11:15 AM)

Steve, Bonnie and Rick at California Adventure. Note the time (11:15 AM)

we didn’t arrive at the parks until about 10:45 AM (even though the turnstiles officially opened at 6 AM).   We flew in the night before and arrived at our hotel after midnight.  If we were going to make a full day of our time in the park (and really enjoy it), I knew we would need more than four hours sleep.  For the sake of my relationship and our friendships, I realized I wouldn’t be there at park opening….and that’s just fine.  What’s most important is that everyone have a good time.  After all, that’s why Walt build the parks…so that everyone would have a good time.

I had read about the late night crowds and lack of dining opportunities in previous years, so the only advance preparation I made was a 10:45 dining reservation at Blue Bayou (thinking that we would need to get off our feet by that time of the evening).  When we arrived at California Adventure that morning, the park was not crowded.  In reviewing the special events, I thought we would hit the late (3 AM) World of Color show, attend the Frozen singalong sometime during the day and attend the final Aladdin show (7:55 PM).  We managed to get some of the last fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers so we made our usual rounds of favorite attractions at California Adventure, did some shopping and then headed over to Disneyland Park around 3 PM (knowing that we would have to be back at California Adventure by 7:30 PM).  At 3 PM, the crowds weren’t bad at Disneyland and there were reasonable return times so we followed our usual pattern of getting a fastpass and then using the standby line in nearby attractions.  By 7:15, the park was getting crowded so we headed back to California Adventure for Aladdin.

Man, where did all these people come from!?  There was a 15 minute line to get through the California Adventure turnstiles and the Esplanade was already starting to fill up!  Fatigue had definitely set in so it was great to sit in the Hyperion Theater and nap for a little bit (Sorry Ali Boo Boo).  Then off to Radiator Springs Racers.  Even with the fastpass, we waited about 30 minutes for the Racers.  After we got off, we walked around CarsLand for a bit (the neon at night is just spectacular) and then headed into the Animation Building to chill  (one of my favorite places to just hang out…dark, cool lobby, Disney soundtracks and animation stills.  Did you know you can rent the room for a wedding reception?).

So about 10:15 we decide to head back to Disneyland for our Blue Bayou reservation.  The Esplanade has turned into a sea of people with the lines from each theme park nearly crossing over to the other side of the plaza.  Luckily, they hadn’t closed the parks but it was still over 30 minutes to get back into Disneyland.  Between the lines and the crowds, we were 15 minutes late for our Blue Bayou reservations.

Not that it mattered.  The dining room was sooooo backed up with people staying at their tables that we didn’t get seated until midnight!  The food was good but we didn’t leave the restaurant until nearly 2:00!  The crowds were not quite as bad as they were when we entered the park as the 12:30 parade had come and gone.  People were mostly either congregated at the dance events in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle and at Tomorrowland Terrace or waiting in insanely long standby lines (90 minutes for Indiana Jones).  How can you people even stand up?!

So we dawdled our way back to California Adventure, doing some shopping along the way.  At this point,we had a tough choice to make: either the 3 AM showing of World of Color or the 3:45 Frozen Singalong.  Because we REALLY needed coffee by this point and didn’t have the stamina for both events, we decided to skip World of Color and head over to Fiddler, Fifer & Practical (aka Starbucks) for some caffeine.  Plus the thought of sitting for a couple hours in an air-conditioned theater was a gift sent by Walt himself!  We laughed, we cried, we sang and most importantly, we napped!!

As we left the theater at 5:30, it was just starting to get light.  We had enough time for one last ride. Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin’ and Toy Story Midway Mania were already closed.  So what was still open?  Tower of Terror!  One last rush of adrenaline before we headed out of the park.

Steve and Rick just leaving the park.  Note the time (6:10 AM)

Steve and Rick just leaving the park. Note the time (6:10 AM)

We didn’t do the full 24 hours, however we did make it for 19 hours.  Would we do it again?  Bonnie and I would be up for it. Rick’s opinion is once is enough!  But having done it once, I’ve learned a number of lessons that I’d like to pass along to readers:

  • Pace yourself!  Build longer breaks and nap opportunities into your schedule, especially towards the end of the event.  Don’t plan on doing every ride (like the Buzzfeed writer intended to do)!  If you’re younger and have the stamina to stand in a 90-minute line at 2 AM, that’s great!  But if not, you can still enjoy the event at any pace.  Get a good night’s sleep the night before (especially if you plan on arriving before 6 AM)!
  • Anticipate the crowds.  The crowd pattern is different from a normal park day.  Because the event starts on the Friday of a 3-day weekend, the parks start more crowded than a typical weekday.  Do all of the things you normally would do to minimize wait times (use fastpass, visit popular attractions early in the day or during the parades).  But in addition, recognize the fact that beginning after work hours, thousands of Southern California Annual Pass holders will descend on the parks (as the day is not a blackout day for the regular Southern California Annual Pass).  From about 8 PM to 1 AM, you’ll want to avoid park hopping.  Lines for food and attractions will be longer.  Disney has gotten better about beefing up counter service food options but it’s probably best to have dinner on the early side and get a snack to keep you going later in the evening.
  • Ride your favorite rides early.  Think you’ll be getting a 2 AM fastpass for Space Mountain?  Think again!  The fastpass system runs on the normal park schedule (which means that after the park’s normal closing time, your only option is the standby line).  90 minute standby lines were pretty common for the popular attractions.  Unless you really want bragging rights for riding Big Thunder Mountain at 3 AM, spend time at the dance parties and the late night events.  Or just grab a beverage or snack, chill and people watch.  Unfortunately, Disneyland will not be allowing guests to wear costumes this year (the people watching was GREAT last year…so many imaginative costumes).
  • Take lots of pictures.  Disney sets up picture spots with clocks (like the one in these photos) all over the park.  It’s pretty funny to see your physical, emotional and psychological progression as the day wears on.  Also, when are you ever going to see Sleeping Beauty Castle in the light of dawn?
  • Shop for the special event souvenirs early.  Disney has gotten better over the years about having enough on hand (see my mouse ears and Rick’s shirt) but some items do sell out.  Also, pay attention to the special food offerings that are listed in the daily program.  Many restaurants in the parks will be offering special menus, test items, and foods that were long-ago retired.
  • Be prepared!  Some people will normally come to the parks with protein bars but what about your cell phone?  If you’re constantly on your phone or device, an external battery will save you the time of having to find a power source and wait while your phone charges.  Also, if you want a locker to store stuff during the day (change of clothes…think about it, 24 hours in the same pair of socks!), get there early.  Both parks run out of locker space at the main locker facilities just inside each park entrance.

Above all, just have a good time!  It only happens once a year and Disney pulls out an extra big bucket of pixie dust to make it an enjoyable and memorable 24 hours!










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