One of the most valuable perks of staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the 30 minutes Early Entry to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Having access to the parks as part of this small group of hotel guests is an awesome experience and we really strive to make the most of our Early Entry.
We often get asked what is the best way to use the Early Entry time at Disneyland California and, with 13 rides to choose from and 30 minutes to play with, we have a few preferred strategies that we consider to work great. For those of you planning your own trip, we’ve included our best early entry strategies for Disneyland California and our tips for making the most of your extra 30 minutes in the park!
Note: This article covers Disneyland park only. Check out our separate guide to early entry at Disney California Adventure.
Early Entry Strategy Disney California Adventure tips: We’ve tried and tested these strategies over multiple visits (our most recent stay was in March 2023) both with and without our Disney-loving kids.
Early Entry at Disneyland California
Early Entry is an amazing perk for guests staying onsite at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels. With only 3 hotels on site (Disneyland Grand California, Disneyland Hotel and Disney Paradise Pier), Early Entry is only granted to this small group of hotel guests and this means lines are typically very short!
Hotel guests with a valid park ticket and park reservation can benefit from entry to Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park 30 minutes prior to the regular opening time. Early entry is granted from the day of check-in to the day of check out so on a one-night stay you could benefit from two early entries.
Early Entry Strategy Disneyland California tips: if you have access to multiple early entrys (i.e. if you are staying in a Disney property for a couple of nights), we find it best to split them across the two parks giving priority to Disneyland. With two early entries we do one in each park, with three we do 2 in Disneyland and 1 in DCA.
What time do I need to arrive for Early Entry at Disneyland California?
To make the most out of early entry you need to be waiting at the entry point for hotel guests (currently this is outside Plaza Inn) in advance of the Early Entry opening time – so this means that if the park opens at 8am then Early Entry begins at 7.30am and you need to be outside the Plaza Inn in advance of this to be ready to enter when cast members begin to scan hotel guests through.
We recommend leaving your hotel around 60 minutes prior to early entry (so 90 minutes prior to regular opening). For a 7.30am early entry you will want to leave your hotel by 6.40am at the latest and have cleared security and arrived at the entrance to the Disneyland Park by 7.15am. It might seem excessive but there are three stages to early entry and it’s really easy to miss some of it waiting in line for park entry:
- Security: all guests need to pass through security before entering the park. If you are staying onsite then you will pass through security in the Downtown Disney District or, for guests of the Grand Californian, at their private security entrance. As many hotel guests will want to utilise early entry this can be a busy time at security so we recommend being in line at around 6.45am for the 7am security opening.
- Park entrance: after you pass through security you will then make your way to the Disneyland entrance. The first guests are usually scanned in about 40 minutes prior to the park opening, so at around 7.20am for a 8am park opening. There is no separate queue for hotel guests so you will be in line with everyone who is planning to rope drop as well as those there for early entry. The park entrance queues move more slowly, in part because photos have to be taken of guests on the first day of using their ticket. We try to allow 20 minutes for park entry.
- Early Entry: once you are scanned in you will then walk towards the Castle. As you walk along Main Street USA there are signs indicating that hotel guests should stay right. Keep to the right and, as you approach Plaza Inn, you will see the Early Entry kiosks where guests with Early Entry are scanned in. You will need your hotel key and/or your reservation details on the Disneyland app so make sure to have both to hand.
What rides are open during Early Entry at Disneyland?
Guests can access select rides in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland during Early Entry at Disneyland. Typically, there are 13 rides available at Disneyland in the early entry period.
The rides, and their minimum height requirements, are:
There are no height requirements on any of the listed rides:
- Alice in Wonderland
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- King Arthur Carrousel
- Mad Tea Party
- Mr Toad’s Wild Ride
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
- Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
- Astro Orbitor: no height requirement
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters: no height requirement
- Space Mountain: 40″/102cm
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue: 40″/102cm
Other things to consider about Early Entry
Before we run through our early entry strategies there are a few other things to consider
Getting in line ahead of the rope drop crowds
The perks of Early Entry aren’t limited to the rides open during this period – you can also use the last few minutes of Early Entry to get ahead of the rope drop crowd for some of Disneyland’s most popular rides. Our current rope drop favourites are Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad.
Rise of the Resistance (not open during Early Entry)
Individual Lightening Lane: yes, typically $25 per person
Height Requirement: 40″/102 cm
Located in Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, Rise of the Resistance, places guests in an incredible battle between the Resistance and First Order. It is an incredible mix of a motion stimulator, walk-through, trackless and drop ride and it is like nothing else I’ve been on in any Disney park.
Rise of the Resistance is one of the most popular attractions in Disneyland California and is an extremely popular rope drop ride. Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway are the only rides in Disneyland to have a standalone paid Lightening Lane (Rise of the Resistance is usually priced at $25 per person) and the regular line typically exceeds 60 minutes for most of the day – if you don’t want to queue for ages or pay for entry then you need to rope drop Rise of the Resistance.
Rise of the Resistance is not open during early entry but you can still benefit from your early access by waiting at an entry point to Star Wars Galaxy Edge – the entry point is located in Fantasyland just past Red Rose Tavern and is only accessible to those with Early Entry. This means that you will beat the rope drop crowds to enter the line at Rise of the Resistance.
Early Entry Strategy Disneyland California tips: if you are walking towards Red Rose Tavern from Sleeping Beauty’s Castle then you will see a gate outside the restroom just after passing Red Rose Tavern. This is the gate where early entry guests gather in advance of the regular park opening time in order to rope drop Rise of the Resistance.
Read our full guide to Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland California
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Individual Lightening Lane: yes, typically $15 to $2- per person
Height Requirement: none
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is a trackless dark ride where guests board a runaway railway as they follow Minnie and Mickey on a leisurely drive to have a picnic. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway only opened in January 2023 and is extremely popular, in part due to its recency, but mostly because it’s a really fun and awesome ride that appeals to all the family!
One thing to note about Early Entry (and rope dropping) is that there can be ride closures or late openings of rides. If we have a particular ride in mind, we find it best to check what’s not running with the Cast Member at the Early Entry rope and adjust our plans if necessary. Always have a backup plan in mind as it can be really challenging to think of a new strategy on the spot once you have your mind set on a particular ride/set of rides.
If you haven’t heard of Genie+ it is a paid daily add-on at Disneyland that allows guests to prebook lightning lane entry on a select list of rides. Guests are allocated a time slot during which they can access the lightening lane for that ride and can reserve a Genie+ slot after tapping in for the Lightening Lane or two hours after reserving their last Genie+. It typically costs between $25 and $30 per guest per day.
Early Entry rides with Genie+ at Disneyland: Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain, Star Tours
Early Entry rides without Genie+ at Disneyland: Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, Carrousel, Mad Tea Party, Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Snow White, Astro Orbitor
If you have Genie+ and Early Entry
If you have Genie+ then you will want to make sure you cover any rides that don’t have Genie+ during Early Entry – this is because it will be your only opportunity to benefit from shorter lines on these rides as, once the park opens, every guest joins the same line to ride them. You will be able to benefit from lightening lane access on rides with Genie+ throughout the day so you will still have the opportunity to ride these rides with shorter lines.
Early Entry Only (No Genie+)
If you don’t have Genie+ then you will want to prioritise the rides that you most want to ride and that have the longest queues.
Early Entry Strategies at Disneyland California
With 30 minutes to play with and 13 rides to choose from, we have a few preferred strategies that we consider to work great for Early Entry.
We’ve tried these strategies alone and as 2 adults. We’ve also done Early Entry with a young baby, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old (and all 3 together!) so there should be at least one strategy that works for everyone!
Fantasyland or Tomorrowland for Early Entry?
Firstly, you will need to choose between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland for your Early Entry. If you’re wondering where to start then it’s good to understand the different lands at Disneyland California.
There are eight lands in total in Disneyland: Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Adventureland, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Critter Country, New Orleans Square and Main Street USA. You can access Main Street USA, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland during Early Entry.
- Main Street USA is always open during park opening hours. It is the main thoroughfare leading from the entrance of Disneyland to the Castle and is themed to resemble a 20th Century American small town. There are no rides on Main Street USA. It’s best to explore Main Street USA at your leisure but this should be outside of your extremely valuable Early Entry half hour!
- Fantasyland brings Disney fairytales to life and is a magical part of Disneyland California. It is extremely popular with families and most of the rides are suitable for the entire family. Most of the rides in Fantasyland have long wait times all through the day and there’s no Genie+ so riding everything you desire is a must during Early Entry! There are no preshows or line experiences in Fantasyland so it’s just a matter of joining the line and riding when you reach the top.
- Tomorrowland is a nod to outer space and the future. The rides are more action-packed than Fantasyland. Four rides are available during Early Entry and, of these, only Astro Orbitor doesn’t offer Genie+ access – therefore, if you have Genie+ it’s likely you will want to prioritise Fantasyland instead. Both Space Mountain and Star Tours are quite time-consuming rides. If you have young kids remember that Space Mountain and Star Tours have a 40″/102cm height requirement (our almost 4-year-old girl meets the minimum height for these).
Early Entry Strategy Disneyland California tips: my 3-year-old girl chooses Fantasyland all day everyday (notably Dumbo!) and she and I will always hit up Fantastyland during Early Entry. It’s fantastic as my 9 month old is able to join us on every ride that is open during Early Entry. Our 5-year-old likes to mix it up a little and sometimes chooses Space Mountain and then the other rides in Tomorrowland but he’s also spent many in Fantasyland as he loves fairytales and dark rides!
Strategy 1: Fantasyland (+optional rope drops)
Works for: everyone (including babies)
Tried and tested with: our 9 month old, 3.5-year-old and 5-year-old
As soon as you are permitted early entry walk straight through the Castle to Fantasyland.
Peter Pan is the main ride to tick off during Early Entry as it’s both wonderful and incredibly popular! If you’re among the first of the early entrants then you should ride it immediately as the line will be at its shortest – it’s located on the right side just after you pass through the entrance to Fantasyland and the courtyard where Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Castle Holiday Shoppe are located. Sometimes, if we’re a little back in the early entry crowd, we come back to Peter Pan after about 15 minutes to give the line time to settle after the initial rush.
Early Entry Strategy Disneyland California tips: if you are planning to rope drop Rise of the Resistance or Mickey and Minnie’s Railway and you really want to ride Peter Pan then you do it first regardless if the queue is longer. This way, you will know how much time you have to play with in Fantasyland before you need to prepare for rope drop.
Aside from Peter Pan, we suggest riding the Early Entry rides in Fantasyland in any order you wish as the wait times tend to be relatively short. We’d probably start with Mr Toad’s Wild Ride and Dumbo then Pinocchio if pushed to set an order.
If you’re not rushing to leave Fantasyland after Early Entry then you can leave Peter Pan to last if there is a bit of a wait during Early Entry. Make sure you are in line a couple of minutes prior to the regular park opening time and, at the latest, one minute before park opening (so by 7.59am for 8am opening) – we usually wait in line about 10 to 15 minutes during this time and As soon as the rope drops the wait time for this increases massively – if you are in line you will see the rush to the line after the rope drops.
What to do after Early Entry in Fantasyland:
Fantasyland is really well placed for two some of the most popular rope drops in Disneyland so here are some ideas for post early entry:
- rope drop Micky and Minnie’s Railroad: make sure you are leaving Fantasyland and have passed Story Book Canal Boats (this is they route towards Toontown) a few minutes before rope drop. This means you are ahead of the rope drop crowds and it should cut your wait time significantly.
- rope drop Rise of the Resistance: make sure you are at the gate which leads to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge towards the end of Early Entry (it’s located in front of the restrooms just passed Red Rose Tavern). This gate opens at the regular park opening time and accessing Galaxy’s Edge this way will put you slightly ahead of the rope drop crowds (who will likely go via Pirates of the Caribbean as it’s easier to navigate the relatively empty lands than try to pass through the already open Fantasyland). Rise of the Resistance can sometimes be down right at opening so we recommend hanging around for 15 minutes to see if it opens up – it often opens quite quickly even if it is down at park opening. Remember, Rise of the Resistance has a 40″/102cm height requirement.
- rope drop Matterhorn/It’s a Small World: some of the Fantasyland rides only open at rope drop and Matterhorn and It’s a Small World are among these. They’re located right next to the rides open during Early Entry so you can make sure you are ready to get in line by one minute before park opening so you are ahead of the rope drop crowds. There is a 42″/107cm height requirement for Matterhorn.
- ride the other Fantasyland rides: check out any of the Fantasyland rides you didn’t make it on during early entry and also the ones that weren’t open. Casey Jr, Storybook Canal, It’s a Small World and Matterhorn don’t open until after Early Entry.
Strategy 2: Tomorrowland
Works for: adults, kids (3/4+)
Tried and tested with: our 3.5-year-old and 5-year-old who both meet the 40″/102cm minimum height requirement
We like to start with Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters as it’s relatively quick to pass through the line and ride so we can still benefit from the rest of the Early Entry period.
If you have younger kids then let them have a spin on Astro Orbitor next. The line tends to be short throughout Early Entry and it’s close to Buzz. There’s no Genie+ on Astro Orbitor so it’s a definite one for Early Entry even if you have it.
If you are not riding Astro Orbitor then you need to choose between Space Mountain and Star Tours. Both have a 40″/102cm minimum height requirement and are excellent rides but either one will likely consume the remainder of your Early Entry period.
If anyone in your group is under the 40″/102cm height requirement for Star Tours and Space Mountain then it’s worth splitting up – take the younger kids on Buzz and Astro Orbitor with one adult while the other adult (and older kids) can try out Space Mountain and Star Tours.
If you want to ride both Star Tours and Space Mountain then you could go straight to one of them upon entry and then you will likely be in line for the other by the time the park opens.
What to do after Early Entry in Tomorrowland:
- Check out the other Tomorrowland rides before the park gets too busy: Autopia and Finding Nemo are both worth a ride especially if you have kids in your group.
What should I do after Early Entry at Disneyland California?
As well as the ideas already listed under Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, here are some of our typical mornings at DCA:
- reserve the Minnie and Friends Breakfast in the Park at the Plaza Inn: we love sitting down for breakfast after a busy morning of early entry and making the most of the low crowds post-rope drop. The Minnie and Friends breakfast is a real treat for Minnie fans and features some of her friends (we had Tigger, Daisy, Pluto and one of the mice from Cinderella).
- on days we have Genie+ we reserve our favourites as soon as the park opens (Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain are two of our favorites)
- make our way around the other lands – we like to ride Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise early