Organizing, Travel

Planning a trip to California Adventure

Yesterday our family went to California Adventure. It was the best vacation we have had in years! Part of it was because of the advance research that made the day go very smoothly, with minimal wait in lines. Here are tips to help you if you are planning to go.

The last time we went to an amusement park as a family (Universal Studios in Florida), we had heat exhaustion, dehydration, nausea, and overall not a great experience. So this time, knowing we had only a day at California Adventure, I planned ahead and had everything ready. Here are some things we did (and learned we should have done) that hopefully can help you if you are planning a trip to this theme park.

1. Go on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I read that these are the least busy days. Wednesday is a Extra Magic Hours day, which means guests of Disneyland resorts can go early. I read that one should avoid Wednesdays because of this reason, but because we arrived early we had no problems — the park was still pretty empty.

Disney California Adventure

The Yee family visits California Adventure!

2. Prioritize the attractions you want to visit. Look at these lists of attractions and entertainment. I made a spreadsheet. Our family likes shows and low-key rides. I immediately eliminated any coasters or thrill rides. I also knew Megan was the only one who liked spinning and tamer thrill rides so I made a column just for her.


3. Subscribe to Ridemax. This service creates a custom itinerary for you based on what you would like to see. It calculates the shortest wait times and tells you where to go. It is $15 but it is worth every penny. It saved us probably half a day in wait times.  For $4.25 a person, this was peanuts and well worth the price!

It doesn’t have every single attraction on here, so you still need to do your research on smaller attractions (like live street performers or a  movie preview). But it gives you sections of free time so you can see these other things too.

We fell behind once because we stopped to watch a street show. In hindsight, it might have been easier to go back to see the street show later. But we continued with the itinerary and got back on track relatively easily. Also, the Frozen show times were different so we had to make some slight adjustments. But overall, it was really helpful to have the Ridemax service. (Note: the computer desktop online version is pretty limited and the phone app has more customization details.)

4. Make a Fastpass plan. Fastpasses let you bypass lines by printing out a ticket for a time to arrive. You get into a special line that is really short compared to the normal line. You can only have one Fastpass at a time, except you can also get a Frozen Fastpass and a World of Color Fastpass because these are all independent of the system that distributes tickets for the other lines. So, in reality you can have three Fastpasses. Note that not all Fastpasses are distributed at the actual attraction. (World of Color Fastpasses are at Grizzly Run and Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses are at It’s Tough to Be a Bug.)

Figure out when you are going to get the Fastpasses because they go quickly. We got World of Color as soon as we got in (they were passing them out at the rope waiting section before the park opened (see #10). We also got Soaring Fastpasses before we even got to a ride (we went to Toy Story Mania first), and then after the first two rides got a Frozen ticket (at about 10:30 am). By that time, they were already distributing the 4:00 pm Frozen show, and that was the third out of the four shows for the day! So don’t delay if you want to get a Frozen Fastpass.

We got a Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass as soon as we used up the Soaring one (around 10:15 am). By this time, they were giving out 3pm Fastpasses for Racers. We got the Frozen show and saw it was during the Racers Fastpass, so we went back to the station and told the attendant there. She took our 3 pm Fastpasses and gave us the 6 pm ones, which was what were being distributed at the time.

Because of all these Fastpasses, I calculate we saved almost four hours of wait time (wait times for the rides we went on were 60 minutes (Soaring), 75-90 minutes (Racers), 60-75 minutes (Toy Story Mania). Each time, we had very short waits and got in within a few minutes because we went to the Fastpass line.

In addition, we got premium spots — orchestra section in Frozen, and front of the crowd at the railing at World of Color, with direct line of sight and no obstructions. (Frozen was kind of luck of the draw, because we actually left the kiosk, which was giving out 1:30 show tickets, walked 15 feet away, changed our minds, walked back, and by that time they were giving out 4 pm show tickets. This meant that the best tickets were being given out first — the orchestra section! What a blessing!)

5. Pack needed items. This will depend on your family. Since we are all adults, we did not need things like diapers. But we brought water bottles, hats, and a little sunscreen. Megan and I brought phone battery chargers (can you tell we are avid phone users?). I learned the hard way — don’t pack a glass water bottle. They told me glass water bottles are not allowed and I lost mine. Very sad.

Hats are important! It gets hot in the sun. Also bring a light sweater if you are going to stay through the evening. It can get a little chilly depending on time of year.

6. Buy tickets in advance online. Buy both the park ticket and the parking tickets online. You can print them at home or keep them on your phone. This lets you bypass ticket lines and get in quickly.

7. Download the Disney app on your phone. This gives realtime data on how long the wait time is for each attraction. I checked it multiple times to see which rides we should go to during our free time.

8. Familiarize yourself with the map. You can see where the rides are and save time the day of by not trying to figure out where you need to go.


Disney downloadable map

9. Arrive early. Most people come late morning, so going in the morning allows you to bypass major lines. The popular attractions get lines quickly so that’s where the itinerary comes in helpful. We arrived at a little after 8 am.  There is one big parking lot that is the same for both California Adventure and Disneyland.

10.  Take a picture of your parking sign. Don’t worry about remembering where your car was parked after the day is over. Take a picture with your phone if you have a smart phone.

parking sign

After parking, it was 8:15 am. The shuttle took about 10 minutes to walk there and ride over. They open the outer gates at 8:30 am. You can go into the area with the central fountain at 8:45 am (Buena Vista Avenue). The rest of the park is roped off. You stand at the roped off section until 9 am, when they take off the ropes and you can go into the park. We made a beeline for the Soaring Fastpass on our way to Toy Story Midway Mania.

11. Keep to your itinerary. Watch extra street acts and go on other rides during your free times if possible.

12. Eat lunch early. We ate at 11 and there were no lines and the eating tables were pretty empty.

13. Bring something to do while waiting in line. We planned that there would be two times we would prioritize waiting over rides because we wanted to get good views. We went to Frozen 45 minutes early and sat on the ground waiting. We went to World of Color 90 minutes early and waited; by that time we had gone to all the attractions we had wanted to see and had just planned to hang out and relax.

Because of the early arrival times, we got the best seats in the house for Frozen (back line of orchestra section, dead center, with no one behind us so I could shoot all the video I wanted! :-)), and front of line for World of Color. Plus, because we got to the front of  World of Color, we could sit and lean against the railing to rest before the show started. I guess some people might prefer to maximize ride time, and that’s all right too. We are a low-key family and scheduled all the activities early in the day, knowing we would get tired and could rest the latter half of the day

Since we are a geeky family, I brought my iPad and worked on a jigsaw puzzle. It was really helpful as it got dark when we waited for the World of Color show!

14. Schedule in time to rest. We usually take naps on vacation, but since we live locally, we didn’t have a hotel room to go to. There are shaded benches around the park, and we stopped a bit around Paradise Pier. Another place we found was quieter and off the beaten path was in Cars Land, right next to drinking fountains, restrooms, and a few air-conditioned shops. Waiting for the Frozen show in the air conditioned theater was a good place to get a brief doze too! (They open doors 15 minutes before the show starts.)


Bench resting area in Cars Land

I’m sure there are a million other tips, but this was our first time at California Adventure in something like 16 years — last time we went we did not have such a great time and I don’t remember very much! This time every person in our family enjoyed the experience.

It was a pricey vacation — Disney parks are not cheap! But in all, I counted up that we went to 15 attractions (18 for Megan) and shows, including the 70-minute Frozen musical, and 20+ minute World of Color Show, so it was well worth the ticket price! Plus, best of all, our family hung out together, had good chats and good laughs, and had an experience we will remember for a lifetime.

Do you have other tips for maximizing time at California Adventure? Please comment if you do!

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