Weathering a Crowded Summer Day at DCA: Lessons Learned from Pixar Pier Premiere

Pixar Pier Incredicoaster
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Disneyland is crowded. This has become a universal reality.  It is unfortunate, virtually unavoidable, and has become sadly consistent. When a new or newly refurbished land, attraction, or rose-gold gift dispensary opens over an already impacted summer weekend, the resort can reach capacity. As can guest frustration. The recent Disney California Adventure Pixar Pier premiere on Saturday, June 23, was another such notable occasion.

Crowd at Pixar Pier
Pixar Pier grand opening at the Disneyland Resort’s California Adventure

Disneyland Resort used to enjoy what we now remember fondly as an “off season.” Way back when, on a Tuesday in November, guests might expect to ride Space Mountain and the Matterhorn in the same day, with the sun in the same relative position in the sky. That was before Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, bounding and Instagram made Disneyland the exceedingly popular pop-culture destination it is today.

If you want to avoid the heavily crowded festive periods, you may want to skip summer entirely. On the other hand, if your desire to experience new lands, new attractions, and the latest rollouts of snacks and sundries outweighs your need for elbow and breathing room, come prepared.

Parking

It takes a rather dramatic occurrence for the Disneyland Resort to run out of parking spaces, but expect it to happen often once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuts. The Pixar/Disney connection is noteworthy, though nothing compares to “Star Wars” short of “Star Wars” itself. Still, those hoping to be inside Disney California Adventure at rope drop—when something new is being unveiled—the situation surrounding every parking facility may be downright chaotic.

Advice: Arrive as early as you can and try to remain calm. You won’t be the only person eager to get parked and get going. In fact, maintaining your calm is our advice for basically any Disney issue—and life in general! Truly, our best recommendation is to get a hotel room within walking distance of the resort. Or, even better, stay at the resort if you can swing it. You’ll have a much wider window of time, be one less vehicle taking up space, and be among the happier arrivals at the Happiest Place on Earth—which Cast Members always appreciate.

Artist Rendering of Pixar Pier at D23 Expo 2017
During D23 Expo 2017, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts’ Bob Chapek unveiled plans for Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure

FastPasses

While you can ride the new Incredicoaster without a FastPass, this might not be the best use of your park time. The Incredicoaster standby queue affords guests a more in-depth examination of the brand new backstory, which is worth enjoying when time isn’t at such a premium. Advice: Until the new-attraction smell wears off and the summer swarm dies down, go for the FastPass and catch the attraction’s backstory online.

Warning: Securing FastPasses for new and coveted attractions can be dicey, as they’re in limited supply and go fast. A thrill ride of sorts in itself is being present at rope drop when the stampede to the distribution kiosks (which are always located in the vicinity of the attraction) commences. Think “bull run,” but with Mickey ears. If you prefer a more sane and measured approach, spring for MaxPass and reserve your ride times via your mobile device. If you’re not up to spending the additional $10 per admission ticket for the MaxPass benefits—which include Disney PhotoPass photo downloads—ask yourself how much you care about all those “E-Ticket” rides. With MaxPass, you can double—if not triple—the primo rides you can enjoy on a crowded day. Disney is betting most will spring for the ten more dollars.

Bag Check

Unless you absolutely must—and most people do—don’t bring a bag. Not having a bag is like taking the express elevator in a high-rise—on a weekday: you can skip right past that bag-check line, which can move somewhat efficiently—or not—depending on everyone in front of you. If you don’t have a bag or stroller, you can put this time to much better use—like standing in line for a Dole Whip!

And yet, the security process does continue to become a more smooth and streamlined process, thanks to the addition of more screening aisles, better crowd control, and increased shade. Advice: Know where the security checkpoints are so that you’ll be ready when you arrive (assuming you have a bag).

A little patience will go a long way—with or without a bag. Your only real priority is to enjoy yourself. It’s why you’re there! And don’t forget to stay hydrated—it’s summer, after all, and Disney has plenty of beverages and treats to keep you cool and energized this summer.

Got your own bit of advice for weathering crowded summer days at the Disneyland Resort? Leave your comments below. 

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About the author

Christopher Schmidt

Christopher Schmidt is a former Disneyland Resort bartender and author of The Unofficial Walt Disney World Drinking Companion, The Unofficial Disneyland Drinking Companion, and The Complete Guide to runDisney - Disneyland Edition.
If it involves amusement, attractions, athletics, adventure, and responsible enjoyment of exotic libations, you will find Christopher in the middle of it, eager to tell you all about it.
Questions, topic ideas or improvements, and private correspondence? Drop me a message: [email protected]

2 Comments

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  • We just made our first trip to Disneyland at the end of July and planned it before Pixar Fest. We were excited about it, but worried about lines due to it being new and all that.

    My biggest tip would be to get MaxPass and never look back. The one thing that I found interesting though was how it worked. You could essentially create endless MaxPass reservations as you went from one ride to the next, especially in the mornings. Our first day we were able to do every ride we wanted to do in Disneyland Park by mid day using MaxPass. One thing to note though is you can’t get a MaxPass for the time you want unless you wait until all the other MaxPass/FastPass times have been selected until then. That means if it’s 10am and you want to ride Incredicoaster at 9pm, you’ll have to keep checking back until every fast pass for Incredicoaster has been taken until a 9pm window. So just keep using your MaxPass until then.

    Bag check – I agree, skip it if you can. But most of us carry water, supplies for children, etc. Bring your own water! My wife and I brought 6 water bottles twice per day, drinking one or two while waiting in line and walking into the park. Disneyland is loaded with recycling bins, use them please!

    Advice – don’t take the line directly in front of you when entering security. Move to the sides, they move much closer as people are lazy or busy and just walk straight ahead.

    You’d also think lines would be shorter after the initial “rope drop” times. NOT AT ALL. They’re actually longer after rope drop until the afternoon. It’s crazy to me as I don’t remember that in WDW, but that’s how it worked every day we were there.

    Saturdays and Mondays have the craziest lines according to multiple security people. Lines were busiest from 9 until 1 or 2pm.

    However, if you stop for lunch or leave the park and make a pass for later in the day, the system makes you wait longer to make another MaxPass selection. So we used that knowledge for our later days (we were there for 5 days) for things like Incredicoaster after dark (it makes the ride that much more incredible!) by going back to the hotel and making the selection there, then going to the pool during that down time before we could book another MaxPass. Since it was for hours later, it made us wait ~2 hours to book our next selection. But that meant by the time we were going back to the park we already had two MaxPasses waiting for us.

  • The actual off-season is January to February from the holiday hangover and especially if it’s cooler with a chance of rain and many attractions are closed for the holiday changeover and attraction refurbishment. But in March to April, expect Spring Break crowds. Then crowds are slight lighter in May and early June. Early June was especially uncrowded before Pixar Pier opened. Other slight less crowded times are early September (back to school) and early December (just before the holiday storm).

    I expect a lull before Star Wars Land opens next year. Expect lighter crowds in the spring when many are waiting for the new land to open. This might be the last time Southern California local passes are offered. When Carsland opened, the locals deal didn’t return until 2 years later. I expect it to not return for 3 or 4 years.

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