Updated August 13, 2017
***This post includes the new parade rules put into place early March 2017.
***The following information provided for Disneyland applies to all Disneyland parades including Paint the Night, Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP), etc.
Parades at Disneyland are some of my favorite experiences in the park. I absolutely adore them and think they’ve fun for all ages. I encourage you to work at least one into your schedule for the day.
Let’s discuss your parade strategy, what to bring, what to do while you’re waiting and what you can expect from each parade.
In this article
First – Know the Current State of Crowds
Disneyland parades are more popular than ever. Grabbing a spot can sometimes be stressful. There are a few options to avoid this:
1. See the parade and fireworks from it’s a small world. Less crowds and more space.
2. Watch the second parade if there is one available. I know it’s late, but if you take your long afternoon nap, hopefully kids will still be awake. 1/4 of the people are there for the later parade.
3. Set up in time for the parade with all the people who get there early and then rotate someone watching your blanket. My husband often takes the kids on a few rides while I stay at the blanket. He does the same when I took the kids to find food.
4. Consider a special dining experience. Blue Bayou and Aladdin’s Oasis are offering packages and they are both fantastic. Find detailed information on both of those in my post on Special Dining Events with Reserved Viewing for Shows.
5. Try on your first night and then subsequent nights to see the fireworks. They get cancelled frequently due to high winds. So, if you leave this to your last night, you’re risking not being able to see them if they’re cancelled.
The New Rules
To prevent guests from camping out HOURS prior to parade time, Disneyland cast members are now clearing paths and preventing set up until 2 hours prior. At the 2 hour mark (or right around then), ropes will go up to start the official parade prep. At that point, guests may then secure their spots.
Blankets are still allowed to save your space, however, they cannot be left unattended.
Dining packages will still operate in the same way as before.
What to Bring
I always have these essentials on hand for a parade experience:
- Blanket or sheet to secure your spot. Blankets are more comfortable, but take up space in your bag or stroller. A sheet works well to simply block your space and it won’t weigh down your bag. This little tool will work wonders for you since people often lose their manners once the parade starts and might start pushing their way to the front. If you arrive early and claim your spot, you’ll be in good shape.
- Have some activities and snacks prepared in case you have kids on the blanket with you. I have several things to buy for your trip from Amazon prior to arriving and that includes fun stuff to do. Some suggestions: bubbles, glow sticks if you’re watching a later parade, small games or puzzles, easy to clean up snacks, etc.
What to Do While You’re Waiting
- I always recommend one adult sit on the blanket to reserve the spot (you cannot leave it unattended) and one adult takes kids on a nearby attraction. Depending on where you choose to sit (more on that later), you’ll have plenty of options. Know your timing before the attraction goers take off and be sure they return on time. And, make sure everyone uses the restroom before they return to the blanket.
- While the other adult is off taking kids somewhere to keep them busy, relax. I often bring a book to read. I clean out my bags, throw trash away as needed, straighten my stroller, etc, etc. It feels good to have a little time to re-set for the rest of the day. (This is actually one of my favorite times of the day!)
- Breathe. If you’re lucky enough to sit on the blanket solo, take a break. Enjoy the lack of fussing from your own kids. Ignore those from the children around you.
What You Can Expect from Each Parade
- Main Street Electrical Parade – The Main Street Electrical Parade returned to Disneyland to retire where it started. The last time the parade was at Disneyland was 20 years ago. This is such a special parade. Don’t miss the old school magic. This article has some lovely images from the parade.
- Mickey’s Soundsational Parade – This is my absolute favorite. It’s so happy, energetic, interactive and fun. Expect classic characters, princesses, and more. This parade is held at Disneyland and I highly recommend it. There is typically one of these parades each day.
- Paint the Night Parade – A million dazzling lights make this parade unforgettable. Long time Disneyland fans will recall the Electric Light Parade from their youth. This is an updated version with awesome effects and impressive costumes. Look for traditional characters like Mickey, the princesses, favorites from Cars and Monster’s Inc. (This parade went on hiatus 1.8.2017. Leaving info here in case it returns.)
- Pixar Play Parade – The only parade that California Adventure offers, this one is high energy and much less stressful to see compared to those at Disneyland. This parade includes many popular Pixar characters including those from Monsters University, Toy Story, and more.
Parade Details and Routes
Note: Depending on the season (always check the entertainment schedule for your days of visit), Disneyland will vary on parade times.
Disneyland Parades run one or two per day, typically. If there are two, the first will start at it’s a small world and end at Town Square. The latter parade will start at Town Square and end at it’s a small world.
If there is only one, it will start at it’s a small world and end at Town Square.
Add 20-30 minutes to the parade start time depending on where you are sitting and where the parade is starting. For example: If you’re at Town Square for the first parade, it won’t come by for at least 20 minutes after start time.
This map, below, shows the parade route and Disneyland’s recommended “key viewing locations”.
The California Adventure Parade runs once a day. It begins at the Paradise Pier door to the left of Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta and ends between the Hyperion Theater and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
Add approximately 15 minutes to the parade start time depending on where you are sitting and where the parade is starting.
This map, below, shows the parade route and Disneyland’s recommended “key viewing locations”.
Where to Sit
I have three recommendations for setting up for a Disneyland parade. Check them out on this map. (They’re noted for Paint the Night, but work for any Disneyland parade.) I also share tips on how to see fireworks just after the parade if they’re on during your visit.
*The parade route is noted in red.
1. Near the Disneyland Showcase store in Town Square: This spot allows you to see the parade in two different ways. First, you’ll see it trailing down Main Street and then after it makes its way around Town Square, you’ll see it exit the parade route. (This works for the later version, too, when it starts at this end and rounds Town Square and then continues into Main Street). For fireworks: Follow the yellow line on the map below to walk down Main in order to see both the castle and Main Street projections from the Fireworks. Do not walk on sidewalks to move up Main Street. Stay on the street so you don’t get caught up in the traffic flow directed by cast members.
2. Near the rope at the hub: I like this spot because people don’t know to line up here. Instead of camping out 5 hours prior, wander near this section to see if anyone is waiting for the rope to go up. Stay nearby and then get as close to the rope as possible once it’s up (usually about 1-1.5 hours prior to parade time). For fireworks: Follow the orange line on the map below toward Tomorrowland and then to the castle to try to get the best view of the castle and the Matterhorn for projections from the Fireworks show.
See this map for more specifics on where the rope will go up prior to the parade:
3. it’s a small world: This has always been my favorite area. (See below for more details.) This area doesn’t fill quite as quickly as Main Street, but like all the others, it will be crowded. I note to watch this parade along the path to it’s a small world, but setting up closer to the attraction is just as good. For fireworks: Follow the hot pink line on the map below to walk towards it’s a small world to see projections on it and then turn to the left slightly to see the actual fireworks.
The Pixar Play Parade is entirely less stressful for setting up compared to Disneyland parades. With that in mind, my favorite spot to watch the parade is in front of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. This area is rarely crowded at all.
Grab a spot with shade about 20 minutes prior and you’ll be just fine. Restrooms are located just past Goofy’s Sky School and to the left of the Embarcadero. There are plenty of snack carts around, too. If you get there early and need to keep kids busy, have one adult stay with your blanket/stroller and have the other take kids on the Paradise Pier attractions, which have lower wait times than most other attractions in the park.
This parade often allows guests to walk right up at the start time to find a spot. Consider adding it on to the latter part of your day.
Check out the map for where to find this recommended spot, along with the parade route.
A More Detailed Look at my Set Up for Parades at Disneyland
I’ve been watching the Disneyland parade for years and have a good system that works for us. As I mentioned earlier, we set up a blanket at least an hour prior to parade time.
Here are some photos of my strategy:
I set up closest to point 3 on the Disneyland map above. This is my favorite spot, but if the sun is too bright (depending on which parade I watch), I’ll cross the street to the other option, which is the next photo.
Second favorite spot. On both sides, you have to set up your blanket/sheet on the brick. Cast Members will come by prior to the parade and push everyone off the main concrete area and onto the bricks.
Here is the view of where the parade will come down.
I like this spot for a few reasons. First, it’s typically less crowded than the area with dedicated benches and seating. Also, if I’m at the blanket and I don’t have another adult with me, my kids can run off to retrieve food, drinks or even use the bathroom because they’re all in close proximity. See here: Mickey ice cream treats, pretzels and more. I can keep an eye on them while they grab snacks.
When they need to use the restroom, they can walk toward it’s a small world and go left, toward the theatre and find these restrooms very easily. Everything is in close reach for us. It totally works for my crew.
- If you arrive early enough, you’ll be able to sit during the parade and be comfortable. If you’re later, you’ll stand closer to the back of the crowd. Try to arrive early. If you are standing, remember that there will likely be people behind you. Holding kids on shoulders might prevent others from watching the fun. Be considerate.
- Encourage your little ones to be interactive and get excited when they see characters. Princesses are big on eye contact and if your little one calls the princess’s name, she’ll likely get a wave. This is VERY exciting for little ones. If your child has a doll or toy that matches a character, have your child hold that up as the character cruises by. He or she will often notice and send your child a wave.
- Not all kids love the characters. My grumpy kid, Jack, once nearly kicked Stitch for coming too close and trying to cheer him up. These larger-than-life characters might frighten children. Be considerate of that and don’t insist on children interacting. Some prefer to just sit back and watch.
- When the parade is over, you can follow it along – behind the final rope ending the parade. One of my best Disney memories happened in 2003 when my then 2 year old was sure he was IN THE PARADE, behind the rope, blowing kisses at the guests.
- People often ask if there is seating available at restaurants that works with watching parades. (Specifically, at Plaza Inn, Jolly Holiday or Carnation Cafe.) While you may get a glimpse of some of the parade I don’t recommend setting up at any of these locations to see a parade. All three have guest walkways and parade watching areas that will block your view of pretty much anything 6 feet tall or shorter. You’ll miss the performers and dancers and smaller floats. Plus, many people think this strategy works, so those seats are scoped out hours before. If you want to see the parade, use that time more wisely and go to one of the spots I listed previously in this post. Or, even better, buy a dining package!
- Watch the following videos if you have little ones who might be overwhelmed with the parades. They’re loud and exciting and it’s a lot of sensory overload for some children. Preparation could make all the difference in your experience. Check out my post on sensory issues, too, if you have a person in your group with such challenges.
Disneyland’s Mickey’s Soundsational Parade
Disneyland’s Paint the Night Parade
Pixar Play Parade