Updated August 27, 2020
Disneyland Grad Nites make many guests nervous. The parks fill with ALL THOSE TEENAGERS and many people aren’t quite sure what to do.
I can help you. I’ll tell you when the grad nights land on the calendar, what each night will look like and how you can utilize your time to get the best experience during these celebrations.
Grad Nite Overview
Disneyland hosts Grad Nites for students to celebrate their big achievement in a fun, safe place. Kids look forward to this for years.
Grad Nites began in the early 1960’s at Disneyland. For many years, the parties lasted overnight and into the early morning hours. Kids were required to meet dress code standards. Popular music groups played to adoring crowds.
The event was located at Disneyland up until 2013, when it was moved over to California Adventure. With a newly redesigned DCA and the opening of uber popular Cars Land, graduates got to explore a fun, new adventure.
At Grad Nites today, students receive the following with their ($92) ticket:
- Grad Nite ticket, granting access to Disneyland and California Adventure during normal operating park hours.
- A private Disney California Adventure experience from 10:00PM to 2:00AM
- DCA attractions, dance parties, and character meets
- Grad Nite GOODNITE, an exclusive showing of World of Color just for Seniors
So, what this means is that grads can arrive at park opening on these days, however, the majority tend to arrive late afternoon. Grads should be chaperoned during these events, although most groups split up allowing grads to wander on their own. The parks require 1 chaperone per 10 students. Chaperones must be 25 years old or older.
At 9:00pm, grads are encouraged (but not required to) leave Disneyland for California Adventure so they can take advantage of a park open only to them. On Grad Nights, DCA will close early to accommodate these events.
2021 Grad Nites
Find grad Nite dates for 2021 at this link.
Your Best Strategy
Follow these suggestions for the best experience when Disneyland is hosting Grad Nite.
As with any other park day, I recommend arriving an hour prior to official park opening. If you have access to Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour, arrive 30 minutes prior to that time. On days including a Grad Nite that evening, arriving early is more important than ever. It’s in your best interest to really take advantage of the earlier hours in case the crowds that evening become too much and you want to go elsewhere.
Start in the Right Direction
If you have the option to choose – or if you have park hopper tickets – I recommend you start a Grad Nite day at California Adventure. DCA will close early that night, so many guests with one-park-per-day tickets will choose Disneyland over DCA. Grads who arrive for full park day visits will likely start at Disneyland because they know they’ll have DCA to themselves that evening. Also, you can get SO MUCH DONE at DCA by early afternoon. If you choose to go elsewhere that evening – to Disneyland or out of the parks entirely – you’ll leave feeling accomplished with many or all DCA attractions complete. Review this post on how to start your day at DCA. Following this plan will make all the difference in your visit.
If you have one-park-per-day tickets and want to stay late, Disneyland may be a better place for you to start. Review this post on how to start your day at Disneyland.
Every successful park day includes the use of FASTPASSES. Be sure to know how to use them, which attractions include a Single Rider line (and what that means) and how to use Rider Swap (and what that means). This post shares all of that with you and more, including how MaxPass works.
Avoid Big Commitments in the Parks
As much as I love dining packages, I would avoid reserving these on a Grad Nite if possible. Some guests – even with the most ambitious plans – simply get overwhelmed with the students and decide to leave early. Save dining packages for another day during your visit. Also consider watching a parade or show on another evening. Many graduates will want to see parades and shows before heading over to DCA, adding to the already crowded show.
Have a Plan or a Backup Plan
If you’re sure you will want to leave the park early that night, consider making reservations in Downtown Disney. There are so many fun places to eat. The Disneyland Resort Hotels have many options, too, including dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen in the Disneyland Hotel. Take a look at my post encompassing all dining at the Disneyland Resort to see what works for your crew.
Only make dining reservations if you’re confident you will show up to your meal. If you fail to cancel within 24 hours of your reservation, Disney charges you $10 per person.
If you don’t feel comfortable making a reservation prior to this day, and you find yourself the evening of a Grad Nite wanting to dine in Downtown Disney or at one of the DLR Hotels, use the free Disneyland app to look for last minute reservations. I’ve often secured a time an hour prior to dining just by searching on my mobile device. I much prefer this over waiting for a table. And, Downtown Disney restaurants can get busy quickly.
Consider more of Downtown Disney – beyond dining – for entertainment outside of the park. Shopping, bowling, the Lego Store and more will keep everyone busy. If you don’t feel comfortable with making a solid plan including a reservation, have a backup plan with a few ideas of what you could do if the crowds exceed your patience.
*I’m a fan of Grad Nites and love that Disney honors students in this way. Most people who don’t care for these events have two concerns – park crowding and students’ behavior. While there isn’t a lot we can do about the capacity of the park, if you have issues with guests, alert a cast member. Disney asks chaperones to work with them in keeping grads in line. A cast member can narrow down the responsible party if kids are misbehaving.
*The months leading up to summer will bring in crowds, with or without Grad Nights. Know what to do at Disneyland and DCA on super crowded days.