How to Start Your Day at California Adventure

Updated April 23, 2017

With a good strategy, you can see and do all of California Adventure easily in one day. In fact, with my plans, you can typically have half the park’s attractions completed by lunch.

This post will stay updated to show you the current most popular attractions and how to fit them into your morning.

A good start to your day is important. Let’s get started.

*I tested out this strategy shortly after the Toy Story Midway Mania FASTPASS became available. It worked. Take a look at that post to see how all of this plays out. I’ll continue to test it and will make changes, as needed, to make sure you have the best strategy available.

*On April 15, 2017, I swapped the order of Soarin’ and Toy Story Midway Mania and it worked well. Take a look at that post to see how that worked.

*My most recent visit was 4.23.2017, when I tested this out with two kids (with heels on during Dapper Day!). We had most of the park finished by noon. This was an EMH day and we did not have EMH. Check out how that went here. This was, by far, my most successful day at DCA yet. 

Abbreviation Key

I try very hard not to speak “Disney” in most of my posts, but I share this strategy in my Facebook trip reports often, which requires a lot of writing with limited time. So, occasionally, I cut some corners. Take a look at this post for some help with that.

When To Arrive

Arrive an hour early for a regular park opening. Arrive 30 minutes early for an Extra Magic Hour park opening. Extra Magic Hours allow guests staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel to enter the park an hour before official park opening. California Adventure hosts Extra Magic Hour on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Disneyland hosts Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning on the remaining days. Magic Morning is not hosted at California Adventure.

Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning are explained in more detail in this post.

Below, I’ve shared plans for both regular park opening and EMH days. If you are visiting the park on an EMH day and don’t have the EMH privilege, don’t worry. I rarely do and still visit on those days and accomplish all I want to do. You can, too. It’s ideal, of course, to visit the park NOT hosting Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning, but if your schedule doesn’t sync up, you will be just fine. If you are visiting on an EMH day without EMH, still arrive about an hour prior to official park opening.

Rope Drop

The park will typically open 30 minutes prior to official park opening on both regular and EMH days. You’ll be allowed into the park and down Buena Vista Street until the Rope Drop set up before each land. Before you head toward any of them, grab a park map or two as you walk through the turn stiles.

You can set up in three places: at the beginning of Hollywood Land; near Carthay Circle facing Cars Land and the Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASS distribution point, or near Paradise Pier by Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. (On EMH days, this third Rope Drop option is pulled back into Grizzly Peak to the left of Fiddler Fifer Practical Cafe.)

My recommendation is to line up at the Paradise Pier Rope Drop. Most guests will go to the Carthay Circle Rope Drop, en route to either ride Radiator Springs Racers standby or to get in line to get a FASTPASS for it. Getting in line to get a FASTPASS isn’t ideal because you’ll likely wait 20 minutes due to the huge line that will form at this time. Going straight to the attraction to ride it immediately isn’t, either, because many people follow this plan. Doing so could result in an hour or so wait. And pulling that RSR FASTPASS at opening will likely give you a return time a few hours out, preventing you from pulling another FASTPASS for 2 hours.

My goal is for you to have a FASTPASS in hand within just a few moments of official park opening. You can do this by going to the Paradise Pier Rope Drop. (Pictured, above.)

Rope Drop is a term used for when the “rope is dropped” and guests are allowed in the park. At official park opening, a cast member will remove the rope as music is played and a welcome comes over the speakers in the park. Cast members will greet you and let you know when to officially start your day.

To get here, you’re going to walk down Buena Vista Street and into Grizzly Peak. Walk past Soarin’ Around the World, past Grizzly River Rapids and then toward this rope, pictured above. Before you get there, you’ll see the World of Color FASTPASS machines set up and distributing. Go ahead and grab yours! Feels good to have one step already completed before the park is even open. That machine looks like this:

The WOC FASTPASS is the only FASTPASS that is “disconnected”, meaning, you can hold it and any other. So, get yours and then line up as close to Rope Drop as you can. This area has restrooms and companion restrooms nearby, so you can take little ones there before you get started.

I’ll have a full post soon on World of Color, but here’s where to go for the show, depending on which color FASTPASS you pulled:

Blue: Arrive an hour early and stand on the bridge, as close to the railing as possible.

Yellow: Arrive an hour early and move as close to the water as you can on either side (Yellow borders the dining package sections in the middle). You may get wet if you’re front row, so be prepared. If the wind is blowing toward the audience, you can get soaked.

If you have a WOC dining package scheduled for this day, don’t worry about getting a FASTPASS. Your meal will include one instead. Lots more details on this and where to stand in my post on Special Dining Packages with Reserved Viewing for Shows.

Your Strategy 

Ok, you’re set up at Rope Drop with your WOC FASTPASS already in hand and you’re ready to conquer DCA.

Because most guests are told to go directly to Radiator Springs Racers to get a FASTPASS or to ride immediately, I recommend not going there first. FASTPASSES will not run out by the time you go get one if you follow this strategy. I promise.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s smart to always have a FASTPASS in hand. While you wait for the return time on your FASTPASS to arrive, visit other attractions that have shorter wait times.

Here is the plan:

(Screen capture this on your mobile device for easy access in the park.)

  1. Grab WOC FASTPASS before Rope Drop
  2. Grab Toy Story Midway Mania FASTPASS
  3. Ride Soarin’ Around the World (standby)
  4. Ride Toy Story Midway Mania
  5. Grab Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASS
  6. Visit Anna, Elsa, Olaf and Kristoff
  7. Ride Goofy’s Sky School
  8. Ride Mickey’s Fun Wheel
  9. Ride Jumpin’ Jellyfish
  10. Ride Silly Symphony Swings
  11. Ride Golden Zephyr

You’ll likely be due to pull another FASTPASS when you finish this list. Your RSR FASTPASS will fall into the ‘exception’ category, allowing you to pull an additional FASTPASS because your return time exceeds two hours from the time you pulled the FASTPASS. You will know the exact time you can pull your next FASTPASS by looking at your RSR FASTPASS. There will be a message with your time. Take a look at this model for more info:

Review this post for lots more info on FASTPASSES.

Essentially, you have just a couple to choose from. California Screamin’ and Grizzly River Rapids are the two remaining attractions that you have not been on that have FASTPASSES. I recommend pulling Grizzly River Rapids. Either will do, but Grizzly always feels like a good option for the afternoon in case it’s a warm day. So, pulling one now should give you a return time in the sun.

Pull Grizzly River Rapids and then break for lunch. You’re in GREAT shape for the afternoon! At this point, you have been on 2/3 of the key DCA attractions (Soarin’ and TSMM) and you’re holding a FASTPASS for the 3rd one. While eating lunch, take a look at the park map you picked up on your way in and discuss with your group how you want to spend your afternoon.

DCA afternoons are great for exactly what you have left – attractions with lower wait lines like Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Bugs Land, Monster’s Inc, etc. It’s also a good time to visit walk through options like the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and Animation Academy. See shows and characters in the afternoon, too.

If you’re nervous working through this strategy – about making it in time to grab the RSR FASTPASS – check the Disneyland app as you’re moving from step to step to see what set of FASTPASSES are being distributed. I explain how to, below.

Take a look at my post on Frozen – Live at the Hyperion for all there is to know about it. I recommend the times later in the afternoon, which work well with what you’ve accomplished already.

*If you are visiting on a day that includes Extra Magic Hour and you do not have Extra Magic Hour, still follow this plan. I used a similar strategy prior to this new plan that now includes TSMM and it worked well. I rarely have the EMH privilege and it rarely affects what I accomplish.

Here is a map with this strategy:

(screen capture this, too)

Your Strategy if you have Extra Magic Hour

With Extra Magic Hour (EMH), guests are allowed in one hour prior to official park opening. The crowds are much lower at this time because the park is only open to those guests staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel.

For that reason, I recommend riding lots of attractions during that hour and then grabbing a FASTPASS right before official park opening.

Here is the plan:

(Screen capture this image for easy access while you’re in the park.)

  1. Ride Radiator Springs Racers
  2. Ride Toy Story Midway Mania
  4. Ride Soarin’ Around the World
  5. Grab Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASS (should be around park opening)
  6. See Anna, Elsa, Olaf and Kristoff
  7. Ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
  8. Ride Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
  9. Ride Radiator Springs Racers
  10. Grab Goofy’s Sky School (and proceed on with all of Paradise Pier)

With this plan – if you finish all of Paradise Pier (including California Screamin’) – you will essentially have Bugs Land, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and Monster’s Inc left. Add the Frozen Show and walk through attractions (Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Animation Academy, etc) and you finished with DCA.

Here is a map with this strategy:

(screen capture this, too)

What About Frozen – Live at the Hyperion?

Frozen – Live is an excellent show that should be worked into your afternoon. I recommend the 2nd or 3rd show over the first. They both should coordinate with the strategy above.

For LOTS more info on all things Frozen, check out this link.

How to Use the Disneyland App to Check on Timing

I mentioned above that you can find out FASTPASS distribution times for RSR while you’re working through the rest of the morning strategy. You can do this for RSR and any other attraction that uses FASTPASSES.

Be sure you have the free Disneyland app downloaded for your visit.

Here is how to check times:

When you click on “Attractions”, this map comes up. I prefer the list, so I change it to such by using the options in the bottom, right hand corner of the screen. Click on the lines.

And, you’ll find the list. Scroll down to the attraction you’re looking for.


Click on it and you’ll see the current wait time and also which FASTPASSES are currently being distributed:

Other Tips

  • For information on how to start your day at Disneyland, visit this link. I’ll be updating it with a similar strategy shortly after the Matterhorn FASTPASS is offered (when the attraction reopens 4.28.2017).
  • Be flexible. Attractions go down for long periods of time. Be ready to move on to the next step in your plan – or to reroute all together if need be. While Disney makes every effort to keep the park running smoothly so that you know what to expect out of your day, things can change at any point.
  • Take a look at my post detailing DCA attractions to know more of what to what to expect out of your visit.
  • Leave me a comment if you have a question. Happy to help you!
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  1. I just read the comments and saw your response to someone else on this topic so feel free to delete my question! Thanks for a great web site!

  2. This plan looks so great! We will be there after the new Guardian of the Galaxy ride opens. Where should that fit in? Eek! We are not staying on-site and will be to DCA on June 11 or 12. Thanks!

  3. Thanks so much for all your wonderful tips! We will be staying at the Grand Californian and when reviewing your post it seems I can get WOC fast passes prior to the rope drop so I was wondering if you knew how early they start distributing fast passes for WOC I would like to get them at the earliest time they distribute these. Thanks so much!

  4. If I get the RSR FP as my 2nd FP as you recommend, what do you think will be the approximate return time? I need to leave the park by 11:30am-Noon.

  5. Visiting both CA parks for the very first time about a week after Guardians of the Galaxy opens. We have 3 day park hoppers and will be trying to do and see everything possible. Already booked a WOC lunch package for day 2 so we won’t need to get FPs for that. Please offer advice about FP strategies considering GotG will be brand new. I’m well versed in WDW planning but DL and DCA are a new adventure for me!

  6. Hey Casey! Love this plan. How does Working Cars Land and a Bugs Land into this plan go? My kids are quite little (2 and 4) so some of the paradise pier rides may not really be their speed. Should we still stick with going to TSMM first and Soarin and then go pull the RSR pass? My son is Cars obsessed, and both kids are Toy Story obsessed and would love to meet Buzz and Woody.


    • Hi, Liane. I would still stick with this plan. Most of those rides in Paradise Pier will work for your crew. The two rides in Cars Land (outside of RSR) and Bugs Land are typically low wait lines. You’ll be just fine as is!

  7. Hi Casey! Thank you so much for this post!
    Do you think it is possible to do RSR and TSMM before 9 am?
    We will have breakfast at ariels grotto and we love the 9 am time there because we get the princesses’ presentation…plus we will celebrate DDalmost2 birthday…
    Planning on using rider swap too

  8. Hi Casey
    Loooove your reports they are so informative. Just wondering if they have a separate line for world of colour for the bridge (if you have a blue fastpass) or is there only one line for the blue fastpass anyway. I have only just learned that the bridge is a great place to watch world of colour from and when we were at Disneyland over 2 years ago we joined the coloured line according to our fastpass but got terrible seats even though we were near the front of the line. By the time we got to our area there were already 2 rows in front of us at the railing. Actually have just re-read your post. Are you able to stand on the bridge and wait for world of colour if you get there an hour early – like claiming your spot or is it roped off? Your advice is most appreciated.

  9. Hello, thanks for this plan, it’s awesome! I have a question for you. We are traveling to Disneyland in May. We have breakfast booked at PCH Grill at 7am on a Thursday. DCA opens at 8am that day. Are we still going to be ok sticking to your plan? I’m not sure how long breakfast goes for, and I don’t know if we will make it for rope drop. We plan on doing 2 days at Disney Resort, and 1 at DCA, so want to fit it all in if we can. Your site has been full of lots of useful information for out trio, we can’t wait!! Cheers, Cindi

    • Hi, Cyndi. You won’t make Rope Drop, but you shouldn’t be too far behind. Arrive 10 minutes early to your breakfast so you can get in as quickly as possible. Then, head to DCA and get started. Enjoy!

      • Thanks Casey! I’m sooo excited to go to Disneyland!! I’ve been reading up on all your tips ? You are so lucky to be at the Happiest Place on Earth all the time!