Disney,  Planning tips

6 tips for a successful trip to Disneyland with a big group

Are you headed to Disneyland and California Adventure with the whole family? The grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins? Including babies? Maybe you are excited to have fun with such a big group, and maybe you are totally dreading it. Either way, here are 6 tips for making your trip the best ever!

Note: I don’t earn commission from any links in this post, but I hope they will be helpful to my readers.

Tip #1 Plan, plan, plan! (but be flexible)

In most cases, it is best to have one person in charge of the itinerary. Face it, when everybody is in charge, essentially nobody is in charge. When nobody is in charge, nothing gets planned. Or, alternately, everybody plans a different itinerary, and you might as well have gone to Disneyland alone, because you are doing your own thing anyway. However, for this to work, everybody needs to buy into the planned itinerary.

The person in charge (you can have several people in charge if they work well together) should either be the person most familiar with Disneyland, or the person most willing to learn about Disneyland. This person is probably YOU, since you are the one reading this post. Hooray for you!! You might also want to read my posts that include general Disney planning tips, including 10 tips for planning a great Disneyland itinerary and Getting the most from FastPass , as well as Know your Peeps and it’s companion post, Quiz your Group. “Know Your Peeps” in particular talks about groups.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, EVERYBODY NEEDS TO BUY INTO THE PLAN. This includes not just which attractions to experience, but the speed at which to experience them. If this does not happen, there will be much frustration happening on all sides. Especially for the one in charge. If you have some people who want to do their own thing, that’s fine. Just don’t include them in the plan.

Merely having a plan doesn’t mean that the plan will always work out perfectly, especially with a big group. Children zig when you want them to zag. Rides are closed. Uncles decide they need ice cream. Babies want a diaper change. Fastpasses are gone. You get the idea.

The plan is meant to be a guide to enhance your experience, not a rope to reign you in from having fun. So be flexible with your plan as it unfolds, and you will have an amazing experience!

Tip #2 Start your day early

I’m sure your group will be celebrating complaining when you wake them at the crack of dawn to get ready for a fun filled day of Disney. No Problem! The beauty of a large group is that those who want to experience more attractions with short waits can go early, and those who want to wait until the park is crowded can sleep in. Win/Win!

For those who go early, get to the gates about an hour before the park is officially supposed to open. Sometimes it opens early! And even if it doesn’t, you will be at the front of the line when the gates do open. You might even get picked to be the family that opens Disneyland!

Once you are in the park, you will have a few minutes before the attractions actually open. You can browse the Main Street shops, take a group photo, stop in at Guest Relations to get a pin for your birthday, or see if there are any characters roaming about near the train station. OR – it is super fun to be at the front of the line at rope drop. The cast member that is guarding the rope is usually fun to talk to and joke with. Sometimes they play little Disney trivia games. And then when the rope drops, you can sprint speedwalk to your first attraction. If your whole big group is there with you, and you are going to different rides, agree where to meet afterward.

Tip #3 If your group has kids, make Fantasyland a priority

Fantasyland is best experienced first thing in the morning when the crowd levels are low. (Late at night is the other option, but your kids will not wait until then without major screaming.) The great thing about the first hour of the day is that the waits are only 5 to 10 minutes for most rides, so you can knock out a bunch of Fantasyland rides in that first hour. Dumbo is a ride that gets very crowded later in the day. Another good choice for early morning is Alice in Wonderland.

Now let’s talk about Peter Pan. For some reason, the wait for Peter Pan is always long. And it’s not an interesting queue. So when is the best time to ride with a group? If you are brave, and have a good ratio of adults to kids, rope dropping Peter Pan is the best way to go. When the rope drops, take the kids you have been assigned in your arms (or by the hand) and rush to Peter Pan. If you have a stroller, have the baby out at the rope so you can ditch the stroller quickly. Know where the stroller parking is! Do not stop to see if your group is with you. Just get in the line as quickly as possible. This sounds a little extreme, but if you are slow to get in line, the wait will be 40+ minutes, and the whole point of rope-dropping Peter Pan will be lost. If you do not want to join the Peter Pan madness, don’t ride first thing in the morning. Watch the wait times while in Fantasyland and get in the queue when the wait is about 25 minutes, and after you have ridden all of the Fantasyland rides with short lines.

Tip #4 Divide and conquer (while staying mostly together)

One strategy that I like with a group is to meet Tinkerbell (or one of the other fairies) early while the wait is short. Because everybody primarily little girls want to meet Tinkerbell! But some other kids and adults might not, so the trick is to break into two sub-groups at rope drop. Let’s call the sub-groups Star Tours riders and Tinkerbell greeters. If you have a kid who wants to do both, have them start with Tinkerbell.

The wait for Star Tours at rope drop is less than 5 minutes (because everybody is rushing to Peter Pan), so the Star Tours riders ride while the Tinkerbell greeters head for Pixie Hollow. When they are finished greeting Tinkerbell, they take the very short walk over to the Star Tours exit to meet the Star Tours riders. Then all of the adults who have not yet ridden Star Tours can ride that, while the remainder of the group rides Buzz Lightyear. Easy Peasy!

Don’t forget to send one adult to Space Mountain at rope drop to grab a FastPass for the entire group if you don’t have MaxPass! This FastPass runner can meet up with the second group at Star Tours. The whole exchange will take about 20 minutes if you are quick, and you will still arrive in Fantasyland while some lines are short. Please understand that each person will only get to do two out of these three attractions. Decide in advance which attractions are priorities, so there are not long debates at swap time.

You should use the divide and conquer strategy liberally throughout the day, along with your FastPass reservations. Example: You have FastPass reservations for your entire group for Space Mountain. If you snagged them at an 8:00 rope drop, you can return between 9:00 and 10:00. After you ride several rides in Fantasyland with short waits, 9:00 will roll around. Again, divide into two sub-groups, the Space Mountain riders and the Fantasyland riders. The Space Mountain riders head over to Space Mountain and ride, taking the kids who like Space Mountain with them. When they have finished riding, they go back to Fantasyland and meet the group at a designated spot such as the teacups.

Then the Fantasyland rider adults who want to experience Space Mountain take any kids who want to ride twice with them to Space Mountain, using the FastPasses left over from the kids who don’t want to ride. Those kids continue to experience Fantasyland with the other group of adults. Don’t forget to snag another FastPass for the whole group as soon as your ticket says you can, either by sending a runner or using MaxPass.

Hint: If part of the group is using MaxPass and part is using regular FastPass, YOUR RETURN TIMES WILL NOT MATCH. This will cause confusion and slow down the whole process, making it hard to stay together, and limit the rides you will have time for. For this reason, I recommend using MaxPass when traveling with a big group.

Tip #5 Wear matching shirts so you can find your group easily.

Matching shirts are not only fun and cute, but they also serve the purpose of keeping your group visually accessible. If you don’t see your group right away, chances are that a random Disneyland guest will point you in the right direction.

Not only can you find your group easily, but its also a lot of fun designing and making (or buying) the shirts! Check out our posts on fun clothing crafts just for Disney!

Hint: Red is a festive Disney color, but it seems like there are proportionately more red shirts in the park than any other color but white. The hot pink shirts we selected for a previous trip were very effective.

Tip #6 Communicate!

The last thing you want is for your group to be grumpy – especially in the Happiest Place on Earth! The key to keeping smiles on everybody’s at least the adults faces is to communicate! I know that it’s hard to herd children, divide into groups, rush to attractions, park strollers, listen to explanations from Disney cast members, and still have time to communicate. But at the end of the day, you will be glad you did.

Photo courtesy of G. Kerr

One way to let others know where you are is to use your phones. I haven’t had much luck with calling, because invariably someone is on a ride and can’t answer, or doesn’t even hear their phone to begin with. Just use your text to let the group know where you are. Set up a group text while you are waiting outside the gate, and then whenever you change locations, and can’t tell someone where you’ve gone, just text the location to the group. Then the person who is wondering can check the group text and voila! They have found you.

There will be times that you or your child has to leave the group to take care of business, whether it be a potty break, a food break, or some desperately needed alone time. Don’t let this spoil the group plan! Just make sure you communicate where you will meet your group after your business is taken care of.

Hint: There are apps that use your GPS to pinpoint your location for a group that you have set up in advance. These apps may not be able to zoom in to the exact spot. Try these apps out in advance to see how well they work for you.

Large groups at Disneyland can actually be enjoyable! Cousins can become closer, friendships can be renewed, and bonds forged. Don’t be afraid to try it!

Have you taken a large group to Disneyland? How did it go for you?