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3 hacks for surviving Disneyland without a FastPass

Headed to Disneyland and you don’t have the FastPass or Lightning Lane? Here’s how to survive

A family outside of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.
The Wotter family of Lake Elsinore, California, captures a special moment in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle as Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, reopens on Friday, April 30, 2021.
Christian Thompson, Disneyland Resort

Disneyland isn’t exactly what it used to be. The California theme park has eliminated the traditional FastPass feature and replaced with it Lightning Lane, a somewhat new version of FastPass that is available for $15. Soon, the park will launch a new Genie+ service, which promises to make scheduling events a little easier like the FastPass.

On a recent trip to Disneyland for their holiday event, I was stuck without a FastPass or Lightning Lane option for my ticket. I could hop between Disneyland and California Adventure Park, but I did not have a chance to upgrade my ticket.

So I found myself with the most basic version of a Disneyland pass. I couldn’t schedule rides in advance. I couldn’t plan my day around the rides. I had to figure out how to survive the park through standby lines and the map on the Disneyland app.

All in all, it went really well. But it worked because I took deliberate steps to make sure I hit all of the rides that I wanted to. Sure, I had to make sacrifices and changes to my schedule — which included riding another ride to pass the time before I jumped on another ride — but I ultimately hit all the rides I wanted within a 24-hour period.

Here’s what you need to know about Disneyland to hack your way without a FastPass or Lightning Lane.

1 — Monitor the standby line times

The best tip for surviving the Disneyland experience without a FastPass is to research your standby line times on the Disneyland app. Simply open the app and click the location icon, which will show you all the rides in the park with their wait times.

We decided on a strict cutoff of 40 minutes in order to enjoy the line experience. Anything more than 40 minutes feels like a slog, especially in 90-degree summer California heat. By using this tactic, you can find rides that have 10, 20 or 30 minutes of standby line time, allowing you to pick one ride before jumping on another.

In one scenario, we wanted to ride the Indiana Jones ride. But there was a 60-minute wait. The Matterhorn had a 20 minute wait time. So we rushed over to Matterhorn, waited in the standby line, rode it once and then came off to find Indiana Jones only had a 30 minute wait time. Sometimes, jumping on a ride with a shorter line can help pass the time before your next favorite ride is available.

2 — Keep your eyes open and move through the park

I can’t tell you how many times our experience relied on having a keen eye for the lines. On one instance, we walked by Pirates of the Caribbean ride on our way to hit up Fantasyland. We noticed there was no one in the opening landing spot for the ride. Even though the ride time said 35 minutes, we knew it must be a lot shorter. So we rushed into the ride and got through the line in a flash. A family behind us did the same thing. By the time we reached the boats for the ride, a line had piled up behind us. Sometimes surviving in Disneyland without a FastPass requires you to move around the park and spot openings when they happen.

3 — Decide which rides your really want to ride and how long you’re willing to wait

Moving through Disneyland without a FastPass or Lightning Lane will require you to wait in line. There’s no question about that. So you should set goals for yourself and weigh the cost and benefit of waiting in those lines.

For example, we thought about riding the Peter Pan ride. The wait time was 30 minutes. According to my earlier rule, it fits in the parameters. However, it’s a really short ride. So is it worth waiting in a long line for a short ride? Probably not. That time might be better spent grabbing some food and moving through the park to take advantage of another ride opening up. Make sure you’re setting goals for yourself and decide which rides are really worth the wait. It’ll make the experience go a lot faster.