First and foremost, I feel compelled to point out that my favorite way to visit Disneyland is with my family and friends. All else being equal, a visit to any Disney park feels most “right” to me when I’m with my people.
With that said, my job takes me to Los Angeles pretty regularly lately, and one way to pass your downtime when you’re half way across the country by yourself is to visit The Mouse. While it is by no means my ideal way to visit Disneyland, visiting Disneyland solo is better than not visiting Disneyland at all, and there are actually some perks to traveling alone that you don’t see even when you have just one more person. Read on to learn more!
Be a Hedonist
If there is one great thing about doing Disneyland solo, it is this: you can treat yo self and do whatever you want without regard for anyone else’s wishes. Feel like riding Splash Mountain on continuous loop? Go for it. Don’t like it’s a small world? Skip it. Would you rather just scarf down a corn dog rather than sitting down for a proper meal? Hey, it’s your day, you do you.
The point is, even visiting the parks with one other person inevitably requires compromise. Traveling alone, however, gives you the unique opportunity to be completely selfish and king of your own kingdom, pun somewhat intended. Moreover, the next time I DO go with my people, I care far less about doing the thrill rides and other things that only I enjoy, and am much more relaxed about doing whatever everyone else wants to do.
Get A Lot Done In A Small Amount of Time
You might not realize it, but when you travel as a group — even a group of two — you spend quite a bit of time doing things other than touring. Standing around trying to agree upon what to do next (although if you were following one of our Touring Plans, you wouldn’t have this problem), bathroom visits, shopping, etc. all gently chisel away at your efficiency. Touring solo, however, you’ll probably find that you are touring at peak efficiency, because everything you’re doing is devoted solely to your goals. Unless you’re making a conscious desire to take a break or just casually enjoy the sights of the parks — which, by the way, is a completely legitimate and fun way to spend solo time at Disneyland, too — there’s no reason to just stand around aimlessly, really ever.
Here was my itinerary from a recent visit:
- California Screamin’
- Eat a corn dog while watching the Pixar Play Parade (because Disneyland corn dogs are the best thing on planet earth)
- Goofy’s Sky School
- California Screamin’, again
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Haunted Mansion
- Indiana Jones
- Space Mountain
It’s a pretty comprehensive review of Disneyland’s headliners, but what makes it even better is that I rolled into the park after 5 pm and STILL managed to knock all of this out and leave well before Disneyland closed at 11:00 pm.
How can you get so many big attractions done in so little time? A large part of it has to do with the….
Single Rider Lines
Several attractions at Disneyland have Single Rider Lines, though it isn’t always obvious where they are. By way of background, Single Rider Lines exist to permit rides to operate at peak efficiency. For certain attraction configurations, groups that don’t fill all of the seats mean that those seats would go unused. By allowing single riders to fill those empty seats, it provides a way for Disney to maximize the efficiency of its attractions while allowing those that are alone or that don’t mind being separated from their parties the opportunity for a shorter wait. While there are no guarantees, Single Rider Lines tend to be dramatically shorter than the standby wait, so the time savings can be significant if you’re traveling alone.
Most of the attractions that utilize Single Rider Lines have this odd little system where you’re given a piece of colored paper that identifies you as a single rider and operates as your “ticket.” The first Cast Member that you speak with will give you the colored ticket, and you’ll give it to another Cast Member, usually right before boarding. For attractions like Indiana Jones Adventure, where there is a long ways before you board and you encounter numerous Cast Members that shepherd you along, I’m sure it helps them identify you and know where to send you. For other attractions, like Matterhorn, where you are given your colored single rider ticket a few feet from when you step into a dedicated boarding line for single riders and then turn around and give it back to another Cast Member a few feet after that, it seems a bit silly. It is what it is, though, so make sure you hold onto it.
The following attractions have Single Rider Lines that can save you a mammoth amount of time if you’re by yourself:
Indiana Jones Adventure (Disneyland Park) — obtain a single rider ticket by talking to the Cast Member at the entrance to the standby queue, and then you’ll enter the single rider line by going through the exit and walking (quite a ways) until you get to another Cast Member who will direct you where to go.
Splash Mountain (Disneyland Park) — to get to the Splash Mountain Single Rider Line, walk past the main line and enter through the exit. When you get to the unloading area, a Cast Member should direct you to the right to a bridge that goes over the water to the loading area, where you can board as a single rider.
Matterhorn Bobsleds (Disneyland Park) — get a single rider ticket from the Cast Member right by the entrance to the switchbacks near the boarding area. They will usually direct you to one side or the other, but in my experience, they are happy to let you take the other track if you’d rather.
California Screamin’ (Disney’s California Adventure) — this is one of the trickier ones to spot, because it is completely unmarked (or it is so poorly marked that I’ve never noticed it). If you’re facing the entrance to the queue, the Single Rider Line is actually around the corner to the left, where the wheelchair entrance and exit is. Simply walk in through this exit, and you’ll be provided a Single Rider Ticket.
Radiator Springs Racers (Disney’s California Adventure) — the Single Rider Line is clearly marked on the far left side of the queue entrance.
Goofy’s Sky School (Disney’s California Adventure) — The Single Rider Line is on the far left of the queue, by the boarding area.
Grizzly River Run (Disney’s California Adventure) — get your single rider ticket at the entrance to the main queue, and then enter through the exit to get in the Single Rider Line.
Soarin’ Around The World (Disney’s California Adventure) — many media outlets have reported that Soarin’ no longer uses a Single Rider Line now that they have started running the new version of the ride and, indeed, I don’t have a photo of it because there was no Single Rider Line when I’ve been there recently. With that said, the Cast Member I spoke with indicated that they were deciding on a day-to-day basis whether or not they would be offering it. My suspicion is that in the short term, while the newly-updated Soarin’ is still in high demand, it will be rare that it will be an option. Hopefully, after the excitement of the new version wears off, the Single Rider Line will be more common. When it is operating, you’ll see the sign on the right hand side of the entrance, where the FastPass entrance is.
The Soarin’ situation highlights something that is worth mentioning, which is that all of the Single Rider Lines technically operate at Disney’s discretion, and there is no guarantee that any of them will be operating at any given time. If the attraction is short-staffed, or it is so empty that there’s not a need for it, Disney might not use them. Apart from Soarin’, the attraction that seems to me to jettison the Single Rider Line most frequently has been Indiana Jones, but that is just my informal observation, so your mileage may vary. In practice, they tend to operate far more often than they do not, so for most rides, you can probably expect to be able to use the Single Rider Line, this little warning notwithstanding.
Food doesn’t taste any different when you’re traveling solo, so the dining situation doesn’t need to be any different than it would otherwise be. With that said, I have found that solo travel presents a great opportunity to check out some of the bars and lounges, particularly those at Disney’s California Adventure. The reason for this is twofold: first, you can usually get in without a reservation at your leisure, so there’s no need to schedule it into your time. Second, the lounges have some exclusive and unique food options not available elsewhere that are quick and tasty. They tend to be in the manner of small plates and bar snacks, but one or two of them is plenty for a person dining alone.
My personal favorite is the Carthay Circle Lounge — the Vietnamese Twice-cooked Beef Taco with pineapple mint salsa (which is not on the Carthay Circle menu) tastes great and is plenty to keep me going without weighing me down. The Cove Bar and Alfresco Tasting Terrace are also great options. All of them provide a respite from touring where you can get table service-quality food (and a cocktail, if you’re so inclined) without the commitment associated with regular table service dining.
A quick note about lodging, because lodging at Disneyland, particularly as compared to Walt Disney World, is a strange animal. There is a yawning chasm between the cost of Disney hotels and other hotels in the area — all three Disney hotels are priced at or above the cost of Walt Disney World deluxe hotels, while non-Disney hotels can cost hundreds less per night. With that said, one of the primary perks that can make the Walt Disney World deluxe properties particularly appealing — proximity to the parks — isn’t really a distinguishing feature in Anaheim. I routinely stay at the Sheraton Park Hotel, which provides clean, safe, quality accommodations that is a half block south of the back of Disney’s California Adventure, and the walk from the hotel to the park entrance is only moderately longer than the walk from Bay Lake Tower to the Magic Kingdom that I routinely do on my Walt Disney World trips — and that is a fairly long walk by Disneyland standards. There are several places that are even closer that provide sufficient, if unspectacular, accommodations.
Why does this matter? When I travel with my family, we usually go back to the resort to rest, go to the pool, or just get a breather, so the amenities at the resort make a difference to me. If I’m by myself, however, my idea of taking a break is going into Downtown Disney for a nice leisurely meal or popping by Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar for a Shipwreck on the Rocks. With this being the case, you might find that paying a premium for Disney hotels doesn’t make a ton of sense.
There is an important counter to this, and that is that unless you’re buying a multi-day pass, early park entry is only available to guests of Disney hotels, and the opportunity for early entry that is afforded to multi-day guests is more limited than the on-site version (it is only for one day, and only at Disneyland Park as of this writing). I personally find that I’m able to tour so efficiently when I’m by myself that I don’t really need that extra hour, but if that’s something you care about, certainly factor that into your decision.
Bonus Tip for Frequent Travelers: Annual Passes
One quick thing I wanted to mention that might apply to some of you that, like me, find yourselves in Southern California regularly: consider an Annual Pass. By far the most expensive way to visit any Disney park is one day at a time, and for people that are visiting because they happen to be in the area as opposed to going on vacation, multi-day tickets usually don’t make a lot of sense.
Here’s the thing, though — with the advent of demand-based pricing, a single park, single day ticket can cost as much as $119. Feel like hitting both parks? Now you’re looking at up to $169. Do that a few times, and it starts to really add up.
The cheapest Annual Passport that is available to the general public (as opposed to being limited to California residents) is $599. Doing the math, your break-even point is around 6 visits over the course of a year if you wouldn’t be buying hoppers (as few as 5 during peak times), or 4 if you would. If you are regularly in the Anaheim area and like visiting the parks when you’re in the area, it can easily save you money.
Important: Bring A Portable Charger
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself waiting in line with interesting people, and you’ll end up having a great conversation while you’re waiting. Other times, uh, not so much. My smart phone already gets a workout any time I’m at a Disney park, but when I’m riding solo, there are inevitably long periods of time when my phone is my primary source of entertainment, which means that the battery can really get taxed. Accordingly, a portable battery charger can be invaluable in making sure that your phone is usable all day long.
Moreover, you’ll find that many attractions leave you without a signal once you’re in the indoor part of the queue. Indiana Jones, Tower of Terror, and Space Mountain spring immediately to mind, but there may be others as well. As such, it’s a good idea to have something to occupy yourself that doesn’t rely upon a data connection. Downloading the Kindle app is a good way to deal with this that doesn’t require you to carry around a bunch of extra stuff, because once you’ve downloaded a book, you don’t need a data connection to read it.
So, are you ready to hit Disneyland Resort solo? If you’re in Southern California anyway, it can be a great way to pass the time, and you can be so efficient that you can justify the cost of your ticket even if you’re only going to be there for a few hours. Anyone else have any thoughts, tips or tricks? Let us all know in the comments!