Disney California Adventure Rope Drop Strategy

The first key to a great day at Disney California Adventure is to start the morning right! In this post, we discuss how to approach rope drop—the very beginning of the day—at Disney California Adventure. Read on to learn how to accomplish as much as possible in your morning at this exciting park!

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This post covers only Disney California Adventure park. We have a separate post covering rope drop at Disneyland. We also recommend reading our trip reports to get a sense of how our strategies worked at our most recent visit.

Rope Drop Basics at Disney California Adventure

Let’s start with a basic introduction to rope drop (like, for example, what does “rope drop” even mean?).

What time does Disney California Adventure Open?

Disney California Adventure opening times vary on a day-to-day basis, with openings at 8AM and 9AM being most common. You should check the Disneyland website or Disneyland app for the scheduled opening times for your visit.

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What About Extra Magic Hour?

Extra Magic Hour allows guests of Disney hotels to access Disney California Adventure an hour early on select days. We have a post dedicated to Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure. We do not recommend guests without Extra Magic Hour visit Disney California Adventure on days with Extra Magic Hour.

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What Is “Rope Drop”?

Rope drop refers to when guests are actually allowed onto rides, as opposed to when they are allowed into the park. Rope drop is never later than the time the park is scheduled to open. At Disney California Adventure, rope drop typically occurs at the time the park is scheduled to open, while the gates to the park typically open earlier.

An actual rope in use at Disneyland

An actual rope in use at Disneyland

Depending on the precise protocols at a park on a day, Cast Members may actually have a rope up cutting off people from the park which is dropped when the park opens.

Why is rope drop important?

The two most important parts of putting together a great day at Disney California Adventure are rope drop and good usage of FASTPASS. If you haven’t yet, you should check out our post on FASTPASS and MaxPass at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Rope drop is when waits are shortest, but some will go up quickly. The best way to visit the most rides at Disney California Adventure is to visit those rides that get long waits as early as possible. That’s also why rope drop is an important part of our one-day Disney California Adventure itinerary.

Rope Drop from Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

Guests at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa have a dedicated entrance into Disney California Adventure. We don’t recommend using this entrance at rope drop for two reasons. First, it is small and can get crowded, meaning it can take a long time to get into the park.

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Second, most people will be at the main entrance. Yes, if you’re coming from the Grand you might get ahead of these people going to some destinations, but you also might fall behind them—hundreds of people—particularly when going to Cars Land. We’ve never seen large numbers of people from the Grand get anywhere important faster than the regular guests.

What Time Should I Arrive At California Adventure?

We recommend arriving no later than 30 minutes before the park is scheduled to open if you are planning to start by riding Radiator Springs Racers. We recommend arriving no later than 15 minutes before the park is schedule to open in any case. We typically arrive 30 to 45 minutes early.

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What Happens At Disney California Adventure Rope Drop?

Typically, Disney California Adventure rope drop happens in three phases.

First, usually 20 to 30 minutes before the park is set to open (but sometimes earlier), Cast Members will be scanning guests into the park. These first five or so guests in each line aren’t physically allowed into the park, but they are scanned in and able to book FASTPASS via MaxPass.

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Second, about five minutes later, guests are actually let into the park. Those who already scanned can walk right through, everyone else will be scanned as they enter. Guests are corralled at different points around Buena Vista Street, but we only focus on two spots here.

Guests heading to Pixar Pier and Cars Land are held at the start of the path toward those lands, right next to the Carthay Circle building.

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Guests heading to Guardians of the Galaxy— Mission: BREAKOUT! are held near the Animation Theatre.

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Finally, typically at the time the park is scheduled to open, guests are allowed to access the rest of the park. Depending on a variety of factors, Cast Members may escort guests to specific rides, asking them to form a line along the way.

Comparisons to Other Parks & Other Notes

Rope drop at Disney California Adventure is nowhere near as stressful as rope drop at Walt Disney World. It’s also less stressful than rope drop at Disneyland. Virtually all stress is removed if you have MaxPass.

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The other thing we want to note is that we’ve had awful experiences with operations at Disney California Adventure in early 2019. Ride have been down at the start of many days, which obviously requires you to adapt. Hopefully this post gives you enough knowledge to make decisions on the fly if need be.

FASTPASS Availability When The Park Opens

If you’re visiting on a day when you have access to Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure, click through to check out our post on that. We advise against visiting on a day with Extra Magic Hour when you don’t have access. The EMH will make lines longer and, more importantly, push the available FASTPASS windows later in the day.

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Even if you’re visiting on a day with a regular opening at Disney California Adventure, availability might not be perfect. Guests who entered Disneyland park early (for Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning at Disneyland) will use MaxPass to grab FASTPASS reservations at Disney California Adventure, particularly for Radiator Springs Racers. You’ll also obviously be impacted by any guests who enter the park before you.

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This means that even if you’re in the park when the turnstiles open (usually before the park opens), some FASTPASS times will already be a bit into the day. On one recent day, when I entered the park at 7:46AM, Radiator Springs Racers was issuing FASTPASS times for 9:15AM, and Toy Story Midway Mania! was at 10:05AM.

Disney California Adventure Rope Drop Strategies With MaxPass

We’ve got two strategies for how we rope drop with MaxPass. For the most part, it’s a matter of circumstances in the morning which we go with. Both strategies cover roughly same rides.

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Our goal is partly to ride as many non-FASTPASS rides as possible with short waits, which is why we try and get you quickly to Pixar Pier and Paradise Gardens Park, where you’ll have a large number of rides without FASTPASS that you can just walk onto.

More important, both strategies cover five of the seven FASTPASS rides: Radiator Springs Racers, Mission: BREAKOUT!, Incredicoaster, Toy Story Midway Mania!, and Goofy’s Sky School. That leaves you with the rest of the day to book FASTPASS for Soarin’, Grizzly River Run, or a repeat ride on something you’ve already visited.

Keep in mind that if you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll also want to check the height requirements for every ride at Disneyland (including California Adventure). Your plans will change if your party doesn’t meet a height requirement or if you have to use rider swap.

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One more thing we want to emphasize is that you probably should not wait in a standby line for Incredicoaster and you definitely should not wait in one for Goofy’s Sky School. If you visit these rides as part of our strategies and they have actual waits (anything posted over 10 minutes) then do not ride them, plan to FASTPASS them later.

Strategy 1 - Rope Drop to Pixar Pier

Strategy Summary:

  • MaxPass Radiator Springs Racers

  • Rope Drop Incredicoaster and Toy Story Midway Mania!

  • Ride Pixar Pier & Some Paradise Gardens Park Rides

  • Ride Cars Land Rides (incl. Radiator Springs Racers)

  • MaxPass Guardians of the Galaxy

Our preferred strategy at Disney California Adventure is to MaxPass Radiator Springs Racers and start our day at Pixar Pier. Pixar Pier and Paradise Gardens have a high concentration of rides without FASTPASS and with low morning waits, making this the ideal part of the park to start your day.

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As soon as you enter the park, use MaxPass to grab a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers. You’ll use the same rope drop start point as everyone heading to Cars Land, but you’ll walk past it and then across the bridge to Pixar Pier.

Since you walk past Incredicoaster first, just hop right on that. You’ll be off in no time, and this is a good chance to grab a front row seat. Then walk onto Toy Story Midway Mania! and Pixar Pal-A-Round.

You might delay the Pal-A-Round until later, after Cars Land, and it shouldn’t have a huge wait. We don’t typically do this, though, because we tend to eat breakfast at Flo’s V8 Cafe, so it doesn’t make sense to walk all the way from Cars Land to the Pal-A-Round and then back for breakfast.

Ideally, you want to grab your second FASTPASS for Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! Then start checking the following rides off your list:

  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish

  • Silly Symphony Swings

  • Golden Zephyr

  • The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

  • Goofy’s Sky School (if it is a walk-on)

The two newer rides are fine to add, too, but they also are lower priority and we usually push them later into the day to get to Cars Land quicker:

  • Jessie's Critter Carousel

  • Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind

You’ll head over to Cars Land and ride Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters as soon as its wait is above 10 minutes, or as late as possible so that you’ll still make your Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASS time.

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Then you’ll use your Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASS, ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, ride Monster’s Inc., use your Mission: BREAKOUT! FASTPASS, and return to Paradise Gardens Park and Pixar Pier.

Strategy 2 - Rope Drop to Radiator Springs Racers

Strategy Summary:

  • MaxPass Toy Story Midway Mania!

  • Rope Drop Radiator Springs Racers

  • Ride Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

  • Ride Pixar Pier & Some Paradise Gardens Park Rides

  • MaxPass Guardians of the Galaxy

If you feel good about rope dropping Radiator Springs Racers, or if that ride’s FASTPASS times are too late for your liking, you can grab a Toy Story Midway Mania! FASTPASS via MaxPass first and then start your day with most people at Radiator Springs Racers.

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From there, we suggest visiting Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. Skip Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree for now (you’ll be walking past it a few times more this morning) and head over to Pixar Pier to ride Incredicoaster.

Your next MaxPass grab will be a FASTPASS for Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! Between Incredicoaster and Mission: BREAKOUT!, you’ll want to ride Pixar Pal-A-Round, use your Toy Story Midway Mania! FASTPASS, and ride as many other rides on that side of the park as you can (see the bolded list above).

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On your way to and back from Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT!, ride Monsters, Inc. and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree.

Disney California Adventure Rope Drop Strategy Without MaxPass

Strategy Summary:

  • FASTPASS Radiator Springs Racers

  • Ride Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT!

  • Option 1 (short return to Radiator Springs Racers): Finish Cars Land

  • Option 2 (long return to Radiator Springs Racers): Head to Pixar Pier

  • FASTPASS Toy Story Midway Mania!

Without MaxPass, Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! is a real hassle due to the construction that will last through 2019. The ride and its FASTPASS kiosk are located about 7 minutes (or 14 minutes roundtrip) from Radiator Springs Racers.

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Our recommendation—other than to spring for MaxPass—is to bite the bullet early. You’ll need to grab a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers and then backtrack and ride Mission: BREAKOUT!

If your return window on Radiator Springs Racers is close, ride the other two rides in Cars Land, followed by Radiator Springs Racers. Then head to Pixar Pier, where you’ll grab a Toy Story Midway Mania! FASTPASS and make your way through that side of the park.

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If your return window on Radiator Springs Racers is a little further out, go to Pixar Pier first, planning to grab a Toy Story Midway Mania! FASTPASS as soon as possible, and starting with Incredicoaster (if it has no wait) or one of the other rides over there.

Other Rope Drop Strategies

The only other strategy we ever use is to MaxPass Radiator Springs Racers and start with Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! This is really good for repeat riding Mission: BREAKOUT!, but it requires a lot of walking and usually requires you to push Incredicoaster and Toy Story Midway Mania! later in the day.

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All Your Other Disneyland Planning Questions Answered

Don't be overwhelmed by Disneyland planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way.

Just starting out? Check out our Disneyland Planning Guide. If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney crowd calendars.

When it comes to hotels, we’ve got reviews of all three Disney hotels: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. As for tickets, check out where to find discount Disneyland tickets.

Know what to ride with our: Disneyland Rides Guide and Disney California Adventure Rides Guide. And just as important, know how to get on the best rides without the wait with our Disneyland and Disney California Adventure FASTPASS and MaxPass Strategy! For the complete guides to a day at the park, we have a One Day Disneyland Itinerary and a One Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary.

We always recommend arriving at the parks early. If you can get access to Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure or Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning at Disneyland, you’ll have the most time in the parks. Even without those bonus hours, you’ll need to know Rope Drop Strategy at Disneyland and Rope Drop Strategy at Disney California Adventure.

Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.