Disneyland Rope Drop Strategy

Unlike the Walt Disney World parks, where rope drop strategy comes down to which FastPass+ reservations you’ve made, everyone walks into Disneyland on the same, blank FASTPASS slate.

That means that your rope drop strategy is really more about you and what you want to accomplish on a given day. Are you trying to ride every ride? Want to get the littlest kid on all the Fantasyland rides? Or maybe your teenager wants as many thrills as possible.

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In this post, we provide different strategies for how to handle “rope drop”—the very beginning of your day at Disneyland. We first explain the basics of rope drop—what it is, when it happens, and how it happens.

Then we cover a few different approaches to rope drop, starting with our preferred rope drop for riding as many Disneyland rides as possible in a single day. (Note: This post covers only Disneyland park. We have a separate post covering rope drop at Disney California Adventure.)

Rope Drop Basics at Disneyland

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

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What time does Disneyland Open?

Disneyland 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.

What About Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning?

Extra Magic Hour allows guests of Disney hotels to access Disneyland an hour early on select days. Magic Morning allows certain other ticket holders to access the park at the same time.

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We have a post dedicated to Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning at Disneyland. We do not recommend guests without access to the bonus hour visit Disneyland on days with the bonus hour.

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 Disneyland, rope drop typically occurs at the time the park is scheduled to open, while the gates to the park typically open earlier.

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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.

What Time Should I Arrive At Disneyland?

We recommend arriving no later than 30 minutes before the park is scheduled to open. We typically arrive 45 to 60 minutes early.

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What Happens At Disneyland Rope Drop?

Typically, Disneyland rope drop happens in three phases. First, usually about 30 to 40 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. From there, guests are typically corralled either at the end of Main Street U.S.A. or around the hub at the gates to the different lands.

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Finally, when the park is actually scheduled to open, the ropes are removed and the guests are allowed to access the rest of the park.

Why is rope drop important?

The two most important parts of putting together a great day at Disneyland 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.

Rope drop is when waits are shortest, but some will go up quickly. The best way to visit the most rides at Disneyland 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 Disneyland itinerary.

Now, we’re going to move on to two specific strategies for rope drop at Disneyland. The first, “Fantasyland Rope Drop” is for guests with small children and guests who want to ride as many rides as possible. The second, “Thrills Rope Drop” is for guests with older kids or who are looking to focus only on the more exciting rides in the morning.

Galaxy’s Edge Rope Drop

While it isn’t our recommended rope drop—that’s next—we get the most questions about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Currently we don’t recommend rope dropping the only ride in Galaxy’s Edge—Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.

Let’s clarify that you can successfully rope drop Smugglers Run. If you arrive early enough, you can be among the first people on the ride. The first day the land was open to the public, I was off at 7:59AM, one minute before the park officially opened. The problem with doing this is twofold.

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First, the walk to Smugglers Run is pretty long. Disney typically doesn’t force guests to use the Critter Country entrance to Galaxy’s Edge anymore, but Smugglers Run is still in the far back of the park.

Then you’ll then have to walk back to Fantasyland and Tomorrowland because that’s where you need to be in the morning anyways.

Second, if you don’t have a successful rope drop you might catch the longest waits of the day. With many people starting their day there, the ride typically peaks in the first hours of the day before settling for the rest of the day. Here’s a look at some 9AM waits (the time in the photo is central time):

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With the boarding pass system still in place to prevent ridiculous crowds (should they ever happen), morning (unless you’re among the first in the park) is probably the worst time to try to ride Smugglers Run as everyone in the land is going to be going there.

Fantasyland Rope Drop

The Fantasyland rope drop is our recommended rope drop and the rope drop for people who want to ride every ride or who have small children. If you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll also want to check the height requirements for every ride at Disneyland.

Strategy Summary:

  • FASTPASS Space Mountain

  • Ride Peter Pan’s Flight, Alice in Wonderland, and Dumbo

A good goal is to be done with the first three rides in the first 30 minutes of the day.

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The reason we recommend the Fantasyland rope drop is because three rides—Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo, and Alice in Wonderland—tend to maintain high wait times throughout the day and do not have FASTPASS.

If you don’t ride these three right when the park opens, your only chance to avoid long waits on them is to hope you can fit them in late in the evening.

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Let’s be clear that “long” here usually means 30 minutes to an hour. It’s not like these rides are constantly at 90 minutes. But they don’t have FASTPASS, and most days their waits will be among the highest of the non-FASTPASS rides. Casey Jr. and the Storybook Land Canal Boats are similar, but their waits don’t peak as quickly or get as high as the other three.

We aim to arrive 45 to 60 minutes early. As soon as you’re in the park, use MaxPass to grab a FASTPASS for Space Mountain. If you don’t have MaxPass, our preference is to grab a FASTPASS for Matterhorn after riding Alice In Wonderland (your second ride). Then your second FASTPASS will be Space Mountain.

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When the park opens, head directly to Peter Pan’s Flight. Typically the best route is straight through the castle or, if that route isn’t open, around the pathways to the left or right of the castle.

You’ll then want to ride Peter Pan’s Flight, then Alice in Wonderland, then Dumbo. If you leave Peter Pan’s Flight and can walk right onto Dumbo, feel free to do that first.

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If Alice in Wonderland jumps to 20 or 30 minutes, consider pushing it into the afternoon. We’ll typically do this as soon as it hits 20 (though it is one of those that Disney sometimes overestimates in the morning).

From here, you’ll want to check out our Disneyland One Day Itinerary post, which continues this rope drop into the rest of the day. Our preference is to FASTPASS Matterhorn and spend more time around Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, but you could visit other areas of the park if you wanted.

Thrills Rope Drop

This rope drop is for those who want to focus on the more exciting rides at the park. It’s also a good strategy if you plan to park hop over to Disney California Adventure and want to experience the highlights of Disneyland to start your day.

Disneyland Thrills Rope Drop With MaxPass

Strategy Summary:

  • FASTPASS Space Mountain

  • Ride Matterhorn, Star Tours, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

  • FASTPASS Indiana Jones Adventure

  • Use Space Mountain FASTPASS

  • Ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain

  • Used Indiana Jones Adventure FASTPASS

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We aim to arrive 30 minutes early. As soon as you’re in the park, use MaxPass to grab a FASTPASS for Space Mountain. At rope drop, head straight to Matterhorn and ride it. From there, head back to Tomorrowland and ride Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

Around now, it will be time to grab your next FASTPASS. If Indiana Jones Adventure has a short wait (20 minutes or less), you might use your FASTPASS for another ride you want to double up on (you’ll then go wait in line for Indiana Jones Adventure). FASTPASS on Indiana Jones Adventure really only saves you time when waits are over 20 minutes.

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Also, if you’re hopping over to Disney California Adventure, you’ll need to look into using MaxPass to grab a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers now.

Head over to the other side of the park and ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain before using your FASTPASS for Indiana Jones Adventure.

Disneyland Thrills Rope Drop Without MaxPass

Strategy Summary:

  • FASTPASS Space Mountain

  • Ride Matterhorn, Star Tours, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

  • Use Space Mountain FASTPASS

  • FASTPASS Indiana Jones Adventure

  • Ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain

  • Maybe Ride Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion

  • Use Indiana Jones Adventure FASTPASS

If you don’t have MaxPass, you have the added challenge of needing to get to and from the FASTPASS kiosks. We recommend you start your day by heading over to Space Mountain to grab a FASTPASS.

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The kiosk is located inconveniently all the way down the tunnel at the entrance to the ride. Your return time should start somewhere around 45 minutes into when the park opens, and you should be able to grab your next FASTPASS at that same time.

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From there, head over to Matterhorn. Hopefully the wait is still under 20 minutes. After riding that, you’ll ride Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters before using your Space Mountain FASTPASS.

From there, head to the other side of the park and grab a FASTPASS for Indiana Jones Adventure. Then hop in line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and then Splash Mountain.

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If you have time to spare before you need to use your Indiana Jones Adventure FASTPASS, you could add something like Pirates of the Caribbean (remember it is about 15 minutes long) or Haunted Mansion.

Other Rope Drop Strategies

You’ll always find someone willing to tell you to “start left—that side of the park is empty!” They’re not wrong about it being empty…but so what? It’s as empty to start the day as it will be 30 minutes into the day. In the mean time, the waits for everything on the right side—in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland—will be going up.

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But as always, your priorities might not match ours. If you absolutely prefer Indiana Jones Adventure and Pirates of the Caribbean to anything else in the park and have to ride them multiple times, that’s your tradeoff to make.

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.