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Can you have a good time at Disneyland as a casual parkgoer?

Maybe not so much anymore

Photograph of Disney characters in Toon Town
Image credit: Disney Parks

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I love going to Disneyland. I never quite get tired of spending a very long day running around to rides and eating Mickey Mouse-shaped treats. (I'm a sucker for any food that's themed.) Since I live so close to the park, I usually go at least once a year. However, over the past few years, the whole process has gotten a lot more complicated to manage - so complicated that I'm starting to feel like I'm spending way more time planning the trip than actually enjoying the park.

Just last week, I visited Disneyland with a friend who hadn't been to the park since before the pandemic began. We left at seven in an attempt to get into the park at 8, and on the drive to the park, I mentioned that we should probably get our food orders in for lunch and dinner before the hot items - mostly the highly desirable snacks - began to sell out. She was... surprised at the suggestion, to say the least. The conversation about the disappearance of free FastPass (Disney's old rapid queueing system) for the paid Genie+ Lightning Lane program (Disney's current, for-a-fee rapid queueing system) went along similar lines.

Overall, due to a probably silly strict schedule and a decent amount of pre-planning, we were able to hit all the major rides we had wanted to... but I had spent much of the day with my head down looking at my cell phone screen to make it happen.

Do you need to pre-plan your Disneyland day?

Promotional picture of Mickey and Minnie's runaway Railway
Image credit: Disneyland

If you aren't up to date with how things are currently run at Disneyland, you will be waiting in much longer lines and thus, doing fewer activities. All of this comes alongside the fact that Disneyland ticket prices have skyrocketed. Demand doesn't seem to have dropped, but perhaps it's because the word simply hasn't gotten out there - Disneyland is no longer a place you can just show up to and have a day of fun. Especially if you don't have a smartphone or arent a tech-savvy person.

You can certainly go to Disneyland and participate in fun activities. But with these longer lines, and higher prices, it seems obvious you'll be getting a lot less bang for your buck than you would have ten years ago at the very same park. And if you're hoping to get on a lot of popular rides, you'll need a plan backed by research (and perhaps some extra money for that paid Lightning Lane feature).

Do you need a smartphone for Disneyland?

Promotional photo of Rise of Resistance
Image credit: Disneyland

Between constantly checking the line wait times, juggling Genie+ Lightning Lane appointments, ordering snacks ahead of time to avoid long lines, I realized that the amount of mobile-centric planning that has to go into a Disneyland day may have reached its tipping point.

Strangely enough, this is still a bit of an improvement on a couple of years ago, as, from what I can tell, every attraction at Disneyland is currently accessible without a mobile phone. That was not true when hot new Star Wars ride Rise of the Resistance launched in December 2019. For a long while, you couldn't even get on the ride if you didn't have someone in your party with a smartphone (and quick fingers). There was even an experimental roll out of mobile-only ordering, which caught me by surprise when I tried to order a Dole Whip on a hot a day a few years ago and found out that I couldn't just pay for my snack, but I instead needed to wait in an online queue. The mobile order line was so backlogged that I would have had to wait hours to get my sweet treat. I ended up skipping the Dole Whip.

Though (again, from what I can tell) you can currently do everything at Disneyland without the app, you certainly can't use all of the features that help you get through your day. Lightning Lane appointments are set through the app, as is mobile ordering, and if you want to buy an extra (distinct from the daily Genie+ fee) Lightning Lane rapid queuing reservation to get on a premium ride like Rise of the Resistance, that's done through the app as well. With all of these mobile-only features, it seems like the experience has gotten much worse for those who aren't in the know (aka very familiar with new Disneyland rules and how to use the mobile app, which is already not user friendly)

Plus, with the use of mobile pre-ordering for food, it seems like the standby lines have gotten longer. Where I used to see lunch and dinner lines at a fairly reasonable length, they seem almost ridiculous now. Even worse, Disney doesn't do a great job of advertising how to take advantage of these digital lines and tips; there's no one place to get all of your questions answered on how to plan your day. In fact, I've only learned much of what I know about Disneyland planning through previous trips and seeing other people use the app to join mobile lines (with follow up research online). And I'm someone who is able to go to the park pretty much every year.

It's hard to imagine what navigating Disneyland would be like for a once-in-a-lifetime parkgoer, or someone who hasn't been in a few years. It would take hours of digging through the internet, watching tip videos made by fans, and digging through forums to figure things (like the fact that you need to make reservations to eat at some Disneyland restaurants weeks ahead of time) out.

Is Disneyland still worth it?

With all this complicated navigating in mind and with the park getting older and rides breaking down more frequently (we encountered two ride breakdowns while waiting in line, and three attractions were closed for refurbishment), it may be hard for people to justify shelling out $194 (during peak times) per person, plus hotel, food costs, parking, and travel, for an experience that is feeling less worth it each year.

As someone who doesn't mind a bit of research (though to be fair, at this point its starting to feel a bit taxing) and who can take advantage of local deals for discounted tickets and doesn't have to pay for hotels, Disneyland is still worth it for me (for now). But, with the price increases and all the planning that now seems necessary to get on all the best rides, I'd say that what you get for the cost of your ticket seems worth less for the casual parkgoer now than it did just a few years ago.

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