While there are many differences between Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, many agree there are some tried and true tips that apply to both Disney Parks here in the U.S. At 1/50th the size of Walt Disney World, you may think that a vacation to Disneyland Resort doesn’t need planning. Or more than one day. And does it really matter where you stay when Anaheim is right outside the front door with loads of hotels available? Here are 8 Tips for Planning a Disneyland Vacation, we wish we knew before that first trip.
To get started check out our Disneyland Vacation Planning page to get a glimpse at all the posts we’ve written so far. Once you get a handle on the fact that Disneyland Resort is 2 Parks- Disneyland and California Adventure and that they have festivals and events, Disney resorts on property, and even a downtown shopping area- called Downtown Disney, you’ll realize a few things. Here are our best Tips for Planning a Disneyland Vacation.
Disney Vacation Planning Tips
You Need a Plan
Ok, let’s be clear here, you don’t need to plan, because it’s just like 2 big theme parks. BUT, for planners, you NEED A PLAN! By this, we mean a whole bunch of things. Disneyland Resort is 500 acres of land. And while some of that is covered by resorts and parking lots, a lot of it is covered by rides, restaurants, and shops you will want on your Disneyland Must-Do Lists. So, for the planners among you, we’d definitely RECOMMEND PLANNING. Don’t just show up with a list of a couple of rides you want to try and a snack you found on Instagram. Take the time to check out the Disneyland and California Adventure Maps ahead of time. They are 2 separate parks, so if you want to do both you will need tickets to both. And if you want to do them both in one day you will need a Disneyland Park Hopper Ticket too. Pick the top ten Rides at Disneyland you want to include in your day. How many days will you visit Disneyland Resort? Do you want to stay on the property? Or just find a Disneyland Hotel within walking distance? So many decisions to make! Be sure to check out our Total Beginners Guide to Planning a Disneyland Resort Vacation.
You Need (Way) More Than One Day
Okay- we will be the first to admit we go a little crazy with a long vacation. What can we say we love them! Any excuse to just be off of work and enjoy life is a good one. Disney Parks included. So while our ideal recommendation here is probably about 5-7 days to really take it all in, we understand if fewer days work better for you. Whatever your number of vacation days, make sure that you can spend At Least 1 Full Day in Each Park. And by full we mean to be there when the gates open and leave when it closes. Why? Well because the rides alone will take you a ton of time. And then from a vacation experience perspective, do you know how many restaurants they have there? Compare that to the 3 meals you’re supposed to have in one day and you will find that you simply will not have enough time to try all the Best Restaurants at Disneyland. And if you’re pressed for time and trying to fit it all in just forget about anything leisurely like Brunch at the Lamplight Lounge. Don’t forget to make sure you have at least a half-day in Downtown Disney as well. While this is “just a shopping area,” it contains a ton of Disney elements that make it worth a closer look. And you don’t need a Park ticket to enjoy Downtown Disney, so be sure to fit it in.
It’s Completely Different than Walt Disney World
We’ve written before about the ways Disneyland and Walt Disney World are different. This is of course only important if you are a Walt Disney World vacationer. But know that if do vacation at Walt Disney World, then Disneyland will feel very different. The first thing we usually hear from the Orlando crowd is “Wow, that castle is really small.” And yeah, it is smaller than Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World, but obviously still big enough for people to walk through it. So, not miniature golf is “small” to be sure. The Haunted Mansion ride is different. Big Thunder Mountain is a smoother ride, and in Disney Snack circles, the churros at Disneyland are better. And Tower of Terror is Guardian of the Galaxy Mission Breakout! as part of the new Avenger’s Campus. There are different lands, different resorts, different restaurants, and the Original Club 33. But what are these details? The BIG difference is that it feels more like a “theme park”. This isn’t a negative. But if you’re been annually visiting Walt Disney World, heading to Disneyland, with all its charming details and original rides from 1955 evokes a “state fair” feeling to Disneyland Park. As opposed to Walt Disney World which feels more like four different countries. In fact, It’s a Small World was actually part of the World’s Fair in 1964-65. Our best advice? Don’t compare them! Just love that they both have all the Disney things you love and leave it at that.
Hotels within Walking Distance of Disneyland are a Must
Mind you we don’t begrudge Anaheim for their transportation options, they actually have quite a few! But, it’s so much easier to just walk to the parks. That said, staying at a hotel within walking distance of Disneyland Resort is a must. And why shouldn’t you? There are tons of hotel options from budget-friendly to luxury if you’re going to be visiting the parks every day make the transportation part easy by walking! Check out all our favorite Disneyland Area Hotels within Walking Distance.
Refurbishments, Refurbishments, Refurbishments
Another Pro and Con of visiting Disneyland Resort is that they are serious when it comes to the upkeep of their rides and attractions. Unlike Walt Disney World where it’s difficult to shut down too many rides at once due to international vacationers who may be unaware of regular refurbishment schedules, Disneyland has no such reservations. More of a local theme park, and less of an international destination, Disneyland regularly shuts down rides and attractions for periods of refurbishment. Even more, since so many of their rides undergo holiday overhauls you could be happily visiting in the early fall months only to learn that Haunted Mansion is closed for the two and half weeks you happen to be vacationing. Your best bet to stay on top of this is to check the Touring Plans Disneyland Refurbishment Calendar for up-to-date details. This will help you double-check that the one ride you’re hoping to visit will actually be open during your vacation.
This local Anaheim shopping center for Disney fans may seem like no big deal, but if you’re heading to Disneyland and trying to figure out how long you’re staying be sure to add at least half a day for Downtown Disney. Home to shops, restaurants, and Disney details you’ll want to stop and see, this shopping center doesn’t require a park ticket but is worth the visit. Be sure to take some time for it!
Know the Difference: Early Magic Mornings vs Early Magic Hour
Magic Morning is a perk that you will receive when you purchase a 3-day or longer Park ticket. You are allowed to enter Disneyland one hour early one morning that you are there. It is only good for one morning and it is only good at Disneyland on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays unless otherwise noted. Only certain attractions are open during this time.
Extra Magic Hour is a perk that guests staying at the Disneyland Resort Hotels receive for staying on the property. Disney Hotels on the property are the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier, and the Grand Californian Resort and Spa. It is good at both Parks but not on the same days. It is good at Disney California Adventure on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and at Disneyland Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays unless otherwise noted. Read about Extra Magic Hour and Early Magic Mornings.
Know the Best ( and Least Crowded) Times to Visit Disneyland
As with any Disney Vacation, it’s best to figure out when crowds are lowest, costs are cheapest and you have a better chance of getting on all your favorite rides, and eating at all your favorite restaurants. So if you’re looking for a quick breakdown ( like we were) that would give us the best chance of fitting a Disneyland Vacation in a few days, here are the least crowded times to visit Disneyland.
- The beginning of January through the middle of February
- Third Tuesday of February to mid-March
- Mid-April through the third week of May
- First Tuesday of September to the beginning of October
- The second week of November
If you’re a Haunted Mansion fan, know that it usually closes annually for the Holiday overlay install from the fourth week in August to the beginning of the second week in September.
Disneyland Vacation Planning Tips
There you have it! Everything we wish we would have known BEFORE visiting Disneyland! There are always so many things to consider hopefully this list has helped you get a handle on the details to know before you go! What are your best tips for newbie Disneyland vacationers?
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.