Dreaming of a heading out west for a Disneyland Vacation but not really sure where to start?! Trust us, we’ve been there! Planning a Disneyland Vacation can be a little confusing. And this is especially true if you are familiar with planning a Walt Disney World vacation, because it’s a completely different, yet kind of familiar process. But different. You’ll see what I mean!
The Basics of a Disneyland Vacation
Ok, so let’s start with a few basic things you should know before planning a trip to Disneyland.
A Disneyland vacation does not require you to plan 6 months ahead of time. I mean, I’m actually not sure it would even benefit you to! Sure you’ll want to get your hotel reserved and start doing your research, but it’s not nearly as complicated as a Walt Disney World vacation can be.
The biggest consideration when planning your Disneyland trip is how long do you want to stay and where do you want to stay. Once you decide these two things, the rest of your planning should be a breeze!
Which Airport is Closest to Disneyland?
If you’re flying into California for Disneyland, it’s good to know that you have a lot of airports to choose from. Los Angeles(LAX) will be your most common choice, since it’s the biggest and will offer the most non-stop flights, and likely most flights in general. But you can also fly into John Wayne(SNA) which is the closest, as well as Burbank(BUR), Long Beach(LGB) and Ontario(ONT). All of these are within reasonable driving distance, about 30-45 mins from Anaheim.
Walt Disney World travelers- make note, Disneyland does not offer an airport shuttle service, like the Magical Express in Orlando. So you will either have to rent a car, or use a taxi or ride share service to get from the airport to Disneyland.
We have always rented a car when going to Disneyland so that we can explore other areas of Anaheim and Southern California, but if you’re only visiting Disneyland, you can save some money and just take an Uber or car service to your hotel from the airport.
What Hotels are Near Disneyland?
Of all of the ways to save money on a Disneyland vacation, staying off property hotel will save you the most money. We talk a little more about that here so you can see how staying off property at Disneyland can save you money on your trip.
There are probably about 30 hotels in the Anaheim area that will all get you near Disneyland. Some of the closest hotels are actually right across from the entrance of the Park, and while they are definitely more convenient, they are also more expensive. Tropicana Inn, Best Western and Del Sol will be your closest hotels, however keep in mind that you’re not necessarily paying for a better hotel or amenities but for the location itself. There are only 3 on property Disneyland hotels, which makes them pretty pricey and we explain the difference here so you can decide whether you want to stay on property or off.
Many off property hotels will actually get you closer to the Disneyland entrance than on property Disneyland hotels.
We have stayed at a few different hotels near Disneyland and currently our favorite is Desert Palms. It’s an easy 10 minute walk to Disneyland and has been the nicest of all the hotels we’ve stayed at so far(minus the Disneyland Hotel of course).
Transportation and Parking at Disneyland
To get around at Disneyland, you can drive, walk to the Parks or take the ART shuttle.
The ART is Anaheim’s public transportation system, and stands for Anaheim Resort Transportation. ART is a hop on/hop off transportation system. A day pass will cost you $5.50 per adult and $2 per child, and you can save when you buy 3 days or more. You can purchase these passes online or at participating hotels. To learn more about ART, click here.
Unless you absolutely have to, we don’t really recommend driving to Disneyland(unless you’re a local of course, in which case you probably don’t need this guide) because it’s expensive and can be a pain during busy times. Parking at Disneyland will cost you $25 per car and you can find the locations of Disneyland parking here.
For the mostpart, there are signs all over the Disneyland Resort area that will direct you to where you need to go.
How to Budget for a Disneyland Vacation?
The biggest expense of your Disneyland Vacation (unless you’re staying at a Disneyland hotel) is going to be your Disneyland tickets. Disneyland tickets are not cheap, and much like Walt Disney World, the cost of your Disneyland ticket per day will be less when you buy more than one day. We recommend getting at least the 3 day ticket, which automatically comes with one magic morning, and will help you make the most of your time at Disneyland.
You can also add on Max Pass, we explain it here, for $15 per ticket per day as well as the Park Hopper, which is a flat $50 per ticket regardless of how many days are on your ticket.
We recommend purchasing your Disneyland tickets through Get Away Today to save money where you can. They also sell packages with your hotel and tickets to save even more! If you decide to book a package, use our code PDPD to save a little extra.
Disneyland Food and Snacks Budget
Parks at Disneyland
Disneyland is small. It consists of two parks, Disneyland and California Adventure. The Parks are literally a 5 minute walk between each other and Downtown Disney is a few minute walk from the entrance of both Parks, so it’s easy to go between all of the areas with ease.
If you’ve been to Walt Disney World, Disneyland Park will be eerily familiar, yet different. The setup of Disneyland is much like Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Main Street USA, greets you as you enter the Park, and is the main stage for Sleeping Castle. From there, the park breaks up into several lands.
The big difference between Disneyland and Magic Kingdom is that even though it’s smaller, there are actually more lands in this Park. And since they’re condensed to a smaller area, the layout is a bit more compact, meaning you have to travel through some areas to get to others, which can get a bit confusing. We highly recommend grabbing a map at the front or getting familiar with the Disneyland app before planning out your day. Even though it’s small, there’s still a LOT of walking at Disneyland, and you don’t want to waste steps walking around aimlessly because you thought you understood how the Park is set up.
If you’ve never been to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, no worries! Grab a free map at the entrance, or take a look at the Disneyland app to get familiar with where everything is before you start exploring. It’ll save you a ton of time and steps!
Character Meet and Greets at Disneyland
One of the most fun things about Disneyland is that the characters are free roaming a lot of the time! If you’re lucky, you may even see them riding on some of the rides or casually dancing or playing games with other guests.
The flip side of that is that sometimes you might now know where they are going to be. Keep your eyes peeled while you’re strolling through the Park and be sure to download the Disneyland app to keep track of where you can find your favorites throughout the day.
Rides at Disneyland
Disneyland is where you will find many of the original classic rides. From dark rides like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to other classics like Haunted Mansion, Disneyland is where you’ll find them. Even if you’re a seasoned Walt Disney World goer, you’ll want to check out Disneyland’s versions of familiar rides. In many cases, Disneyland’s version of your favorite ride will be better.
Disneyland generally has the luxury of longer refurb times than Walt Disney World, since it’s more of a locals Park than a tourist destination, so many rides are more maintained and updated in comparison. If you’re looking to mostly enjoy the rides while you’re there, then its a great idea to consider MaxPass! We talk all about MaxPass here to help you decide if it’s right for you.
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland
Disney’s newest addition to Disneyland Park is Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. To read all about this amazing new land, be sure to check out our post here. We get to experience this land soon, so this section will surely be updated when we do!
California Adventure Park
California Adventure is Disneyland’s newer Park and is considered the more “grown up” Park of the two. Not only do they serve alcoholic beverages throughout the Park, but they have more thrilling rides there. California Adventure is split into Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, Hollywood Land, Pacific Wharf and Pixar Pier. Marvel Land is under current construction and is expected to open in 2020.
Rides in California Adventure
While California Adventure does have some of the more thrilling rides, they also have something for everyone! With kid friendly options like Toy Story Midway Mania and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and more exciting options for adults like the Incredicoaster and Guardian’s of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, California Adventure has a lot of rides to choose from.
California Adventure is a great Park to use MaxPass in as some of it’s more popular rides, especially Radiator Springs Racers and Mission Breakout will often run out of FastPasses early in the day.
World of Color at California Adventure
World of Color is an absolute must see if you’re visiting California Adventure. A water and light show, World of Color was recently reimagined and is sure to give you all the Disney feels!
We do not by any means claim to be experts on getting the best view for this show, as we have only seen it once, but we do highly recommend getting a FastPass to watch it. If you want a taste of what the show has to offer, you can watch our video here!
And if you’re really interested in finding the best strategy to get the best seat, a quick google search will get you all the inside info 😉
There is a small “downtown” area right outside the Parks that offers shopping, dining and entertainment. Downtown Disney itself is free but you do have to go through security to enter and if you’re not walking there, you will have to pay to park. Parking can be validated if you spend $20 while there, so we always try to buy food or something small when we are visiting if we have to park.
This shopping complex is a great place to go if you’re looking to get away from the Parks or if you want to get your Disney fix in without a Park ticket. It’s also a great place to grab a meal if you’re not feeling up for the food in the Parks. They have lots of choices and many of the options don’t require a reservation so it’s a great place to explore and plan it as you go.
Disneyland Dapper Day
Dapper Day has become more and more popular every year. This is the time to dress in your dapper best and have fun in the Parks with fellow Disney fans. It’s available twice a year, at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, once in the spring and once in the fall. The dates vary every year but you can keep up with dates and what’s going on here.
When should you visit Disneyland?
When you should visit Disneyland will have a lot to do with what you want to see or do while you’re there. Summer is always more crowded and SoCal can get brutally hot, so if you’re trying to avoid crowds and hot weather, we recommend skipping summertime. Many rides will be getting refurbished during the winter months after the New Year, so if you’re only planning to go once in your life, you’ll want to skip the beginning of the year. Rides close for longer periods of time at Disneyland when they are being refurbished, so you’ll want to keep an eye on refurb schedules throughout both Parks to make sure you won’t miss a must do on your list. Spring is beautiful at Disneyland and we personally love the weather and lower crowds during that time. We’ve been there in spring several times and highly recommend it if you can.
Other times of year to note is Fall, when the big pumpkin comes out and everything is dressed and ready for spooky season. And Christmas is also beautiful at Disneyland, but be aware that as you get closer to the holiday, the Parks will become more crowded. We have been to Disneyland in early December, before the crowds started to arrive and the weather and crowd levels were very enjoyable, so that’s another time we’d highly recommend.
This will probably have one of the biggest impacts on your Disneyland vacation, so think carefully about when you want to visit this classic Park. Keep in mind that Disneyland is a local’s park more than a touristy one. So when the locals have off, think weekends, holidays, school breaks, it’s automatically going to be more crowded. In fact, we’d go as far to say, avoid Disneyland on the weekend entirely if you can manage it. Whenever we’ve gone, we’ve noticed a drastic difference in crowd levels from weekdays to weekends, and this can have a huge impact on your Disneyland vacation. Check out the crowd calendars for more detailed information on crowds.
How long should you stay at Disneyland?
Conventional advice will tell you that 3 days is plenty for a Disneyland Vacation. And this may be the case. Most people will say, 1 day for each Park and then a day to do whatever you missed the first two days. Others will tell you that 2 days is more than enough. We personally think 3 days is just not enough. Here’s the thing. While we definitely don’t recommend any less than 3 days, it’s really going to depend what kind of traveler you are. Do you love classic rides and want to fit them all in? Are you all about snacking your way through Disneyland? Are you like us and want to find all the hidden mickeys and take in each and every detail? If this sounds more like you, then you’ll likely want to plan for 3-5 days at Disneyland. Disneyland is small, but it’s definitely not lacking. There are plenty of snacks to be had, rides to be ridden, details to be discovered and areas to be explored.
On the flip side, if you’re not much of a “theme park person”, couldn’t care less about the food, get easily annoyed with crowds and are looking for thrill rides over simple classics, the you could probably get away with 2-3 days and feel like you’ve seen everything you want to see. Disneyland definitely has more of a classic theme park feel than an entirely different world feel like Walt Disney World does.
Decide how long you want to stay at Disneyland and go from there. Disneyland is in such a great location because Southern California has so much to offer. It’s a great destination on its own if you’re an avid Disney fan, or a perfect add to an already beautiful Southern California vacation if you’re just wanting to add some extra magic to a longer trip.
Disneyland as a Family Vacation?
Would you recommend Disneyland as a Family or an Adult vacation? Should everyone go at least once in their life or will Walt disney world do?
The great thing about Disneyland is that it can be whatever you want! It has enough for adults to have an adult only vacay or an entire family to enjoy themselves.
While you will find many similarities between Walt Disney World and Disneyland, it is important to remember that they are pretty different! Based on what you want to experience will really determine whether or not you should visit both Parks. We are huge Disney nerds(obviously) so for us, visiting all of the Disney Parks in the world is on our bucket list.
Not everyone shares that same affinity for Disney parks and if you only ever plan on going to one Disney Park in the U.S., Walt Disney World really just has more to offer.
A California Family Vacation
Is it best to add onto a Cali vacation or as standalone?
Again this is will depend a lot on a lot of other things! We personally have a long(and sometimes expensive) flight to get to California, so we love adding on other things to make it worth our while. There are so many wonderful things to do in Southern California and a lot of times we find ourselves driving to the coast to enjoy the beach for a day. Get Away Today always has lots of great options for Southern California vacations, so be sure to check them out to save some money on your next trip. You can also use code PDPD to save an additional $10 off any Southern California vacation package!
Whether you’re looking for a full weeklong Southern California vacation or just a trip to the original Disney Park where Walt walked, we hope this guide has helped you in your quest to achieve an amazing Disneyland Vacation. Happy planning!