Total Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Disneyland Vacation

Total Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Disneyland Vacation

Dreaming of 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 Walt Disney World because it’s completely different! Yet kind of familiar. But different. You’ll see what we mean! Here’s everything to consider when planning a Disneyland Vacation.

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All About Planning 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. Thankfully! Sure you’ll want to get your transportation to California figured out and your hotel reserved. But, it’s not nearly as complicated as a Walt Disney World vacation. The biggest consideration when planning your Disneyland trip is figuring out how long you want to stay AND where you want to stay. Once you decide these things the rest of your planning should be a breeze!

Disneyland Resort is 2 Theme Parks

This Disney Park includes Disneyland and California Adventure. Disneyland is home to Sleeping Beauty Castle and classic rides like It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion. California Adventure is home to Avengers Campus, Pixar Pier, and amazing rides like the Incredicoaster!

What is the Best Time to Visit Disneyland?

Choosing when you should visit Disneyland is all about what you want to see or do while you’re there. Summer is always more crowded and Southern California can get brutally hot. That said, if you’re trying to avoid crowds and hot weather, we recommend skipping Summertime. Plus Disneyland Ride Refurbishments typically happen in 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, so be sure to keep an eye on the Disneyland Refurbishment Schedule, so you can know what’s closed before you plan your trip. Spring is beautiful at Disneyland and we personally love the weather and lower crowds during that time. Fall, however, is always a treat as decorations for Halloween and new fall snacks arrive, but can get a little busy. And while the holidays will be crazy busy, there is nothing like the Holiday Haunted Mansion overlay with the Nightmare Before Christmas theme. 

What are Crowds Like at Disneyland?

This will probably have one of the biggest impacts on your Disneyland vacation, so think carefully about when you want to visit. Keep in mind that Disneyland is a local’s park more than a touristy one. And frankly, it makes things easier when Planning a Disneyland Vacation. 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 as 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. Evenings too can get crowded as people get off work and head to the parks. This can all have a  huge impact on your Disneyland vacation. 

How Long Should You Stay on a Disneyland Vacation?

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 on 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.

Is 2 Days Enough for a Disneyland Vacation?

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, 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 addition to an already beautiful Southern California vacation if you’re just wanting to add some extra magic to a longer trip. 

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Traveling to Disneyland 

Just like any trip, a good portion of Planning a Disneyland Vacation and budget(!) will need to be figured out first! Are you flying or driving to Disneyland? 

Which Airport is Closest to Disneyland?

John Wayne ( SNA) Airport is the closest airport 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 Burbank(BUR), Long Beach(LGB), and Ontario(ONT). All of these are within reasonable driving distance, about 30-45 mins from Anaheim. 

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. 

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Disneyland Resorts and Hotels

The Disneyland Resort has three on-property hotels; Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian Resort, and Paradise Pier Hotel. These hotels are themed with Disney, Pixar, and California elements and are all filled with extra magic. But, the best bet and most budget-friendly choice is often a hotel off-site. Why? Because there are so many great Hotels within Walking Distance of Disneyland, it just makes sense! 

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Should you Stay Off-Property at Disneyland?

Of all of the ways to save money on a Disneyland vacation, staying at an off-property hotel will save you the most money. And you can pick and choose from so many hotels nearby that you can often find one that will earn loyalty program points or can be purchased with points from your travel credit card. Check out the Differences Between On Property and Off Property at Disneyland.

Disneyland Resort Good Neighbor Hotels Map

What Hotels are Near Disneyland?

We’ve rounded up the top 15 Hotels Within Walking Distance of Disneyland, to help get you close to the action without breaking the bank.  Some of the closest hotels are actually right across from the entrance of the Park. And may get you closer to the park entrances than the three on-property resorts. 

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. We have stayed at a few different hotels nearby Disneyland including the Hotel Indigo Anaheim and The Anaheim Hotel.  Our current favorite Disneyland Area Hotel is the Desert Palms. It’s an easy 10-minute walk to Disneyland and has been the nicest of all the off-property hotels we’ve stayed.

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Disneyland Transportation and Parking

Planning a Disneyland Vacation means taking a minute to figure out how you’re getting everywhere. To get around Disneyland, you can drive, walk 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. Though you can save money when you buy 3 days or more. You can purchase these passes online at rideart.org or at participating hotels.

Should you Drive to Disneyland?

Unless you absolutely have to, we don’t recommend driving to Disneyland. Unless you’re a local of course, in which case you probably don’t need this guide. The reason is that driving to Disneyland is expensive and can be a pain during busy times.

How Much Does it Cost to Park at Disneyland?

Parking at Disneyland will cost you $25 per car and you can find the Disneyland parking locations here. If you choose to drive though, don’t worry. For the most part, there are signs all over the Disneyland Resort area that will direct you to where you need to go. 
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Disneyland on a Budget 

Wondering what money you need to put aside? Planning a Disneyland Vacation means figuring out what you need to budget. Here is your Disneyland Budget Checklist. 

How Much Does a Disneyland Vacation Cost?

The biggest expense of your Disneyland Vacation, other than your lodging, is going to be your Disneyland tickets. Disneyland tickets are not cheap, but thankfully 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 Admission and will help you make the most of your time at Disneyland. Tickets range from about $80 dollars a day on a 5-day ticket to about $110 dollars a day for a single day. Check out the current Disneyland ticket prices to help plan your budget. If you are planning a shorter Disneyland trip then you can also consider adding a park hopper ticket so that you can travel between Disneyland and California Adventure. Read our post on the Park Hopper Ticket at Disneyland and if it’s worth the cost. 

Be sure to check out Get Away Today for discounted Disneyland Ticket prices, 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. 

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Restaurants and Snacks

Aside from tickets, you’ll want to make a budget for your food and snacks. Planning a Disneyland Vacation may not involve as many food choices as Disney World, but there is plenty of food! Food at Disneyland can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. You can decide not to eat at Disneyland at all, bring some of your own food, eat at quick-service locations, or go all out at a table-service restaurant. Keep in mind that Disneyland is pretty small, so you can easily leave the Parks and grab food elsewhere in Anaheim. Downtown Disney is right around the corner and places like Blaze Pizza and  Starbucks are all nearby.  We are also big fans of the Anaheim Packing District because it has lots of fun food choices and is only about a 10-minute drive from the Parks. If staying in the parks we like Lamplight Lounge in Disney’s California Adventure for brunch on the pier and an easy way to have a nice meal without breaking the bank. And remember, if you visit during special events throughout the year, there are specialty snacks too, like the Snacks at Pixar Fest that are offered specially for the event. 
 
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Rides and Shows

Since this Disney Park is technically just a few neighborhood blocks within Anaheim, California, Disneyland Resort is small. Both parks, Disneyland and California Adventure are literally a 5-minute walk from each other. And Downtown Disney is just a few minutes from the entrance of both Parks. So it’s easy to go between all of the areas at Disneyland Resort with ease. Check out The Best Rides at Disneyland Resort to make sure you don’t miss the good stuff on your Disneyland Vacation. 

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Disneyland Park

Disneyland Park was Walt Disney’s brainchild and features a variety of themed areas throughout the park. Including Main Street USA, which is modeled after his childhood home of Marceline, Missouri. This street meets you as you enter the Park, and leads towards Sleeping Beauty Castle. From there, the park breaks up into several lands; Adventureland, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Main Street U.S.A., Mickey’s Toontown, New Orleans Square, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and Tomorrowland. 

Character Meet and Greets at Disneyland 

One of the most fun things about Disneyland is that the Disney 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 Park

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. Be sure to get familiar with the rides that are available and which ones you may want a Disney Genie+ or a Lightning Lane Pass for. 

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland 

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge can be found tucked into a back corner at Disneyland Park and features restaurants, Rise of the Resistance, and the Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run ride. In fact, the only difference between the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and the one in Walt Disney World is the paint color used on the structures. While galaxy’s edge has loads of fun things to do, it is most fun to visit during Disneyland’s Season of the Force, which features a special fireworks show, shown only during the event! 

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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 Avengers Campus, Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, Hollywood Land, Pacific Wharf, and Pixar Pier.

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 Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, California Adventure has a lot of rides to choose from. 

World of Color Nighttime Show 

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. If you want a taste of what the show has to offer, you can watch our video here!

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Downtown Disney

If you’re Planning a Disneyland Vacation, know that there are lots of Free Things to Do at Disneyland. And Downtown Disney is one of them. 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. Otherwise, you can just walk into this area and browse, like you would any shopping center. 

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

Feeling dapper? Dress to the nines in your favorite vintage look honoring Disney characters, rides, and more. Consider this just a fashionable night out for fashionable people. Less black tie and more 1950’s cocktail party, we love this event as a great reason to dress up. Dapper Day has become more and more popular every year. The event happens twice a year at Disneyland. once in the spring and once in the fall. The dates vary every year, so check out the Dapper Day Event Calendar to stay in the know. 

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Is Disneyland a Good Family Vacation?

The great thing about Disneyland is that it can be whatever you want! It has enough for adults to have an adult-only vacation or an entire family to enjoy themselves. 

Is Disneyland a Once in a Lifetime Trip?

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. So, if you have to pick between the two, Walt Disney World would be our pick. 

Should Disneyland be Part of a Southern California Vacation?

Again this 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 of Planning a Disneyland Vacation. Happy planning!

 

Heading to Disneyland and don't know where to start? While WDW requires ages of planning, Disneyland is a different story entirely. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared! Here's all our tips and tricks for the Absolute Beginner traveling to Disneyland! #polkadotpixies #disneytips #disneyland #disneylandguide

Co-Founder and Director at Polka Dot Pixie Co LLC | Website | + posts

Melanie Renee is a photographer, writer, designer and mom. Visiting Disney destinations since 2010, she is also an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. When she's not creating her next coffee recipe, or designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's seeking beautiful sunsets and planning her next trip .


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