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Tips for Planning a Trip To Disneyland

If you are a regular reader here, you know that I am a frequent traveler to Walt Disney World in Florida. I’ve been so many times that it’s fairly easy for me to plan a Walt Disney World vacation, because I know exactly what to do, and where I’ll want to go when I’m there. This year, I finally had the chance to plan a trip to Disneyland, and while there are some similarities, there are lots of things you’ll need to know.

Disneyland, with its two theme parks and central Anaheim location, is very different from Walt Disney World. Some of the key planning elements, like FastPass, are quite a bit different on the west coast. So, if you are planning a trip to Disneyland, you’ll definitely want to do your research and some planning in advance so that you’ll be prepared.

This post contains affiliate links. A purchase through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us.

I visited Disneyland as part of the AWEsome Retreat conference and Mastermind and received complimentary admission and some media perks. I also received a complimentary stay at the Howard Johnson Anaheim.

Save money on your Disneyland California tickets and your Southern California vacation by booking through Get Away Today. You can also save $10 on your Southern California vacation of 2 days or more with the code FTM10. 

Pixar Pier at Disney's California Adventure
Pixar Pier at Disney’s California Adventure

Planning a Trip To Disneyland

Discount Disneyland Tickets

Before planning a trip to Disneyland, it’s a good idea to review the two parks – Disney’s California Adventure Park and Disneyland Park. There are different shows, rides, restaurants, and other attractions in each park, and you’ll want to have an idea of how much time you’ll want to spend in each park.

Planning Your Disneyland Vacation 

Unlike Walt Disney World, you probably don’t need to spend quite as much time at Disneyland Resort. The two parks are adjacent to each other, and you can easily walk from one to the other multiple times per day. For our family, I’d probably plan for a three-day trip, although you can even get quite a bit done in just one day.

Before you go, you’ll want to do some research. What time does Disneyland open during your trip? If it’s open late, and you can stay up late, you can get a lot more done. You’ll also want to look at dates and crowd levels.

As you’d expect, weekends, holidays, and school vacations (including summer) can be more crowded. While I wouldn’t completely avoid those dates (sometimes it’s unavoidable), it’s important to know so you are prepared for long waits.

Disneyland Magic Morning is an option available to some guests that can definitely help you take advantage of the time you have available in the parks. Guests who have a valid three-day park ticket will be able to access Disneyland Park one hour prior to opening.

These Magic Mornings are only held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and select attractions are open during this time. Plan to visit the popular attractions that are open first so the lines will be shorter.

This is another good reason to purchase three-day tickets, especially if you generally wake up early and are staying off property. Just make sure that you’ll be at the park on at least one day during those three participating days each week.

Like Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort also offers Extra Magic Hours for early admission to the parks. Guests at one of the official Disneyland Resort hotels are able to access the parks one hour in advance of opening. There’s a set schedule, and only one of the parks has the extra hour per day.

If you plan to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and ride Rise of the Resistance, you’ll need to get a boarding group on the app first thing in the morning when the park opens.

Pixar Pier

Disneyland Discount Tickets

When purchasing your Disneyland tickets, you’ll definitely want to get a discount if possible. Our friends at Get Away Today offer discounted park tickets as well as Southern California vacation packages. Use this link to purchase, and you can get $10 off a valid vacation package with the code FTM10.

You’ll be able to buy a package that includes nights at an official Disneyland hotel or an off-property hotel. Third or fourth night free deals are offered at select off-property hotels. Saving money on your hotel and ticket means you’ll have more for souvenirs and food!

Even if you don’t book a vacation package, it’s best to buy your tickets in advance so you don’t have to wait in line at the park on your first day to purchase. Get your tickets early and go right to the park entrance!

When purchasing your tickets, you’ll have several options. You can choose the park hopper, which means you will be able to go to either park during the day. A standard ticket allows you admission to just one park.

I’d recommend getting the park hopper. Because the parks are so close together, you can go between them all day!

You’ll also select how many days you want to include on your tickets. If you’d like to experience most of the attractions, I think a three-day pass would be the best for a family. I was there for one day and there were definitely lots of other things that I would have liked to do.

Hotels in Anaheim Close to Disneyland

There are lots of wonderful family-friendly hotels located on and off property in the Anaheim area near Disneyland. On property, you’ll find the following hotels:

Like Walt Disney World, Disneyland also has Good Neighbor hotels. Many of these are located directly across the street from the parks, so they are incredibly convenient. Most are family-friendly chain hotels, so you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. These hotels are located right across from the parks:

During my most recent trip to Disneyland, I had the chance to do a complimentary stay at the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground. This family-friendly hotel is about an eight-minute walk from the front entrance of Disneyland. I would definitely recommend staying there.

There are other Good Neighbor hotels that are located a bit further away. Some may offer shuttles. If you book a vacation package through the Get Away Today link listed above, you may be able to get a third or fourth night free.

The hotel we stayed at during my first trip, the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, was located about 20 minutes away from the parks. They offered complimentary shuttle service throughout the day, but it was on a set schedule and you needed to book it in advance.

If your hotel offers a shuttle, check to see what the schedule and process is. Some may have a separate fee.

Dole Whip Float at Disneyland
A Dole Whip flat at Disneyland

Planning Disneyland Dining

Disneyland, like Walt Disney World, offers a wide variety of dining options. While quick-service restaurants don’t take or require reservations, the table service restaurants do accept reservations. It’s a good idea to make reservations well in advance to ensure availability.

Reservations can be made 60 days in advance by calling (714) 781-DINE or by booking online. This is a much shorter window than Walt Disney World, making it easier to make more last-minute vacation plans.

There are lots of different dining venues, including character dining, hotel restaurants, themed dining, and Downtown Disney restaurants. There are also several dining packages that give you priority access to some of the shows.

Mobile ordering on the Disneyland app is available at many of the quick service venues. Order on the app, and select an arrival window. When you are ready to pick up, indicate that on the app and then go to the special mobile order window and provide your order number.

During my visit, I made sure to get two iconic Disneyland snacks – the Mickey Shaped Beignets and a Dole Whip. Both were delicious!

Airports Near Disneyland

When it’s time to book your airfare, you may be wondering which airports are near Disneyland. Luckily, you’ll have some choices. While Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the largest and most popular, there are other small airports that may be easier.

Long Beach Airport (LBG) is a small airport that is so easy to fly in and out of. I flew through there on Jetblue and found it to be so convenient.

John Wayne Airport (SNA) is another option that is relatively small and convenient. Other options in the area are Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) and Ontario International Airport (ONT). If you are visiting San Diego, you can also fly through that airport.

In the past, guests flying into LAX or SNA could take the Disneyland Resort Express, which was offered for an additional fee. Unfortunately, that service has been discontinued. See more details here.

Radiator Springs Racers

FastPass and  Max Pass Disneyland

To maximize your time in the parks, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of Disney’s FastPass. There are two options.

The standard FastPass program is included with your park ticket. Using this system, you can use your ticket to get a FastPass for participating attractions at a kiosk near the ride. You’ll be given a return window to return and ride the attraction.

MaxPass is exclusive to Disneyland. This program is offered at an additional fee (currently $20 per person per day). Purchase MaxPass on the Disneyland app once you arrive in the park. Then, you can use the app to get your FastPasses.

This is so much more convenient because you’ll save time walking from attraction to attraction. You can even get FastPasses for a different park from the one you are in. As a bonus, you’ll also get free access to the photopass photos that are taken on the day(s) you have MaxPass.

There’s a lot to know about MaxPass, and you can read much more about the program here. You can purchase it by the day, so if you want to save money, you may consider buying it on one day of your trip. One of the top Disneyland tips I learned during my trip is to purchase and use MaxPass to save time.

Attractions at Disneyland

I love the rides at any theme park, so I was most excited to experience the attractions. There are so many different options – from kiddie rides to thrill rides.

You’ll want to research these in advance so you know what your must-dos are. If you are a Walt Disney World fan, you’ll definitely want to do those attractions that are different. Here are my top rides at Disneyland.

Disneyland offers nine themed lands: Tomorrowland, New Orleans Square, Fantasyland, ToonTown, Adventureland, Main Street USA, Frontierland, and Critter Country. A ninth land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was recently added.

In Disney California Adventure, you’ll find Buena Vista Street, Hollywood Land, Cars Land, Grizzly Peak, Pixar Pier, Paradise Garden Park, and Pixar Pier. I absolutely loved the theming of Cars Land – it looks exactly as I’d expect Radiator Springs to look!

Flo's at Radiator Springs
Flo’s at Radiator Springs in Cars Land

Shows at Disneyland

Disneyland offers shows at both parks, on select nights. These include Fantasmic!, World of Color, Mickey’s Mix Magic, Magic Happens, as well as stage shows like Frozen and the Disney Junior Dance Party. Check the schedule on the app, as some of these shows don’t run every day or all year.

I had the opportunity to check out the brand-new Magic Happens parade during my last trip, in a special media viewing area. It’s a fun, nostalgic show, featuring some beloved characters from shows including Moana, the Prince and the Frog, the Sword and the Stone, and Frozen.

Events at Disneyland Resort

Disneyland is home to several events during the year. These include the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival, which was taking place during my visit. During this festival, you can visit various kiosks to purchase drinks and food samples.

We ended up eating both lunch and dinner at the California Adventure Food and Wine Festival. I had some delicious food, like the Salt and Vinegar Parmesan Chicken Wings, the Shrimp Boil Tacos, and the Verlasso Sustainable Salmon Peruvian Poke with Cucumber-Lime Salad and Aji Verde Salsa. The offerings change each year.

Downtown Disney

In addition to the two parks, there’s also Downtown Disney. It offers dining, shopping, and entertainment, including Splitsville Lanes. Tickets aren’t required to visit Downtown Disney.

Quick Tips for Planning a Disneyland Vacation

  • Book your vacation package (purchase through Get Away Today with the discount code FTM10) and decide whether you want to stay on or off property.
  • Plan your flights looking at all of the nearby airports to get the best prices.
  • Book your dining reservations 60 days out.
  • Download the Disneyland app and create an account.
  • Purchase MaxPass once you are in the park.
  • Enjoy your vacation!
Tips for planning a trip to Disneyland, including hotels, MaxPass, airports, tickets, and much more.
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