Updated January 15, 2020
Today, I’m sharing the basics of Disneyland to get you started and/or to remind you of some essentials if you haven’t visited in a while.
There’s so very much to know. Let’s get started.
In this article
I devised a 6 Step Planning Process that simplifies what you need to do to plan a trip to Disneyland. Within that process, you’ll find my crowd calendar. Take each step one at a time, show them the attention they deserve and if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m an email away at Casey@DisneylandDaily.com.
Who to Book Your Trip With
I recommend using Get Away Today to help you book your trip, as it won’t cost you a penny over what you would book on your own using the Disneyland website. In most cases, it will cost you less.
Get Away Today was the first agency Disney ever partnered with and has been saving guests money for over 29 years. Thousands of readers from this website have used them – including me! They are the absolute best at what they do. I’m sincerely proud to work with them and can’t recommend them enough.
Go here for tickets.
Go here for packages. (Use code DDaily for an additional $10 off.)
If you prefer to call, use this toll free number: 855.GET.AWAY
Consider Get Away Today’s Layaway Plan, which is an option for your Disneyland hotel/ticket package or just tickets alone. Put $175 down to reserve your trip and then pay it all off on your own terms up until 5 days prior to traveling. It’s interest free! More on this here.
Interested in Walt Disney World? Get Away Today handles all Disney destinations. Visit this link for info on WDW. I’ve booked three trips with them already in 2019!
Disneyland Resort is comprised of 2 theme parks, 3 Disney hotels and Downtown Disney. Disneyland is a fraction of the size of Disney World. Check out the layout of the resort including details on parking, lockers and more.
Disneyland is the original park and it opened in 1955. In addition to Main Street, it includes 7 lands:
- Critter Country
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
- New Orleans Square
Disney California Adventure or DCA opened in 2001 and enjoyed a grand “re-opening” in 2012 with a major transformation, which has brought the once troubled park to life. In addition to Buena Vista Street, it includes 5 lands:
- Cars Land
- Grizzly Peak
- Hollywood Land
- Pacific Wharf
- Pixar Pier
Transportation to the Disneyland Resort is fairly easy if you know what you’re looking for. There are 6 large airports that are all realistic options within 1.5 hours of Disneyland. You can get to the parks via car, shuttle, train, or car service. I highly recommend Lanksy Enterprises for transportation from the airport to your hotel.
For Walt Disney World Fans
There’s a lot to know if you’re familiar with WDW, but not Disneyland. Let’s go over a few differences:
- We don’t have a dining plan. We often walk up to counter service restaurants, order food and eat it. Don’t be scared of us. It works. Dining at the Disneyland Resort is fun.
- We don’t use FastPass+. You can’t schedule FASTPASSES ahead of time. And…..stay with me…….we don’t have magic bands. Check out this post for how FASTPASSES and MaxPass work at Disneyland. There are currently two options available to you at the Disneyland Resort. And, here’s the best part – MaxPass far surpasses anything and everything you would be able to do at WDW with FastPass+. It’s fantastic.
- If you’re looking for Value Resorts at Disneyland, consider staying off-site at a good neighbor hotel. We only have 3 Disney Hotels and 2 of them are 4 Star and all three are $300+ a night.
- We have Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning. Visit this link to learn details on each.
- Everything is in walking distance. No one hour trek from park to hotel and park again. You can leave one park and be at the next in 2 minutes because the two park entrances face each other. Most hotels are in walking distance. Downtown Disney is just outside the esplanade between the two parks. You can easily leave the park, run back to your hotel and be back in the park in a short amount of time. IT’S GLORIOUS.
- The weather here is lovely. We rarely see rain. Seriously. And, regardless of when you visit – even if it’s in the summer – you’ll likely need a sweater for early morning or late night. Know how to dress ahead of time. It’s quite different compared to WDW.
- To thoroughly appreciate the history and nostalgia that Disneyland offers, consider taking my one hour scavenger hunt along Main Street to see lots of key Walt-related stops. First time Disney World fans love to see where Walt left his mark on our beloved Disneyland.
- Our characters often roam the park and some do so without handlers. The character experience is so authentic and fun at Disneyland.
This post covers everything you need to know for how to tour each park, allowing you to see and do everything your heart desires during your visit. Follow my plans to ensure you won’t wait more than 20 minutes for any attraction. (With one exception.)
I test my strategies monthly – and edit as needed – which provides you the very best plans for your visit.
You have two options when choosing where to stay at Disneyland:
DLR Hotels – Disneyland hotels have many perks including always-good Disney service, Extra Magic Hours, on-site DLR Hotel dining, and package delivery from the parks to your hotel. One (The Grand Californian) is super close to the entrance of the parks and Paradise Pier and The Disneyland Hotel are a bit further.
Off-Site Hotels – Off-site options are typically much less expensive than DLR Hotels with many averaging around $120 a night. Many of these off-site hotels have relationships with Get Away Today and allow guests who book with them to receive perks you wouldn’t have if you booked elsewhere like free parking, free breakfast, etc. Visit this link for more on that.
Each park has a different feel to it. I’d simplify it into this:
Disneyland is old school and sweet with lots of history and fairytale-esque rides. Main Street feels like a walk back in time and the entire park has a nostalgic element to it.
Disney California Adventure feels newer and more character focused. Buena Vista is lovely and provides the nod to Americana that Main Street at Disneyland does. You’ll find “bigger” rides that teens will enjoy more at DCA, however, there is still plenty to do for little ones.
Beware: Some attractions are very “dark” (figuratively and literally) and can scare young children. Research those before you visit.
The food at Disneyland is one of my favorite parts of my visit. There’s so much to enjoy! I have compiled every bit of Disneyland Resort dining into one post. This covers both parks, Downtown Disney, character meals, dining in the DLR Hotels, park snacks, off-the-menu options, cocktails, DLR recipes, my recommendations, and a mock budget so you can estimate your costs. Check that out for all things dining.
Disneyland Dining has several yummy options including Jolly Holiday Bakery, Hungry Bear Restaurant, The Plaza Inn, Blue Bayou and more. The park includes several table service options and many counter service ones, too. Character dining can be found at breakfast at The Plaza Inn.
California Adventure Dining feels a little more adventurous to me food-wise with options like Asian fare, high end Carthay Circle and delicious smoothies. California Adventure also serves a wide range of alcohol compared to Disneyland.
Character dining can be found at Disneyland and each of the Disneyland Resort Hotels. In addition to the expected Disney service at each of these experiences, you can also:
- Interact with characters up close for more time than at the parks.
- Take fun photos with the characters.
- Gather autographs.
I encourage you to enjoy one (or more) character dining experiences during your visit.
Want to go one step further and enjoy some ‘specialty dining’ with reserved seating viewing for the best shows at the parks? Check out this post for more details.
Halloween Time and Holidays at Disneyland are two big seasons that take over the parks from the beginning of September until the beginning of January.
A few quick notes on these seasons:
- Halloween Time is just as popular as Christmas is now at the Disneyland Resort.
- We have a Halloween Party called Oogie Boogie Bash at Disney California Adventure.
- We do not have a Christmas Party. And, this is a good thing! I attended a Christmas Party at WDW in 2016 (and again in November 2018) and was surprised to find that so many of the things guests pay for at the WDW Christmas Party, Disneyland shares for free including the Christmas Fantasy Parade and Holiday Fireworks. Those run every day during Holidays at Disneyland.
- Each September brings an overlay to the Haunted Mansion, transforming it into Jack Skellington’s Nightmare Before Christmas, where “two holidays collide”. This overlay lasts through the end of Holidays at Disneyland in early January of the following year. The Haunted Mansion typically takes up to 3 weeks to change from one theme to the other, so account for that timing when scheduling your trip. Mid-August is typically when the attraction closes for the changeover.
- Space Mountain often changes into Ghost Galaxy for Halloween Time. This overlay only takes a few days and the seasonal version of this attraction ends when Halloween Time is over. You’ll see Space Mountain go down early September to transform. (Did not happen in 2019.)
- “it’s a small world” changes into “it’s a small world Holiday” during Holidays at Disneyland. That transformation takes 2-3 weeks, so account for it, too, during your planning. Look for it’s a small world to go down the second half of October in preparation for Holidays.
- Halloween Time typically starts the second week of September and lasts through Halloween night, October 31.
- Holidays at Disneyland typically starts the second week of November and lasts through the first week of January.
Visit these posts, which are updated each season, as soon as Disney releases information.
- Check out companies and products I have used and recommend for your visit. Consider buying some essentials ahead of time to save money and cut down on stress.
- Need info in Spanish? I recommend this site. Liz is super helpful.
- Venturing outside of Disneyland? There is SO MUCH to do in Southern California. Take a look at all of your options in this post.
- Absolutely become familiar with FASTPASSES and how they can make your visit less stressful by cutting down on wait time in line.
- Know how to meet characters and how a character meal can add to your experience.
- While many people have used and loved my touring plans, I’m completely redesigning them to reflect what I think is a better approach to the parks. As they develop, I test each within the parks and share that testing with you on my Facebook page. I recommend you read how to start at California Adventure and at Disneyland. Both of those posts share my new strategies that have proven to be super effective.
- Know all about World of Color and what your options are for seeing this unique show, only available at DCA.
- Know all about parades and fireworks, too. And, Fantasmic!
- The Disneyland Resort is very accommodating for guests with disabilities. Visit this post for so much information on this including mobility devices, how to work with each attraction, where to find alternate attractions, and so much more.
- Consider buying the PhotoPass+ One Day package. I highly recommend it and consider it to be one of the best values in the parks. MaxPass, however, includes PhotoPass privileges, so there is no need to buy a package if you plan on using MaxPass.
- Be prepared for crowds. You have many options when the parks become overwhelming.
- Toddlers and princess fans require extra planning.
- Bringing a baby to the parks? Are you expecting during your visit? Check out this post for lots to know including where the baby centers are, how to find a quiet place to nap, where to nurse, and more. Know where to rent a stroller off-site, too if you choose not to bring your own.
- Plan on seeing Anna and Elsa or the Frozen show? The best planning will make that happen smoothly.
- Know what to expect with your visit to Downtown Disney.
Relax and have fun. Disneyland is such a magical place! Let me know how I can help you plan.