If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we cover everything from flights to hotels to riding all the best rides. We’ve even got the newest on the opening of Galaxy’s Edge! So grab a cup of coffee (or tea, or water), settle in, and let’s start planning your trip to Disneyland!
Basics of Disneyland Resort
Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim, California, about an hour outside of downtown Los Angeles by car. The entire resort comprises the following:
The “castle park,” Disneyland (or “Disneyland Park” for clarity)
A second park, Disney California Adventure
A shopping and dining area, Downtown Disney
In the surrounding area—that is, within walking distance—there are also countless hotels, stores, and restaurants that are not directly affiliated with Disney.
Overview of the Parks
Disneyland Park is THE traditional castle park. The park is dedicated to "the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America." All other castle parks bear the marks of the Disneyland roots. Zealous fans will point out that while Walt Disney had a significant role in planning and designing Walt Disney World, Disneyland is the only park he actually set foot in.
Disneyland Park features the famous lands of Main Street U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Mickey’s Toontown, Frontierland, and, as of May 31, 2019, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Disney California Adventure is, at least in name, a park dedicated to those who built the Golden State. In actuality, it is sort of a place for Disney to put a great collection of attractions with some measure of Disney theming. We don’t mean to sell Disney California Adventure short, it’s a really good second park.
Dates, Events, and Crowds in 2019 and 2020
In deciding when to visit Disneyland, you’re going to need to consider events specific to 2019 (that is, the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge) and other seasonal events.
Our Opinion On Visiting in 2019 (Briefly)
The Disney parks blogosphere—including us—has been surprised by the low crowds at the June 24 opening of Galaxy’s Edge. Here’s Disney Tourist Blog with some coverage of it, which also is mirrored in this twitter thread I did about it. I can’t do more than apologize for being wrong and say I was acting on the best information I had.
Well, I can also give you this Arrested Development reference:
Kenny: It’s not overstating this to say this might be the single biggest opening in theme park history, at least since Disneyland opened in 1955.
Narrator: It was overstating it.
And in fairness to me:
Kenny: Millions of people will visit in 2019, and the majority of them are going to have a fantastic time.
Narrator: They did!
Previously, we advised skipping 2019 altogether. This was in part because we were expecting a dumpster fire around the Galaxy’s Edge opening, but that wasn’t the only reason. Rather than try and make predictions (because honestly at this point Disney is more than a step ahead of the blogosphere on this one), we want to highlight some things you might consider in planning a 2019 visit.
Holidays 2019. We’ve always endorsed visiting around the holidays because holiday crowds are predictably bad, but you’re at least getting something out of it. You go into a holiday visit knowing it will be bad, but visiting for the feeling of being there during the holidays and for the specific holiday offerings. We stand by this position.
Rise of the Resistance. Rise of the Resistance is now scheduled to open January 17, 2020 in Disneyland. We see no reason to avoid putting of a trip until end of January through February 2020, other than the relatively cool weather. Noting—again—that we were wrong about crowds once before, we still expect a bump around January 17 for Rise of the Resistance.
Crowd Levels at Disneyland
Disneyland Resort “suffers” from a huge demand problem. This is chiefly the product of its placement adjacent to the second largest metropolitan area in the United States. There are lots of annual passholders at Disneyland and lots of people just spending a day or two visiting from within California.
Again, though, Disney has managed to keep crowds low through the June 24 opening of Galaxy’s Edge. All we can say for the remainder of 2019 is that the old playbook is out, and I wouldn’t really trust or dare to make any predictions. We’ve written more about crowd calendars at Disneyland, if you want more in-depth thoughts on those.
Seasonal Events at Disneyland
Disneyland celebrates a variety of events, including Halloween, Christmas, Lunar New Year, Food & Wine (in Spring), Dia de los Muertos, and others. We think the most compelling of these are Halloween and Christmas, primarily because they feature the Haunted Mansion overlay “Haunted Mansion Holiday,” which is a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay on Haunted Mansion.
Christmas at Disneyland. Holiday events at Disneyland started on November 9 in 2018 and ended the first week of January 2019. Disney Tourist Blog has the best coverage of Christmas at Disneyland.
(ENDED) Lunar New Year at Disney California Adventure. From January 25 to February 17, Disney California Adventure is celebrating Lunar New Year.
(ENDED) Food and Wine at Disney California Adventure. From March 1 to April 23, Disney California Adventure will host a Food & Wine festival. This isn’t anywhere near the size of the flagship annual event at Epcot, but it is still a good event. It really brings in the local crowds, though, so be prepared for that park to be busier than usual.
How Long to Visit Disneyland
For a first visit, we advise five days at Disneyland resort. This might be a bit surprising—surely even four days for two parks would be overkill! But Disneyland is a special place.
Disneyland Park is not a one-day park. It takes at least one and a half, more like two, days to get a full sense of the place. Disney California Adventure probably is a one-day park, but repeat rides on the best attractions will push you to one and a half days.
So, in a normal world, you’d want something like three and a half days for these parks. But for the time being, you’ll also need at least half of a day to fully experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. First time visitors will also want to take things slower, maybe see the hotels, and spend some time in Downtown Disney. All that adds up to a recommended five-day visit.
That said, we do think three or four days is enough to cover at least all the highlights. We don’t think two days is enough to justify making the trip out there.
Getting To Disneyland
Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim, California, about one hour outside central Los Angeles by car. In this section, we’re going to be writing for guests flying to Disneyland, covering airport choice and getting to the resort from the airport.
Flying to Los Angeles
If you’re flying to Disneyland Resort, you'll need to choose between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA). SNA is closer but served by fewer flights. LAX is farther but one of the busiest airports in the world.
Economy flights to both airports can be found as low as $100 to $200 per person, sometimes even lower. You can read more about getting the best flight prices. If you want to use miles, you're likely looking at 25,000 round trip. We’ve written about flying domestic using points before.
Get to Disneyland from LAX
LAX to Disneyland is probably the worst of all the airport-to-Disney trips. There is a bus that takes you from LAX to a wide variety of hotels on or near Disney property, the Disneyland Express (or Disneyland Resort Express). It is operated by Coach USA.
The Disneyland Resort Express recommends you buy your ticket in advance via their website. If you don’t do so, be sure to know you'll need to pay with a card on board. Prices are listed here, and currently come in at $48 adult round trip, $14 child round trip. The biggest downside to these we’ve heard is that because of the number of stops, you can wind up on the bus much longer than the trip actually should take.
Otherwise, we’ve always just taken an Uber from the airport to the Disneyland area. The price is usually around $50 ($53 and $45 for our last two trips), though surges, like the one above, can definitely bring that up. At $50, though, it’s an easy decision to go with Uber over a bus for parties two or larger. There are shared shuttles as well, and MouseSavers has more information on those.
Getting to Disneyland from SNA
Disneyland Resort Express also operated from SNA, and at that airport they actually have a ticket booth. This should help you to be sure (1) that you find the bus and (2) that the schedule works for you. Prices come in at $35 round trip adult and $11 round trip child. With Ubers often coming in at under $30, our recommendation would definitely be to Uber from SNA.
Where to Stay
Visiting Disneyland, you have two good options for accommodations: hotels and Airbnb.
Hotels at and Near Disneyland Resort
There are a huge number of hotels at and near Disneyland Resort. The map below shows a sampling. For reference, the red star on the left is Disneyland Hotel and the purple star in the middle is the entrance area for both parks. You can see several hotels along the right are a shorter distance to the parks than Disneyland Hotel.
The three Disney-managed hotels are: Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. All three are short walks from the parks (5 to 15 minutes), and Grand Californian is adjacent to and has an entrance into Disney California Adventure.
Beyond the Disney hotels, there are a variety of hotels that partner with Disney in some fashion (e.g. "good neighbor" hotels) and many that are nearby but don’t partner with Disney. To learn more about the non-Disney hotels we recommend you visit Disney Tourist Blog. We’ve stayed at The Anaheim and Best Western Plus Park Place Inn and Mini Suites and will probably visit both again.
Prices at the Disney Hotels
Disney’s hotels at Disneyland are expensive, even compared to their Walt Disney World counterparts. How expensive? Here are the average pre-tax room rates for some Disney hotels one night in September:
All-Star Movies (Walt Disney World) - $129
Paradise Pier Hotel (Disneyland) - $356
BoardWalk Inn (Walt Disney World) - $450
Disneyland Hotel (Disneyland) - $475
Contemporary Resort (Walt Disney World) - $505
Grand Californian Hotel & Spa (Disneyland) - $626
Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel is Disney’s cheapest option at Disneyland, and it’s almost 3X the price of a value resort at Walt Disney World. Contemporary Resort—our favorite hotel at Walt Disney World (and one of its most expensive)—comes in well below the Grand Californian.
There are also countless hotels area around Disneyland that range from $200 to $300 per night, including several that are closer to the parks than Paradise Pier and Disneyland Hotel.
Reviews of the Disney Hotels
We have stayed at all three Disney hotels and reviewed each separately:
Generally, we don’t think Disney’s hotels are worth staying at just for the perks. The big perk is Extra Magic Hour at Disneyland and Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure, but this in no way justifies the price of the hotels.
We don’t think Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel is worth a visit unless you only have time for a two day trip and really would prefer to have Extra Magic Hour or you would like one night in their awesome theme park view rooms that look into Disney California Adventure.
Disneyland Hotel and, more so, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa are two of the best hotels in the area. Whether that justifies their prices is up to you. If you want to stay in the nicest, highest quality hotel in the immediate area, it would probably be Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, but you’ll be paying 2X to 3X the going local rate to stay there.
Airbnb at Disneyland
Airbnb is a thriving business around Disneyland. We paid $101 per night for two of us to stay in a nice RV (“glamping”) about 2 miles from Disneyland. Our nightly Uber rides cost between $5 and $10, and our morning walks took about 30-45 minutes.
While we would certainly consider staying at a Disney hotel in the future, Airbnb is far and away our go-to. With Uber being so convenient and Airbnb rates easily beating hotels, it just makes the most sense.
As with Walt Disney World, you have a variety of ticket options when visiting Disneyland. Here are our tips for what tickets to get and where to get them.
To Hop or Not to Hop?
If this is your first trip to Disneyland, get park hopper. The reason is simple: you won’t know what park you or your kids prefer in advance. If you have very small children and will be catering entirely to them, then one-park-per-day tickets could work (because you'll easily prefer Disneyland Park). Otherwise, it’s best to see where the wind takes you, the parks are only about a minute apart, walking.
Park hopper also enables you to better take advantage of MaxPass, part of Disney’s FASTPASS system for skipping lines on popular rides, as you’ll have a wider selection of rides to choose from on any given day.
Disneyland Annual Pass
We have a post covering the Disneyland Annual Pass options. Aside from discounted passes for local residents, Disneyland annual passes start at $799 with dining and merchandise discounts starting at 10%. That’s the equivalent of about five to eight days of visits over at least two trips.
For the most part, deciding on a Disneyland annual pass comes simply down to how many trips you’re planning on taking in the next 365 days. As for us, we’re frequent visitors to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, so we’re Premier Passport holders—essentially a combination of the Disney Platinum Plus Pass at Walt Disney World and the Disney Signature Plus Passport at Disneyland.
Planning Your Time At The Parks
Finally, let’s talk about actually putting together plans for how you’ll spend your time at the resort, particularly in the two parks.
What The Parks Offer
If you’re completely new to Disney parks, you might wonder exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Well, each park offers a variety of rides, entertainment (both stage shows and “street” performances), stores, restaurants, and character greetings.
If you’re coming to a Disney park, you shouldn’t be coming for the newest most exciting thrill rides in the world—though they’ve got a few of those, too. Rather, you’re really coming for the variety and quality of offerings. It’s a “fun for the whole family” atmosphere where kids and adults alike are expected to enjoy all types of rides and entertainment.
We have a guide to the rides of Disneyland Park and a guide to the rides of Disney California Adventure. If you want to learn more about characters, we recommend downloading the Disneyland app, which lists all ongoing character appearances at the resort. There are also four restaurants (one at each hotel and Plaza Inn at Disneyland Park) that offer character dining, where you’ll be able to meet characters during your meal.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land)
We have a significant amount of content that covers just Galaxy’s Edge. In particular, our Guide to Star Wars Land gives an overview of the land and what it offers, while our Disneyland Galaxy’s Edge Touring Strategy discusses fitting the land into your day at Disneyland.
We also have three trip report posts that cover our experiences in the land:
FASTPASS at Disneyland
FASTPASS is a free “skip the line” system at Disneyland. We have a full strategy with the details of the Disneyland FASTPASS and MaxPass systems here. We’ll offer a short description of these systems here, though.
For the seventeen rides across the two parks that offer the service, guests are able to use kiosks to obtain a FASTPASS time later in the day. When you return during that time slot, you’ll be stuck in the shorter FASTPASS queue, rather than the regular standby queue.
FASTPASS times are distributed on a rolling basis, with earlier one-hour slots being allocated first, then the times rolling forward five minutes at a time until all the times for the day have been allocated. Once you grab a FASTPASS, you have to wait between 30 minutes and two hours before getting another FASTPASS.
MaxPass at Disneyland
MaxPass is a paid enhancement that allows you to make FASTPASS reservations via your phone. Guests who use MaxPass will also have a maximum wait of 90 minutes before they can grab a new FASTPASS (instead of two hours) and access to all their Photopass photos for the day. You can click through the above links to read more about MaxPass.
MaxPass costs $15 per ticket per day. Generally, we recommend getting MaxPass for at least one full day in each park. Almost all of our planning material assumes you’ll have MaxPass for at least one day.