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What is the best way to plan a Disneyland Vacation? This step-by-step guide will walk you through everything from finding the best Disneyland ticket deals to planning out your days. The Happiest Place On Earth is a magical place, with a little bit of planning and help.
Disneyland Resort is the most popular Southern California Theme Park but gone are the days of showing up at the resort, purchasing park tickets at the booth, walking through the gates, and enjoying your day.
Planning a Disney vacation can seem overwhelming. Between theme park reservations and making a park plan, it is easy to feel like the magical memories may not be worth the time investment. This can be especially true if it is your first visit to the California-based Disney theme parks.
That is why I have created this step-by-step, easy-to-follow guide to lead you through the best way to plan a Disneyland Vacation.
Planning A Disneyland Vacation – Important Tips
It is easy to get frustrated when thinking about everything that has to be done when planning a Disneyland vacation.
From choosing the best time to go, and finding the right hotel room for your family, it can seem like you have a million things to do to make your Disneyland trip happen. This article will be the ultimate guide to help you plan a Disneyland vacation without stress.
But first, here are a few tips that are super important when planning your vacation. Even if you don’t use my easy-to-follow guide, make sure you read these tips.
Make Sure You Are Looking At Disneyland Info
You would think that since both parks are Disney-owned and operated, Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort would have very similar guidelines and rules. NOPE!
Everything from what time you can parkhop, to perks for Disney hotels, can vary greatly between the two resorts.
That is why it is important to make sure the Disney parks info you are reading is for Disneyland.
Pinterest is full of “Disney Tips” that often only refer to Walt Disney World. Or a pin featuring great Disneyland tips will be misrepresented by Walt Disney World photos.
How To Make Sure You Are Getting Disneyland Resort Information
When planning your trip, you can easily make sure the information you are getting is for Disneyland by looking for context clues (such as Anaheim, California, Walt’s Original Park, etc). You can also verify that the site you are on focuses on Disneyland, and not world.
Second, if you join a Facebook community, join one that specifies DISNEYLAND in the title, like my Disneyland with Kids Facebook Group (you don’t have to have kids to benefit from this group).
Even in Disney groups that cover both, if you ask a question about Disneyland (even specifically naming that park) you often get info based on Walt Disney World. It is better to just join a group exclusively focused on Disneyland.
Finally, if there is ever a question about the information you are receiving, you can check it against the Disneyland Website. While this may not help for insider tips, if you notice they are mentioning rides or shows not available at Disneyland, that is a big hint. You can find attractions and entertainment easily using the search function on the Disneyland Website.
Allow Yourself Time To Plan A Disneyland Vacation
A great time to plan your Disneyland Vacation is as soon as you know the dates you want to go. That doesn’t mean you can never plan a last-minute trip. It just means that booking early is a good idea as it will help you get the best prices and hotel deals.
Disneyland usually opens the ability to book a vacation package for the next year in late summer. With that in mind, remember that some good neighbor hotels do not open up their rooms for the entire year that early.
If all you see is the Disneyland Hotel, or other Disney-owned properties, you may just be looking too early for other hotels to have availability.
How Far In Advance Should You Plan A Disneyland Vacation?
I usually suggest planning your vacation at least 90 days in advance. Especially if it is your first time. That will give you plenty of time to purchase Disneyland tickets, make theme park reservations, research dining options and popular attractions, and not feel stressed about everything.
If possible, booking 5-6 months in advance is ideal. Especially if you want to have more hotel options, are going with a large group, or are unsure of the planning process.
Make Sure You Get The Best Deal When Planning Your Disneyland Vacation
It is easy to get caught up in price comparisons, asking multiple travel agents for quotes, and searching for how to get discount Disneyland Tickets.
I have a great option for you to book your vacation while ensuring you get the best deal on tickets and hotel. My partners at Get Away Today offer discount Disneyland tickets and exclusive hotel deals. You can book these items together as a vacation package, or you can purchase separately.
I personally suggest booking a package to lock in all the possible savings. You can even use my discount code ThisCrazy10 for additional savings on Southern California vacation packages of 2 or more nights.
And the good news is, not only does Get Away Today have exclusive hotel offers like free nights, they also have a low price guarantee which means if you find the same package at a better price, you can call them up and they will adjust the price and credit your account or issue a refund.
They even offer a layaway plan and Peace Of Mind Insurance. Both are a great way to book now, without worrying about the “what ifs” that may happen between now and your vacation.
The Best Way To Plan A Disneyland Vacation: Easy 7-Step Guide
You are probably ready to plan your vacation and want me to get to the steps.
So let’s get started!
Planning a Disneyland Vacation is overwhelming but I have broken it down into 7 easy steps to help simplify the process while ensuring you have a magical vacation.
1. Pick Your Dates – The First Step To Plan Your Disneyland Vacation
The first step to planning your Disneyland vacation is picking when to visit Disneyland Resort. Will you go to Disneyland during Spring Break? Or maybe Halloween at Disneyland is your dream. Of course, the Holidays at Disneyland is a wonderful time to go.
Hopefully, I didn’t make you doubt your dates.
In truth, any time at Disneyland is a great time (at least in my opinion). If Disneyland crowds are your biggest concern then you will want to try and visit during the slower months of mid-January, February (excluding President’s Day week), or September (after Labor Day).
However, slower times often mean shorter hours and select attractions may be closed for maintenance or refurbishment.
If you want to make sure to get on all your favorite rides, Spring, Summer, and Holiday Seasons at Disneyland will give you the best chance at everything being available. It will also add long lines to your visit, so be sure you read up on ways to survive the crowds and spend less time in line.
Finally, make sure you check the Anaheim Convention Center calendar for any major events. The biggest ones tend to be the Natural Food Convention, NAM, and D23 or Star Wars Con.
Now, that you have picked dates, you can start booking your trip.
2. Best Way To Plan A Disneyland Vacation – Purchase Your Theme Park Tickets
You have your dates, and now it is time to actually book your vacation. I am listing the tickets and hotel as two separate steps because there is a lot to decide on each.
But really, they are two parts to one step in planning your Disneyland vacation.
You can take care of both together when you book your vacation package. Again, I suggest using my preferred partner, Get Away Today. I use them for all my trips and the booking process is super easy… once you make a few decisions.
Choosing The Right Disneyland Tickets For Your Vacation
There are a lot of decisions to make when choosing Disneyland tickets. You will hear or read many terms like parkhopper ticket, Genie+, multi-day tickets, and beyond.
I will walk you through each of these options.
How Many Days To Spend In The Parks
The first decision you will need to make is how many days to spend in Disneyland. Will you only do a few, very full days? Or Maybe you will take advantage of longer tickets so you can enjoy parks at a leisurely pace.
There is no right or wrong answer, but I will mention that the more days you go, the better price per day you will get on tickets.
Right now my partners at Get Away Today are offering 5th Day Free on Disneyland Tickets!
I personally always go for three days or more when traveling with my family. It gives us time to enjoy everything we want to at the Disneyland Resort while still being able to take mid-day breaks.
Of course, we visit Disneyland A LOT,
When we first started going with our kids, we would always go for four or five days so we could get a lot done on our annual trip.
The next decision about tickets you need to make is if you want to parkhop. Parkhopping allows park entrance into both Disneyland and California Adventure on the same day.
There are rules to parkhopping at Disneyland that you will want to read up on before your trip if you purchase parkhopper tickets, but parkhopping is a personal decision. You will have a great vacation with or without it.
Parkhopping has an additional cost of $60 per ticket on multi-day tickets. That is $60 total for the entire length of your ticket. Whether two days or five days. You can not just add parkhopping on one day of multi-day tickets.
In fact, adding parkhopping to a one-day ticket is $65. More than adding it to a multi-day ticket.
While parkhopping is a flat rate add-on, no matter the length of your ticket, our next ticket option is a per-day upcharge.
The new Disney Genie Plus at Disneyland allows you to access shorter wait times via the Lightning Lanes available on select attractions. You can get all the details on Genie+ and how to use it in my complete guide, but for now, we will just cover the basic info you need when deciding if you want to purchase it with your tickets.
Genie+ begins at $25 per ticket per day. But it is based on demand. So that price may go up during peak park days.
Unlike at Walt Disney World, where you can only purchase Genie+ the day of your park visit, Disneyland allows you to pre-purchase Genie+ on your ticket, for the length of your ticket. This will lock in the $25/day price for each ticket. So a family of four going two days would have an added cost of $200 to their tickets. However, purchasing day by day, that price could go up.
If you are going during a busy time, I definitely suggest prepurchasing Genie+
Should You Buy Other Theme Park Tickets?
If you are planning on visiting other Southern California Theme Parks, such as heading to Universal Studios Hollywood to check out the new Super Nintendo World, you can also purchase those at the same time with Get Away Today.
In fact, they offer a multi-park discount, and you don’t have to do anything. Just having both the Disneyland tickets and the additional park tickets in your cart, their system will automatically apply the extra discount.
3. Plan a Disneyland Vacation: Tips For Booking Your Hotel
As I mentioned before, you can easily do this step at the same time as the previous one (buying tickets) when you book a vacation package.
If you find that you are coming across inflated hotel prices (compared to other dates) this may mean there are special events happening either at Disneyland or at the convention center. If this will be a deal breaker, you can head back to step 1 and find new dates.
The biggest decision will be what hotel to book. While I can’t answer that in this post, there are plenty of hotels to choose from for your vacation. Here are some tips for booking your hotel for your Disneyland vacation.
Should You Stay At A Disney Resort Hotel?
The first big decision you will need to make is if you want to stay at one of the three Disney-owned properties at Disneyland Resort. Staying onsite will cost more money, but comes with Early Entry (the replacement to Extra Magic Hour) to the Disneyland Resort parks each day of your stay (ticket and reservation required).
The three on-site hotels vary greatly in price and luxury level, so here is a basic overview of the three options.
Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel (Soon To Be Pixar Place Hotel)
This is a lower-level hotel and would be comparable to a moderate hotel at Walt Disney World (think upper 3-star rating). The hotel is also the furthest away from the park entrances, although Disneyland recently added a walkway from this hotel to Disney California Adventure, which enters at an exclusive park entrance at Paradise Garden Park (near Pixar Pier).
The hotel has a single pool but also boasts the tallest slide of the three properties.
This hotel runs around $350/night and is the hotel for those who don’t want to pay for the two other, higher luxury hotels on property, but still want Early Entry and other onsite perks.
Personally, I would rather stay off-site at Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, a much nicer hotel with a full waterpark, for the same price-point.
The Disneyland Hotel
If you are looking for an extra magical stay, the Disneyland Hotel is a great option. The hotel is the original on-site hotel and is opening a new DVC Tower with villas this year.
The Disneyland Hotel boasts rooms with a light-up, musical headboard, comfortable beds, onsite dining and shopping, and an amazing pool area with two monorail-themed slides. The hotel has tons of Disney history and photos.
If you want a true, full-blown Disney experience, this is where you will want to stay.
The hotel does not have its own access to the parks, and you will have to walk through Downtown Disney to get to the gates.
Another option is to walk into the side of Downtown Disney closest to the Disneyland Hotel and use the Disneyland Monorail to get to Tomorrowland in Disneyland Park (ticket and park reservation required).
To enter Disney California Adventure, you must walk the entire Downtown Disney District to the gates.
The price of this hotel often runs at $500/night or more. It comes with the same on-site perks as the previous hotel.
The Disneyland Hotel is a great option if this is your first trip and you really want to have the full-on Disney experience.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa
The top-tier on-site hotel is the Grand Californian. It is also the most expensive, and closest to the parks, with a private entry for direct access to Disney California Adventure Park.
This hotel would be comparable to a Walt Disney World Deluxe Hotel. A big difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World is even with a price point of over $700/night, the Grand Californian does not give you additional evening hours (no Disneyland hotel does). This makes the price a little harder to swallow, even for a AAA four-diamond property.
The hotel does have several dining options, including two Disneyland character dining experiences. It has multiple pools and hot tubs as well.
One Major Benefit For Disneyland Hotel Guests
One great benefit for Disney hotel guests is that their hotel reservation opens up a different theme park reservation calendar. This means, if the dates you wanted to go do not have park reservations available, you may still be able to make reservations if you are staying on-site.
Choosing An Off-Site Disneyland-Area Hotel
If you prefer to stay off-site, you will have no shortage of options.
One of the best ways to save money at Disneyland is to stay off-site. Many of these hotels are a short walk to Disneyland, and some are even closer than the Disney-owned properties (save the Grand Californian).
They also boast plenty of amenities… some even have water parks for their guests.
Some of the best places to stay are the Harbor Blvd Hotels, across the street from Disneyland.
When you plan a Disneyland Vacation, remember to think about what hotel amenities are most important to your travel group. While your must-have amenities may include free breakfast or a mini-fridge in the room, also think about other amenities. In the summer you may want a Disneyland area hotel with a great pool. Or perhaps you want a hotel that can accommodate large families in a single-room booking.
Booking Tip: My partners at Get Away Today have close relationships with the Anaheim hotels they work with. This has allowed them to offer exclusive perks at some of the best hotels, such as free breakfast (when not normally free), reduced or free parking, and even free nights.
If you are looking for a great place to stay, be sure you read the reviews on the booking site, hotel site, or TripAdvisor. It is also a great idea to hop into my Disneyland Facebook Group to ask others about their experiences and recommendations.
4. Don’t Forget This Important Step: Making Theme Park Reservations
Disneyland Resort requires park reservations to visit the theme parks. Reservations are available 120 days in advance for ticket holders, or 90 days in advance for Disneyland Annual Pass – Magic Key – holders.
If you decided to pay more for your Disneyland tickets by purchasing directly through Disney, they most likely had you make your theme park reservations.
However, if you went for the best Disneyland ticket deals by purchasing through Get Away Today, you will need to make your park reservations once they email you your ticket info. You can follow my guide to making Disney theme park reservations and it only takes a few minutes.
You will need to decide which park you want to visit each day. If you have park hopper tickets you will need to decide which park you want to start at each day.
5. Plan A Disneyland Vacation – Transportation Options
Maybe you have already decided if you want to fly to Disneyland or drive, but transportation is the next big step to planning your Disneyland vacation.
Will You Fly Into Disneyland
If you are flying, be sure you look into what airport to fly into for Disneyland. There are actually several choices. Flight prices, schedules, and airlines will all play a part in your airport decision.
Don’t forget to think about ground transportation from the airport to your hotel. While LAX may be an appealing choice, the price of transportation to and from the airport, in addition to the time it will take (90 minutes depending on traffic) may make another airport a better option.
My personal favorite airports are Orange County (SNA) and Long Beach (LGB). They are also the closest airports to Disneyland, each less than a 30-minute drive from the resort area.
While rideshare is an option for your ground transportation, I personally suggest looking into Karmel Shuttles. They offer both shared transport and private vans from the major airports to your Anaheim area hotel.
Driving To Disneyland
If you are making a family road trip out of your vacation, be sure to plan out your route, including stops. If you will need to stop somewhere overnight, be sure to book those accommodations.
When choosing your route, remember that the fastest route may not always be the best one for your family.
The fastest route for us is through the desert with 12+ hours (of the 16-hour trip) having no cell service and only tiny towns. While we have driven it in the past, we have decided that we generally prefer driving a slightly longer route to stay on major freeways with cell service and plenty of towns/cities along the route.
Don’t forget during this step to budget your fuel as well. I always budget double what gas buddy or my own math calculates the cost as. This helps make sure I have plenty of funds available if fuel prices increase, or if we want to add some side trips to our trip last minute.
6. Now The Fun Part – Making Your Disneyland Game Plan
So you have planned your Disneyland travel details and even picked which park you will visit (or start at) each day. This is where you get to have fun and figure out your must-do attractions, favorite characters you want to try and meet, and any foods you want to try.
When you are planning your days, be sure to learn about each park. Disneyland, Walt’s original Magic Kingdom, is home to many of the classic Disney rides, such as “it’s a small world”, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Carribban, and Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Disneyland Park is also home to the Star Wars Land – Galaxy’s Edge where guests can fly the Millennium Falcon or join the resistance.
At Disney California Adventure Park you will be able to race other guests in Cars Land, or sling webs with Spider Man.
Depending on the time of year you may also find a food and wine festival taking place. You can even purchase a Disney Sip and Savor pass to taste your way through the festival.
Tips For Planning Your Disneyland Park Days
When Planning your Disneyland vacation, one of my best tips is to download the Disneyland App and use it to look up rides, dining options, and more. There are so many hidden things the Disneyland App can help you with during the planning process.
Don’t forget to look up where your favorite Disney characters may be available to visit.
While characters do show up in random locations at times, there are several set character locations. The fab 5 are often on Main Street or in Mickey’s Toontown, Princesses are located in the Royal Hall and put on plays in the Royal Theatre. Superheroes are in Avengers Campus.
Making A Park Plan
Make a loose plan for your days. A plan will help you hit the ground running each day. Be sure to learn about Rope Drop at Disneyland, as well as knowing which rides have an Individual Lightning Lane.
While a plan is super important, remember to be flexible. Between unexpected ride closures, to unexpected crowds or long lines, things come up.
While making a park plan, be sure to think about what you will do for dining. While some locations will require an advance reservation, some of the best restaurants (in my opinion) are what we call quick-service, or walk-up service, locations. In fact, many include a Mobile Ordering option in the Disneyland App.
Planning Other Activities
You may be there for Disneyland, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do other activities during your vacation.
Maybe you want to visit one of the beaches near Disneyland or visit Knott’s Berry Farm.
Either way, be sure to look into other activities you hope to do and plan accordingly.
Plan For Disneyland Spending
Make a plan for your Disneyland spending. There are so many cute souvenirs at Disneyland that you could easily blow your budget in the many gift shops.
A favorite tip for many to help control spending is to buy Disney Gift Cards (I use the Red Card Trick to buy mine) and use those for your spending money in the parks. You can use Disney gift cards at most places in the parks.
7. Make Your Dining Reservations 60 Days In Advance
You can start making dining reservations, for Disneyland restaurants that require it, 60 days in advance.
Disney has not made snagging popular reservations easy on guests. The time they open the reservations varies. Tomorrow they may open the 60th day out at 6 am, but today they may have opened them at 4 am.
Insider Disneyland Dining Tip: If you miss snagging your preferred dining reservation, you can use Mouse Dining to set up alerts for those dates and locations. If someone cancels, and a reservation becomes open, they will alert you. They have both free plans and paid plans, depending on your needs.
Now is also a great time to look through the menus for each location to get an idea of what food you may like to try.
Bonus Step: Finding the Best Disneyland Tips When Planning Your Vacation
The last step in planning your Disneyland vacation is to read up and learn all the best Disneyland Tips. Maybe you start reading through the many tips in my Disneyland Community Facebook Group, or you read tips on my website. There are lots of Disneyland tips that will help make your Disneyland vacation even more magical, and less stressful.
Here are some of the articles I suggest you look over to help prepare for your Disneyland vacation:
Learn all about Disneyland’s Height Requirements
If you are taking small children, you may want to read up on Strollers at Disneyland
If a member of your travel party has special needs, learn about Disneyland’s Disability Access Service (DAS)
Looking to save money on food, here is everything to know about bringing food into Disneyland
Read up on MagicBands at Disneyland to help decide if you need one
Best Way To Plan A Disneyland Vacation Recap
While planning a Disneyland vacation may seem like a huge undertaking, when you break it down into these 7 simple steps it becomes a lot easier.
Of course, the most important step to planning a Disneyland vacation comes during it – HAVE FUN and make magical memories. Once you are at Disneyland, do your best not to stress or overthink things.
If you need help with anything during your Disneyland trip, look for a Cast Member as they are always happy to help. They will do their best to guide you and resolve any problems that come up.
If this is your first visit to Disneyland, soak in all of the magic, and realize you probably won’t get everything done during your visit. That just means it will be okay to plan another trip in the future.
Don’t forget that the more you save on Disneyland vacations the more often you can go. Get the best Disneyland deals by booking through my travel partners at Get Away Today.