Planning a vacation to the original Disney destination? The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is home to two parks, three on-property hotels, and Downtown Disney. Disneyland is Leslie’s home park, so she finally gets to share her expertise after nearly year of podcasting all about Walt Disney World. Take a deep dive into all the differences between Disneyland and Disney World and get all the tips for standing in line less, where to stay, and more.
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Disneyland is made up of two parks – Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure. The two are just steps from each other, making park hopping in a single day very easy. The esplanade between the two parks connects seamlessly to Downtown Disney, an area with shops and restaurants that is behind the security checkpoints but where no park ticket is required.
Also within close proximity (and often within walking distance) are a number of hotels, both on and off-property. If you are used to the layout of Walt Disney World, the footprint is just much, much smaller. It’s probably most similar to Universal Orlando resort, but on an even smaller scale overall.
Flying to Disneyland
Disneyland has a number of visitors from drive markets, but many choose to fly to Disneyland. If you plan to take a plane, choose your airport carefully. The Los Angeles area is notorious for terrible traffic.
Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA) is the smartest airport choice, as it is smaller and easier to navigate. Plus, it’s only about a 20 minute drive from the parks. Long Beach Airport is a close second best option, with an even smaller layout and about a 30 minute drive away from Disneyland. Southwest Airlines has a large presence at both airports, and Long Beach is also a JetBlue hub.
Use LAX for your Disneyland vacations only if it saves you substantial travel time by giving you a non-stop flight or much cheaper travel. Traffic can often make the drive an hour or more to and from LAX, and the airport has much longer lines and more difficult logistics. Leave additional time if you are arriving or departing into rush hour traffic.
Disneyland Hotels – On & Off Property
There are only three on-property hotels at Disneyland. If you are used to the value/moderate/deluxe distinctions of Walt Disney World, the hotel offerings at Disneyland may come as a bit of a shock. All three – the Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier – are pricey and more equivalent to a Disney World deluxe hotel. The cheapest you can usually find is about $300 a night at Paradise Pier, with the Disneyland Hotel and Grand Californian often going for $500-800 a night for standard rooms in peak seasons.
With many fewer hotel options than at Disney World, most Disneyland guests opt for off-property hotels. But at Disneyland, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice location. “Hotel Row” on Harbor Boulevard is just steps from the main gates, with over a dozen choices just a 5-10 minute walk away. There are a few dozen more that are within a 15 minute walk. Most of these hotels are budget to moderate level, but they get the job done when you simply need a clean space to lay your head.
Disneyland Crowds & Lines
Maybe you’ve seen the news over the past few years — Disneyland does have a crowd problem. With a lot more local Annual Passholders and a smaller footprint to absorb the people than the Orlando parks, the parks can get really crowded certain days of the year. It is what it is. And it may get worse before it gets better, when Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019.
But savvy travelers who go in with a plan and arrive early can dodge a lot of the effects of crowds. Always, always plan to make rope drop at Disneyland. You can get more done that first hour after the park opens than you can often get done all day.
And budget for Disneyland MaxPass, Disney’s paid version of FASTPASS that allows you to book rides on your smartphone. It’s well worth the $10 per person per day upcharge.
Disneyland Planning Tips
Although Disneyland has the downside of bigger crowds, Disneyland has a few advantages all its own – namely planning. Disneyland vacations can be planned much more last minute than Disney World.
Dining reservations can only be booked 60 days in advance, so no need to decide what you are going to eat a half year in advance. The most popular Disneyland character meals do sell out pretty quickly, so book those first. Interestingly, some of the fanciest Disneyland restaurants actually often have more availability for last minute reservations — Napa Rose, Carthay Circle, and Steakhouse 55.
The one thing that is in high demand is hotel space. With just three on-property hotels, rooms book up fast, even given the high prices. If you plan to stay on-property, snag a room reservation as soon as possible.
How Many Days Do you Need at Disneyland?
So you have the basics down, but how long should you go for? For first time visitors, Leslie recommends a three day trip. A day and a half in each park (or two days in Disneyland and a single day in Disney California Adventure) is about right to hit all the major attractions.
Getting a three day ticket also is highly advantageous because guests can get one Magic Morning early entry on 3+ day tickets. Magic Morning allows guests to enter Disneyland park only (not DCA) on either Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays one hour early. It’s the best time to ride some of the classic Fantasyland and Tomorrowland attractions with minimal waits. One caveat – you must book your park tickets in advance to get the Magic Morning benefit. So don’t wait until you get to the ticket counters!
If you only have one day at Disneyland, as many visitors to LA do, don’t try to do too much. Perhaps confine your visit to a single park (and save $50+ per person by foregoing the park hopper option).
What do you need to know if you’re planning on taking a trip to Disneyland? We discuss differences between the west and east coast parks as Leslie educates Joe about the ins and outs of planning a Disneyland vacation. From MaxPass to dining to differences in crowd calendars, we cover it all and take a deep dive into the happiest place on earth!
If you like what you hear, please share the podcast with others you think might enjoy it. Also, we’d appreciate if you subscribed on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, PlayerFM, iHeartRadio, or Google Play (please leave a positive review if you’re enjoying the show), liked our Facebook page, or followed us on Twitter!
You can also e-mail us at disneydeciphered AT gmail DOT com. Connect with Leslie @TripswithTykes on social media and Joe @asthejoeflies.
Leslie’s Guide to Disneyland Maxpass
1:51 – Disneyland’s location
2:40 – Getting there and transportation
4:15 – Theme park layout
6:38 – What you need to know about hotels
10:32 – What you need to know about the crowds
12:59 – How Fastpass works in Disneyland and what is Maxpass
15:33 – Planning tips
16:55 – Dining recommendations
18:12 – How long should you plan a trip for?
20:51 – Disney Dos and Don’ts