Since I’m a west coaster, Disneyland has been our family’s theme park of choice when planning a Disney vacation. Between trips with the kids, and a couple of runDisney races, I’ve been in the parks about ten times now. Recently I had a friend ask for some tips and I realized that I needed to share my best Disneyland tips here with my readers!
Disneyland Tips for Flights & Transportation
Flying to Disneyland
One of the great things about traveling to Disneyland is that there are a few airport options. Our favorite by far is the John Wayne/Santa Ana airport (SNA). It’s the closest airport, and also much easier to navigate than LAX. That being said, LAX often has some great airfare deals, so it’s worth considering.
Many airfare search engines and sites will allow you to check nearby airports, so you might consider that. The airports that are in the area (listed from closest to farthest) are: John Wayne Airport (SNA), Long Beach Airport (LGB), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Ontario International Airport (ONT), Bob Hope Airport (BUR), San Diego International Airport (SAN).
Disneyland Airport Transfers
In regards to getting to Disneyland from the airport, you can always rent a car or book a shuttle. It’s important to know that there are NOT Disney transportation options that are booked through Disney. They rely on third-party providers. This is different than the Magical Express options at Walt Disney World.
We recently rode the Disneyland Resort Express from LAX to the Disneyland Hotel and it was very easy. One of the biggest things to mention is that there are vans that will “steal” that name and hold up signs at the airport pick up area to try and get you to ride with them instead. The Disneyland Resort Express bus services are recognizable because they’re large buses that are wrapped in Disney images. The Disneyland Resort Express offers service from LAX and SNA.
Traveling by Car to Disneyland
You can also consider driving, we had a great road trip from Seattle to Disneyland. It can be a beautiful drive, and if you have some extra time you can really see some great attractions. You can also rent a car for your time at Disneyland. This is great if you plan to move around southern California during your trip. Just be prepared for some brutal traffic, and parking fees at hotels.
Tips for Buying Disneyland Tickets & Packages
Saving on Disneyland Tickets
Everyone is looking to save money, but in my experience there are that many hacks to save you money on your park tickets. One of the ones I’ve seen recommended most often is to purchase Disney gift cards with your REDCard at your local Target. This will save you 5%, then you can use the gift cards to buy your tickets.
Of course you can always use a cashback credit card and purchase gift cards at a store that offers you a gas discount or such so you’re “double-dipping” on some savings. Earning cashback on your card and earning a gas discount.
I have also heard of people finding discounted tickets at Costco, but I’ve never seen them in Seattle. For our very first Disneyland trip we purchased CityPass tickets, which gave us entry into various southern California attractions, including 3 days at Disneyland.
Tips for Buying Disneyland Packages
Booking a package is another option for your Disney vacation. My best Disneyland tips for packages is to look at Getaway Today, Costco Travel, and AAA, in addition to direct Disney pricing. I know and trust all three of those providers. Packages are a tricky thing with Disneyland. Often they won’t save you money. Sometimes they come with added perks like a gift card or a free character meal.
My best advice is to price out the options separately, then check those sites for the package prices. You might find one is better than another. Also be sure to consider change/cancellation policies if you book a package vs. booking separate. Seattle and west coast peeps, consider checking out Alaska Airlines vacation packages if you need airfare.
Where to stay at Disneyland is one of the hardest questions for me to answer. It all comes down to budgets and personal preference. We have stayed off site and driven in, we’ve stayed off site and walked over, and we’ve stayed on site at each of the three Disney properties.
If you have the budget, I highly recommend staying on site. There are three onsite hotels, The Paradise Pier Hotel, The Disneyland Hotel, and The Grand Californian Hotel. In addition to the nice property amenities, you’ll also get the perk of magic morning admission. This gets you into one of the parks an hour before opening, every day. This is especially good if you’re a fan of some of the prime attractions and want to get as much done as possible.
The Grand Californian Hotel
The Grand Californian is themed in a craftsman woodsy style, and features the special side entrance into Disney’s California Adventure park (near the Grizzy River Rapids attraction). I love the lobby of this hotel, especially at Christmas, and it’s the most understated in Disney decor of the three onsite properties.
The Disneyland Hotel
The Disneyland Hotel is probably their signature hotel and features three towers of rooms. The towers and rooms were remodeled a few years back and feature modern blue exterior glass and special LED light up headboards. Another signature feature of the Disneyland Hotel is the monorail waterslides at their pool. One of my favorite aspects to staying at the Disneyland Hotel is the walk through Downtown Disney to the parks. You also have quick access to the Monorail if you’d prefer to ride into Disneyland.
The Paradise Pier Hotel
If you’re really looking for a great theme park view, you might consider The Paradise Pier Hotel. We stayed here once with a room that overlooked the Paradise Pier section of Disney’s California Adventure park. It’s a great way to get a back-water view of the World of Color night show if you need to have early nights.
The Paradise Pier Hotel is now the farthest walk into the parks. When we stayed there you were able to cut through the Grand Californian, but I think that’s being frowned upon now. Plus, the security bag check stations are now near the hotels and Harbor entrance, with the Grand Californian having only one metal detector and table, so that means it might end up with longer lines.
Related Post: Hotels by Disneyland: How to Choose Where to Stay
If your budget won’t allow the added price of staying onsite, probably an extra $150-$300 per night, I definitely advise you to stay within walking distance. Our early trips we stayed far offsite and drove to the parking garage, but from what I’ve heard lately that can be a real time waste. There are quite a few budget hotel options available across the street from the park along Harbor Blvd.