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.
Tips for the Parks and Resort Layout
It’s good to understand the layout of the Disneyland Resort before your trip. Especially if you’re a Walt Disney World native, the parks will throw you off a bit. The Disneyland Resort is the title that encompases the three onsite hotels, the Downtown Disney District, and the two theme parks, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. All of these are within easy walking distance.
I highly recommend you look over the online Disneyland maps before your trip and start to acquaint yourself with how the lands are laid out and where the signature rides are located. Navigating the parks can be a tight and crowded affair, so you want to avoid pulling out your park map in the middle of main street. One of my best Disneyland tips is to understand the resort layout and where your prime rides are before your vacation.
The Disneyland park is what some people term and compare to the Magic Kingdom park in WDW. However it is known as Disneyland. This is where you’ll find all your favorite classic lands, Adventureland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Mickey’s Toontown, and Main Street USA.
Some of the signature Disneyland attractions are Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Star Tours, as well as the classic Fantasyland attractions like Peter Pan and the Teacups.
Disney’s California Adventure Park
Disney’s California Adventure Park was the expansion park that opened in 2001. It is located directly across the esplanade from Disneyland, making hopping between both parks easy. In Disney’s California Adventure park you’ll find Cars Land, Hollywood Land, A Bugs Land, Paradise Pier, and Grizzly Peak.
Some of the signature attractions at Disney’s California Adventure Park include Frozen Ever After, Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’ over the World, Grizzly River Rapids, California Screamin’, and Toy Story Midway Mania.
Both parks offer a lot of great attractions and entertainment options, so I highly recommend visiting both.
Tips for Entering the Parks
As I mentioned above, there are security bag checks for the property. These are found at the Grand Californian, at the end of Downtown Disney by the Disneyland Hotel, and near the pedestrian entrances to the resort. Be ready to have your bags unzipped, and to walk through a metal detector. No matter what line you pick, it will always be the slowest moving one. :)
Once you’ve cleared the security check you’re now ready to hit the parks or Downtown Disney. If you’re entering one of the parks I highly recommend getting all your tickets ready. If you have multi-day tickets, you’ll need to get your picture taken at the turnstile on the first day you use your ticket. You’ll also want to write your name (first is fine) on your ticket so you can keep everyone’s tickets matched to the correct person. The photos are used to prevent people from reselling unused days on multi-day tickets.
If you have a one-day ticket, you won’t have your photo taken, BUT you need to get a handstamp when exiting the park if you want to re-enter. This handstamp will then be checked with blacklight when you re-enter with a one-day ticket. If you have a multi-day ticket, you do NOT need to get a handstamp when you leave the parks, so just pick the quickest turnstile to exit.
Once you’ve cleared the turnstiles, be sure to grab a park map and entertainment schedule. These are stuffed in slots at the turnstiles. I also recommend that you immediately put away your tickets in a safe but accessible spot. These tickets will be used to get fastpasses in the parks.
Tips for Fastpasses
Read my full guide of tips for Disney MaxPass and Disneyland FASTPASS
If you’ve never been to a Disney park, you might have no idea what fastpasses are. Fastpasses are reservation tickets that are available for most of the popular rides, as well as some of the entertainment options. They’re free to obtain with your park admission and allow you to come back at a later time to ride the ride with a shorter wait.
How you get fastpasses is by going to the participating ride and inserting your park admission ticket into the specified fastpass distribution machines. For each ticket you insert you’ll receive a fastpass reservation that is linked to your park ticket. These reservations will give you a specified one-hour timeframe for when you can return to the ride and enter the fastpass queue. While standby lines can be an hour or even two hour wait, fastpass lines often have little to no waits.
It’s important to realize that you have to wait two hours between fastpasses. There’s a rare exception if the return time for your fastpass is before the two hour timeframe. Say you get a fastpass for Soarin’ at 10:30 am and it has a return timeframe of 11:30-12:30, you can get a new fastpass at 11:30 instead of waiting the two hours from 10:30 (i.e. 12:30). Another exception is that the entertainment fastpasses aren’t linked to the attraction fastpasses. So getting fastpasses for World of Color, Fantasmic, and Frozen Ever After don’t keep you from getting other fastpasses.
Realize that fastpasses are limited. It’s quite common for popular rides to run out of fastpasses on busy park days. Some of the most popular attractions that can run out are Radiator Springs Racers, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, and possibly Star Tours.
Disneyland Fastpass is free to use for all guests with a park ticket. MaxPass is an additional fee option that allows you to book your fastpass reservations via your phone instead of going to the ride distribution machines.
My Disneyland Fastpass Tricks
There are some fastpass strategies that are part of my best Disneyland tips. The first tip is to designate a fastpass “runner” if you’re traveling as a group. This is a person who is good at navigating crowds and can handle heavy walking. Runners will then take everyone’s tickets to the fastpass distribution ride and get the fastpasses for the whole group while the others ride a ride or eat. This can save families and large groups a lot of time.
Disney recently started offering a MaxPass program for fastpasses. This allows you to use the Disneyland app to reserve your fastpasses from your phone once you’re in the parks. It also includes Disney PhotoPass and ride photos. MaxPass costs $15/person/day. Each person needs MaxPass to reserve fastpasses. For a family of four it would be an additional $60 a day.
Be sure to download the Disneyland app on your smartphone before your trip. The app is the best way to keep an eye on attraction wait times, plus helps you navigate around the park. Do take note that Disneyland does not offer wifi in the parks like at Walt Disney World. So if you have a limited data plan, keep an eye on how much you’re using the app.
The app also helps you see the fastpasses for the attractions. If you click on the wait time on the map a balloon info bubble will pop up. Clicking the bubble will show you a further detailed screen about the ride and the current fastpass distribution times will be noted. This can help you plan which fastpass to get next.
Other Great Disneyland Posts:
My Favorite Disneyland Planning Resources
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