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Ultimate Disneyland Guide – My Best Disneyland Tips

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!

Looking for some Disneyland secrets? Here are my best Disneyland tips to help you plan a magical vacation!

My best Disneyland tips to help you plan a magical vacation! | © Stuffed Suitcase

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.

Disneyland Resort Express shuttle from SNA and LAX.

Disneyland Resort Express shuttle from SNA and LAX | © Stuffed Suitcase

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.

Disneyland Hotels

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 Disneyland Hotel has fun light up headboards in their rooms - do you see the hidden Mickey? | © Stuffed Suitcase

The Disneyland Hotel has fun light up headboards in their rooms – do you see the hidden Mickey? | © Stuffed Suitcase

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.

Studying and knowing the park layouts BEFORE you go is one of my BEST Disneyland tips! | © Stuffed Suitcase

Studying and knowing the park layouts BEFORE you go is one of my BEST Disneyland tips! | © Stuffed Suitcase

Disneyland Park

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. :)

One of my best Disneyland tips is to allow extra time for security and park entry! | © Stuffed Suitcase

One of my best Disneyland tips is to allow extra time for security and park entry! | © Stuffed Suitcase

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 best Disneyland fastpass tips | © Stuffed Suitcase

My best Disneyland fastpass tips | © Stuffed Suitcase

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.

Disneyland MaxPass

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 $10/person/day. Each person needs MaxPass to reserve fastpasses. For a family of four it would be an additional $40 a day.

Disneyland App

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:

Disney MaxPass Secrets and Best Disneyland FASTPASS Tips

5 Most Interactive Disney Characters for Kids & Where to Find Them at Disneyland

Disneyland Checklist for Planning your Disney Vacation Days

Hotels by Disneyland: How to Choose Where to Stay

20 Things about Disneyland Halloween Time

Money Saving Disneyland Tips

My Favorite Disneyland Planning Resources

(affiliate links included)

Disney Luggage

Is it Packed Crowd Predictions

Disney Hotel Reviews & Prices

Touring Plans

Disneyland Planning DVD

DisneyStore.com

Disneyland on a Budget Book

CityPASS (Southern California discount tickets)

Get My Best Travel Planning Tips & Worksheets!

Comments

    • Great tip Heather! It makes sense why they won’t allow those, but since more of us are starting to avoid plastic, it’s an important thing to note!

  1. We love the Disneyland Hotel; every time we visit we fall in love with the headboard- such a simple thing but definitely has that magical Disney touch that makes it something special

  2. We live really close to disney world, but I haven’t heard much about disneyland. These hotels look so awesome! I really want to get out to disneyland sometime soon.

  3. Great tips! I always do a special grocery trip to get kid-friendly snacks for the kids. Pre-packaged is not always economical, but it makes snack-time easier and cheaper than waiting in Disney lines and paying Disney prices!

  4. Another perk of staying at the Grand Californian is watching the fireworks from the balcony, if you are lucky enough to have some park view room. This was great when we were traveling with grandparents who tire early!

    • Yes – definitely a good reason to splurge on a park view room! It’s fun also to have one of the downtown disney balconies if you like people watching and late night live music!

  5. Thanks for your tips! I have been to Disney World but not Disneyland!! I bookmarked this page for later. I didn’t know about MaxPass. My husband is always the fast pass runner! He’s quick! Thank you. Happy Spring!

    • Thanks Kristie! Disneyland has a lot of differences from WDW! Although the Fastpass running at Disneyland can be done quickly because of the smaller size, plus the two parks are independent, so a great runner can get fps for both parks at the same time! You just have to watch return times, and also each person has to have been scanned through each park entrance. :)

  6. We love taking advantage of the local city pass when we travel I would have never thought it would include Disney I’m going to look into this and maybe a trip out to California is in my future.

  7. These are all great tips. I’ve never stayed on property at Disneyland. Maybe next visit….. *0*

  8. great advice! I’ve heard the paradise pier hotel is the most economical of the three on property, although the most in need of renovation.

  9. Thanks for the tips and advice. We really like using City Pass also. We used them on our last family vacation in Texas and we bought through Groupon.

  10. Every time I read about the Disneyland Hotels I think that I want to splurge on them but then the time comes and I can never make myself do it. I always figure that if I can get a good room for half the price it is that much more money for meals and treats. And if it is a choice of going cheaper so I can go more often then that is my way, lol.

  11. I live in northern California, it’s an 8 hour drive to Los Angeles but to have a car for transportation while visiting Disneyland will definitely cut on cost of flying and renting a car.

Trackbacks

  1. […] 10. “Consider buying a Disney gift card for your kids for them to use for souvenirs. Talk with them beforehand about the value on the card and how they will have the choice on how to spend it. It’s a great opportunity for them to learn some financial lessons along with the authority to choose their own souvenir(s). We also like to encourage them to consider waiting for the final day to buy a larger souvenir, or explaining how much they could spend daily if they wanted to buy something little everyday.” – Kim Tate, stuffedsuitcase.com […]

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