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UPDATED JANUARY 2016
We’re going to Disneyland again in October! Don’t tell my kids because we’re keeping it a secret. We’re putting the trip together with our partner, Get Away Today Vacations and we just pinned down the dates yesterday. I’m so excited to experience the Diamond Celebration and see Disneyland decorated for Halloween, and can only imagine how my kids will react when they find out.
As we plan our trip, it’s helpful to already know how Disneyland and Anaheim are laid out, and to be aware of some of the options and tools that can help us make the most of our trip and save money. So, today I’m sharing some of my Disneyland tips for first timers.
If you’re planning your first trip to Disneyland, here are some tips to help you do it right the first time.
Stay at least three days
Three or four days is is about what you’ll need to really see both parks. I have done just Disneyland in a single summer day, and it was fun. However, I didn’t have children then, and it was still a long day. If you’re determined to do one or both parks in less than three days, prioritize and plan ahead. I wouldn’t buy a park hopper pass. You will still have a GREAT time if you’re OK with just hitting the highlights of one park per day.
On our last trip to Disneyland, we benefited from a 5-day Disneyland deal through Get Away Today Vacations. We basically spent two days from rope drop until dinner time in each park. We didn’t do everything, but we rode most of our favorites twice. By the fifth day, even our 6-year-old was finished with the parks and we headed for the beach.
Should you pay extra for a park hopper?
Disneyland and California Adventure share the same parking lots and shuttle stops, so unlike Walt Disney World, you can easily walk from one to the other and back again in the same day. That said, there is plenty to keep you busy in just one of the parks for a full day, and they are large enough that you won’t want to go back and forth any more than necessary. If keeping costs down is your #1 priority, skip the park hopper option.
The park hopper pass comes in handy when say, Disneyland opens an hour earlier than California Adventure and you want to make the most of less-crowded morning hours before heading over to the other park. Or, you may want to spend most of the day in one park, but see the nighttime show in the other.
Guides and apps
If this is the first post you’ve read about visiting Disneyland, it should not be your last. There is plenty of free information on the internet to help you make the most of your first visit, and we’ve collected a lot of posts on our Disney Tips for Families Pinterest board.
I also like traditional guide books, and recommend The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. We bought the book, but have seen it and other guides at our local library. I wrote an entire post with our favorite tips from The Unofficial Guide. Read it here.
You’ll want to download one or more Disneyland apps to your smart phone before you go. Disneyland has a FREE official app with wait times, character appearances, maps, dining, restrooms and more. There are other apps available, but the official app has served us well. Disneyland does not have good free WiFi inside the park (yet?), so plan accordingly.
Stay off-site to save money
The conventional Disney wisdom is “stay at a Disney property.” It’s hard to beat the convenience, early entry and Disney magic at the Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian and other Disney properties. However, staying at a Disney property is not as big an advantage at Disneyland as Walt Disney World. You can save a lot of money by staying off-property. Several nearby hotels offer economical family-size rooms and suites.
You can find an off-property hotel across the street from Disneyland’s main gates, or choose from many others nearby that provide a shuttle or are on the Anaheim Resort Transit line. Furthermore, there is no FASTPASS advantage to staying on-site. Disneyland has not yet switched to FASTPASS+, which gives extra line privileges to on-site guests.
Use a shuttle service
Most local hotels offer a shuttle service to Disneyland, or are on the ART route. ART stands for Anaheim Resort Transit, and it runs from many local hotels to Disneyland about every 20 minutes. If you do not use a shuttle, you will need to pay to park in one of the Disneyland parking lots and then you will take a shuttle anyway. If you are staying near the park, it is often more convenient and economical to use the hotel’s shuttle service.
If you use ART, you can buy single ride, single-day or multi-day passes. Children under age 3 ride free. ART will take you to and from the Convention Center, Angel Stadium, and many other popular local attractions. It also has beach service on weekends. Learn more about ART at www.rideart.org.
Check with Get Away Today Vacations
Need a place to stay? We have recently stayed on-property at the Grand Californian and off-property at the Anaheim Hilton Garden Inn, which is just down the street from Disneyland. Both are good options! Click the links to read my reviews.
Want the best price on a Disneyland hotel and tickets? We use Get Away Today. Nobody knows Disneyland better, and if you find a better price on the same package, they’ll beat it by $10.
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