Planning your first trip to Disneyland? That's so exciting!!
My family loves Disneyland and we go there every year or two. My teenagers (ages 16 and 19) love Disneyland more now than they did when they were young.
Disneyland can feel overwhelming for a first-time visitor – or even if it's just been a while since your last visit. There are a lot of details to figure out, and a lot to learn if you want to make the most of your time, avoid long lines, and avoid overspending.
But the good news is that there are a lot of ways to make booking your first Disneyland trip easier. This article is filled with information that can help you decide what options will work best for you and help you book your trip with confidence.
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Keep reading to get information about what to expect, when to go, tickets, hotels… Everything you need to book an amazing Disneyland trip.
Where is Disneyland located?
Disneyland is located in Anaheim, California – about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles and about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
What is “Disneyland Resort”?
Disneyland Resort covers about 500 acres and includes:
- Disneyland Park – This is the original park and what most people think of when they say “Disneyland”
- Disney's California Adventure Park – a second theme park across the plaza from Disneyland Park. This park has Marvel and Pixar attractions and some of my favorite rides.
- Downtown Disney – A fun shopping and dining district adjacent to the parks and hotels. You do not need a ticket to visit Downtown Disney.
- Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa – This is the closest hotel to both parks and the most luxurious.
- Disneyland Hotel – This is the original Disneyland hotel.
- Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel – Disneyland's “budget” on-property hotel.
- 30+ Ways to Save Money at Disneyland
- Review of Disney's Grand Californian
- Review of Disneyland Hotel
When is the best time to go to Disneyland?
Disneyland Resort is open every day of the year, so the short answer is… Plan your trip at the time that works best for you.
Many people say that “off-season” is the best time to go to Disneyland. But it can be tricky to find a clear off-season when holiday weekends, spring break, summer vacation, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all busy times. And a lot of locals have season passes that only allow them to visit on less-crowded dates. So, uncrowded days at Disneyland are rare.
But there are times – even during the “on-season” – when Disneyland is less crowded and lines are shorter. And it's so fun to experience some of the special seasons like Halloween and Christmas at Disneyland.
If avoiding crowds is your top priority, here are my top tips.
- Avoid school breaks, weekends, and holidays. Think mid-week in January, February, late April, September, or early November.
- Check isitpacked.com. The Crowd Calendar uses historical data to predict crowd levels at popular theme parks.
- Keep an eye on the Disneyland calendar. Disneyland regularly hosts special events. Some of them – like the Oogie Boogie Bash – shut down California Adventure in the evening to anyone without a special party ticket. Others – like Grad Nights in May – don't shut down the park but bring in BIG crowds. Be aware of special events and adjust your park reservations for Disneyland and California Adventure to avoid them if you aren't participating.
- Be aware of the Anaheim Convention Center – The convention center is adjacent to Disneyland and a big convention can affect Disneyland crowds and hotel availability. There aren't many conventions (like D23) that are big enough to make you want to avoid those dates, but if the crowd calendar or your hotel rates seem extra high… a convention could be the reason.
I don't plan Disneyland trips over holidays or weekends. But I don't worry too much about booking a mid-week trip during Spring Break, summer, or Fall Break. There are lots of good ways to handle crowds at Disneyland.
- The BEST Rides at Disneyland
- The BEST Rides at California Adventure
- Why Peak Season is a Good Time to Visit Disneyland
How many days do you need?
You can buy tickets for 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 days at Disneyland. For many families, 3 days is about right.
Families who LOVE Disney and have lots of energy can easily do 4-5 days. If you don't love theme parks, are not a huge Disney fan, get motion sickness on rides… two days may be plenty.
On our first Disneyland trip with little kids, we got a 5-days-for-the-price-of-3 deal. After four days, even our 6-year-old was done with Disneyland and we went to the beach instead.
But a few years later when my kids were teenagers, my family spent 5 days in Disneyland – and stayed at the Disneyland Hotel – and loved every minute of it. On that trip, we bought a 4-day ticket and bought separate tickets for Oogie Boogie Bash on the fifth day.
Park reservations have been required since the COVID-19 pandemic. This could change in the future, but for now, you need a ticket AND a reservation for either Disneyland or California Adventure each day.
Lately, reservations for either park have been easy to get for most dates – as long as you don't wait too long. Before you book your trip, check your dates on the reservation calendar on Disneyland's official website.
After you buy your tickets, download the official Disneyland app on your mobile device. Sign in to the app and link your tickets to your account. From there, you can make reservations in the app.
What is Park Hopper?
The Park Hopper ticket upgrade allows you to visit Disneyland and California Adventure on the same day. It's fairly easy to walk from one park to the other and back again, so this is a convenient feature.
When you have Park Hopper, you can worry less about checking the park calendar and scheduling your reservations just right. And if Radiator Springs Racers breaks down on your California Adventure day, you can try again on your Disneyland day if you have Park Hopper.
However, it costs about $70 extra per ticket to add Park Hopper, there are enough fun attractions in each park to fill 1-2 full days, and walking back and forth between parks adds extra miles to an already long day. For these reasons, I usually choose the 1-Park-Per-Day ticket instead of paying extra for Park Hopper.
What is Genie+?
Genie+ is a ticket upgrade that allows you to use the Lightning Lane (short line) on popular rides once per ride per day. The regular line is often longer than 1-2 hours for popular rides in the middle of the day, so most people buy Genie+.
Genie+ replaced FASTPASS and MaxPASS. You must have the official Disneyland app to use Genie+ to schedule ride times. Genie+ is different from Genie, which is a free feature that helps you plan your day in the official Disneyland app.
Genie+ includes PhotoPass, which I love. Look for photographers in brown uniforms throughout Disneyland and California Adventure. They will take your family photo in scenic spots. You can download, share, or print these high-quality photos later.
Genie+ may not be worth it if you don't love rides, have very young children who won't ride much, are eligible for Disability Access Service, or don't want to use the app.
Rides are my favorite thing at Disneyland, so I buy Genie+ with my tickets.
Where should I stay?
I prefer hotels within a short walk of the park entrance – on or off-property. Use Google Maps to check the walking distance from hotels to “Disneyland Esplanade.” That's the area between the entrances to Disneyland and California Adventure parks.
I have stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian and both of them are wonderful. When you stay at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, you get early access to the parks and that “Disney Magic” feeling around the clock. And they have better swimming pools and other amenities than most of the off-property hotels that are closest to the park.
While Disneyland Resort Hotels are splurge-worthy, it is less expensive to stay off-property. That's what I usually do because a few hotels – like the Best Western Plus Park Place Inn – are closer to the park entrance than the Disneyland Hotel. There are at least a dozen hotels within a 10-15 minute walk of Disneyland.
You can stay farther away from Disneyland Resort – and you may save more money if you do. There are many hotels within 1-2 miles of the park, and many more lodging options beyond that. But when you choose a hotel, keep in mind that:
- Hundreds of people (including me) arrive 30-60 minutes before the parks open
- The first two hours and the last two hours of the day are the best times to enjoy short lines
- Southern California traffic is usually heavy. It may take more time to travel a short distance than you expect.
- Parking, shuttles, and security all take time before you arrive at the ticket gate.
- My family typically walks 5-10 miles per day at Disneyland.
For these reasons, location is the #1 priority for me when I book a hotel. Shuttles and parking are OK, but just walking to the park is SO MUCH easier.
- Tips for Booking a Hotel Near Disneyland
- Tips for Booking Hotels with Two-Room Suites
- Why You Should SPLURGE on Your Hotel
How to Get There
Most families get to Disneyland by flying or driving their own car.
We usually drive our own car because it's less expensive than flying our family of four from Salt Lake City to Southern California. And then we have our own car to go to the beach or go to the grocery store when we get there.
When we fly, I shop for fares into Orange County, Long Beach, or LAX airports. Orange County and Long Beach are smaller airports, less than a 30-minute drive from Disneyland. LAX is farther away but often has the best fares because it's a large airport.
I keep things simple when we fly. Here's how.
- Book a hotel within a short walk of Disneyland
- Take an Uber/Lyft/taxi from the airport to the hotel
- Walk to Disneyland and Downtown Disney all week
- Take an Uber/Lyft/taxi back to the airport and fly home
I hope that our experience helps your family book an AMAZING Disneyland trip!
Do you have a question or a great Disneyland tip to share? Please use the Comments below.
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