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Disneyland Guide: Planning Your Trip

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Created by Walt Disney himself and opened in 1955, Disneyland is known the world over. It inspired the term, “theme park,” forever changed the amusement and attractions industry, and is the second most popular park on the planet (surpassed only by the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida) with millions of visitors flocking to its gates each year. In addition to the original Disneyland Park, the resort now includes a second theme park, Disney California Adventure, the Downtown Disney dining, shopping, and entertainment district, and three Disney-owned hotels. Visitors adore the parks for its timeless, charming rides as well as some of the most sophisticated and groundbreaking attractions ever developed.

If you’ve never been to Disneyland Resort or it’s been a long time since your last visit, it can be overwhelming. Let’s review the basics, including how to get there, ticket and admissions info, can’t-miss rides, dining tips, and more.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: To avoid huge crowds and get the most value, don’t visit during major holidays or early summer. Instead, consider January through early March, mid-April through late May, or just after Labor Day through early October. The weather is generally pleasant during these times as well.
  • Language: English, although you might want to familiarize yourself with Disney-centric terms.
  • Currency: U.S. dollar. Currency exchange services are available at at City Hall in Disneyland Park, the Chamber of Commerce in Disney California Adventure Park, and the front desks at the resort’s hotels.
  • Getting Around: Once you arrive, the Disneyland Resort is relatively compact and quite walkable. (Although it is very cool to take the monorail between Downtown Disney and Disneyland Park.)
  • Travel Tip: By staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel or a nearby hotel that participates in Disneyland’s Good Neighbor program, guests can take advantage of the parks’ Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning early admission benefits.
Escape Pod in Star Wars- Rise of the Resistance
Steven Diaz, Disney

Things to Do

The two theme parks, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, are loaded with incredible rides, attractions, and shows that appeal to visitors of all ages and thrill tolerance levels. Be sure to allow enough time (at least two full days) to explore the themed lands, experience the best attractions, and see the nighttime shows. If you have young children, you’ll especially want to meet Mickey Mouse and other beloved Disney characters.

Explore more ways to experience the Disneyland Resort with our in-depth articles about the most scream-worthy rides at the parks, the best Disneyland rides for younger children, and Disneyland for wimps.

What to Eat and Drink

The Disneyland Resort has a surprisingly robust and diverse array of places to dine and imbibe. Sure, you can find typical park food such as burgers, pizza, and (especially) churros. But there are some wonderful fine dining options both in the parks and at the hotels as well as plenty of places to find family-friendly fare. (Your kids would likely love to eat with Mickey and the gang at restaurants that offer character dining.) One of the most unique restaurants is the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square at Disneyland Park where you can enjoy Cajun specialties while watching boatloads of passengers sail past as they embark on a Pirates of the Caribbean adventure

When Walt Disney built Disneyland, he banned alcohol at the park. But now you can get your buzz on alongside Buzz Lightyear and belly up to a number of bars throughout the resort. Among the more noteworthy watering holes are Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar in the Disneyland Hotel‘s courtyard, the Napa Rose Lounge at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, and the Carthay Circle Lounge (where the cocktails are sublime) in Disney California Adventure. For an, ahem, out-of-this-world experience, head to Oga's Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Check out our articles on Disneyland’s best table-service restaurants, its top quick-service eateries, and the resort’s best snacks and desserts.

Where to Stay

The three on-property hotels, the elegant Disney’s Grand Californian, the nostalgic Disneyland Hotel, and the more pedestrian Paradise Pier, are the most convenient places to crash after a day at the parks, and they keep you immersed in the Disney bubble. They are, however, a bit pricey and tend to fill up quickly. There are gazillions of hotels, at a variety of price points, surrounding Disneyland, many of which are within walking distance. You could also consider staying in nearby Buena Park or closer to Los Angeles, but you’d need to factor in the hassle and time it would take to travel to and from the resort.

You can read more about the Disneyland Resort hotels as well as top picks for Anaheim-area hotels.

Getting There

There are a number of ways to get to the Disneyland Resort from nearby airports, including shuttles, limousines, taxis, rideshare services, a rental car, and public transportation.

Splash Mountain at Disneyland
Walt Disney Parks

Money Saving Tips

  • There are virtually no discounts available for one-day park tickets, which can be purchased at Disneyland’s official site. One-day, one-park tickets are cheaper than “Park Hopper” tickets, which allow users to go back and forth between the two parks on a given day. Although it is possible to find discounted multi-day tickets, it would still cost less to purchase two one-day, one-park tickets (to visit Disneyland Park one day and Disney California Adventure the other day) than discounted multi-day tickets from a third-party vendor. Visit when the parks are less crowded so your wait times will be shorter, and do advance planning to map out your visits so that you can maximize your two days at the parks.
  • Disneyland often offers limited-time special deals on items such as multi-day tickets or packages that bundle a hotel stay with park tickets. Check the Disneyland site for the current deals.
  • Resources for discounted multi-day Disneyland tickets (and tickets to other SoCal parks) include CityPass and Get Away Today.
  • If you are a member of the U.S. military (thank you for your service!) The resort offers discounted park tickets and hotel rates, which you can find on the Disneyland site.
  • To save on food and beverages, consider choosing a hotel that includes complimentary breakfast in its rates. You could also bring your own food to the resort. While you are not supposed to bring food into the parks, there is a complimentary picnic area near the main entrance to Disneyland Park with lockers that could be used to stow your items. Bring your own water bottle and ask for complimentary refills at any of the parks’ restaurants or at filtered water stations. Restaurants will also offer complimentary cups of water.
  • Visiting the resort during lower-attendance times of year will not only mean shorter wait times and more rides. You could also save lots of money. Hotel rates are often much lower, airfares tend to be less, and discounts and special deals on packages tend to proliferate.
  • Disney offers a popular timeshare program it calls the Disney Vacation Club. One way you could save some money on hotel rates is by renting Disney Vacation Club Points and using them to book a stay at the Grand Californian. Two resources for renting points are DVC Rental Store and David’s Vacation Club Rentals.
  • Forget about the rental car. It’s easy to get from the airports to the Disneyland Resort, and once you are there, you don’t need a car. Plus the Disneyland hotels (as well as most nearby, off-property hotels) charge for parking. Beyond the cost savings, navigating SoCal’s freeways can drive anybody bonkers. If you’ll be continuing your vacation after your Disneyland visit and you’ll require a car, there are some rental car companies near the resort.
  • Forego souvenirs. It is all but impossible to keep impulse buying in check at the Disney parks. But if you can control yourself (or at least limit yourself), you could save a lot of your hard-earned vacation dollars. Instead, you could pick up heavily discounted Disney swag online, at department stores, or even at dollar stores.

Of course, you have to pay to get into the parks. But once you are in, there are some free things you can score if you know how. Before or after your Disneyland visit, you can take advantage of free things to do in Los Angeles.

Article Sources
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  1. TEA/AECOM. “2019 Theme Index and Museum Index.” 2020, page 12

  2. Orlando Sentinel. “Walt Disney banned alcohol, but now theme parks say 'drink up'.” 9/12/2018

  3. Designing Disney. “Design & History of the Disneyland Hotel California: 1955 - 1965.”