The anticipation, excitement, and adventure of a Disneyland trip allows you to leave your worries behind and immerse yourself in the magical world of Disney, long before you’ve even left the house. Planning a Disneyland trip is half the fun. Even if you don’t have children, you’ll thoroughly enjoy making travel plans for Disneyland theme parks.
We’ve always loved our trips to Disneyland. Nick grew up a few hours away from the theme park and went so often that he knew exactly which rides to get on and when to maximize the fun and minimize the waiting in line. There are a few tips that can make your trip to Disneyland much more enjoyable, and way less stressful.
That’s why we’re sharing our best Disneyland planning tips with you. If you do it right, Disneyland can be about so many things, including fulfilling your childhood dreams, eating fun Disney food, and getting a day or two completely away from the stresses of every day life.
Stay Up to Date
Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park are now open. Certain parks, hotels, restaurants, attractions, experiences and other offerings may be modified or unavailable, have limited capacity, and are subject to limited availability or even closure, and park admission and offerings are not guaranteed.
The State of California strongly recommends that all Guests be fully vaccinated or receive a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering the Disneyland Resort. Unvaccinated Guests must wear face coverings when indoors.
When to Go to Disneyland
For the near future, Disneyland will be operating on a reduced capacity basis and tickets are required to be purchased in advance (no day-of ticket purchases). Therefore, many of the crowding issues that existed before won’t apply just yet.
Crowds can have a huge impact on your Disneyland experience. If you’re putting valuable time and money into your trip, you should make sure you understand the best time to go to Disneyland and when to avoid, if possible.
It is best to go to Disneyland during the shoulder season, which is roughly around early January to mid-February, or after Labor Day through mid-December.
While there isn’t ever truly an “off season” for Disneyland, there are less people, less congestion and less headaches for you during this time. What’s more, it rarely gets cold in southern California, even during winter season, but it gets very hot and humid during summer, so early spring, late fall and winter really are the best times to go.
Read our full guide here for a month-by-month breakdown of what’s happening at Disneyland.
How to Start Planning
Now that you know when you want to go to Disneyland, the questions remaining are how many days to spend, how to break up your time, and where to stay.
You’ll want to make time to see Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park, and Downtown Disney.
How Many Days to Spend in Disneyland
There are around 90 attractions between Disneyland and California Adventure. Unless you have a few weeks to spend, there’s no way you can get around to all of these, so you need to have a plan of attack.
If you just want to experience the parks and don’t have any set things in mind that you want to do, then one day in each park might be sufficient for you. Just keep in mind that you might not get a chance to ride a popular attraction if you only have one day, because tickets can be difficult to come by. Having 2 days will increase the chance of getting a ticket.
If you have a list of things you have to see and you want enough time to see them, you’ll need to plan for at least 3-5 days.
To answer this question you’ll need to make a list of the “must see” and “want to see” attractions to determine how much time you need.
How to Spend Your Days in Disneyland
To maximize your time, make your list of attractions and rides and then divide it up into sections of the park. That way you can work your way around the park without having to double back for missed rides. Make sure to use a park map so you don’t get lost! It sounds ridiculous, but it’s very easy to move away from a section of the park without even realizing it!
Plan your days around what’s close by each other, and check to see what dining areas are in each section of the park so that where ever you are, you know a good place to stop for lunch or a snack.
Top Attractions to See in Disneyland
With over 50 attractions and 30 rides, there is a ton of stuff to do at Disneyland. That’s only going to make your decisions harder, though because you can’t possibly get through all of it in the time you have – even if you were to spend weeks there.
Most people will spend 2-3 days at Disneyland, so it’s important to plan out your schedule so you can hit up the things you want to do most. To help you get started, below are a few of the top features at Disneyland that most visitors want to fit in.
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened in 2019 and the Rise of the Resistance ride opened in 2020.
- Space Mountain – this iconic ride is one of the most popular in the park, and is a must for anyone who loves dark rides.
- Haunted Mansion – an oldie but goodie, this attraction blends humor and haunting with a ride in a Doom Buggy. This is a classic ride that you can’t miss!
- Pirates of the Caribbean – the ride that started the famous franchise of the same name is worth a visit. Catchy songs paired with creepy and fun visuals make this ride unique.
- Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye – this ride simulates one of Dr. Jones’ escapades and aptly immerses you into the world of Indiana Jones and his world of ancient secrets and amazing stunts.
- Splash Mountain – any fan of water rides will absolutely love this one. Be ready for a soak and a good time.
Other rides you’ll want to make time for, if possible, are Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, It’s a Small World, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (this is my personal favorite), the Matterhorn Bobsleds and the rides in Cars Land.
Be sure to check out the Disneyland Map so you can see where everything is located and plan a route.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking to stay inside the park, which is great for convenience and making the experience feel more magical, finding the right hotel is super important.
- Disney Grand California Hotel & Spa– This beautiful and luxurious hotel has great accessibility to Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney District.
- Disneyland Hotel– This modern and themed hotel adds whimsy to any visit to the park, and there’s several types of rooms to choose from.
- Disney Paradise Pier Hotel– This boardwalk and beach themed hotel is close to the park, and sometimes guests can see characters at breakfast.
Hotels outside the park
- Best Western Pluss Park Place Inn– Only a few minutes walk from the front gate of Disneyland, this hotel is a great relaxed place to stay on your vacation.
- Anaheim Desert Inn & Suite– A short walk from the park, this hotel has a great deck that you can watch the Disneyland fireworks from.
Where to Eat in Disneyland
Disneyland has a lot of very mediocre food, but there are some amazing hidden gems to eat inside the park.
- Dole Whip – This is the most famous food from Disneyland and there is a reason for that. This zingy and fresh soft serve is perfect to refresh you after a day running around the park. Get some at Tiki Juice Bar in Adventureland.
- Ronto’s Roasters – Ronto’s Roasters in Galaxy’s Edge is a great place to eat, and they have wonderful pita wraps, as well as delicious vegetarian options!
- Grey Stuff Gateau – this red velvet cake filled with raspberry and topped with white chocolate mousse can be found at the Red Rose Tavern in Fantasyland, and is a perfect dessert to end your day with.
- Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar – themed and decorated floor to ceiling, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar is a great place to grab drinks while still being surrounding by classic Disney charm.
Buy your tickets online in advance. You can purchase tickets up to 120 days in advance.
Don’t buy single-day single-park tickets, unless that’s all you want to do. The park-hopper ticket is the way to go, if you’re planning to see both parks. This ticket will allow you to change parks during the day, so you can leave one park and go to another after 1pm. They aren’t that much more expensive and give more flexibility.
Tickets expire 13 days after first use, so if you buy a 3-day pass, you don’t have to use them on back-to-back days. You reserve the specific days you want to go on a calendar on the website, then choose which park you want to visit first that day.
You can also add a parking pass to your purchase online.
Tips For When You Arrive
- Get to the parks early in the day. Most families like to sleep in and enjoy a late breakfast. So even with the parks opening early in the day they are relatively empty first thing in the morning.
- Ride the park rides at the back of the park first. It may take a while to walk into the park, but most people stop at the first rides. As the park starts to fill they move to the back rides. Utilize this time to enjoy some of the popular rides at the back of the park and save FastPass tickets for later.
- Don’t grab FastPass tickets at the beginning of the day, wait until the park starts to see more traffic. Use them sparingly to pick your choice rides. While you are waiting on your fast pass ticket time, enjoy other areas of the parks.
- Make sure that you carry a backpack with you into the park. This pack will serve you well during the day. At a minimum, you should bring water, sunglasses, and sunscreen. See our full list of what to bring to Disneyland to make sure you’re prepared.
How to Avoid Long Lines
If there’s one thing that visitors to Disneyland find annoying and frustrating, it’s the long lines for rides. You can literally spend several hours of your day standing in line for popular attractions. While all lines cannot be avoided in Disneyland, there are a few ways you can dodge the lines.
- Get FastPass tickets for the rides that offer them. FastPass allows you to get a ticket to return at a later time for a ride, so you don’t have to stand in line. Do this early to ensure that you get to ride those rides earlier in the day.
- Disney MaxPass combines the ability to get FastPass tickets from your phone on the Disneyland App with unlimited Disney PhotoPass downloads on the day. It costs $20 per day, per ticket, but could be worth it if you have limited time.
- Ride popular rides later in the evening, while the majority of people are watching the night time entertainment. This is a good time to find shorter lines. Of course, it means you’ll miss the entertainment, but if you’re visiting Disneyland for a few days, you can always see the night time entertainment on another day.
- Avoid going to Disneyland during busy times such as between Christmas and New year, spring break, the summer months, and on Saturdays.
- Get to the park early. The lines are shorter in the morning when the park first opens. Instead of jumping in line for the first ride you see, head for the rides you want to ride the most.
- Make a plan of attack and stick with it.
Stay Up to Date on Changes
This post is a general guide to Disneyland and isn’t updated with all the changes and goings-on in Disneyland day by day. Read this What’s New & Next for Disneyland for details of what’s going on, so you can make an informed decision.
Disneyland is one of the happiest places on earth, as the saying goes. And half the fun is in the planning. This guide is just the start of your amazing adventure. If you have any tips and advice to share from your own planning, we invite you to leave a comment below.
Quick. Check these necessities off your prep list!
- There’s no one-size-fits-all travel insurance. Get a personalized quote from Yonder.
- The right luggage can make or break your trip. These hard-sided suitcases make traveling a breeze.
- Find your rental car on Rentalcars.com. They search all major rental companies to find the best deal.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.