Each year in Southern California, thousands of families visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park for a few days of magic and thrills. But without proper planning, that relaxing family getaway can become more stressful than you thought.
But don’t you worry! We have done our homework and laid out some simple steps you can follow to ensure you and your kids have the perfect Disneyland trip.
Download the My Disney Experience App
The first step to planning your perfect vacation is downloading Disneyland’s My Disney Experience app. This epic multi-tasking tool allows you to do everything from purchase tickets to order Disney food and even check into your Disney Resort hotel! It includes all areas of the park, including Disneyland California Adventure.
Disney doesn’t limit the benefits to Disneyland Resort in California. The Walt Disney Company also offers a separate app for Walt Disney World.
And while you’re at it, get the kids and the whole family excited about visiting Disneyland by starting the timer for your Disney countdown. Download the Vacation Countdown App today! Available at the App Store or Google Play Store.
Understand the Layout of the Disney Resort
Disneyland Resort is the blanket term for all Disney activity locations in Anaheim. It includes Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney District, and Disney’s hotels.
Disneyland is what you and your parents probably remember best. It is the original theme park designed and completed by Walt Disney in 1955 – and it’s enormous. You can easily spend two days there riding the rides.
Disneyland California Adventure sits next door. As the name suggests, it has a more California vibe, but that isn’t entirely accurate. It is home to rides and characters from Pixar, Marvel, and other franchises owned by Disney.
Downtown Disney District feeds into Disneyland and Disney California Adventure and connects both parks to Disney hotels. The downtown area offers shopping, dining, and entertainment.
The Disney hotels are Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. We cover them in more detail further down in our Figure Out Where to Stay section.
Attractions in Each Park
Here’s a quick list of attractions in each park to help keep you organized, pre-plan your visits to each and, and help you avoid over-walking between parks.
Attractions Inside Disneyland:
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (a must-see!)
- New Orleans Square
- Critter Country
Attractions Inside Disney California Adventure Park (DCA)
- Cars Land
- Hollywood Land
- Avengers Campus
- Pixar Pier
- Pacific Wharf
- Grizzly Peak
- Buena Vista Street
The Best Times of Year for Visiting Disneyland Resort
The best times are from September to December, not just because of the cooler temperatures. Disney decorates their resort to the hilt for holiday events. They also add more entertainment and attractions.
Two holidays not to miss are Halloween and Christmas. Disney Resort is typically open during holidays, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, unless COVID has something to say about it. But be prepared; the crowds can be intense – especially between Christmas and New Year’s Day. You won’t be the only ones who know about the perks of these times of the year, and the park gets packed, but you won’t regret going.
January and February are typically best if you are looking for a quieter time of year. Still, you may have some popular rides being repaired or refurbished, such as Splash Mountain, Grizzley River Run, and Haunted Mansion. That said, you never really know when attractions are being worked on throughout the year because the park doesn’t always provide advanced notice more than a month ahead.
You will also benefit from smaller crowds by avoiding the summer breaks, holidays, and special events, but you can still make some busy times work. There are slowdowns in early June, late August, and the early parts of September and November.
Once you know your dates, click here to view the events, shows, and entertainment for specific days and times.
Understand Park Hours
Be sure to check for hours of operation to know the earliest time to enter since that is the best way to avoid crowds. Parks hours will change throughout the year, varying by the day and the time of the year. It can either open at 8 AM or 10 AM and may close at 10 PM or midnight. Sometimes, Disney California Adventure may close at 11:00 PM instead of midnight. During home holidays like Memorial Day or Leap Day, the parks have remained open for 24 hours, but check and verify.
Secure Disneyland Tickets and Reservations
Due to COVID-19 safety measures, Disneyland and California Adventure still have advanced booking procedures and limited capacity, which may make it difficult to plan your vacation at the last minute. Additionally, there may be rules worth knowing before you arrive, such as face coverings. To stay up to date on Disney’s COVID rules, click here.
To make sure that you can visit the theme parks on the days you want, you will need both a Disneyland park ticket and park reservations for the same day; otherwise, you won’t be able to enter the park. Reservations are required, so secure them when you buy your tickets!
Be sure to purchase your Disney Resort tickets and book park reservations ASAP to secure your theme park access. Due to recent staffing shortages, obtaining some reservations may be tricky.
You will notice that prices for 1-day visits come in 6 tiers. Each tier is around $10 to $15 more than the other. The fee relates directly to how busy the park will be during your visit. Pricing ranges from $104 for adults and $98 for Tier 1 to $164 for adults and $155 for Tier 6. You can request hard tickets or eTickets at your time of purchase.
Note that you may need to plan your reservations to work best for the number of days you are there. At the end of this article, we provide some handy recommendations of ways to visit the park for varying periods.
If you plan to visit Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure on the same day, consider purchasing park hopper tickets. You can easily switch back and forth between the two theme parks whenever you like when you use park hopper tickets for exploring all the popular attractions. It’s the cheapest option.
Also, note that you can save more on your tickets by bundling your park and hotel together! You can also make getting through lines faster with Genie and Genie+. What do we mean? Let’s take a look!
What are Genie and Genie+?
There are three ways to help you plan your trip and get you through lines faster:
- Disney Genie is a free trip-planning service that helps you better plan your itinerary and saves you time based on the rides and activities you want to experience. It also updates you on your schedule on your phone throughout the day based on your location and time.
- Disney Genie+ is a paid service for access to Lightening Lane, a more private access lane to attractions and rides to help you avoid standard lines. In the grand scheme of things, the price is worth it. Genie+ saves you significant time. You may not need it when you avoid Magic Kingdon and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
- Note that you can only book your times on the day of your visit as soon as you enter the park.
- Individual Lighting Lanes let you purchase separate lightning passes for specific rides rather than using Genie +. You can book up to two attractions per day.
Know Where To Stay
Unlike Disney World, you only have only three resorts to choose from, and they are rather pricey, which may make you consider shopping around for off-site hotels. However, Disney hotels are worth every penny if your kids want the extra “magic” of Disney-themed décor and characters at mealtimes.
You also get close access to the park and some other added perks. Take advantage of the Extra Magic Hour if you decide to stay at a Disneyland hotel during your vacation. This perk is available to guests of the Disneyland Resort Hotels and gives you an extra hour in the theme parks each day. You also get a relaxing place to rest while you avoid busy times at the park. You and the kids can also relax and cool off in a pool after a long day exploring the resort.
Priced from lowest to highest, you can choose from the Paradise Pier Hotel, the Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. That’s right; there’s a spa. You can get body treatments, massages, and a salon to enjoy after a long day with the kids!
There is no doubt that all Disneyland Resort hotels have fantastic dining options. If you want the highest-rated character dining experience, check out the Chip’N’Dale Critter Breakfast at Storyteller Cafe — a great character meal inside the Grand Californian Resort Hotel & Spa.
For budget-minded travelers, there are plenty of off-site options within walking distance of the theme parks, particularly along Harbor Boulevard. Book a vacation package to find the lowest price, or reserve your rooms days in advance.
What to Wear in Disneyland
You may have seen the news or social media posts describing how guests were denied based on their clothing. Yep, it does happen. The park is privately owned and wants to ensure that the park is family-friendly. That means the resort can deny you if you wear “attire that could detract from the experience of other Guests,” which includes clothing with obscene language or graphics and exposing offensive tattoos.
Offensive attire can also include skimpy clothing, but even if you or your kids still want to wear it, there are other reasons to avoid it. One is that it is simply more sanitary to have full clothing protecting your skin when sitting. You never know how many people have sat on that ride before you, and you may end up flashing other guests when you climb in and out. Also, avoiding small clothing protects your skin from a long day in the sun.
As for your feet, be sure to avoid flip-flops – even in hot weather. Blowing out a flip-flop is something you will want to avoid. Plus, flip-flops aren’t all that comfortable – especially considering how much ground you will cover.
Lastly, avoid wearing a purse. Theft happens everywhere – even in the friendliest place on earth. It can happen from leaving your bag accidentally at a restaurant or accidentally dropping items out of your purse while walking around or riding an attraction. Instead, opt for a crossbody bag or backpack, but not too large of a design so that you can maneuver around easily.
Maximize Your Time at the Disneyland Resort
Ah, the memories of Disneyland trips past – the long lines, the hot weather, and the seemingly never-ending crowds. But this year is going to be different! You’ll maximize your time, see your favorite attractions and have a blast by following these tips:
- Arrive one hour before the park opening to avoid the lines at the park entrance and get a jump on the day.
- Use Genie+ to skip the boring waits and hit more rides.
- Order meals ahead of time on the Disneyland app, and leave in the afternoon to rest and avoid the heat.
- Take advantage of the late hours (10 PM to 12 AM, depending on the park) and enjoy the cool, less-crowded evenings.
With these tips, you’ll be able to make the most of your Disneyland trip and create lasting memories with your family! And who knows – maybe you’ll even get to meet Mickey and Minnie!
Itineraries for Set Numbers of Days
If you have only one day to spend, you’ll be busy. To make it work best, fit in as much as possible and narrow your options to make planning easy. If you can, consider staying at a Disney hotel or nearby hotel so you can enter the park as early and painlessly as possible. Also, arrive one hour before the park opens. The earlier, the better! In addition, eat breakfast before you come and bring sunscreen, water, and snacks.
If you decide only to do Disney California Adventure, you should be able to complete it in one day, but Disneyland will take some planning.
Fantasyland is an ideal place to start; otherwise, you will face some heavy crowds later in the day. Then head to Wild West. Afterward, head over to do some of the classic rides you knew as a kid if you didn’t do them at Fantasyland, like a small world.
With those rides done, you can indulge in both Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, though you may want to consider visiting the mansion earlier if you are there during Halloween or Christmas. The line can get long.
Indulge in classic activities in the afternoon while the lines get long at bigger rides. Check out Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, the Mark Twain Riverboat, and Tom Sawyer Island.
As the sun sets, step into Tomorrowland and ride the classic ride Space Mountain and Hyperspace Mountain. During Halloween, check out Ghost Galaxy. You can also visit Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.
As night comes, you can check out Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn, and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Then fit in anything else you and the kids have wanted to see.
Check parades or fireworks shows times, and lock them into your schedule if you can. They are worth watching!
The 2-day plan is very similar to the 1-day program. It allows you more time to stroll and enjoy more sites. You won’t have to choose between the two parks, only which one to do first.
3 and 4-Day Itinerary
Even though you can easily spend more days in the park, three days is ideal. You get to fit in the rides you want in 2 days following our suggestions above and still have enough time to catch some other ones you always wanted to try. Plus, you have a chance to see all those famous parades. On other days, you can jump on any rides while other events are underway to take advantage of shorter lines.
This number of days is also the starting point for when you can begin resting at your hotel during the peak hours of the parks.
5-Day Itinerary for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure
With ample time to see both parks, here is our recommended itinerary for a 5-day visit to Disneyland and California Adventure in 2022/2023:
Day 1: Arrive at Your Hotel and Settle In
Then, head to Downtown Disney for shopping, dining, and entertainment in this free-to-enter district!
Take a whirl on the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire virtual reality experience and find souvenirs. And for fans of the new Jungle Cruise movie that just came out, you’ll want to have a meal at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar!
Downtown Disney is open until midnight, but we recommend returning to your hotel at a reasonable hour to rest up for your first day at the theme park.
Day 2: Wake Up Early and Grab Breakfast at the Hotel or Downtown Disney
Then, head straight to the park gates and do your best to arrive one hour before the park opens.
We recommend focusing on Fantasyland, Toontown, and Tomorrowland for the first day. If your kids are too old for Toontown, work ahead on your must-dos for Frontierland. Don’t forget to take advantage of your Genie + and individual Lightning Lanes to reduce wait times for the most popular rides.
Around lunchtime, wrap things up and find some food. Order ahead via the app while you’re in your last line, or leave the park and grab a bite elsewhere. Then, spend a few hours resting in your room or pool before heading back to the park around 4:30 PM. Finish up your list of must-dos, do some shopping on Main Street USA, and enjoy the fireworks!
Day 3: Wake Up Early, Grab Breakfast, and Line Up an Hour Early
Today, focus on the remaining zones in Disneyland Resort, including Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Star War’s Galaxy, and Adventureland. Be sure to use Genie+ whenever possible to avoid the long lines!
Again, you’ll want to leave around lunchtime and return to your hotel to chill out until the evening. You and your kids will appreciate the break today! Return in the late afternoon and plan to stay until the park closes at 11 PM to pack in all your favorite rides!
Day 4: Get Up with the Sun One Last Time for Disney California Adventure!
Grab breakfast to go and eat it outside the gates of the Disneyland resort while you wait for the park to open.
Head straight to Cars Land and prioritize rides like the Rope Drop Racers and Luigi’s Rollicking’ Roadsters. Then, book it over to Pacific Wharf, Pixar Pier, and Paradise Gardens Park to finish your morning. As always, take advantage of Genie+ at every opportunity.
After your afternoon break, come back a little earlier than usual to finish the park zones. We recommend working your way clockwise through Grizzly Peak, Hollywood Land, and Avengers Campus. Finish your night by repeating your favorite rides and a stroll down Buena Vista Street! Nighttime in both theme parks is now even more fun thanks to evening events like the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade, Fantasmic!, Disneyland Forever, and World of Color. Remember the fireworks show from years before? That’s right, you and the children can enjoy them too. Halloween is also an ideal time to spend time there after sunset.
Note that some parades are limited to specific times of the year.
Day 5: Today is the day to sleep in and be lazy!
After you pack up, grab some brunch in Downtown Disney and enjoy your remaining time with some more shopping and entertainment in this fun district before you head home!
A Lifetime of Memories With Less Stress!
Your Disneyland trip doesn’t have to be daunting. By following these simple tips above, you’ll be on your way to a magical Disneyland resort vacation with more ease and less cost and these suggestions are just the beginning. Take your planning to the next level and save even more money by following our detailed breakdown of the 42 Best Disney World Tips and Secrets. Your kids and your wallet will thank you!