In this article, we previously implored anyone who would listen that 2012 was the perfect time to visit Disneyland. Well, it was in many ways, and those who listened to our advice got to be among the first to visit Cars Land. Disneyland has been on a roll since then, and we’ve updated our Disneyland vacation advice numerous times since then, finally arriving at this version for 2014 trips. We have received messages from a lot of people who had amazing trips thanks to our recommendations, and this guide has been refined based upon our visits to Disneyland in 2013, including a visit in December 2013 for Christmas–our first Christmas in Disneyland since the overhaul to Disney California Adventure (the Christmas season is now, by far, our top pick for when you should visit Disneyland…such a beautiful time of year there!).
Disneyland Resort kept the ball rolling in 2014, expanding upon the success of its big 2012 addition, Cars Land, with the opening of Mickey and the Magical Map, plus World of Color – Winter Dreams, seasonal celebrations, and more! We highly recommend a visit to Disneyland to enjoy these additions. As long as Disneyland keeps doing new things and Cars Land keeps looking great, you may be hearing this same sentiment in 2014, 2015, 2016, and…you get the idea.
There are a lot of great times of year to visit Disneyland (read below for our recommendations of when to go to avoid crowds at Disneyland), but our favorite time of year is Christmas-time at Disneyland. The decorations are beautiful, the spirit is festive, and there are some fun attraction overlays and seasonal foods to enjoy.
Read our Guide to Disneyland at Christmas for more info on visiting during the holiday season. If Christmas isn’t your thing, consider Halloween Time at Disneyland, and check out our Guide to Disneyland at Halloween for assistance planning a trip during that specific time of year. For all other trips, consult the trip planning resources below.
If the above didn’t convince you, and you are trying to decide whether you should visit Disneyland in 2014, read the section below titled “Why you should visit Disneyland in 2014.” If you’ve already made up your mind, here are our Top 10 things to figure out when planning a Disneyland vacation, and resources to assist you with those steps:
1. What Time of Year to Visit to Avoid Crowds - The single most important part of planning a trip to Disneyland is determining when to visit to avoid crowds. Disneyland is busiest when school is out of session, so those are the biggest times to avoid. Learn what times to visit in this post!
2. Where to Stay – Off-Site or On-Site Hotels? - Depending upon where you stay, your hotel room could be the costliest aspect of your trip. Read why it doesn’t have to be in this post, why “on-site” hotels are not as important at Disneyland as they are at Walt Disney World, and how to score a close hotel for $50/night!
3. Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets - Our recommendations on what type of Disneyland tickets you should buy, including how many days, whether you should get Park Hopper, and where you can buy Disneyland tickets to save some money!
4. Disney Restaurant Reviews - The stereotype that all Disney food is unhealthy food like burgers and hot dogs is entirely false. Disneyland has inexpensive unique dining options as well as expensive fine dining. Good dining can help define a trip! Read about which restaurants are best in our dining reviews.
5. Disneyland Ride Guide - Disneyland has a ton of attractions, and a lot of visitors only have a day or two to spend at Disneyland. The article reviews every attraction at Disneyland, giving each a numerical score out of 10, plus highlights key attractions that we consider the best ones, which should be prioritized if you have limited time at Disneyland.
6. Disneyland Transportation - Should you fly or drive to Disneyland? Rent a car or rely on your feet for getting around Disneyland? We answer these questions and provide advice for saving money on transportation to (and around) Disneyland Resort!
7. Disney California Adventure Ride Guide - Disney California Adventure had its Grand Reopening in June 2012, and a lot changed since then. Read our reviews of every attraction in DCA, along with numerical scores for each, and a list of the “must do” attractions you should prioritize.
8. Disneyland Dining Plan - This article can be summarized in one sentence: the Disneyland Dining Plan is not worth the hassle. To find out why, read the full post!
9. What to Pack - Packing for Disneyland is comparable to packing for any vacation, but with a few twists. Here’s our list of “unordinary” items to pack that will help enhance your Disneyland trip!
10. Cameras to Use at Disney - Capturing photos to remember the trip by is an important part of any vacation. Read about the cameras and equipment I recommend and used to take the photos on this page (and throughout the site).
Finally, and although this one isn’t necessary for planning a trip to Disneyland, we highly recommend you read our “101 Great Disneyland Tips” post. A lot of these are more obscure and great little things that will help you visit the parks like a local. They are more granular advice than what you’ll find in our other planning articles, but we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers who really got a lot more out of their trips because of those tips.
Now that you know what will help you plan a trip to Disneyland, maybe you should know why you should plan a trip to Disneyland. As you’ll read below, 2014 is the perfect time to visit Disneyland!
In my experience, a lot of frequent Walt Disney World Guests never visit Disneyland, basically, because it’s smaller than Walt Disney World, not as isolated from the real world, and because it costs more to visit Disneyland. There are other reasons as well, but these are the ones most frequently cited.
Believe me, I know how defensive Walt Disney World fans can be, and how much they can hate Disneyland, seemingly without reason. Once upon a time, I was one of those defensive Walt Disney World fans! In the bowels of the internet, fervent Walt Disney World fans seem to have a serious vested interest in their “home” park complex (despite, as best I can tell, none of these people actually living in Walt Disney World, save for a few Golden Oaks residents) being superior Disneyland. They retort “where’s your Westcot?!” when someone touts the number and quality of attractions in Disneyland. They point at the cheap hotels of Harbor Boulevard contaminating the “bubble” of Magic when someone points out the “blessing of size” of the smaller resort.
After visiting Disneyland a few times, I feel I can say with some authority that these Walt Disney World fans just “don’t get it.”
Yes, Disneyland does have two parks to Walt Disney World’s four. No, Disneyland doesn’t have any water parks. Yes, it only has three resort-hotels, and all are fairly pricey. Yeah, the real world does sort of encroach-upon Disneyland. These seem to be some pretty serious blows to Disneyland being a viable tourist destination, but trust me, it is a great place to vacation.
Why? First, the big reason: Disneyland is the original Magic Kingdom. It’s the only park Walt Disney personally walked, and its history and historic detail is amazing. Anyone who fancies themselves a Disney history buff but has no desire to visit Disneyland doesn’t really care that much about Disney history. The places literally oozes history. (Seriously, it’s this green stuff that rises out of the ground in New Orleans Square! Please don’t tell Cal-OSHA!)
That should be enough of a reason to plan a visit to Disneyland. In case it’s not, Disneyland (the park) has a staggering attraction line-up, with almost every version of attractions that are offered in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland being substantially better in Disneyland. Pirates of the Caribbean is longer. It’s a small world has a beautiful outdoor facade and includes subtle and well done (that’s right!) Disney characters. Indiana Jones Adventure puts the Animal Kingdom attraction with the same bloodlines to shame. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage puts the enjoyable Epcot attraction to shame. The list goes on and on.
On the topic of attractions, don’t worry, because there’s a ton of them (I feel like Stacey in the “Must Do Disney” video). While many regard Walt Disney World Resort as two full day parks and two half day parks, by contrast, Disneyland Resort is one two day park and one full day park. Seriously, the attraction line-up is really that solid at Disneyland Resort.
This brings us to 2014, and why you should plan your first visit (or a visit) then. In Summer 2012, Disneyland became a more solid resort, and began to shine as a bona fide tourist destination when the billion dollar plus make-over of Disney California Adventure was completed, with Cars Land and Buena Vista Street both opening. Following that in 2013, Disneyland debuted Mickey and the Magical Map, an excellent stage show in Fantasyland. The big “pluses” came during the Christmas season, when World of Color – Winter Dreams and Viva Navidad debuted, giving Disney California Adventure the same level of Christmas offerings as Disneyland. In 2014, it’s expected that many classic Fantasyland dark rides will receive updates, which should be a big plus. Rumors also are swirling that Star Wars Land (or a subland in Tomorrowland) will begin construction in late 2014, although those are just rumors, and that really doesn’t benefit you if you want to visit in 2014! Still, the point is that Disneyland Resort continues to expand in big and little ways.
We visited Disney California Adventure both before and after the big overhaul, and the park is completely different–for the better–now. You can read our full review of Disney California Adventure 2.0 here, but suffice to say, it is now an amazing theme park, and one of the best US Disney theme parks. It received a lot of special attention from executives in Anaheim, and it was clearly overhauled with some incredibly high standards.
This brings us to another important point. Because of the large and vocal Annual Passholder fan-base in California, and probably because of the parks’ proximity to prominent corporate offices, the California parks receive a lot of little additions each year plus more attention to detail that together make a big difference. It’s rare to see broken effects and messy queues. Instead, the parks are incredibly clean, maintenance is excellent, and seasonal overlays and decorations are done with much more vigor and zest. Seriously, there are citrus-peels everywhere!
If you compare the top two parks in Walt Disney World to the only two parks in Disneyland (the only fair comparison), the differences are interesting. While Walt Disney World is obviously larger, Disneyland has substantially more attractions on a park for park basis, arguably better dining options, and more of intrigue for the various holidays. While it may lack things like the Osborne Lights, Illuminations, or Flower & Garden Festival, it makes up for this with additional offerings like Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, Haunted Mansion Holiday, it’s a small world holiday, World of Color – Winter Dreams, and Remember… Dreams Come True, which is easily the best fireworks show at a Magic Kingdom style park.
In all honesty, though, comparing Disneyland and Walt Disney World isn’t that easy. It’s like comparing two of your children. Yeah, in the back of your mind, you secretly prefer one over the other (kidding, parents), but it’s a tough comparison because you love them both. It’s probably a comparison you shouldn’t even make since both resorts are so different. You simply need to experience both.
Because of all these additional attractions and offerings, it’s easy to turn a trip to Disneyland’s two parks into an actual vacation. If you’re able to spend two or three days at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, you will easily be able to spend three or four days at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure in 2013. We spent five days at Disneyland this spring during the height of Disney California Adventure’s construction, and wish we had MORE time in Disneyland! Plus, there is a lot to do in Southern California besides Disneyland!
In addition to having more to do, you will have less wasted time at Disneyland. Want to park hop? Instead of spending 30 minutes on a bus or monorail, you spend less than 5 minutes walking across the esplanade to the other park. Dinner reservations at the resort’s nicest restaurant? Instead of catching two buses to Jiko or taking a taxi, you walk five minutes to Napa Rose in Disney’s Grand California Resort & Spa. You only ever need one form of transportation on a Disneyland vacation: your feet.
With the smaller size, there is one of (in our eyes) Disneyland’s real flaws: it is encroached upon by the real world far too much. However, if you can get past this, or if you regularly stay off-site at Walt Disney World, this is actually an advantage! We have never stayed on-site at Disneyland because the off-site hotels are all so close, and because there aren’t the same advantages to staying on-site at Disneyland like Extra Magic Hours or Disney’s Magical Express. Plus, we’re cheap and Disney’s Grand Californian is like $300-400 per night. Disneyland Hotel is significantly cheaper and we are big fans of it, although it’s not as close as the Grand Californian. Paradise Pier Hotel is barely a Disney hotel, so it’s out of the question). The hotel at which we stay most regularly is an off-site hotel called Desert Inn that is only a five minute walk to the Disneyland Resort Esplanade and costs ~$90-120/night. This makes midday breaks easier, and allows us to go back to our room to grab coats and my tripod rather than renting a locker.
This savings in price on the hotel (and rental car, which you won’t need) alone make up for any increase in the price of airfare. From our experience, airfare is about 25% more expensive to Anaheim than it is to Orlando, but obviously your mileage may vary on that depending upon your starting location. Food is slightly more expensive in Disneyland (and significantly “more better”), but park tickets are cheaper. Overall, our trips to Disneyland are usually around the same price as a trip to Walt Disney World of a comparable length.
The comparisons don’t end there, and if you’re reading about them in more depth, check out our “Walt Disney World v. Disneyland” post debating the pros and cons of each. If you’ve never been to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort, it’s a good place to start as we attempt to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each in an unbiased manner. It should give you a good idea of which will be better for your family’s vacation!
I could go on for pages and pages about why Disney fans owe it to themselves to visit Disneyland in 2014, but I think I’ve made most of my key points. Two years ago, if I were reading an blog post like this that I perceived to be expressing a preference for Disneyland over Walt Disney World (I’m not–they both are great for different reasons), I would shout “HERESY!” and probably skew some venom at the author. I’ve since learned the error of my ways, and since then, my wife and I have visited every Disney theme park in the world.
*This post has been paid for by the Southern California Chamber of Commerce and the International Association of Off-Site Disneyland Hotel Owners. Just kidding…but seriously, SoCal economy, you’re welcome!
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Are you planning a Disneyland visit sometime in 2014? Did you visit in 2013 on our recommendation? What did you think??? Share your plans in the comments!