This guide for planning your 2018 vacation to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure covers tips and tricks for dining, cheapest tickets to purchase, which hotels to pick, experiencing seasonal events like Christmas & Halloween, Cars Land, Star Wars, and more. Plus, making the most of your time in the parks, changes that are coming in Spring 2018 (and beyond!), and navigating Disneyland during the extensive park-wide refurbishments while Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is built. (Last updated March 8, 2018.)
We first posted this guide a few years ago when Disney California Adventure had its big reboot, and have updated it multiple times per year since. We have received messages from a lot of people who had great trips thanks to our recommendations, and this guide has been refined based upon weekly visits to Disneyland. We are Disneyland Annual Passholders who live in Southern California, and we go to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure about once a week to tweak and refine this guide (and our other Disneyland posts) to provide you the best info and strategies.
If you’re just learning the basics of all things Disneyland and want an overview of the parks, hotels, and other info, we highly recommend that you start by ordering a free copy of the 2018 Disney Parks Vacation Planning video. That free video is a good overview with fun footage from Disneyland. It’s really helpful to give you a visual feel for the layout of Disneyland Resort…
You might be wondering if 2018 is a good time to visit, given the ongoing construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. We’ll answer that question at the end of this post for those of you who are on the fence. If you’ve already decided now is the best time, we’ll start by providing all the resources you’ll need to plan your Disneyland Resort trip, including when to visit, where to stay, what to do, and much more. We also recommend signing up for our free email newsletter so you can stay updated with all the latest changes, events, and more info on the parks!
Despite there only being two parks at Disneyland Resort, there’s a lot to know. It may seem silly to point this out, but this planning guide applies to the Disneyland Resort. The one just south of Los Angeles, in Anaheim, California. If you are visiting Florida, please consult our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide instead. 🙂
First, let’s start with some what you need to plan a Disneyland vacation…
Disneyland Trip Planning Resources
If you’ve already made up your mind that now is the time to go to Disneyland and are digging into planning, here are our posts that you need to read when preparing for your Disneyland vacation. Think of them as like the 10 steps to follow to plan your Disneyland trip. If you are trying to decide whether you should visit Disneyland in the near future, jump down to the sections below titled “Should You Visit Disneyland in 2018?”
These posts will take you through the planning process to make your visit to Disneyland more enjoyable, helping you save time and money. Armed with knowledge (the most powerful weapon!), you will have a much better vacation. Yeah, it’s going to take a couple of hours to read this stuff so you know the basics for visiting, but that pales in comparison to the time you’ll needlessly waste in lines if you go blindly, without doing your homework.
Each link will open in a new tab, so feel free to click away and go down the rabbit hole of Disneyland trip planning…
1. 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!
2. Disneyland 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.
3. Disneyland FREE Crowd Calendars – The single most important part of planning a trip to Disneyland is determining when to visit to avoid crowds. Our totally free Disneyland crowd calendars offer day by day guides as to when the parks will be least busy and busiest.
We also have a Best & Worst Months to Visit Disneyland, which ranks every month, and also shares our 3 favorite weeks of the year to take a Disneyland trip!
4. Rankings & Reviews of the Best & Worst Hotels Near Disneyland – Depending upon where you stay, your hotel room could be the costliest aspect of your trip. This post ranks ~40 hotels near Disneyland at which we have stayed, along with room photos, pros & cons, and other useful information.
In our Where to Stay at Disneyland: Off-Site v. On-Site post, we also cover why “on-site” hotels are not as important at Disneyland as they are at Walt Disney World, and how to score a good deal on a hotel that’s close to Disneyland!
5. Disneyland 1-Day Recommended Itinerary – Only have one day to visit Disneyland? This is a step-by-step plan of attack for which attractions you should do, where you should eat, what to see, and more.
Likewise, we also have a Disney California Adventure 1-Day Itinerary if you’re trying to do that park in a single day. Our DCA 1-Day Touring Plan includes strategy for beating the crowds at Radiator Springs Racers, World of Color, and more!
6. Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Christmas – There are a lot of great times of year to visit 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. It’s also one of the busiest times of year and there’s a lot to see and do, so read this to prepare.
If Christmas isn’t your thing, consider Halloween Time at Disneyland, and check out our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Halloween for assistance planning a trip during that specific time of year.
7. Disneyland Ride Reviews & 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.
We also have a Disney California Adventure Ride Reviews & Guide, which does the same thing for that park. That guide now includes the new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
8. 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!
9. Disneyland Discount Guide – There are a variety of ways you can save money on a trip to Disneyland. From vacation packages to Costco discounts to off-season percentage off discounts to even discounts for military personnel, this page covers every way you might be able to save money on a trip to Disneyland!
If you’re looking for a quick way to save on an entire vacation package, many of our favorite hotels near Disneyland can be booked via Get Away Today at a discount. If you bundle tickets into your hotel stay, you’ll get an even better deal. You can check package prices here.
10. Our 101 Best Disneyland Tips – This is not nearly as structured as our other advice, but these tips offer great advice and sometimes obscure little things that will help you visit the parks like a local. This is 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.
Southern California Vacations
Unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort is not a week-long vacation destination unto itself. It’s great for long weekend trips (something we did regularly before moving to California) and extended vacations that incorporate a multitude of sights. Fortunately, Southern California is one of the best places in the world to visit between Los Angeles, San Diego, and the beach cities in between, there’s a ton to do in the area.
If you’re planning a Southern California vacation beyond Disneyland, you’re in luck, as we give away a free eBook, 101 Things to Do in Southern California over on our non-Disney blog, TravelCaffeine. There, we also have a wealth of resources dedicated to visiting the state, including a series of blog posts on California points of interest and our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles.
Between this blog and that one, you should be totally covered with what you need to know if you’re thinking about visiting Disneyland Resort and Southern California this coming year. We can’t encourage people enough to give Disneyland a try, especially Disney fans who are biased towards Walt Disney World as their “home” park. Disneyland is a totally different, much more relaxed experience. It’s intimate in both size and feel, and is oozing with history and incredible attractions.
If you want to determine whether you should visit Disneyland in 2018, keep reading…
Should You Visit Disneyland in 2018…or Wait?
Even before you dig into those planning posts to which we’ve linked above, the threshold question for you might be whether 2018 is a good year to visit, or if you should wait until 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens?
Let’s start with the upside of visiting Disneyland in 2018: it’s going to be something of a calm before the storm. Crowds won’t be low, but they will be lower than in 2019, especially as Disneyland starts thinning its herd of Annual Passholders and other tourists delay visits in anticipation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Without question, lower crowds and prices are the reasons to visit in 2018 as opposed to 2019.
We want to underscore the likelihood that crowds will not be low at Disneyland and DCA in 2018. This is all in relative terms, and they will be lower than in 2019. Once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens, Disneyland is going to be crazy-busy with unprecedented crowd levels. It’s also very likely that Disney (and third party hotels in the area) will raise their prices fairly significantly. That’s what we witnessed a few years ago when Cars Land opened, and that was not nearly the draw that Star Wars Land will be.
In terms of new things for 2018, there’s not much on the horizon of significance. Disneyland has announced that Paint the Night will move to Disney California Adventure for the debut of Pixar Fest on April 13, 2018. Following that, Pixar Pier and the Incredicoaster will debut on June 23, 2018, as an overlay/re-imagining of Paradise Pier. This is a pretty quick turn-around time for a larger-than-expected project at DCA (check out our Pixar Pier Construction Update to see the work thus far).
As we report in the latest update to our FREE Disneyland Crowd Calendars post, both Halloween and Christmas experienced heavier than normal crowds last year, but thus far in through early March 2018, crowd levels have been low. Granted, we’re only a few months into the year, and the true test of crowds will be come when spring break starts in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
Later in the spring, we expect Pixar Festival to all cause spikes in crowds. And of course, spring break and summer tourist season will result in higher crowd levels, as will pretty much any date when the lower tiers of Annual Passholders aren’t blocked out. Early to mid-September 2018 should be a sweet spot for crowds, as should mid-November 2018 if you want to experience either holiday.
In other news, Disneyland has also debuted its (paid) digital FastPass service, known as MaxPass. Read our Guide to FastPass & MaxPass at Disneyland if you want the ins and outs of using this new service.
MaxPass allows same-day FastPass reservations (no 60-day window like Walt Disney World), so you don’t need to plan around it. Instead of using MaxPass, you can simply pick up a paper FastPass for free. MaxPass saves you some time and walking–in some scenarios this is a significant advantage, though.
Still…you might be thinking about waiting until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (as it’s officially going to be called) opens. The project is moving fairly quickly to meet its opening date, but Star Wars Land will not officially open until mid-2019, and that’s assuming all goes according to plans and there are no delays.
Star Wars Land is a massive development, and will expand the size of the park tremendously. Above is a photo (click to view full-size) of the Star Wars Land plot taken from the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure. Aside from a few spots, this isn’t noticeable in the park. Check out our Star Wars Land Summer Construction Update for more info on the progress.
So…should you wait to visit Disneyland or go in 2018? That depends upon how much you dislike crowds, how much you like Star Wars, and if you plan on visiting again at some point. If you strongly dislike crowds and aren’t particularly keen on Star Wars, go at some point in 2018.
If you’re only ever visiting Disneyland once in your life, wait until Star Wars Land is open–especially if there are big Star Wars fans in your party. This huge addition is going to blow people away. It’s possible that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open in May 2019, but a safer bet is Fall 2019 if you’re planning a trip this far in advance.
That’s a long time to wait, especially if you have kids who are the “perfect” age for Disneyland right now. Heck, they’ll be shaving/driving/twerking/graduating/retiring in the blink of an eye, so waiting might not be an option. Plus, that 2-year wait is until Star Wars Land first opens. It’s going to be crazy-busy at least the first year it opens, so you may want to hold off visiting right away.
All things considered, for those who visit sporadically, we’d recommend planning a 2018 Disneyland vacation, and then another one in early December 2019 (or better yet, January 2020). Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge should be almost a year old at that point, and early December is a great time to visit in terms of crowds, weather, and seasonal entertainment.
Should Walt Disney World Fans Visit?
If you’re going to be a first-time visitor to Disneyland who randomly stumbled upon this article, you can skip the next section, as it’s not for you. This is aimed at Walt Disney World diehards who read this blog but still think, “Disneyland? That cute little place out west? I think I’ll stick to the big guns with Walt Disney World.”
For those casual, once in a lifetime visitors, we have a Walt Disney World v. Disneyland Resort post that should be helpful for determining which coast might be better for you. I would strongly suggest reading that before deciding one way or the other, as there are pros and cons for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
As for serious Disney fans, I know a lot of Walt Disney World fans never visit Disneyland Resort, basically, because it’s smaller than Walt Disney World, not as isolated from the real world, and because it costs more to visit Disneyland. Likewise, a lot of non-fans who are considering a Disney trip as a once-in-a-lifetime, rite of passage trip for their kids default to Walt Disney World. This is understandable, but there is a case to be made for Disneyland, too.
For many fervent Walt Disney World fans, considering a Disneyland trip is tantamount to treason–like “cheating” on Walt Disney World with another park (which really makes no sense given that the same company owns both, but whatever…). Believe me, I’ve been there. Once upon a time, I was one of those Walt Disney World fans. These fans 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. You get the idea.
After truly falling in love with the original Disneyland and Disney California Adventure and feeling I really appreciate what makes the place special, 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. 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. Despite all this, Disneyland is still amazing–a must visit place.
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. Don’t tell Cal-OSHA!) Even if you don’t care about history, there’s a certain intimacy and charm to the place that no other Disney theme park in the world captures. It’s not that the park is stuck in 1950 (not even remotely so), but it does have a certain quaintness about it that makes it really feel inviting.
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). 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 is far superior to the Epcot Finding Nemo attraction. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride still exists. Fantasyland has several cute dark rides that Walt Disney World doesn’t have (Alice in Wonderland, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Casey Jr., etc.). These are just some examples; the full list goes on and on.
In all honesty, 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 both have endearing qualities. Saying Walt Disney World is better than Disneyland due to the number of parks each has is about as arbitrary as saying your taller child is better than the shorter one. It reduces the comparison to simple terms that overlooks so much. It’s probably a comparison you shouldn’t even make since both resorts are so different. You simply need to experience both.
I could go on for pages and pages about why I love Disneyland, and why everyone owes it to themselves to visit Disneyland, but hopefully this is a good-enough jumping off point. 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. If all of this is still overwhelming or you want personalized recommendations for Disneyland Resort, click here to get a vacation quote from a no fee Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Are you planning a Disneyland visit sometime in 2018? Are you excited for new additions, such as Pixar Fest, Pixar Pier and the Incredicoaster, Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout!, Fantasmic 2.0, or any other newly-added attractions? Have you previously visited Disneyland? Have any tips of your own to add? Any questions you still have that this guide did not answer? We really appreciate reader feedback and your thoughts, so please share in the comments below! 🙂