This guide for planning your 2017 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 Summer 2017 (and beyond!), and navigating Disneyland during the extensive park-wide refurbishments while Star Wars Land is built.
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 (last update: June 15, 2017). 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 numerous 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 2017 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 Summer 2017 is an okay time to visit, given the ongoing construction of Star Wars Land. 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 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 2017?”
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. When to Visit Disneyland in 2017 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! We also have a new 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 25+ 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 close hotel for under $100/night!
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.
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.
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!
10. Things to Do in Southern California – Unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort is not a week-long vacation destination unto itself. Fortunately, Southern California is one of the best places in the world to visit. (Perhaps we are biased since we live here, though.) On our non-Disney blog, TravelCaffeine, we share some of the best things to do in Southern California near Disneyland.
In addition to these essential resources, 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. 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.
Since we receive a lot of questions about Disney photography (all of the photos on this page and every other page on this site were taken by me), you might also want to check out our Disney Parks Ultimate Photography Guide for tips on taking better photos in the parks, and cameras and equipment recommendations!
That should about cover what you need to know if you’re thinking about visiting Disneyland Resort 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 2017, keep reading…
Should You Visit Disneyland in 2017?
Even before you dig into those planning posts to which we’ve linked above, the threshold question for you might be whether 2017 is a good year to visit? If you’re planning a once in a lifetime vacation or are trying to decide among 2017 or 2018 (or beyond), you want to pick the optimal time to go. First, the downside: Star Wars Land will not open until 2019.
Now, the upside. Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout! is now open (click here to read our review), and the Summer of Heroes is underway at Disney California Adventure. Both are already proving incredibly popular with guests.
Over at Disneyland, Fantasmic will return on July 17, 2017. “Return” probably isn’t a strong enough word–this is basically the debut of Fantasmic 2.0 (even though Disneyland isn’t calling it that). The new Fantasmic will feature projection mapping (including a sequence that turns the Sailing Ship Columbia into the Black Pearl!) plus newer films.
The Rivers of America attractions will reopen after that on July 29, 2017, when the Mark Twain Riverboat, Sailing Ship Columbia and Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, and Disneyland Railroad all return after being closed for 18 months. The revamped Rivers of America will feature a new Columbia Gorge section, highlighted by five picturesque waterfalls., after being closed the entirety of last year and first half of 2017.
In other good news, crowds have started to drop off now that the 3-day Southern California resident ticket special expired over Memorial Day weekend. Our last visit to Disneyland was on May 30, 2017, and crowds were not nearly as bad as they had been over the course of the first few months of the year. It was still busy due to Grad Nite and no Annual Passes being blocked out, but it was a step in the right direction.
Once more APs are blocked out in June and Grad Nites end, things will be even better. Of course, this will be partially offset by summer tourist crowds plus the return of Fantasmic, but Disneyland will also have more capacity once the Rivers of America attractions reopen. Suffice to say, summer should be an improvement in terms of crowds. How big of an improvement remains to be seen.
In other positive news, Disneyland Resort has made tremendous strides over the last 5 years, greatly improving the offerings in Disney California Adventure and, to a lesser extent, Disneyland. The parks are now a bona fide tourist destination thanks to the billion dollar plus make-over of Disney California Adventure, with Cars Land as the highlight. You can read our full review of Disney California Adventure 2.0 here.
Main Street Electrical Parade is now on its farewell run and fan-favorite fireworks show “Remember… Dreams Come True” has also returned. These fan-favorites have been part of the reason for huge crowds of locals to Disneyland in what is normally a slow time of year.
Due to the huge crowds Main Street Electrical Parade has drawn, Disneyland has extended its run. It was previously going to end on June 18, but now is ending August 20, 2017. The previous plan was to run Main Street Electrical Parade until the start of summer tourist season, then switch back to the modern Paint the Night parade, which has been a colossal hit among tourists.
Why Disneyland didn’t run Paint the Night from June to August and then bring back Main Street Electrical Parade for the fall season (which skews more towards locals) “by popular demand” is beyond us. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the parade extended for a couple more months if locals start showing up to see it again towards the tentative end of its run in August.
While Paint the Night is supposedly still being refurbished, whatever work needed to be done on the floats and costumes is done by this point. If Disneyland were to need to run occasional showings during the summer season–or even if they wanted to move the parade to Disney California Adventure to spread out crowds–it could be done.
Paint the Night is not being retired or moved to Walt Disney World. Once Main Street Electrical Parade ends in August 2017 (or October…or whenever it ultimately ends), Disneyland will bring back Paint the Night “by popular guest demand.”
The only question is whether it will end up in Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. There’s a good case to be made for moving the parade to Disney California Adventure, but that would require some adjustments to the Red Car Trolleys, and it’s unclear whether Disneyland management will want to do that.
Disneyland has also debuted its (paid) digital FastPass service, known as MaxPass. We have a post analyzing what this could mean and the future of FastPass.
MaxPass only 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. All MaxPass does is saving you some walking. Suffice to say, we do not recommend purchasing it.
Still…you might be thinking about waiting until Star Wars Land opens (or “Star Wars Experience” as it’s officially known). The project is moving fairly quickly to meet its opening date, but Star Wars Land will not officially open until 2019 (it could soft-open in Late 2018).
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 March 2017 Construction Update for more info on the progress.
One thing you should know is that the ‘Star Wars Awakens’ billboards and television advertisements in Southern California are not for Star Wars Land. These are for new, smaller scale additions that are a stop-gap until Star Wars Land opens. Now that Hyperspace Mountain has (almost) ended its run, we think the other Star Wars entertainment offerings are a bit uninspired and don’t live up to what Star Wars could be–or will be when Star Wars Land opens.
The classic version of Space Mountain will return on June 1, 2017, effectively ending the Star Wars “special event,” even though some aspects of it will remain…
So…should you wait to visit Disneyland or go in 2017? That depends upon how long you’re willing to wait. There are a lot of cool new things coming in 2017, especially starting in Summer 2017. However, 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. An early 2019 opening for Star Wars Land is likely, but a safer bet is Summer 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 2017 Disneyland vacation, and then another one in early December 2019 (or later). Star Wars Land 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 2017? Are you excited for new additions, such as Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout!, Fantasmic 2.0, the return of Main Street Electrical Parade, Frozen Live at the Hyperion, 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! 🙂