Should you fly or drive to Disneyland? Rent a car while you’re at Disneyland if you fly? In this Disneyland transportation guide, we’ll answer these questions for you.
Even though plane tickets to California can be expensive, if you live on the East Coast, the answer to this question should be relatively easy. Driving to California for many is time-prohibitive, so flying is the de facto way of getting to Disneyland. Those living in California or the surrounding states may choose to drive, but sometimes it’s even more efficient for these guests to fly. Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer. Weigh the cost of airfare times the number of people in your party versus the cost of driving. However, don’t stop there. Driving takes longer, so consider how much more time it will take to fly and add the value of your time, and also the wear and tear on your car, to the cost of driving.
For example, if it’s just you and your wife traveling, and airfare will cost $250 round trip for each of you, whereas gas will cost $150, don’t assume you’d be better off driving because the cost is $500 v. $100. Also ascribe a value to your vacation time. I value each day of my vacation as my salary for one day at work. You may value your time differently, but factor it in somehow. Same with vehicle wear and tear; this should be a per-mile cost. If it would take three full days of your vacation to drive to and from Disneyland, but only one full day to fly, and you value each day of your vacation at $100 for each of you, that’s $400 more to add to the cost of driving. Wear and tear to your vehicle would probably be offset by transportation costs once you get to SoCal if you don’t have a car. So, at that point, flying would have the same cost as driving, so you might want to tip the scales in the favor of your preferred way of getting there. As you’ll read below, you likely won’t need a car at Disneyland, so don’t choose driving just because you want to have your car at Disneyland.
As for airfare being too expensive, before coming to this conclusion, make sure to do your research. Use ITASoftware and Expedia to search all airlines, and search for flights flying into LAX, SNA, LGB, and BUR. All airports are relatively close to Disneyland, and sometimes LGB or BUR ends up having cheaper flights than LAX or SNA! My personal favorite is SNA, also known as John Wayne, and not just because John Wayne is a national treasure. John Wayne is the closest airport to Disneyland and typically has the best prices. Plus, it has a statue of John Wayne by baggage claim!
Renting a car at the airport is one option. You can read about the pros and cons of in the next section. The alternative, if you don’t plan on renting a car, is taking a taxi, limo, or shuttle to your hotel.
Shuttles are about $10 per person, per way. If you’re taking a shuttle in Southern California, SuperShuttle is probably your default choice since it’s so large and offers the best prices. It serves each of the three Disneyland-area airports. If you use SuperShuttle, use code UYR59 for $3 off each way if booked online. Note that these shuttles are shared, and each shuttle can fit around 8 people, so don’t be surprised if you make a few other stops before arriving at your hotel. We typically use SuperShuttle, and the average time from picking up our bags at the airport until arriving at the front desk of our hotel (factoring in time spent waiting for other people to board the SuperShuttle at the airport and time spent dropping others off) is typically around 70 minutes. The driving distance from John Wayne Airport to Disneyland is around 20-3o minutes, to the majority of this time is spent waiting and dropping off others. SuperShuttle will wait for other people to fill up a shuttle, so your wait at the airport could be long or short depending upon when you arrive. If you’re lucky enough to be the last person to arrive to fill a shuttle and you’re the first hotel stop, your SuperShuttle trip could be as little as 30 minutes (we’ve had this happen to us before). We recommend booking your SuperShuttle online in advance, but reservations are not necessary.
There are other shuttles serving Disneyland, including the Disneyland Resort Express, but they’re more expensive than SuperShuttle and do exactly the same thing, so discussing them in more depth is pointless.
If you’re a party of three or more, strongly consider a taxi or limo instead of a shuttle. Both charge by the trip rather than per person, so the economics are such that a 20 minute taxi ride starts to be cheaper at around person number 4. I say consider one if you have three people because the convenience is worth something in itself. You won’t have to wait around at the airport if you take a taxi, nor will you stop at other hotels. The commute time for a taxi is exactly however long it takes to get from the airport to your hotel.
Some people can’t travel anywhere without having a vehicle at their disposal. We aren’t like that, but we can understand others always wanting a rental car. If you’ve already chosen to drive to Disneyland, you’ll have your own car. Be aware that most off-site hotels in the Disneyland area charge for parking. Plus, even if you drive to Disneyland, you’ll still want to stay as close as possible to Disneyland to avoid dealing with the SoCal transportation grid.
Transportation at Disneyland is very different from transportation at Walt Disney World. Whereas Walt Disney World is spread out requiring some form of transportation to get around the resort, Disneyland is compact and can easily be canvased by foot. The distance from the front entrance of Disneyland (park) to the front entrance of Disney California Adventure is only about 100 yards. Downtown Disney is just as close to both of them. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has its own entrance to Disney California Adventure. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel overlooks the Paradise Pier area of Disney California Adventure. Disneyland Hotel is adjacent to Downtown Disney. The entire resort has a very small footprint. At Disneyland, your feet are always the best form of transportation.
Since you can easily find a cheap hotel within walking distance of Disneyland, and since many hotels charge for parking, there is no cost-savings to renting a car. So, although the shuttle or taxi from the airport will cost money, and although hotels slightly farther away from Disneyland will be cheaper, the cost of the rental car, plus the cost of parking at your hotel and/or parking at Disneyland will undoubtedly be more expensive than taking an airport shuttle or taxi and staying at a slightly more expensive hotel within walking distance of Disneyland.
The real reason to rent a car is if you want one or if Disneyland is just one stop in your California trip. It’s difficult to visit other Southern California attractions without a rental car (although not impossible) as you have to rely upon public transportation or taxis. The cost of taxis can add up quickly, and the time wasted in relying upon public transportation makes a compelling case for getting a rental car.
As stated above, we recommend staying in a hotel within walking distance of Disneyland even if you do decide to rent a car. These hotels can be found for as little as $59/night, and walking to Disneyland Resort is much more convenient than relying on the Anaheim Resort Transit system, public transportation, your hotel’s shuttle, or driving to Disneyland and parking there. To help choose the right hotel for you, refer to our Disneyland hotel guide.
Our preferred way to visit Disneyland is by flying into John Wayne/Orange County Airport and taking SuperShuttle to our hotel. We make sure to book a hotel that’s right across the street from Disneyland’s Esplanade (so, around a 5 minute walk to Disneyland), which costs $90/night or less. We do not rent a car, but if we do decide to visit somewhere else in Southern California, we utilize a taxi. We actually find it inconvenient to have to deal with a rental car (I know we’re in the minority on that one!), so we have been willing to pay a bit of a premium to have a taxi drive us to other destinations in SoCal. Most of our trips to Disneyland, though, are Disneyland-only trips, so we haven’t used SoCal taxis all that much.
Hopefully by using this guide along with your personal preferences and circumstances, you can determine the type of transportation best for you to utilize while at Disneyland. As with all things on this site, your mileage may vary!
To plan your trip to Disneyland, read our “10 Steps for Planning a Disneyland Trip” post!
What tips do you have for Disneyland transportation? Do you recommend renting a car, or just walking? Share your thoughts in the comments!